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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...

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

A Strange Kind of Union


November's Derby Telegraph article, hot off the press (if they have such things nowadays) tells of my brief flirtation with militancy ;-)

You can find the whole sordid story on the Derby Telegraph Bygones website here, or read on below:


and here's the unedited content:

Last month, I was writing about my minor act of rebellion in leaving the work’s radio on over and above the allotted hour, which was popular with the girls working in Harold Wesley Ltd. in the 1970s, but less so with the management.  Recalling this reminded me that I had actually been a little more rebellious than that, not that it actually got me anywhere.

The 1970s marked the height of trade union membership in the U.K., with over 13.2 million members in 1979 and a corresponding 29.5 million days lost to industrial disputes, whereas in 2009 there were just over 7 million members and just 455,000 days lost.  Industrial strife impacted on all of us at some point.  I’ve written before about the eerie quiet of the factory and the difficulty of trying to work by torchlight during the 3 day week in the winter of 1973-1974.  Not a T.V. news bulletin went by without the sight of masses of men, at some factory or other (usually in the motor industry) dutifully raising their hands to signify their readiness to walk out on strike.  Against this background, Wesley’s was something of an oddity in that it had no trade union presence, now or in its history.

I think the original Harold Wesley might have been something of an enlightened factory owner in his day.  Certainly, the ancient letterheads we still used showed the H.Q. in Harlesden surrounded by green fields and with happy employees playing healthy sports.  Whether it was like this, or had ever been, I couldn’t comment as I was never important enough to go down there, but the Burton paper mill had none of these advantages. 

For example, the catering provision for the shop-floor staff, when I first joined, was pretty dire indeed.  It consisted of a run-down ancient cottage in the grounds of the factory, filled with third-hand furniture and some dodgy, and distinctly unsanitary-looking kitchen equipment, including a stove on which a kettle was permanently boiling, filling the place with steam.  During my time there, we did move to proper vending machines for tea and coffee but that was about as good as it got.

It was hardly surprising, therefore, that a recent recruit to our warehousing staff was appalled at the low wages and poor provision for the workers and started to recruit as many as he could into joining his union, which was the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU).    Inspired by this, I thought it was a shame that the management and clerical staff were going to be left behind and I tried to encourage a number of them to join the relatively new trade union, ASTMS (Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs) recently launched by Clive Jenkins, the charismatic Welsh trade unionist.  This was quite daring of me, really, because I felt sure that my days at Wesley’s would be numbered if it was ever found that I had been stirring up dissent in the ranks.  I think it even went as far as a representative of ASTMS coming down to the factory to talk to our M.D., but as they had no membership at that time, I think he was sent off with ‘a flea in his ear’.  Ultimately, although the various managers listened to me politely and quite agreed that our terms and conditions were pretty poor, no-one was willing to take the leap and join a union.


Things were different on the shop floor, however.  The warehouse bloke had been successful in getting a reasonable number to sign up to the TGWU and, inevitably, a District Official from that union came to talk to our M.D. about union representation.  It was at that point that our management obviously realised that they had to make some concessions, but they decreed that, whilst they were willing to recognise a trade union, it should be one appropriate to the industry, which is how we came to have the wonderfully named Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT) with their titles for their branch officials of Father of the Chapel and Mother of the Chapel, which, when you think about it, was rather appropriate for a firm called Wesley’s!

You can find all of the stories leading up to this, plus a whole lot more, in the brand new bumper 'nostalgedy' collection 'The Things You See...' available now at the special introductory price of just £1.49.



Thursday, 16 November 2017

All I want for Christmas is...

...the two latest books by Philip Whiteland?

Well, why not?



























A Christmas Cracker  at the giveaway seasonal price of just 99p (or equivalent)

Are you ITCS yet? For those who don't know, we're talking about being In The Christmas Spirit here. Before you throw anything at your e-reader, just remember that this is a state of mind that advertisers and manufacturers try very hard to induce in you, and yet the answer is right here, in this little book. Being ‘In The Christmas Spirit’ is impossible to define. It’s a bit like love, you know it when you’re in it. Philip has gathered together a whole bunch of stories he's written about Christmases past and present, some factual, some fictional, over the years. 

Some of these, if you’re a regular reader of his ramblings (and we know there are some of you out there...we can hear you breathing) you may recognise from previous collections, although updates have been made where it was sensible to do so. Interspersed with these familiar stories are others that have never previously seen the light of day, including a story featuring Josiah and Archibald, the two fictitious undertakers, written specifically for this collection. We really hope that you get as much enjoyment from reading these stories as we've had gathering them, and that you're ITCS before you can say "Ho, ho, ho!"

