The Day I Finally Cracked It

I’m still feeling rather fed up lately. It’s great to have no work to do but it’s important to fill that time and to keep busy, neither of which I’m currently doing.

Because I’m a little bored my writing has been affected too, I’m not doing much so I have little to write about. I don’t have the 42 mile trip to work so I’m not in my car as much and when I’m in my car that’s when a lot of my ideas come.

Years ago when I drove for the bus company I decided to pack the job in and try my hand at driving coaches. It was a bad mistake, I was only 21, I was too immature to take on a responsible job like coaching. I hadn’t travelled about much and so I didn’t know my way around the UK. On every trip I had to spend ages planning my route and where to stop and frankly, I just wasn’t up to the job. The result was that I ended up back at the bus company again. There were no vacancies at my old garage where they were gearing up to be all one man operated buses so I agreed to move to Stockport. At Stockport they still had a lot of old fashioned buses that were driver and conductor operated but to be honest, operating a bus with two people was much more fun.

Two staff members retired which I remember well. They were both characters. The first one was a long serving conductor whose name I can never remember. I’ll call him Tony. Tony was looking forward to retirement. He had worked for North Western before buses were nationalised and he always looked down on those who had worked for the ‘corporation’, the municipal bus companies. North Western had run a lot of long distance routes but the corporation had only local routes. When buses were nationalised the long distance routes went to National Express and Tony was forced to work for GM Buses which took over local routes.

Tony had planned well for his retirement. He had gone on a few retirement courses, he had invested well and had also topped up his pension with a private one. He wouldn’t miss the bus company for a minute. On his last day he walked over to Sainsbury’s for something and dropped dead in the frozen food aisle. He never got to enjoy his retirement at all.

Another long-time employee was Bert, known to all as ‘Cracked it’ Bert. Bert was a crusty old guy who always wore the full uniform including the cap. He worked on the 900 rota on which all the old timers worked. They didn’t do weekends and they worked easy split shifts covering the morning rush hour and then returning later for the evening one.  Bert always used to say to me that it was hard work because the staff were ‘always in the thick of the action’. Don’t believe a word of it. Split shifts were busy, very busy but not the ones on the 900 rota.

The 900 rota was unofficially known as the ‘Sick, Lame, and Lazy Rota’, and it was all easy work; the odd works’ service and a couple of the easier school runs.

Thrown in to their duties was also a gratuitous share of standby time. Standby was when you have spare drivers or conductors, ready to fill in to replace another crew when a bus had broken down or staff had called in sick. The thing was, with the 900 rota, their standby time was only a couple of hours so they were ninety nine percent certain they would never be called to go out. The drivers were fairly amenable old chaps but the conductors, all mostly clippies, female conductresses apart from Tony and Bert, were all quite the opposite. Go out on their stand by time, when they could be supping tea and knitting? Not likely! As you can imagine the 900 staff were universally unpopular.

When I was a one-man driver, in the latter days of conductor operations, we used to do a trip from Bramhall in the morning rush hour. When we got closer to Stockport the bus was always packed to the seams and the extra rush hour bus, covered by the 900 staff, always used to hang back and let the one-man driver do all the work. Well, we can’t expect our senior 900 staff to cover that busy run can we? And knitting won’t do itself, will it?

I remember pulling into Mersey Square in Stockport with a bus bursting at the seams and the 900 bus pulling in behind me with about five people on board. I went back to that bus and told them in no uncertain terms they were out of order. The driver was about to say something when his clippie, Doris, the laziest conductress you ever met, pushed him aside and gave me a right mouthful about how I hadn’t been doing the job five minutes and how she and her driver had been at it since before I was born and well, I think you get the picture.

Now I have always believed in the interconnectedness of the universe, how one good deed will come back to you twofold and how those evil doers, as they used to call them in my old comic days, will eventually be punished. Anyway, one fine day it came to pass that I was asked to work my day off. I came in for my stand by duty and sat down with a cuppa and a slice of toast hoping for a nice relaxing read. After a while the tannoy called my name and I went over to the desk to see what was in store for me.

Doris, the laziest conductress in the world was there waiting for me. ‘Are you driver Higgins?’ she bellowed.

‘What’s it to you?’ I replied in the same happy tone.

Well, it turned out that Karma, that magical mystery force of the universe had poked its nose into our life that day and her driver had called in sick and, guess what? I was her driver for the day. Well, when we came to do the Bramhall rush hour bus, instead of hanging back, I passed the packed one-man bus and we did most of the work coming into Stockport. That’s the way it should have been done with the workload, and the passengers split evenly between the two buses.

When we got to Stockport our passengers piled off leaving our flustered conductress in a state of disarray and her cash bag full of coins. Her ticket machine had issued more tickets in an hour than it normally did in a week. She was looking a little peaky, if I remember correctly.

Perhaps that’s why she went sick for the rest of the shift!

Anyway, getting back to Bert. His place in the canteen was the very first table just by the entrance. He let on to everyone who entered with his usual phrase ‘Have you cracked it yet?’

If you had just come on shift you could only reply ‘Not yet Bert’. If you had nearly finished work the obvious answer was ‘nearly done Bert’.

Bert took his retirement and that first table by the entrance was empty for many a week. Then one day I came in for my break and who was there but Bert, dressed in his civvies of course.

‘How are you, Bert?’ I asked.

