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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&#...

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

War in the Warehouse

This month's Derby Telegraph article hit the newsstands today (31.05.17).  It might be a while before it makes it to the Derby Telegraph website, so I thought I would share it with you here.  On reflection, 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' might have been a better headline ;-)

If you're having trouble reading the print on the image, here's the content:

You may remember, back in March, I said that there was “a sort of low-level guerrilla warfare in place” in the warehouse at Harold Wesley Ltd in Victoria Crescent, Burton?  On reflection, that might have been a bit of an understatement!

Mr. D., the Warehouse Manager, belonged to that school of post-war British managers whose ‘bark was worse than their bite’.  This worked fine in the days of deference but was wearing a bit thin by the early 1970s.  The lads (and it was mostly young men) who were employed to shunt huge reels of paper around the ancient building, were not prepared to be constantly bullied and badgered, particularly as they were earning a pittance and their working conditions left a lot to be desired.  In those days, Wesley’s did not have a trade union or any form of employee representation, which was unusual.  The 1970s recorded the peak of trade union membership.  With no official outlet for their grievances, some of the lads turned to mischief to make their point.

The first time I became properly aware of this, other than noticing the constant grumbling coming from both Mr. D. and the warehouse gang, was when I heard scuffling and suppressed giggling coming from Mr. D’s office.  At the time, I was ensconced in the Works Manager’s office (we were a little short of office space) next door to Mr. D’s office.  I didn’t think much about it until Mr. D. returned and uttered a stream of oaths and obscenities.  Sticking my head into the lion’s den, I discovered that Mr. D’s office had been trashed, with papers strewn everywhere and a bottle of ink liberally sprayed over the walls.  It was pretty obvious who the culprits were, but nobody could be individually identified because, unsurprisingly, no-one had seen anything.  I was quizzed but couldn’t shed any light on the investigation.

As it turned out, this was the least serious skirmish in the battle.  Unbeknown to Wesley’s management, we had our own tame arsonist in the warehouse gang.  This would be a problem in any organisation, but when you’re a paper conversion factory housed in a building with ancient wooden flooring throughout, it represents a particular menace. 

Any fire on the premises occasioned a full station turnout by the fire service and this started to be a regular occurrence.  Firstly it was just minor outbreaks, which could easily be contained, but the severity of the incidents increased, until one occasion when much of the warehouse was alight over more than one floor.  Flames could clearly be seen licking at the windows of the old brewery building as we stood in the street watching the firemen do their work.  The corner of the warehouse that was alight was just a few feet away from the office block, as you can see from the picture.  Only the entrance to the main yard separated the two buildings. 

Later, when the fire had been brought under control, the fire station chief (who was in a particularly bad humour at having been called out to us yet again) stomped around asking everyone what action they had taken on hearing the fire alarm.  He focused his ire on the inhabitants of the office building and, in particular at the office junior and a sort of office junior’s assistant employed in the General Office.  Two very young girls who were rather immature for their age.

“What did you do when the fire alarm sounded?” The fire station chief barked at them.

“We went and stood in the kitchen.”  The office junior offered.  The fire station chief was aghast.  The kitchen was an extension at the back of the office block which was, if anything, nearer the seat of the flames than anywhere else in the building.

“And what did you do in there?” The fire station chief asked, incredulously.

“Well,” the office junior simpered, “we held hands”

I thought he would have apoplexy.

We never did find the arsonist.  The fires did stop, eventually, which probably meant the culprit either got fed up with it, or more likely, left, but the all-pervading lingering smell of smoke in the place was a lasting reminder of his work.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

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' collection of books.  

