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’.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

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.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

The Big 65

Birthdays are not something I look forward to these days. Years ago, when I was a school boy I did look forward to them, at least I think I did. Now I come to think of it, I’m not sure I was that bothered about them even back them.  I do remember as a schoolboy being very impressed with the film 2001 A Space Odyssey and I started working out if I stood a chance of being alive in the then distant year of 2001. I was 45 in 2001 which to a young schoolboy must have seemed pretty ancient. Add on another 20 years and that same schoolboy would surely have imagined himself as a decrepit old guy barely alive in 2021. The thing is, despite being 65 I don’t really feel that old, at least, not inside.

Back in 2016 when I was a young whippersnapper of only 60 I wrote a little tongue in cheek piece about my birthday:

2016

At a press conference this past Monday morning at Wetherspoons in Southport Mr Higgins, reputedly now 60 years of age, was asked numerous questions about his advancing years. He was heard to ask “Pint of lager, please mate,” numerous times but did not seem willing to discuss his birthday further.

Although Mr Higgins seemed somewhat reluctant to engage with people, he responded to a question about television in the early years of the second half of the twentieth century.
He confirmed there were, in the 1960’s when he was a child, only two TV channels. There were further gasps from people when he mentioned, almost nonchalantly that he and his family were at one time forced to watch programmes in black and white!

As Mr Higgins moved onto his next pint he enlarged upon his theme. “Yes, in those days there was no colour TV, no internet and no mobile phones.”
“How did people send messages?” one journalist asked.
“Well,” said Mr Higgins. “The only way was to get some paper and a pen or pencil and laboriously write out a message. Afterwards it had to be sealed in an envelope and posted after of course, adding a stamp.”
“What, you mean it wasn’t free?”
“Of course not!” snapped Mr Higgins, rather testily. “Not only that, you had to take it round to the post box and mail it yourself.”
“How long would the process take?” asked another.
“Well, it could be anything from a couple of days to almost a week”

A young lady reporter fainted and was revived by splashing cold water on her face. As she came round, she looked up at Mr Higgins and asked, “How did you carry on, how did you survive?”

“Well,” answered Mr Higgins. “I suppose we were a tough generation. It was hard then. You lot have things so easy!” Returning to the bar, Mr Higgins waved over to the bar staff and commented. “This lager is a bit naff. Have you got any dark beers? What about a pint of mild?”

Picture courtesy perfectpint.com

Picture courtesy perfectpint.co.uk

“Mild?” replied the barmaid, a young Romanian girl of about nineteen. “What iz zat?”
Mr Higgins looked a little frustrated until the bar manager came over and revealed that Theakston’s mild was one of the guest beers that day. Mr Higgins immediately perked up and called for a pint.
“Lovely jubbly.” he commented, “Cracking pint! Now, what else do you lot need to know? I’ve got some serious drinking to do.”
“What about films?” someone asked. “Surely it was just like today; I suppose you could download a movie onto your tablet and watch at your convenience?”
Mr Higgins, now onto his fourth pint seemed to jump on the word tablet and exclaim “Tablet? In my day that was something you took for a headache! If you wanted to see a film, you had to go down to the picture house, pay your money and go in and get your seat and watch the film.”
Someone asked if the term ‘picture house’ could be explained.
“The picture house! Cinema! A big place with a huge screen where they projected the picture!”
“Do you mean you had to sit with other people?”
“Of course you pillock!” replied Mr Higgins. He turned back to the bar just as his all day breakfast arrived. “Right, that’s it now. If you want to learn about the old days, like the seventies, just get yourselves a copy of my book, ‘Floating in Space!’”

Yes that was the 1970’s; no internet, no mobile phones and a pint of bitter was only 25 pence.

2021

As it was my birthday I had arranged a pre birthday date for lunch and drinks with my brother. I was staying at my mother’s house and I fancied a look around Manchester. I had not been to the city centre since 2019, before the pandemic and every time I look at Instagram or the photography page I follow on Facebook, I keep seeing photos of new space age hi rise buildings and I wanted to take a look myself.

I planned on going early into Manchester so I gave my brother a quick call so as to arrange where we could meet. My brother however told me he wasn’t feeling well and was staying in bed. Well, I wasn’t happy but no amount of cajoling could get him to change his mind. As I sat on the tram travelling into town I started to think about making a video. I had my camera with me so I decided to leave the tram at Deansgate where I knew that some new skyscrapers had been built and then just follow wherever my camera or my nose took me.

