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Another Brilliant Review for the Christmas Compendium!

I'm really pleased that people seem to like the new collection of seasonal stories 'A Christmas Cracker ' .  This latest 5 sta...

Monday, 28 July 2014

"The past is a foreign country..."


I've looked it up and, apparently, this is a quote from The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley.  It struck me as particularly appropriate because I've been reading quite a few books recently by people who have moved abroad.  In fact, I'm beginning to wonder whether I should turn off the lights for the U.K. the next time I go on holiday as there's clearly only me still here.

Most of the books are really quite interesting and clearly have a wide appeal for those, like me, who can dream of emigrating but will probably never actually do so.  Of course, the standard varies, and for every one that is well written there are a dozen more that clearly have been prompted by the "You've got so many stories to tell, you should write a book" type of comment.  The best books are usually those written by people who have really integrated with their local people and culture and thus have something to share about living within a different culture.  The worst sort are those written by people who have remained in their own little bubble and view the world around them as an episode of 'Foreigners Do The Funniest Things'.  In fact, I'm just about to give up reading one for this very reason.  If I do, it will give it the honour of being only the second book that I've given up on in my life!

I was beginning to feel that, in comparison, my books were pretty hum-drum, until the quote above came to me, and I realised that I do write about a foreign country, albeit one that most of my readers have passed through in the last 40 or 50 years.  We know the culture and their habits and we can understand the language (even if we might struggle with some of it, these days).  So why not join me in a little holiday in the past?  You won't need a passport, I promise you won't get a tummy bug, and there are no queues at the check-in :-)







Sunday, 27 July 2014

Occasional Showers


As the holiday season commences and we all set off for hotels, guest houses and B&Bs, I thought this set of helpful hints, taken from 'Steady Past Your Granny's,' might be useful:


I like to think that I am something of a connoisseur of the gentle act of showering.  My wife says that given the amount of time that I spend in there, this announcement should surprise no-one, but I like to plan my day, bathed in the tender caress of warm refreshing water, in the absence of any better options.  Whilst I can pretty well guarantee this will happen at home (the warm water I mean, not the better options), the whole plan tends to fall apart whenever I stay overnight somewhere else.  If you’ve ever trusted what remains of your mortal coil to the often less than tender ministrations of a hotel or guesthouse shower, you’ll know what I mean.

Showers in hotels and guest-houses are the hotelier’s revenge on the world.  Once you accept this simple fact, you can get on with trying to make the best of, what is all too often, a diabolical situation.  For the uninitiated, here are some simple rules.

1.         Ignore the Instructions

You might as well.  The instructions, if they exist at all, invariably do not relate to the shower that is there now.  They are more likely to form a sort of nostalgic tribute, to the shower that used to be there but which has long since gone to that Great Plumber’s Skip in the Sky.  That is why the diagram shows that you must adjust two dials to achieve the optimum shower, coupled with dark warnings of what may happen if you do not do this, when you can only find one dial, which won’t move, and a mysterious lever.  Speaking of dials…

2.         Don’t touch the temperature dial

As previously noted, better establishments will have a well-worn notice describing the supposed functions of the piece of plumbing to which you are about to entrust your important little places.  This is a work of fiction but it will give you something to read while you are waiting for the ambulance to come and tend to your first-degree burns.  Lesser establishments will eschew the reading material, knowing that real men (and women) don’t read instructions and will instead present you with a Heath-Robinson collection of pipes, plungers and taps and leave you to work it out for yourself.  In either case, I urge you – do not touch the temperature dial.  This applies no matter what apparently ridiculous rating it appears to be set at.  From past and painful experience, whatever the setting of the temperature dial, it is probably correct, unless the previous occupant was a sadist, or, possibly worse still, a masochist.

3.         Don’t wait until morning to find out how it works

True of so many things but particularly showers.  I remember one infamous occasion when I was staying in a B&B in Dublin.  I should have been forewarned when I found that my sleeping accommodation consisted of a camp bed in what was clearly someone’s Study.  The ‘usual facilities’ had been shoe-horned into what had previously been a broom cupboard, situated across the hall from my makeshift bedroom.  The following morning, crawling unsteadily from my temporary dormitory after a night spent sampling Guinness, red wine and Chinese cuisine, in that order, I stumbled into the shower expecting an invigorating blast of (hopefully) warm water.  It didn’t happen.  I found that, with all dials turned to maximum and expecting at any minute a Scottish Engineer to appear from the basement screaming “If I gi’e her any more Cap’n, she’ll blow”,  I was the less than pleased recipient of a dribble of marginally warm, brown liquid (perhaps it was Guinness?).  All attempts to improve upon this state of affairs failed and I was forced to revolve my hung over corporation under this pathetic stream, resembling, for all intents and purposes, a vision by Salvador Dali of the closing sequence of Sunday Night at the London Palladium, which rather shows my age.

