Thursday, 29 November 2012

Washing Machine Repair Kit

Tired of seeing your washing machine waltzing around the scullery whenever it reaches the spin cycle?  Can’t find that special little spanner thingie to adjust its feet?

Don’t despair.  With this easily constructed DIY Stabilisation Kit, peaceful laundry is guaranteed.


You will need the following equipment and materials (beer optional):

Health and safety warning: hammers can damage enamelled surfaces and thumbs.  Do not use when drunk.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Leeds (3)

 This one’s being a bit troublesome.  Through the eyes of anyone who wasn’t there, my three years at Leeds might seem pretty mundane, not to say dull.  Should I try to make them interesting, or would I then be writing fiction?  Or should I simply record the mundanity, hoping that this somehow generates its own interest?  I don’t know.  I’ll just have to write and see.

You have to remember that being at university in 1960 wasn’t what it became a few years later.   The linkage between the words ‘student’ and ‘rebellion’ may just about have started to be forged, but it was still a delicate filigree and hardly cast a shadow.  Nor  did the more formal side of varsity social life appeal much, once I’d tried a few things out.  I’d have loved to get involved with some kind of music scene, but ‘popular’ music, let alone the idea of making it, was considered impossibly vulgar .  The only acceptable form was jazz, which I couldn’t and still can’t play.  The one time I turned up for a ‘jam session’ at the Union organised by the third-year jazzo clique to spot talent, I was unceremoniously rejected for playing an unashamedly rock’n’roll solo, on a borrowed guitar, to ‘Scrapple to the Apple’, a Charlie Parker tune which, I was solemnly advised, was “just like 'Honeysuckle Rose', but much faster”. 

I went to the pictures a lot, two or three times some weeks.  The Clock cinema, which showed current second-time-around releases and the occasional obscure art film, was conveniently located just across the road from the digs, and cost, I think, the equivalent of a half-pint at the Gipton, the nearest pub, where we drank Tetley’s and played darts. 

There were a few girlfriends, naturally, drawn mostly from the local catchment rather than the student body.  I discovered that Northern girls seemed on the whole to be ahead of their Bournemouth counterparts, at least in terms of speed and distance; but by the same token they tended to move, or be moved, on more quickly.

There was an intellectual side, though, it was just that it had very little to do with what I was meant to be there for (Economics, in case you’d forgotten).    Under the tutelage of my roommate Marcel, who was a year ahead of me, I developed an interest in philosophy and literature.  Even here, though, it wasn’t what it would become over the next ten years, when genuinely original thinkers and writers (McLuhan, RD Laing, Pynchon and the like) appeared.  We had to settle for Sartre, Camus, Bergson, Kierkegaard, and a few Russians.  Most Anglo-Saxon writers talked bollocks, we agreed.  Which didn’t stop us from talking our own bollocks, of course.  But it was newly minted Leeds-born bollocks; and more importantly, it emerged from this freshly discovered process called ‘thinking’.

And what of the Economics, you might be asking.  Well, Economics and I were never going to fall in love.  I’d decided, even back in school, that dismal though it certainly was, a science it certainly wasn’t.   The more I learnt of it, the more I found this to be true, and I hold to that to this day.  The constant plaint of economists was, is, and forever will be “Don’t blame us if the real world fails to conform to our theories!”  (I see a rant lurking here, and I’ve sworn off those for now, so nuff said.)

So how the heck did he manage to get that illustrious Third Class Honours BA, I hear you wonder.  It must have been the system’s grudging recognition of talent unmatched by hard graft.  Later, I learned that it was mainly due to my Essay paper (on the heavily trailed topic of ‘Union’, it being the time of one of Britain’s numerous failed attempts to join the Common Market), which Professor Maurice Beresford told me was apparently used as an exemplar for future generations of students.  (He wouldn’t give me a copy though.)  I just remember cramming in as much as I could of all the stuff I had discovered over the three years.  So all that mugging up on everything but my subject came good in the end.  I think I even managed to work a bit of Economics in there too.

Andy Jenkinson and I had entered into a pact whereby if we both failed we'd backpack around the world.  As it was, he got a First.  So it was back to Southbourne.