We had a bit of chit chat and then I went on to order my breakfast. After that I saw Bert pretty regularly as he took his usual place in the canteen most days. Buses and that canteen had been his life for so long he couldn’t stay away. He must have been 65 back then and that was over 30 years ago, I doubt if he would still be alive today. Even so, I can just imagine bumping into him and him asking me ‘have you cracked it yet Steve?’

I’d smile back and answer ‘I’ve finally cracked it, Bert’.


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A Short Collection of Bitesized Posts

A bunch of short posts were lying in my drafts box waiting for me to either finish them off or merge them into another blog post, so I thought I’d put a few of them together and with a bit of luck, these bitesized posts might even link together.

It was a lovely sunny day when I last visited my mother. She is 92 years old and suffering with dementia. Most of the time she looks fresh and healthy but her problem is not in her body but her mind. I visited about a month ago and her first words were ‘please help me’. I asked what was wrong and what did she want but all she could do was repeat endlessly ‘please help me’ like a record stuck in a groove. She did that for the duration of our meeting and I left saddened to see her that way. On the last visit she was completely different; chatty and alert. We spoke about the warm weather and the rose buds that were on the bush outside her room. We talked about her sister Ada who was a keen cyclist and was sadly killed in a road accident many years ago. I asked her how she was sleeping and she gave me a big smile and said ‘you know I never have any trouble sleeping!’

As usual I asked her to recite some times tables in the hope it will get her to use her memory and exercise her brain waves. We did a simple one, the three times table. One three is three, two threes are six and so on. Round about nine she began to falter and looked suddenly distressed. ‘I can’t remember anymore’ she said sadly.


Saturday has always been the traditional first day of rest. The Monday to Friday grind is over and we can finally get down to some serious relaxing. Now that I’m retired though, I find that a much nicer day is actually Monday. Everyone else has mostly gone back to work and the kids are off to school. The street outside is quiet and it’s great to go out in the evening and find pubs and restaurants not quite as packed as they were at the weekend. In the book A Kind of Loving the hero who works in a drawing office is asked to go out to deliver a letter to an absent colleague. When he is outside, he remarks how busy the streets are. Who are all these people? Why are they not at work? I remember having the same thoughts myself when I first started work and was occasionally sent forth from my office job to visit other businesses in Manchester.

I’ve not been to Manchester much lately, mostly because of the pandemic and the various lockdowns we have experienced. On one of my last visits, I visited the beautiful building in Manchester which once upon a time was the headquarters of the Refuge Assurance building where I first started work many years ago. I was a fresh-faced youth of 16 when I started there and now that my old workplace is a hotel I often visit there and remember my old job as an insurance clerk.

When I visited last year, I had my camera with me as usual and one thing I have always tried to do is to use my own pictures in my many YouTube videos. When I have had to use a stock picture either from Unsplash or Adobe, I tend to try and replace it with my own photos in my inevitable re-edit if I have taken an appropriate picture at a later date. In one of my videos, I wanted a shot of a pint being poured, so in the bar of the hotel in what used to be our old reception area, I asked the barman if I could take a shot while he pulled my pint. No was the distinctly unfriendly reply. I explained that his face wouldn’t be in the picture, it would be a close up so only his hands would be visible. Was it for me personally or would it be displayed on the internet or used in a YouTube video? Well, yes, it would be used possibly in a YouTube video. No came the answer once again. It wasn’t the hotel policy apparently for staff to get involved in ‘unofficial’ photography. Pity. Anyway, here’s an ‘unofficial’ shot of my pint in the bar which wasn’t really what I wanted. (It wasn’t a great pint either!)


This last week Liz and I went to her friend’s 60th birthday party. Her friend Alice (names have been changed to protect the innocent) is a singer, actually a cabaret singer and she has always struck me as being very normal, very down to earth and non- showbizzy. That of course was before I saw her in her proper showbizzy environment. The party was in a nice hotel and a pretty good singer kept us entertained while we found seats and bought our drinks. Later Alice took the microphone and belted out a few numbers in a very Shirley Bassey/Judy Garland sort of way. Her boyfriend took the microphone to wish her a happy birthday and then Alice herself responded with a short but emotional speech. Later there was another song and another speech thanking various friends for their friendship over the years. Later still came yet another speech when the birthday cake was unveiled. The cake, like the speeches, was a little too sweet for me.


Alice’s singing style brought to mind Judy Garland who was one of my mother’s favourite singers. Once, back in the 70’s or 80’s, The Wizard of Oz had a cinema re-release and I took mum to see it. When the film came on mum let out a sort of disappointed shrug and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that when she had seen the film originally it had been in colour. ‘Perhaps they couldn’t find a colour print or perhaps it wasn’t in colour after all’ I told her. ‘I was sure it was in colour’ she replied.

Later, when Dorothy wakes up in the land of Oz, the film goes from black and white to colour. I looked over at mum and she smiled back. ‘I was right after all’ she said.


Judy Garland was a great star but sadly was a victim of the Hollywood studio system. Given uppers to give her more energy to work and downers to help her sleep, she became addicted to the pills fed her by the studio. She died in England in 1969 from an accidental barbiturate overdose. She was only 47 years old.


I’ve written about my lemons before. I’ve always loved growing things from pips or seeds and I have two large lemon trees grown from pips. They must be at least three years old, possibly more and my big ambition is for one of them to give me a lemon. Yes, my own home-grown lemon, I’d love that, I really would. I’m not sure what I’d do with my first lemon. I think I might just pop a big chunk of it into a glass, add some ice, some gin and some tonic and sit back on a sunny evening and just relish the achievement.