Firstly, Jane Bryan very kindly gave a 5* rating to 'Steady Past Your Granny's' with the review "Enjoyed this book" (see the review here) which is short and to the point and exactly what any author hopes to hear :-)

Then came the enigmatic 'Kindle Customer' who gave my 'Giving a Bull Strawberries' collection of stories another 5* rating and said:

"A bit of nostalgia is what you need to chase the grouchies away. You may identify with so many scenarios in Mr. Whitelands books. I know I did. Please sir...can we have some more ?" (you can find the review here)

All in all, quite a good few days, in which over 1400 pages of the books were read via Kindle Unlimited.  Don't forget that you too could read all of the 'nostalgedy' collection (apart from Steady Past Your Granny's) this way, free, gratis and for nothing!

In answer to 'Kindle Customer's' burning question, I hadn't planned to release any further collections of stories, but since she asks so this space.

If you're wondering about what you might be missing - try following the links on the right hand side of this blog post, or follow the links below:

Steady Past Your Granny's

Crutches for Ducks

A Kick at the Pantry Door

Giving a Bull Strawberries

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Barging in to the Cinema!

This month's (April, 2017) Bygones column for the Derby Telegraph concerns the chance find of a 'Look at Life' film from the early 1960s.

If you would like to see Uxbridge Juniors in the early 1960s in glorious technicolour, this link will take you there without the faff of wading through 18 mins or so of preceding documentaries: Look at Life

And this is the article content:

I do love the internet!  Having so much information at our finger tips is astounding.  Sometimes it seems that everything you can think of is there, if you know where to look.  For example…

Out of the blue, I received a message from an old school friend, who now lives in Australia (which, again, is pretty amazing.  Years ago, if you had emigrated to the antipodes, you might as well have died for all communication intents and purposes, now you can have a real-time chat by text!)  Some of you may have heard of Kevin Spiers, a very talented professional musician, well known on the Burton music scene?  Well, Kevin retains an interest in Burton and its heritage and occasionally finds something squirreled away on the internet.  This message was about just such a find and I couldn't have been more amazed.

Regular readers may recall a story from my days at Uxbridge Junior School, around 1964, when our class was taken on a canal trip.  This was pretty exciting in itself, but it was made more so by the presence of a film crew from the 'Look at Life' team.  Do you remember 'Look at Life'?  It was a sort of ten minute documentary review of life in Britain which helped to fill the gap between the B movie and the main feature.  The film crew remained with us all day and shot quite a bit of film of what was a glorious and very interesting event.  Like most of my contemporaries, my previous experience of canals would have been walks along the towpath and futile attempts at fishing, resulting in the watery demise of a few maggots.  On this day, we experienced the joys of canal travel and marvelled at the mechanics of ascending a huge flight of locks.

Some months later, further excitement followed when the whole school was invited to an exclusive showing of the relevant 'Look at Life' episode at the Odeon in Guild Street, which was opened especially for us.  I guess we all expected that our canal trip would dominate the episode, given how long they had spent filming us.  Of course, in reality, nothing could have been further from the truth.  I'm not even sure if I actually saw myself on the big screen, I may well have been retrieving a sweet from the floor at the time.  It was definitely a case of "if you blink, you'll miss it".  I think we were all rather underwhelmed, but it was still something to tell our grandchildren.

I never expected to see this footage again (always assuming that I'd seen it the first time) but Kevin's message revealed that he had found it!  There, once again, we can see Mrs. Strong, our teacher, leading a class out onto our school playground to follow the contours of a chalked map of the Midlands, proudly showing the mighty power stations along the banks of the Trent.  Kevin makes the point that it must have been a Monday, as you can see washing lines full of sheets in the gardens of Oak Street, which backed on to our playground.

Then we cut to the canal trip and there, if you look really closely, you can see, at the front of the picture, me sitting between my two friends David Topliss (by the window, looking disgruntled) and Alan Lewsley (looking bemused)  Directly behind Alan is Mr. Adams, our headmaster (which may explain the bemusement) resplendent in overcoat, jacket and waistcoat.  Then the film moves on to another class (not us) timing objects floating down a river. 

I can't begin to describe the sheer pleasure of finally being able to see this well remembered event again after all of these years.  Mrs. Strong and Mr. Adams of course seemed as old as Methuselah to us at the time, but I can see that they were considerably younger than I am now. 

