Poet on a Hill

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Wpl

ARMED FORCES DAY 2010

26 June 2010: Armed Forces Day in Cardiff. We bus into town and join the crowd of 50,000 fellow Brits in blazing sunshine in the city centre. We clap and cheer along with the others as 1,000 sailors, soldiers and airmen march by, led by the band of the Royal Marines.

The Royal Navy (Senior Service) are first, then several contingents of the army, Guards, Dragoons, Infantry; colourful in their dress uniforms, blues and reds and desert sands, then the RAF, along with their Regiment, in their sky blue; each contingent led by its own band, brass or silver, and stirring marching beat.

We follow them from Cardiff Castle to Roald Dahl Plass in Cardiff Bay, with military music, marching feet, clapping and cheering all the way.

Now the march past with the Prince of Wales taking the salute.
No show of might or strength, force, threat or aggression, like our friends in Russia, China and North Korea so often treat us to.
No. This is British stuff to make you proud; dedicated to our young service people, Brits, and kids from the Commonwealth, smart, disciplined, skilled and willing to serve humanity; and more, something indefinable that takes in selflessness, camaraderie, heroism – and ambitious enthusiastic youth. I can’t find the word but let’s say – feel-good … British feel-good.

Now it’s the Drumhead Service. The prayers are appropriate and cover it all; self-sacrifice, past and present. Speeches are few, short and relevant. And now, maybe the most moving moment of the day, a giant Lancaster Bomber roars overhead; a Spitfire escorting from behind like a faithful hound. Ghosts of the past mirrored in the youth below; feel-good again.

The parade is dismissed – enjoy the fun of the fair; stalls and demonstrations by the army, marines and air force; there’s military hardware here, not a lot, we don’t have a lot, tanks, guns, armoured vehicles, the frigate HMS Kent open to the public. No aggressive stuff, more a recruiting drive, come and join us, get a life; cheek by jowl with military bands, a jazz group, tumblers, and comedians, burgers, fish and chips, bars and restaurants, tables in the sun – Cardiff Bay.

Now for my only criticism, and I lay this at the feet of the MOD and above. The Finale is billed as a Dynamic Display – Sea King Search And Rescue; Helicopter Formation Flyover; Sea Hawk Flyover; Harrier Formation Flyover; and to round off the day … Red Arrows Flyover. And we get just that, exactly what it says on the box, so we can’t complain. First, the SAR Display out in the bay – and this is brilliant; a 20 minute demonstration of skill and daring; so far so good. And then come the flyovers – and they are just that – flyovers. Ten minutes after the SAR finishes 5 helicopters fly over in V formation, how long does that take? Three minutes? Wait 10 minutes then a Sea Hawk whips over, taking a few seconds. Wait 10 minutes then Harriers come and go even quicker. But never mind, we’ve still got the big one, the Red Arrows Finale. Then whoosh, some jets roar out of nowhere then disappear into nowhere leaving a colour trail behind them. ‘They’ll be back,’ murmur the transfixed crowd, staring at the empty blue. ‘They’ll be back … They’re the Red Arrows ... They do all kinds of wonderful stunts ... So they’ll … be … back …’ Realisation dawns. ‘Ah well …. Sod it ... Let’s make a dash for the bus ... Beat the crowd.’

And that’s it; apart from the SAR there’s not a lot of dynamism. Like I say we get what’s on the box, so no complaints. I know we are strapped for cash but I can’t help feeling that 1,000 loyal troops and 50,000 taxpaying well-wishers who wait to the bitter end in a frying sun on a broiling day deserve a bit more. After all, the very name Red Arrows conjures up exciting pictures of near collisions and derring-do; even when the posters say Fly-over. It’s like a prayerful wait for the cavalry, then they just gallop past. You think ‘… eh?’

But for all that, here’s the real point I want to make.
Here I am, among a crowd of 50,000 people and 1,000 troops and dignitaries – and I feel so … insignificant. And, maybe, you and thousands of others in the same circumstances might feel the same; insignificant. Like, ‘It wouldn’t matter if I wasn’t here. It would all go on just the same if I had stayed at home and read a book, or watched tele, or whatever.

Wrong my friend!

Wrong!

Without me, without my wife, without each and every one of these other insignificant people there would never have been a crowd of 50,000. Without each and every individual, there wouldn’t be an Armed Forces Day. Without every Jack and Jill in uniform there wouldn’t be any Armed Force. We might all feel insignificant – but we each count; you and I count – both of us, equally; as much as the best of ‘em! Get a grip on that. You count!

To prove my point … things don’t come much smaller or more insignificant than atoms. Individually atoms are pretty pointless – 99% space. And yet everything in the Universe is composed entirely of atoms – insignificant little gits like you and I. And that goes for The Great Star of Africa – the world’s most priceless diamond. The Great Star is composed entirely, and only, of atoms; each of them insignificant. But if all those insignificant blobs of electricity never came together, that diamond wouldn’t exist.

That’s all I wanted to say in the first place.

You Count!

So goodonya!

Charlie Gregory
Cardiff
Armed Forces Day
2010

Wpl

Friday, 25 September 2009

Wpl

Four-Feet
by Rudyard Kipling

I have done mostly what most men do,
And pushed it out of my mind;
But I can’t forget, if I wanted to,
Four-Feet trotting behind.

Day after day, the whole day through –
Wherever my road inclined –
Four-Feet said, ‘I am coming with you!’
And trotted along behind.

Now I must go by some other round –
Which I shall never find –
Somewhere that does not carry the sound
Of Four-Feet trotting behind.

Rudyard Kipling

Wpl

I once asked a girl if she liked Kipling.
She said, ‘I don’t know. I’ve never kippled.’

Wpl

Thursday, 24 September 2009

A researcher in Cardiff has discovered that researchers spout a load of shite

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Wpl

The End is Nigh

I’m in the garden, pottering. Liz appears at the door, holding the phone out to me. ‘For you,’ she says. This is obviously urgent. I don’t take unsolicited calls and she knows it. ‘It’s a Windows technician,’ she tells me.

‘Double glazing?’ I growl.

‘Computers,’ she mouths.

I take the phone gingerly. Anything to do with computers gives me the squits. ‘What?’ I wonder.

‘Mr Gregory?’ a female asks. ‘I’m from the Windows Technical Department.’ She’s obviously in India. She works for Windows, US of A. And she knows my name; the computer age at its very best. ‘You’ve got it in one,’ I tell her.

‘I am calling to warn you that your system has been hacked. How many computers do you have in the house?’

‘Three.’ I’m walking into the house now.

‘I am afraid your system has been taken over by criminals; hackers, using it for criminal activity.’

‘Eh?!’ The squits are accelerating.

‘Go to any computer and boot up,’ she tells me.

I do as she orders. ‘Have you noticed that it has been running slower recently?’ she asks.

‘Yeah. It drives me up the wall,’ I tell her.

‘Oh my God. That’s because more and more hackers are getting in and taking over; all their activity will be traced back to you.’

‘How did that happen?’ I’m way out of my depth here.

‘They have disabled your Windows Security. I will hand you over to a technician. He will come to your rescue.’

‘Hmm?’ Scratches head.

‘Mr Gregory?’ It’s a man this time. ‘Bombay Duck,’ says the voice in my head. ‘That’s where all the best helplines are,’ I tell the voice. ‘We’re in good hands here.’

‘What’s going on?’ I want to know.

‘I’ll show you the problem,’ says my new friend. ‘Click the “start” button … now click “run” … now type “Prefetch Unwanted” in the window that appears.’

I obey blindly. This is new ground to me. I’m a country walk man. I listen to birds and look at cows and things.

A page appears on the screen; an endless list of files with meaningless names. ‘Don’t touch any of the files,’ he warns. ‘They have been put there by hackers. They will use your machine to organise bank robberies and other criminal activities. Are there are any warning signs on the page?’ he wants to know.

‘A few dozen,’ I tell him.