Saturday, 24 November 2012

Leeds (2)

  One of my more thoughtful schoolmasters, ‘Reg’ Dixon (a Yorkshireman as it happens), imparted some pearls of wisdom in our final chat at the end of the summer term.  I promptly forgot nearly all of them, of course, but one stuck.  “It’s not going to be like school, Tim.”  Once I’d got over the shock of a teacher calling me by my Christian name, he explained that I would be expected to take responsibility for my own behaviour.  “You won’t get put in detention or sent on a cross country or anything.  You’re a grown-up now.  Or at least –” there may have been a wry grin at this point “– you’ll be treated as if you were.  Good luck.”

What Reg was saying, of course, was that I needed to acquire a quality called ‘self-discipline’.  What he didn’t know was that my mother had been drumming this into me since I was twelve, without explaining it except in terms of obedience.  So when I landed in Leeds, I was a mix: obvious but undirected intelligence; deeply implanted, barely grasped but already resented moral precepts; entire absence of any framework of experience to convert all these notions into behaviour; and an intuitive curiosity, about pretty much anything, that nobody, least of all me, had yet spotted.

This isn’t a cliffhanger, so I’ll tell you now that after three academic years I ended up with a third class honours BA in Economics.  I’ll tell you a few things about how I got to that, and the unexpected moss I gathered on the roll there, next time I visit this subject.

Meanwhile, it was Freshers’ Week.  I managed to find the University and sign on to my course.  I discovered a walking route, through Chapeltown, which was as quick as the bus and saved the tuppence fare.  A system was set up whereby I could mail major washing home, in a suitcase, and get it back, ironed and folded, three days later.  (This was cheaper and more reliable than the local laundry – my mother imposed it, without complaint; indeed, it became my duty.)  Brian and I immediately discovered the Union bar – Fred’s – where a pint of Tetley’s mild was 1/2d as opposed to 1/10d for the bitter (which was, we were told, what was wrung out from the sawdust when Tets’d finished making the mild).  I joined one or two clubs – chess, film – which I never subsequently attended.  There was a Freshers’ Ball on the Saturday, at which we predictably failed to pull.  As did most of the girls.  All of a sudden, home seemed an excitingly long way away.
Given that until then I probably hadn’t spent more than a couple of dozen days and nights away from the protective presence of my parents, it’s remarkable how quickly I got the hang of it. Isn’t it? After all, I’d only just turned eighteen.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Leeds (1)

Leeds 8, actually.  Harehills. 

In October 1960, I was sent to Leeds University to study Economics.  I say ‘sent’, because I don’t remember being given any choice in the matter, not least that of whether I had to go to University at all.  At school, once it had been decided that I was bright enough to be granted further education, I’d been slotted into the ‘Economics’ stream for A levels, because I didn’t seem to fit into the other two: ‘Science’ or ‘Arts’.  I was consulted, of course, but the idea of fitting in hadn’t really lodged yet – you can shift the tense there if you like: ‘hasn’t’.

They would have preferred me to be at LSE or Bristol, I’m sure – closer, less Northern – but I was turned down, so Leeds it was.  I remember the sense of danger.  Somebody once said something like ‘if you don’t feel fear, you can’t be brave’.  I was certainly afraid of Leeds.  The place looked, sounded, felt and smelled different.  Temples and monuments of  industry and commerce, built on century-old foundations of presumption.  Cramped houses surrounded by empty swathes of bomb rubble.  A language it took me weeks to broach.  Soot-stink air.  Bournemouth it wasn’t.

The digs, at the end of the terrace rather grandly called Brookfield Avenue, were run by Mrs Banks, her invisible husband, and their sassy, plump fourteen-year-old daughter Sheila.  The first evening, Sheila asked me how many potatoes I wanted.  I had no idea.  At home, we’d always helped ourselves, or at least been able to see the dish so that we could say ‘when’.  Here, the food was out back in the kitchen: I had no idea what the meal was going to consist of.  I must have made some kind of ‘dunno’ noise, because she said “well, I’ll put plenty on, leave what you don’t want then I’ll know how much to give you tomorrow, all right?”, with a sideways glance.  I hadn’t come across this kind of thing before.

