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After a longish period, with not much happening at all, the last week has been a particularly good time for reviews of my 'nostalgedy&#...

Monday, 30 September 2013

Any More Fairs Please?

As the 'statchits' will be coming to Burton at the end of this week, I thought this would be topical-ish.

“Look, all they do is go round and round and I promise you we won’t go up high!”

Even to my young and innocent ears, this doesn’t sound particularly convincing.  More like No. 3 in the ‘Great Lies of Our Time’, just after “The cheque’s in the post” and “It’s just what I’ve always wanted”. 

We are at Burton Statute Fair, popularly known as ‘The Statchits’, always held on the first Monday and Tuesday in October.  It is the mid-1960s and my Mum, Dad and myself are standing by ‘The Rockets’.  We are going through our annual ritual of Dad trying to persuade me to go on with him. ‘The Rockets’ were one of the main rides that appeared every year.  Shaped like a child’s drawing of a rocket, each car was attached to a central column by a spoke and the riders could make the car rise or fall, with an ear-splitting escape of compressed air. Every year he tried to talk me into this and every year, I refused point blank.  This was always a huge disappointment to my Dad and he did what any father would do under the circumstances, he sulked.  My wife tells me that I could sulk for England, well this is where I learned my trade.

This would actually be my second of four trips to ‘The Statchits’.  The first would be on Sunday night as we walked up Branstone Road, under the Leicester Line Bridge, to see the lorries, vans and caravans all lined up at the Burton boundary, waiting for permission to enter the town.  In those days, the Fair was not allowed to begin setting up until the evening service at St. Modwen’s Parish Church, in the Market Place, had finished.  There would then be a hectic rush into town and the Fair would come to life in a matter of hours.  The fast-food and gift stalls would be the first to be open, along with some of the rides for small children, the larger rides would take longer and wouldn’t be open until Monday. 

My Dad had a child-like fascination with Fairs, Circuses and such things, and loved to see the Fair setting up.  My Nanna Whiteland was quite keen too and used to take me for my second visit on the Monday afternoon.  As we walked up Branstone Road, the strains of music and the shouts of the stallholders grew louder and soon we were on the fringes of the Fair in Lichfield Street, where, in the shadow of the Big Wheel, by The Leopard pub, there were donkeys and ponies, and men offering to take your picture with some exotic animal or other.  The only year I managed to persuade my Nanna to allow me to have my photograph taken, there was a queue for the cute monkey, so I got the parrot.  I’m not sure who was the most disappointed about this turn of events, me or the parrot.  I used to enjoy the stall where a ‘real’ Red Indian (usually from Bolton) promised to guess your age to within one year, or give you a prize.  I always used to come away as the proud owner of some ill-defined ‘silver’ trinket.  We used to have a go on a few stalls, tour the offerings in the Market Place and High Street, up to the junction with Station Street, and then finally walk back down New Street, until the Fair finally petered out around the General Post Office.

Philip and friend at The Statchits, October 1961

Monday night was, and is, the main night of ‘The Statchits’ and that was when we went as a family.  The Fair always had a more exciting, even dangerous, atmosphere in the chill Autumn night and the lights, crowds and music brought a touch of exotica to downtown Burton.


Tuesday evening, I often went to the Fair by myself.  It always rains on Tuesday Statchits night.  This is a given.  I don’t know why, it just is.  I once spent ages on a ‘Roll the Ball’ stall because; I was the only customer, the rain was coming down sideways, and the stallholder was waiting to be told that she could pack up, so she kept giving me free tries.  I still didn’t win anything, and I didn’t go on ‘The Rockets’ either!

This story is taken from Crutches for Ducks, part of the 'nostalgedy collection' which includes Steady Past Your Granny's and the latest collection, A Kick at the Pantry Door

Sunday, 22 September 2013

5 Stars for Jambalaya!


Really delighted to get this very encouraging review from the wonderful Brenda Perlin:

"This is an amusing story that was a nice escape. I was humored and entertained all along the way.
One chuckle after another.
The writing is clever and light hearted. Perfect read for a mindless relaxing day! I mean that in the most flattering way. Sometimes it is a bit of slapstick that recharges your battery for the grueling days ahead... Or maybe even more silly mindless days abead.

