People of my generation grew up in 1960s Britain. They will remember many things that were unique to their age group. I well remember the Saturday morning pictures at the local cinema, free milk at school during playtime, playing football in the street and the weekly ceremony known as “Bathnight.”
In many homes, this ritual was carried out on a Saturday evening, and lots of you will remember being ushered into the bathroom by Mothers or Fathers, where the white enamel bath would be a third full of steaming water. No bubble bath, no liquid soap.
I still remember the pungent smell of Wrights Coal Tar soap, and Vosene Anti Dandruff shampoo – with which my scalp was scrubbed, despite me not having the condition,
Sinking down into the hot water would be a relief from peeling off in the cold bathroom, and most of us would splash about, soap up, wash, dip their heads in the tub, and quickly shampoo and rinse. It was a process that would probably take less than 15 minutes.
A shivering, wet kid would then climb out of the bath, to be wrapped up in a towel that was as stiff and unyielding as a plank due to it being air-dried on the washing line.
A vigorous rub dry, followed by a dusting down with Yardley’s talcum powder and that was cleaning over and done with for a week, except of course for the normal wahing of hands after using the lavatory, or before eating.
Most of the older houses on the street where I grew up only had baths. Showers were seen by many as continental indulgences. Most of the kid’s growing up in the early 1960s experience of showers was limited to those that they used in the school changing rooms for use after sports, games and gymnastics.
I seem to recall that the water from these feeble showers was only ever tepid, even in the deepest winters.
Coming back into the school after 90 minutes of playing rugby in the snow a hot shower would have been welcome.
The world changes a lot in a few decades.
In 2014 a study conducted by the University of Manchester in the UK it was revealed that only 10% of Britons took a daily bath, 50% never used a bath, choosing only to shower, and 20% only showered or bathed every four days.
Using a bath as a means for achieving cleanliness has been replaced by using a shower.
Showers have been promoted as being far more economic and eco frindly, with claims that they use much less water and energy than that required for a bath and were quicker to use.
Many people regard bathing in a tub as a relaxing activity, enabling them to unwind, maybe read a book, maybe meditate with candles, or a peaceful respite to enjoy a glass of wine, and listen to music – all activites that can’t really be undertaken in a shower – unless you like watered down vino!
Now, lets look at the realities of this.
A recent study by Unilver which manufactures Radox and Dove personal hygeine products shows a different story.
Using dedicated high-tech shower-monitoring systems backed up by user surveys, the company analysed the bathing habits of 100 families over a ten day period. The sensors recorded when the showers were activated and for how long.
For a start, the average shower is about eight minutes long!
I am in and out of the shower in about three and a half minutes. I favour the military style shower. Shower with hot water to get wet. Turn shower off and apply shampoo/body wash or soap (according to taste). Wash vigorously. Turn shower on and rinse off. Clean shower off, and dry myself with a towel. Dress, and ready to rock.
I have many fiends and family that stay with me who seem to prove the eight minute rule and in some cases double that, so this is no surprise to me.
The study reveals that an eight minute standard gravity-fed shower uses nearly as much energy and water as a bath. (62 litres or 13.64 gallons of water, compared with 80 litres – 17.6 gallons for a bath. This costs an average UK family of four about £416.00 per year (520 US $).
Using an electric power-shower for eight minutes uses up to 136 litres (30 gallons) of hot water almost the equivalent to TWO baths! This works out at £918.00 ($1147 US) per year for that happy UK average family of four.
So – this effectively demolishes the myth that showering is better for the environment than taking a bath.
The study also disproves the common argument that women and girls are unique in occupying the bathroom for long periods of time.
It appears that young males are the worst offenders for taking very long showers – with boys under the age of 12 taking around ten minutes on average to clean themselves up.
I wonder if this is a result of carrying frogs, toads, insects and other unspeakable items in their pockets?
If you assumed that it was teenage girls that hogged the bathroom, then you would be right.
Before they hit their teens, girls seem to be efficient shower-users, taking around six and a half minutes to wash.
The bad news is that by the time they metamorphose into teenagers, they will be taking nine and a half minutes in the shower – costing their parents £123.00 ($153.75 US) per year.
The ladies in our lives would appear to be the most efficient all rounders in the bathroom.
Whereas your typical bloke – me included, just showers for a sole purpose – washing, our ladies excel at multi-tasking (as usual), with many of them combining washing their hair, shaving and even cleaning their teeth!
Maybe its time to start taking shorter showers if we want to save energy?
New Year’s Day 2019 was crisp and cold; the weak sun shone out of an impossibly bright blue sky – making it an ideal morning to investigate the Phoenix Green Annual Classic Vehicle meet.
At any other time of the year, Phoenix Green in Hampshire is more of a transit village than a destination. Lying astride the main A30 trunk road, two and a half miles north east of the town of Hook, its normally just another “A” road connecting Staines-upon-Thames with Basingstoke.
All of that changes on the first of January every year.
The main focal point of the village is the Phoenix Inn, a magnificent old building, dating back to the 1700s.
It is also the ancestral home of the Vintage Sports Car Club, which was founded at the Phoenix Green Garage, and is now a veritable mecca for classic and sports car enthusiasts and the vintage motorcycle fraternity.
This is the opening event of the year for the south-east England classic vehicle community, and attracts all sorts of historic vehicles, from military trucks to vintage and veteran cars. There are normally contingents from owners’ clubs, intermingling with private owners and collectors.
The event is in no way formally organised, and exhibitors and participants just arrive in the village and find somewhere to park. There is absolutely no Police presence, and vehicles of all descriptions are parked on the hard shoulder, the central reservation and the verges, and it all appears to run safely and happily.
We arrived mid-morning, and already the pretty old village was packed with vehicles, and there was a relaxed party atmosphere, as villagers and visitors wandered up and down, admiring the beautifully restored cars and motorcycles.
The Phoenix Pub is heavily involved in supporting the event, giving over their car park for restored cars and concours motorcycles to be displayed. They were also busy refuelling the spectators and drivers alike, providing mulled wine and hot food outside, in addition to serving meals and drinks inside the pub restaurant.
