More thoughts from a Sun Lounger

IMGA0475edOne of the most pleasurable things in life surely must be relaxing on a sun lounger. I love it when I have a refreshing dip in the pool, climb out and lie on my lounger and then slowly feel my wet body drying in the sun. Here in Lanzarote in January it’s quiet by our rented villa and the only sounds are the gentle hum of the pool machinery, the wind blowing through the trees and the birds singing. Now and again there is the distant sound of a car or motorbike, the sound becoming louder and then dying away into the distance. One thing about relaxing on a sun lounger, apart from getting a tan and recharging those batteries before going back to cold England, is how the mind wanders and with a little effort the beginnings of a blog post can take shape in my mind.

Christmas and New Year

Not a great Christmas for me this year as I was working. Christmas Eve and Christmas day in the UK was made worse by the terrible weather, particularly the rain in the north of England. I work in one of Highways England’s motorway control rooms and Christmas day was unexpectedly busy with crash after crash. Why people continue to drive at high speed when the weather conditions are atrocious, I’ll never know. On New Year’s day I was working on the early shift, starting work at 6 in the morning and it was a particularly quiet drive into work. It seems to me in recent years the rush hour has just got longer and longer and people now travel earlier to avoid the rush which seems to just expand the rush hour. Many times at five in the morning when I leave home for the 42 mile trip to work the traffic can be really busy.

I think that nowadays, people are just doing more and more travelling in order to get the job that they want. It becomes very apparent when my work colleagues discuss where to go for our work’s ‘do’. Colleagues live all over the north west; St Annes, St Helens, Preston, Wigan, Manchester and even the Wirral, so where can we go to suit everyone? It’s hard work choosing a venue but eventually we chose Liverpool which involved a two hour plus rail journey for me. A bit different from the days when I worked in Stockport and every one of my work colleagues lived in, yes, Stockport. Back in the eighties I don’t think the idea of long commutes to work had really taken off.

Travelling by Air

I sometimes wonder whether aircraft were invented by the Japanese, or at least, are modern aircraft designed for people with an oriental like body frame? For me, a six foot tall man with a considerable bulk although surely not that much bigger than the average male, travelling by air can be something of a trial. On the way here flying on a Boeing 737 courtesy of I remember thinking about this problem as I struggled to get comfy in my small seat and fumbled and wrestled to eat my cheese and ham toastie. The thought of all those movies and TV shows that depict air travel with big comfortable seats and lots of room flickered for a moment through my mind as I almost knocked over my plastic cup of red wine. Yes, once upon a time, back in the uncivilised 1940’s and the beginning of air travel they actually used proper plates, cups and glasses. How we have moved on since then!

Another trial was when I realised I had to use the bathroom. I didn’t really want to get up so I tried hard to hold things in but eventually I got to the point when I realised it was no use. I had to go. I had a good view of the toilet so I waited until I knew it was free and no one was waiting then I pried myself up and out of the seat. Just I was doing so a woman nipped past me and into the toilet! Not happy! Anyway, I had to wait at the front of the aircraft, in the way of everyone including the stewardess trying to serve drinks but eventually, my turn came. It was a little cramped but I got on with what I had to do. At least we didn’t hit turbulence while I was there and have a steward banging on the door telling me I had to return to my seat and strap myself in which has happened to me before. I washed my hands in the little basin but dropped the paper towel on the floor which was pretty hard to pick up and I incurred a bang on the head for my efforts.

By the time I returned to my seat I felt as though I needed another wee but with a supreme effort of will, I managed to push that thought to the back of my mind. To be honest, our flight was particularly friendly. The steward and stewardess were nice and helpful and I appreciated the complimentary tea due to French Air traffic Control having computer problems which caused delays on the part of our flight that passed over France. Also, there were many empty seats so we were able to stretch over to the empty ones and relax. Not looking forward to the flight back though so here’s a quick hint to the guys at Boeing: Put bigger seats on your planes!

The Glenn Miller Story

I think I mentioned in an earlier post about Christmases back home with my Mum and Dad and how we would gather round our coal fire to watch a family film on our old black and white TV with my brother, myself, and Bob the dog vying to be closest to the fire. One of the films we watched back then was the Glenn Miller Story. I really loved that movie when I first saw it on TV back in the 1960’s. It was on TV again over this last Christmas and I settled down to watch it, a nice glass of port in hand and a box of Christmas chocolates nearby. Sadly, the movie was a big disappointment! James Stewart, as much as I love him, was far too old to play Glenn Miller and the film was in colour, not the expected black and white.