My lemon trees have survived another winter and are looking good. I’m a bit short of room so I took one of the lemons and planted it in the garden in a sheltered spot. I wasn’t really sure it was going to survive but happily it did. The other one wintered in the porch and the other day I gave it a bit of a pruning and repotted it. I left it outside overnight but sadly, the early spring warm temperature dropped a little during the night and my poor lemon shed a heck of a lot of its leaves. Should I bring it back into the porch or would another change in temperature upset it?

I do have another lemon tree. It’s only small and it’s one that Liz bought me a few years ago. Towards the end of last summer, a flower appeared but sadly died away. This last week I put it outside for some sunshine and a good feeding and noticed another flower. On closer inspection there are actually a considerable amount of flowers which I hope will soon grow into lemons. I reckon I can taste that gin and tonic already.


Back at the nursing home with my mother I was getting ready to leave. I felt a little disappointed as my attempt to get her to use her memory had backfired when she couldn’t remember anymore of her three times table.  The disappointment of not being able to remember such a simple thing was evident in her face. We said our goodbyes and I went towards the door. As I turned back for a final wave goodbye, she said something and I stopped to listen.

‘Ten threes are thirty’ she said. ‘Eleven threes are thirty-three, twelve threes are thirty-six’. She looked back and smiled. ‘I remembered after all’ she said.


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The Post Holiday Blues and Other Ramblings

Returning home after a holiday is always a let down, even more so when you return to the cold and wet UK after the temperate climate of Lanzarote. One morning I woke to beautiful sunshine streaming in through the window and then went outside to sit in the sun by the pool while I waited for the kettle to boil. The next morning, I woke in a cold house with the wind battering at the window and made my way shivering into the kitchen to once again boil the kettle. In one of the James Bond books 007 calls tea ‘mud’ and claims it was the cause of the downfall of the British Empire. Nothing could be further from the truth because tea, at least for me, is one of the great wonders of British life and whether I am in the cold of a British winter or the warmth of the Canary Islands, I really cannot start my day without a cup of tea.

I had a pretty lazy holiday in Lanzarote. I spent it, like I spend most of my holidays, reading books on my sun lounger, swimming in the pool, having barbecues and enjoying drinks and meals down in the nearby marina.

I did mean, as usual, to work on my writing and as usual, I didn’t. I did manage to write my weekly blog while I was there though. In fact, despite my lacking in the work ethic department, I have managed to produce a post every Saturday for as long as I have been a blogger and this epic you now find before you is my 489th blog post.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my childhood. I had quite a few stories to add to that particular post but I always try to keep to about 2000 words or less and here’s one story that didn’t make the final draft.

I wrote about my bike in that childhood post. I loved my bike and I spent a lot of time on it exploring the Cheshire countryside as well as the country lanes that surrounded Manchester Airport where my friends and I would meet by an old WWII pillbox, slurp dandelion and burdock and watch the aircraft come and go.

Back in the 1970’s, the classic, iconic bike of the times was the chopper bike. It had a low slung frame with a seat and handlebars that rose up to the proper level. Back then I had no chance of getting a chopper bike but one thing I could do was get a chopper seat. I saved up and bought one and fitted it to my conventional bike. It looked a bit odd I suppose but I liked it, especially the tall hoop on the back of the seat.

By Raleigh-Chopper – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

One day my dad, who cycled to work every day come rain or come shine, had a problem with his bike. My uncle came round to help him fix it but nothing could be done. It was a Thursday I think and so all dad could do was ask mum to take the bike down to the cycle shop and to borrow my bike to get to work. I did think about telling him about the new seat but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. The next morning, he went out to the outhouse to get my bike and a few minutes later he was back. ‘What’s happened to your bike? Where’s the proper seat?’

The old seat was there in the outhouse but it wasn’t a quick fix. The chopper seat had two arms that came down and were screwed to the back wheel so poor old dad had to tootle off to work with the bike as it was. Mum and I watched him ride away. She turned to me and asked ‘why didn’t you tell him last night so he could have put the old seat on?’

‘I don’t know’ I said. Then again, it was my bike and I didn’t want the old seat back.

I loved that bike but one day I lost it forever. My brother and I were always swapping things; toys, models, books but mostly records. Our musical likes in those days were pretty fleeting. He’d play something that I realised I had to have and after paying his extortionate demands or swapping whatever possession of mine that he wanted, sometimes I’d find a week later that that record really wasn’t the all time classic I thought it was and so we’d either swap back or I’d wait until he wanted something of mine and then I’d insist he take back the record I’d never really wanted in the first place. Sometimes I’d swap my most treasured possession, my bike. The thing was, my brother Colin couldn’t ride a bike so it was a win win situation for me as sooner or later he’d want to get rid of the bike back to me. One day he really got one over on me.

We’d done a swap for something and he had taken my bike. I was going out for a ride but the bike wasn’t in the outhouse. Where was it? What had happened? Had it been stolen?

‘The bike?’ Colin answered blithely. He had sold it to his friend because he wanted money to buy a new LP.

My mother facilitated the removal of my hands from his throat with a firm whack to the back of my head and asked what was going on.

He sold my bike!’’ I yelled.

‘Your bike?’ she replied. ‘Didn’t you swap it with him? Isn’t it his bike?’

Yes but, yes but,’ was all I could say.