At the end of Deansgate on the far edge of the city the builders had created a whole new complex of hi-rise buildings called Deansgate Square. There was an interesting mural there with a short history of Manchester from the first Roman fort in AD79 to the industrial age and right through to the present. After shooting a lot of video I wandered back towards the station and decided to drop down to the canal. The canal runs right through the middle of the city centre largely unseen, hidden by the large buildings and in some places disappearing into tunnels. I came across a canal barge navigating one of the locks and got chatting to the occupants. The barge was a hire boat and came from Middlewich but the crew were surprisingly from Washington in the USA. They showed me how to navigate through the canal lock, opening and closing the lock gates and opening the water valves to raise the boat up to the next level.

Later I walked down Oxford Road and found myself drawn to the old Refuge Assurance building. When I started my working life at the tender age of 16 my first job was as a clerk in the Estates department of the Refuge. Construction on the building began in 1891 with a final extension completed in 1932. It’s a grade 2 listed building finished in red brick which today is known as the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. I entered through the side entrance, the one I last used in 1977 and walked through the tiled entrance hall into what used to be the main office. It was still pretty quiet and various people were sat in the luxurious lounge eating and drinking. I ordered a pint of lager and found myself a comfy seat where I sat and drank and let my mind wander back to 1973 when I first started there.

1973

In the Estates department my job was to collect the rents we were owed for numerous properties in the city centre, enter them in a ledger and bank the money. Another job was to allocate a proportion of the fire insurance to our tenants, based on the floor size they rented. One incident that sprang to mind was something I’ve written about before but is worth telling again. I came into work one day to find that there was the hum of excitement in the office and my colleagues and I were advised of the imminent arrival of a million pound cheque.  As I was only a mere teenage accounts clerk,  I was running low on the pecking order to see this cheque, although it was actually my job to process it as I did with all the other cheques that came into the department. In due course, one of the very senior managers came down with the cheque and with great reverence it was handed to my boss Mr Ross. Mr Ross perused the cheque for a while along with a small clique of other managers and then conveyed it to the senior clerk, Mr Elliott. After marvelling at this great artefact for a few moments, he then passed the cheque to me. Numerous staff members from our and neighbouring departments also came to take a peek at this financial wonder which I believe, was the result of the company either selling off our sister company, Federated Assurance, or doing some fabulous property deal.

Anyway I did my job and duly entered the cheque into the ledger then put it in the safe ready to go down to banking prior to 3pm, as in those days, banks closed at 3pm. ‘Good heavens!’ declared one of my managers, ‘we can’t just leave the cheque there, think about the interest!’ So I was despatched on a special journey to the bank for this very special cheque. Actually that suited me quite well. After paying the cheque into the local bank I sauntered round the corner to the sandwich shop, ordered sausage on toast and made my way quietly back to work. Just as I arrived back in the office I realised that the senior management staff were still there, waiting for news. Were there any problems? What had happened? They seemed rather disappointed when I told them that no cataclysm had occurred, the bank had not come to a standstill but the million pound cheque had been routinely deposited. Thinking back, I’m not sure I liked the way they were looking at me, perhaps they knew all along I’d been to the sarnie shop!

2021

I finished my drink and walked back up towards St Peter’s Square. Back in the late seventies I used to spend my dinner break there on warm summer lunchtimes, eating my sandwiches and reading whatever book I was hooked on at the time. Things have changed in the square too, the seating area has gone and most of the area has been taken over by the trams.

The trams run every few minutes and I saw one approaching and so I ran up the steps and jumped aboard. I had shot quite a lot of video that day and already I was thinking of how I could put it all together and so I spent the next day glued to my laptop doing one of the things I love the most, editing video. I normally write a narration for my videos but this time I thought I’d put together one off the cuff. That is I made some notes and then switched on the microphone and started talking. The result was a verbatim commentary rather than a pre written narration. It’s not quite as fluid as I would have liked but it seems to work.

When the actual day of my birthday dawned I was feeling a little miserable. Perhaps it was the sudden onset of the cold wet weather or it might have been one of the symptoms of getting old. Anyway, I cheered up after opening my cards and presents and later Liz treated me to a meal at a lovely Italian restaurant. Yes, some garlic bread, pasta and red wine can go a long way towards cheering up an old codger like me and let me leave you with what I thought was a particularly interesting way of looking at the big 65 . .


