The British calendar can be a complicated affair sometimes. Sure, some holiday dates are fixed. Christmas Day and Bonfire night, for example, are always on the 25th December and 5th November. Other dates are fixed-ish. May Day is rarely on 1st May, unlike pretty much everywhere else in the world, but as it is always on the first Monday in May. It’s not too hard to work out. Then there are the variable date holidays. Easter falls sometime Continue reading “Summer Lottery”
Pay day on the railway is, like much of the actual transport system itself, still beholden to antiquated practices of yesteryear. I am paid on a four weekly basis rather than a calendar monthly basis. It took me a while to work out whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. Ive come to a conclusion. Actually, I came to a conclusion a long time ago. It’s a great thing. Here’s why.
- Pay days are equally spread throughout the year, with exactly the same length of time between wage packets. It’s nice to have a regular and dependable pay day. I no longer hold a grudge against January, March, May, July, August, October or December for having the cheek to have 31 days.
- I’m less likely to go overdrawn at the bank. All my bills are paid monthly, but my pay check arrives a couple of days earlier each month, which means by the time I’m running out of cash at the end of the calendar cycle, my employers have topped up my coffers.
- That sinking feeling when you have an expensive weekend ahead. And pay day this month falls on the Monday. Yeah, I don’t have that anymore.
- Being paid four weekly means that I get 13 pay days per year instead of twelve. So once a year, I have a spare pay check to spoil myself with!
But there’s one more thing. Today. Leap Day. An extra day inserted into the calendar once every four years. I’m at work today, and being paid for my efforts. Unlike everyone on a calendar monthly pay day cycle. You’re working today for free. I know, how much does that suck? As if it isn’t already bad enough having to be at work on a Monday. And now I’ve come along and pointed out that you’re working it for free. Gratis. Poor nada. Man, it sucks to be you. 🙂
I’ve completed three months of service in my new job and, as is the process of my employer, I’ve recently had my three month review. How did it go? We’ll get to that later. Firstly, I’ll give a three month review of my employer. Finding a job you enjoy is tough work. I’ve been trying to get my foot in on the trains for several years, and there were a three or four unsuccessful interviews before I finally cracked it. I’ve struck lucky with this job – it is the best of the bunch that I’d applied for. I’m a relief ticket office clerk.
In short, this means I cover shifts across a stretch of line when the normal clerk is on holiday or sick. I like the variety. I like the early mornings too. Some days I’ll need to be out of the house by 5am. I’m not a fan of waking up that early. But once up, it’s nice to have the world to myself for a couple of hours.
I enjoy the face to face interaction with customers too. It’s a significant improvement on dealing with them at the end of a telephone, as was the case at my last employer. Of course, you get the occasional upset customer. But most are happy to have someone help them through the confusing minefield that is the rail ticketing system.
I like the pay too. It’s another significant improvement compared to my last employer. Well paid overtime combined with various allowances meant that I got paid more in ‘extras’ last month than I’d have previously been paid for an entire month’s worth of labour.And of course, I’ve joined the union. I’m probably a little bit to the right, politically speaking, of most of my comrades. But I do reap the reward in pay and terms that comes with working in a unionized industry. It’s only right that I contribute my dues.
My employer runs a tight ship. But they are realistic in their demands. There are no threats or scowls when an honest mistake is made. There’s recognition that we’re all human. Mistakes happen. Just don’t make the same mistake over and over and over again. That’s a fair request and one I can deliver. It’s a tightly run ship and my ship mates act as a team. Once more, an improvement over my last employer.
Then there are the travel perks. And they are truly bountiful. Not every clerk makes full use of them. I shall. It works like this. I get free travel on the network I am employed by. I also get free travel on another network that is also owned by my employer. I also get a coupon allowing 5 lots of free travel over a 48 hour period on a third network that is majority owned by my employer. The other networks? I have a card which entitles me to a 75% discount on all other rail travel. After a years service, I’ll also get discounted travel on Eurostar and around much of the EU. Best of all, whatever I get, Mrs P also gets, as my spouse. Although she is limited to leisure travel only.
We’ve already been to Edinburgh for a weekend away. I’d never been to Scotland before and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Edinburgh is a magnificent city. We’ll go back next summer. We shall take the Caledonian Sleeper up to Fort William via Glasgow and return via Edinburgh. In between time, we have trips to York, Axminster, Exter, Birmingham and Liverpool planned. I shall make the most of my travel perks.
I’m very happy with my new job, in case I’d left any room for doubt. The good news is that my review suggested that they are equally as happy to have me there. Sure, the overtime, extra cash and many places to see does mean I have less time to do some other things – such as blogging. Such is life, it’s a small sacrifice. If you’d like to see the full set of photos from Edinburgh then, as usual, just click here.
My first proper job was in the newspaper trade. Distribution, to be precise. I was thirteen years old and armed with a BMX bike, ready to drop the daily rag of choice through assorted letter boxes on my route. I was an excellent paperboy, even if I do say so myself. Some of my colleagues rode their bikes from door to door. Others walked. I did it differently to everyone else. My bike just held me up, so I ran. I had the longest route, but was always first back to the shop. I used to run everywhere, not just on my paper round. I ran to school, I ran round friends houses. I was a decent cross country runner. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I learned to walk until I was about 18 and a couple of years into a smoking habit. Fortunately, I have never had a problem with body odour. Just as well, as I spent most of my youth soaked in sweat.