‘Oh my God. This computer will crash tomorrow. The other two will follow within a week. Your whole system has been hacked. You will have no computer in the house. Look – I will prove it to you.

Go into “My computer”’ he tells me ... Now he tells me to, ‘Right click on this … Left click on that …’ opening and closing various windows as he takes me through the device’s enslaved mind …

This journey into the unknown has been going on for well over half an hour and we’re not making any progress. If he’s “Windows” why doesn’t he either fix the problem or take me to someone who will? Either that or start hacking the hackers.

Nevertheless it all seems very feasible. This particular computer always seems to be getting bogged down with downloads. And we are always getting bombarded with warnings about identity theft and computer fraud.

However, that single sentence, ‘I will prove it to you,’ rings alarm bells. Technicians don’t talk like that. Technicians just do things. ‘I will prove it to you,’ is sales-speak.

But now he has taken me to a window that tells me that my “Windows Security is Disabled.” This is worrying. ‘There,’ he tells me. ‘They have disabled your windows security and taken over your computer.’

‘But I have McAfee,’ I argue.

‘McAfee is purely for viruses,’ he tells me. ‘These people are hackers – criminals.’

‘So do something,’ I tell him.

‘That is what I am here for. I will hand you over to the Windows Technical Department,’ he assure me. ‘They will save your computers. Simply go to, “Start” … Then “Run” … and type in “www.tech-on-support.com” … Our technicians will fix everything.’

I do this and a website appears on my screen. ‘Dial the number at the top of the page and you will be through to a Windows Technician,’ he tells me.

‘But I thought you were the Windows tech … hello?’ But he has gone. I look at the number … 0186 552 1065. And below it in big letters is the announcement “Free Computer Repairs £60.”

Free repairs? £60? I like that; Free – only £60; very Indian.

I don’t ring the number. The scam is now crystal clear so I hang fire. Sure enough, about ten minutes or so later, our phone rings. My sales friend obviously wonders why I have not taken up his offer. I don’t answer. I take a wander to PC World instead.

The technicians in PC World are well aware of the scam. But, of course, it’s not their job to turn detective. Sometimes this guy says he’s from Windows, sometimes Microsoft and sometimes PC World. But he’s not from any of them – he’s from Cuckoo-land. And he’s filling your head with cuckoo shit.

I take a look at the Microsoft Forums and find that loads of people have had the same problem with tech-on-support and the sales scam. And that’s the big consolation. This guy is the daddy-of-all-losers. He spends between half an hour and an hour on the phone with his potential suckers. But no one ever seems to buy what he’s selling.

So don’t fall for it. For those of you with a caller display facility, the number he’s calling from (in the UK) is 012030519993. Don’t answer it, and save an hour of your life. Unless, that is, you feel sorry for him and decide to slip him 60 quid. Or better still, answer the phone – and keep him waiting on the line for as long as you can.

Charlie Gregory

poet-on-a-hill.blogspot.com

Wpl

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Wpl

Straight Thinking?

Hang about.

An advert by Thomson, the travel people, has just appeared on my Facebook page. It is advertising ‘Gay Exclusive’ hotels and holidays. Nay, it goes further. It is also hawking ‘Exclusive Male Gay’ and ‘Exclusive Lesbian’ jollies.

The telephone number is British so this is not some copycat outfit based in Athos or Lesbos. And April the first has gone. So this seems to be from the genuine, tried and tested, British Sunshine pedlars who reside on my local high street.

Now I live in the USSK – United Silly Socialist Kingdom – where freedom of choice and speech is well on the way to being successfully eradicated. So how did this little gem slip through the net?

Christian hoteliers and boarding house keepers would be hounded if they attempted to run an advertising campaign offering ‘Exclusive Heterosexual Accommodation and Holidays.’

I know that I am a bit thick. But I really do need the overall principle behind this thinking explained to me.

Wpl

A Flash of Pride

We were rattling along the rutted main road into Dinas Powys the other day when we saw this road sign.

CAUTION

FAILED ROAD SURFACING

2010 eh? And the UK still hasn’t caught up with Romans.

Makes you proud to be British.

Wpl

The Way it Was

Saturday Morning

A handful of us boys shiver by the Male’s Pool in Manchester’s Gorton Baths, wartime thin and pale as fear. It’s 1944 and I’m 10 years old. The winter wind rips off the Pennines, roars along Hyde Road like a bomb blast then streams through the swing doors of the pool as an icy draught. I hate it here. This little group are all about the same age as me. We’re in the same class at school, 4c, the dunce’s stream. We take the 11+ in June. No chance.

The older lads are in the deep end, larking about. Some of them will be in the army next year, fighting the Germans. Scally’s with them. He’s the wiry one with scars on his back. He was in borstal for robbing and GBH. He got the birch in there. That’s what the scars are. So now he’s a kind of hero. It’s like he was in the war and got wounded. He says he owns the deep end. You can only swim in there if he gives permission. I’m scared of Scally. He puts the wind up everyone.

Sken-eye, the bald-headed perv, was already in the plunge when we came in this morning, kneeling in the shallow end with just his head above water, like that seal we saw on the school trip to Rhyl.

Judder, the woodwork teacher, says there are seals all round the coast, watching the beaches. The Germans put cameras in their heads and use them as spies. Judder should know. He had his brains blown out in the last war. He keeps hitting us on the head with lumps of wood and saying. ‘Sheep are the stupidest animals in the world – except for boys – boys are twice as stupid.’

Smiggy, the red haired lad with no cozzie on, is already in trouble ’cos he jumped off the balcony and depth charged Sken-eye. Tommy, the caretaker, is after him now. Tommy’s the little thin guy with the mop of brown hair, the one in the blue overall, white jacket and gum boots. He spends his life circling the plunge with a scoop in one hand and a brush in the other, swilling and brushing, swilling and brushing. He should be fighting the Germans but he got away with it ’cos he’s not all there. That towel he slings over his shoulder is wet through. If you do anything wrong he drops the brush and flicks the towel at you. In a single move, at 4 paces, he can put a wheal on your body the size of a ten-bob note.

Smiggy’s got no cozzie ’cos his dad’s a prisoner with the Germans – so his mam can’t afford one. The cold water’s shrunk his cock so it looks like a jelly baby at the bottom of his belly. Sken-eye’s always looking at him. You don’t think he is, ’cos of his squint. You think he’s looking at you but he’s really looking at Smiggy ’cos he’s got nothing on. That’s why Smiggy depth charges him ...

It was January-dark when I came downstairs this morning. Gran’s house is lit by gas and the mantles don’t give much light. Maggie was already there, kneeling in the hearth, holding her knickers in front of the fire ’cos she’d peed the bed again. She’s grown up really, thin with ginger hair, pale skin and freckles. I get butterflies when I look at her. Gran makes fun of her ’cos she’s 17 and shouldn’t pee the bed. Maggie says it’s the cold that does it. But Gran says it’s ’cos she’s scared to go outside in the dark and too much of a lady to squat over a jerry.

I’m hacking a chunk of bread off the loaf when Gran goes past with a jerry full of pee. She keeps it under the bed. There’s a turd in it this morning. She’s gone through the lean-to kitchen into the yard where the toilet is. She agrees with Maggie really. It’s too dark and scary to go out there at night; freezing cold as well.

Both of Gran’s arms are covered in massive scars. She told me she had tattoos cut out. But auntie Kath told Maggie it was boiling fat from the chip-pan that did it. Uncle Dan went to throw it over Aunt Amy but Gran dived in and wrestled with him, so she got the lot.

I stick a fork in the bread then go and kneel beside Maggie and shove it against the bars of the grate. I can smell warm pee off her knickers. ‘Gran,’ she shouts, when Gran comes back in. ‘Stop him. He keeps looking at my knickers.’

‘No I don’t!’ I shout. ‘I’m making toast. It’s my breakfast.’ But I blush ’cos I do keep looking. I can’t help it.

‘He does! He keeps looking! Look! His toast’s on fire.’

Thwack! Gran cuffs me across the back of the head. ‘Leave her alone! Look what you’re doing!’