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

Adventures with Data Protection

I spend a lot of time these days looking after my mother who will be 90 later this year. Her memory is not what is was, in fact sometimes she’ll have breakfast, fall asleep in the chair and wake up wanting her breakfast. My brother and I think of it as her reset mode, as if someone has pressed control alt and delete on her personal memory bank and all that has gone before has been wiped clean.

Her hearing aids are a big problem too, despite the note written large on her table which says ‘DON’T HIDE AWAY YOUR HEARING AIDS. LEAVE THEM WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM.’ We tend to spend a lot of mornings searching for her hearing aids because she cannot remember where she put them, unless we were there when she took them out, and even then we are only human and sometimes forget ourselves.

Both her hearing aids need new earpieces and the doctor referred her to Specsavers which is only a short walk away so happily I can push her there in her wheelchair and do away with the nightmare of trying to get her in and out of my car.

The other day I called Specsavers and asked if they had the referral yet. They couldn’t find it but were very helpful and said if I contacted the doctor’s surgery and they had the referral to hand then they could either fax or e-mail it to Specsavers and then provided me with the necessary fax numbers and email addresses.

The Doctors’ surgery was not though helpful at allthough. The referral had gone through, yes. E-mail? No, it had to go through proper channels. Fax it? Fax? They hadn’t had a fax machine for years implying that I, that top notch technology savvy writer and blogger, was a good few light years behind the times.

My mother did have a letter about an appointment which needed to be booked via something called the NHS gateway. Was that the referral I asked? Could be . . .

I then called the NHS booking gateway, supplied the reference numbers and asked to book the appointment. Could my Mum confirm some details? Not really, she’s having trouble with her hearing aid. OK they said we’ll sort it out. After a moment, they said, yes it’s all sorted, we’ll send you a letter about it.

Is it for Specsavers I asked?

Sorry, we can’t tell you because of data protection.

What was the date and time?

Sorry, can’t tell you because of data protection.

The thing is, I tried to explain, it will be me taking Mum for the appointment so I could do with knowing the where and when as that could be pretty helpful.

Sorry, can’t tell you because of data protection.

OK, what if I put Mum on the phone? OK but we have to verify her identity. Right so I put Mum on the phone and the guy asks her can you confirm your name?

MUM: What?

GUY: Can you confirm your name?

MUM: What?

ME: He’s asking your name!

MUM: OK It’s (Ooops, sorry data protection, can’t reveal that on this blog!)

GUY: What is your date of birth?

MUM: What? Speak up!

GUY: What is your date of birth?

ME: Your date of birth Mum!

MUM: It’s (whooa, can’t reveal that here on this blog post because of data protection!)

GUY: What is your post code?

MUM: What!

ME: Your postcode?

MUM: Er . . .

ME: (Whispering) It’s (whooa, can’t reveal that here on this blog post because of data protection!)

GUY: Just a minute, I heard you telling her the answer!

ME: She’s a deaf old lady and couldn’t remember it!

GUY: Well, we’ll send your Mum a letter with the date of the appointment.

ME: It would just be so helpful if you could tell me when it is because I am the one who will be taking her for the appointment!

GUY: Sorry, can’t reveal that because of data protection!

The really good thing is that not long afterwards Specsavers called me back to say they had received the referral and that my Mum was booked in for (Ooops, sorry data protection, can’t reveal that on this blog!)


Floating in Space is a novel about beer and cigarettes, pubs and pool tables, discotheques, loud music and cheesy chat up lines. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

 

 

My Mum, the Microwave, and Old Age.

quotescover-jpg-95I wanted to write a post about age and getting older and then I thought to myself, am I the right person to write this?  Because of course, I’m only . . . Well, now I mention it I’m actually sixty, yes, sixty years old. Sometimes it’s hard to get my head round that fact because I don’t feel sixty. Well, not inside anyway. On the outside it’s another matter.

You may have seen some of my videos on this site; ones where I talk to the camera and try to encourage people to buy my book. The other week I thought that perhaps it’s time to shoot a few new ones. This time I started with my iPad thinking how much easier it would be. I’ve got a special iPad mounting for my tripod and I can set up the shot easily with the self-facing camera. No need for endless test shots to get the framing right. Anyway, it wasn’t as easy as I had thought because outside on a sunny day it’s hard to see your iPad screen.