Having walked up and down both sides of the road through the village, I was a little surprised to have counted five McLaren supercars, each with a price tag of at least £160,000, an absolutely pristine Aston Martin DB6 with a provenance that valued it in excess of £500,000, £60,000 worth of Series 1 Land Rover, a drool-inducing Chevrolet Corvette in searing red which would purge at least £40,000 from the bank balance, and a wonderfully restored Scammell military truck with a street value of about £25,000.
Add in about thirty classic vintage motorcycles, and variegated other marques and models spanning both the last seventy years and the Atlantic Ocean, and the investment parked up haphazardly along the main road was in excess of £1,950,000.
This event is well worth a visit – unless you happen to be a motor insurance underwriter, in which case it would be best to stay at home.
Just in case.
So, better make a note in your diary for next year!
Flying is a serious addiction. It needs feeding, and a sufferer will need to get a regular fix if he or she is to remain happy. Denying any aviator their flying fix will result in massive mood swings, irritability, loss of sense of humour, and a restlessness that is impossible to shift.
Having passed my written examinations for my ATPL in the UK, I needed to build my flying experience, and amass a considerable number of hours in a relatively short time.
Working in Flight Operations for a major British Airline, meant that I had access to heavily discounted airfares, and in some cases free tickets and as flying light aircraft in the USA was half the price of flying in the UK, it made sense to go to America.
Readers of my previous posts will know that I learned to fly in Fort Worth near Dallas, however, I wanted to do my hours building in an area where I could partake of other leisure activities when not flying.
This left me with two choices; Florida or California. I did a lot of research on the two states, and their flying schools, and decided to go to Southern California, initially to Fullerton Municipal (KFUL) and then to Long Beach (KLGB).
As I had friends in Southern California, I frequently combined flying with chilling out in either Rancho Santa Margarita or Dana Point. This naturally involved drinking beer, shooting the breeze, and in some cases, shooting firearms on a friends ranch.
Which brings me to the point of this article. There is always one person that you will meet in aviation who is a true professional and leaves a lasting and indelible impression upon you, stamping their ethos onto your soul.
I met that man in February 2002, at Long Beach Airport.
I had landed at LAX the previous afternoon and planned my stay in such a way as to maximise my flying time. I booked a hotel near Long Beach Airport and drove there from LAX so that I could be at the flying club first thing the next day.
Walking into the flying club, I chatted with the ops desk clerk and told him that I wanted to book an aeroplane and an instructor. I had decided that I would use the hours building opportunity to do the differences training onto a new aeroplane type, and I was offered a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. I was told that Harry was available and that they would ring him for me to discuss times with him.
When the call connected, I explained to Harry what I wanted to do, that I wanted to convert onto a new type and to undertake my biennial flight review.
“Sure,” he said, “The airplane is booked at 1500, for a two-hour slot. So, meet me at the club at 1430, we’ll go through the paperwork, and briefing. Then we will go and sit in the airplane for an hour, going through the drills and talking about the performance. You gotta pay for my time whatever, but you only pay for the airplane once the engine is running, so better to do the classroom stuff on the ground, then we can concentrate on having fun and flying”
Putting down the ‘phone, I smiled. Harry sounded a nice bloke. He’d saved me a good few dollars, so I decided to invest in a new checklist, a chart, and other bits and bobs in the pilot shop.
When I say bits and bobs, I mean a new Noise Cancelling Headset and a RAM mount for my GPS navigation unit.
I read the club rules, signed the books, and reviewed the departure procedures and any long term NOTAMs that would affect me the next day. I decided that I would leave the route plan up to Harry, and just see what happened.
The next morning was gloomy and foggy, typical LA Basin weather, but if it was true to form it would have burnt off by about 1400, so happy days.
I grabbed a quick hotel breakfast, and glugged back a mug of coffee, and then drove to the airport.
Parking up, I walked up the stairs to the club, grabbed another coffee, and went and sat on the balcony overlooking the ramp. On the far side of the airport, the Sheriff Department’s helicopter sat forlornly on the parking, and I could see a C-17 being towed into the McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) hangar.
I killed the time reading the Pilots Operating Handbook for the Cessna C172 SP Skyhawk and chatting with the other students and club pilots. After a relaxed lunch of a grilled sandwich washed down with Sprite, I went back into the ops room to meet Harry.
Harry wandered in at 1430, carrying his clipboard, headset, chart and a small case. About my height, but with at least ten years seniority on me. He had a luxuriant moustache, which emphasised his happy smile.
We shook hands, and after a few pleasantries, went down to the aircraft, where he patiently went through the controls with me, paying special attention to the fact that this was an injected engine – different to the normally aspirated models that I had flown previously.
He conducted a brief questions and answers session with me, then briefed for the departure out of Long Beach. It was as I remembered, straight out, a left turn at the Los Angeles River, and down to the Queen Mary, where we would turn south.
The route was down to San Diego via Mount Palomar. Cool. I swiftly drew lines on the chart, and calculated times and headings, corrected with a quick call to 1-800-WX-BRIEF for an en-route weather briefing.
Then it was back to the aircraft.
Harry leaned back in the right-hand seat, looked across at me, and said, “OK, It’s your airplane, I’m just here for the ride.”
So saying, he looked out of the window, as I called Long Beach ground for taxi clearance, and requested a squawk for SOCAL approach Southbound to San Diego.
I frantically scribbled the clearance down, together with the Squawk; I was surely not used to the machine-gun-fast radio in the US.
We taxied out, number two to a Douglas DC-3, and stopped at the holding point to do the vital actions and pre-flight checks.
Once the DC-3 had departed, I lined up and asked Harry if he was happy and good to go.
“I’m good” was his laconic response, and I eased the throttle to the stop, and we accelerated down the tarmac, lifting off cleanly, and climbing away into the bright sunlight.
I smiled to myself. My prediction was correct – the maritime layer had burnt off nicely, and the sky was bright blue.
I changed frequencies to SOCAL approach, and they immediately had me identified on radar and cleared me to the south as filed. Crossing the LA River – which flows through a concreted canal, I rolled into a left turn and then left again to parallel the coast, gently climbing to my planned cruise altitude.
Interestingly, the Los Angeles River has been used in several movies, with probably the most famous ones being Grease, Terminator 2 and The Dark Knight Rises.
I could see Emmy and Eva the two oil platforms out ahead near the shoreline and some large cargo ships entering the Port of Los Angeles at Long Beach.