What people have said about "A Christmas Cracker":

Francesca wrote: "What a brilliant read, especially during the 'run up' to Christmas - although there's much to be said for reading this at any time of year to get that lovely warm nostalgic Christmassy feeling!
If you are one of the 'baby-boomers' this book will especially have appeal. So much reminded me of my own childhood, that I laughed out loud with recognition.
A mix of whimsical, amusing stories, along with true events and tales from the author's childhood, A Christmas Cracker can't fail to entertain. Philip has great way with words, and I love his sense of humour.
Beware though: it's difficult to put down!
Recommended reading for curling up on the sofa with a nice glass of something warming..."


and Mrs. E.J. White said: "I'm ITCS now, due to the author's comedic touch and nice line in self-deprecating humour. A mixture of Christmas comment, short stories and true tales, I recommend it for winding down after the deccies are up, the cards are done and no more forays into large towns are needed. Goes really well with a nice cup of tea and a warm mince pie."

Whilst L.F. Falconer in Nevada suggested: "Ah, the musings of Christmas Past. The best way to spark up one's own memories is to hear another tell his, and Whiteland's whimsical exploits can do just that for the more mature among us who can easily relate to the nostalgic draw. I got such a kick out of the Smith's Christmas Letter it nearly makes me want to write one of my own! And my dark sense of humor left me delighted by the antics of Archibald.

A pleasant kick off to the holiday season!"

The Things You See (published 31st October, 2017) Introductory price of £1.49 (or equivalent)

Philip’s back with a fifth collection of stories, both ‘nostalgedy’(a mixture of nostalgia and comedy) and other observational pieces in which he takes a wry look at times past and present. 

Every book has to have a theme and the structure for this one came whilst he was idly munching a chocolate bar. You know that one which used to promise to help you work, rest and play? Well, this book consists of Work, Play and the Rest. 

In ‘Work’ Philip joins the ranks of the employed at the beginning of the 1970s, firstly as an inept packer of plastics before moving to ‘a nice dry job with no heavy lifting’ in a dark, satanic paper mill. We learn about his struggles with punctuality, the difficulties of working in the darkness of the 3-Day-Week and why he had a real reason to be grateful for Ted Heath.

‘Play’ brings tales of a boozy holiday in Franco’s Majorca in the 1970s, a fleeting role in a ‘Look at Life’ documentary, Cilla Black, Soap Operas, an insight into the Cultural Quarter of Stoke-on-Trent and some tales from a trip to Australia.

Finally, ‘the Rest’ shovels up everything that wouldn’t fit into the first two, including a tour around a pub in the 1960s, getting a brace fitted at the dentist’s, difficulties with sanitary arrangements, why grass should be left alone, why shopping with your wife is an overrated pastime, a grumble about grammar and why it is absolutely fine to be a NIMBY. All wrapped up with the Title article, which is not for the faint-hearted.

Come and join Philip in his Slightly Odd World, you won’t regret it!

What people have said about 'The Things You See...':

An Amazon Customer said:  "As usual Philip pushes those memory buttons long switched off. His humour makes it a local book that must be read. Off now to finish the last few pages."

and Jonty gave this warning: "I have read and enjoyed all of Philip Whiteland's books and this book was no exception. But a word of warning. Do not read this book in bed if you don't sleep alone. I got in big trouble because I was laughing so much I woke up my husband. He was not impressed. Especially watch out for the kick towards the end at the Post Office. I shall say no more, other than ENJOY!"

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The Wreck Revisited


Back in February, 2013, I posted an excerpt from this article which originally appeared in my first book 'Steady Past Your Granny's'.  On reflection, I thought I had perhaps been a bit mean-spirited in only posting part of the article, so here's the rest of it.  New readers can catch up with the first part here - The Wreck Part 1 and read on from here:


The view from the ramp now

From your vantage point at the top of the ramp you might spot the telltale signs of a prospective football match.  Jackets or jumpers strewn about an area whilst a group of lads argued heatedly about the correct dimensions of their chosen area of competition.  I always hated football.  Not playing, of course, was not an option, even though I was useless.  You waited while the captains (who always seemed to be self-elected) chose their teams one-by-one from the assembled ranks.  I was usually the last to be chosen and, sometimes, an argument would break out between the captains as to who was to have the ultimate handicap of me on their team.  Eventually the game would begin.  Nowadays every child seems to be a budding professional and have a clear grasp of tactics and strategy.  In those days the favoured formation was the ‘flying wedge’.  This worked as follows.  The player with the ball (usually the captain, after all it was his ball) would set off down the field, dribbling the ball, with the rest of his team in hot pursuit behind him, in a sort of wedge shaped formation.  Those who had the least desire to actually come into contact with the ball (i.e. me) hurtled along at the back of this wedge, all strenuous effort and enthusiasm, without ever contributing anything to the game.  The worst scenario was if evening was beginning to fall and one of the parents came over to see where we were, and then decided to join in.  If my luck ran true to form, it would be my Dad, fresh from the pub and convinced of his own sporting prowess.  One or two of the most able of our group would attempt to tackle him and, sometimes, (having the advantage of sobriety) succeed.  I would try to blend into the background, consumed by embarrassment and ineptitude.