"Mr. Vobiscus, you are not welcome here, as you are well aware. Why, if father caught you here he would surely flay you alive!"
"Well if I have to be flayed at all, I think I would prefer to be alive for the event."
The hint of a smile played around his lips, jogged up his cheeks and did press-ups on his forehead. It had often been said that he had an athletic face ..."

See the original here:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/RSDDPRRELGZ8D?_encoding=UTF8&ASIN=B0093JOMPI&cdMSG=addedToThread&cdPage=&linkCode=&newContentID=Mx2N5HRC62BZC80&newContentNum=1&nodeID=&ref_=cm_cr_pr_perm&tag=#CustomerDiscussionsNRPB

and you can find Jambalaya at Amazon.com and at Amazon.co.uk plus all other Amazon sites.


Monday, 16 September 2013

It's the waiting that's the worst




Continuing the story that began with An 'L' of a Time


I would dearly love to take a group of youngsters back to the 1970s and see how they would cope.  I realise I would probably get arrested, but that isn't really my point.  It's just so difficult, from today's perspective, to understand how totally disconnected we were then.  No internet, no mobile phones, no computers and only the wealthy and aspiring had a telephone at home - and even that might be a party line (which was not as much fun as it sounds). 

Just think about how difficult it used to be to find anything out.  If you were really keen you could take yourself off to the Reference Library, or consult your copy of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, if you had been badgered into buying a set.  Now you can find out pretty much anything at any time.  Admittedly the answer might have been made up by some precocious child in a back room in Alabama, but at least you can get an answer of sorts.

The rationale for this outburst is that it would be very difficult for today's youngsters to believe the amount of futile waiting around that I did, simply in the hope of actually getting a driving lesson.  I must have spent hours peering out of our front room window, in the vain hope of seeing my driving instructor arrive.  To be fair, part of the reason that my lessons were so sporadic was because I couldn't afford to have a lesson every week, but the principal problem was that, even when a lesson had been organised, there was absolutely no guarantee that my driving instructor would turn up, either on time, or at all.

There were phone calls, of course, and chats when I caught up with him at our local hostelry, but there were always mitigating circumstances for his not turning up, and it's always so difficult to take a strong line about something when you knew the person before they started working for you. 

The end result of all of this was that, after twelve months of allegedly 'learning to drive', I had taken part in precisely six lessons, with huge gaps in between, and was not really much further advanced in my skills than I had been at the start.  Meanwhile, in the same period, my mate Kevin had completed a course of lessons with his attractive female instructor and had passed his Driving Test first time.  Not that I was jealous, of course, but it was rather embarrassing to have to admit that I had been 'learning to drive' for over a year and was nowhere near ready to take a test.

In the end, my driving instructor and I just drifted apart (I don't mean that the car split down the middle).  He didn't turn up for a lesson, again, and this time I didn't pursue it.  Nothing was ever said, although our paths crossed on many occasions afterwards.  I just couldn't see the point in investing any more money to wait around in my front room, or spend part of my lesson sitting in a pub car park.

What confidence I might have had at the start of my driving tuition had, by now, long since deserted me and I really wasn't sure if I wanted to carry on at all.  However, after some months of watching Kevin enjoy the freedom of the open road, whilst I endured the poverty of the pavement, I decided to take my courage in my hands and have another go. 

This time, I was going to sort out my own driving instructor.  I approached the driving school that Kevin had used, in the hope of getting the same attractive female.  Unfortunately, not having much in the way of self-confidence, I couldn't actually bring myself to ask for her and just hoped that luck would be on my side. 


The bad news was, I didn't get the attractive driving instructor.  The good news was that I got her husband, who was a larger than life character and great fun to be with, as I'll tell you next time.

TO BE CONTINUED

You can find all Philip's books at either his UK Amazon Author Page or at the Amazon.com Author Page

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Extended Bargain Book Weekend




Here it is, the EXTENDED 99p/99c WEEKEND! From now until midnight BST on 15th September,ALL OF MY KINDLE EDITIONS are just 99p/99c - fill your bookshelves whilst you've got the chance :-)

Philip's Books
and now you can find out more about me and my books at DeEtte Anderton's Blog





Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Keeping Death Off The Roads!