Harry seemed quite happy with my performance so far and once I had the aircraft trimmed out for straight and level flight, Harry came to life, as if energised by a switch in the cockpit.
He asked me to demonstrate several manoeuvres and spotted a number of areas where he thought I could improve my flying. Climbing a little higher, he had me stalling in every configuration, steep turns, timed turns, slow flight and practice engine failures.
At the end of each feedback session, he would get me to repeat the manoeuvre, and if I did it to his satisfaction, he would murmur “There ya go” If not, it was more practice required.
Having performed all of this he asked me to plan a diversion to Los Alamitos Army Air Base.
This made me work hard. The grilled cheese and ham sandwich and can of Sprite I scoffed earlier was conspiring against me, aided and abetted by the turbulence. I had to be head down in order to plan the divert (No Sky Demon moving maps then!), and I was grateful that the planning didn’t take too long, as I really didn’t want to toss my cookies in the aeroplane.
I rolled the aircraft onto my calculated heading and guessed at a wind correction, and we flew inland towards Los Al, descending at a pedestrian 500 feet per minute.
Harry leaned over and stared hard at my chart and the planned diversion, and then peered at the Direction Indicator. “That oughta work,” he said softly. After a few flights with Harry, I came to recognise this as high praise.
He leaned back into his seat, idly tapping his fingers on the glareshield.
“Hey, Y’know what would be good here… You done a talkdown before?”
I had never undertaken any Precision Approach Radar approaches, even during my instrument training, so this was going to be good.
Harry then said that he would take the radios and that I should concentrate on flying the aircraft.
I continued to descend, and Harry took control briefly and told me to put the hood on.
Once I was wearing the hood, he relinquished the controls. “She’s all yours” he grinned.
For the non-flying types that may be reading this, the “hood” is a smoked plastic visor designed to prevent a pilot from looking out of the windows, thus forcing them to fly using the flight instruments as their sole source of reference to navigate and control the aircraft safely.
I was now working at the extreme boundary of my performance envelope if I am honest. I was jet-lagged, and mentally tired, bearing in mind that this was my first flight for about a month.
Listening intently to the stream of instructions from the Radar Approach controller, I was constantly adjusting the power, rate of descent and heading. We were also getting lower and lower until finally the controller called “Radar Service Terminated”
Harry flipped my visor up, and there ahead of me was the main runway of Los Alamitos right under the nose.
“Will ya look at that! That came together nicely. Now, Go Around, and take me back to Long Beach, and we will have a coffee and a chat about what we should do tomorrow.”
The rest of the flight was almost routine, and I made a standard approach to Rwy 30 and an uneventful landing.
Switching to Long Beach Ground, we were cleared back to the flying club parking and as we taxied sedately back, Harry was giving me more feedback.
Pulling onto a vacant pan, I slowed the aircraft to a halt and performed the shutdown checks.
As the propellor jerked to a stop, the cabin became almost silent. I say almost, because the whine of the gyros spooling down and the ticking of the engine cooling reminded me that I still needed to secure the aeroplane.
We both got out, unplugging our headsets, and chatting amiably in the early evening sunshine.
Popping the control locks in, and removing the key, I made a final check that the master switch was off, before slamming the door and locking it.
I swiftly snapped the tie-down chains onto the lugs under the wings and walked around the aircraft tail to help Harry.
As I approached him, he held out something to me in his hand.
I took the item; it was a C90 cassette. I must have looked at him blankly, because he clapped me on the back, saying “Its an audio cassette, feller”
He reached back into the rear seat area and pulled out a small tape recorder. He had plugged it into the intercom jack in the rear cabin, so I had a complete record of the entire flight; his training, my responses, and the Air Traffic conversations.
He did this for every student that he took on an instructional flight. He made no charge for this. Not only was he an excellent instructor, from whom I learnt so much, but he was generous of spirit, and we flew many subsequent flights, where I was to enjoy his skilled instructing and excellent sense of humour.
His comedic muscle was well-developed. I remember that a few months later, I emailed him from England before my next arrival saying I wanted to do some interesting, longer navigation exercises, and he sent me a reply by email with a number of airfields to visit, together with web-links.
The suggestions were:
Las Vegas Muni, Santa Barbara, and the Chicken Ranch in Nevada…
I duly checked the links, to discover the Chicken Ranch was a brothel with its own airstrip.
I called him from the UK to explain that I didn’t think that SWMBO would be too enamoured of me visiting the Chicken Ranch.
He was roaring with laughter, as he said that he was thankful that I didn’t want to go there because his wife would be equally unhappy.
So, we went to Santa Barbara, but that’s another story.
Sadly, my mentor, instructor and friend died when his parachute failed to open at Perris Field in Southern California in October 2008.
After all these years, I still have four of Harry’s C90 cassettes, which I need to get digitised. I am sure there is still information that I can learn from.
Blue Skies Harry.
See you at the bar in the Big Flying Club in the Sky.
In September 2005 I decided that I needed a new flying challenge. I was stale. I completed my Instrument Rating a few years prior, together with my Multi Engine Rating, and Night Rating. I needed to rejuvenate my flying mojo. To do that I required a new challenge.
I was fortunate that I had been able to put some of the more interesting types of aeroplane into my logbook since getting my licence in 1989.
Through both training schools and friends, I had been privileged to sample the delights of many different aeroplanes. Reviewing my logbooks, I see many different types, from 1930s biplanes to Modern Hot ships.
Whilst I had flown a good number of tailwheel aircraft, and had handled them, I hadn’t completed formalised differences training which is required in the United Kingdom to fly one.
The necessary training was a short course consisting of a minimum of 5 hours flying time. Naturally, this was open-ended, and the number of hours required to complete the training is dependent upon flying ability and aptitude.
I flogged round the circuit at Redhill Airfield in G-BMKB, a Piper PA-18 Super Cub under the guidance of my instructor, Jim. Jim was a highly experienced tailwheel pilot, despite him being in his early twenties.
My general handling abilites seemed to be fine. Take offs were, shall we say, interesting in the early days, but with practice I could get the tail up and correct the swing nicely.
Landings however, were a different matter. My early attempt saw the little aeroplane leap back into the air like a startled Kangaroo, or slalom left and right as I wrestled with the rudder pedals to stop it chasing its own tail.