Alternatives to football, depending on the season, were cricket (proper or French if no-one had any equipment other than a tennis ball and a piece of wood), tick, illurky 1-2-3 (don’t ask, I can’t remember what it involved, although I think it was a variation of hide & seek), running, bike scrambles, sledging, go-karting (pram wheels and odd arrangements of scrap wood being the principal ingredients) and building forts/dens either from old tyres or hay (or both).  The tyres came from the scrap-yard.  Great, heavy lorry tyres retrieved at considerable risk from the haphazard piles of old cars, prams and other junk that constituted the scrap-heap.  We were always acutely aware that we could be caught at any moment and yet I can never recall seeing anyone working on the piles of scrap, nor, for that matter, can I remember seeing anyone bringing scrap to the yard or taking it away (other than us).  The tyres would be rolled under the bridge, over the ramp and onto “the wreck” to be formed into great, evil smelling, structures.  Hay was on-hand every summer when the Council had eventually given in to the inevitable and mowed the savannah, reducing the height of the grass from (what seemed like) six feet to a more manageable foot or so.  No-one ever came back to clear the mowings, so huge amounts of hay would be created (by the glorious sun that illuminated all our childhoods), which we would then gather together into towering mounds, just for the hell of it.

Another view of The Wreck as it is now 
(with the site of the Wagon Works in the distance)

I was always a little apprehensive about the Wagon Works.  This collection of buildings at the far end of “the wreck” always instilled a sense of foreboding.  Great clangs and bangs, shouts and oaths, issued from within but I never saw the labourers nor, for that matter, the product of their labours.  “The Wreck” was separated from the Wagon Works by a small brook that ran along that end of the field.  Expeditions were sometimes mounted down the steep banks of the brook to try to find anything that had the misfortune to live there.  This usually resulted in one or more of us getting very wet and muddy and typically involved an involuntary encounter with a patch of stinging nettles.

Finally, we would head homewards, the ball bouncing rhythmically on the pavement (sorry Cambridge Street!).  Just past the scrap yard was a concrete air-raid shelter that none of our group ever offered to investigate, perhaps the memory of its real purpose was still too fresh in the collective mind.  Then to Greenings shop on the corner, where the wealthy would dive in to buy chocolate, ice cream, Jubblys or Jungle Juice (frozen three-dimensional triangles of coloured water) and those with only a penny or two to spend would try their luck on the Beech Nut chewing gum machine, knowing that every fourth turn of the handle brought an extra pack and hoping that some fool with more money than sense would have left it just one turn away from that coveted prize!

I went back to “the wreck” the other day, consumed by a wave of nostalgia, and found a place of safety play surfaces and basket ball courts, landscaping and trees.  The old roundabouts and swings, having wreaked their havoc on the post-war generation, had obviously long since been taken out of service.  Of course, it all seems so much smaller now.  A walk around “the wreck” used to be a daunting proposition, now it’s a brief stroll. The scrap yard has gone, as has the air raid shelter, and the Beech Nut machine is an ancient memory.  The railway lines are still there, much less used and home to diesel fumes rather than steam and smoke.  The Wagon Works have given way to a housing estate. 

The entrance to “the wreck” is quite inviting now, with the greeting “Welcome” painted in large jolly letters in various languages on the bridge itself and landscaped grass banks replacing the piles of old cars.  The permanent flooding and potholes have gone, as have the toilets.  Not unsurprisingly, the stiles providing access to the railway lines have been replaced with high security wire mesh fencing.  I wonder if it is still a place of pilgrimage for train-spotters?  The brick built shed of uncertain purpose has gone, to be replaced by a car park.  Can you imagine any Councillor today trying to sell the idea of “the wreck” as it was?  “Well gentlemen, what I think we need is a patch of rough grass set aside for the kiddies.  We’ll stick it between those two railway lines, just behind the scrap heap.  Granted it’ll have a bit of heavy industry at one end and we’ll have to leave easy access to the lines for the railwaymen but folks should be grateful for what they get, that’s what I say.”  Probably not.

The path to the trainspotting spot

For all the landscaping and tree planting, the safety surfaces and security fencing, it is still recognisable as “the wreck” and I hope it still carves a place in the hearts (if not the foreheads) of todays young as much as it did when an extra pack of Beech Nut was the height of excitement.




By the way, the picture above shows the entrance to The Wreck as it is now.  The woman apparently holding a chicken on a piece of string is my wife, Hilary with our dog, Briar.

You can find this, and a whole lot more besides, in the first book of the 'nostalgedy' series:

for the ridiculously low price of just 99p!

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

It's Halloween and it's out there!


Published today (31st October, 2017) and what better day for a book called "The Things You See..."?

Philip’s back with a fifth collection of stories, both ‘nostalgedy’(a mixture of nostalgia and comedy) and other observational pieces in which he takes a wry look at times past and present. 

