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Reviewing the Reviews

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

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A Miss is as Good as a Mile



I suppose we should be grateful that the casual clouting and habitual hitting of my school days is a thing of the past.  However, I want to tell you about two occasions when violence nearly took place, but didn't.

The first occasion was in my first year at Anglesey Secondary Modern, when we were all very much in awe of the young men, in their final year at school, who towered above us.  We rarely came into contact with these giants because pressure on space, as a consequence of the post-war baby boom, meant that the First and Second Year students were farmed out to the old Techinical High School building at Bond End.  The only time we attended the Clarence Street HQ was for the practical lessons such as Woodwork, Metalwork and Domestic Science. 


Philip in his early years at Anglesey Secondary Modern
    
It must have been on one such occasion when I found myself heading down an empty corridor going toward the playground.  I had probably been detained in class, or perhaps sent on an errand to the smoke-filled Staff Room, but for whatever reason, the rest of the school was out at play and I was on my own.  Suddenly, I spotted something that made my heart miss a beat, and my stomach lurch.  Coming toward me was the one Fourth Year that I really did not want to meet.  He was as wide as he was high (and he was pretty tall.)  He had a reputation for mindless violence, in a school for which mindless violence was the norm.  All in all, he was not someone that a small, skinny kid would want to meet in a deserted corridor.

In these situations, I usually adopted my patented technique of trying to blend into the background.  By and large, this seemed to work, in crowded playgrounds and so on, but was never going to succeed in this scenario.  Nevertheless, I hugged the wall and hoped not to be noticed.  No such luck!  The huge form shuffled in my direction.  I was aware of a large, moon-like face (complete with craters) topped by unkempt ginger hair, about an inch from my nose.  "Ere" the face grunted, "are you divvi?"  By this time I was more or less trying to prise myself into the mortar that held the bricks together in the wall.  I had no idea what the question meant, so I just burbled and stammered.  Fortunately he obviously decided that I was beyond contempt and, with a disparaging "Huh", shuffled off.  I made my escape, feeling that a minor miracle had occurred, purely by being too pathetic to bother with.

The second occasion that violence didn't happen was some years later.  My mum had often told me about the 'musical canings', as she called them, that used to happen at her school.  Apparently, from time to time the whole school would be assembled to witness a miscreant being beaten for some heinous crime or other and the school trooped into the hall to stirring piano music.  I had never experienced this until one afternoon when the whole of Anglesey was ordered into the School Hall.  The atmosphere was very tense and the teachers stationed around the Hall were obviously ill at ease.  As we waited to see what this was all about, the Deputy Headmaster strode in, clutching a young lad by the collar in one hand, and a cane in the other. He was accompanied by a phalanx of senior staff, who didn't look too happy about the situation.  The lad was writhing and shouting all the way to the stage but, on reaching there, he did something I would never have thought of.  He simply broke free from his captor and headed straight to the back of the stage and out of the door to freedom.  Teachers and staff were sent to find him, but he was too quick.  I never did find out what terrible crime he was supposed to have committed, or why it was deemed appropriate for his punishment to be a public flogging, but I'm glad he got away, for everyone's sake.

This is the unedited version of the April column in the Derby Telegraph.  You will find this shortly in the new collection of stories "A Kick at the Pantry Door".  You can find much more like this in Steady Past Your Granny's and Crutches for Ducks

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Jambalaya - Introducing Judge Garden

Allow me to introduce Judge Garden, the Head of the Garden household.  Actually, he comprises precisely one-third of the Garden household, along with his daughter Celany and their maidservant, Ulolulo and with two strong women like that about, even he isn't sure who's in charge.  Thankfully now retired from the Bench, Judge Garden had very clear ideas about the notion of justice.  Not for him any of this namby-pamby nonsense about people being innocent until proven guilty.  In his view, everyone is guilty of something, it's just a matter of finding out what.  He takes the concept of 'original sin' very seriously.

Nowadays he divides his time between torturing the garden and doing DIY around the house.  The end result of this activity is that most of the house now only exists in theory.  Following the collapse of the, aptly named, servants' quarters, Ulolulo has wisely decided against spending another night in there and now lives happily, but warily, in a hole in the grounds.  In fact, her name is a direct result of an encounter with a brand new electric bell push that the Judge had installed just before her arrival.  If you ask him nicely, he might just show you the ropes...which in his case are a collection of hangman's nooses.  He's rather proud of these and will happily recount the stories behind each one.  Pop in and see him in Jambalaya, he'll be glad to meet you.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

It's The Same Old Song...


Firstly, a confession.  I hate and detest karaoke.  My normal reaction, once this 'entertainment' starts is to head for the exit doors.  However, there have been occasions over the past few years, usually when I'm on holiday, when the choice has been either to stay put and suffer or go to bed early with a nice cup of cocoa.  Going to bed early is against everything that I hold dear, so I've endured the karaoke.

The problem with karaoke, as you're no doubt aware, is that it encourages those who should never sing in public, to do exactly that.  It also encourages those who have more front than Blackpool to be dragged 'unwillingly' to the microphone, so that they can then display their considerable skills, that have no doubt been honed by years of practice in their local pub.  The latter group are usually harder to shift from the microphone than anything Domestos can normally tackle.

