RSS

Author Archives: Alfie

About Alfie

A 20-something mind in a 60-something body hiding behind the photo of a 15 year old!

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

Advertisements
 
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 see 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

 

Brain Fever!

The other day my good lady and I visited an old friend at a seafront flat (U.S. = apartment) in Hunstanton which is a resort on the Norfolk coast and one of the few places on the East Coast of the UK that faces West! *

The place we were visiting was on the third floor (U.S. = fourth floor) and there is no lift (elevator) so it was a brisk hike up a lengthy flight of stairs to get there.  At the top of the stairs there was the usual heavy door giving access to the two flats on that level but I remarked that, unlike the flats, this appeared to be new.

Our friend confirmed that a fault had been found with the old one and this new one had been urgently fitted for the safety of the residents.

“Aha!” I exclaimed almost immediately, “a new Firedoor. I shall name it Dostoyevsky”!

Our friend gave me the look that I am so familiar with – the one that says without words, “What the hell are you talking about?” but she then she thought for a moment, the knowledge acquired a while back during her university education asserted itself and she slowly nodded.

“Ah yes. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I get it now!”

What she did not do, what with this being a pun and all, was laugh! I have pointed out here on several occasions that the best you can expect for a pun is a groan or a sadly tolerant smile often accompanied by the words “Oh dear!”

I have to say, as I have often done on these pages, that I cannot help it! The ability and the NEED to play linguistic havoc with my mother tongue were instilled in me during my early teens thanks to the radio programme “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again”! The presence in my school year group of an amazing number of like-minded boys keen to perpetrate similar “verbal slapstick with the tongue that Shakespeare spake” ** didn’t help.

In the last ten years, and particularly the last two, I have resumed contact with quite a few of that group and, in terms of senses of humour anyway, they have haven’t changed a bit (to the probable annoyance of quite a few wives, partners etc.)!

“Like-minded” is the term that I really want to investigate here though.

This particular group of boys, by which I mean the ones that were, at one time or another, in the same class as me, had at least one thing in common before we were thrown together in September 1964 aged 11.

I had better interrupt myself here and explain for the benefit of younger readers just how the UK education system worked in those days.

During the final year at Primary School (Year 6 in today’s way of counting) all children took something called “The 11 Plus test”. This was a series of written examinations testing “General English”, “Comprehension”, “Arithmetic”, and “General Intelligence/Knowledge”. Those that passed it (and I’ll be coming to what “passed” actually meant later) were assigned to Grammar School of which there was only one in Ipswich. The rest went to one of the half dozen or so local Secondary Modern Schools and were there “streamed” into classes based, presumably, on how closely or otherwise they had “failed” the examination. There were annual end of year exams in all subjects and some promotions and relegations based on overall performance up to the end of the 3rd year (Year 9) at which point the “A” stream continued on to do GCE “O” Levels and new classes were spun off for those doing subjects in the slightly different CSE qualification.

So, back to where I was a couple of paragraphs ago, and the newly-formed Class 1A at Copleston Secondary Modern School for Boys – which is where I found myself along with around 30 or so others from that part of town deemed to have “just failed” to get into Northgate Grammar School.

Before you ask, yes they did use the terms “pass” and “fail” about such things – something that would have parents up in arms these days!

While there were the above mentioned Football League style promotions and relegations and a few changes due to house moves in and out of the area it is broadly correct to say that everyone who made it to the GCE classes (4A and 5A) had been in that “A” stream from the start. That includes your author (although I’m mighty glad the Football analogy didn’t stretch to the concept of “Play Offs”)!

This group of young people then all had that failure of the 11 Plus exams in common and it is time to consider what that actually meant given that at no time were the entrants told either their own score or, more importantly, what the “Pass Mark” actually was!

All available evidence seems to suggest that there was a very good reason for this state of affairs – even within a single Education Authority such as Ipswich the pass mark was FLEXIBLE!

I’m sure there was a low level fail mark to identify those for whom Grammar school would have been utterly inappropriate but at the other end of the scale other factors came into effect. Remember that there was only one Grammar School available as opposed to 6 or 7 Secondary Moderns within the Borough of Ipswich and it becomes obvious that if you ever got a year with a lot of extremely bright children (coughs modestly!) they weren’t all going to get into the supposedly higher branch of education as might have been the case in another year.

Supposedly?

Well I don’t know about the other Secondary Moderns scattered around the town but under our Headmaster, Ken Armstrong, Copleston Boys had acquired a reputation of running Northgate Grammar pretty closely in GCE results (which not all Sec. Mods. were allowed to take) – a sort of sub-Grammar School if you like!

I strongly suspect that because of this quite a few of us living in and attending Primary Schools in the Copleston catchment area were told we had failed in order to take the pressure off Northgate so that pupils on the other side of town with the same scores were able to go there rather than a more average Sec. Mod.

Don’t get me wrong – I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Copleston and my father always told me that being consistently in the top tier there was preferable to being down in the middle ranks of a Grammar School and I tended to agree with him – the idea that I might have had what it took to fight my way into the top rank there too did not ever occur either to him or to me.