Every book has to have a theme and the structure for this one came whilst he was idly munching a chocolate bar. You know that one which used to promise to help you work, rest and play? Well, this book consists of Work, Play and the Rest. 


In ‘Work’ Philip joins the ranks of the employed at the beginning of the 1970s, firstly as an inept packer of plastics before moving to ‘a nice dry job with no heavy lifting’ in a dark, satanic paper mill. We learn about his struggles with punctuality, the difficulties of working in the darkness of the 3-Day-Week and why he had a real reason to be grateful for Ted Heath.

‘Play’ brings tales of a boozy holiday in Franco’s Majorca in the 1970s, a fleeting role in a ‘Look at Life’ documentary, Cilla Black, Soap Operas, an insight into the Cultural Quarter of Stoke-on-Trent and some tales from a trip to Australia.

Finally, ‘the Rest’ shovels up everything that wouldn’t fit into the first two, including a tour around a pub in the 1960s*, getting a brace fitted at the dentist’s, difficulties with sanitary arrangements, why grass should be left alone, why shopping with your wife is an overrated pastime, a grumble about grammar and why it is absolutely fine to be a NIMBY. All wrapped up with the Title article, which is not for the faint-hearted.

Come and join Philip in his Slightly Odd World, you won’t regret it!


Buy it now for the introductory price of just £1.49!  You'll never believe "The Things You See..."

* includes a visit to the infamous attic rooms from 'And things that go bump in the night' as we discover just what is in the locked attic.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Making Waves on the Radio


This month's Derby Telegraph article in which I put the 'oik' into work!






This is the unedited version of the article:

I mentioned, in a previous article, that I now had a companion in my office in Harold Wesley's in the 1970s.  Actually, that makes it sound like I had an office to myself, which was never really the case.  I had been parked in the Work's Manager's office but that clearly wasn't a viable solution as I had to be turfed out every time he had a confidential meeting, which could be several times a day.  It did give me the opportunity to explore the building at length, which was fascinating but not really productive.

In a relatively short time, a couple of new offices were constructed next door to the Work's Manager's office (Work's Managers can get this sort of thing done).  I was to share the first one with A.N. Other and the second was for person or persons unknown. 

The A.N. Other turned out to be Gwen, who was something else.  Tall, beautiful and stylishly dressed she made me, in my 'nearly suit' and with my more or less permanent  hangover , feel like something of an 'oik', which probably wasn't a million miles away from the truth.  Fortunately she wasn't just a pretty face, she also had a wicked sense of humour, a quick wit and, wonder of wonders, she found me funny!  Beautiful women finding me funny was not a regular occurrence, so this was definitely a turn up for the books.

Gwen had clearly noted my 'oik' potential.  As she says in her memoir (Wednesday's Child) "The Transport Club in Guild Street…was where he mostly spent his evenings and often spent most of the night/morning sobering up".  To which I can only say, guilty as charged, although I had hoped it wasn't quite that obvious.  She goes on to say that the Work's Manager   "came into our office on occasions I guess to keep us on our toes particularly if he thought there was too much frivolity as he could hear us as our offices were only partitioned with glass".   Obviously, enjoying yourself at work is not something to be encouraged and it certainly wasn't in the dark ages of the 1970s.
 
Before long, we had another addition to our small office, Paul, an earnest young chap who was just starting on his career ladder as the Manager of the Wrapping Paper Dept.  For a time, this rather put a crimp on any frivolity but he did gradually thaw although I think he very definitely recognised my inherent 'oik'ness.  He was much closer to Gwen in age and was markedly more mature than me, although that wouldn't have been difficult.  He had a career and was just about to get married, I wouldn't have known a career if it had bitten me and I had only recently had my first girlfriend, a relationship so successful that, as Gwen recorded "I remember he came in one morning and said he woke up in a puddle".

It speaks volumes that Paul was responsible for a whole department whereas I had been given responsibility for the work's radio.  This was a minor nod toward staff welfare.  It was basically a car radio which had been wired into the firm's P.A. system and mounted on the wall of our office.  Management had decreed that the workforce were not to have too much of a good thing and that the radio was only to be on for one hour, twice a day.  This afforded them an hour of Johnny Walker in the morning and another of Noel Edmonds in the afternoon.    I always hated turning the radio off at the end of the hour because you could hear a factory-wide "Awww" go up every time.  It also seemed obvious to me that people trapped in a monotonous job, in fairly basic working conditions, were likely to be happier and work better if they had something to take their mind off it all.  Then again, what did I know?  So, I sometimes 'forgot' to turn off the radio until one or other of the managers rang up, or stormed in, to complain. 

It wasn't much of a rebellion, but it was popular on the shop-floor.


Philip's latest collection of stories "The Things You See…" will be published on 31st October and is available to pre-order now for just £1.49 at http://mybook.to/ThingsYouSee

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Things You See...