Back indoors to check out the finished result and my first thought was what is this? Who is that old guy on the screen? Maybe I need to get down to the gym and get myself toned up a little because for the first time I feel like I really do look my age. So, I may not feel that old on the inside, apart from a few aches and pains in my back but on the outside it’s clearly a different story.

Anyway, no more filming that day but then again, perhaps it was the light. Yes and I have just had a rather short haircut. On a better day I’d probably look more like my normal self. Yes, that must be it!

Still, if I have problems getting to grips with my age, I wonder what it is like for my Mum?

Over forty years ago, when I was a teenager my Mother and I used to have conversations like this:

ME: (Shouting from the top of the stairs) Mum, where are my jeans? (Shouted with an element of frustration.)

MUM: (Shouting from the kitchen where she is either cooking, cleaning or ironing.) Which jeans do you mean? The faded blue ones or the dark blue ones?

ME: (Slightly taken aback, of course I’ve got two pairs, which ones did I mean?) The faded blue ones!

MUM: They are on a hanger in your wardrobe, on the right hand side, next to the black cord trousers. (That son of mine couldn’t find the trousers if they were hanging in front of his face!) The dark blue ones are in a pile waiting to be ironed which I can’t do now because I’m BUSY!

Fast forward forty years and more to 2017. My Mum is 87 years old and we still have similar conversations; only nowadays they go like this:

ME: Have you seen my green top?

MUM: Green top? What green top? I’ve not seen a green top here.

ME: It’s the one I always wear. (I don’t have a lot of clothes at my Mum’s, just a couple of tops, the green one for when it’s warm and the beige one for when it’s cold.)

MUM: No, never seen a green top.

Just then I realised how hot it was in my Mum’s house. I was really sweating so I turned off the heating and dropped the fire down a few notches. OK, it is winter but it wasn’t that cold outside. Anyway, back to the green top search.

I took a look in the washing basket. Not there: Nothing in the washer itself. There is a pile of stuff, mainly towels and things on a small chair by the washer and there I find the green top. Not only that but there is a bag of onions from when we went shopping the other day and I recall the conversation from a few days later when I said ‘where did you put the onions?’ Mum answered that we didn’t have any and we’ll get some next time we go shopping. Yes, there they are, those same onions, languishing, for some reason in a pile of towels.

Just over twelve months ago my Mum was reasonably fit and active. I used to visit her and I’d usually stay for a couple of nights. She always had the two work shirts that I keep at her house ready for me, washed and hung up and she’d usually ask me if I wanted anything in particular for my dinner. I’d tell her either what I fancied, or whatever she had in mind would be fine. I’d usually ask if she want me to get any shopping in, to which she would always say, ‘No. When I can’t get to the shops myself I’m finished.’

In the past she used to trundle off to the shops pushing a little trolley thing that Liz found for her in a house clearance. It’s just a set of handlebars and some wheels with a space to hold your shopping, and it’s good to lean on while you walk. Mum used to potter away trundling ever so slowly with her trolley but she’d take her time, get her shopping and return.

Then the day came early last year when her legs started to fail due to her arthritis and she couldn’t get to the shops. Now, either my brother will do her shopping, or me. When I’m on my way I’ll call her and ask ‘What do you need?’ Mum will usually reply bread, milk and anything I want for myself so I’ll get the requested items and anything else I can think of for our dinner.

Mum’s memory is a little hit and miss these days too because when I arrived there last week, duly laden with bread, milk and other things she had asked me to bring, my brother arrived soon afterwards. He had with him exactly the same food order. Mum had asked us both to bring the same things!

It was also rather hot so I turned the fire down and reset the thermostat to something reasonable. Later, when I was getting myself sorted for work the next day I asked ‘Mum, where are my blue work shirts?’ My Mum replied ‘You didn’t leave any shirts. There are no blue shirts here.’ After a short dispute in which she insisted I had no shirts at her house I went off for a search and I found the shirts hanging up in her wardrobe!

When I came down the stairs to tell her the first thing she said was ‘It’s a little chilly, I’d better put the heating on!’

