A Diary and Some Random Memories

DiaryTravelling to work on Christmas day afternoon was interesting. I expected the roads to be quiet, after all, Christmas day is not usually a day for travelling, especially when we are in the middle of a pandemic. The lockdown then was a bit of an odd situation, especially where I work because my workplace is right where three different counties meet, Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside and all three were in different states, or tiers of the lockdown. Now that we are all locked down the situation has at least been clarified.

Oh well, it was certainly quiet enough and I was able to sit back and listen to my music as I drove into work. As I came through junction 28 on the M6 motorway two people were on a bridge wearing Father Christmas hats. They looked to be a middle aged couple but as I passed under them they waved and sadly I wasn’t quick enough to wave back. To surprise myself, the previous day I had slapped five new CDs into my CD changer randomly without trying to read the labels, so as I drove into work on Christmas Day, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself listening to the themes from the various Rocky movies complete with the odd quote from Sylvester Stallone, things like ‘Yo Adrian’ and so on.

As a blogger I read quite a lot of my fellow bloggers posts, some even inspire my own posts, but a blog I read a while ago was about millennials and 10 things they are not doing. Millennials, I assume, are those people born in the 21st century and one of the 10 things they are not doing is apparently learning to drive cars. Not all of them of course but 20% less than usual. I can understand that in the big cities where there are good transport links but even so, as a youngster I longed to have my own car. When we moved to a new estate in Handforth, transport links there were dreadful but not only that I wanted a car for the freedom to travel when and where I wanted and also, I liked cars and I liked driving, even though it took three attempts to pass my test. These days, cars are clogging up the roads of the world and the day must surely be coming when everyone will not be able to own a car simply because of the sheer numbers of vehicles out there already.

My Dad wasn’t a driver. He went everywhere on his old push bike but never showed any interest in having a car.

Every week day he rose early to get ready for work. He had porridge for breakfast, mounted his battered old bike and taking his shoulder bag with his box of sandwiches my mother had made for him and his brew can, he left for the ride to work. He did that every day of his working life and, come rain, snow or sunshine, he rode his bike to work. In the mid seventies we moved to the Manchester overspill estate in Handforth that I mentioned above and the result was a much longer journey for him.

He was a fit man, much fitter than me but sadly he and I wasted such a lot of time when we were younger, not getting on together. One day something quite shocking happened to me. It seemed like the end of the world at the time. Anyway, I knew I would have to tell Mum and Dad. I couldn’t face Mum, so I told Dad. Instead of getting the negative response I expected, my Dad was full of support and from that day on our friendship never looked back.

When he died, those wasted years always seemed to haunt me, but then, we were people from such different generations. Young people and their parents are so much closer these days in terms of cultural identity but for me and my Dad things were not like that. He came from a background where he was given an apple and an orange for Christmas whereas my brother and I, who received a sack full of presents on Christmas Day, were part of a new youth culture involving music, television and film that he struggled to understand.

Dad had served in the South Staffordshire regiment of the army and I remember once my brother did some research and found the regiment had been merged with the North Staffordshire regiment in 1959 and later with other regiments to become the Mercian regiment. He told me that when he had called the regiment to enquire what kind of records were kept, they had asked him various questions. When my brother replied that Dad had done his national service as a lowly private they said rather coldly that records of enlisted men were not kept.

DadThe record keepers of the regiment may not have cared about my Dad but he certainly cared about his regiment. He was very proud of his army service. He served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Hong Kong, and told me many stories about his army life. In fact some time ago when I posted a picture of him on Facebook showing him at work for the council highways department, one of his old work mates replied mentioning the stories he used to tell his workmates about his army sergeant major.

One of my Dad’s early jobs was as a milkman but not for him the electric milk van. No, he had a horse drawn milk trolley and he told me with pride how, as he ran up and down through the gates of the various houses dropping off milk on doorsteps, he didn’t have to run back and move his trolley up. No, just a whistle was all it took, and his horse would trot quietly forward to my Dad and he would replace the empties and take out fresh bottles for the next house. My Dad was pretty attached to that horse. It was stabled not far away in Northenden. Once his father, my grandfather, a WW1 Veteran of the Royal Horse Artillery, came to see the horse. He checked the horse’s teeth, apparently a good indicator of equine health and pronounced himself satisfied.