Were you at Uxbridge Juniors in 1964?  Perhaps you're in the film?  You can find out by visiting Look at Life or go to You Tube and find BBC Britain on Film, Series 2 Episode 2 Children - Look at Life FULL, this particular documentary is at 18:25.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Steak Pie

It was our 27th Wedding Anniversary the other week!  Hmm?  No, I quite agree, you don't get that for murder these days and no, I haven't heard that one before.  What did we do?  Well, I guess what any long-time married couple does.  We spent a considerable amount of the day staring down a manhole in our garden.  Well, actually, staring was the easy bit.  Thrusting a high pressure hose down there, with all of the attendant blow-back, was slightly more problematic.  You see, my good lady wife had convinced herself that there was something seriously wrong with our drainage and, as it turned out, she was absolutely right.  That which should have been flowing away, was, instead, hanging around, which I'm sure you'll agree, no-one wants.

Regrettably, repeated thrusts with the high-pressure hose had no effect, other than to stir up the evil brew and we began to contemplate writing the day off whilst we waited for an expensive specialist to come and sort it out for us.  Just then, we noticed that our next-door neighbour was working in his garden and we asked him to check his manhole to see if all was well there, which unfortunately, it was.  However, he is one of these handy chaps with all of the necessary gear and he asked if we would like him to pop over and give it a go with his set of rods, to which we readily agreed.

A number of rods later, it became depressingly apparent to him that any blockage was not, in fact, in our garden, but in his!  Cue intense foraging which threw up a hitherto unknown manhole cunningly buried under the roots of a bush.  After an intense period with a chainsaw, which meant the demise of said bush, the manhole was revealed and so was the blockage.  Much strenuous thrusting with rods eventually led to a satisfying gurgling sound as days' worth of that which you would rather not have hanging around headed off to pastures new, albeit pastures you wouldn't rush to gather lilacs in.

By now, a good chunk of the day had gone, along with any ideas of having a 'posh lunch' (which had been our original plan, before the sewage got in on the act).  It was too late for a lunch of any quality, so we decided to go with what we were comfortable with and headed for a little cafe in a nearby town.  Now, whenever we go to this cafe, I invariably have the all-day breakfast, which is good and great value.  Today, however, I thought I would show that I was not a slave to convention.  I would eschew the all-day breakfast and try something else, something daring!  I noticed, on the Specials Board, that they had Steak Pie, Chips and Gravy and I decided to plump for this.  "I will have Steak Pie, please" I announced to the young chap taking our order, to the considerably surprise of my wife.  "Ah" He responded "I'm not sure if we have any left, I'll just go and check"  My heart sank.  From experience, whenever a waiter comes out with this phrase, it means 'I know damn well that we haven't got any but I'll pretend to go and check so I can shift the blame onto the invisible denizens of the kitchen'.  Sure enough, after a few minutes, he returned and apologised but there was no Steak Pie to be had.  Predictably, I reverted to the all-day breakfast but somehow felt cheated of my Steak Pie.

When we came to pay the bill a little later, we pointed out to the cashier that the Specials Board still sported the offer of Steak Pie, despite the absence of same, and we had heard a number of other putative diners enquiring about the Pie with similar results.  Surely, we suggested, it would be prudent to remove the offending item from the Board?  This caused a look of consternation on her part.  Clearly, she had every hope that there might, indeed, be Steak Pie tomorrow, so would such a radical step as removing it from the Specials Board now, really be warranted?  We paid our bill and left, but musing on it later (because I really don't have anything better to do with my time) it occurred to me that this was a motif for our time.

You see, it seems to me that there's a huge longing in the world for something that, not only isn't there, but probably never was.  A sort of global Steak Pie.  This longing is for a golden past, in which everything was just dandy and which has been ruined by all of this pesky modernity and stuff.  If we could only go back to (pick an era of choice, could be 1950s America or 14th Century Persia, or any other time and geographic location) then everything would be great, again.  Or not.  The Steak Pie might still be there, as a forlorn hope, on the Specials Board of life but, like it or not, we've got the All-Day Breakfast and we need to make the most of it.