I had taken my video camera to Lanzarote with the vague idea of shooting something, a vlog or a tour of the resort, I wasn’t sure what. Perhaps I could have hired a bike and done a Lanzarote cycling video. I noticed there were electric scooters for hire but at 20 Euros for 2 hours, that wasn’t for me.

In the end I decided to take my camera and my trusty selfie stick and chat away to the camera while taking a walking tour of the marina.

On holiday I don’t watch much TV but back home on a cold December evening I tend to head straight for the TV remote. One show I wanted to watch this week was And Just Like That, a new version of Sex and The City. Now Sex and the City has always been one of my favourite shows. Season 4 was the absolute highlight of the series but the later ones were good too. The first feature film was good but the second one was poor. That’s it I thought, it’s finally finished and rightly so after all, all things must come to an end sooner or later.

The producers thought differently though and minus Samantha, as actress Kim Catrall declined to take part, Sex and the City has returned, thinly disguised as And Just Like That.

A long time ago one of my favourite TV shows was also rebooted for a TV movie special. It was called The Return of the Man From Uncle and despite having stars David McCallum and Robert Vaughn recreate their roles as super cool spies Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, the film was dreadful. The slightly tongue in cheek attitude was gone, the music was different, the super cool way they used to cut to the next scene with a whip pan effect, gone also. The producers cut out everything that made the original good.

In And Just Like That the original cast were all there, just a little older, actually, not just older but old, seriously old. Miranda mentioned she was 55 at one point although I had already got her down as being about 65. Charlotte played by Kristin Thomas was reeling from either far too much botox or a seriously bad facelift and only Carrie herself seemed to have aged gracefully. Nothing in episode one, and I do mean nothing, was anything I could relate to despite my undying love of the previous series. One of my favourite characters died at the end of episode 1 so I had to watch episode 2. This featured a non-religious funeral ceremony in some sterile and unwelcoming New York funeral home.

Will I be watching episode 3? Maybe . .

Another TV event this last week was the finale to the F1 world championship. Lewis Hamilton the 7 times world champ was hoping to extend his record breaking run to 8 championships although bad boy Max Verstappen was giving him a good run for his money. The two were tied on points going into this last race and it was pretty clear that the winner would be taking home the 2021 champ’s trophy. The race was pretty exciting but a late race crash brought out the safety car. Max dived into the pits for new tyres but Lewis stayed out, confident that the race would not have the time to restart.

Restart it did though as the race director decided that it might be best for this race to end on a proper racing lap rather than a safety car. So, in came the safety car a lap early and Lewis and Max commenced battle, Max with new tyres, Lewis with old ones and the result naturally was Max taking the win and the World Championship.

It was a poorly mismanaged end to the season, a season that had been one of the most exciting for a very long time. Max and Lewis had fought it out on the race circuits of the world. Max has shown himself to be a talented and very fast driver but one who doesn’t seem to care for any form of driver etiquette. He lunges into the inside of a corner and gives his opponent the choice of either giving way or crashing. Lewis has had the maturity to avoid a crash mostly although the two have had their moments together.

In some ways I’m glad Max has won. It’s been a bit boring when Lewis has won everything and a new World Champion should shake the sport up a little.

Back to the present and after having my Covid booster yesterday I don’t feel particularly well. I feel slightly sick and I’ve got a mild headache. What should I do today then, Christmas shopping? Wrap presents? Slide back under the covers?

Let me see . . .


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Make me a Child Again, Just for Tonight

I’ve not been at my absolute best this last week. Liz brought the last dregs of a cold over with her from the UK here to Lanzarote and gradually gave it to me. While I’ve been coughing and sneezing I’ve been lacking in a little inspiration for my blog posts and so have just written about our holiday. Two things have given me some ideas. One was a new book I’ve started, the autobiography of Agatha Christie, one of the best-selling authors ever. Her book has so far been a delightful read. She describes scenes and events from her childhood, in the days before Queen Victoria passed away, (Agatha was born in 1890) with great charm.

Another was a blog I read recently on the website Medium.com and the author quotes a poem, Rock Me To Sleep by Elizabeth Akers Allen, which in part goes like this:

Backward, turn backward, O time, in your flight,

Make me a child again, just for tonight!

In my early teens we moved to a house in Cheshire which was on a new ‘overspill’ estate built by Manchester city council. It was only a two bedroomed house so my brother and I had to share a room, much to our mutual annoyance. Originally both beds were under the window, one on either side of the room with a chest of drawers in between. Later I moved my bed to the opposite end, just by the door and closing my eyes I can just see the sunlight coming through the thin curtains. My brother is not there, he has gone to school I suppose and I must either be off sick or it was one of those wonderful days when the school boiler broke down and everyone was sent home on a Thursday for an early weekend.

After a while Mum comes in with a cup of tea and announces that lying in bed all day will not be permitted. She opens the curtains and the light comes flooding in.

‘Your breakfast will be ready in ten minutes’ she says. ‘If you’re not there I’ll be giving it to the dog.’

That’s me told I think so I drink my tea and scan through whatever comic or book is down by the bedside. Later Mum shouts ‘It’s on the table!’ and I throw on some clothes and go down to the kitchen. There bacon, egg and tomatoes await me.

‘Have you had a wash?’ Mum asks.

‘Not yet,’ I answer.

‘Well make sure you have one.’

I start eating and Bob our dog walks over. He sits down on the floor beside me and I look at him, hold out my hand and say ‘Gimme your paw’ which he obediently does.