This week I was trying to sort some of my Mum’s things out and I came across my Dad’s diary for the year 2000, the year he died. It was a sad read.

The diary starts out on the third of January and continues with a daily entry for many months. There is nothing exciting to read. Dad records the weather and where he went on his daily walk. He talks about trips to the shops and days when he and Mum went to get their pensions. He walked every day with his dog.

He once owned a pedigree dog. It was a dachshund he bought from someone. The dog came with a long certificate listing his various forebears, but he was the nastiest bad-tempered dog I have ever met. When I visited he would be reluctant to get off the chair, so I could sit down. I sometimes had to use a water spray on him to get him to shift. If Dad was there though, it only took a word from him and Ben would obey, give me a mean look and saunter over to his master where he would glare at me for the rest of my visit.

He died not long after Dad adopted my late gran’s dog Mickey. Mickey was a wonderful dog although he had his own little quirks. He would always chase after a thrown ball but would never give it back. He would take it and bury it and long after he too departed, Dad would find balls buried in the back garden. The dog he had in later years was Bouncer. Bouncer was a rescue dog whose previous owners tired of him because of his supposedly constant jumping up and down. If he did do that, my Dad, an ardent dog lover soon cured him or trained him not to jump up and in his diary Dad records all the many walks the two went on.

As the diary comes to April the daily entries become briefer, sometimes just one sentence about the weather. Dad’s handwriting seems to become a little less firm. It is still the same hand, sloping gently to the right but it somehow seems perceptibly weaker. On July 17th there is an entry in my Mum’s hand. She always wrote in capitals for some reason. FOUND RALPH IN BATHROOM ON FLOOR she says. He went to the doctor and they found nothing. Another entry on July 20th, again in Mum’s hand, FOUND RALPH ON FLOOR IN KITCHEN. He was taken to hospital and on the 26th July a brain scan found that he had a tumour on his brain.

I remember meeting the doctors at the time. Mum and I sat down in their office. My brother must have been there also. The doctor said to me, ‘great news’.

Great news? What was it.

‘You’re all OK. You, your brother and mother, you are all OK. A brain tumour is not something that you’re all going to get.’ I felt for a moment we had slipped into some alternate reality. We are all OK? What about Dad?

There was a problem with Dad they admitted. He needed an operation to remove the tumour. Great, we said, go ahead.

Looking back, I wonder whether doctors are trained to try and give some good news before they give some bad or maybe they want to try and break things gently.

That reminds me of the joke where the guy goes abroad and asks his brother to mind his cat. He gets back and asks the brother ‘how’s the cat?’ the brother replies, ‘The cat’s dead’. ‘What!’ says the guy. He is heartbroken. ‘That was the cruellest thing I ever heard. You know how much I loved that cat, why couldn’t you have broken it to me gently. When I called you should have said something like, well she’s OK but she is up on the roof. And then when I called the next time, tell me, bad news, she fell off the roof and she’s at the vets. And then the next time break the news that she passed away. At least I would have been a little prepared for the bad news.’

‘Yes, you are right. I am sorry for being so heartless.’

The guy accepted the brother’s apology for being so uncaring, and then said, ‘Oh, by the way, how’s Mother?’

The guy thought for a moment then said, ‘Well, she’s OK, but she’s on the roof . . ‘

I’ve flipped the mood a little there, as if there is going to be a happy ending. Sadly, there wasn’t. Dad had the operation and improved a little. He came home for some days then they moved him to a nursing home. Mum visited him frequently. I came usually after my early shift or on my days off. I remember being with him once and talking about death. He must have known the end was coming and I think I asked him to try and be prepared. He answered that he thought about death sometimes and it was ‘frightening’. That was the last time I ever saw him.