Continuing the story that began with An 'L' of a Time

Learner_driver : L Plate on Vehicle Rear Stock Photo

At the end of my driving lesson, I booked the next for the following weekend and then spent the week undoing all of the good work I had achieved.  You may remember that last time I was expounding my theory of 'beginner's luck', in which the subconscious hunts around for examples of good practice in the absence of any previous experience to go on?  I don't know about you, but I always find that the price to be paid for a session of 'beginner's luck' is an instalment of 'follow-up failure'. 

I spent the week between my first and second driving lessons carefully going over and over again, in my mind, what happened.  Common sense would say that, in doing this, you should focus on the positive aspects of the lesson and try to build on these, but I just don't seem to work like that.  My mind always homes in on any negative remarks and dwells on these to the exclusion of everything else.  You may recall that my driving instructor has praised my road positioning but had described me as 'windy' for hanging back behind parked vehicles when other traffic was coming in the opposite direction.   Therefore, I spent the week going over and over in my mind how I could be more assertive in my driving, which led me to think deeply about biting points and clutch use, steering and indicators and the whole panoply of driving related actions.  Not unsurprisingly, after a week of this, I was like a coiled spring and, by the following Saturday, would have been hard pushed to put one foot in front of the other without serious injury, let alone control something as complex as a car.

Once again, I was waiting by our front room window, getting increasingly anxious as the hour approached.  As it turned out, I really need not have worried.  Not because the lesson went well, but because it didn't happen at all. 

As the appointed hour came and went, I peered this way and that in the hope of seeing the car arrive.  It didn't.  Half an hour passed, and then an hour, and still no sign.  In this modern age of instant connectivity, this sort of situation would be incomprehensible but then, in the absence of mobile telephones, or any phone at all in our case, it was by no means unusual.  Dad, took it upon himself to go and telephone from the call box, although the cynic in me suggested that this was a heaven-sent opportunity for him to escape to the pub.  Much later, he returned with the story of some sort of mistake having been made in the diary, with apologies all round.  The lesson would now be the same time, the following week.

Driving a car is not like riding a bicycle or swimming.  This is not the first in a series of statements of the blindingly obvious, just an observation that in those two cases, once you've 'got it', you've 'got it'.  That's not the case with driving; you need to keep practicing to etch the actions into your subconscious so that it all becomes automatic.   As we didn't have a car at the time, practicing was out of the question, so all I could do was wait anxiously for the next lesson.


I was delighted when Geoff, my driving instructor, actually put in an appearance the following Saturday.  Ok, he was a quarter of an hour late, but at least he had shown up.  If I was delighted, that certainly did not describe Geoff's mood after a couple of minutes.  Clearly he had been led into a false sense of security by my previous efforts and had expected a simple, smooth path to test success.  As we kangarooed our way to the nearest test route, it was clear that he was going to have an uphill struggle with me.  Therefore, it was no surprise to be asked to stop at a pub on the way home as he just had to "see someone about something".

TO BE CONTINUED

You can find all Philip's books at either his UK Amazon Author Page or at the Amazon.com Author Page

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Rock of Ages


I'm not really sure where I'm going with this post, so you'll have to bear with me.

Last week, my very generous wife kindly bought, as a surprise gift for my birthday, two tickets to see a Queen tribute band at Buxton Opera House.  This immediately prompted a dress code dilemma - how does one dress for a rock concert when one is considerably nearer 60 than 50, especially after the last birthday?  Leather jacket, t shirt and faded denims perhaps?  Well, possibly, if I actually owned such things. I do have t shirts but they don't really tend to be rock 'n' roll compatible (see below).


Honestly, the author is somewhere underneath all of that!

In the end I opted for a black shirt and a sports jacket.   Ok, not at the cutting edge of fashion, I'll give you, but, as you'll see from the picture above, quite a leap of faith in my case.

As it turned out, I really needn't have worried about my choice of apparel.  On arriving at the Opera House, it was apparent that sensible M&S jumpers were the order of the day.  Grey hair abounded and the number of mobility scooters, arm crutches and zimmer frames had to be seen to be believed.  I suppose I should have realised that, inevitably, the audience would be made up mostly of my contemporaries and older.  After all, I first became aware of the group when their single "Seven Seas of Rhye" hit the charts in 1974, when I was just 20 years old.  I can distinctly remember investing many 10p coins in the juke box in the front room of the Forest Gate pub to play it, to the despair of the landlord and 'early doors' regulars who were hoping for a quiet pint and a natter.  I had never heard such a blend of rock and classical influences combined with brilliant harmonies and, at that time, no synthesisers.  It was electrifying.