I had a couple of other jobs before leaving school. I worked at a flashy restaurant on Saturday evenings called Natalia’s, taking customers coats and serving baskets of bread. I was, I admit, useless. I could never quite match the customer to their coats when they wanted to leave. I only just about managed the bread bit. It lasted just a few weeks. I also worked at a Wimpy, just a stones throw from Natalia’s. The pay was £1 per hour, terrible even back then. It could be argued that this is the only job I have ever been fired from. The owner didn’t speak perfect English, and appeared to misunderstand me when I called up one Saturday afternoon, before the start of my shift, to inform him I was not coming in again.
Sometime towards the end of the 80’s, now aged 16, I decided I’d had enough education thank you very much* and I entered the full time work place with WH Cullens, a posh convenience store. I spent a few years working at various branches around London. Northwood, Balham and Gloucester Road in South Kensington. I spent the majority of my time with a manual pricing gun, re-ticketing the stock on a daily basis in a desperate attempt to keep up with inflation. I have fond memories of my time there. After Cullens, I embarked on the shortest job of my career to date at Mrs Ts Kosher Delicatessen. Four hours into my new role, I discovered that bacon and brie baguettes were taboo and that this place was not, therefore, for me.
Next stop, the Royal Mail. I landed myself a reasonably good job for someone who had not one qualification to put on anon existent resume. I was a postman, and I was very happy. Until my first shift started. I imagined that if I’d been a good paperboy, I’d make a good postman. Alas, I was not only a few years into my smoking habit by now, but I’d also discovered alcohol. Late nights out boozing do not mix with 4.30 am starts. At all. I gave it a good go though. I’d diligently pop the envelopes for number one into the property marked number one. Then I did numbers three, five, seven etc. And then I’d be stood at the end of the road, with no more houses to visit, still with envelopes for numbers fifty-three, fifty-five and fifty-seven. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I got to the end of a street only to find it was the wrong street. And then there was the episode with the dead rat in my cycle basket.
It all came to a crunching end one day when, having exited a lock-in just an hour before my shift, I was simply unable to read the addresses on the envelopes as I was sorting them. I pretended I could read them and just popped them into slots at my sorting desk at random, hoping nobody would notice the state I was in. Having done that, it occurred to me that I now had to deliver this jumbled up bundle of mail. I accepted that being a postman was, at this stage in my life, not for me.
I slipped out the door when no one was looking, caught a bus home and went to bed. Never to darken the Royal Mail’s door again. Much to the relief of everyone on my round. I was an absurdly bad postman. I also found it a bit freaky to be delivering letters from one of my best school friends to his mum’s house. The letters originated from a prison on the Isle of Wight, where he was serving a life sentence for double murder.
Job number seven lasted longer than the kosher deli. Marginally. I had arrived in Dorset, and set about to find the first bit of work I could. Strawberry picking. I kept up a good pace, but it’s harder work than it looks. I earned almost enough to cover the bus fare. Almost. I didn’t go back for a second day. Instead, I found a temporary job in a shiny, newly built Sainsburys supermarket, filling shelves.
These days, I pay to go strawberry picking. It’s surprisingly expensive given that I’m doing the labour.
After which, I went to a local tea and coffee factory, packing tea bags into boxes and coffee into jars. Let me tell you how this works. It is one hell of a dusty environment, and it gets in every exposed orifice. Mostly you mouth and nose. The only paper available to blow your nose on is the paper feeding into the machine to make teabags. The only place to dispose of retrieved bogeys is in the coffee jars. Ok, it’s not the only place, but it was the preferred dumping ground for a fair number of my minimal** wage colleagues. Something to think about when you next brew up….
That lasted three months. That’s all anybody lasted at that place. You go on a three month temp contract, at the end of which the company has to either employ you permanently or find a reason to let you go. I worked hard and was given a perm contract***, but then I foolishly asked for a day off to enrol on a part-time college course. They questioned my commitment and my time with them ended with the expiry of my temp contract. The decision was a mutual one.
I was back in work within days, at the local Texaco service station. The year was 1996. I remained employed with Texaco for just a couple of months short of ten years. There were two breaks. The first in 1999 for about a month, when I made an ill fated attempt to kick start a career with the Royal Air Force. It may have lasted less than a month, but I still like to include it on my CV. Just without mentioning the start and finish dates. Then in 2003 I took off to Mexico for several months, before returning for another year and a half. At the end of which I took off to Mexico. Again.
This, I guess, brings me up to date with this blog. Which recorded the six years I spent teaching English. I’d like to think I was an ok English teacher. A little lazy at times, I know. I winged it a bit in the early days. But I think most of my students saw a noticeable improvement in their language skills. I think****. Which is the point. I guess.
I departed Mexico and returned to the UK. Shall we include the three weeks I did at one of my old Texaco petrol stations upon landing back in Blighty? Might as well. It lasted longer than the kosher deli and strawberry picking put together. But it was just a stop gap, until I got a proper job. Which was as an inbound sales advisor at one of Bournemouth’s many home insurance firms. Where I’ve been for the last four years and a few months, although I got a role in Quality Assurance some time ago. Manning the phones is soul destroying stuff, it really is. What else can I say about my time here? Nothing, yet. I am still an employee, after all. It’s always bad form to bad mouth an employer who is still paying your wages.
