RSS

Charting the Course

To those friends and acquaintances who have only come to know me in the last 20 years or so I am a (now retired) IT Support person with an ongoing mission to impart basic computer know-how to the huge group of people that I refer to, respectfully, as “The Incomputerate”!

Before that, however, I had another totally different career – I was a Tax Adviser.

And NOT – as one cloth-eared meathead at Peterborough Job Centre wrote down when I gave that as my answer to a question about previous experience – a Taxi Driver!

In my IT career I was very largely self-taught (having “blagged” my way into my first IT Support job by knowing very little but being prepared to work four 12 hour night shifts a week) but to acquire an extensive working knowledge of the effects and ramifications of UK Tax Law took TRAINING.

I have already told you (https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2011/11/) about the Inland Revenue part of that training – this piece is about the courses provided by Barclays Bank Trust Company (BBTC) following my “defection” to the private sector.

When I was taken on at BBTC in early February 1974 I was told by Eric Northam (my Manager and one of only two Barclays Managers I worked for who I do not categorise as either idiots or utter swine) that my four years in the Tax Office would secure me exemption from Stage 1, the “at the desk” phase of the training programme. I would, at the appropriate times, however, have to do the increasingly complex Stages 2, 3, 4 and Senior courses at the training centre in London.

Eric put me in for the first of these as soon as I started but they must have had a bit of a backlog because I wasn’t assigned a place until March 1975 – 13 months later.

So, on Monday 17th March 1975 I presented myself at the training centre in Gracechurch Street supposedly to spend two weeks (less one day – the final Friday was the start of Easter that year) improving my Tax knowledge.

Our accommodation was arranged at The Kenilworth Hotel in Great Russell Street (down the side of the Dominion Theatre at the bottom of Tottenham Court Road) and I was given a twin room along with a lad called Steve from the Liverpool office with whom, fortunately, I got on really well – coming home at the end of 2 weeks in London with a broad Scouse accent was not something I had expected!

There were about a dozen people (6 male 6 female) on the course but the only ones who stick in my memory are Steve, Mike (Kendal office) and Howard (Manchester) because we were like-minded individuals and could also usually outlast the rest of the course in the hotel bar which stayed open as long as there was anyone left to serve!

The four of us set ourselves a strange challenge.

For some reason, everyone going on that first course was told by colleagues in their office that there was a “cap” of £1.50 per night on the evening meal at the hotel. This could actually get you quite a decent meal in those days but it did restrict our choices on the restaurant menu quite considerably!

So, on the second day we asked the office staff at the training centre about this and they told us that this was a common misconception and that there was NO UPPER LIMIT!

Not too surprisingly, for the rest of the course the four of us set out to see just how high we could get the bill! I think that without actually resorting to bottles of Champagne, we managed on more than one occasion to exceed £45.00 in total. That’s not a lot today but was a colossal amount for 4 meals in 1975. I think that by the end of the course we were all getting rather fed up with fillet steak and grilled Trout along with fancy starters and desserts!

I didn’t actually get to see a lot of Steve when we weren’t in the bar or eating as, quite early on, he became (shall we say) “amorously attached” to one of the girls in our group. I remember returning to our room one night at somewhere around 2 a.m. – Steve wasn’t there and hadn’t been in the bar for some time but there were some strange noises coming through the wall from her room next door!

I was awoken at about 6 a.m. (only a little while before our alarm call) by the door squeaking open and Steve sneaking in. I pretended to be asleep, let him get into his bed and almost to sleep before yawning loudly and proclaiming that we had to be getting up for breakfast and our tube journey to Bank station.

I know I was often very tired and hung over when we got to our class – Steve got hardly any sleep at all!

The only bad thing about that course was the cigar smoking, arrogant GIT who ran it! This man, the namesake of a hell-raising actor, now deceased (the actor, that is – unfortunately), told us all that copying or helping others was not allowed. As I already knew most of the course content this resulted in me helping my neighbours surreptitiously when he wasn’t watching!

He then put on my post-course report that he was “disappointed that I had not used my obvious experience to the benefit of my classmates”! Bastard!

He eventually reappeared in my life as the Senior Manager of the centralised office in Peterborough where several of us wished earnestly to kill him before he gave us nervous breakdowns!

And THEN…. nearly 3 years later in January 1978 came the Stage 3 course – in the intervening years the training centre had moved to the top floor of BBTC Head Office at Juxon House overlooking St. Pauls Cathedral and we were no longer put up in commercial hotels.

To provide short-term accommodation to staff on courses or inner-city secondments, Barclays acquired a number of medium sized hotels now known as “Staff Residences”. Trust Company staff on courses were assigned rooms in The Parkway Hotel” in Inverness Terrace, Bayswater – a short walk from Queensway tube station.

Given the needs of office managers and differing speeds of personal development of the staff concerned it was not too surprising that this was (almost) a completely new set of people. Steve was there, however, and while I didn’t share a room with him this time I still came home from the course with a Liverpool accent!

The allowable expenses having been somewhat curtailed by this time we didn’t spend too much on drinking in the bar – preferring instead to put money into a “kitty” and popping out to buy supplies at a nearby late opening supermarket with it. After complaints about the noise we made in the lounge area from the free-loading daughter of the Bank’s Chairman who had a room on the first floor, we moved down into the basement which had rooms with spare armchairs and a couple of table tennis tables.