4.         Know Your Shower Type

Not that this will make a blind bit of difference to the quality of your experience, but at least you will be able to bore others with your expertise and complain, with some authority, to the management.

Showers tend to fall into three different types, or, to put it another way, people tend to fall in three different types of shower.  Firstly, there is the type that works by diverting the flow of water from the bath taps to a shower head.  This can range from the relatively cheap but effective system of a rubber hose forced hopefully, and usually very temporarily, over the taps themselves, to the marginally more sophisticated version where the raising or depressing of a plunger of some sort diverts the water up to a shower head.  The theory is that you should be able to run the water from the taps until you have established an adequate rate of flow and temperature and then, with a simple press of the plunger, divert this to the shower.  In reality, either the depression of the plunger will force a stream of ice-cold, or sometimes, unaccountably, scalding-hot water at your unprepared torso or there will be a disturbing sound in the plumbing, reminiscent of a flatulent hippopotamus easing its way out of a fetid swamp, and the hoped for water will vanish from sight. 

The second category of shower is the electric shower.  This has been a boon to landladies everywhere who, in an effort to meet the growing demand for ‘en-suite’ facilities in properties that were never designed to provide them, have forced shower cubicles into the most unlikely places.  My broom cupboard experience in Dublin was an example of being at the mercy of an electric shower.  You might think that the mixture of water and electricity is not necessarily a happy one, and you would be right but not for the obvious reasons.  Electrocution is the least of your worries, and might even be seen as a happy release after 30 minutes or so wrestling with an unrelenting plastic box that has suddenly decided to stop delivering water at all.  Electric showers work by diverting the normal water supply through a heating element.  This presupposes that the normal water supply is delivered at sufficient pressure to provide an adequate shower.  I suspect that these things are usually fitted and tested in the middle of the afternoon when nobody else is in the property and a fine, strong current of well-heated water is confidently delivered.  Unfortunately, as the majority of hotels and guest-houses have set times for breakfast, the likelihood is that most of the residents will be trying to perform their ablutions at the same time, thus reducing the available water supply to a dismal trickle.  Under these circumstances, the electric shower is not the place to be.  It can be guaranteed, in the same way that toast will always fall butter, or low-fat, cholesterol-free, dairy-type spread, side down, that the water will disappear totally at exactly the point that you have shampoo dripping into both eyes and soap congealing in areas where you would rather it was not.  It is precisely at this point that you realise that the controls were never designed to be operated by someone whose hands are covered in lather but that this is unimportant anyway as it is impossible to read the shower instructions whilst a selection of herbal extracts, essential oils and anti-bacterial detergents etch their way remorselessly across your eyeballs.

On the subject of items that were never designed to be operated by someone covered in soap, what lunatic first decided that it was a good idea to provide shampoo in sachets with tear-open slits?  A glance around any fast-food establishment should confirm that opening sachets designed in this way is beyond the ability of most people even when they are dry and reasonably rational.  Attempting the same manoeuvre when wet through, half-awake and fighting off the apparently amorous overtures of a shower curtain that has become irresistibly attracted to your damp body, should really feature as one of Dante’s circles of hell.

Finally we come to the last category, the Power Shower.  This is my personal favourite.  Here you are no longer at the mercy of the vagaries of the domestic water pressure.  The hot and cold water supply is mixed to your desired temperature and then pumped through the shower head.  What could go wrong?  Well, unfortunately, a number of things.  This system relies on there being an adequate supply of both hot and cold water, which is by no means guaranteed in many establishments, and sudden fluctuations of either can be character testing.  Secondly, these types of shower are invariably supplied with the sort of shower head that has delusions of grandeur.  A form of dial system on the shower head usually gives you the option of a fine spray, concentrated jet or a pulsating blast for the really courageous.  I’m sure that these devices work really well when they are first fitted and that early users can probably amuse themselves by staging their own personal version of the Dancing Waters but, from experience, the early promise does not last and the shower head becomes jammed on some entirely inappropriate setting.  The fun of the massage jet, as envisaged by the manufacturer, tends to be completely lost on the poor unfortunate who is running from one end of the bath to the other in a vain attempt to be in the right place at the right time for the next spasm of H2O.