June Alyson played Glenn’s wife and she elevated the use of the word ‘annoying’ to a new level with her constant beginning or ending of a phrase with ‘Honestly!’ I imagine the scriptwriter was fairly pleased with himself, coming up with a cute bit of business like that. Wrong! If I had been Glenn Miller and June Alyson my wife, I would have been sorely tempted to employ some appropriately placed Gaffer tape to remedy that situation.

Another moment in the film comes when Glenn comes home from work and his wife takes him upstairs and says, ‘look what just arrived’, and guess what had arrived: Two children who seemed to have arrived in time honoured fashion via the unseen stork. Of course, they may have been adopted, I really don’t know because it wasn’t really explained very well but it was a little bit like one of those moments in old episodes of Blue Peter, the children’s TV show, where Valerie Singleton or John Noakes would say, ‘and here’s one I made earlier!’

One last thing I want to tell you about the Glenn Miller story, and I do feel bad about taking the mickey out of an old favourite movie but that’s the thing about the sun and sun loungers, as your mind wanders, all sorts of old memories rise to the surface! Anyway, here goes. I must have mentioned in previous posts about how I used to have a cassette tape recorder and how many times I used to drag my poor brother into performing the skits and plays I used to write.

One time we did a skit on the Glenn Miller story and there was me in my best American accent drawling, James Stewart style, ‘that sound, that certain sound, I need to find that certain sound and I’m gonna keep on looking till I find it.’ Enter stage left my brother with a cardboard toilet tube over his mouth and he does a tremendous raspberry fart into the microphone. Cue me as James Stewart: ‘That sound, that certain sound: That’s it! I’ve found it!’

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Life In The Fast Lane!

I’ve written plenty about my previous life in its various incarnations, bus driver, cigarette man and so on. I currently work in the Highways Agency North West Regional Control Centre and if you want to know what I do there’s a TV documentary programme that’s currently airing on BBC2 called Life in the Fast Lane. Alas, you won’t be hearing my dulcet tones as I broadcast to our traffic officers, as they filmed it down Birmingham way and the North West was sadly not featured.

When incidents happen on the motorway we have a log on which we record all kinds of data about the incident and we add updates as the job progresses. ‘Vehicle recovery has arrived.’ ‘Speed restrictions cleared,’ and stuff like that. There’s a lot of mundane stuff we add too and it involves a lot of typing. One colleague suggested the other day that a thought transference/ ESP link would be quite handy and save on the fingers as they continually thrash the keyboard. The problem there though is that certain unwanted things might appear on the log, especially if the incident is on CCTV and we are watching.

“Watch what you are doing you pillock!”

“Look at that idiot in the Fiesta!”

Or, to the man who wanted to get something from his car, despite the fact that it was on fire and had turned into a minor inferno: “Don’t go back into that car!” He did and was lucky not to be burned to death.

In our control room we answer the ERTs, emergency roadside telephones used by motorists who have broken down at the roadside and sometimes we hear things like this:

“I’ve broken down and can’t remember who my breakdown recovery is with.” Ok, so what do you expect me to do about it? Guess which recovery organisation you have joined? Call a number of recovery agencies randomly and hope one of them knows you? No, what I can do is have you vehicle towed off the motorway and charge you £200. £200! Yes, it is an expensive business breaking down on the motorway. Here’s another one:

“I’ve run out of petrol. Can one of your patrols bring me some fuel?”

No, but we can tow your car away and charge you £200! That response, as you can imagine does not always go down well but as I have said, breaking down on the motorway is a serious and expensive thing. Do not go on the motorway without checking you have enough fuel as it’s not only expensive but dangerous.

Running the motorway is a serious business and there aren’t many comic moments that I can tell you about but here’s one that comes to mind.

Some years ago we had a new recruit that I’ll call Eric, (once again, the names have been changed to protect the innocent!) Eric sadly was not doing too well in his training and it was later found that he was dyslexic so sadly he was unable to continue his career with us. Anyway, on one of his last days one of our managers decided to give him a go as the radio dispatcher, passing out incidents to our patrols over the airwaves. Well Eric did OK until a patrol came across a pedestrian. We reported this to the police and they asked for the person’s name and date of birth. Well, the pedestrian had one of those cross gender names, something like ‘Lesley Smith,’ that could be either male or female. The police asked us for the sex of the person, were they male or female? So Eric asked this question over the air, the patrol however were in one of those radio blackspots were there is poor reception and couldn’t seem to understand.

“Please repeat your last message,” they kept asking.

Eric was getting a little flustered by now and repeated, “Is the person male or female?”

“Please repeat,” asked the patrol.”What details do you need?”

“I want the sex. I need the sex!” called Eric.

I haven’t laughed as much since . .

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