Jim normally sorted things out, and it wasn’t long before I could land the aircraft nicely in a three point attitude. I didn’t like wheeler landings – and still don’t, but I regarded them as a necessary evil.
I see that I completed my training in the minimum hours required, and have a nice sticker in my logbook proclaiming that I was comptent to fly more interesting types.
Towards the end of August in 2007, I decided that I would invest in a group-owned aircraft. A colleague at British Airways said that he wanted to get rid of his share in a Super Cub based at Redhill, and the price was right.
On a Sunny Saturday, I arranged to meet him and he would let me fly it prior to the sale.
I arrived at Redhill to find the aircraft sitting on the ramp outside the hangar.
I was walking towards the aircraft when I received a text message telling me that the seller was delayed by half an hour and that I should “Have a poke about and see what you think”
I did just that.
I opened the window and door, and had a good nose round the cockpit, which looked well kept, clean and tidy. It also had a radio and a VOR. Luxury!
I unclipped the cowling, and took a dekko at the engine, and whilst I was peering intently into the void I heard a voice say “Good Morning, are you interested in buying a share in Betty Boo?”
He looking meaningfully at the registration – G-BTBU
“She’s known by everyone on the field as Betty Boo”
I guess he was in his early sixties, with a mop of grey hair, and oil on his hands.
After a bit of general chit chat, he finally cut to the chase, and asked me about my flying background.
“Are you a shareholder in the group?” I asked. I wasn’t about to give my background without good reason.
“Yes” he replied, “I am. Been in the group for years”
“Well, if you must know, I learned to fly as an Air Cadet about six miles from here at RAF Kenley, back in the seventies”
He fixed me with a steady look, saying “I used to instruct at Kenley in the seventies.”
“What’s your name?” I asked
“I’m Stewart Rhodes.”
“Bloody Hell!” I exclaimed. “Dusty Rhodes! You sent me solo in 1976”
I shook his hand, but I could see that he was not convinced.
Anyway, I ended up buying a share in Betty Boo, and enjoyed flying her, after I had been checked out by Dusty Rhodes.
How weird. Small world?
Yes. The same man taught me in 1976 in a Kirby Cadet MkIII glider, and then sent me off again 31 years later in my own aeroplane.
On a sunny and bright January Sunday I escorted my elderly Mother to her local church.
A confirmed Christian, my dear old Mum has been attending the same church since I was a child.
I attended this very church until I started work; I was confirmed there when I was about thirteen.
My Parents continued as paid-up practising Christians, but I lapsed over the years, perhaps because I came to realise that, in my own very humble opinion, most religions (with the exception of Buddhism) are possibly the root cause of most types of conflict – best summarised as “My God is better than your God, so I will persuade or force you to believe in My God”.
I reckon that over the centuries, this has probably caused more wars than everything else combined. So, I got heartily fed up with it and decided that whilst I do believe in a force of good and evil, I stopped subscribing to any belief system that punishes people for being human.
That’s not to say that I don’t believe in a supreme infinite being.
I don’t think for one moment, that the perfectly integrated natural world in which we live happened by some cosmic accident. That would be akin to me taking a 5000-piece jigsaw, and throwing the pieces into the air, and then have them all land in the form of a flawlessly completed puzzle.
Folks, that just ain’t gonna happen is it?
Somehow, I feel more connection these days to ancient paganism. My Great-Grandfather was a Senior Druid. The limited amount of research I have conducted into both my Great Grandfather and Druidism shows them to be cognisant and respectful of the seasons – the natural flows and rhythms of the planet. Living in harmony with nature, and looking for ways to co-exist with our fellow inhabitants of this lonely rock we call home.
I don’t go to church that much these days, mainly family “duty” missions – hatchings, matchings and despatchings.
Having said that, whenever I visit my dear old Mum on a Sunday, I willingly take her to morning service, as I know it gives her great pleasure, and that in turn makes me happy too.
I normally combine this with a pleasant and relaxed drive through the beautiful Sussex countryside, through forests and heathland, traversing the undulating folds of this green and pleasant land, passing through villages that were already old when the Doomsday Book was still in draft form.
The trip normally routes via a small farm where we stop, and collect a dozen fresh eggs from the tiny stall at the gate, leaving a couple of pounds in the honesty box.
The last port of call before home is normally into a pleasant country golf club that serves the best coffee for miles around according to Mater.
But back to the story…
Having attended Sunday school since I was old enough to walk, I have a relatively good understanding of the Christian faith and see that it gives a lot of comfort and support to a lot of people.
I, therefore, believe that I am not a total charlatan or hypocrite when I take my mother to her local church on a Sunday morning. In some respects, I find it quite cathartic.
So – coming back to 0830 on that January Sunday.
It was a beautiful, crisp, clear morning, with azure blue skies; sporadic fluffy white clouds, and a cool wind, stirring the bushes as I walked the route to the church, over paths and roads that were etched into my memory over fifty years ago.
However, the speed at which I walked them was considerably slower than way back then. Echos of my childish laughter bounce back from the weathered brick walls and moss-clad fences.
I now meander, rather than stride. Mum is now much slower since her falls and as it’s a beautiful morning, I am content to wander next to her, as she regales me with an endless stream of chatter, telling me all that has happened in her busy week.
I greatly admire my Mother. My Father was her rock, and when he passed away 8 years ago, I thought that the strain and grief would kill her as well. However, the old girl is made of much sterner stuff, and it wasn’t long before she bounced back.
However, I know the amount of grit and strength this demanded of her.
She now enjoys an active social life, working part-time in the church cafe, attending various church groups – and up until recently, driving every week to meet up with her “old ladies” (all, of whom were younger than she was!) in one of the local towns, a short drive away.
She is now a regular bus rider and travels all over the counties of Sussex and Kent to visit different towns and shopping centres. Far from becoming a hermit, I now almost have to make an appointment to see my own mother!
So, it was on this lovely day that we sat down in the small Methodist chapel, resplendent in its gleaming white paint.
I recognised many of the folk in the congregation. Some I knew from years ago; the parents of some of my contemporaries, now aged, stooped, wrinkled and infirm. Some were my age, in their late fifties or early sixties and at least one nodded to me and smiled a greeting.