I and my new-found digmates and buddies, Brian and Keith, went out on the prowl.  They were both from Northern cities, so less culture shocked than me, but none of us really knew what to do.  We found a coffee bar, had a coffee or two, managed to find our way back to Brookfield Avenue.  Mrs B gave us an unwanted cup of tea and sent us off to our shared bedroom at the top of the house.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

THINK! to end all THINK!s

I collect THINK!s, those bits of mind-numbingly patronising advice that appear occasionally on information signs along the roads I frequent (yesterday I was asked to consider whether I could have gone to fill the car with petrol on my bike), but the following, spotted just now in Shinfield Road, Reading, has spoilt the game for me.  Are you ready?


You can't surpass perfection, can you?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


As Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator, this morning I received this from the local police:

"Sometime on either the 1st or 2nd of November 2012 during daylight hours a 76 year old local man was taken ill whilst transporting his Norton Motorcycle, through Tilehurst.

"He stopped at a house on what he believes to be either the Tilehurst Road or The Meadway, and asked a lady if he could leave the motorcycle in her garage temporarily which she agreed to.

"The garage was attached to the side of the house.

"Since then he has been unable to recognise which house he left the motorcycle at.

"The motorcycle is of great sentimental value to the gentleman and anyone with knowledge of its whereabouts is asked to contact Thames Valley Police Enquiry Centre on 101."

My thoughts and feelings are spinning around this story, and I can't think of a title for the post.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Two Minutes

I don’t know why I seem to spend the Armistice Day two minute silence in my local Waitrose.  (Actually, that’s nonsense: it’s because I often go to Waitrose on Sunday mornings.)  But it seems to work.  If I were sitting at home, sure, I’d observe the silence – that’s easy around here – but doing it in a public place, especially one that incongruous, amongst an entirely randomly drawn bunch of people who’ve momentarily been transformed into a strangely unified community, can somehow focus my thoughts.

What would those thoughts be?  This morning, they were a bit scattered.  I’d heard on the radio that consideration was being given to the circumstances in which British forces might be sent into Syria.  Appropriate or not?  I fleetingly remembered church parades as a shivering ten-year-old Sea Scout – irrelevant, I had no idea what was going on, not really, I was just being dutiful.  The notes of the Last Post and Reveille dropped into my mind, as they always do, and echoed back.  I hadn’t noticed before the extraordinary range of gin brands Waitrose sell, fifteen at least … 

Twenty yards away, in front of the packaged fish, a woman was yammering into a mobile whilst her four-year-old son dashed between cakes and snacks.  Poor thing, she obviously hadn’t heard the announcement, didn’t realise what time it was or what was going on around her.  She wasn’t being loud, but she was audible.  I could see silent people getting embarrassed; what do you do?  You can’t say anything, can you, because …

Her boy got it.  I saw him suddenly stop hyper-acting, look around; possibly catch someone’s eye, and give his mother’s sleeve a little tug.  She bent down and he whispered something.  Obviously I couldn’t hear it, but it must have been “Mum?  Shut up.”   

The announcement came: “Thank you for observing the two minute silence.”

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Cold diary (2)

Yes, better, thank you.  Working my way towards the perfect linctus cocktail, and I haven’t seen any of my meals over the last 48 hours more than once.  It’s been suggested I have something called ‘man flu’, which I must admit I’d never heard of, but it sounds pretty butch, something to drop into a macho pub conversation alongside par five birdies and twin turbos.

Anyway, it does free up even more time for reading, which is how I’ve just finished, at a single interrupted three day sitting, ‘Black Swan Green’, by David Mitchell.  This is one of those novels that enfolds you in a world that’s always been there waiting for you, new and surprising even though you’ve known it for years; and then, when it ends, leaves you there, looking for the way out.  In this case, the world of a bullied thirteen year old boy, suffering from an affliction in a small community, and how he deals with it.  Well, I’ve been there.    