But I never wanted to be in insurance. What do I want? I want a career that pays a salary that’s above the average UK salary. I want a career with decent travel benefits. I want a final salary pension. I want the opportunity to progress. Despite my haphazard and slightly delinquent start to working life, I generally work hard. And I’d like to think I’m smarter than the average Joe. Progression is important. I also want to wear a company uniform. It’s just easier, and I can claim tax back for cleaning it myself.
I’ve known for some time where I’ll get all of that. I’ve been trying to get myself in through the door, all to no avail. I’d hoped third time would be lucky when I went for an interview last September. It wasn’t, although I got to meet Steve Cotton on the trip up to London. Happily, fourth time was the lucky one for me. I have my job. I start in just over a week. I’d like to think it’s a job for life, but one should never count on such a thing these days. Where am I off to now? I have gotten myself a job on the trains. From paperboy through to train worker, via retailing, postman, oil company, education. Not, though, with London Underground, the recipients of my first three applications*****. But a proper train company. Which, as you should all know, is every British schoolboys dream.
On my way to the interview.
*In hindsight, probably not the best decision. But hey ho. ** These were the days before there was a minimum wage. And no, I didn’t blow on the tea paper. Nor dump in the coffee jars. *** Seriously, it was like I’d pulled a Golden Ticket from a Wonka chocolate bar. **** Do I still have any old students reading my blog? You can be the judge of my teaching skills… ***** I kept trying to jump on the ladder a few rungs higher up than perhaps I should have.
…then, wait for 15 to 20 years. Then, and only then, have another pop at it. You might at first think I’m referring to my efforts at blogging. It’s been ages since I have crafted some digital bits and bytes for this corner of the interweb. Since my last effort, there’s been a general election, Sepp Blatter has been re-elected and resigned. The 10 year anniversaries of Liverpool wining the Champions League, and my arrival in Mexico have been and gone. There’s been a new version of Lightroom released. And new versions of Flickr and Google Photos. I’ve had inspiration and potential content aplenty. I’ve not alas, had the time. And it’s not been decades since I last wrote, either. Although I suspect that May 2015 is the first full calendar month that I’ve failed to write a single thing for a decade.
But let’s get to the point. In 1995, I left London and moved about 100 miles south west, settling on a farm in the Middle of Nowhere, Dorset. The nearest bus stop was 2 miles away, but lacked any sort of regular bus service. The nearest real town was about 8 miles away. And all I had to get me from A to B was a twenty to thirty year old pedal bike*.And get me from A to B it did. Not very quickly, not always in a clean and dry state, and sometimes with stops for puncture repairs. But it got me to work. And for that, I thank it.
Needless to say though, I desired a more comfortable mode of transport that provided a greater degree of protection from the elements. So I got myself a provisional license, took a bunch of lessons, passed the driving theory test and then took the practical test. Which I failed. Three times. I won’t bore you with the deep injustice of those failures. Or the loathing I still have for the miserable examiner who sat in on all three tests. If karma exists, he was run over and….oh, let’s just say I don’t like him. I’m still a little bitter.
I abandoned the idea of driving a car and settled for the more easily attainable CBT, which allowed me to ride motorbikes up to 125cc. I got a bike, indeed I went through several over the years, and gained motorised mobility. If not weather protection. We can’t have it all. But my scooters had their advantages. I cut through traffic in rush hour like a knife through butter. And I was never the designated driver on a night out.
But times change. Mrs P was never sold on the idea of riding pillion. So I revisited the concept of four wheeled transport. A couple of months back I took my driving theory test. Again. I took a couple of driving lesson. Again. I took my practical driving test. Again. This time I passed. I’d have been disappointed had I not, to say the least. In the years since my last effort, I’ve had more than a decade worth of road experience on my bikes, and I drove a car in Mexico for years. In fact, quite frankly, I think that driving a car in Mexico City and surviving should automatically qualify a driver for a full license, no test needed.
With my new license in hand, we went car shopping. We knew pretty much what we wanted – an automatic Mazda 3, low mileage, no more than 8 years old. There’s not a huge range of them to choose from, so choosing was fairly easy. And below you can see the newest member of the family. She drives very nicely, returns about 38-40 mpg and is a comfortable ride. We’re very happy with her. With a little luck, she’ll take us on new adventures, to places beyond those easily served by public transport. And I’ll report it all here. Maybe…
The Castle was as traditional a London pub as you could wish to find. Late Victorian, the exterior had a green and white facade, colourful blooms flowing over the edges of a half dozen hanging baskets and an interior boasting many original interior features. Including the characters that kept the pub in business. There’s Martin the Telly. He dealt in stolen televisions when he wasn’t not pulling pints. Everyone knows him as Martin the Telly. Including the local constabulary. Not a good thing. His annual vacations went on longer than most.