In the diary Dad’s last ever entry was on June 2nd. It says he took Bouncer for a walk and went to visit my brother who lived not far away. Underneath my Mum has arrowed across to May 31st, so it looks like Dad wrote his entry on the wrong date. His eyesight was failing, He was due to have an eye operation for cataracts but the operation was cancelled because of his tumour.

On the 15th November Mum wrote that he slept all day. On the 22nd she spent the whole day with him from 11am to 11pm. He slept a lot of the time. On the 23rd November Mum had written RALPH PASSED AWAY AT 2AM.

That of course was over twenty years ago. He was born, he lived and then he was gone, just like the wind.

I’ve mentioned the wind for a particular reason. He had a notebook in which he jotted down all sorts of items he found in newspapers and books. If he ever came across a word he didn’t know he looked up the meaning and jotted it down. He was someone who left school at 14 with a poor education but that didn’t stop him wanting to learn. One item caught my eye.

I don’t suppose it was something he actually composed but then, who knows:

Who has seen the wind?

Neither you nor I

but when the leaves are trembling

The wind is passing by.


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Floating In Space: Free offer!

Anyone who knows me will tell you I never give anything away free, so just to prove them wrong you can download the Kindle version of Floating In Space free from today until the 22nd January! Click the picture below to take you straight to the amazon.co.uk page!

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Floating In space is a novel set in Manchester in 1977 and if you like kitchen sink dramas like ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ and ‘A Kind Of Loving’ then you’ll love this book too.

If you remember the seventies I hope you’ll perhaps enjoy a trip down memory lane, if you’re younger then you’ll be pleased to know life did exist before mobile phones and the Internet were invented and if you’re familiar with Manchester then I hope you’ll recognise some of the locations, particularly the pubs and clubs mentioned.

Here’s me talking about the book on you tube:

 

 

A Comedy Sketch, Hitchhiking and an American Contact.

Funny how certain things can jog your memory and bring back stuff that happened to you years ago. Not long ago I wrote a blog about Monty Python and afterwards did a search on you tube looking for my favourite Monty Python sketches. One of the ones I came across was a sketch called ‘the visitors’. You must remember it if you’ve ever watched Monty Python: A romantic night in for a couple then someone knocks at the door. It’s Eric Idle who says “Remember me, at the pub, three years ago?”

That sketch always makes me laugh and watching it set off this thought;

A lot of years ago (well, not that many really) when I was eighteen or nineteen I was not happy with my office job and like a lot of young people yearned to travel the world. One day my friend Chris and I decided to do just that. We packed our jobs in and set off with a view to travelling through France and on to Spain where we planned to get work in the thriving, so we were told, ex pat community of Lloret De mar.

The week before I left for France, my souped up mini cooper blew up and the former owner of the car made me a paltry offer to buy it back. I accepted in something of a rush and left for France with much less funding than anticipated. In France we started off happily travelling about but things didn’t go so well on the hitch hiking front so we jumped on a train to Spain and arrived some days later in Lloret.hitching

I remember lying on a beach when we were approached by two Scots guys who said they would sort us a room out, a Spanish pension, in return for a few beers in the pub later that night.

They sorted the room out for us and later, we went down to the rather un-Spanish Moby Dick pub. Chris and I were separated in the pub and got chatting to different people. The Scots guys came over and I bought them a round. Then later I bought them another. The third time I thought they had been thanked enough and sent them on their way. When I found Chris he also had bought them a couple of rounds so clearly they had been well rewarded. Not that they thought so. Anyway, after a couple of weeks I got tired of fending off the constant cadgers, of spending my time either lying in the sun or drinking in the same pub with the same people and I left to hitch my way back to France.

In France I met up with an American guy who like me had worked in insurance and like me had sold his car and resigned from his job to travel in Europe. We spent a few weeks together hitch hiking and travelling in France. He of course had pretty substantial funds as his car had not blown up just before he was due to travel! When we arrived somewhere new he would book into a hotel and I would go and find a field or a park and put up my little tent then we would meet up for a glass of beer. It was clear to me he was dining well and I of course wasn’t. I must have ponged a little though after all those weeks on the road and I have to say I wouldn’t have minded using his shower but the offer never came. After a while we parted company.