‘Don’t go feeding that dog,’ warns Mum.

After breakfast Mum makes more tea and sits down herself with some bread and jam before reminding me to have a wash. Then she shoos me away saying that this is her and Bob’s private time. She had probably been on the go all morning getting my dad ready for work, making his breakfast and his sandwiches as well as doing the same for my brother. She was always busy.

Some years later I had left home and came to visit on a Sunday. Mum was in tears because Bob had dropped dead on the previous evening. Dad was going to bury the dog where all the family animals were buried, in the garden but this house was a new build, and he found that when he dug down there was a layer of rubble there that he couldn’t get through so Mum resolved to take the dog to the vet on Monday where she knew they could dispose of the body.

She had intended to put poor old Bob in her shopping trolley but by Monday rigor mortis had set in and she couldn’t get Bob into the trolley. Happily, one of her neighbours came to the rescue and drove Mum and Bob to the vets.

Bob the Dog.

I have to add this one last story about Bob before moving on. A few years ago, Liz and I were motoring through France in our motorhome and we stopped in a pretty big town where they had a large municipal stopover for motorhomes. We found ourselves a spot in this busy place and the parking bays backed onto a grassy area with picnic tables. It was really quite a lovely spot. Liz began to sort out our food while I took plates and cutlery over to the table. As I approached, I had a sort of odd feeling that something was about to happen and there was a really friendly dog who greeted me like a long lost friend. He wasn’t jumping up or anything but he was pleased to see me. Anyway, we brought the food and wine over and sat down and the dog sat just by me.

I looked at the dog and held out my hand and said ‘Gimme your paw’ and the dog gave me a doggy smile and placed his paw in my hand. Now I know you’re not going to believe this but I’m certain that dog was my old dog, either reincarnated, or possessed of the spirit of old Bob in some way. Whether by accident or design, Bob had come back to see me. A few people passing by saw him and asked about him and what his name was and so on. I told them I didn’t know and assumed he came from one of the many vans parked nearby. All the while he was there he watched me intently with that same doggy smile on his face. Later when I took the plates and things back inside the van, Bob the dog was nowhere to be seen.

Mum had mentioned her private time but my private time back then was reading books and comics and there was little in the way of daytime TV in the late 1960’s and early 70’s although sometimes there were some pretty good school programmes. I always remember watching one about how newspapers and journalism had been used or portrayed in films. In one part they showed clips in which a comic strip artist set up various scenes and had a photographer take pictures. Later he rendered the scenes into a comic strip for a newspaper and the character, played by Jack Lemmon turned to his valet played by Terry-Thomas and started to talk about their next ‘caper’ as they called it. I wish we’d been able to watch it at our school. We had this huge TV in a cabinet. The teacher used to wheel it out and we’d watch some schools programme but we never saw one half as good as the comic strip one. It took me years to find out what the film was. It was called How to Murder Your Wife and if you ever catch it on TV, it’s well worth watching.

A bit later on I was tasked to take out the dog so we walked up to the old abandoned RAF camp that was just across from our estate. Entry was strictly forbidden but the locals had opened up gaps in the fence and it was easy to walk in. I loved that RAF camp. It covered a huge area and all the camp roads and buildings were still in place. The roads were in good condition but a lot of the buildings looked ready to collapse. There were about three or four huge towers going up about three storeys high. One had an iron ladder attached to the outside wall but it started about six feet up so to get to it you had to scale the crumbling brickwork just to get a handle on the ladder. One day I managed to do it and hauled myself up the ladder. I went right to the top and was just able to pull myself into a small space right at the very pinnacle. If I’d have fallen off or had the ladder fallen away, I’d have been killed but it was one of those daft things that kids do. There was a great view but the hard bit was slipping down from that top space onto the ladder to get down.

My brother Colin and mum at the Heysham Kart Racing Track

Sometimes on the camp a kart racing team appeared. It was just a man and his son and they prepared the kart; Dad did some engine tuning and his son took off for a few laps. I was always asking if I could have a drive but they wouldn’t let me although we chatted a lot about motor racing. They told me about a kart track in Heysham where they had raced and once, when we went on holiday to Morecambe we visited the track although sadly, there was no racing on.

I took Bob home and it was time for more tea and then I took my bike to the RAF camp for some laps round the camp roads. I had worked out a racetrack in my note book around the camp and timed myself racing round there on my bike and used to jot down my lap times including things like fastest lap on a weekday, fastest weekend lap, all time fastest lap and so on. One day the council decided to send in a tractor which deposited a load of rubble at each of the junctions so neither me nor my friendly father and son kart team could race around there anymore. Later the tower and all the buildings were reduced to rubble. Today all remains of the camp have gone and a new private housing estate occupies the site.

Later my Dad arrived home from work on his pushbike. In Agatha Christie’s autobiography she describes her own father as ‘a very agreeable man’ and even adds a quote from my favourite book David Copperfield:

‘Is your brother an agreeable man, Peggoty?’ I enquired anxiously.

‘Oh what an agreeable man he is!’ exclaimed Peggoty.

My Dad was an agreeable man just like Agatha’s and it was that comment which sparked off most of these memories. Anyway, after Dad arrived home it was usually time for tea. My Mum was a good cook but she had a limited repertoire of dishes. Curries, pizzas and pasta dishes were unheard of for her and even today when she is 92 years old, stricken with dementia and living in a home, if I can’t seem to get a reaction out of her, I’ll simply tell her curry is on the menu for tea and she will be almost jumping out of her chair ‘I’m not eating curry!’ and she won’t relax until I say I’m joking.