Irish Paul played Sax. His dad, Murphy the landlord, played accordion. Picking a fight with either of them was a bad decision that would ruin your Friday night. They weren’t to be messed with. They’d both play a good bit of marimba on your ribs with the leg of a bar stool if the occasion called for it. As a general rule of thumb, never antagonise anyone called Murphy in London. Mary would patrol the bar, fag in mouth, coaxing coins from punters in aid of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Whether or not any of the guide dogs ever saw the cash remains unknown.
Then there was Dick the Brick. In a pub full of life’s bad decisions, Dick pulled rank when it came to making a poor choice. But he was an amiable sort. A raconteur. Every pub has a Dick. You’ll find him, all hours, propping up one end of the bar. Red cheeked, often the worse for wear by evenings end. But always good for a funny tale. Dick had served in the navy when he was younger and had plenty of fishy sounding tales to tell. His sole piece of action came against Icelandic fisherman in the infamous Cod War. So his tales are fishier than most. But the navy didn’t suit him. He bored easily. So off he went to the merchant navy. Which soon bored him too. He decided the life of a land lubber was for him and did a course in brick laying.
By all accounts, he did a decent job when he put his mind to it. Which wasn’t often. His mind was, he decided, better off pickled with the local draught in the Castle. He spent more time propping up the bar than he did supporting his wife. Bad decision. She left him. Still, Dick dreamed big. One day, upon hearing that an old best friend had passed on, Dick packed up and went to Glasgow. The only decent thing to do would be to step into his old friend’s shoes and take on his wife and child as his own. It would be a turning point in his life. A new beginning.
His grand plan did not, alas, go down well with the recently widowed lady. She sensibly declined his generous offer and sent him packing back to London. It was a nice gesture by Dick, but one made through an alcoholic delusion of grandeur. There was no new beginning for Dick. He went back to the Castle and drowned his sorrows. He made another life changing decision. The bell for last orders came and went, he drained the last drops from the bottom of his glass and Dick stumbled back home. He opened the door at the third attempt and stepped over the piles of clutter than lay about over his floor. He picked up his old tool bag, and slumped down in his saggy old armchair.
He unzipped the bag. The interior of his tool bag was undoubtedly the cleanest thing in the flat. But then, it hadn’t seen the light of day in a while. Inside the bag he found what he was looking for. He clicked it open, placed the blade to his throat, just under his left ear. With one swift, determined, forceful movement, he pulled the knife across his throat. He gasped as the shock of the incision registered. He gasped again for air as blood flowed down his windpipe. Did he gasp a third time, as he wondered to himself… had he made yet another bad decision? We’ll never know. Dick’s life no doubt flashed briefly through his mind as his life quickly spilled away onto the fabric of his well worn chair. Briefly, because his life was brief. Dick was but 50 years old.
Dick was quickly missed. Takings at the pub take a hit when someone like Dick goes awol. Two days later, the police and a few regulars bust into his flat and found his blood soaked corpse. There was no note. None needed. Everyone knew Dick’s story, and it’s the sort of story that has a predictably sad ending. His funeral was attended by his pals from the Castle. He was missed. Later, a group of them bought him a bench. To remember him by.
The story is fifty per cent true. Maybe sixty per cent. I never met Dick the Brick. But I sat on his bench for a while to rest at the weekend. I wondered how many Dick the Bricks could there be? I Googled him.With success. And let my imagination fill in the gaps. I like the little memorials on benches. There’s a story behind every one of them. Sadly, the plaque is just a tease and the story is hidden from view. Usually. Not so for Dick the Brick.
It gave me an idea. Why don’t these plaques contain a scannable Q code that leads to a memorial web page? After all, most people these days will park their backsides on a bench and spend a few minutes staring at their screen. Perhaps I should pitch this on the Dragons Den.
Old photos keep popping up. Here’s a triple feature, with what is surely the oldest photo I will ever post. That will be the black and white one. Of course. It’s a photo of three or four generations. It was all explained to me, but I’ve forgotten. The babe is arms? That’s my grandad. I introduced him to the blogging world just a few weeks ago. His presence helps date this photo to the mid 1920’s. There was a date on the back of the photo, providing a birthday sometime in 1893 for the gentleman in the shot, my great grandfather. I suspect the oldest lady was plodding around London whilst Abraham Lincoln was sat on his throne in Washington.
Twelve months short of 70 years later, I appeared on the scene. Do you like those collars? They date this photo. Very much the 1970s. The decade of cursed fashion. But fashion can be replaced. Hereditary curses are harder to fix. See that feeble and clearly unsuccessful effort to form a side parting? It doesn’t work. I have a widow’s peak and need to look no further than my grandfather when seeking the culprit.
I also have two crowns. I don’t know who to point the finger at for those. If my hair is a certain length, I’ll wake in the morning with two devilish looking hair horns. So I try and keep my hair short. The net downside to all this is that I don’t/can’t have a hairstyle, per se. The side parting was soon abandoned for the ‘look’ as featured in the bottom photo. I’m sure you can pick me out by now.
But every cloud has a silver lining. A non-hairstyle is awfully easy to manage. Wash, towel dry, pat down, hit the streets. I don’t remember when I last used a comb. I’m guessing some time in the 1970s, shortly before that photo was taken…
The last century has seen a number of dates immortalised and seared into the public consciousness. The most recent pair would be 9/11 and 7/7. Dates that symbolise graves events that changed the world. But neither of them, nor any others, can quite match the importance of 11.11.11. I mean, it’s so important, the digits list not just the date and month, but the hour too.