On this and all subsequent courses we were also given “homework” in the form of a nightly project, the results of which had to be presented first thing the next day. One of the girls on this course didn’t want to waste her two weeks in London on this sort of thing and went out with friends every night. Each morning when our tutor asked who was to present the results of our homework everyone pointed unerringly at our absentee! She, of course, had no idea of what she was reading out and I think the staff worked out very quickly why we seemed to be picking on her.

In December 1980 came the Stage 4 course – harder work, more evening work comprising one big project per week and different people again. No Steve this time (I understand that when he went on his Stage 4 he pointedly asked why I wasn’t there!) but no “slackers” either so we made a vow to work very hard and get the project done as soon as possible so that we could get a couple of nights “on the town”.  I don’t remember the first week’s project but the second was to work on individual presentations, to be given on the final morning of the course, on Tax Cases or pieces of legislation which we had been handed on the Monday morning.

This was the course I mentioned here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2010/12/06  – when the sad death of John Lennon occurred and that is one of the very few things I remember about it – apart that is from our cultural evening at the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square where the entire course (to the horror of some of the ladies present) watched a double bill of “Scum” and “Quadraphenia”.

There followed a long gap before I got to go on the Senior Taxation Course in October 1987 – this comprised a much smaller group and the emphasis was more on developing communication and negotiation skills than any technical content (which we were assumed to have by now) and was rather more fun! Steve was back too – or, from his point of view, I was back!

I also knew most of the people on this course through working with them in other offices and while we were all terrified of the presentation “on a subject of our own choice” that we had to give at the end of the second week, this served to draw us all together into quite a tight little group. Regular readers will know that mine was an illustrated story of the Battle of Agincourt done in character as a sort of Churchillian version of King Henry V. Read about it here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2012/10/25

I haven’t seen most of the people I met on those courses for a long time now but one of the 1975 “Dining Club” and one of the 1980 class are still in the group of 8 who compete with me in the Barclays Inter-District Sea Angling match each year. Oh, and the person who actually led the Senior Course in 1987 will be driving me down to Somerset for this year’s match – it’s his turn!

So it wasn’t all wasted even if most of the technical tax stuff has faded now.

Alfie

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 3, 2017 in Informative

 

Massed Minds!

In 1985 my old friend and erstwhile Best Man, Dave (naturally, “Dave” – most of my male friends and family are called “Dave”- except, that is, those called Mike, Andy, Richard or Keith!) and I went to London to attend the Annual General Meeting of British Mensa Ltd., more commonly called just “Mensa” – which for those who don’t know is a society, membership of which is limited to those having a tested Intelligence Quotient (IQ) in the top 2% of the country.

At that time Dave had been a member for just under a year while I had only passed the supervised test a couple of months earlier, so this was, jointly, our first foray into the larger workings of the organisation. At that time Mensa seemed rather to be indulging in the “Cult of Celebrity” the committee including Sir Clive Sinclair and the mathematics Whiz from the TV show “Countdown”, Carol Vorderman.

I have often related how Dave and I met up for that AGM outside the National Liberal Club in Westminster (having got different trains in from Ipswich and Chelmsford respectively) and I enquired about the rather soppy smile on his face as I approached him.

“Carol Vorderman just smiled at me” he said.

I replied, rather bitchily, “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure she didn’t have a clue who you were”!

The 1985 meeting took place at a time of some turmoil in the society with various factions seeking to either amend or add to the Mensa Constitution in an effort to constrain the actions of the ruling committee. This committee was seen by some as being allowed to take arbitrary “disciplinary action” against individual members who spoke out against them – action that said members were not permitted to invoke against “despotic” Committee members!

It all got pretty vicious and uncivilised for a couple of years but eventually settled down with some reasonable rule amendments and a few resignations on both sides. While it lasted, however, it did make for some pretty exciting meetings and the distinct possibility that someone might give a committee member (especially if it could be a prominent one) a smack on the nose, added a certain spice to the proceedings!

Dave and I enjoyed watching the in-fighting so much that we returned the following year when the AGM was held at Imperial College, London.

There were similar fireworks at that one too but my main memory is of gate-crashing an event hosted by the Local Groups Officer for any Local Secretaries (the organisers and facilitators of neighbourhood meetings, known invariably as “LocSecs”) who happened to be present at the AGM.

Actually, it was only me who did the gate-crashing – Dave was by then the LocSec of the Ipswich Group (as he still is to this day) and was entitled to be there.

I’m sure I simply told the nice lady hosting the “LocSecs’ Tea Party” that “I’m from Chelmsford” and I couldn’t be blamed if she interpreted that as meaning “I’m the Chelmsford Local Secretary”! Still, it got me some free drink and a few buns!

I did not attend any more AGMs what with parenthood, office closures and house moves getting in the way and at some point in the intervening years the whole format changed.

What happens now includes the AGM but is not centred on it – a whole weekend of events is arranged and these “Annual Gatherings” are hosted by a Local Group or Region and located in a (usually) big hotel in a UK city or large town.

I have no idea how, or by whom the venues are chosen year by year and I was surprised to learn that my old home town of Ipswich would be hosting the whole Annual Gathering circus for 2017, duly organised by my old mate Mr David Davies the Ipswich Local Secretary! This would be the first time that any group in the East Anglia Region had received this “honour”.

I must admit that my first thought was the same as the one I had on learning that London had been given the 2012 Olympic Games – “are we going to muck this up in an embarrassing fashion?”

Then it all went out of mind for a while, being driven out by the much more important arrivals of my Grandson and Granddaughter in December and April respectively.