‘I am looking. I like it black. It’s not fair.’

I go into the backyard and feed scraps to the hens. The yard’s tiny really, surrounded by a high wall with just enough room for the toilet, dustbin and homemade coop. The coop’s got a rusty mesh front and piece of old plywood for a door. The hens are really happy here. We let them run round the flagstones all day and they lay eggs as presents. They’re like cousins to Maggie and me. We let them in the kitchen but Gran chases them out. They all come clamouring when I come with scraps. Captain Marryat always pushes to the front. She’s my favourite – and she knows it. Gran got the hens as day old chicks. Captain Marryat was the runt and Gran gave up on her because she thought she’d die. But I saved her. I kept her in a shoebox in the hearth by the fire and fed her spoonfuls of water and crumbs and things. Now she’s the biggest and strongest. She pushes to the front when I come out because she remembers what I did. When I call her name she always comes scurrying. I call her Captain Marryat ’cos he’s my favourite author. I’m going to be a sailor when I leave school. I’ll grow a beard and get weather-beaten and all the girls will fancy me.

This is cleaning day. Maggie’s in her flowery overall-coat with bare legs and feet. The overall just hangs on her but you know that, underneath, she’s like … this special shape. She seems to be swaying and flowing all over when she walks. It’s like she’s dancing but she isn’t … On Saturday night, when she goes to the dance at the Alhambra where the Yanks are, she puts pale goldie-brown paint on her legs to pretend she’s got stockings on. I love to watch her painting her legs. She knows I do and gives little smiles to herself. I pretend not to be watching and she pretends not to know I’m watching. It’s like an exciting game as she pulls up her skirt to paint above her knees. Now I’ve got butterflies again. On Saturdays she ties a scarf round her head like a turban then scatters last weeks wet tealeaves over the stone floor. We keep the tealeaves in a box on the slopstone. They look like dollops of mud to me but Gran says they soak up the dust. I ask Gran if I can go to the baths. She says; ‘Yes. There’s threpence on the sideboard. Gerrout o’ my sight.’

I walk to the baths because I can’t afford the bus fare. None of us can. It’s about two miles. I meet Smiggy and Sid on the way. Sid’s the dark lad with shifty eyes. His dad’s in Burma, fighting the Japs, but you can’t trust Sid. I’ve got to watch both these two lads ’cos they bully me; beat me up and pinch stuff out of my gasmask box, like my lunch and marbles and bits of shrapnel I keep as souvenirs after the air raids; depends what mood they’re in. Today’s a good day so it’s all right. They don’t know I’ve joined the LNER boxing gym and started training. The best bit I’ve learnt is that punches don’t hurt till the next day. Joe, the coach, said I could make a middleweight champ when I grow up. I just need a bit of polishing that’s all. So the next time Sid and Smiggy try it on I’ll tear into them ...

Here in the baths, us kids are sitting in the tubs with our teeth chattering. I spend most of every Saturday morning sitting in the tubs ’cos the plunge is too cold. There’s no coal to heat the water. The ships need it to go to America to bring back food and ammo to keep us going against the Germans. I’ll be on one of those ships one day – with a brown face, tattoos, and rings in my ears.

The tubs are like a narrow trench with tiles along the bottom and sides and a trickle of warm water about half an inch deep, running along the bottom. You’re supposed to come in here and wash yourself before you go in the plunge. It’s the only warm water and bath us kids ever see. We sit in a long line, one behind the other, knees drawn up, hugging our legs and shivering. It’s the best moment of the week. But every now and again Tommy goes into his office and turns the control to cold so we are suddenly sitting in freezing water. Then he comes out flicking his wet towel at us and driving us into the plunge like those panicking redskins you see in cowboy films.

Worse than that is when Sken-eye comes in. You never see him coming. He just appears. The first you know is when one of the lads gives a yell and goes haring past towards the plunge, followed by another and another. Then suddenly you feel his hands on your shoulders and these skinny white thighs appear on either side of you, and you know it’s your turn. Then you’re up and screaming as you go racing and leaping into the freezing water. Then, for a moment, the icy plunge, full of shaking blue kids, seems to be the safest place in the world; until Sken-eye’s head pops up right next to you …

On the way to the baths, in Gorton Lane, Smiggy and Sid stop to throw stones at a cat that’s sitting on the roof of a communal street-air-raid-shelter. I don’t join in ’cos I can’t throw straight. The stones never go where I want them to. I had a practice session in a back alley a couple of weeks back. There’s this cat sitting on Mrs Coxie’s backyard wall so I throw a stone at it. But I miss and it smashes her kitchen window, a sudden crash and shattering glass. So I leg it out of there like I do when Sken-eye puts his hand on my shoulder. I thought I’d got away with it but Long Lily Holmes was looking through her bedroom window. The stupid cow split on me and told the other women it was me. The next day they were all shouting at me in the street and saying I should be in borstal because Mrs Coxie’s son, Billy, was killed at Dunkirk, and her other son, Jimmy, is missing at the front and she still wears black. That’s not my fault. The Germans did that. I liked Billy. When they were home on leave and I was small, Billy and Charlie Cummins used to pick me up and throw me to each other like I was a ball. But worst of all, when I said I didn’t break the window, they didn’t believe me. That’s not fair. They believed Long Lily and she’s mad. She’s about seven feet tall, with this little round head, white face, and basin-cut hair; thin as a lamp-post with a long black skirt that goes down to her feet. They believe her but they don’t believe me. Florrie Ogden’s mam says I should get the birch. That’s not fair either. Anyway, Florrie’s mam has her hair cut short like a man. That’s weird that is. I think she’s got nits. But it’s always like this. No one ever believes me when I say I didn’t do things. It’s not fair. It wasn’t their cat anyway.

Eileen Hodge is in the baths today. She was going into the girl’s pool with a rolled up towel when I was coming in here. Eileen makes me feel funny too, like Maggie does. She’s not as old as Maggie though. And she doesn’t sway like a flower in the wind when she walks. But she has this bright face, smooth and shiny like an angel’s. A lot of girls have angel’s faces. I wonder if any of those in the pool next door have no cozzies on – like Smiggy? There’s a connecting door between the two baths but it’s always locked and the keyhole’s blocked. I try looking through it every week but I never see anything. Tommy caught me one week and flicked me with the towel. It hurt for days. The mark was still there two weeks later.

There’s a scary thing about girls though. My cousin Jake told me. When they get to Maggie’s age they get hairs on the belly and give you diseases if you have-it-off with them. It’s hard to believe that Maggie’s full of disease. But she is. They all are. Jake said you get covered in boils then go blind and mad and die. I don’t know why girls do that. But Jake says that’s why the Yanks wear wallah-bags when they take them up back alleys to give them nylons and a good seeing-to. I know Jake’s right ’cos I’ve seen loads of wallah-bags in the back alleys. Jake found one in my Gran’s back entry one day and took it to school. He was passing it round in the math’s lesson when Ratty Ritchie, the teacher, saw him and flung a wooden board-duster at him. It gave Jake a massive lump in the middle of his forehead that went all yellow and purple. Auntie Fanny, Jake’s mam, kept asking how he got it and he kept saying one of the senior lads threw a stone at him. He daren’t tell her that Ratty did it ’cos he took a wallah-bag to school or else she’d kill him – kill Jake not Ratty. Mind you, Ratty should be killed. He’s as mad as a cornered canal rat. That’s why we call him Ratty. His brains were blown out in the last war too. All our teachers are old ’cos everyone young is in this war. All the men went mad in the last war and take it out on us. And the women are witches with tartan legs and a stink of pee. They all hate me – men and women. I don’t know why ...

All the kids are crowding on the side now, looking across the water, gawping and sniggering. ‘What’s up?’ I shout, running to join them.

‘Sken-eye – look at ‘im,’ says Smiggy.

I look over the water at Sken-eye’s cabin. It’s just like all the other cabins, with a half-door at the bottom and a green canvas curtain that you can pull across the top. When you’re changing you close the door and leave the curtain open so you can see outside but other people can’t see your whatsit. Sken-eye does it different. He draws the curtain and leaves the door open so that you just see the bottom part of his body.