Nearly 40 years on and here I was, queuing up for my seat with a crowd of people who must have been similarly electrified by the music in their day, but who now found getting up the stairs a bit of a hassle.  Thinking about it later, it occurred to me that this is probably why tribute bands are so popular at the moment.  If Messrs. Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon (which makes then sound like a venerable firm of Solicitors) were still extant and performing, they would probably be more of a true reflection of their audience than the band we saw.  Just think of the Rolling Stones (or don't, if you want to avoid nightmares).  It's hard to imagine a 67 year old Freddie cavorting across the stage and I'm not sure I want to.  Cynically, you could say that his early demise was a great career move, although I still think it was a huge loss to British Rock.

My point, I think, is that the tribute bands inevitably encapsulate whichever band they are imitating at the height of their fame and ability.  In this way, we can enjoy them exactly as we remember them.  Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn, with apologies to the Ode of Remembrance.  Yet we, the audience, grow ever older and much less 'rock n roll' than we would like to think are.

I'll come back to this point soon, but I would be interested to hear your comments in the meantime.

You can find all Philip's books at either his UK Amazon Author Page or at the Amazon.com Author Page

It's not what you know....

Continuing the story that began with An 'L' of a Time




It seemed to me that everyone I knew was passing their Driving Test and getting out on the road, so I just had to try my luck.  My friends, Kevin and Peter, who now shared a flat above The Compasses in Wellington Road, had jointly invested in a Mark II Cortina of many different shades of green and Kevin was pursuing driving lessons with a charming lady instructor (he would) and was getting on like a house on fire.  Logic should have told me to go with Kevin's choice of instructor, given how well he was doing, but instead I asked my dad for advice.  This was always a mistake.  Whereas anyone else might consult the Yellow Pages or ask around for recommendations, dad always 'knew' someone.    My dad 'knew' people in the same way that hedgehogs have fleas, it was just in his DNA.

The person that dad 'knew' was a fellow imbiber at our local club.  I don't think we knew whether he was any good as a Driving Instructor (although he had been in the game for quite a while), the important thing, from dad's point of view, was that he was someone he 'knew'.  We approached him and he agreed to take me on, and so a first lesson was booked for the following Saturday afternoon.

I remember that I was in a state of high anticipation all week.  When Saturday finally arrived, it was a beautiful sunny early summer's day, with not a cloud in the sky.  Geoff (as we'll call him, to protect the guilty) drove me out to a point just beyond The Acorn at the top of Henhurst Hill (sorry, it's a Burtonian thing to couch all directions in terms of the nearby pubs!)  We changed places and I was behind the wheel for the first time in my life.

Geoff talked me through the controls of the car with particular reference to the action of the clutch and the importance of the 'biting point'.  Then it was time to set off.  Peering cautiously in all directions to make sure there was nothing coming in any direction, I over-revved the engine, brought the clutch up with great timidity, and we were off.  To my surprise, I didn't make a bad job of it.  Starting to drive is a bit like being thrown into a juggling act, there are so many things to keep doing that you don't have time to think.  Despite this, I managed to steer ok and Geoff actually congratulated me on my road positioning.  Perhaps I had finally found something I was good at?

I think I've mentioned before my theory about 'beginner's luck'?  It goes like this; when you try something new, your subconscious mind goes in search of similar experiences to inform your actions.  If this is something you've never done before, then it inevitably comes up empty.  So, all it can draw on are any memories it has of other people doing the same thing, and these are pretty likely to be good examples.  For golf, your mind might refer to what it's seen Tiger Woods do in the past and therefore help you to mimic that(ish).  With driving, it would probably draw on the many professional drivers (bus, taxi etc.) it had seen (whilst hopefully discounting my dad's somewhat troubled approach).  Therefore, unburdened by any previous experience, our efforts are guided by the best practice picked up unconsciously by our minds.  It doesn't last.