Delighted to say this new book in the 'nostalgedy' series is now available for pre-order, prior to the publication date of 31st October, 2017 (what other date could you have for something called 'The Things You See...'?)





The Things You See...

Here's the blurb:

Philip’s back with a fifth collection of stories, both ‘nostalgedy’(a mixture of nostalgia and comedy) and other observational pieces in which he takes a wry look at times past and present. 

Every book has to have a theme and the structure for this one came whilst he was idly munching a chocolate bar. You know that one which used to promise to help you work, rest and play? Well, this book consists of Work, Play and the Rest. 

In ‘Work’ Philip joins the ranks of the employed at the beginning of the 1970s, firstly as an inept packer of plastics before moving to ‘a nice dry job with no heavy lifting’ in a dark, satanic paper mill. We learn about his struggles with punctuality, the difficulties of working in the darkness of the 3-Day-Week and why he had a real reason to be grateful for Ted Heath.

‘Play’ brings tales of a boozy holiday in Franco’s Majorca in the 1970s, a fleeting role in a ‘Look at Life’ documentary, Cilla Black, Soap Operas, an insight into the Cultural Quarter of Stoke-on-Trent and some tales from a trip to Australia.

Finally, ‘the Rest’ shovels up everything that wouldn’t fit into the first two, including a tour around a pub in the 1960s, getting a brace fitted at the dentist’s, difficulties with sanitary arrangements, why grass should be left alone, why shopping with your wife is an overrated pastime, a grumble about grammar and why it is absolutely fine to be a NIMBY. All wrapped up with the Title article, which is not for the faint-hearted.

Come and join Philip in his Slightly Odd World, you won’t regret it!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

New Review


Always nice to get a positive review for one of my books and even better when it comes from another 'ex-pat' Burtonian!  Carol posted this yesterday for the 'Crutches for Ducks' collection:

It's Great!

"Such a laugh. It reminded me of my own childhood in The Midlands. It will surely put a smile on anyone's face and Philip has a knack for getting it just right. Well done, it's great.

You can find the original review here

Thanks very much, Carol.  Very much appreciated.


Sunday, 1 October 2017

Cover Story

What do we think about this for the cover of the next book?


Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Man on the No. 5 Bus

This month's Derby Telegraph article.  You can find it on the Derby Telegraph website here, or read on below:






Here's the text:


Last month, I was recounting how I should, by rights, have been a contender for the Olympics, given my regular morning sprint for the bus to take me to work at Harold Wesley Ltd., in Victoria Crescent, Burton.  Mind you, the early morning Park Drive would probably have ruled out giving Messrs. Ovett or Coe any sleepless nights.

Running for the bus, and cursing breathlessly as it pulled away when I was within yards of it, was a constant feature of employment at Wesley's.  This was made all the more bizarre as I now knew a few of the Burton Corporation bus drivers quite well because I had made the Transport Club in Guild Street my local, which was ridiculous really because it was more than 1½ miles from my house.  Still, if the run for the bus didn't keep me fit, the hike to and from the Club should have done.

Back in the days of the old Routemaster buses with the open platform at the rear, the bus driver was a mysterious figure, only visible from the back as he ploughed his lonely route in the separate cab.  In those days, the person you got to know was the bus conductor, who was more than likely to be female.  Some of these were friendly sorts, willing to chat and joke, others were real martinets who delighted in making you wait for your change or gave you a telling off if you tried to jump off the platform as the bus came to a halt.  I believe this combination of male drivers and female conductors sparked a few romances, some of which should probably not have been happening.

When 'One Man Operation' buses came into being, it obviously spelled the gradual demise of the conductors but also made the drivers into customer-facing workers.  Some were fine with this and were very sociable, others should never have been anywhere near the customer and would have been best kept in the separate cab.

Take Courtney for instance (names have been changed throughout to protect the guilty).  Courtney's whole demeanour told you that he really didn't think he should be driving buses for a living, he was made for better things.  He also viewed the rest of the human race as a sort of sub-species who were to be tolerated at best and berated at worst.  He was not above giving passengers a short lecture if they transgressed in any way and I'll never forget the time when he stopped the bus at the zebra crossing at the junction of Derby Road and Borough Road, to give chapter and verse of the Highway Code to some unfortunate who had mistakenly thought that it was one crossing and vehicles should stop for her.  Courtney made it clear that the island in the centre made it two crossings and he was therefore not obliged to stop.  This went on for quite a while and made for an entertaining debate, if you didn't have anywhere particular to be.

The other driver who lives in my memory, and still has me waking up screaming some nights, was known to all and sundry as Mad Maurice.  Maurice was a red-haired Irish man who clearly would have liked to have been driving a sports car but actually didn't have a car at all.   He drove his bus at a furious speed, accelerating and braking with gusto and throwing double-deckers around corners at a rate that made you wonder how the heck they were going to stay upright, which was a particular concern if you were trying to enjoy a quiet smoke upstairs at the time.  Maurice didn't communicate with his passengers in any way at all, other than the occasional low growl and no-one dared to take issue with him, even when he stopped his bus outside his house in Uxbridge Street and disappeared, for quite some time, to go and pick up his sandwiches.  Well, at least that's what I always assumed he was doing.  Of course, to make up the lost time, he drove even faster for the rest of the route.