I could go on, and I usually do, about:
  • shower curtains busily cultivating their own strain of antibiotics,
  • remarkably inadequate sections of transparent plastic designed to replace shower curtains that neither protect one’s modesty nor the bathroom from the water being sprayed in all directions,
  • and about shower head holders that either barely hold the shower head at all, thus leaving the user in a constant state of suspense, or which hold the shower head firmly but point it in entirely the wrong direction, so that the full benefit of the shower can only be gained by someone spread-eagled against the bathroom wall.

But I won’t.  Oh, I don’t know though… 

4.         Evacuate the Area

Whether you have been supplied with a shower curtain, shower screen or, luxury of luxuries, an all-encompassing shower cubicle, you should resign yourself to the fact that, no matter how careful you are, your bathroom will be doused with water in every possible nook and cranny within 30 seconds of commencing your shower. 

Given this simple fact, it still perplexes me that a well-known chain of holiday resorts insists on placing the entire stock of toilet rolls issued for your stay, including the one on the toilet roll holder itself, at one end of the bath and in direct line of fire of the shower head.  Clearly soggy toilet paper is this year’s ‘must have’ for the discerning holidaymaker. 

I suppose the only saving grace of these frequently ill-advised en-suite facilities is that at least we are spared the ridiculous situation of hotel or guest-house occupants diving in and out of their bedrooms like characters in a Brian Rix farce, every time that the sound of a bathroom door opening or closing is heard.  Which, of course, is a quintessentially British tradition now lost for future generations (thank heavens!)


Right, hand me my floral shower cap and that sachet of Mango and Jojoba (which, according to Billy Connolly, is the month after September) Lotion.  I’m going in and I may be some time.

There's a lot more of this sort of thing in my first 'nostalgedy' book, Steady Past Your Granny's


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Slide into Sixty Event


At the end of August, I will be slamming straight into the great age of 60 and will, at the same time, be retiring (although not necessarily shy with it ;-)) To celebrate my Slide into Sixty, I'm discounting all of my 'nostalgedy' books as from now. 'Steady Past Your Granny's' has been reduced, for the first time ever, from 99p to 79p. 'A Kick at the Pantry Door' has been slashed by 50p to 99p and the bumper collection of stories 'Crutches for Ducks' is now just £1.99. Dip into my stories from the last 60 years at these greatly reduced prices until the end of August 











Monday, 21 July 2014

Cruising Anyone?

I'm throwing myself on your mercy here, so please be gentle with me ;-)

I'm wondering whether there would be any interest in a collection of my stories about cruising (ocean-going, I mean, not anything untoward).   It would consist of some of the stories already published either here and/or in previous collections, but also some new stories about my experiences to date.

What do you think?

If you want some examples, take a look at these:  Cruisin' - Part 1

I'm in your hands - yes, I know, that explains that unpleasant feeling.


Saturday, 19 July 2014

A Dubious Undertaking - Part 2

Continued from Part 1

“Oh indeed, Archibald.  Then we come to the unfortunate business of Mr. Tomkins.”

“Hur” Archibald chuckled

“This is not a laughing matter, Thurble!”  Josiah shouted but quickly regained his composure.  “I’m sorry, Archibald, please forgive my intemperance.  The past few days have been something of a strain.  Now, Mr. Tomkins” He moved another manila folder to the top of the pile and extracted some papers.  “As I understand it, from the Police report, you took it upon yourself to embalm the late Mr. Tomkins, despite having no training whatsoever in this regard, is that correct?”

“Well, I thought I’d give it a go, Mr. Oakwood.  I’d watched some of the lads at it and it didn’t seem to me that there was much to it”

“I see, I see.  But you encountered a problem when it came to the embalming fluid, is that correct?”

“Couldn’t find none” Archibald confirmed

“You ‘couldn’t find none’.  Indeed.”  Josiah massaged his throbbing temple for a moment.  “Tell me, Archibald, what did you do instead?”

“Went down the garage and got some unleaded”

“You ‘went down the garage and got some unleaded’?”

“Yeah, there was an offer on too.  I got one of them wind-up torches”  He pulled a torch from one of his pockets, “It works a treat down the mortuary.”