And it stayed out of mind until June when I happened to notice that a Mensa Regional Officers’ Meeting was scheduled to take place in Ipswich on a Saturday afternoon – the same day as one of my school year group’s reunions had been arranged for – and I decided to attend the Mensa event (as may any paid up member) as an “observer”.

At the meeting I got to see Dave Davies as well as his draft programme of events and thought it all looked well worth attending. I didn’t, in fact, realise that Ipswich had so much to offer – possibly a problem everyone has with their home town! “Familiarity breeds contempt” as they say! I won’t bother listing the itinerary here as many of the locations concerned and the events arranged wouldn’t mean a lot to many of my readers while some of them will know what they were anyway.

Then summer intervened and it all went out of mind again.

By the end of August, however, it became apparent that there would be no unexpected holidays or babysitting requirements preventing my attendance on the weekend of 9th/10th September – although all of the events that needed paying for (River boat trips, Gala Dinner and the like) had sold out by then.

Not wishing at that short notice to prevail upon my sister and brother-in-law for use of their spare room when I wouldn’t be there most of the time, I booked a room in a hotel about 3 minutes walk from the slightly grander Novotel (where all the action would be happening) for the Saturday night.

In order to leave Faith, who had no great desire to accompany me, with transport I also utilised my Senior Railcard and purchased discounted return train tickets from Peterborough to Ipswich and back.

Having taken these irrevocable steps I then emailed Dave, told him I would be attending and asking (rather belatedly) if he needed any help.

From the organisational chart I was shown it seemed that help was needed during the Saturday afternoon on the “helpdesk” in the hotel reception area so I put myself down for a 2 hour stint following on from my earliest possible check in time at my own hotel.

So, on Saturday morning Faith gave me a lift to the station and I duly caught the 9:50 train to Ipswich (via Whittlesey, Ely, Newmarket and Bury St. Edmunds, if you’re interested) and it arrived a few minutes early at around 11:20. As I wasn’t over-burdened with luggage I decided not to bother with buses into town and to walk to the Novotel (only a mile or so away), getting a bit of an insight into the changes that had taken place in the town since I moved out in 1979.

And there were many!

The whole area that I walked down had previously been a somewhat shabby part of town dominated by the railway sidings serving the docks but now comprised a multiplex cinema and numerous fast food restaurants. It was, in fact an area formerly so run down that even a Drive-in MacDonalds counted as an amazing improvement!

Having checked in to my hotel I reported for duty at the “helpdesk” in the foyer of the Novotel – to the relief of the current incumbent who was waiting for someone to turn up so that he could get some lunch! So I started about 2 hours earlier than I had volunteered for but fortunately the work wasn’t too hard.

My main duties were dispensing information packs to newly arriving members and trying to give directions to places of interest to those going out to explore. Bearing in mind that I stopped living in Ipswich in 1979 I don’t think I made any mistakes!

Some of the renamed areas nearly threw me on occasion: “Waterfront Development? Oh, you mean THE DOCKS”! I’m glad no-one from the Ipswich Tourist Office heard that one – I’d have been run out of town if they had!

The Mensa membership that I was called upon to “serve” were lovely (I nearly said “brilliant” but that goes without saying!) and extremely appreciative of volunteer fellow members working for no reward and I’d happily do it again (although maybe not for 4 hours on the trot next time).

I wasn’t on my own all that time being joined during the afternoon by Ipswich members Margaret (who I knew from Ipswich meetings of old) and Izzy (who I had not met before) and when the helpdesk closed at 5 p.m. some discussion ensued on meal arrangements for the evening. Dave Davies in his capacity of organiser was obliged to dress up in his posh suit (prompting calls of “Waiter!” from disrespectful friends when he appeared in it) to attend the Gala Dinner but Margaret agreed to ask around to find others not attending the “do” to go into town and eat.

I went back to my hotel for a shower and a rest then returned at 7 p.m. somewhat hungry.

Margaret had not been able to find any others at a loose end so she, Izzy and I wandered into town and wound up at a Lebanese/Moroccan restaurant in Tacket Street where I had some strange but very tasty and filling “something or other” and some beer! We then returned to the hotel and passed the rest of the evening in the bar chatting (brilliantly of course) with all and sundry.

The next morning I returned to the Novotel after a leisurely breakfast at a rather nice restaurant called “Isaacs” on the Waterfront and Dave and I attached ourselves to a prearranged tour of the “Willis Towers” building (look it up!) designed by Sir Norman Foster using black glass. I spent some time chatting to a member from Ireland who shared my pain when I related that they had torn down the Friar’s Head and British Lion pubs to make way for it in 1975!

This building has a massive roof garden with views of the town, including the football ground and I had a further discussion with the same gentleman up there on the relative merits of the Ipswich Town and Derby County (his team) sides of the 1970s – one of my more surreal experiences!

Dave Davies had to attend a river cruise in the afternoon that would not return until after my train was to leave (the boat nearly didn’t return at all but that’s not my story to tell) so I set out to have a walk round and maybe get a photo of the house in Ranelagh Road that I was born in.

I didn’t get that far as, when I stopped in at the railway station at around 2 p.m. on the way, it turned out that my planned 5.25 p.m. train was cancelled due to engineering works and if I wanted to get to Peterborough at all without going via London I had to get on a free coach to Stowmarket (where Peterborough trains were terminating) immediately. Good job I checked then!

And the verdict on hosting the British Mensa Annual Gathering in what might be considered an unfashionable backwater?