You had to be a patient and doughty sort to ride the buses in the 1970s.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Late and Seen!


This month's Derby Telegraph article (published on my birthday, too!) is about my inadvertent training for world-class athletics-ish:


Here's the text, if you can't read the photo:

Last month, I was bemoaning the fact that nobody was really sure whether I was a manager or not when I worked at Harold Wesley Ltd., in Burton in the 1970s.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  The senior management of Wesley’s and I were in no doubt as to where I fitted in the pecking order.

I think my mum had aspirations though.  That became clear when I received, unexpectedly one birthday, a very nice quality small suitcase with incorporated document case.  I think she rather thought this was what the aspiring young executive should have.  However, a document case rather implies that you have work to bring home and I barely had enough to do in my normal hours of work, without traipsing any home with me.  I did try to act the part for a while by transporting my lunchtime sandwiches in the suitcase, but it just made it look as if I was constantly leaving home, so I abandoned that idea.

In truth, any hopes of advancement I might have had would have been kippered by my inability to arrive at work on time.  You may recall that I had the same problem at the Plastics Warehouse?  Well, this was exacerbated by Wesley’s being the first job where it wasn’t practicable to walk or cycle to work, I had to catch the bus.

Catching the bus should not have been a problem, and wouldn’t have been to most people.  The best to catch was the No. 5 at the bus stop diagonally opposite from All Saints’ Church on Branston Road.  This left at about 8.10 and would get me comfortably to Dean and Smedley’s on Horninglow Road, around the corner from Wesley’s, just before 8.30 (which is when I was due to start work).  However, for every time when I caught this bus, there were at least a couple of times when I didn’t.

I should have been a world-class athlete as a consequence of running to try and catch the bus.  Never good at getting out of bed in the morning (I’m still not) I would leave my departure from our house in South Broadway St. until the very last moment.  A fast-ish walk down South Broadway St, whilst lighting a cigarette, usually turned to a steady lope along All Saints’ Road which then became a flat-out sprint as I saw the bus go past the church at the top of the road.  Sometimes there would be other passengers waiting at the bus stop and I would have sufficient time to get to the bus before it pulled away.  On other occasions, dependent on the degree of sadistic pleasure on the part of the driver, it would either wait for me to make it to the bus stop and fall aboard gasping for breath or, more frequently, pull away just as I was within a few yards of victory, leaving me doubled up with exhaustion and frustration.

If I missed the No. 5, I was left with the prospect of catching either a No. 12 or a No. 6.  Neither of these would get me to work on time, or anything like it and would also entail getting off in Waterloo Street to then walk, or more likely run, up Victoria Crescent. 

I would then have to try and insinuate myself into the factory in a way that didn’t call attention to my late arrival.  The best option was to make my way up the loading dock, hoping not to bump into anyone, and then, with a piece of paper gripped in my hand, walk determinedly toward my office as if I had just been somewhere to collect some vital statistics.


 I was now sharing an office with Gwen (who sometimes writes for this paper) and, for this ruse to work, I had to hope she wouldn’t call attention to my late arrival.  In her memoir ‘Wednesday’s Child’ she writes, “I’m sure Philip didn’t take kindly to me joining him as he liked being on his own – I suspect he thought I might grass him up when he sneaked in through the back door – late most days”.  Fortunately, she didn’t!

You can find this story, and a whole heap of others like it, in the new bumper collection of 'nostalgedy' stories "The Things You See..." available now on Amazon.



Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Steak Pie On Wheels



I’ve written quite a lot, just lately, about my doomed attempts to buy a steak pie from a local cafĂ© (see here, here and here).  The continued absence of this comestible, despite it featuring prominently on the Specials Board, seems to me to be redolent of a societal longing for something that used to exist, but no longer does.  Alternatively, it could just mean that they can’t be *rsed to change the Specials Board.

Anyway, it seems to me that this ‘steak pie’ attitude to customer service can be found in lots of other places, for example…

The other day we had to go into Burton upon Trent to collect a second-hand car we had ordered for my wife.  The reasons why we’ve had to buy a replacement vehicle for my wife (by which I don’t mean that I’m having the car instead of her, although…) are sufficient to drive a relatively sane person barmy, so I won’t go into them here, other than to invoke a specific curse on the person who knowingly sold a particularly lethal car to a young family.  May he (and the person who gave it an MOT) rot in an exclusive circle of Hell.

We decided that it would hardly be environmentally friendly to drive into Burton and bring two cars home so, as we unusually had some time on our hands, we opted to take the bus for a change.  I should point out, at this juncture, that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, there has only ever been one bus service running through our village and that goes, about once an hour, to Burton.

