Life

About The Author

Let me tell you a story. It’s about that photo up there. I took it just a few minutes ago. That cat has been hanging around the station for a couple of weeks. Today it got bold enough to wander inside and sit on my till. I gave him some milk, and he likes the attention he gets from customers. I reckon he’s going to become a regular fixture in here. Which is a good thing. Every station should have a cat. But the story isn’t about the cat. It’s about the photo in a more general sense.

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Life

An Introduction

Don’t worry, he’s not ours. He is a newly arrived nephew. He has a first name and two middle names, all in homage to his recent ancestors. All of whom are now sadly deceased – great grandfather on the maternal side, and grandfather on the other. Sort of. It’s complicated. On my blog, we will call him simply Master J. He’s a cheery, chubby little fellow, isn’t he? He’s about eight months old now. Mrs P, being a good Mexican lady, is needless to say over him like a rash. There are many worse rashes he could have at his age.

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Life

Mental Fog

Today, I am the quiz master. There is only one question. If we take a walk down through the fog to the end of the pier, what will we find? Give it some thought. There are so many possibilities. We can brainstorm a few of those possibilities. Perhaps we’ll find the sea. Or the sand. Maybe there’s a dead body there. Or a fisherman, trying his luck. There could be a boat, moored up. Or a flock of gulls. What do you reckon? I think it is reasonable to suggest the question will provoke different responses from different people, depending on their life experiences.

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Life

The Cheddar Mortgage

It is enirely plausible that my distant ancestors once lived in caves.  I can see the appeal of a cave for a person who lived in a world without bricks, tiles and mortar. A cave offers a reasonable level of shelter. I don’t live in a cave, however. I’m mightly pleased about the introduction of bricks, tiles and mortar into the construction process. If at all possible, I’d like to continue living in my modern, comfortable, warm brick and mortar based property. All I need to do is keep paying my mortgage and home insurance payments. Continue reading

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Life

The Last Post, Again

One of my first jobs, perhaps my first ever job, was as a paper boy. It’s most boys first job. It didn’t pay a fortune, but it could be done in about an hour, early in the morning before school. It was a much better job on a warm summer morning than on a wet, dark wintry morning. I quickly worked out that I was better off leaving my BMX bike at the newagents and running my round. When I was a kid, I could run like Forest Gump. But further. I’m Continue reading

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Life

Creating the Right Sleep Environment for Children and Adults

Sleep is important for people of all ages, from children to adults. The sleep deprivation epidemic is affecting people of all ages in the UK and around the world. Some effects are immediately seen, while others may take years to appear. Children need even more sleep than adults. A child between the ages of five and 11 need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep per night. Quality bedding from Guzel Dezayns helps create the perfect sleep conditions. Continue reading

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Life

The Confession

I have made the decision to cough up my ghastly little secret. Before it’s done for me, as is happening a lot lately. From Hollywood to the US Senate. From Westminster to the BBC. It’s all coming out. And there’s no stopping it now. Harrassment, groping, coercion, rape – the full works. There’s photographic evidence of my misdemeanor, you see. No way to get around that, is there? I shouldn’t have. But I did. It was a long time ago though. So that mitigates things a little bit. I hope. But for shame, I did it. I crept up behind the poor girl, reached out – with both hands, no less – and made Continue reading

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Life

The Best Job In The World

This week is a week of anniversaries. Today marks two years since I started working with a train operator as a ticket office clerk. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best job in the world*. Why is this so? The pay is fantastic for the job I perform. But the pay is not why my job is the best in the world. The benefits are great too. We’ve made great use of free and heavily discounted rail travel. But that’s not why my job is the best in the world. There’s a very good final salary based Continue reading

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Life

Summer Lottery

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

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Life

Pay Day

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. 🙂

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Life

The Three Month Review

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.

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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.

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Life

Seek And Ye Shall Find

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.

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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.

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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.

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Life

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

…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…

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Life

The Castle of Bad Decisions

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.

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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.

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