Back then my favourite meal must have been meat pie. Mum used to buy her meat from the butchers and she always minced the meat herself with an old metal mincer which she screwed to the table top. She cooked it slowly and always made her own pastry. She’d serve it with either mash and carrots or chips and peas, both with lashings of gravy and piles of bread and butter. It was lovely.

One of my favourite TV shows then was MASH with Alan Alda. I just loved it and still do, the way they could mix madcap humour with tragedy, and I used to record my favourite episodes. Alas, there were no VHS recorders back then and a hard driver recorder was just a twinkle in some pre-teen inventor’s eye. What I did was record the soundtrack on my cassette tape recorder. Our TV didn’t have a jack plug either so I had to use the microphone and ask people to be quiet which was an absolute impossibility for both my Dad and my brother.

Once during a recording, Mum called ‘dinner’s ready’ and we all trooped silently out to the kitchen. Afterwards Dad and my brother would try to be the first back to make some silly comment on the tape.

Bedtime was usually about 10pm. Sometimes I’d myther Mum so that I could stay up late to watch either Monty Python’s Flying Circus or something like The Invaders. I loved the opening titles to the Invaders and the way the narrator read out everything. ‘The Invaders: A Quinn Martin Production!’

David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for a shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed, deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow, he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun!

Eventually I would be sent off to bed. Back then I couldn’t sleep without reading something for a while. My brother would complain because I had the light on and I’d say to him ‘go under. Go under the covers just for five minutes!’ Eventually I put out the lights. Just outside was a street light that would light up our room with a reddish amber glow. I can see it now and I can look over and see my posters, one of Jackie Stewart in his F1 Championship winning Matra and another of the lovely Olivia Newton-John, my childhood crush.

I close my eyes for a moment and then open them again. I’m back in my room in Lanzarote, the overhead fan sending cooling air towards me. It is 7.30am. Should I get up or go back to sleep?


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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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Blogging by Numbers

Despite being constantly at home and within easy reach of my laptop and notebook I seem to be struggling to write anything lately. I was looking around for a new blog post and finally decided to set myself a task. Writing about numbers. Difficult I know but if I’m the top notch writer I think I am then it won’t be that hard, will it?

Back in the 1980’s I received my first debit card just like many other people. Debit cards were a new concept back then. We already had credit cards but a debit card, what was that about? Back in pre-debit card days when everything was in black and white like an old film, we used to have to go into the bank to withdraw cash. I remember queuing at the bank on a Friday lunchtime in Manchester City centre waiting to draw some cash out for that weekend’s activities. The way we did it back then was to write a cheque to yourself or as I was taught to do ‘pay bearer cash’. In 1987 debit cards were first introduced in the UK although they had been around for a while in the USA. As you can imagine I didn’t actually know that, I had to look it up so while I’ve got that Google page open here are a few interesting facts from the BBC:

The earliest known cheque was written in 1659 dated the 16th February. The Bank of England was established in 1694. The first five pound note was issued in 1793 and was the lowest denomination note until 1797 when war drained the UK bullion reserves forcing the bank of England to issue one and two pound notes. 1966 was when the first UK credit cards were issued and of course, the debit card in 1987.

The first cash machine was put into use by Barclays Bank in 1967 and the machine was revealed with much fanfare by comedy actor Reg Varney who you may remember from the TV series On The Buses. The cash machine of 1967 was operated not by a debit card but by a voucher issued by the bank which was then entered into the cash machine.

It was interesting to hear about Reg Varney because, getting back to numbers, for my debit card secret number I decided to use the fleet number of the bus I was driving that day.

14.

Here’s another number: 14. Yes 14 was the number of the house I lived at as a child. My parents house was a council house and it was my grandad and grandmother’s house until they bought their own house and moved away to Wales. My mother managed to take the house over on the understanding that her brother and sister could continue to live there although by the time I came along they had both found their own homes.

Many years ago I came back to the house and parked outside and spent a few moments remembering the times of my childhood. I parked opposite and took the picture you can see here from the same spot where many years earlier I had first riden my two wheeled bike. The bike was really too tall for me and I could only get on it from the pavement. I spent a lot of weeks riding round the block making only left hand turns until I returned to my starting place. Eventually I got the hang of it. There used to be a hedge across the front of the garden which has now been removed to access the parking place which is also new. I do have a nice picture of me stood in that garden. Wish I could find it for this post but it’s upstairs in a box at my Mum’s house. One day I think I’ll go back and try and reproduce that picture if the present occupants will let me.

The memories that come flooding back just from looking at that picture. My friend Gary Chapman lived just around the corner and we went all over on our bikes. One Christmas, Gary’s parents bought him a set of walkie takies. He always got really great presents. I remember once complaining to my mum who promptly told me that because Gary and his family lived in a flat and not a house, they had less rent to pay so had more money for presents! A few times Gary left me one of the walkie talkies and we had a conversation later that night. Battery power was limited so we arranged to switch on at a prearranged time, 8:30 or something. Our conversations went like this:

‘Gaz, are you receiving?’

‘Gaz here. Loud and clear. Are you receiving Ste?’

‘Steve here. Loud and clear.’

‘Receiving you loud and clear Ste.’