‘He’s got an ’ard on,’ says Sid.

‘I can see that but why’s it bent?’ I want to know.

‘’Cos he’s had it off with a woman,’ says Silver, one of the big lads who’s just swum down from the deep end to have a look and is now in the plunge at our feet. Silver’s only got one real leg. The other’s a wooden peg. That’s why we call him Silver – ’cos he has a peg-leg. The other leg was blown off in the bombing. He takes his peg off to come in the water but he’s the best swimmer in the baths.

I wish I had a peg leg. I’d go to sea as a cook and have tattoos and a parrot on my shoulder. And I wouldn’t have to play football. I hate football ’cos I can’t kick. The ball never goes where I want it too. Then all my team shout at me and punch me. It happens every time. The teacher says I’ll always be rubbish ’cos I don’t kick with my instep. I don’t know what he’s on about. I don’t have insteps – only feet and boots.

‘Do girls bend your cock?’ I ask Silver. I can feel another problem coming on.

‘They can tie it in knots,’ he says.

The world suddenly feels empty. Jake said the two most beautiful people I know, Maggie and Eileen, get hairs on their bellies and give you boils and send you blind. And now Silver says that if I have-it-off with them they’ll tie my cock in a knot. I feel scared and excited at the same time. But I’ll still do it if they ask me.

I’m glad Sken-eye’s going home. He makes me jumpy. He’s always grabbing kids by the arm and asking them to go back to his house for dinner. He says he’ll give you a bag of chips and half-a-crown if you go home with him. It sounds dead good really, chips and half-a-crown. He asks me sometimes but I never know who he’s talking to, ‘cos of his squint. I always think he’s talking to someone else. Then he suddenly thumps me in the chest and tells Tommy I’m ‘bloody stupid.’ Then Tommy throws a scoop of freezing water over me to wake me up. It’s not fair. It’s not my fault he’s cockeyed.

For ages now, the big lads have been telling us not to go anywhere with Sken-eye. Scally says he’ll beat us up if he sees us going outside with him. It all started on that day when Smiggy was shouting across to me in the plunge. Smiggy yells, ‘Hey! Sken-eye’s asked me to go for dinner at ‘is ‘ouse.’

And I shouts, ‘Why?’

And Smiggy shouts, ‘I dunno. But he says he’ll give me a bag o’ chips and ’alf-a-crown if I go ’ome with ’im.’

And I shouts, ‘Wow. That’s worth a fortune that is.’

Scally and Silver are swimming past at the time, on their way from the deep end to the tubs. But they hear us shouting – and stop. ‘You don’t go anywhere with him,’ says Scally, rubbing chlorine from his eyes.

‘Why?’ I ask, cringing in case he lashes out. He doesn’t like cheek.

‘’Cos he’s queer,’ says Silver, hopping on his real leg and steadying himself with his arms in the water.

‘What do you mean – queer?’ says Smiggy, who’s just swum across to us.

‘He shoves his cock up your arse till your eyes pop out,’ says Scally, grabbing Smiggy by the hair and forcing his head back in the pool until just his mouth and nostrils are above water.

‘Eh?! How do you know?’ I gasp, throwing caution to the wind.

‘Judder told us,’ says Silver, still hopping and steadying himself. ‘He went home with him a couple of weeks back.’

‘Did he get chips and ’alf-a-crown?’ says Smiggy, bouncing up as Scally lets go.

‘Yeah,’ says Scally, cuffing him across the head.

‘Hmmm,’ says Smiggy, with that expression he has when he’s wondering what to pinch out of my gasmask box …

We’re all stood on the far side of the pool looking at Sken-eye’s cabin when Sid says, ‘Hey. Scally’s goin’ ’ome.’ And when I look towards the swing-doors there’s Scally standing by the edge of the baths, fully dressed, squeezing his cozzie into the plunge.

‘He’s going with Sken-eye,’ says Silver, still in the water at our feet.

‘But he says, “Don’t do that ’cos you’ll get a sore arse,”’ says Sid.

‘It’s for chips and ’alf-a-crown,’ says Smiggy.

‘He’ll get a lot more than that,’ says Silver, grinning up at us, ‘he’s going to beat him up and rob his house.’

‘He’ll go back in borstal,’ says Sid.

‘And get the birch,’ I tell them.

‘He won’t,’ says Silver, nodding towards Sken-eye who’s walking along the other side of baths like a Lowry matchstick man in a flasher’s raincoat. ‘Sken-eye daren’t split.’

‘Why not?’ says Sid.

‘The police’ll have him,’ says Silver, ‘’cos of what he does to lads …’

Turning into Gran’s street I see Maggie sitting on the upstairs sill, cleaning the glass with her back to the street and the sash window pulled onto her thighs. Her whole body’s moving like music and she’s got this shape that makes me stop and stare. It looks dangerous to me, hanging out of the window. If she loses her balance she’ll crash to the ground and be killed. Other women, in overalls and turbans, are kneeling on the pavements sand-stoning their steps and flagstones. They do it every Saturday. They make the pavements a clean yellow-brown colour. I love it. It’s like sunshine coming out of the ground in a world that’s covered in soot from the factories and houses. Maggie’s already done Gran’s front; she’s always the fastest and first.

Gran says Maggie’s like her mother, Saran Cummins. ‘Saran was a lovely girl but she had three babies, George, Edwin and Maggie, ’cos she couldn’t say no.’ I don’t get it. No’s dead easy. You just go, ‘nnnn…oh.’ And it’s there – ‘no.’ Maggie can say no. It’s her favourite word when I ask her to do things.

Saran’s first baby was George, so they put him in Style Home till he was fourteen then sent him to sea as a cabin boy. I’m going to be like him when I grow up. He’s in the Royal Navy now, on warships. But he got torpedoed and swallowed oil while he was swimming in the sea. So he’s on sick leave now. Edwin was the second baby. Then Saran died of TB after Maggie was born. Gran says, ‘Half of Manchester has TB and go round spitting blood.’ I spit blood sometimes – after the kids beat me up and pinch stuff out of my box. But that’s not TB. Anyway, when Saran died, Gran was left looking after Edwin and Maggie. But Edwin died when he was fourteen. I don’t know why he died. Gran says, ‘He was a lovely boy … but tuppence short of the full shilling.’

Maggie’s boyfriend, Frank, is in the navy too. He’s a gunner on a warship. In that letter that came at Christmas he said he was the one who sank the Scharnhorst. But Gran says that can’t be true ’cos he’s still in hospital after that camel spat on him when he got drunk in Egypt. Gran hates him ’cos he beats Maggie up when he’s home on leave. But Maggie says she loves him and only goes with the Yanks to get the nylons.

Going through the front door into Gran’s lobby I wonder if Charlie Cummins is home yet. He’s her grandson like me. But he’s older ‘cos his granddad was Gran’s first husband, Dave Cummins, who died of TB. After that, Gran married my granddad, but then she killed him. She told me about that, one day when there was no one around and she was feeling sad. She said that, when the last war started, he goes down to volunteer for the army. So while he’s out she kneels down and asks God to stop him joining-up ’cos she can’t live without him. Suddenly the sky fills with black clouds and it goes as dark as night and starts lashing rain. Then, during the night, granddad comes downstairs to go for a pee. As he goes into the yard, God throws down a lightning bolt that hits him and kills him stone dead. Then God gives Saran three babies she doesn’t want. Then he kills her and makes Gran struggle and weep. Gran says God punished her for being selfish. I’ve never prayed to God since I heard that. He’s like all the rest.

As I enter the living room Gran’s huddled over the slopstone tugging at something. There’s an axe … lying on the stone at her elbow ... and something else ... I rubberneck to see what it is. Yuck … it’s a hen’s head … I move in for a closer look. She’s plucking a bird … For a moment it doesn’t make sense then ... ‘No! No!’ I yell. ‘You can’t ...! Not Captain Marryat!’ I’m too stunned … too sick to cry. ‘Please! Not Captain Marryat! She’s my best friend …! My only friend …! It is …! It’s Captain Marriott …! You’ve killed her. I hate you … you stinkin’ old COW!’