Remembrance Day. Armistice Day. Veterans Day. Call it what you will, it is the day that nations stop and remember their fallen servicemen. This year has greater import than normal. It’s a hundred years since World War I began. The war to end all wars. Except, it didn’t turn out that way, did it.
I often think that the day might be more productively spent remembering the likes of Asquith, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Tsar Nicholas II, Franz Joseph and the Kaiser. And all the other political and military leaders that have since sent troops to their unnecessary and untimely deaths in battle. The foot soldiers themselves are memorable only for their unfortunate habit of running into bullets and blasts. Moments that they themselves would probably rather forget. Well, I guess they did just that, fairly instantly…
Perhaps we never learn from history, because we spend too much time looking at the wrong stories. I don’t wish to take anything away from the undoubted bravery of Britain’s fighting men, but there’s a part of me that can’t help but feel that any man or woman who has signed up to join the army, navy or air force in the last few decades has done so in the full knowledge that they are more likely to be sent to fight an immoral war in someone else’s country than to defend the motherland.
And yet, for all that, we do need a military force. Someone has to sign up. We have to trust in our governments decisions when it comes to armed conflict, and cross our fingers each time that this will be one of the more justifiable sorties. I guess there are 364 other days of the year to point fingers at the warmongers .
We went to the Tower of London this year, to see the vast swathe of ceramic poppies filling the moat. The display is now complete. More than 800,000 red dots, each signifying a British life lost. It’s an impressive sight, if impressive is the right word. Does it do justice to the scale of the conflict? I’m not sure. Previously, the losses seemed unfathomable. Hard to grasp. Unthinkable. Now we have a visual display that perhaps, somehow, makes the concept of 800,000 dead people a more manageable concept.
There were hymns being played. Militaristic hymns. Tunes that have been played down the decades and centuries. The state egging on the soldiers to war, assuring them that there’s a god on their side. That there is a moral justification for killing the enemy infidels. That’s an aspect of our culture that seems to be either missed or glossed over. Of course, when it’s a religiously brain washed foreigner charging to the chant of another god, we notice.
It’s kinda funny. Humans are far more similar than they are different. Even in their ability to perceive or create differences and their desire to snuff out those on the other side. Even now there are objections to any German joining in with a Remembrance Day service. Ignorant of the fact that war and division don’t end wars. Peace and unity ends war. Such is life.
Click here to see the full set of photos on Flickr.
The number 42, or μβ to my Greek friends, is a funny old number. Aside from being a pronic, abundant and sphenic number it is also the third primary pseudoperfect number. It is also the perfect score on the US Math Olympiad and the maximum number of points one can obtain in an International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.
The fastest way to cross the planet? Drill a hole through the earth, suck all the air from the tube you’ve created and allow gravity to do its thing. The journey time? It will take you precisely 42 minutes. It’s an unlucky number in Japan, because it sounds too much like ‘unto death’. Which is exactly what might occur if you did decide to do that free fall journey through the earth.
It’s also a bit of a religious number, is 42. There were 42 Egyptian gods and goddesses, 42 generations in Matthews’ Genealogy of Jesus and according to Revelations the Beast will hold dominion over the earth for 42 days. Not forgetting the Gutenburg Bible, aka the 42 Line Bible. Each page consisted of 42 lines, you see. Will the number 42 get you to heaven? I don’t know. But it can get you to the moon. It’s easy. Just take a piece of paper. Any old piece of paper. Now, fold it in half 42 times. Your piece of paper will reach to our lunar friend. Seriously.
Did you know that the only jersey number retired by all Major League baseball teams is the number 42 shirt? Unless its Jackie Robinson day, April 15, in which case everyone wears a shirt with the number 42 on it. There was once an episode of Doctor Who titled ’42’ that lasted, would you believe, a total of 42 minutes. Lewis Carroll was positively obsessed by the number 42, littering his work with the digits for no apparent reason.
You might well be beginning to think I’ve come down with a bit of 42 fever today too. But there is a point to all this. Today is my birthday. Can you guess how old I am? That’s right, I’m 32. I wish. Obviously, I am in fact 42. It’s not an otherwise important milestone. So I’ve had to justify the number 42 with some pretty tenuous, but entirely genuine, facts and figures.
But perhaps it should be a big day. After all, 21 is something of a biggie. And this is the second time I’ve passed 21 years. I remember my 21st. A night in the pub drinking ciders spiked with vodka. It was a good night, which finished without being arrested, hospitalised or projectile vomiting. To be fair, in the UK, this probably amounts to an unsuccessful 21st birthday celebration.
But most importantly of all, I am sincerely hoping that this will be the year that I will finally understand the question. I know the answer. The answer, of course, is 42. And it makes perfect sense that this will be the year I am enlightened. What is the damned question??
In short, not as much cash as I’d like. But the reality is, I rarely have any cash any more. This isn’t a poverty issue. This is a plastic issue. All my wonga is held in the two debit cards in my wallet. And in an emergency I have two MasterCards and a Visa credit card to spend the money I don’t (yet) have. But this isn’t a post about cash or credit cards. It’s about all the rest of the stuff that pads my wallet into a pocket bursting brick of plastic.