Well, as far as everyone I spoke to in the hotel was concerned it was an unqualified success! And personally, I am delighted to say that I was as wrong about the suitability of my home town as I was about the London Olympics – I apologise for doubting!

Let’s face it – if my friends who organised it hadn’t done a magnificent job I wouldn’t have felt it necessary to write this, the longest article I have ever posted on here, now would I?

Alfie

 
6 Comments

Posted by on September 28, 2017 in Informative, Ipswich, Mensa

 

Getting to the bottom of things!

In accordance with the advice given in the “Writing for Fun and Profit” book that I borrowed from Cambridge Library back in 1989 and read during boring lunch breaks there, I still try to write AT LEAST 250 words per day on any subject I can think of.  Obviously, with this blog, I don’t stick religiously to that target but since what I do produce normally varies between 600 and 1600 words I think my “writing muscles” are in fairly good condition.

That thing about “any subject I can think of” does cause problems sometimes but since I always have a notebook with me I can make notes on anything that happens to me, however unpleasant.

Which leads me to today’s tale – which is all true, is on a subject perhaps not normally discussed but which may be of some use to readers (male or female) who haven’t experienced this yet.

About three months ago I was sent one of those letters, apparently sent to all men of my age group, from the NHS Bowel Cancer screening Service inviting me to send them a selection of what I shall politely call “poo samples”!

Not, I am pleased to say, the “poo in this bottle” type of sample that used to be required by my old employer, Solway Foods, before you could return to work following any kind of intestinal outrage – but rather a selection of “smears” sealed up in a foil-lined envelope and posted to the testing laboratory.

Can I just say that to my rebellious spirit there is something satisfying about the idea of putting faecal matter in the post – it’s just a shame, I think, that there is not a way of copying other people in, email style! I can think of quite a few people whose faces I would love to watch when they opened THAT little present at the breakfast table!

Anyway, about two weeks after committing my prime samples to the post, I received a letter suggesting that the tiniest trace of blood in some of them meant that I might benefit from a joyful little procedure known as a Colonoscopy to be conducted at Peterborough District Hospital.

“Oh dear”, I naturally said on learning of this, “that’ll be a pain in the arse!”

So, to cut a long story short, my appointment was made for Thursday 10th August and the preparation began on Monday 7thAugust.

Preparation?

Think about it! They are going to look at your insides with a camera on a wire so they are going to want to be able to SEE and that means clearing out as much as possible of what would normally be occupying that space. Look, I’m trying to be as delicate as I can about this – OK?

Therefore, on Monday evening I had to swallow 5 massive Senna tablets, which, fortunately had no immediate effect! Same again on Tuesday but accompanied by a low residue diet (steamed fish and boiled rice) and still with no effect.

Wednesday – the day before my “procedure”- began with a soft-boiled egg on toast at 7am followed by nothing but water and, at noon and 6pm, sachets of a laxative called Citramax (a vile frothing potion like something out of a Hogwarts’ cauldron)! This definitely did work – to an extent I would not have believed possible – and very, very quickly! I think Donald Trump should be dumping that stuff in North Korea’s water supply – if that doesn’t scare the sh*t out of them nothing will! Actually, perhaps putting some in Donald Trump’s water supply might be more fun – he has more to clear out being “full of it” most of the time!

On Thursday Faith dropped me off at the hospital, famished from having had nothing but liquids since Wednesday’s breakfast and a full half hour before my 9.30 appointment. People kept rushing out of my way mistaking, I think, the noises of my stomach for me snarling at them like some sort of psychopath!

At the due time I was seen by a nursing sister who asked me all sorts of questions such as “Do you wear dentures?” prompting the somewhat predictable response of, “Why? How far up is this tube going?”

I was then taken to a changing room with lockers to change into one of those embarrassing back-fastening hospital gowns and a pair of “modesty shorts” – large “one-size-falls-off-all” paper trousers with a similar open back arrangement!  These I covered with my own dressing gown and was taken to another waiting area from where, a mere hour and a quarter later I was escorted into the Colonoscopy room.

There I was made to lay on my side facing away from the rather uncommunicative Consultant operating “the equipment” but able to converse pleasantly with the little far-eastern nurse who was there to put my mind at rest and answer any questions I might have.

“When” I asked, “is he going to… <squidge> WHOA!!”

I looked round at the Consultant in some surprise and remarked “Easy Tiger! Shouldn’t you at least buy me a drink first?” He just smiled slightly and got on with the job!

I should say that at no point did I actually see the “cable” in use – I can only surmise that given its capabilities it must have been enormous! It had a full colour camera (enabling me to watch its progress on either of two massive computer monitors), a light, a nozzle to inject water, another nozzle to inject air (to assist in getting around tight corners) and a third to suction out said water and air to avoid embarrassment later. It also possessed a wire cutting loop to remove suspect polyps, something to store these in for later analysis and whatever it needed for steering. For all I know it may also have had windscreen wipers and a thing for getting stones out of horses hooves!

I soon forgot about any discomfort as I became fascinated by the view on the screen. My large intestine was, I have to say, gleaming – that frothing, lemon flavoured gunk from yesterday had certainly sent me clean round the bend! It was absolutely enthralling and I admired the skill with which my silent friend used the wire loop to lop off a couple of little (and not remotely dangerous looking) polyps on the way. Indeed, I was almost disappointed when he reached his ultimate destination, my Appendix at the entrance to the much longer Small Intestine, and had to reverse the 5 feet or so back. This took just as long as the outward journey as he didn’t want to miss anything but nothing else was spotted (although I think I caught a glimpse of a tiny submarine at one point) and we were soon back at the “terminus”. The process was ended a lot less abruptly than it began.