You can find a lot more tripe of this calibre in the four books of the 'nostalgedy' series (see right hand column for details and previews)

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Automatically, Sunshine?

February's column never made it to their website (it can be a bit sporadic) so here it is in its scanned glory.  I've put the full text below as well.

There's been a lot in the papers recently about the rise of the robots in the workplace and how these might displace jobs in the future.  Yet, as I recall, from the predictions on things like 'Tomorrow's World', we should all be sunning ourselves on the beach by now whilst the machines do all the work.  It seems to me that most of the things that are supposed to result in fewer people and more leisure time (remember the 'paperless office'?) actually seem to achieve the reverse, but I suppose only time will tell.  However, I do think there are some jobs that really don't make the best use of the people employed to do them, and there was no better illustration of this than in Harold Wesley Ltd., in the 1970s.

You see, Wesley's was notoriously tight-fisted when it came to capital investment.  Most of their machinery must have pre-dated the last unpleasantness in 1939-1945, with just a few exceptions to the rule, such as the second-hand printing press I mentioned last month.  Old machinery tended to come from an era when people were cheap and machines were expensive, so fiddly labour-saving extras were few and far between.

For example, if we walk along the corridor from the Printing Dept., where we were last month, we come to a room where the wrapping paper is converted from rolls into sheets.  There are three chaps here who are the mainstay of the department, Frank, Albert (who is in charge) and one other whose name escapes me.  All three must be nearing retirement age and seem to have been at Wesley's man and boy.  Their role here is to diligently count the sheets coming off the machine and place a cardboard tab in the pile for every 480 sheets (this being the quantity of a ream, in those pre-metric days).  I'm sure there was more to it, but that activity seemed to sum up the bulk of their work.  I know it must have paid the bills but can you imagine how boring it must have been?  There really ought to be a better use of people than that!

Mind you, Frank and Albert's work would have seemed positively enriching compared to what Greta had to put up with, downstairs.  From time to time, an ancient piece of machinery, which folded wrapping paper into neat squares, was dusted off and put to use.  This machine worked perfectly well, but it had one vital element missing.  It had no means of feeding the sheets into the machine, automatically.  Greta seemed to be either the only one who knew how the machine worked, or was possibly the only one who was prepared to use it.  Her role was to push each sheet into the machine, with her forefinger, time after time.  The constant procession of a brightly coloured design making its way across her line of sight, along with the mind-crushing boredom, had a tendency to send her into something of a trance allegedly.  I think it would have sent me into a padded room.

Managers  have a tendency not to understand that workplaces are as much a social hub as a place of business, and that you mess around with that at your peril.  You may recall the Crepe Paper Dept., where the girls wound the crepe onto a drum of a certain diameter, then cut across the swatch to give them a pile of sheets which they folded by means of something akin to a fast spinning wooden rolling pin?  Waiting for your turn to wind your particular colour paper was a chance for the girls to have a natter and a break from monotonously folding sheet after sheet.  At least, it was until Wesley's employed a Work Study Engineer (I was his assistant, I seem to have specialised in finding unpopular jobs for myself over the years) who redesigned the process so that one girl did all of the winding for the entire department, ensuring the others were not distracted from their task of folding the sheets.  I'm sure it was more efficient, but I'll bet it wasn't anywhere near as interesting, and that would be saying something!

You can find Philip's most recent collection of stories, 'Crutches for Ducks' at

Friday, 27 January 2017

Caught Wrapping!

This month's Derby Telegraph article features some quirky old machinery and the sudden disappearance of a manager!