The only timetable we had was a few years old but we decided it should be a reasonable guide and so we presented ourselves at the nearest bus stop about ten minutes before the appointed time, and an hour and a half before the appointment made to collect the car.  Burton is only a half-hour ride from our village.

Can I say here, I think it is a shame that in order to make bus-shelters more or less vandal-proof, they’ve also made them decidedly uncomfortable?  The same is true on unmanned railway stations, where (in both instances) those tip-up seats allow you to perch precariously, but not sit properly.  Mind you, I suppose it is an advance on the stainless steel hurdle that constituted  bus-stops in my youth, against which you could lean or, if small enough, hang from like a monkey.

The bus arrived bang on time and we boarded.  My wife has a bus pass but I don’t due to my relative youth (yes, I know it’s hard to believe).  She said to the driver, very clearly, “A single to Burton Town Centre, please”  My wife prides herself on her clear diction, whereas I, apparently, mumble.

“You don’t need to do that, now” the Driver replied, “you just have to touch your card against the scanner” So she did.

I followed and said, “Well, I need the same but I have to pay for mine” and he duly charged m £3.10 and issued me with a ticket.  I thought that this was a bit steep but it’s been years since I last caught a bus.

We settled down in our seats and prepared to enjoy the novelty of a bus ride.  Actually, ‘enjoy’ might be rather over-egging the pudding.  It has to be said that if you were hoping for the smooth and relatively silent glide of a coach, you would be somewhat disappointed.  I think you could have had  a more tranquil journey in the revolving section of a cement mixer.

After a while, my wife said “Shouldn’t we have gone through Sudbury?” (our neighbouring village).  “I thought so” I replied with my usual quick wit and ready repartee.  “Perhaps they don’t go there anymore?” She suggested.  I shrugged my shoulders, my conversational capacity exhausted.

Our bus then joined the A50 and continued on its merry, bone-shaking way to Mickleover.  By now we were looking at each other quizzically.  No bus going to Burton would readily divert through Mickleover.  I hauled my ticket out of my pocket and noted, for the first time, that it said ‘Single to Derby’.  It is, perhaps, worth noting that Derby is in exactly the opposite direction to Burton.

Still unwilling to accept the written evidence, and that of our own eyes as we trundled around various Derbyshire villages, my wife asked another passenger where the bus was going, and she confirmed it was for Derby.  As getting off in any of these villages would not guarantee the possibility of a bus back to Burton, we realised that we were trapped until we reached Derby City Centre.

“We’ll get off at the Bus Station and catch another back to Burton” my wife decided.  “Does this go to the Bus Station?” She asked our helpful fellow passenger, as we weaved around the streets of Derby.  “I’m not sure that it does” came the less than helpful reply.

With the Bus Station in sight, we pressed the bell and the bus pulled up.  The conversation with the Driver then went like this:

Wife:  “Do you go to the Bus Station?”

Driver:  “Oh no, we try to avoid it because it gets so busy” (foolish of us to imagine a bus actually using a Bus Station, obviously)

Wife:  “We’ll have to get off here then.  I asked you for a single to Burton, you know?”

Driver (looking at us blankly)  “Oh!”

As it was clear that this conversation was getting us nowhere, other than Derby City Centre, we got off and headed for the Bus Station with all haste.  The haste was, actually, a little redundant as we had just witnessed the express, non-stop bus to Burton gliding serenely past us as we alighted from our previous instrument of torture.  Sure enough, on entering the Bus Station, we learned that the next bus to Burton would depart in twenty minutes and would call at all of the little villages we had just, unwillingly, visited, plus a few more for good measure.

By the time we caught our new bus, it was well past the hour when we should have been collecting the car.  One apologetic phone call to the garage later, and with me nearly £10 lighter in cumulative bus fares, we set off for another scenic tour of the more obscure villages of Derbyshire and Staffordshire, accompanied by the usual crashes, bangs and bone-shaking bounces that are such a fun feature of public road transport.  Quite why they offer free wi-fi is beyond my comprehension, I should think it would be a minor miracle if you ever managed to get your finger anywhere near your touch screen without doing you, or your companion, a serious and possibly deeply embarrassing, injury.

When we finally dragged ourselves into the garage, weary, deafened and shaken to the core, we had been in almost permanent transit for a total of three hours in order to complete what should have been a fifteen mile journey.

So, if you’re wondering why we need a second car when we have such a wonderful public transport service on our doorstep?  Don’t ask, just don’t ask!


You can find this story, and a whole heap of others like it, in the new bumper collection of 'nostalgedy' stories "The Things You See..." available now on Amazon.





Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Man in the 'Nearly' Suit


For your delectation and delight, here is this month's article for the Derby Telegraph which appears in today's (Wednesday, 26th July, 2017) edition.  If a link appears for the article on the Derby Telegraph website, I'll post it but in the meantime...