Karaoke is, therefore, chiefly about the concept of ritual public humiliation, enlivened by occasional glimpses of real talent.  In this respect it strongly resembles such shows as Britain's Got Talent and X Factor, which are really karaoke writ large.

Over the years, I have become aware of a subtle shift in my attitude to karaoke.  Originally I just wanted to get as far away as possible, but lately I've been finding myself thinking "I really should have a go at that".  It's not that I think that I have a great singing voice or a wonderful way of interpreting lyrics, I don't have either.  No, it's more a creeping feeling of shame that all of these other people have the courage to try it, whereas time and again I creep from the bar, having done nothing other than criticise others braver than myself.  This has clearly been ruminating in what passes for my brain because, the other day, I found myself singing a song in the car (on my own, of course, I wouldn't inflict it on anyone else) and thinking "I reckon I could do that at a karaoke event".  It took my quite by surprise.  As you'll guess, this sort of self-deception is only a small step away from the ultimate tragedy of trying to put this into practice.

Last weekend we were in the Isle of Wight, my all-time favourite venue.  As we enjoyed a post -show drink,  it became apparent that karaoke was about to be inflicted upon us, from the setting up of microphones and screens.  The staff were struggling to get anyone to take part, although a couple of brave souls (comprising categories 1 and 2 above) did make the effort.  I found myself squirming in my seat in my usual tension of (as P.G Wodehouse used to say) letting "I dare not wait upon I would like the poor cat in the adage".  A lull in the proceedings caused me to gather my courage up and leap toward the stage, much to the amazement of my long-suffering wife (who had no idea of my inner turmoil).  Finding that the song I had been practising in my car (The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, if you're interested) was not available, I opted for my fall-back option, Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town.  The idea was that either of these would suit my rather low register.

To say that I was nervous would be an understatement.  Nevertheless, I launched into the song with gusto.  My optimism was, however, short-lived.  I managed the first couple of lines, more or less in tune.  The next two veered off into some entirely different musical landscape and I could feel the audience losing what little interest they initially had.  At times of great stress, most people's voices climb to a higher register - not mine, apparently.  As the song progressed, my voice became lower and lower, to the point where only moles and certain species of whales could really appreciate my vocal stylings.

When the song finally concluded (by which time I was frantically appealing to the audience for help, which didn't come) I made my way miserably back to my shell-shocked wife.  "Well, how was it?"  I asked with a sinking feeling.  "I don't know" she replied, honestly, "I couldn't hear a thing, your voice was so low"

I don't think my agent will be fielding calls from Simon Cowell just yet ;-)

This story, and a whole host of others,  feature in the latest compilation "A Kick at the Pantry Door", the third book in the very popular 'nostalgedy' series that also features, Steady Past Your Granny's and Crutches for Ducks.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

One Man Went To Moan

Continuing the story that began in I Want To Be A Lawn


I'll never forget my first attempt at serious lawn-mowing in this environment.  It was a beautiful summer's Sunday afternoon and I volunteered to mow the front lawn.  This was foolhardy for two reasons (1) I would be in full view of all of the nearby houses and, as the newly arrived spouse, would no doubt be the object of some interest, and (2) I had been to the pub for my regular Sunday lunchtime session of crib and a pint or two (are you beginning to see a pattern developing here?)

There really should not be anything difficult about lawn-mowing, but I managed to find it.  I had the greatest difficulty in keeping the power lead away from the business end of the mower.  Every time that I completed a length of the lawn, I seemed to have the cord wrapped around my legs.  Thus, I was constantly revolving in an effort to free myself of its amorous, and entirely unwelcome, embrace.  It took me quite a while to figure out where the cord needed to be, and which way I needed to turn to keep it there, by which time I had pretty well completed the task.  My wife came out to, thankfully, do the 'fiddly bits' involving the edging shears and I collapsed into a heap of nervous exhaustion in the living room.  Seeing one of our neighbours across the road, she popped over for a chat.  When she came back, she told me that our neighbours "had been laughing uproariously at my efforts to mow the lawn and they hadn't been that much entertained for years".  Oddly enough, she failed to see why I didn't find this encouraging.

I can only presume that I had managed to disgust the lawnmower with my efforts too, as on the next occasion when I dragged it out for another all-in wrestling match (for the back lawn this time, I wasn't ready for that embarrassment again yet), on clutching the start handle it gave a sort of apologetic cough and all of the innards fell out in a neat pile underneath.  It was one of those situations where it is impossible not to do a double-take.  I remember standing there looking in amazement and disbelief at the pile of cogs and blades, whilst hopefully turning over the mower in the hope of finding something still there.

Those of you who have been following my stories for some time will know of my lack of practical skills and will not be surprised that this dearth was made very clear in the early days of my marriage, when my protestations that I was fundamentally useless were still taken as endearing modesty rather than a stark warning. 

As I was unable to do anything other than point in appalled wonder at the collection of scrap metal that had been our mower, the lawnmower and its entrails were taken off for expensive repair by the local tradesman, who could obviously see in me the pathway to a comfortable retirement.  But my ordeal was not over yet. 

This story, and a whole host of others, will feature in the next compilation "A Kick at the Pantry Door", coming soon to a Kindle near you.  If you can't wait for that, you can always console yourself with the two volumes already published, Steady Past Your Granny's and Crutches for Ducks.