Not so long ago I found my old notebook from those days and written neatly in there are his name and address and phone number in the USA. The Americans are such friendly outgoing people. I’ve always wanted to visit the USA. Wonder what he’d say if I turned up on his doorstep. Remember me? Steve Higgins? France, 1978? Any chance of using your shower?


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Buses, Nicknames, and the Scaremonger!

quotescover-JPG-28My current job is a safety critical one. I work in an emergency control room and many of the decisions me and my colleagues take have highly serious implications. It can be stressful work and sometimes I look back to a much easier control room job I had years ago. I once worked in the GM Buses Control room in Manchester.

Back then in the mid nineties the buses in Manchester had radio communication so the driver could advise control of late running or breakdowns, and even call for help in an emergency. I worked in a team in the enquiry section and we took queries from the bus travelling public of Greater Manchester.

In many ways it was a good job, lots of fun, good workmates and plenty of practical joking. Everyone had a nickname and one fellow I worked with, Paul, was known as ‘Mister Nasty’. He was the guy to deal with abusive callers and when a caller turned unpleasant we would put him on hold with a cheery ‘hold the line please!’ and shout across to Paul who would take the call and give back as much abuse as the caller would be giving.

One day ‘Nasty’ realised he had perhaps overstepped the line and the caller demanded to speak with his manager. The call was sent through to the duty Inspector who on that particular day was a nice guy called Alan who had the nickname ‘Leave it wi’ me’. Paul ran from his desk in the enquiry section, through the control room to where Alan sat on a raised dais where he could survey the whole room. Paul wanted to get his version of events in first and knew that with our antiquated telephone system the call would take its time to ping across the room. However, just as he reached the Inspectors desk the phone rang and Alan stopped Paul in mid sentence. ‘Just a minute Paul, I’d better take this call.’

Alan took the call, listened for a moment and said ‘Someone in enquiries called you a bastard? Leave it with me!’ and put the phone down. He turned to Paul and asked him to carry on. Paul thought for a moment then said, ‘Actually Alan, it doesn’t matter . .’ and went back to his desk.

Another staff member had the nickname ‘Norm’ which I think was based on a character from the TV comedy ‘Cheers’ but anyway, Norm had a particular dislike of the identity badge we had to wear in the control room. When it was time for a break, Norm would pull off his badge, slap it down on his desk and go off to the canteen. One day, some of the guys decided to cut out a shapely pair of breasts from that day’s newspaper page three model and insert the picture into Norm’s badge. I personally could not stop laughing and everyone was calling me to shut up and be quiet but I couldn’t help it. Thirty minutes later Norm returned, sat down at his desk, put on his headset, switched on his phone and clipped on his badge. I must have looked ready to burst and after stifling my laughter for about five minutes Norm looked over at me and asked what was wrong. He eventually found the offending picture and removed it convinced that I was the offending culprit.

GN BusesYes, that wasn’t the best job I have ever had but we did have some fun with fake calls and wind ups. We used to get calls from the Police and they would ask our radio staff to broadcast radio messages to our drivers. ‘Please be on the look out for a red Ford Fiesta registration number . .’ and so on. One day Norm called our radio man, an old chap called ‘Stoddy’ and pretending to be the Police asked him to put out information about a stolen Ford Camper van with a registration number of . . and gave out the registration of Stoddy’s beloved camper van. Stoddy had a near hysterical reaction and rushed out to the car park where of course his camper van was still parked. When he returned fuming to the control room we were still laughing.

Finally, I must tell you about Mr Scrimingeour who was one of the top bosses at GM buses and in charge of our fraud team. His rather unwieldy name was pronounced  SKRIM- IN- JUR- and many calls  came through the switchboard asking for him as anyone caught fiddling their bus fare received a letter demanding a five-pound fine which was signed by him. We had a list on the wall of the many mispronunciations of his name but the best, the very best came in a call taken by our very own Mr Nasty.

A caller had asked to speak to a Mr Scaremonger!


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