We sailed around the country roads and I was beginning to enjoy myself.  Coming back into Burton along Henhurst Hill and Shobnall Road, I weaved cautiously around the parked cars and frequently stopped to let the approaching traffic through.  "Windy" Geoff muttered, which I thought was a bit gung-ho considering this was my first time behind a wheel.  As we neared The Albion pub, Geoff said "Can you just pull in here, I need to see a chap about something", so we did.  I parked up and he disappeared into the pub for ten minutes.  I thought this was a bit odd, but decided that it was just a one-off. 

It wasn't, as I'll tell you next time.

Continued in It's The Waiting That's The Worst

You can find all Philip's books at either his UK Amazon Author Page or at the Amazon.com Author Page


Saturday, 7 September 2013

An 'L' of a Time


l_plate



In Spring a young man's fancy turns to …well, quite often, getting his driving licence so that he can get out and start doing all those things that Spring is supposed to encourage.  I was no exception to this rule, but regular readers will not expect me to reveal that I passed my Driving Test on the day after my 17th birthday following one lesson during which the Instructor wept openly at my prowess and said there was nothing he could teach me.  Regular readers will not be disappointed; my route to the open road was, as with everything else, somewhat more tortuous.

I suppose that I could blame my upbringing.  Things have changed remarkably, from an automotive point of view, since my childhood.  My grandparents, on both sides, could not drive, did not own a car and, to the best of my knowledge, never had any interest in doing so.  My dad was a late-comer to driving by today's standards, starting toward the end of the 1950s when he must have been in his mid-thirties.   Although in later years he purported to be one of the 'put me behind the wheel of anything and I'll drive it' brigade, his route to driving proficiency was at least as tortuous as mine.

Dad learned with one of the few driving schools in Burton at that time, which I think was called either Select or Premier.  I know that it had offices on the corner of Station Street and Milton Street, as I remember going there with him.  His Driving Instructor was a chap called Tim, who lived further down Anglesey Road from us and whom dad knew socially (for which read 'down the pub').  Dad's learning experience was restricted by the fact that he did not have a car of his own in which to practice and relied solely on his weekly lessons and the occasional stint sharing the driving on holiday with Uncle Jim.  I went on one or two of his later lessons, as a passenger, and I can't say I found it a relaxing experience.  Usually my dad oozed confidence, but behind the wheel was a different matter.  Oaths would be uttered as gears crashed and engines stalled, both of which were remarkably easy to achieve in cars of that vintage.  Dad developed a habit, which was still with him to the end, of pulling his socks up with great ceremony before the process of checking that the car was in neutral and starting the engine.  It was a bit of a ritual with him and I'll swear that he was using the opportunity to issue a small prayer to whoever protects not hugely confident drivers.


A Black Standard Eight - not ours I'm afraid, we couldn't afford to run a car and have pictures developed in the 1950s!


After quite some time, which I think stretched into years, and two failed attempts at the Driving Test, dad finally won through and celebrated with the purchase of a black Standard Eight (MNR 879.  Now why can I remember that but not more useful things like my mobile phone number?)  Even having passed his test, dad tended to travel hopefully rather than confidently and mum and I kept a tense but determinedly cheerful demeanour through all the dark oaths and fearful mutterings.


Mum never showed any interest at all in learning to drive.  It was just not something that women did then.  As I've said before, my Auntie Liz was definitely ahead of her time in that she could drive and drive very well (certainly better than my dad).  Because of the fact that a woman driver was so unusual, I always felt ill at ease, as a child, with her in the car, despite the fact that she drove as part of her job and was considerably more competent than anyone else I ever travelled with. 


My Auntie Vera apparently had a number of lessons (which she never told anyone about), failed her first Test and then abandoned the project.  I only found out about this in her twilight years when she regretted not having pursued this as, without Uncle Jim, she was dependent upon us, the bus service or taxis.  I think a lot of women of her generation found themselves in similar circumstances in later life.

Continued in It's Not What You Know...

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Vote early, vote often!

As I believe they used to say in Northern Irish elections (allegedly).  I'm not asking you to do anything untoward (Heaven forfend!), however...

Your votes are required for this bit of nonsense.  If you think that  A Kick at the Pantry Door meets the criteria for a Baby Boomer book, then pop a vote in at:

http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/24099.Best_Boomer_Books

It would make a happy man very old, or something like that :-)