Not so long ago I bought Mum a microwave for Christmas. A microwave is an indispensable item in a modern kitchen. Microwave meals are easily sorted in a few minutes and items from the freezer are quickly defrosted.  I told Mum how to use it and showed her some simple things like how to heat a tub of baked beans in a few minutes. Simple stuff like that.

Her favourite breakfast item is porridge. I explained how easy microwaved porridge can be. Next time I was shopping I picked up a box of those little sachets of oats, showed her how to place them in a bowl, add milk and two minutes later, there is your porridge.

A few days later, I asked her how she was going on with the porridge sachets. She said they were perfect, and told me how easy it was to empty one into a pan, add milk and stir and . . well, a few minutes later, perfect porridge!

You have to laugh, otherwise you’d cry.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

 

Sunday Lunch with My Arch Enemy.

I published this post some time ago but sadly, my arch enemy passed away a few days ago on the 22nd October. He wasn’t really my arch enemy just a lovely old man who liked to engage in some cheerful banter. Sunday lunch will sadly never be the same again. RIP Harry.

quotescover-JPG-20Sunday afternoon and my arch enemy is about to arrive. Zoe, Liz’s daughter has picked him up and I can hear them at the front door. I’ve lit the coal fire and done a quick tidy up and Zoe is showing him through. In the hallway he asks “Is the Mad Monk in?”

That’s me by the way, the Mad Monk.

“Bloody hell Zoe,” I say. “I had that door locked to keep the riff raff out!”

“Stephen,” he says using my Sunday name as he comes into the lounge. “We don’t mind slumming it with the riff-raff. Anyway, how lovely to see you!”

“Always a pleasure to see you, Harry,” I reply.

Harry is just approaching ninety years of age and all his faculties are in order although his memory is perhaps not as good as it used to be.

“Take a seat Harry,” I say. “What can I get you? A glass of water? Lemonade? A cup of tea perhaps?”

Harry turns to Zoe, a fake look of disdain on his face.

“Pillock!” he murmurs.

Liz brings him a glass of French sherry..

“That’s more like it,” he says.

The women go off into the kitchen to sort the dinner and Harry and I chat about various things. Once Liz and Zoe come back though, we resume battle.

“Harry went for a brain operation the other day,” I announce, matter of factly. “It was free but they charged him £2000 search fees.”

“Dear me, I wish you’d try some new jokes Stephen,” comments Harry. “If you had a brain you’d be dangerous,”

Over seventy five years ago when war broke out Harry decided the army wasn’t for him so he went on a wireless operators course in Preston then signed up in the merchant navy as a ‘sparks’.

His first voyage took him down through the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf and Iraq. One day while his ship was being refuelled he went for a walk and he heard a voice call his name. He turned to find one of his old schoolmates hailing him. Frank and Harry went to school together, both went to sea and bumped into each other in Basra, along the Shatt-Al-Arab river,  a place Harry called the ‘arsehole of the world.’

Harry had no money on him but his friend Frank treated him to a meal and a few beers and they didn’t see each other again until Harry’s fiftieth birthday, many years later.

“That doesn’t surprise me Harry,” I say. “That poor fella, having to pay for everything. No wonder he didn’t want to see you again.”

“Stephen. What you don’t realise is how hurtful insinuations like that are to a sensitive man like me.”

“I’ve not noticed your sensitive side Harry.”

“Well, you will in a minute if you don’t top my wine up, garcon!”

The wine is topped up and Liz calls for a ‘skivvy’ to help in the kitchen.

“That’s a good word for you Stephen, skivvy. Off you go and if you do a good job there might be a tip in it for you!”

Atlantic convoys during World War 2 were a lifeline for the UK. Bringing in food and supplies and munitions as we fought alone against the Nazis after the fall of France. U boats were a deadly menace to our ships and Harry told me once how he lay on his bunk shivering with fear during an attack. If a ship went down there was no one to help. Other ships couldn’t stop for survivors as they too might be torpedoed. After a while though Harry told me you just got used to the threat and got on with your job. He told me of trips to the Middle East taking tanks and equipment for the Middle Eastern campaigns. A trip from Argentina to the UK with a cargo of rice. A visit to Rio and a trip to New York.

We eat our Sunday dinner with little let up in the banter. Later when it’s time to go Harry turns to Liz and says, “Lovely meal darling.” Then with a wink he says, “pity about the company though.”

So, let me finish Harry with the toast that you so often give to me,

“May your shadow never grow less.”