This was followed by a few minutes in a Recovery Room where a Nurse ensured I was OK and gave me a print out of the preliminary results including 3 small still photos taken on the camera’s voyage of discovery. I was a little disappointed when she told me I could not purchase a DVD of the camera footage! I said that I thought the NHS was possibly missing an easy fund raiser there – I would have happily paid £15 for that, to help keep the service running and I’m sure others would too!

After that it was back to the locker room to change back into normal clothes and across the corridor to another waiting area where they gave me a cup of coffee and a Salmon and Cucumber sandwich (to make up for having starved me for about 30 hours). I was also able to phone Faith to come and get me. That sandwich did not touch the sides!

Now I await the results (in a couple of weeks) of the analysis of those two tiny polyps, and in two years’ time the test people will request more poo samples and it could all start again. Still, better safe than sorry!

My previous praise for those on the front line of NHS services documented here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2017/02/11 remains unabated. All those involved performed efficiently and professionally and I had no complaints whatsoever. One of the nurses even rang me the next day to check that I had experienced no overnight issues arising from their work.

I particularly commend the skill of the man who did the “driving”. I imagine that he goes home and decorates his hall, stairs and landing – through the letterbox!

The only thing left for me to do now is to try to source some of that Citramax powder stuff – for recreational use only you understand – not for spiking other people’s drinks. Honest!

Alfie

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 16, 2017 in Informative

 

The Day the Music died!

Here is another “Anniversary” piece on a subject that was mentioned briefly in the last one and which I have touched upon several times, particularly in the early days of this blog. (Try selecting April 2009 in the pull-down Archive menu on the right of this page)

Pirate Radio!

In April 1964, when I was coming up on the grand old age of 11 ¼, my father referred me to an article in The Times which he thought would interest me. It concerned test transmissions being made for a proposed Pop music Radio station broadcasting from a ship anchored in the North Sea just outside British Territorial Waters.

As I usually find it necessary to explain at this point when telling this story, we did not take The Times because we were in any way “posh” or upper class – Dad worked at a Solicitors office and they paid for him to have it in order to provide him with access to the Law Reports that the other papers didn’t bother with! I hope that’s clear!

Anyway…

Back in April 1964 I immediately tuned my little Benkson Transistor Radio to the indicated frequency and while I don’t now remember what I listened to I am pleased to say that I was with Radio Caroline  (for it was she) from Day One.

When the “proper” transmissions commenced a little while later I was there listening and from that point onwards (with four small exceptions) the staid and somewhat stuffy BBC was dropped from the listening habits of our house.

Oh, all right then! The four were:

  • Pick of the Pops – the Sunday afternoon chart show and one of the few modern music shows outside school hours.
  • The Test Match Cricket commentary.
  • The breakfast time news-based “Today” programme which Dad felt was essential listening each day.
  • “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” – which I listened to in my room and then passed the best jokes onto the rest of my school class.

Even my Mum who has never been called an “innovator” (if we hadn’t moved to a brand new house in early 1964 which had a kitchen with space and power for a fridge and a washer/dryer  I think she’d still be utilising a bucket of cold water and a mangle) gave up “Housewife’s Choice” for the much more lively Radio Caroline equivalent! I think she may have switched later to “Wonderful Radio London” but I stayed with the original!

So why were Caroline and the following flood of offshore broadcasters called “Pirate Radio” stations?

Well, to the government it was quite simply because they were BAD (like pirates)!  And they were bad because said government had absolutely NO control over them and no government likes that!

Remember, we were less than 20 years from the end of WW2, in the midst of the “Cold War” and the paranoia inherent in national governments of all political colours meant that the idea of someone sitting just off your coast TALKING to your people, uncontrolled by you, was not to be borne!

Never mind that “Radio Moscow” and “Voice of America” were doing the same thing with decidedly biased  (if opposing) agendas – they belonged to countries bigger than us and so could not be bullied! Easier to attack a much softer target.

The stations concerned (I was going to say “ships” but some were on old rusting, defensive sea forts of WW2 vintage) were not political propaganda machines; they were simply playing music for what, today, would be called “the youth market” – music it would have been hard to hear anywhere else.

The choices were the very limited and controlled BBC pop output and Radio Luxembourg, 300+ miles away, unable to keep its signal strength (which was limited by post-war peace treaties) up for more than 2 minutes at a time for UK listeners! Radio Luxembourg also had its playlist under the strict control of a few large Record Companies who actually bought broadcasting time in order to be able to play their (and only their) “product”.

At that time, the technology to enable listeners easily to record what they were hearing was not readily available and this resulted in them going out and buying records, many from small, new companies – only a complete cynic would dare to suggest that the aforementioned Large Record Companies might put pressure on our Lords & Masters to try to stop this obviously iniquitous state of affairs.

That same cynic might also suggest that said Lords & Masters did not see any harm in giving in to such pressure on the grounds that most of these many millions of (mostly) youthful listeners were under voting age and held opinions that could, therefore, be completely discounted.

If you watch Richard Curtis’s film “The Boat That Rocked” and ignore the more obvious musical anachronisms you may pick up a pretty good impression of the brightness and happiness that these nasty, evil Pirates brought into young lives trying to get by in what otherwise seemed a grey and stuffy world run by grey and stuffy politicians.