“Had it not occurred to you, Archibald, that, given Mr. Tomkins express wish to be cremated, filling his remains full of Unleaded Petrol might not be the wisest choice of actions?”

“Didn’t think, Mr. Oakwood” Archibald muttered

“You didn’t think?  You are aware, are you not, that the resultant explosion permanently removed the hearing of the Crematorium Superintendent, demolished the Balmoral Chapel and deposited Mr. Grimes, the Crematorium Attendant two miles away?”

“There was a bit of a bang” Archibald agreed

“A bit of a bang?  Had it not been for the happy accident of Mr. Grimes landing on a pile of mattresses awaiting disposal at the Municipal Refuse Depot, we could have been facing a murder charge.”

“Bet he bounced quite a bit” Archibald sniggered

“I have no idea whether he bounced or otherwise, and it is immaterial to this conversation” Josiah snapped, 
“As for the late Mr. Tomkins, there was no trace whatsoever”

“But I saw his missus just going out with an urn” Archibald said, perplexed.

“Mrs. Tomkins is about to inter two pounds of Premium Quality Cat Litter along with the detritus from my wood-burning stove, and we can only hope she doesn’t decide to open the urn and examine the contents beforehand.”  Josiah extracted a linen handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his forehead. “That Oakwood and Undershot should be reduced to this” 

“She’ll never know the difference” Archibald said reassuringly

“We can only hope.  Finally, we come to the newspaper advertisement.  Do you know to what I’m referring, Archibald?”

“Think so, Mr. Oakwood”

“For as long as I can remember, Archibald, Oakwood and Undershot have had a box advertisement to the right of the title of the Merkin-Under-Heathwood Advertiser.  The masthead as I believe it is known in the trade.  This has always read ‘Oakwood and Undershot, Understanding and Sympathy at your time of need’.  Do you recall that, Archibald?”

“I’ve noticed it, yes Mr. Oakwood”

“I had no idea, Archibald, that when the Merkin-Under-Heathwood Advertiser sends out its quarterly bills for the cost of this advertisement, that there is an additional section in which one can enter a change of wording for the advertisement, if one should so wish.  But you, Archibald, you spotted this didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I saw it when the bill arrived”

“And you saw fit to change the wording, didn’t you?”

“Yeah”

“Would you like to remind me as to your revised wording, Archibald?”

“Well…it says ‘Oakwood and Undershot…’”

“It does indeed.  But what does it then go on to say?”

We Shift Stiffs.”  Archibald muttered,“ I thought it would be snappier and stuff”

We Shift Stiffs!”  Josiah exclaimed despairingly.  He put his head in his hands and wept bitter tears.

Archibald watched with some concern for a minute and then decided that he should withdraw tactfully.  He could see that Mr. Oakwood was clearly overcome with emotion and there would be time enough for his grateful thanks when he had recovered.  Archibald slipped out of the room, proud of a job well done.

Enjoyed this silliness?  Now try Jambalaya





Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A Dubious Undertaking - Part 1




Josiah Oakwood steepled his fingers and sighed as he looked around the familiar, oak-lined, walls of the dimly lit office.  Sunlight, of sorts, struggled through the stained-glass of the narrow windows high above.  He sighed again and re-arranged the papers lying on the desk before him.  The heavy knock on the door made him jump but he quickly recovered his composure and intoned “Come”.

The door cracked open and a tall, lanky figure in an ill-fitting black suit edged into the office.

“You wanted to see me, Mr. Oakwood?”  The figure asked, clearly hoping the answer would be in the negative.

“Ah yes, Archibald, please take a seat”

Archibald Thurble arranged himself in the seat in a sort of slightly organised pile.  He seemed, to Josiah, to be a series of ill-fitting joints, badly assembled and poorly tailored.

“Archibald, firstly may I take this opportunity to apologise on behalf of the company for the entirely unexpected and very difficult situation that you found yourself in last week?”

Archibald breathed a sigh of relief.  He had been expecting to be hauled over the coals.

“Cor, that’s all right, Mr. Oakwood.  I only did what any other bloke would have done.”

“Well, we’ll come to that shortly, Archibald.  For the moment, I have to say that I take full responsibility for the unfortunate situation.  Had I known that the entire staff of our little firm, excepting yourself of course, would be struck down by gastro-enteritis whilst I was taking my annual holidays I would have returned immediately.  Regrettably, as I was sojourning at a hill-top retreat in the wilds of Tibet, news did not reach me until my arrival at Heathrow.”