I joined in the hymns – somewhat unenthusiastically I admit. I have never been a great fan of Charles Wesley, and this service merely reinforced my views that he should have been taken away and summarily pecked to death by ducks for writing such appalling dirges.
I have more affinity with the happy, loud hymns created at Gospel churches. They seem to know how to really enjoy their worship.
The service was officiated by the incumbent vicar. His sermon gave me the inspiration to write this article.
His lesson was actually quite interesting and contained one very important quote. He was referring to the offertory, and he made the statement “you are only giving back a tiny fraction of what the Lord gave you”
This fragment of his sermon stuck with me, and my thoughts kept returning to it, unbidden throughout the following weeks.
Yes, for the comparatively paltry amount of a fiver, which is what I furtively chucked into the collection plate, I have always been on the upside of the equation. I am fortunate in so many areas of my life.
I am relatively fit and whilst I am no Einstein, I do have a reasonable level of intelligence and education. I hold down a good job, and as a result, I live in a nice house in a beautiful part of Southern England, surrounded by nature and enjoy a good standard of living.
I have been so privileged, that through my accident of birth, I was born into an age of good medicine and healthcare and into a temperate and civilised country.
In addition, the country in which I live, has a decent democratic society, with a generally compassionate and caring nature.
I could have so easily been born into poverty and disease, or a totalitarian society with brutal law enforcement, where there is no such thing as individual freedom or a free media and press.
What value could be placed on these fundamental privileges?
So, yes, the old padre was correct in his sermon.
My fiver, will hopefully go to aid those so desperately in need of it; medical relief in sub-Saharan Africa? a school in the slums of Brazil? clean water in the hinterlands of Tanzania?
It matters not where it goes. I do know that it will be sent where it is needed most – and hopefully will make a difference to someone’s life.
The following is a modified extract from my forthcoming hitherto unpublished autobiographical novel “Making Connections”
It was my fourth week at work, and my first day working with the phone installation team.
It was early October in 1975, and I was enjoying my new life as a Trainee Telecommunications Apprentice with Post Office Telecommunications, now metamorphosed into BT.
Based out of my home town of East Grinstead in West Sussex, I had an easy commute and was enjoying the mid-October weather, which was mainly dry and warm.
As I was only sixteen, I was still living at home and enjoying all of the comforts that Mum and Dad provided.
Getting up on this particular sunny morning, I showered and pulled on my Levis, a check shirt, and my jacket, and rushed downstairs to greet the world.
My dear old Mum, bless her, had prepared me a bowl of cereals, and gulping this down, I gave her a perfunctory peck on the cheek, grabbing my packed lunch as I rushed for the door.
Dragging my bike up the drive, I pushed and jumped astride it, nearly knocking down the neighbour’s nineteen-year-old daughter.
“Sorry!” I yelled over my shoulder, still accelerating down the cul-de-sac. Nice looking woman. Not interested in a kid of sixteen though, which was a shame as she was really hot.
The Telephone Engineering Centre was only just down the hill, right opposite my old school, and I zoomed down, eyes watering in the slipstream, arriving there within a few short minutes.
Swooping in through the open gates of the yard, I narrowly missed becoming a bonnet ornament for a bright yellow panel van which was just pulling out. Swerving, I dodged the truck, blasting through its sooty exhaust with inches to spare.
I carelessly rammed the front wheel of the bike into the rack, and snapped the chain around the wheel, locking it to the metal.
I noticed a door was ajar at the far end of the single-storey building, so, with a little trepidation, I walked down, and cautiously pushed the door open, and walked into the dimly lit interior.
“Ah…..you must be my new Youth in Training!”
I looked over to the corner, where the owner of the voice was seated – a slender man, in his mid-forties, whose mop of black unruly hair had been mercilessly bullied into a 1950s Tony Curtis style. On his lap, he was clutching a piece of equipment, whilst tightening something within it with a large, yellow handled screwdriver.
His rumpled tweed sports jacket was distorted by objects that had been rammed carelessly into the pockets, and his grey flannel trousers hadn’t seen a proper crease since 1953.
“Hello” I ventured, “I need to report to Mr Hudson”
“You’ve come to the right place then lad, as I’m Ben Hudson”
I shook his proffered hand, “nice to meet you Mister Hudson”
“It’s Ben” he chuckled, “no formality around here…..now, would you like some tea and toast?”
“Ben” I echoed. Bloody hell, a few short weeks ago, men of his age – my teachers at school, would have gone into meltdown had I addressed them in this way.
“Come on lad”, he said, placing the grey cased equipment onto the work bench, “Let’s go and grab some breakfast, and then we’ll head out.”
The restroom was full of sound – laughter, conversations, and odours of toast, coffee and cigarette smoke.
I followed Ben as he pushed his way to the kitchen counter, whereupon he dropped two slices of bread into the toaster.
Two minutes later, he passed me a plate with 2 slices of toast. “Butter is in the dish. We operate a tea swindle here which is 25p a week to cover tea, milk, bread and butter. Anything else you want, you buy yourself. You want to join, go and see Mitch, and he’ll put you on the list. Now, eat up because we have to get going.” So saying, he sluiced his plate under the tap and wandered out with his hands jammed into his pockets.
I hurriedly wolfed down the toast, and drunk the tea, (which I had to do really quickly to prevent the tannin from stripping the enamel from my teeth), then scurried after Ben, who was by now loading the back of his bright yellow Morris Ital van with plastic-wrapped phones, and cardboard boxes containing mysterious bits of equipment.
We got in, slamming the doors shut, and Ben drove us sedately out of the yard.
We meandered serenely through the sun-dappled lanes of West Sussex, the sleepy villages etching their historic lanes into my mind; Sharpthorne, West Hoathly, Danehill, Horsted Keynes, finally arriving in the small village of Scaynes Hill.
We parked up outside an elegant 17th century Manor House, with timber beams, and a patina of age on the whitewashed walls.
Grabbing a shrunk-wrapped telephone, a reel of cream cable and his leather tool bag from the back of the van, I followed Ben as we crunched our way up the gravel drive, with me clutching my small, virginal zip-up tool bag.
Knocking on the door, we stood in the porch, admiring the Elizabethan garden, resplendent in its autumnal colours. I idly wondered if they had a gardener.