Not long after that Gary and his family were offered a council house but it was in Gamesley, Glossop, a Manchester overspill estate. Gary moved away and I didn’t see him again for years. I met him again in the late 1980’s. A mutual friend of ours, Chris had bumped into Gary’s sister, got Gary’s phone number and we all arranged to meet up. I remember being in a bar in Manchester waiting for Gary. I was at the bar which was pretty busy, getting the beers in when I heard Gary’s voice. It was just how I remembered Gary from years ago. I could hear ‘where’s Ste?’ ‘he’s over there at the bar’. I turned round expecting to see Gary but there was just this guy stood behind me that I didn’t recognise. Where’s Gary I thought? ‘Ste?’ said the stranger. It was Gary. He looked completely different but his voice, a distinctive throaty voice, was just the same.

71.

My very first car had the registration plate PDB71M. It actually caused a lot of confusion when I bought it because I traded in my motorbike, a Honda CB250 with the very similar registration PDB1M. Incredibly, checking on the Gov.UK website my motorcycle is still registered. It was a green Honda first registered in 1974. It has no tax or MOT so presumably it is languishing in the back of someone’s garage, rusting and probably neglected. My car was a Reliant Bond Bug which does not come up on a website search so presumably it went to the scrap yard many years ago. I bought it because I failed my first two attempts at the driving test and was really getting fed up. Of course we didn’t have a family car so the only driving I could do was the one hour a week on a Saturday morning that was my actual driving lesson. The Bond Bug was a three wheeler car and could be driven on a motorcycle license. After a few months regular driving I booked the test again and sailed through it.

I remember pulling up at home in my car feeling very pleased with myself. The car was small, it was an orange wedge shaped two seater and my Dad took one look at it and said ‘How are we all supposed to get in that?‘ and walked away. Presumably he thought I would be taking the family away on holiday. Sorry Dad!

126.

While I’m on the subject of firsts, my first camera was either a birthday or Christmas present and it was a Kodak Instamatic 126. I still have the camera. From my point of view it was a wonderful present; from my parents perspective, perhaps not, because back then in the late sixties cameras needed film and film had to be developed and printed which was fairly costly, especially if you had a child that liked taking pictures and also, whose first attempts were not so good. These days if you take some dud pictures with a digital camera- delete them! It’s no big deal. Back then it was expensive!

I remember getting a major verbal lashing from my Mum when we had gone to Boots to collect my photographs. I was using colour film and Mum had to shell out for my pictures of my action man in various poses in the back garden! (Action man? Hey, I was 12!)

I remember telling the lady in the camera shop about my photography and how I used to build all kinds of stuff out of cardboard and photograph the results. She told me about a close up lens you could buy which just fit snugly over the camera lens on my Instamatic and enabled me to get really close up shots. I’m not sure how much it was but I had to save up for it, my first ever new lens!

0063.

Back in the eighties when I received my first debit card I was a bus driver. Why I stayed in that job for so long I’ll never know but back then in the eighties there was a relentless move towards one man operated buses. Eventually I became a one man driver. It involved more money but also more work. Instead of just driving the bus you had to issue tickets and collect fares but anyone becoming a one man driver in those days was given a new staff number. I became driver 0063: Double O six three, licensed to drive buses.

Just looking at those numbers together (not including by debit card number of course) gives me 1,4,7,1,1,2,6,6,3. I could add my present staff number into the mix, 6102 and there must be a lottery number in there somewhere. Is it a rollover this weekend? Excuse me, think I might just get myself a lottery ticket!


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Memories of Christmas

Christmases I have known.14nuffield
Well, there have been a few but the ones that stick in my mind are from long ago. Take a look over to the right. I have shown this picture before in a previous post and yes, that was the house where I used to live in when I was a child.

We had some lovely Christmases there. I remember watching old films on our black and white TV while my brother and I slurped fizzy pop like Dandelion and Burdock or Cream Soda, our faces lit by the warm glow of the coal fire. Bob the dog sat as close as earthly possible to the fire and if anyone dared to sit closer – my brother and I both liked to lie on the hearth rug and be close to the fire too – well Bob the dog would paw us till we moved or slump over us. He would peer into the fire until my Mum would shout at him when his nose dried up. Apparently a really bad thing for a dog, so she seemed to think.

Bob the Dog.

Bob the Dog.

We would watch films with stars like Judy Garland and Donald O’Connor. Musicals about Vaudeville and the American stage. ‘The Glenn Miller Story‘ was a firm favourite as well as ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business‘ and ‘the Jolson Story.‘ Poor Larry Parks; his career destroyed by the McCarthy Communist trials.

Funnily enough I saw the Glenn Miller story the other day and wasn’t impressed apart from the music. James Stewart was too old and there are too many shots of him looking quizzical and thinking about ‘that sound’ and, well I won’t say any more because years ago I loved that film. That and a hundred others like the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road movies. Don’t seem to see many of those on TV any more!

Another Christmas TV event was the Andy Williams show, I loved that show and I so hoped the bear would get some cookies! ( Cookies and the bear? If you don’t understand you never watched the show!)

My Dad used to tell me all he ever got for Christmas was an apple and an orange and if he was lucky some second hand item like a box of tin soldiers! What he thought of the pillowcase of things my brother and I received for Christmas I don’t know!

Anyway, cherish your memories, because one day your loved ones will be gone and those memories will be so much more important to you. I hope you’re having a lovely Christmas and to all my past, present and future readers, thanks for looking in.

Let me finish with something a very dear and much missed old friend used to say to me;

May your shadow never grow less!