You can find it here on the Derby Telegraph website, but the content is below:

I absolutely love quirky old industrial buildings that have loads of nooks and crannies (or crooks and nannies, as the old joke goes), with stairways that sometimes lead nowhere and others that take you to places you had no idea even existed.  Old brewery buildings seem particularly prone to this.  Whether this is because they grew organically over the years, or whether brewery architects just had a weakness for maze-like interiors, I don't know.  Wesley's in Victoria Crescent, Burton, where I worked in the early 1970s, was exactly like this.  Hardly surprising given that it housed the Crescent Brewery up until the 1920s (a fact which passed me by, at the time, despite the legend 'CRESCENT BREWERY' being emblazoned across the top of the office building). Such were the twists and turns of the place that, in my first few months, I frequently got lost, wandering hopelessly on silent, dusty floors stacked with rolls of paper and not a soul in sight.

The part that impressed me most about Wesley's was the Printing Department, largely because it was such a wonderful mixture of ancient and modern technology.  At the time, Wesley's printed three types of wrapping paper (mostly Christmas).  These were surface print, flexographic and gravure. 
Surface print was the type of wrapping paper you probably remember if you grew up in the post-war era.  It was crinkly, slightly embossed, quite thin and felt cheap (a bit like me!)  I suppose that, at one time, it was the only wrapping paper that was available.  The printing machines for this had to be seen to be believed.  As the paper passed between the rollers to be printed and embossed, it was then taken up by things like huge coat-hangers which produced folds that must have been about twenty feet high.  Each fold was then carried slowly around a large U-shaped track in the ceiling (as if a giant was about to embark on some paper hanging) until the paper was dry and could be wound back on a reel.  There was a row of these machines, all generating these huge paper trails winding majestically around the room.  It was quite a sight.

Flexographic printing generated a smooth, high quality print, like the wrapping paper we use today and gravure was the very best quality.  Wesley's had just taken delivery of a new gravure printer, which was the department's pride and joy.  Not new, of course.  Wesley's was renowned for being 'careful' with its money and this machine had previously printed newspapers in Fleet Street.  It was by this legendary machine that I saw something that I found both hilarious and unbelievable, at the same time.

Mr. P., the Printing Department manager, was a small grey-haired gentleman of enormous energy.  He ran everywhere and seemed to be constantly in motion, even when standing still.  Arriving at the Department to collect the weekly production figures, I found him supervising the stacking of some printing paper by the gravure printer.  Rolls of paper, about 3 feet high, covered the floor as far as the eye could see.  Mr P. passed me a slip of paper with the figures on, but I noticed that something had been missed.  He said he would go and get it and, to my surprise, bounded onto the first of the reel and raced across the array, toward his office.  What he didn't know was that, for whatever reason, there was a roll missing in the middle of the formation.  I watched with horror as the rapidly diminishing figure of Mr. P. suddenly vanished altogether with a thud, then, after a few moments, bounced back on top and continued his race to the office.  Minutes later, he returned by the same route, carefully avoiding the gap this time, and solemnly handed me the missing figure.  Neither he nor I mentioned his fall, and no-one would have been any the wiser, other than a certain dustiness about his jacket and a slight disarray of his hair.

Mr. P's active life style must have suited him as, the last I heard, he was well over 100 and still enjoying a daily walk.  For me, however, he will always be a diminutive figure suddenly vanishing amidst a sea of paper.

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Unwrapping of the Anti-Present

A year or two ago, I wrote a Christmas story which featured an Anti-Santa (or, at least someone who pretended that was what they were).  You can find it here, if you're interested.  Writing about an Anti-Santa made me wonder if there was anything else of a negative nature tucked away in the festive season, which made me consider the role of the Anti-Present.

Just to clarify, this doesn't mean being against the here and now.  Nor is it a poorly spelled version of 'Anti-President' (I'm certainly not getting into all of that, here).  What I'm getting at are those presents which are not fit for purpose.  Not just things you don't like or, for that matter, didn't want.  Those are just Non-Presents, like socks or allegedly humorous mugs.  No, what I'm talking about are gifts that you not only didn't want but which, because you're forced to use them out of a feeling of guilt and shame, actually make your life just that little bit worse than before.