At that moment the door was opened, revealing an elegant and stunningly attractive woman in her early thirties.
My eyes were immediately drawn to her magnificent breasts, snugly contained in a tight angora wool jumper.
My interest in her vaporised instantly as she spoke, haughtily, and with the arrogance that only the nouveau riche seems to have.
“I suppose you’re here to fit the phone….”
Ben glanced at me and agreed. “Maybe you can show us where you want it fitted? He asked.
She about turned, and strode off down the wood-panelled hall, nonchalantly indicating an open door on the left. “In there, on the window cill” she called without even giving us a further glance. I furtively watched her neat backside, as she sashayed off down the corridor.
We walked into the indicated room, which was bright, empty and airy, with a wood parquet floor. Ben smiled at me, and dumped his battered Gladstone bag on the floor, and tore open the cellophane packaging from the phone. Reaching into his bag, he tossed me the reel of cable and a small box of cleats.
Selecting a pin hammer from his bag, he explained to me “Secure the cable to the skirting board, using one cleat every pin hammer length. Put one cleat two inches from every corner you need to go around. Don’t nail through the cable. Got that?” I nodded. He continued “I’ll start in the hall. You do the room here. Leave me three foot of cable to hook the connector block to”
I gingerly unrolled a length of the cable, and commenced banging cleats in at the required spacing, managing to belt my thumb at least twice. I could hear the rhythmic thumping as Ben was cleating the cable to the skirting of the hall. He was moving at about three times my speed, so it wasn’t long before he appeared in the room with me.
He knelt down and started cleating as well. “Bit of a dry visit, this one” he murmured. “Snooty cow didn’t even offer us a tea” I grunted my response, and turned to see a small child, emptying the box of cleats over the floor.
Ben called through the open doorway to the boy’s mother, asking her to take him out of the room, as he was in danger of hurting himself.
She strode in, sweeping the child into her arms, and glared at us both as if it were our fault, before strutting out.
We turned back to our work, and I started hammering again. As I reached out to get another cleat, my hand struck something warm and wet. I looked around, and saw a Pekingese dog, snouting around in the cleat box.
I pushed it away, and it immediately nosed forwards and recommenced its snuffling. Ben also pushed it away, with the same result. He pushed it away – more firmly this time, but it was to no avail.
“Excuse me lady” he shouted down the corridor “Could you come and get your dog, it’s in the way”
There was no response from within the bowels of the house, so he called out again. Silence.
Heaving a sigh, he knelt back down, and once again started pushing the dog out of the way.
Each time it happened, he pushed the animal away more forcefully. I could see him beginning to lose his placid sense of humour. I smirked. It seemed that the dog wasn’t interested in me, so I knelt back down, and carried on bashing my thumb with the pin hammer.
I could hear Ben swearing at the dog, as once more it was interfering with his work. “Will you sod off!” I heard him exclaim. The dog didn’t sod off though, and it continued to push its nose just where Ben wanted to hammer.
I watched as this happened once more, and laughed as Ben finally lost control. He pushed the dog back, and as it advanced again, he tapped it smartly on the forehead, between the eyes, “for the last time, WILL YOU SOD OFF!”
The dog stopped in its tracks, froze, and rolled onto its back, quivered once, and then flopped over, immobile.
I looked at the dog. It’s chest wasn’t moving. “Christ Ben!” I exclaimed. “You’ve killed it!”
Ben looked shocked. “Nah. I probably stunned it. It’ll be ok in a minute”. I wasn’t sharing his optimism. The dog was dead. To make sure, I cocked my ear over its snout, and could detect no breathing.
“Ben……it’s definitely dead! Christ. What shall we do?”
My brain was already playing a film clip, featuring me getting the sack from an incandescently enraged manager.
“Don’t worry lad” said Ben, perking up. “I’ve got an idea”
He picked up the dead dog, slung it unceremoniously into his Gladstone bag, secured it closed, and said “follow me, and keep your mouth shut”
He yelled into the kitchen “Sorry love, we have to go back to the yard to get a tool. We will be back shortly”
A garbled response from the kitchen confirmed that she heartily disliked The GPO in general, and the Telecommunications division in particular, and bemoaning the quality of British working practices.
If only she knew.
We chucked Ben’s bag into the van, and we hurtled back to the yard in silence.
As we pulled into the yard. I asked “what tools do we need?”
Ben grinned, and said “A shovel lad”
Opening the back of his van, he passed me a large spade, and indicating the scrubby patch of woodland at the rear of the offices, he said. “Bury it”
“Bury it. Over there. Dig down two feet. Come on, hurry up. We need to get back. Consider it part of your training. Thinking on your feet!”
I miserably picked up the dog, which had already started stiffening up. I pushed my way into the bushes, and dug a hole, into which I placed it’s little corpse. I quickly shoveled the earth over it, and replaced the spade in the van.
Having completed my funereal task. We drove back to the customer’s house, and went back to wiring up the phone.
As we were finishing up, the woman came in, and cast her eye over our handiwork. “Does it work?” She asked, as if already convinced that it would be a major achievement if it did.
“Of course” replied Ben, as he nonchalantly started loading his tools back into his bag.
“Have you seen Lionel?” She asked
“Lionel?” We obviously both looked like drooling morons, as she explained to us slowly, enunciating each word slowly and precisely, as if to a six year old, that Lionel was her dog.
Ben furtively glanced at me, but we both shook our heads, as Ben innocently said “No, Madam, we haven’t seen a dog”
“Oh dear. I expected he got out when you went back to the yard. He’s probably in the woods by now”
“Without a doubt” I said, straight faced, looking at Ben. I could see he was trying very hard not to laugh.
“Yes, he likes to dig…..probably burrowing for rabbits”
“Oh yes…..I imagine He’s up to his neck in the mud” I said.
Ben had gone a strange colour, and was emitting constricted noises. I shuffled my feet, and said “Well…..cheerio then”
“Yes” she said, icily. “Goodbye”
She ushered us to the door, and with one final appreciative look at her wonderful chest, we were striding back down the drive to the van.
As we got into the van, Ben finally collapsed against the steering wheel, great guffaws of laughter filling the van.