‘Be quiet!’ shouts Gran, ‘you little mardarse. Charlie’s home. He’s a Desert Rat; bin away three year; since before Tobruk; chasing Rommel through the desert and Italy. He’s off to the front agen soon; Germany this time; to kill Hitler. So run to the shop for two pounds of potatoes. There’s money on the table.’

‘No! No! I won’t!’ I’m really crying now. ‘I won’t do anything anymore! You’ve killed my friend! You’ve killed Captain Marryat. I hate you! I hate you all! I hope the Germans come and kill the fuckin’ lot of you!’

Wpl

Wpl

MY YEARS

2008 – 2009

EXTRACTS FROM CHRISTMAS LETTERS

2008

Hi

I’ll start with an apology. Several people have sent me e-mails and not had a reply, so they think I’ve changed my address. But I haven’t. It’s still the same as ever. The problem is, I download my e-mails via Outlook Express and I had a hiccup with that at one stage. In the end I had to go into the server’s computer to collect my mail. And when I looked – wait for it – there were over 12,500 e-mails in there. Now, even a speed-reader like me has a problem ploughing through that lot. So I deleted them all with a press of a button – sorry. Needless to say – I do get a lot of spam. David and Jon say that’s because I must have been visiting dodgy websites. Dodgy websites? Moi? Anyway ‘it was only for research your honour.’ Come to think of it – how do David and Jon know what happens when you visit dodgy sites?

Now for the family – in order of seniority. David is still in the navy of course. He’s finished his time but he got a 10 year extension. So he’s still got a job. And that’s a bonus in this day and age. He’s on HMS Sutherland at the moment. She’s just finished a major refit in Rosyth. His daughter, Katie, loves being at boarding school. She’s brilliant really; left home without batting an eyelid. She’s also in the sea-cadets and wants to go in the navy like her dad.

Next on the list is Diz, Dan and family ... Their two kids, Isobel – 4 and Charlie – 7, are fine. They come out with interesting quips now and again. The other day Isobel said to me, ‘I’ve got an egg in my belly.’ So I said, ‘Did you have it for breakfast?’ And she said, ‘No. Charlie said it’s there so I can have a baby.’ ‘Off you go and play.’ Then Charlie said, ‘My birthday’s on the 25th of October. And Jesus was born on the 25th of December. So I think I might be the next Jesus.’ Watch this space.

Last, but not least, come Sylvia and Jon. They are still producing music at the far end of the Rhondda Valley. They had a shaky spell, work-wise, when the ‘crunch’ started. But it seems to have picked up again now. And they landed a contract to produce the theme music for a nature-cum-travel series on Norwegian TV. The programme makers are so pleased with it that that they have booked them to produce the music for the next series. And the man in charge, who is the Norwegian equivalent of David Attenborough, has written them a very complimentary letter and says they are obviously cut-out for this kind of work. So that’s pretty positive. They have also formed a jazz trio with Jo, who is a brilliant pianist and works alongside Sylvia in her other-life as a professional singer. The jazz group is called the Pen Pych Trio. Liz and I have seen them a couple of times, once in Porthcawl and once up the valleys – and we love it. So keep an eye open.

That name, Pen Pych is worth a mention. Pen Pych is a mountain close by their house. And it’s a rare example of a perfect table-mountain. Not a lot of people know that. Sylv and Jon have invested in a dog. Not an ordinary dog, but a massive English sheepdog. He’s called Ulf. Which is Norwegian for wolf. But he’s not a wolf by nature. He’s got a lovely temperament. And, of course, they live in the ideal area for a sheepdog – mountains and forests. So they all get plenty of exercise and fresh air. I reckon they have a pretty good lifestyle up there; log fires in an open fireplace in an old miner’s cottage in the mountains.

Nearer home we have – us two. Me an’ ’er, as they say in Manchester. Liz is incredibly busy. To start with she’s in the local WI and on the committee. So she does all kinds of WI things. She doesn’t make jam or pose in the nude for calendars. But she does everything else; WI meetings; committee meetings; conferences; weekend courses; and a couple of hours of skittles once a fortnight. Along with that, she reads the lesson in the church on Sunday’s and sits on the Parish Council – which is a kind of Vicar of Dibley thing. Then she does line-dancing every Tuesday evening and goes to a sowing club every Monday morning. As well as all that she child-minds Isobel and Charlie 3 afternoons a week, with all the ferrying that entails. But she still manages to come out with me a couple of evenings a week plus a full day’s shopping expedition every Tuesday. In fact I’m so busy watching her that I don’t really have time for anything myself. So I just skull along; bit of writing; bit of editing; bit of publishing; bit of blogging; bit of walking; bit of keep-fit; bit of reading; bit of gardening; bit of social drinking. Hmm – my life’s a bit bitty really. Maybe I should do something about it. Well; maybe; in a bit.

Travel? Well it’s ironic really. We haven’t done much but it got to be too much for me in the end. It started with a few days in Goodwick, West Wales. Then came a fortnight in Italy, followed closely by the Edinburgh Tattoo; followed closely by a few days in Lougharne, West Wales. So, when Diz invited us to West Wales again in the Autumn, I turned it down. Mainly because I am in the middle of editing a book. However, there is another little trip coming up shortly because, as a Christmas present, Penny and David have invited us to Dinner and entertainment at a pub in Cornwall on the 23rd December. The entertainment is a comedian called Jethro, or something like that. I know I am going to enjoy it because Diz says she doesn’t like Jethro. And Diz is Politically Correct. And I’m not. So that should be OK then. Funny thing though, about this travel; unintentionally, we seem to have had a bit of a Dylan Thomas cum Georgian theme this year. The house we stayed-in in Goodwick was used in the film version of Under Milkwood. It was Polly Garter’s house. And Polly Garter was played by Elizabeth Taylor. It’s a lovely place. Right on the beach. When the tide was going out you could step out of the front door and collect your fill of fresh mussels. Then the next connection with Thomas was in Lougharne, which is where he did all his writing. And, of course, he’s very much in evidence there. Then the Georgian theme comes in because, when we were in Edinburgh, we did a tour of the Georgian House in Charlotte Square – and we were all impressed with it. Then, in Lougharne, we stayed in The Great House, which is a Georgian House, fully furnished in the Georgian Period and tradition. And it was great too!

So that was the year that was. Now here’s to the year to come.

We wish every one of you a Merry Christmas and a healthy and contented New Year.

Love

Wpl

2009

Hi Everyone.

There goes another year spent baying at the moon.

I always think it’s funny how things just happen. Like, I never go to pub quiz-nights because I don’t know anything and I don’t want to show myself up. But Liz and I got caught up in one a few weeks back. There was this multiple question, ‘Finish the following sentences; Tom and –? (Jerry)! Wallace and –?’ ... I was the only person to say ‘Arnold.’ Elizabeth thinks I need to get about a bit more.