And for 3 years the Golden Age continued until the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 came into Law at midnight on August 14th 1967 and anyone still transmitting after that time was instantly a criminal!

I often have trouble with our system of “democracy” and one of the biggest issues I have with it is that our elected representatives get themselves elected on the basis of their publicly announced proposed policies. I have a problem, therefore if I like, say, the Education policy of one party and the Economic policy of another – because you have no option but to choose one total package and therefore have to know what you might be letting yourself in for!

And because of that it really should be that ONLY legislation specifically proposed in the manifesto can be passed without the need to go back to the public for clearance.

So that I would not be entirely writing this piece on the basis of the emotions of a 14 year old boy I decided to look up a couple of things:

  • The Election Manifesto of the Labour Party (who won with a landslide majority) for the General Election of 31st March 1966 – the only such election during the lifetime of most of the Radio stations we’re talking about here.
  • The script of the Queen’s Speech given on the resumption of Parliament in April 1966.

See if you can guess how many times a proposed Bill for outlawing offshore radio stations was mentioned in those two documents!

CLUE: “Less than one”!!

Given that it is reckoned that,  at the height of their popularity, 25 million Britons listened to offshore pop music radio stations daily, can anyone tell me how the government thought it had any kind of mandate from the British public to do away with it – especially as it hadn’t dared to propose it prior to attempting re-election!

Nevertheless they did it and, what’s more, they did it under the leadership of Harold Wilson, a man who was never happier than when being photographed with Pop music icons of the era, many of whom owed their star status to….. you guessed it!  Even a politically naive 14 year old could see that as blatant hypocrisy and I’ve never forgotten it or forgiven it!

Meanwhile back at my personal recollections, I attended my first ever week under canvas with the 3rd Ipswich Boys Brigade starting on Saturday 12th August 1967. This wasn’t one of our more distant ventures – we were in a field just outside Hadleigh, a small market town about 10 miles from Ipswich and the signal strength of transmissions from the North Sea was undiminished.

On the Monday afternoon, most of the other stations having already departed, my friends and I listened to the final broadcast of “Radio London” which terminated its service at 3p.m. This left us 9 hours to see if Caroline would honour its stated intention of remaining on air and becoming, effectively, a true Pirate!

If you weren’t there at that time or (and I can’t understand this at all) weren’t interested in music it is difficult to explain that this was a BIG DEAL! We had been taught that we had to obey the law but here was the law proclaiming that something we all loved was WRONG when, quite plainly it wasn’t.

Tucked up in my sleeping bag I had my radio with me and tuned in as always to Radio Caroline as midnight approached. We were supposed to be quiet after lights out but I could hear the same music emanating from the other tents nearby. Then at the stroke of midnight Johnnie Walker made the continuation announcement, played “We Shall Overcome” and emotionally described the hundreds of car headlights flashing their support out to sea from the Essex Coast. I wish I could have been there taking part in that display of affection but I was still 3 years away from even my little Honda 90 let alone a car! We did all cheer, though!

Radio Caroline did indeed continue for a few more years but the point of this article is to post something relevant at EXACTLY (or as near as I can get to it) one second before midnight on August 14th 2017 as a gesture of thanks to all the DJs and crews of those ships for the part they played in shaping my life.

And to thank them for teaching me at an early age to never, ever trust your government – even if you voted them in. They do not, in fact, know better than you -though you would be hard pushed to make any politician believe that!

Alfie

 
5 Comments

Posted by on August 14, 2017 in Informative

 

Unpublished Symphonies – Part 2.

This is the second and last of my resuscitated informative pieces intended for a Company Intranet and found alone and unloved in a folder on the USB stick that holds all my scribblings. It does, before you ask, get backed up to various places from time to time – I’ve lost things before!

I hope it is of some use to those of you still working and possibly experiencing the issues covered without necessarily understanding why they are happening.

***

The view from the Service Desk #2 – Let me in!

Yes, another song title! This time you have to be old enough to remember 1974 and The Osmonds.

It should also be apparent that this is about User Accounts and Passwords and it is very important that the “Do’s” and Don’ts” that I am about to tell you are followed.

I am assuming for this purpose that you are having trouble with a networked computer at your place of work – if the problem is with the security of a personal PC that is a whole different thing and there may not be a simple solution!

By “having trouble” I mean that you have come to your desk in the morning, switched on the computer, entered your username and password as normal and either nothing happens or error messages appear! Either way, you cannot get to your nice desktop picture and start your work.

Here are some possible causes and their solutions that you can try for yourself before calling your hard-pressed helpdesk.