“Oh my lord…..that was funny in an awful sort of way. Well done lad”. He wiped a tear from his cheek, and started the van, and we made our way back to the telephone exchange at Nutley for a cuppa and a bun.
And so ended my first day as an apprentice installing telephones in Sussex.
A few years ago, I had a bit of a weird experience.
It started in the deep midwinter pre-dawn. Trudging to the bus stop along a dark, bleak country lane. In the gleam of my torch, I could see that the landscape wore a cloak of crisp white hoar frost – frost that crunched satisfyingly under my highly polished boots.
Standing at the bus stop, I was suddenly struck by a great feeling of déjà vu. I was approaching my sixties, and yet I was instantly transported back about four decades.
Back then, I was a teenager, embarking on my career as a trainee technician apprentice for Post Office Telecommunications, now known simply as BT
The winter dawns when I started my commute to work were as cold and dark as this particular morning. I used to make the ten-minute walk to the sleepy East Grinstead railway station, my breath smoking around me as I strode along.
The 291 London Country Bus would normally be sitting at the bus stop, pumping huge clouds of greasy grey diesel smoke into the pre-dawn air. The bus was always numbingly cold. I often thought it was warmer outside than in, but I would be wrapped up in my thick coat, wearing a hat, and woolen gloves that my Mother had knitted me.
At around about 0630, the scheduled departure time, the driver would, if he felt so inclined, pull off rapidly, causing the tired suspension to creak and rattle loudly over the rutted and potholed rural roads.
Lurching alarmingly through quiet country lanes, the bus would stop in hamlets and villages, picking up weary sleep-drugged passengers, reluctantly pacing like automatons into their working days.
Stopping in the village of Ashurst Wood, my friend Katrina would board the bus. Wearing her ubiquitous duffle coat, she would wriggle her ampleness next to me on the seat, her figure disguised under the acres of blanket-like material. I would press against her, feeling her form against my arm, the tantalising press of her prominent bosom sending hormones scurrying around my brain like sex starved mice.
She would openly flirt with me, as the bus wheezed its asthmatic way up Wall Hill, and then we would grip the seat handles as the driver, whom I assumed to be having a psychotic episode, would plummet crazily down the steep hill towards the country town of Forest Row.
Next, we would pick up Darlene, the frizzy haired Aussie who brightened my mornings with her sunny disposition and shortly after, Stuart and Will.
Stuart and Will were as unalike as could be possible. Stuart was tall, and impossibly thin, with long, lank hair, and a quiet disposition.
Will was his alter ego – shorter, mop headed and rumbustious – he was the life and soul of any party.
Pulling into Colemans Hatch we would pick up Gary, who was urbane, dapper and a total eccentric by the age of seventeen, who would converse loudly in a wonderful upper-class drawl.
The bus would then wend its way through Hartfield, where we would collect Lisa and Penny, both of whom were taking a course in Nannying and Nursing at West Kent College.
Into Withyham, and on into Groombridge, for yet another snails crawl grind up Groombridge Hill, the driver disguising our position with the clever use of diesel exhaust smoke.
Langton Green next and then the slow crawl through the western outskirts of Tunbridge Wells.
By this time the bus was happily filled with a cacophony of voices, all competing for priority with the barely subdued roar of the ancient diesel rattling away at the back of the elderly dilapidated contraption.
As soon as the bus came to a stop at Tunbridge Wells Central, it would be an utter, mad, maniacal dash to cross the road, and get down the steps and onto the railway station platform in order to catch the 0840 train to Tonbridge.
The train was always packed, and I don’t think I ever got a seat on it. Back then, the entire carriage was full of commuters, the majority smoking and reading their newspapers in silence.
This was a complete contrast to my recent journeys on the train, where the carriage was still full of commuters, but hardly a paper in sight. Everyone was either texting on their phones, listening to music players or tapping away on a lap top or iPad. And not a cigarette or e-cigarette in sight.
Once at Tonbridge, I would join the meandering human crocodile of students heading for the Brook Street Campus.
By that time, I would be on my 5th or 6th cigarette. Players No 6, or Guards – or if I was feeling delicate, Consulate Menthol King Size.
I can’t believe how much I used to smoke in those days. I must have reduced my life expectancy by a huge amount. I have been clean now for thirty odd years, and I’m probably saving not only my life, but about £4,650 per year!
And now, here I was, standing at a bus stop in the same weather, and at the same time of day. The point of origin is different, as is the destination. The bus is now a modern single decker, with a fuel-efficient engine, and is relatively quiet. My fellow commuters look the same though, tired, cold, and longing for their warm beds, from which they were rudely prised by an insistent alarm clock scant minutes earlier.
It does appear, however, that across recent contemporary history, all bus drivers have been selected because of their underlying psychiatric tendencies. It must be a recruitment requirement. This driver was either colour blind, or had problems with authority, as we jumped at least two red traffic lights en-route to Reading Station.
This time, I was in no mad rush – I had left myself plenty of time to get to Central London. The concourse of the station was already thronged with travellers, muffled up against the chill.
I attempted to issue my ticket at the self-ticketing machine, but to no avail. I then realised that I was trying to obtain a South West Railways ticket from a First Great Western machine. Oh, the joys of technology and rail franchising.
Having queued for a ticket, I made my way to platform 8, and awaited the arrival of the First Great Western 0758 “service” to Paddington.
The train was bang on time, and I boarded, to find that my reserved seat already had a corpulent, sallow woman sitting in it. As there were a number of other vacant seats, I dropped into the nearest available and re-read my presentation notes.
Ah yes…. My presentation. I had been wrestling with the finer points of my presentation, and had worked late into the previous night getting the order right, and fine tuning the PowerPoint slides.
“You are required to give a fifteen-minute presentation on what you perceive as being the biggest challenges faced by the faculty of Engineering and Mathematics in relation to delivering course content that combines high quality technical content whilst acknowledging and embracing cultural diversity and inclusion”
I was applying for the Senior Lecturer vacancy at one of the large London universities but my obviously simplistic interpretation on reading the advert, was that I would be passing on my extensive knowledge and understanding to students within my specialisation of Heavy Commercial Aircraft Operations and Performance – but it seems that I would also need to be much more…sensitive.
