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!


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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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