“Not to worry, Mr. O, I had the whole thing well in hand” Archibald assured him, cheerily.

“Yes, well that is as may be, Archibald, and I do appreciate your efforts to maintain the running of this complex and difficult business despite having only a few weeks basic training”

“Ta” said Archibald, relaxing visibly

“However, there are a number of issues arising from your stewardship which we need to address.  Shall I begin with the case of the Reverend W. Pemberton?”

“Oh yes, the Rev.” Archibald stated brightly, “what’s the problem?”

“The problem, Archibald,”  Josiah opened a manila folder and extracted a document, “is that when Miss Hermione Pemberton, the niece of the late Reverend, called this office to make arrangements for her uncle’s funeral,  you allegedly said to her, and I quote ‘Strewth, do you mean to say that he’s only just conked it?  I thought he’d shoved off years ago and you just propped him up in the pulpit for the look of the thing’.  Do you recall that conversation, Archibald?”

“Oh yes, course I do” Archibald leaned forward in his seat and looked about him conspiratorially, “I was trying to lighten the mood”

“Lighten the mood?”  Josiah said incredulously

“Yeah, well, you know how in them old Readers Digests in the waiting room, there’s that bit about ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’?  Well, Miss Pemberton sounded a bit upset, so I thought I would try and make her see the funny side.”

“Really?  Well, in that regard you seem to have failed abysmally.  Miss Pemberton, despite her family having done business with this firm for decades, has chosen to make the final arrangements for her uncle with a competitor.”

“Oh”  Archibald said, crestfallen.

Continued in Part 2


Sunday, 6 July 2014

Reduced crutches - might make you stoop a little ;-)


There's a Kindle Countdown Deal now on for CRUTCHES FOR DUCKS until the close of play on Tuesday (8th July, 2014).  Why not grab this bumper collection at the knock down price of just 99p (or equivalent)?


UPDATE

Sorry you've missed this offer, but you can still dip your toe in the 'nostalgedy' pool for just 99p with Steady Past Your Granny's



Saturday, 5 July 2014

And the question is...?


“Can I ask you a question?” He said, as I got up to leave the rooftop bar.  I resisted the temptation to give the response that I habitually give to my students in the same situation, which is “Yes of course…was that it?”  You can see from this why I fail to win friends and influence people.

My putative interrogator was a smartly dressed, elderly man accompanied by his immaculately attired wife.  They were clearly enjoying a pre-dinner drink in the bar, which we had been using as an impromptu reading room until the arrival of a legion of better-dressed aperitif consumers had made us feel scruffy and caused us to retire to our cabin.  Or, at least, try to retire to our cabin.

I was intrigued to see where this conversation was going to lead us.

“Can you see that ship over there?”  He asked, getting to the nub of the thing.

I peered through the encroaching greyness of the North Sea sky and eventually spotted what I imagined he meant on the horizon.

“Yes” I replied (to do otherwise would have been unnecessarily cruel) “and there’s another over there.”  I pointed to a spot further to our right.

“Thank you” he responded, with considerable relief, “she wouldn’t believe me” he nodded toward his wife.

“I couldn’t see them.”  His wife countered in defence.

It’s at times like this that you feel as if you have slipped into a floating Home for the Bewildered.  This, and the sleeping.

I suppose that having spent 9 months sloshing about in amniotic fluid, it is hardly surprising if even the best of us find the gentle rolling of the ship to be somewhat soporific.  Nevertheless, it is a little disconcerting to look about you and realise that everyone in your row of seats is dozing peacefully whilst also holding a book in their hands.  From time to time, inevitably, a book (or e-reader) will crash to the floor, causing a rude awakening.  More often, though, the slumberer will wake, look furtively around to see if anyone’s noticed their unconsciousness, and return to the act of reading as if nothing had happened.  I particularly like those who are clearly under the impression that they have only shut their eyes for a fraction of a second, who pick up their reading as if there has been only the briefest of interruptions, despite the fact that their jaw dropped open about twenty minutes ago and  there has been a succession of snores ever since.


They say that, in Eastbourne, they prop their dead up in bus shelters.  Here, I’m convinced you could hide a corpse for days in a comfy chair with a book, and no-one would ever notice.  Now there’s a thought!