  1. Have you entered your username correctly? I know it sounds like a silly question but different companies have different formats for usernames and it is easy (especially if you have recently changed jobs) to unthinkingly type in a previous name.As an example I have been around quite a few different companies doing IT contract work and have had “AlfieLittle”, “AlfieL”, LittleA, LittleA2 (there had been another Little Alfie in the company a few years earlier) and sometimes a separate variation of some of those with “Admin” after the name. I often had to stop and think which one of those applied!
  1. Have you put in the correct password? Each of the user accounts I mentioned in the previous paragraph had a different password associated with it and I’m sure you can see that the scope for getting it wrong is huge! The trouble is that fingers, NOT brains, normally type passwords and you may need to concentrate for a while after you get a new one to enable your typing fingers to learn a new “reflex”. Even if you eventually realise and get the right password the damage may have been done in that most companies computer login accounts “lock out” after three incorrect attempts. Where they vary is in what happens next. Some require you to wait a set length of time (from 5 to 30 minutes is normal) while others are completely unforgiving and have to be unlocked manually by either I.T. or some trusted person in your locality who has been given instruction on how to do this. You won’t be the first to do this so there will be someone around who can tell you if such a “local champion” exists.
  1. If you are sure that you have the correct password for the associated username, are you typing what you think you are? Most of the time your username may be typed in UPPER or lower case letters without it making a scrap of difference but the password is another thing entirely. They are always case sensitive and if you have typed your name with the “caps lock” key switched on but have not turned it off again you may unknowingly be getting the password wrong. As you normally cannot see what you are typing in the password box the best way to check this is to type the password in the username box to see if what is appearing is what you are expecting. I once dealt with a situation where my caller had accidentally (?) changed his settings to the French keyboard and pressing the key with a particular letter printed on it was actually producing a totally different letter.
  1. Is it possible that your password has expired? Different companies have different password policies and one of the most variable is how long they last. I have experienced password durations of anywhere between 30 and 180 days but theoretically they could be either shorter or longer than that. However, more than 6 months becomes a security risk and less than 1 month means the IT Department needs to make lots of password resets when it should be doing something more useful! Usually (although this is often denied by people calling the Helpdesk) a little pop-up window appears on screen anything up to 2 weeks before the password is due to expire and if clicked on will immediately prompt you on how to change it. Many people leave this until the message says “…will expire in 1 day” which is, in fact too late! That message actually means that you are already in that last day and if you last changed your password at, say 10.00 on a particular day it will expire at 9.59 and 59 seconds at the end of the required number of days. It should still be possible to reset it yourself but regrettably many people don’t read what is actually showing on the screen and yell for Support on the assumption that it is the computer that is not behaving correctly.
  1. Are you a “temp” or a new employee? The username and password are how you access your computer account – the account itself can have various things set before you ever try to log in to it and one of those is an expiry date independent of any password rule. What sometimes happens with Contractors, Temporary staff or even full-timers with an initial probationary period is that the account is set up with a perfectly reasonable “end date”. Unfortunately then the Human Resources Department or some level of the person’s Line Management forgets to tell I.T. when that date ceases to apply for any reason and the account turns itself off as it was set to. If there is a possibility that this is what has happened it may be worth getting the person who should have done so earlier to contact IT before you do – I.T. almost certainly won’t be allowed to reactivate your account just on your say-so but if the proper authority precedes your call there should be no problem and your old name and password should still apply.

Once you have ruled out all of the above possibilities, taken the suggested steps and still cannot log in there is one more thing to do before you throw this in the lap of the I.T Department – check your network cable!

I worked in a place once where laptop wielding members of staff from other offices would frequently visit and, rather than muck about trying to obtain authority to be given the local Wi-Fi password, they would unplug the network cable from the PC on the desk they had temporarily taken over and make use of that. After checking emails or some such routine task they would then unplug the cable and whizz off to their meeting, leaving the loose cable to drop, unnoticed, down the back of the desk.

Next day, enter you, the regular user of the PC and off you go, logging in as usual. Nothing happens because unlike that of a laptop the login process on a desktop PC needs a connection to the Domain Controller server on the network to validate the details and, unknown to you, it doesn’t now have it! Plug the cable back in, restart the PC then seek out the offender and beat them about the head with an old keyboard!

[Alfie’s real name]

Service Desk Analyst

***

Alfie

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Unpublished Symphonies – Part 1

A few years ago when I was working as an I.T. Helpdesk Analyst on a fairly long-term contract, the Company decided that the staff should have access to an Intranet Page in order to share interesting stories, ask questions of other departments and that sort of thing. Departments such as Information Technology and Human Resources were also asked to provide interesting articles.

This blog was in full swing at the time meaning that my “writing muscles” were fully flexed and raring to go, so I decided to make some useful contributions to submit to my Manager, who had been given the job of coordinating and editing anything submitted by our team. I must admit that I wasn’t expecting the response I received!

“Are you mad?” he exclaimed. “If we go explaining to our computer users how to do this stuff themselves, half of us will be out of a job!”

Plainly he wasn’t at all interested in said users bettering themselves in any way – in which respect he was not at all like me. My personal philosophy with regard to computer usage has always been to ensure that people know as much about their operation as they are capable of knowing. It is for that reason that I spend my Tuesdays at Peterborough Library voluntarily teaching the “incomputerate”.

The two such articles that I penned for that abortive series of helpful articles remained filed and unloved on my USB memory stick until I decided to resurrect them here. The second part will follow shortly.

I hope it is of some help to you in either home or work computer use.

***

The view from the Service Desk – #1 – On and off and on again!

The title of this article is (as anyone over a certain age will know) from the 1988 song “Burning Bridges” by Status Quo and should give you a bit of a clue as to what it will be about.  It is my custom when writing my own blog posts to utilise appropriate song lyrics in this way when possible.

Thanks to the cult TV comedy “The IT Crowd”, the question “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” has entered popular culture in what, from the point of view of Computer Helpdesk Staff across the country, could be seen as an unhelpful fashion.

Why so?

Well, for one thing, WE know that in some instances YOU are waiting for US to say it and are anticipating having a bit of a giggle at having made us ask!   And, when you think about it, there are not many other ways you can word it!

On many, many occasions during my more than 15 years in IT Support I have asked “The Question” only for the following exchange to take place:

Caller (in a fed up voice): “Oh, they told me you’d ask me to do that!”