So let’s see what we got here. A Tastecard for 2for1 dining. A PayPal MasterCard that I’ve never used, but might do one day. A House of Fraser loyalty card, used once. But it has some points on it now, so I’m reluctant to chuck it, even though I know the points probably barely add up to a pack of Polos. My Odeon cinema loyalty card does get used. There’s a Waitrose, Tesco and Nectar card. My National Trust membership card. My Next store card. My driving license. A Subway points card, my Oyster card to use the London Underground and a Costa Coffee loyalty card for those essential caffeine breaks.
Oh, and a Gala casino members card in case I want to gamble away all the money I don’t have. There’s a Carnaby Street card with a map of the Underground on it. And a crisp £1 note. Yes, a note. Really. I still have one. I’m that tight. There’s a packet of six second class stamps in there to reinforce that point. A pair of vouchers for discount Subways and cinema tickets. This is my lightweight wallet. It just about fits all 20 cards (plus a couple of pics of Mrs P) uncomfortably in my back jeans pocket. In my drawer at home is my grown up wallet with another multitude of cards.
For the love of <your chosen deity>, will someone please invent a single card that one can load all these other cards on to. Pretty please. Sitting on a solid wedge of plastic is a right pain in the bum.
Once upon a time I wanted to be a palaeontologist. I must have been 11 or 12. I liked dinosaurs, I liked digging holes in the ground and I liked puzzles. I also felt that having any sort of career with ‘ologist’ at the end could only be a good thing. There was also the sadist in me, looking forward to taunting people who couldn’t spell the word palaeontologist. I never did become a palaeontologist. It turned out that one needed to study for more years than I was prepared to do and that I only liked digging holes so deep. I’ve also discovered that some ologists, some as scientologists, are not such a great thing. And computers came along with their dastardly auto correct spelling feature dashed my hopes of faulting my friends spelling.
I moved on to a new dream. I wanted to join the Royal Navy. It was more realistic, offered the chance to see the four corners of the world and is traditionally a very sound career choice for a 17 year old Brit. I sent off for my application pack, filled it out, stuffed it in the envelope and per chance went on a sea fishing trip before I got to post them. I was very sea sick. Not a little, but very. I didn’t feel right for two weeks and couldn’t fish on a canal without getting nauseous for two years. I didn’t step on another boat for about fifteen years, until a trip in Nicaragua. Most people get their sea legs after a few days or weeks. Some, like Charles Darwin, are simply ill for the full duration. Which boat would I be in? I didn’t want to find out. I never did join the Royal Navy.
But I still have a fascination for the Royal Navy. I recently went to see the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Portsmouth. There are a lot of naval museums and ships in Portsmouth. I’d already seen HMS Victory and HMS Warrior. But not the Submarine museum, and seeing as they’ve just recently opened their all new, prize exhibit – well, it seemed worth the trip. The exhibit is HMS Alliance, the last remaining British submarine from World War Two.
The museum is also home to Britain’s first ever submarine, a diminutive and rather rusted little undersea demon. You can venture inside both subs. HMS Alliance is an impressively complicated beast, with pipes, handles, dials and switches from floor to ceiling along its entire length. You’re welcomed aboard by a uniformed and suitably bearded old sailor who once called the boat home. It’s nice to have a short introduction and explanation of life aboard a boat by someone who actually served on it.
Submarines are notoriously cramped creatures of the deep. It wasn’t quite as cramped as I had assumed. Sure, there were plenty of opportunities for me to whack my skull on metal, but I could stand up straight with a few inches to spare. But life as a submariner was never my cup of tea. In the end I switched allegiances to the RAF, and did actually manage to get in. Although that was not a long lived career choice either. I have plenty more photos on Flickr of the submarine and Portsmouth, of course. Just click here.
If ever you have the chance to visit the Submarine Museum, you’ll need to catch a boat across the harbour. There is a free waterboat on offer to ticket holders, but you must have a ticket for the entire Historic Dockyard. A simple Submarine museum ticket will not do. The boat runs hourly and is often full. My suggestion, regardless as to whether or not you have the full ticket, would be to catch the Gosport Ferry that is near the train station. It isn’t free, but for £3.10 you get a return ticket on a more spacious vessel that runs every 7 and a half minutes at peak times, every 15 minutes off peak.
My dreams of being a palaeontologist, Royal Navy seaman and RAF air traffic controller were never fully realised. I did fulfil one dream though, and lived abroad teaching English for a few years. Some dreams do come true. But reality is what it is. I never dreamt of a career selling home insurance to the over 50’s.
How is Mexico better than the UK, asked no one ever. Well, there’s the weather. And the food. And the chicas. And the friendly faces. And especially the weather. And the fresh fruits. And the racists, too. Let’s big it up for the Mexican racists. They don’t, quite frankly, get the credit that they deserve. How so are Mexican racists better than UK racists, you might wonder. Well, I have no scientific proof, empirical evidence or hearsay to offer. Just personal experience.
I have been the ‘victim’ of racial abuse twice. The most recent episode happened just a couple of hundred metres from home, a week or so ago. I had seen the chap loitering about Westbourne, earlier. White, shaven headed, casual attire, chunky set of headphones stuck on his head. He looked a bit spaced out. Looks can be deceiving. Our conversation was more than simply ‘spaced out’.