If you find reading the text in the photo a bit of a pain, here it is in all it's glory:

In these enlightened times, when casual dress is often the recommended work attire and offices are more likely to have a table tennis than a boardroom table, it's difficult to remember just how hierarchical the workplace used to be.  This occurred to me, the other day, thinking about my time at Wesley's in Victoria Crescent, Burton in the 1970s. 

You see, there were people in suits, usually male, who were the management and others in overalls who were the workers.  Then there was me.  I'm pretty sure that the people on the 'shop floor' at Wesley's didn't really know what to make of me.  Was I part of the distrusted 'management', or was I one of the workers?

To be fair, I was never too sure myself, largely because I was actually unique.  I was the only male clerical worker in the company.  I didn't wear a suit, because I only had my one 'made to measure' three-piece indulgence from my first job, which was only suitable for high days and holidays and would have looked distinctly OTT in a work context.  However, I did feel as if I ought to wear a suit, so I got as close as I could with a brown sports jacket and some brown trousers which were nearly, but not quite, the same colour.



The confusion about my managerial status was also compounded by the fact that, when all of the Departmental Managers were called to the General Office for morning and afternoon tea, so was I.  However, the really confusing feature, and the only occasion when I came even close to being part of 'the management', was when it came to stocktaking.

Stocktaking took place twice a year, usually on a Saturday when the factory wasn't working.  The system was that the Head of Department for each area counted the various piles of stock in his (and it was always 'his') department.  He then completed a three-part form which showed what the stock was and where it was but only put the quantity on the top sheet, leaving the other two parts with the stock.  Then a second person would come along, count the stock again and put their total on the second part of the form.  Parts one and two would be sent up to the Managing Director's office for him to compare the totals and the third part would remain with the stock to show it had been counted.  Fascinating, eh?  I was never entrusted with the initial count, I was the follow-on. 

The best part of this arrangement, however, was that you were assigned a gopher! You see, it was never expected that members of management would be required to clamber over stacks of paper reels and suchlike.  That would never do.  Instead, each stock-taker had with him one or two lads from the warehouse gang.  It was their job to clamber over the stacks, count and report back. 

The beauty of this was that you stood a better chance of tracking down exactly where stuff had been stacked (especially if you had a friendly 'gopher') because they had, in all probability, been part of the gang who put it there in the first place.  The other benefit was that the warehouse lads knew if the stock had been there since God was a lad, and therefore the total hadn't changed in decades.


I couldn't help feeling more than a little awkward about this arrangement.  It made perfect sense for some of the more venerable managers we had in the company, who really couldn't be expected to indulge in the mountaineering antics required in some parts of the warehouse, but I was about the same age as most of the lads in the warehouse, and considerably younger than some.  I therefore felt rather guilty as they climbed up the stacks, with commendable agility, whilst I stood a discreet distance away from all the dust and cobwebs and inscribed the figure they came up with on the form.  It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it!


You can find this story, and a whole heap of others like it, in the new bumper collection of 'nostalgedy' stories "The Things You See..." available now on Amazon.



Tuesday, 25 July 2017



If you have been following my Steak Pie saga (which can be found here and here) it may have occurred to you, as it has just to me, 'What the dickens was the waitress doing in the kitchen all that time after we ordered our mythical steak pies?'  In the absence of any facts, I've done what anyone else would do in the circumstances, and made something up:

Waitress: "Oh my God, Oh my God, you've got to help me!"

Chef:  "Calm down, whatever's the matter?"

W:  "It's the couple who've just come in downstairs"

C (calmly stirring a pan of beans):  "What about them?"

W:  "They've only just been and gone and ordered the steak pie!"

C:  "Not a problem, tell them we've sold out, that always does the trick"

W:  "But, you don't understand.  They came in a couple of weeks ago and that's what we told them then."

C:  "So?"

W:  "So!  When they asked again this time, I told them we had them!"

C:  "What!!  Why did you do that?"

W:  "I don't know.  I guess I panicked.  It's on the Specials Board after all"

C:  "I know it's on the Specials Board, but that's just because we don't want to be seen as somewhere that just does breakfasts.  We want to be seen as a smart, sophisticated, small restaurant, offering a range of attractive options."

W:  "With chips."

C:  "Well, yes, alright, with chips.  But you know what our clientele's like"

W (rummaging through the cupboards):  "Surely we must have a steak pie somewhere"

C:  "We've never had a steak pie and you know it."

W (wailing): "What am I going to do?"

C (grabs her by the arms and looks deep into her eyes):  "There's nothing for it, you're going to have to take a deep breath, calm down, and go back down there and tell them...tell them...we're having problems with our suppliers!  Yes, that'll do."

W:  "Do you think that'll work?

C:  "'Course it will.  They're British, they won't make a fuss.  You go and tell them that, I'll start cooking their breakfasts."