Me: “So, have you done so?”

Caller: “Uhh, No.”

Me (thinking to myself): “Well if you KNEW you were going to be asked………!”

Me (aloud): “OK, would you mind doing it for me now, please?”

Those conversations have taken place with employees of many companies but I thought that you might like to know exactly why your IT Service Desk asks you either to log out and back in again or, on occasion, requires you to shut the PC down completely and restart it.

The short answer to that is, quite simply, that in about 95% of the situations where we make the request…. IT WORKS!  This means that if you take the lesson in the conversation above to heart and try restarting the computer before calling the Helpdesk – you may not have to.

I think of PCs as something like cars; most of the time you just push the button (or turn the key) and away you go with no problems!

At other times you start up your car (or Computer) and nothing happens at all! When that happens you call the AA\RAC\Green Flag\local garage (or Helpdesk) and an engineer is sent out.

And then, in between those two extremes, there is the occasion when you have something bad in your petrol and while the vehicle starts, it splutters and does not run smoothly or well until you start it up again and give it a good burst of throttle to clear it. It is the PC equivalent of this “Grit in the carburettor” problem that prompts most of the calls that are fixed by a restart.  Some tiny process or other (and there are hundreds such small processes kicking off each time you start the PC up) gets skipped during the PC start-up but runs perfectly at the second attempt – that is to say after TURNING IT OFF AND ON AGAIN!

So now you know why we ask and I hope it no longer seems like a silly question.

[Alfie’s real name]

Service Desk Analyst

***

Alfie

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 7, 2017 in Informative

 

And then one day you find “x” years have got behind you!

Every time I try to write something that ISN’T looking back in time, someone or something comes along and reminds me of a significant anniversary that definitely requires some comment from me.

Previous such pieces have included my 30th Wedding Anniversary (in 2010); the 40th anniversary of Apollo 13 (also 2010); the 40 year mark since the first moon landing (in 2009) and the 497th (?) anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt (in 2012).

As a child who grew up in the 1960s – known as a decade of momentous changes and events – I am fully expecting that a LOT of 50 year old happenings are going to require my personal “I was there” recollections in the coming months and years. Indeed there are already 2 more “historicals” in progress.

I have, in fact, already failed to comment on (to name but a few) the half century celebrations of:

  • Yuri Gagarin’s “first man in space” trip in the Soviet spacecraft Vostock 1 (1961).
  • John Glenn’s “first American orbital spaceflight” in the Project Mercury capsule “Friendship 7” (1962 – on my 9th birthday, actually).
  • My favourite TV Sci-fi series “Doctor Who” (1963 – although as it concerns time travel it could be older).
  • The England football team actually winning a World Cup competition (1966 – so we are now up to “51 years of hurt”!)

And now another significant one has just gone by – this time from the area that has had the most influence on me during those years – music!

But if you’ve read the “CD of My Life” series here, you already know that. If you haven’t, you should be able to pull the whole series up in one go by clicking on the appropriate “Category” in the side menu.

Yes, we have indeed passed the 50th birthday of THE iconic album of the 1960s (some would insist on saying ONE of the iconic albums of that decade but let’s not be pedantic)!

I speak, of course, of the short-lived (only 8 years) phenomenon that was The Beatles and their ground-breaking 1967 album “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”!

From its distinctive cover, via the innovative cut-outs on the inset card to the array of musical styles from “pop” to “eastern hippy” to “downright quirky” – there had been nothing remotely like it before and I remember the unfolding sense of wonder I experienced when one of the Pirate Radio stations played it in its entirety.

Mind you, that sense of wonder at new sounds came to me quite a lot in those days – I recall it happening the very first time I heard “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys.

And mentioning them reminds me of the transatlantic creative feedback that was, at least partially, responsible for “Sgt. Pepper…” – Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys was apparently so impressed with the earlier Beatles effort “Rubber Soul” that it inspired him to produce “Pet Sounds” which, in turn so impressed Lennon, McCartney and Co. that they wrote “Sgt. Pepper… ” to try to surpass it!

Who knows, if Brian hadn’t then lost the plot a bit they might still be at it, trying eternally to outdo each other!

At around the same time (actually July 1967) and premiered on the first global TV communications satellite link-up, The Beatles also ushered in what became known as “the summer of love” with another mind-blower – “All You Need is Love”. So that’s another anniversary covered!

Incidentally, before we leave Beatlemania behind us, can I just point out that if you happen to think that “Sgt. Pepper…” was NOT the best thing that band ever did – you will get no argument from me! In my humble opinion many tracks on the previous “Revolver” album were much better but for a total musical experience they actually hit the jackpot on 26th September 1969 (commemorating the end of my first week at work) with the release of “Abbey Road”. I return to that one far more often than any other of their works.

I’m not at all sure that I’m totally happy with this “time passing” stuff!  It was first really bought home to me by a trip that Faith and I made last summer to The Shuttleworth Collection (a museum for still functional old aeroplanes) near Bedford. I had first visited it on a school trip and was, frankly, appalled to realise that a Sopwith Pup biplane of 1916 vintage was now TWICE as old as when I first saw it in 1966.

This means that 1966 is now further away from me than some bits of the First World War were in 1966 – and WWI was incredibly ancient history then while 1966 is just YESTERDAY now!

The problem, of course, is that external time moves on while my internal time stopped advancing when I was about 26 – and I suppose there’s nothing I can do about either of them!

Alfie

 
4 Comments

Posted by on August 1, 2017 in Uncategorized