For example (and you just knew there was going to be a 'for example', didn't you?) a few years ago, someone gave me a very nice, leather key holder.  This was a very kind thought.  It wasn't something I particularly needed, but it's the thought that counts and I decided to move my keys over from the perfectly serviceable key fob on which they had resided for years.  However, I then found that the act of actually using any of the keys, now that they are in the key case, is made difficult, if not impossible, by the presence of the key case.

This isn't the key case in question - I'm sure this one works perfectly well :-)

Logic would state that I ought to do the sensible thing and revert to the key fob, but I can't bring myself to do this.  It was a nice thought and it is a beautiful thing.  It just doesn't work!

So, it is an Anti-Present.  It's not that it is unwanted, it's the fact that, far from improving my world, it has made it ever so slightly worse (as opposed to what an Anti-President might do, as we may be about to find out).

Have you had an Anti-Present?

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Oh, Budgie!

Do you remember the 1960s TV Series, 'Budgie' starring Adam Faith and Iain Cuthbertson?  Probably not, I would guess, unless you (like me) are 'a certain age'.

My favourite character was definitely the Glaswegian uber-villain, Charlie Endell (Iain Cuthbertson) who had a wealth of sayings, the first being one of exasperation which is the title of this piece and another being "There are two things I don't like in this world, Budgie...and you're both of them"  One of my more pointless claims to fame is that I can do a passable Charlie Endell impression.  As you can imagine, there isn't really a great deal of call for this.

This phrase ('There are two things...") made a welcome return from my long-term memory when I was considering what to write today, because there are two things I dislike on television at the moment, and, in time-honoured 'grumpy old man' style, I'm going to tell you about them.

The first is the fashion for countdowns of the Top Ten (Twenty, Fifty or Hundred - delete as applicable) something or others, usually comedy sketches.  Miranda Hart did one over Christmas involving Morecambe & Wise.  This wouldn't be so bad, if that was all that it was, but they can't leave it at that.  Instead, a procession of industry legends, present-day stars and people you've never heard of, are wheeled on to give their opinion on the sketches, as the sketches are being shown!  This means that you are in the ridiculous position of being told why something is funny, at one and the same time as the person(s) doing the telling are destroying every possible vestige of humour that the sketch may once have held for you.  It would defy Chaplin to get a laugh from the excerpts once this lot have finished!

This is just barely acceptable from the industry legends, who presumably know something about it, is presumptuous of the 'current stars' who are rarely fit to lick the boots of the comedy legends playing in the background and is a downright travesty from the 'who the hell are these people?' who are only there because they employ a slick agent with an eye for getting them T.V. exposure.

The second is a series called, something like, 'It Was Alright In The 19xx's', which I mistakenly watched in the first instance because I thought it was going to be 'It'll Be Alright On The Night'.  In this format, the same bunch of industry legends, current stars and wanabees are dragged into the studio again (presumably you can hire a job lot) but this time, instead of excerpts from classic comedy, they're watching a selection of T.V. excerpts purporting to show how T.V. was in the decade in question.  Cue shock, horror and appalled wonder as they stare, wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the apparently racist, misogynistic and homophobic utterances that we are alleged to have taken for granted 'back in the day' (which is another pet hate of mine).  Presumably, we who used to watch such things, should be taking this opportunity to scourge ourselves and repent deeply of our sins.  What no-one points out (but should) is that anyone looking back at the forms of entertainment of 30 or 40 years ago, at any point in history, would doubtless be horrified by what counted as funny, then.  Imagine those living in the 'swinging sixties' viewing the music hall and variety entertainment of the 1920s.  You cannot apply the moral codes of today to things of the past, it's as bad as retrospective justice.

That's it, moan over.  I'll go and lie down in a darkened room now, if you can get the nurse to bring me my tea?