Magic moments? We have this thing about holidays. Liz chooses one year. I choose the next. The only rule is – never complain. I chose in 08 and we took a look at Stromboli and saw some eruptions. But this year, for a change, it was a mutual choice and we went with Sylvia and Jon to Sylvia’s part of Norway, which happens to be the most mind-blowing area. I don’t want to bore you with an essay on ‘My Hols’ but I must say this. It’s the most dramatic place we’ve ever been. And we’ve been around a bit. If you ever get the time, hop across to Bergen and explore northward as far as Alesund. On the way, take the ferry from Hellesylt to Geiranger where mountains, towering higher than Ben Nevis, rise sheer from the fjord with massive waterfalls leaping from the top on either side to join you on the water. Then go to the top of Dalsnibba where the air gets rare and you look down at the sea from a mile in the sky with the road snaking down in a tangle of tight hairpins with drops that make a man cross-eyed. And all around are snow covered peaks for as far as you can see in every direction. Then make your way down the Trolls’ Ladder among rushing torrents and snow-covered mountains that go on for ever. And go in June when it never gets dark. I showed young Charlie some photos and he summed it up in one word. ‘Wow!’ But for all that, the place that wowed me the most was a spot beyond the town of Stryn where a small little-known valley cuts into an arm of the Jostedalsbreen Glacier. There, at the head of the valley, you stand on glacier rubble with the ice above and cold air rolling over you. Then as you move back towards civilisation you go through scrubland followed by young trees as nature starts finding a toehold. Then you are in among older, more established trees with snow-melt waterfalls rushing down to form a turquoise river that transforms the valley into fertile farmland. Then there’s the first farmhouse as people follow the receding ice. And then you are in among fields and fruit trees with strawberry sellers by the side of the road. Now everything’s lush and green and teeming with fruit and you suddenly realise that, in 10 miles, you’ve travelled through 10,000 years of evolution from the last of the Ice Age to the present day. But before you think we stumbled on Shangri-La, think about this too. There’s a memorial half way along where maybe 100 people were killed in a landslide and their bodies never found. It’s the real world. And in the same area we visited a village where relations of Sylvia were killed in a tsunami after a landslide. But in the end it’s people that make places special. Norwegian hospitality is really from Shangri-La. Sylvia’s dad gave us the use of his car for a week. Then, when we’d finished with it, he travelled all day, down the coast by ferry to Bergen to collect it. Yeah, really! That entailed an overnight drive home – 5 hours when you’re lucky – but this trip had hold-ups. Then he went and did his day’s work. On top of that, Sylvia’s parents welcomed us into their home for 2 days and her grandmother gave us the run of her cabin in the mountains. And Sylvia drove all-day every-day for a week, up and down hairpins, showing us the sights and places and nursing us every inch of the way. And all we can do in return is say – ‘Thanks!’

We were in Stoke on Trent in February, to see Katie in a fencing competition. I’d never seen real live fencing before. I never got past Captain Blood. The scoring’s done electronically these days, so they’re all wired up to computers. They all wear white protective clothes and masks, so they look like robots plugged into the mains. Errol Flynn would get the shakes if he saw this lot.

Stoke’s only about 30 miles from the Hub of the Universe so I was back on my old territory. We took a run up to Buxton while we were there. That brought back memories. I used to cycle round that area when I was a kid. We used to go in the Pennines for exercise and fresh air because, in those days, Manchester was full of factories – and terraced houses with a million chimneys pumping out poison fumes from the industrial coal the locals pinched from the gas works. But the High Peak lies to the east of Manchester. And the wind comes from the west. So there was more smoke in the hills than there was in Salford. Until I was about 40 I thought all sheep were black, because the only ones I’d ever seen till then were covered in soot. But something I learnt on the Buxton trip is that the highest village in England is a place called Flash. It’s in Staffordshire off all places – 30 miles south of Manchester, cheek by jowl with the Potteries and the Industrial Midlands. I always imagined the highest village was at the end of a yak track in Cumberland. That’s why I gave up the pub quiz-nights.

The trouble with me is, I never learn. They used to beat me for it at school but it didn’t help. Like, some time ago I bought a hard-drive TV on the internet. But it didn’t work so I sent it back. Then they said I’d spoilt the box it came in and charged me £30. How was I supposed to watch the BBC repeats without opening the box? Anyway, I phoned the helpline to complain but the bloke there didn’t speak English. So I gave up. I think this language thing is done to discourage complaints.

I swore never to buy anything off the internet again. Then I decided to get up-to-date with this digital TV nonsense and went back online again, ‘Just for research.’ I finally made my decision about the type and make I wanted and started shopping around. In the end I found this deal through Amazon – which was £200-£300 cheaper than anyone else in the world. So I had no option but to go for it – on the internet!

Comes Saturday night, I’m sat in the house twiddling my thumbs when the phone goes. It’s the fraud squad from my credit card, saying that someone has just lifted £619 out of my account – and half an hour later, someone else has lifted £624. Am I happy about this? ‘Er – no.’ So they stop my card – which is fair enough. But to rub salt in the wound, at this precise moment in time Elizabeth is standing in the queue at Tesco with the week’s wine and whisky supply. And when she gets to the till – her card’s been stopped! Now it turn towards me and people trying to vacuum money out of my account at 600 quid a suck.

A couple of weeks later, this entry appears on my credit card statement; ‘Prime Membership £47.’ But I can’t remember joining anything. My memory’s not too clever so I ask Elizabeth, ‘What am I a member of?’ And she says, ‘Nothing. You never join anything – you’re anti-social.’ (Which isn’t true; I just don’t like people). Anyway, after a lot of faffing, I find that Amazon has enrolled me as a ‘Prime Member of …’ I never find out what. But the perk is that, for a fee of £47, I get free postage. English is not my strong point – but this sounds odd. So I look in the dictionary to see what ‘free’ means. And that tells me it means – ‘for nothing.’ So they’ve charged me £47 ‘for nothing.’ A lesser man would throw the towel in.

And that’s how it is with me these days. I keep buying things that either don’t arrive or don’t work. Then I phone the help-line and find myself somewhere east of Suez, holding a technical conversation with a guy with an accent as thick as a bucket of boiled rice. I first lost contact with the outside world when they moved the call centres to Yorkshire; Bombay’s worse. Mind you, I don’t know which winds me up most – a futile discussion with a Hottentot tut-clicker, or a Brit-twit mumbling jargon through his beard then going all supercilious when I don’t know what he’s on about.

Then I send off for a set of DVDs. But they don’t arrive. The money goes off my credit card on the dot. But there are no DVDs. So I’m back on the help-line. This time I get a mechanical voice that says, ‘This line doesn’t accept incoming calls.’ Now that’s enterprising; the final solution to the complaint-problem. Instead of paying someone not to speak English, install a phone that doesn’t take calls.

It’s not all bad news though. I sent off for a SCART switch. And they sent me two. They only charged me for one but gave me two. I was £6 up on the deal. I actually got something for nothing. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a winner in my life. But there’s a limit to what you can do with a SCART switch.

Eventually I did buy something in a local shop. It was a magic weighing machine that had been reduced to half price because no one wanted it. It says on the box that it weighs you while it works-out your body mass, fat, muscle, water and lots of strange things I didn’t know I had. I thought, ‘Hello – a couple of weeks with this chicko and I’ll be back on the A-team.’ But it didn’t work. So I took it back and changed it. The new one said I was overweight so I went on a diet and did more exercise. But the more I pant and starve, the heavier I get. I think the dice is loaded against me.

On a serious note, Elizabeth’s Aunt Maisie died in April and Liz wanted to go to the funeral, which was in Wick on the following Saturday. So we looked into flights, but there was nothing sensible available at short notice. In fact it would have been cheaper to fly to New York; and the train takes a fortnight. So I said, ‘Go by car.’ And Liz said, ‘Not on my own.’ So I said, ‘I’ll go with you if we go up on Friday and come back Sunday and share the driving;’ which is what we did. When we were in Wick we stayed with Liz’s Aunt Babs and Uncle Donald – 666 miles door to door. Going north, we did the journey in 12 hours exactly, to the minute; that’s an average speed of 55 mph; not bad considering there’s still a couple of hundred miles to go after the motorway ends. It meant that petrol stops were also eat, drink and toilet breaks. But it all went tickety-boo. Coming back took 14 hours, including a visit to Liz’s cousin, Margaret, in Golspie, and 3 hold-ups. We averaged 47 mph on that trip; which happened to be our wedding anniversary. So there you are; we spent our 46th anniversary as we’ve spent every day of our married life – working as a team in perfect harmony; never a cross word ... That’s strange ... talk among yourselves a minute. I’m just nipping to the mirror; feels as if my nose is growing.