Are you English?
Errr…(wondering where this is going)..yes.
No, you’re not.
I’m pretty sure I am.
No you’re f*****g not, are you!
Ok. But actually I am.
There was a strange pause. Where does the conversation go from here? I shrugged and decided to let him finish it with himself, and carried on walking. A moment later I heard him launch into a tirade of colourful language, with the gist being that I should go home to my own country. It was utterly surreal. For those who might be passing this way for the first time, I should qualify, or rather disqualify, his ham fisted attempt at racial profiling. I am white, 6 foot tall, blue/grey eyes, fair haired and when my skin does have any colour to it, after a little too much sun, you would most definitely associate the tone with English Lobster Red. I was born in London to parents born in London to grandparent born in London and so on. I have an unmistakeably English accent.
How did my racist friend get it so wrong? One can only assume that he’d made up his mind that I was a Polish or other European immigrant and felt it unnecessary to remove those bulky headphones in order to confirm his initial prejudice by actually listening to my responses. In the industry of racial ignorance and hatred, the bar for membership is already set pretty low. This guy dropped it on the floor. Dang, he buried it.
Once upon a time in Mexico, I was asked by a homeless chap for some pesos. I had none. After I had walked a safe distance past he started yelling. ‘Pinch ingles!!’ Over and over. Well, at least three times. Was I offended? No, I was thoroughly impressed. He had managed to identify my nationality correctly, and had not gone for the more likely and obvious Yankee critique. See, Mexican racists are better than British racists. They’re smarter, more thoughtful and more considerate. One nil to Mexico.
Racial prejudice is alive and well, everywhere. Sometimes it’s overt. Often it’s disguised by those who attempt to disguise their prejudice as ‘refreshing candor’. You know the sort. The sentence starts with, ‘I’m not racist, but…‘. And then there are those who are simply unthinkingly ignorant. The latter bunch are not necessarily a bad sort. Just poorly informed, or maybe inclined to speak then think, or perhaps just expressing negative experiences of their own.
The ethnic demographic did change noticeably during my time in Mexico. There are now tons of Polish people in the UK. I like them. They are easy to spot. They are the guys who are usually working that bit harder than the others. My racist friend should take note of that when next choosing a recipient for his ignorance. And amend his spiel – go back and work hard and be productive in your own country while I despoil the local environment and waste perfectly good air by my continuing refusal to cease breathing. Personally, I think we could do with a few more Poles and a few less Brits.
There is a downside to all this immigration though. I thought upon returning to England that I’d be safe to use my real name again when out and about. Hugh Juan could be retired. Alas, it was not to pass. This was a better attempt that some, but it’s not the right spelling. And I do hope Mrs P didn’t notice her new name…
Different cultures deal with death in different ways. In Mexico, of course, there is a special day for the departed – Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. But then Mexico has a special day for every type of person, living or dead. The English method is simpler. A short service, then back home for some triangle sandwiches and crisps and a few beers. Then back to work.
Although that’s the short story. Wherever you walk in Britain you’ll see an inviting bench, ready to take the weight off your feet. The longer you’ve been walking, the more inviting it is. Benches are every where. Town centres, woodlands, along paths, in gardens. Everywhere. And most of them will have a small rectangular metal plaque. Upon which is a dedication to a loved on. It’s a memorial and a seat. We are such a practical bunch, us Brits.
I never met Bill. But what a great name. It was a fine view too. I always read the plaques. It’s funny to think that there’s a life long story behind each one of them. Many of them mention how the person used to love sitting there for hours. I sometimes can’t help but be grateful they’re gone, or they’d be sitting there still, leaving no place for me to rest my weary bones. I used to wonder how you go about getting a memorial on a bench. So I ‘googled’ it. It’s a council run thing, unsurprisingly. In Bournemouth you dial 01202 451781 an go for option 1.
I’d like a bench with a plaque in my memory one day. Preferably a day quite some time from now, if possible. Does Bournemouth Council allow a little wit or sarcasm on the plaques? I’m guessing ‘stabbed to death with a spoon here whilst admiring the view’ is probably out of the question, although it would be fun to spook a few people. Humourous plaques do exist though, as can be seen here, here and here.
Where should my bench be? Perhaps along Gloucester Road in London. Or across from the British Museum. Both great places to sit and people watch. But no, I think if I am going to sit anywhere for a long time, it should be in Mexico DF. Where the sun shines its warm rays on the city every day of the year. Near the Obregon monument would be nice. Or along Reforma, maybe? No, my preference would be Avenida Alvaro Obregon. My favourite street in the whole city.
I don’t need the plaque to say anything much. It could state how much I always liked a shapely Latina derrière. Lechery beyond the grave appeals to me. But it should certainly be in English, just to bewilder the locals. Gary Denness, 19.10.1972 – 20.10.2073. Lived past a hundred and still never saw England win a bloody World Cup. Such is life. The dates are by far the most important thing…
We all have our little phobias. I’m pleased to say I’ve overcome most of mine. When I say overcome, that’s not to say I’m now entirely comfortable with each little phobia. Only that none of them have me all in a sweat or cowering behind a sofa any more. I can handle them. Aerophobia, haemophobia, thanatophobia, belonephobia and ergophobia have all afflicted me at some stage in my life. But I can now board a flight without my stomach tying itself in knots, I can see blood without fainting, I have accepted that all good things must come to an end and I now appreciate that in order to get anywhere in life, a days work is unavoidable.