Sighing, I closed the lid on my lap top, and reviewed my fellow passengers. Most were hard at work on open lap tops, and a few were mumbling intensely into mobile phones. Only a very tiny minority were conducting leisure activities such as reading a book, or a newspaper.
This would appear to be the modern work ethos. Travel to work whilst working. Then put in a ten or twelve hour day, and then work some more on the commute home. Fourteen hours a day, and get paid for eight.
I think my Father’s generation were the last to enjoy their commute; my dear old Dad became a very well-read man after commuting for two hours a day by train for sixteen years, and he would read just about anything from autobiographies to science fiction. I used to benefit from his addiction as he would frequently wander in to my room and toss a book to me, saying “Read that, I think you’ll like it”.
I always did like his recommendations…
As a young lad attending college, and travelling by train, I used to spend the journey gazing out of the window, watching the English country landscape whizz by in a blur. Or engaging in fantasies involving some of the elegant ladies on board. I used to often enjoy reading the discarded newspapers left by fellow commuters, and would avidly soak up the latest news.
It seems that now, the young are disconnected from reality whilst connected to their phones, and commuting is now part of the working day, rather than a brief respite for those that work for a living.
A long time ago, in a work environment far, far away….
The year was 1976. It was autumn, and I was in the second year of my apprenticeship with Post Office Telecommunications – or BT as it has now become.
The beginning of that September saw me transferred from Exchange Maintenance to the Overhead and Underground unit, or Poles and Holes as we called them. Apprentices were rotated through every specialist section of BT telecommunications, so that they are exposed to all aspects of the business.
So far, I had enjoyed working with Subsciber Installations, Planning, Exchange Construction and Exchange Mintenance. I really wasn’t looking forward to working at the industrial end of the business -especially not during the onset of winter!
On my first day of training with them, I strolled into the Telephone Engineering Centre in the sleepy West Sussex town of East Grinsead,
Opening my locker, I pulled my tool kit out, and whistling tunelessly, made my way into the restroom to grab some breakfast, and meet my mentors, before we set off into my next adventure.
I barged into the brightly lit rest room, which was noisy with laughter, and hazy with cigarette smoke. Damn – I just loved the smell of Old Holborn.
I poured myself a cup of tea from the enormous aluminium tea pot, gulping some down as I waited for my two slices of toast to pop. I had to quaff it reasonably quickly as it would have stripped the enamel from my teeth otherwise.
I used the opportunity to discretely assess my new team mates and trainers. In the far corner, sat a small and wizened man, whose leathery skin contrasted starkly with his silver-grey hair, which had been buzz cut to within 2 millimetres of his scalp.
He was chatting loudly with a man of simply enormous proportions, whose bulk leaked like decomposing blancmange into every crevice of the chair he was sitting in.
They were known to all as Laurel and Hardy. The smaller of the two was Jim Smith, and Mr. Blancmange was Bert Handy. I had heard through the grapevine, and from other apprentices, that they were both real characters, but Bert was also “A bit of a Perv.” Whether or not this would prove to be true remained to be seen.
I glanced again at the pair, and was rewarded to see Bert insert one large and grimy finger into his nostril, and enthusiastically start what looked like major excavation work. He didn’t even stop talking to Jim, who seemed oblivious of the fact that Bert was so avidly picking his nose.
So it was that I started this new and somewhat uninspiring part of my training.
My days consisted of driving out to some country lane, somewhere in the wilds of Sussex, looking for faults, or renewing spans of cable.
I had developed a simple routine to avoid the discomfort of wearing my armoured wellies all the time. I left my boots in the box section of the lorry, and simply sat on the bench, placing a foot into each wellie in turn.
The box section of the van contained all that a crew needed to perform its duties, from cables, joints, s calor gas burner, a bench with a vice and a whole spectrum of tools on racks on the inner walls.
The job was frequently a messy one, as the cables were filled with a vaseline type grease to prevent water penetrating the cable. When this was cut, or we were crimping joints together, this messy stuff would get everywhere.
The company had thoughtfully provided hand cleaner, and a couple of large pans for cleaning purposes. They were large and had a long wooden handle – for all the world like a Wok on steroids.
I had been soundly berated a few days after joining the section for preparing hot water for hand washing in the red handled pan. To be fair, I hadn’t been told otherwise.
It seems that the pan with red insulating tape wound round the handle was NOT used for hand washing, but for relieving oneself when working away from public lavatories. such as residential roads, and parts of town centres that had no public conveniences.
Everytime one of the lads needed to go, they would simply discretely climb into the back of the truck, use the red handled pan, and then empty this into the gutter, sluicing it away with water from the jerry cans on board.
So, cutting a long story short…
Once Laurel and Hardy got to know me, they used to fool around and joke.
On this particular morning, they were both very quiet, and I picked up an air of supressed anticipation.
I found out about this, when I sat dowm, popped my size nines into my wellies, stood up, and then face planted myself on the floor.
The rotten sods had screwed my wellies to the floor of the truck!
Oh, how I laughed.
Now, I am not a venegful person by any means, but my nose took a bit of damage in the incident, which caused much mirth and hilarity back at the yard. However, every dog has his day, and I planned my retaliatory mission with care.
The next day, we bumped and groaned our way into the back lanes around Hartfield, eventiually parking up not far from the place where A.A. Milne wrote the Winnie The Pooh stories.
Without delay, we set about locating the fault, and preparing the new piece of cable.
Bert straightened up, and slowly made his way back to the van, whilst Jim and I carried on crimping connectors onto the cable.
I watched as Bert climbed the steps and disappeared into the van, closing the door behind him.
I mentally counted…
“One, two three…” I reckoned it would take about six seconds. “four, five, six, seven….. ARGGGHHHH – You bastards!”
He came rocketing out of the van with the pan in his hand, slopping liquid everywhere. He bent and emptied it into the gutter, and advanced up the road in a very threatening manner.
His overalls had a horizontal wet line running across his upper thighs – in fact he appeared to be soaked in a broad stripe about two inches wide.
It’s amazing what a 1/16th drill can do if applied to a red-handled pan in a circular fashion.
Jim just looked at me. “You nutty bugger!”
Bert was still fuming by lunchtime, but I think he forgave me later, when his overalls had dried out.
There is a further episode to this ongoing battle of wits (or should I say half-wits) but that willl have to wait for another time.