Liz was back in Scotland in June. She flew easyJet, Bristol to Inverness, then hired a car and toured round her family up there. To start with she drove up to Ullapool then took the ferry over to Stornoway to see her cousin – David, his wife, Helen, and their new baby, Cormac. Then, after popping in at Maryburgh, it was across to Golspie to see Margaret and Jimmy. Then it was up to Wick to stay with Babs and Donald and do the rounds up there. After that it was back down to Inverness for a reunion with her cousin, Ellen. Not bad, eh? She was delighted with the whole trip. It’s cheap on easyJet. And it saves driving the length of the country.

While she was away I reintroduced myself to the washing machine and those pesky plastic pegs that snap before you get to the clothes line. I think they should release gypsies back into the wild; get back to the old wooden pegs. Handy things, gypsies; for the cost of a silver coin they’ll put curses on people you don’t like. (I have to watch what I say these days. Everyone’s gone touchy. It’s like they’ve all been brainwashed about their condition. They think you’re getting at them. If I open my mouth I’m an –ist or a –phile. A lesser man would throw the towel in). About the washing though; it’s funny but I always end up with this extra sock. And it never matches the one that was left over the last time. Researchers spend their lives looking into things like that.

Still in June, for my 75th Diz’n’Dan gave Liz and I a two-day holiday in a thatched cottage in Aberaeron, West Wales. It was lovely. We avoided the main routes and went in a, more or less, direct line from Cardiff. And we met hardly any traffic. If you keep away from the madding crowd it’s still possible to enjoy motoring.

All the family seem OK, as far as you can tell. David is still on his engineering course in Gosport. He’s finding it hard. He’s doing marine mechanical and electrical engineering up to preliminary degree standard. So there’s a lot of maths. They get a lot of tests and he has to score above 70% every time. So far so good. He’s into fencing now. He actually represents the navy on occasions. He’s no Hornblower but it could come in handy if he comes across any Somali pirates. He’s still involved with the Field Gun. But these days he mainly does judging. He only runs with the gun when one of the team takes time off to look for a missing finger. Penny’s fine. She works in a hospice. She’s in charge of Health and Safety so ’nuff said. And Katie’s good, enjoying school, enjoying fencing. In fact the last time we saw her she said, ‘I have a brilliant life. I spend all the week with my friends and the weekend with my parents.’ That can’t be bad.

Diz’n’Dan seem OK. They’re stressed-out at work but that’s life in the fast lane. The kids are cute. Charlie, 7, asked his mam to, ‘Sign this form,’ so he could enter the Britain’s got Talent contest on TV. She said, ‘What are you going to do?’ He said, ‘Swallow knives.’ She didn’t sign. Isobel, 5, was being her usual impish self and Penny called her a, ‘Little tyke’ – i.e. mischievous. When she got home, Isobel told her mam, ‘Auntie Penny said I’m a dyke.’ I asked Charlie if he was happy. He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Happy means gay and I’m not.’

Sylvia and Jon seem to be OK too; not forgetting Ulf, the hound. The business sounds to be healthy and they’ve had more work come in from the Norwegian TV company. The series that they did the music for last year won a Norwegian TV BAFTA award. So that’s really positive stuff. Sylvia still works at the Newport College of Music and Dance a couple of days a week. She also sings in two different classical ensembles and does work for the BBC as well as appearing in concerts and giving singing lessons in the studio.

Jon and Diz are both into running big-time and did a half-marathon the other week. They practiced by running along rough tracks and over the mountains at the top end of the valleys. And, of course, Sylvia is in to sailing big-time and crews on one of the yachts based in Cardiff.

Liz is fine, as you’ve probably gathered. She’s still on the Parish Council and she’s just been made president of the local WI, which means she’ll be holding committee meetings at home. So once a month, for the next three years, the house will be creaking with geriatric old-women. Liz also has other ways of making a man feel good. The other day I said, ‘I let the cat in at five o’clock this morning.’ She bores into me with narrowed eyes and says, ‘I know. I saw you tottering across the bedroom, hanging on to the furniture.’ Another day, in the same triumphant voice, she said, ‘I found a lump of skin on the bedroom floor.’ When people say things like that, I freeze – scared of what’s coming next. Then she says, ‘It’s yours. It was by your side of the bed.’ It’s like an accusation. Now I’m wandering about the house, wondering what’s dropped off.

Ah well. Time to get back in the box. Bye-ee and:-

A Merry Christmas – and a Happy New Year.

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Wpl

Overheard: ‘My girlfriend says she’s pregnant again. Life’s a bastard.’

Wpl

Let us pray … Dear … er – Allah … er – Brahma … er – Buddha … er – God … er – Jesus … er – forget it.
Amen.

Wpl

Get a hot summer and they panic about polar bears drowning; a cold winter and its Scottish deer starving.
Live with it.

Wpl

Wpl

Online Madness

I get a form from the DVLA telling me that my driving licence is due for renewal. It gives me the option of filling in the form or applying online.

The form itself is a piece of cake – 4 or 5 boxes to tick, that’s all. But it assures me that online is even quicker and easier. So guess what? Yeah. That’s right. I fall for it. Suckered again.

Off upstairs; switch on the computer; wait for it to sort itself out; into Internet Explorer and punch in the web address. Up comes the webpage, which assures me that this is all for the best.

But it’s already taken longer than filling in the form.

Anyway, I start the action. Fill in page one, which has easily as many questions as the form has; including my driving licence number – which is already printed on the form. Click NEXT and get page 2; which asks as many questions again, including details about my passport. But then it assures me that it will do an automatic check by computer to verify my identity with passport control. Good – if that makes them feel better.

OK; fine; click NEXT again. Now it wants my date of birth and my mother’s maiden name – as well as my address which is where they sent the form and where I have lived for the last countless years (and which, naturally, is the address where they contacted me 3 years ago!).

Now I must invent a password which, of course, I will be expected to remember. But which I will forget because I already have several passwords on account of different sites demanding different combinations, but this site won’t accept any of them. So I invent a password which I make a note of. But I will lose the note anyway.

Now it wants my place of birth … which is covered by my passport clearance. So where are we going? My mother’s dead. And my place of birth hasn’t changed since the last time, and probably never will – unless I become a born again Christian. So what’s this all about? But, hey, they haven’t finished with me yet. Now they want me to invent an easily remembered number so I pump in my date of birth, which is the only number that will ever stick in my mind. But the thick sods say it’s no good. Of course it’s good. So I give them another number … which they accept and I forget. Click NEXT!

Now they want the 12 digit number printed on the back of my licence. They’ve already got my licence number because I’ve keyed it in. But now they must have the number off the back. So I type it in and check it; then click NEXT. But they reject it. So I type it in and check it; then click NEXT. But they reject it. So I type it in and check it; then click NEXT. Bang!

They stop me in my tracks. They say the number’s wrong so they don’t know who I am. I’m unidentifiable.

‘But,’ I shout, ‘you’ve checked my passport!’

They don’t respond; even when I punch hell out of the keyboard.

‘But,’ I scream, ‘I’ve given you my licence number! And address! And mother’s maiden name! And place of birth! And I invented a new password … which I forget! And a memorable number … which I forget! And the number you have just rejected is the number you invented and stuck on the back of my licence for just such an occasion as this! But now you reject it! And you reject me! And you tell me I don’t exist …!

Bastards! Bastards! Bastards…!’

So I go downstairs and fill in the form with four flicks of the pen. And now I stride to the post box in the morning sun and fresh air and think … ‘this is the way life was before they invented the computer. But now it’s gone. Gone forever.’

I Need a Break …

I’m in self flagellation mode today. So I head for the computer to book coach tickets online. Being of a naïve nature I go to the official website of National Express. In the appropriate box I click on the window entitled Departure Place and type in Cardiff. A menu immediately appears and asks if I want Cardiff West? Cardiff Gate? Cardiff University? Or Cardiff something else.

I don’t want any of them. Two are on the motorway and two are inaccessible. So I type in Cardiff Bus Station. The website responds. Departure Point Not Known. We are talking about the national coach company here and it’s never heard of Cardiff Bus Station.