Remember, if you stuck for something to read this Christmas, Floating In Space is available for an instant download to your Kindle!

5 Incredible Trigger Points to my Personal Timeline!

quotescover-JPG-44Time moves on as we go about our daily lives but there are always connections back to the past. The things we see, the things we hear, in fact anything we come across, even something as vague as a scent can be a trigger point that takes us back to a time and place we loved, or sadly, perhaps even hated. Memories are intrinsic to our personal selves, they are what makes us who we are.

I don’t know if you remember that TV series from a long time back with James Burke. It was called Connections and it showed how unrelated events from the past were connected to things in the present. Anyway, here’s my take on some personal connections to the past.

1.
Some time ago, and I’m going back a few years because this incident took place in Woolworths in St Annes and Woolworths, that shop that was always there in my youth went bankrupt and disappeared a few years ago. Anyway, I have always been one for skimming through records and CDs, especially when the word ‘sale’ can be seen. In Woolworths I picked up a compilation CD. It had some really nice tracks and a few I’d never heard of but I chose it particularly because of one track, ‘Horse with no name’ by America. I’ve always loved that song and I don’t have a copy of it so I bought the CD. Later when I had got home and played the album I was surprised to find another track that I hadn’t spotted earlier, it was Desiderata, a poem by Max Ehrman made into a pop song, of sorts, by an American guy called Les Crane.
Now not only is that poem one of my favourites but so is the musical version. It was played a lot at school by our headmaster in the morning services and as soon as I heard it again it brought memories of those long ago schooldays flooding back to me: The registrations, the morning assembly, the prayers. Back in the late sixties a lot of those morning assemblies were about Vietnam and how our headmaster, Mr Trickett wove his morning address from Vietnam to the Desiderata, I do not know but that musical version was something I loved and finding it again on a CD was like getting part of my youth back.

2.
I’ve related this story in another blog but this is a great connection so I’ll tell it quickly again. In 1992 I decided to have a last stab at my ambition to break into the TV and film world. I enrolled on a video production course in Manchester. It was only a short course and it was aimed at unemployed people which at the time, I was. Anyway, I had to make a presentation about TV and film and why I wanted to work in video and happily I was accepted. On the course we were split into small groups of three and were tasked to make a short film. After some discussion with my new colleagues we chose as our subject taxi drivers in Manchester. We made a quick outline of what to do, what to film and so on and after familiarisation with our fairly bulky camera and various training modules we went off to make our film. It’s not easy to make a film with two other people: All three of us all had our own ideas about the direction of the film, how to edit it together and so on but we discussed everything, tried to work each other’s viewpoints into the video and eventually came up with a pretty good rough cut. At this point we had to present the cut to the assembled video school and take questions and comments from the audience which was something of an ordeal but we survived and went on to fine tune our cut.
When the video was finished I tried to get TV companies interested in making a full length version for TV but without success, in fact you can read how I fared with Channel 4 here but I still have the video and what is so wonderful about the digital world is that now I’ve uploaded it to youtube, everyone can take a look at our film about taxi drivers in Manchester in the early nineties. In the time before the internet, my tape would be languishing in a cupboard with only ever having been seen by a few friends. Now the video is on the internet it’s my very own connection back to the nineties!

3.
While we were on holiday last week in the Cher region of France we came across a marker by the road. There are many such markers by French villages telling us about battles and incidents of the first and second world wars. We had actually stopped to consult our map as we wandered down a quiet country lane when we saw the plaque. It was showing us that the dividing line between occupied and unoccupied France in the Second World War was here. Sadly, I didn’t have my camera on hand to snap a picture and I can’t even really tell you where we were, except we were close to the village of Germigny L’Exempt. Marshall Petain was the leader of unoccupied France during World War 2 and General de Gaulle the leader of the free French forces. When Nazi Germany was defeated France was reunited under the provisional government of De Gaulle. Petain was tried as a traitor and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in 1951 and is buried at the Cimetière communal de Port-Joinville on the Île d’Yeu, a small island off the French Atlantic coast where he served his sentence. I wonder what Petain himself thought of the situation, did he think of himself as a traitor or was he doing what he thought was right under the circumstances? Anyway, there it was, a quick stop on a country lane to check the map and a small connection with the 1940’s.
4.
Visiting historic places and sites is a great way of connecting to the past. As I have said, there are many sites in France relating to the two world wars. One that we visited in northern France some years ago was a great concrete structure where the invading Nazis were planning to fire V1 and V2 rockets at the UK. Happily, daring raids by the RAF made this impossible but the structure is still there today. As you stand and stare as a tourist today, you can only imagine the heroism of all those who fought for a free world in the past.

Eperleques, France

Eperleque, France

5.
To finish with, another more personal connection. When I lived in Didsbury, back in the mid-eighties, I had a much shorter commute to work than I do now. I worked in Stockport and it took me about fifteen minutes or less to get to work, unlike the forty five minutes of motorway driving it takes me now. Back then I was still a great record collector spending a lot of my free time flipping through vinyl singles in record shops and making up my own cassette tapes to play in my car. I had a favourite tape back then and it was a compilation of TV themes, dialogue from movies, and bits and bobs I had recorded from the radio world. Not so long ago I bought myself some software that lets you record analogue sound from records and tapes and convert them to a digital format and one of the first things I converted was that favourite tape from the eighties. I burned the compilation to a CD and now, here in 2015, I’m travelling into work listening to the same favourites I used to play in my car all those years ago!


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