There are two phobias which remain. Electrophobia is perhaps the biggest because it is something I have to deal with on a daily basis. I can now change a light bulb, although I used to refuse to even consider such a thing. I’d have rather sat in complete darkness. But still, I loathe static and will automatically touch many metal surfaces with a sleeve, just in case. But electrophobia doesn’t bring me out in a sweat. So from that perspective, the biggie is acrophobia.
I don’t like heights. Although how do I define a height? The highest I’ve been, bar air travel, was atop a 5000+ metre mountain. That’s not a problem. I guess it’s a sheer drop I don’t like. Did you know that humans aren’t born with a fear of heights? Babies can crawl to the edge of an abyss and not bat an eyelid. Apparently, or so I have read, a fear of heights kicks in upon learning to walk. I can pin point the moment I discovered my fear. At the top of the Lookout Tower at Cheddar Gorge in Somerset. I was a wee lad and had raced to the top with my brother. Then I looked down and panicked. I descended, ever so slowly, on my backside one step at a time. Ironic. Right now, the Lookout Tower is probably the least scary place in Somerset.
Heights really do bring me to the verge of panic. Yet I am drawn to high points. It makes no sense. My most recent encounter with acrophobia was atop the Angel of Independence, and this isn’t the first post I’ve ever written confessing my weakness. I can’t even watch a video of a daredevil doing something risky at a great height. Well, I say I can’t watch it. I force myself too, even though I become more and more uncomfortable with every passing second. There’s a lot of videos on YouTube of people doing nutty climbs up man made or natural objects. But I believe I’ve found the pinnacle of nuttiness. Still under construction, but already the second highest building in the world, I give you the latest skyscraper in Shanghai and the most twisted high five in history.
Almost six years ago to the day, I bought a shiny new bicycle from a shop in the Centro Historico in Mexico City. I loved that bike and rode almost every where on it. Fifteen mile round trips from home to classes and back again were common. The ciclothon on Sundays. Random rides up mountains. I attributed the sudden disappearance of my psoriasis to the buckets of sweat that all that riding induced. That was one of many health benefits. Most people thought I was completely nuts for wanting to ride the streets of Mexico City, what with all those hordes of crazy drivers on the roads. I thought they were nuts for wanting to get in a car and join the hordes of drivers going nowhere fast.
I’ve missed cycling these last few years since I’ve returned to the UK. I did have a bike, but it was a 35 year old hand me down with suicide gears and a pedal that didn’t like staying attached to the rest of the bike. Not a pleasure to ride, really. I’d looked at a few bikes in the shops. But I’ve not had the money spare to splash out on a bike. Until now. Thanks to the company I work for signing up to the excellent Ride To Work scheme that the government set up a few years back.
The scheme is a simple one. My company buys the bike from the shop they’ve agreed to run the scheme through, and I rent the bike off them for 12 months. There’s substantial tax relief involved, and I will pay a total of £168 (14 monthly payments of £14) for a bike and accessories worth £275. After the twelve months is up, I can take up the option to rent it for a further four years at £0 per month. At the end of that period I can buy the bike at it’s market value which will be £0. So, despite the complex tax avoidance system, the bike is effectively mine. It’s a freaking bargain, and I am back pounding the streets with two wheels once again.
It couldn’t have come at a better time either, given my recent move into Bournemouth. I don’t need to justify the cost of the bike, but were I forced to do so, I’d point out that I won’t be spending £40 a month on buses. So I’m saving £26 per month, not spending £14. 🙂 But lets have a look at my chosen steed. My old Benotto in Mexico was a genuine mountain bike. I’ve chosen a slightly more civilised style of bike this time. It’s a hybrid. Or so its labelled. Meh. It’s a mountain bike with slightly skinnier wheels.
Like my old Benotto, I chose black. I am a two wheeled, pedal powered Limey version of Knightrider. Just with a little less Hoff and a lot more more huff. And puff. But I’ll get fit again soon. This bike is the 2013 Specialized Crossroads. The bike has a sensible number of gears. Just seven, all on the rear axle. Who on earth needs a hundred and seventy gears on a bike anyway? Really, I don’t think I’ve ever used more than half a dozen gears on a bike. The rest are just wasted cogs.
I also much prefer the twist-shift gear change to the more usual thumb levers. It’s just easier, and I like easy. My thumbs do get exercised though. One of them anyway, with the little bell strapped to the handlebars. I bought a few essential accessories to. A pair of lights, which make me visible at night time. They’re cheapish one though, so while I can be seen as I’m going along, I can’t necessarily see where it is that I’m going exactly. I have a very sturdy D lock to keep thieves at bay. And I have a Specialized helmet than matches the bike which looks very nice on its hanger in the closet. I’ll wear it when I’ve had a haircut. Maybe.
I’m riding the bike now, of course. To work and when I’m out and about. But I’m really looking forward to warm summer evenings and long rides along coastal paths, through forest parks and through town for a lark. Roll on May!