Their main Welsh office happens to be in Cardiff Bus Station right opposite the bay from which the coaches leave. So I try again and again and again. But it doesn’t recognise Cardiff or Cardiff Bus Station or Cardiff Central or any other bloody Cardiff except the inaccessible points that it keeps on its menu.

So I head for the telephone and phone the National Express booking line. Now I’m through to a computer that wants to know what I want and why I am calling National Express. Why does it think I’m calling – to buy a bloody suit or something? But the computer rambles on, do I want this option or that option or any one of ten options.

When I finally get it to understand that I just want to book a ticket and get on a coach it tells me that ‘there will be a surcharge of £2 for booking by telephone and it would be cheaper and simpler to book online.’

‘Uuugh … You fu …’

Now a clerk appears on the line. ‘Where are you departing from?’ he wants to know.

‘Cardiff,’ I tell him.

‘So that will be Cardiff Bust Station …’

‘Uuugh … You fu …’

Wpl

Monday, 21 September 2009

Wpl

Online Madness

I get a form from the DVLA telling me that my driving licence is due for renewal. It gives me the option of filling in the form or applying online.

The form itself is a piece of cake – 4 or 5 boxes to tick, that’s all. But it assures me that online is even quicker and easier. So guess what? Yeah. That’s right. I fall for it. Suckered again.

Off upstairs; switch on the computer; wait for it to sort itself out; into Internet Explorer and punch in the web address. Up comes the webpage, which assures me that this is all for the best.

But it’s already taken longer than filling in the form.

Anyway, I start the action. Fill in page one, which has easily as many questions as the form has; including my driving licence number – which is already printed on the form. Click NEXT and get page 2; which asks as many questions again, including details about my passport. But then it assures me that it will do an automatic check by computer to verify my identity with passport control. Good – if that makes them feel better.

OK; fine; click NEXT again. Now it wants my date of birth and my mother’s maiden name – as well as my address which is where they sent the form and where I have lived for the last countless years (and which, naturally, is the address where they contacted me 3 years ago!).

Now I must invent a password which, of course, I will be expected to remember. But which I will forget because I already have several passwords on account of different sites demanding different combinations, but this site won’t accept any of them. So I invent a password which I make a note of. But I will lose the note anyway.

Now it wants my place of birth … which is covered by my passport clearance. So where are we going? My mother’s dead. And my place of birth hasn’t changed since the last time, and probably never will – unless I become a born again Christian. So what’s this all about? But, hey, they haven’t finished with me yet. Now they want me to invent an easily remembered number so I pump in my date of birth which is the only number that will ever stick in my mind. But the thick sods say it’s no good. Of course it’s good. So I give them another number … which they accept and I forget. Click NEXT!

Now they want the 12 digit number printed on the back of my licence. They’ve already got my licence number because I’ve keyed it in. But now they must have the number off the back. So I type it in and check it; then click NEXT. But they reject it. So I type it in and check it; then click NEXT. But they reject it. So I type it in and check it; then click NEXT. Bang!

They stop me in my tracks. They say the number’s wrong so they don’t know who I am. I’m unidentifiable.

‘But,’ I shout, ‘you’ve checked my passport!’

They don’t respond; even when I punch hell out of the keyboard.

‘But,’ I scream, ‘I’ve given you my licence number! And address! And mother’s maiden name! And place of birth! And I invented a new password … which I forget! And a memorable number … which I forget! And the number you have just rejected is the number you invented and stuck on the back of my licence for just such an occasion as this! But now you reject it! And you reject me! And you tell me I don’t exist …!

Bastards! Bastards! Bastards…!’

So I go downstairs and fill in the form with four flicks of the pen. And now I stride to the post box in the morning sun and fresh air and think … ‘this is the way life was before they invented the computer. But now it’s gone. Gone forever.’

Wpl

I Need a Break …

I’m in self flagellation mode today. So I head for the computer to book coach tickets online. Being of a naïve nature I go to the official website of National Express. In the appropriate box I click on the window entitled Departure Place and type in Cardiff. A menu immediately appears and asks if I want Cardiff West? Cardiff Gate? Cardiff University? Or Cardiff something else.

I don’t want any of them. Two are on the motorway and two are inaccessible. So I type in Cardiff Bus Station. The website responds. Departure Point Not Known. We are talking about the national coach company here and it’s never heard of Cardiff Bus Station.

Their main Welsh office happens to be in Cardiff Bus Station right opposite the bay from which the coaches leave. So I try again and again and again. But it doesn’t recognise Cardiff or Cardiff Bus Station or Cardiff Central or any other bloody Cardiff except the inaccessible points that it keeps on its menu.

So I head for the telephone and phone the National Express booking line. Now I’m through to a computer that wants to know what I want and why I am calling National Express. Why does it think I’m calling – to buy a bloody suit or something? But the computer rambles on, do I want this option or that option or any one of ten options.

When I finally get it to understand that I just want to book a ticket and get on a coach it tells me that ‘there will be a surcharge of £2 for booking by telephone and it would be cheaper and simpler to book online.’

‘Uuugh … You fu …’

Now a clerk appears on the line. ‘Where are you departing from?’ he wants to know.

‘Cardiff,’ I tell him.

‘So that will be Cardiff Bus Station …’

‘Uuugh … You fu …’

Charlie Gregory

poet-on-a-hill.blogspot.com

Wpl

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Wpl

February 2010
So why is global warming freezing my balls off?

Wpl

February 2010
MEANWHILE IN MERRIE ENGLAND

A GOODNIGHT QUICHE
Christine Cuddihy, 24, goes into Tesco in Coventry to buy a 51p piece of quiche
for her supper. But the cashier won’t serve her until she produces her driving licence
to prove that she is over 21. So you’ve got to be over 21 to buy quiche?
OK so this particular cashier is a nutter. But she’s probably been driven nuts
by all the petty laws that have been forced on her by the
power crazed idiots who run the country.

NO MARCUS FOR BULLIES
Andrea Charman, headmistress of Lydd Primary School in Kent,
has been forced to resign after being hounded by parents.
Lydd Primary reared a sheep called Marcus on the school farm.
And in due course, the school council, made up of 7 to 11 years olds,
voted to send the lamb to be slaughtered for meat; like you do.
But other kids had nervous breakdowns at the trauma of it all and had to be counselled.
Poor little mites. Don’t tell them about chickens and Christmas turkeys.
Anyway it all led to parents protesting outside the school and organising a petition on Facebook.
Mrs Chaman told friends she was being victimised and bullied.
The parents involved had all better be vegetarians,
They’ve got some explaining to do on Judgement Day.
The magistrate that day will be the Sacrificial Lamb Himself.

BRITAIN IS A DEAD DUCK
In Britain today, living on benefit has become a lifestyle choice.
The labour government has created a culture of entitlement.
Since they came to power twelve years ago, five million adults have
never bothered
to get a job. In the UK there are 3.3 million households that
have no one employed in them. And 1.9 million children live in houses where
there is no parent at work. They are all supported by benefits paid by the people
who are willing to work. No reforms have ever dented these numbers. So we bring in
immigrants to do the jobs that idle Brits refuse to do. Show me someone on benefit and you are showing me an immigrant in disguise. Labour has a policy of minimising shame and maximising claim, because people on benefit will vote them back in power time after time.After all, if you are a benefit lout you don’t want someone in office who might make you work.But the fact is that people who are prepared to live off the efforts of others are living in a form of poverty. It is a mental and spiritual poverty. They have nothing to get up for,
nothing to live for. No purpose.
No self esteem. For them, a
belief in work, family and religion, and eventually self, go out of
the window. These are the people of the country so, inevitably, they will drag the country down to their level.
Under New Labour the country has plummeted into moral degeneration. Their idea
of progress is a levelling down process. No winners in school. No winners in games. No winners in life. So everyone is a loser. The fact is that f
it people should not get anything they haven’t earned. Ignorance and idleness are a disease: a fatal disease. Without a miracle Britain is a dead duck.

Wpll