I suppose I was a sickly child.  Certainly I had a few serious babyhood ailments, like whooping cough, and I was always getting colds.  So was everyone, of course, but mine were somehow given credibility by my chilblains.  A cold and an outbreak of chilblains, in the winter, would suffice to get me off CCF drill days; I’m not sure what I used in the summer.  Stomach aches, probably.  Of course, whilst adults – parents, teachers – were easily fooled by these tactics, my peers saw through it, so I was, for a year or more, setting myself up as a natural victim, allowing this blanket of identity to be woven and wrapped round me by other people. 
You don’t realise this sort of thing is happening, until something jolts you into suddenly feeling the weight of the blanket.  I clearly remember being ordered by a master, with an expression of disgust, to go and wash my hands; a nudge from the boy next to me (“Tell him!”); and explaining that I wasn’t allowed to.  And the strange feeling of empowerment the teacher’s embarrassed apology gave me.

Lonnie Donegan rescued me.  Learning to play the guitar cured the chilblains; performing in a skiffle group, which you can’t do under a blanket, took care of the rest.  (Except the colds.)

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Cold Diary (1)

Oh hello, is that you out there, world?  Still there then?  Anything important happened while I’ve been asleep?

I don’t get colds.  I mean, I do understand them, but I don’t catch them.  This started more than twenty years ago, when I had a flu jab.  It was followed by something horrible which I’d have called ‘flu’ if I hadn’t been told, twenty years earlier, by my mother that “if you can walk, it’s not flu.”  Since then, nothing, until now. 

Fair enough, I’ve been able to walk for the last five days, so it’s not flu.  I can even do stairs, and this morning, optimistically imagining that it was tailing off, drying out, losing interest –  surely even viruses must get bored eventually – I drove up to the supermarket, mainly to haul in a bootload of tissues and catering packs of Ibuprofen, Covonia and Strepsils, these being the least ineffectual drugs I’ve discovered so far.  (I’d go for codeine if I could, but they don’t seem to do that off the shelf at Waitrose.)

One thing I’ve found is that I feel best in the few hours after I wake up, so I’ve been sleeping as much as possible.  I’m aware, though, that this isn’t a habit to get into.  Although it can be very nice, and even interesting, sleep is not, as things stand, our natural state as humans.  Oh, I’ve been sitting here too long, because I find myself arguing with that, thinking about babies and old people; and wanting to ask cats and dogs and lions for their opinions.

I’d better stop now.  I must be feeling better, because it’s nearly eleven o’clock.  Friday night, I was in bed by nine-thirty and slept twelve hours.  I expect I’ll be up by eight tomorrow.   There’s more.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

What's in a number?

Nothing really.  So I'll say nothing about the fact that this is my 500th blog post since I started back in 2008.

In other news:  I have a stinking cold.  I'm not used to this, and I DON'T LIKE IT!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Coffee Cluedo??

A well-known department store chain has announced that it is to trial a rebranding of the coffee in their in-store cafeterias, to make life easier for purchasers to work out what they want.  I have some sympathy with this; some of those beverages can be quite daunting.  I was proud of myself a few weeks ago when, in a C0sta at Southampton airport, I ordered an Americano and got what I expected – a black coffee with milk on the side.  And I’ve never dared to enter a St@rbucks.

But I do think Dbenha∑s – for it is they – are perhaps at risk of obfuscation by over-simplification (and if there’s a word for that, please do let me know what it is).  Apparently, 70% of their customers struggle with terms such as ‘cappuccino’ and ‘espresso’, which are to be renamed ‘frothy coffee’ and ‘a shot of strong coffee’.  Really?  If this is true, then it does seem to suggest something about the majority of their clientele, or their opinion of them, which I’m sure Dbenha∑s didn’t quite intend.

But fair do’s to them, if they think it’s going to help.  I rarely enter the store by choice (sometimes you have to go through it to get to the car park), and never their cafĂ©.  What does bother me slightly, though, is the ‘director of food services’ (and there’s a job title for you – what happened to ‘catering’?) claiming, as he does, that this will enable shoppers to “spend less time playing coffee Cluedo.”  Now, I don’t know whether this guy has ever played Cluedo, but a moment’s research would have revealed the inappropriateness of this metaphor in every single respect beyond smart-ass alliteration.  ‘St@rbucks Scrabble’ would have been marginally better.  Nothing would have been better still.