The down side was that no-one really pushed us “failures” very hard and some of us (I include myself here) drifted along sharing jokes, brilliant puns and doing just enough work to keep the teachers happy whilst being blissfully unaware of our potential.

And I have to say that I didn’t even become aware that I HAD any potential to do any better than the career with a professional speciality that I was then in until, in 1985, a friend of mine (also an 11 Plus failure) passed the tests enabling him to join Mensa, the society for people with an IQ in the top 2% of the country. Naturally I thought, “If that idiot can do it….” took the test myself and got the same score as him! I have been a member ever since.

When I started this blog I was slightly surprised to find that my classmate Michael Vincent (who was, of course, the reason I started it in an effort to compete with his own efforts in that area) is also a past Mensan.

Now I wasn’t (I’m fairly sure) the brightest member of that particular intake of 11 Plus failures at Copleston and probably neither was Mike but statistically the 2% bracket of IQs for that age group in Ipswich ought to all have been at the Grammar school but plainly were not.

So what I want to know (and I don’t know if sharing this post on our Year Group’s Facebook page will help me here) is this:

How many others of that brilliant bunch that I used to (and to a large extent still do) associate with are also unrealised, warped and twisted geniuses like Mike and I?

Given our similar wits, senses of humour and stated feelings of under-achievement, quite a few I would think!

And if any of them wants to look at me and say “If that idiot can do it…!” let me know and I’ll tell you how to go about taking those tests – they are a bit like the 11 Plus for grown-ups! It would be nice to have a few classmates around me when I attend the Mensa AGM in September 2017 – in Ipswich!

 

Alfie

 

*Look it up if you don’t believe me!

**A quote from the 1930 novel “The Saint Closes the Case” (aka “The Last Hero”) by the excellent Leslie Charteris who will (along with his most famous creation) feature in this blog SOON! ***

***I know! I’ve been promising that for at least 6 years now – but I need to work out what angle to approach it from! I have started it though.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 14, 2017 in Ipswich, Schooldays

 

A Duck nibbled your WHAT?!

Many years ago – so long ago, in fact, that I think I still had a full-time job – I wrote about a holiday and detailed the huge list of other countries and towns where I had singularly failed to catch ANYTHING AT ALL when indulging in holiday fishing. If you wish to read it you can find it here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2009/07/07

Well…….

This week Faith and I have accompanied our six month old Grandson, his other grandparents and his mummy and daddy to the CenterParcs “resort” at Elveden Forest in Suffolk.

It has been a steaming hot few days so far and as I write the beginnings of this piece outside our villa at 9.30pm on the longest day of the year it is still comfortably warm and still daylight.

If I look up from my notebook and away from the villa I can see nothing but ferns, tall trees and a clear blue sky. Various birds, squirrels and Muntjac deer also make fleeting appearances and off in the distance I can hear a Peacock screeching.

It’s all rather idyllic and what I feel retirement is supposed to be about!

This isn’t our first visit here by any means – Faith and I first came here with our daughters in March 1995, the visit coinciding with our 15th Wedding Anniversary – and was memorable to me for it actually snowing hard while I floated with just my face above water in a gently steaming outdoor pool!

We have returned several times since then, including for my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary in 2000 and daughter Hannah’s 18th Birthday in 2001.

After that the main shopping/eating concourse suffered a serious fire and Faith and I returned on our own not long after it reopened after an extensive rebuild. On that occasion we stayed in the hotel by the lake rather than a villa and spent most of our time trying to remember “isn’t that where ‘such and such’ restaurant used to be?” because it was completely unfamiliar in its new form.

I had thought that because I have been here with the current layout in existence there would be no problems finding my way around but that has not been the case. The villas with three bedrooms and an equal number of bathrooms (essential, believe me!) are situated in a bit of the park that did not even exist when last we visited so we are approaching and leaving the facilities at the centre in an unfamiliar way. Indeed, after 3 of our 4 days here I still have to stop and think at every turn despite doing the route from 4 to 6 times a day!

Thus far I have spent a couple of hours swimming (including the “Wild Water Rapids” where I briefly got stuck on a tight bend!) and played Tennis, Table Tennis and Badminton. Of these I have proved best at Table Tennis – I am tall, with long arms and a great deal of the surface area of the table is therefore available to me without the need for all that tedious, sweaty leaping around that the other games entail!

However, as you have probably guessed from the early paragraphs of this story, the most sedentary sport I have taken part in was……… Fishing!

On the grounds that 2 grandmothers plus his mummy and daddy could provide more than enough care and attention for little Xavier, his granddad Pete and I booked fishing permits for the big lake – specifically the fenced off corner free from wind-surfers, water-skiers and massive multi-family sized pedallos.

We arrived on Monday afternoon, picked up our permits early on Tuesday and spent that afternoon on adjacent platforms trying to tempt some of the numerous monster Carp that we could see cruising about just below the surface. They, however, showed no interest whatsoever in our bait offerings and we had to make do with 4 small Roach apiece before returning to the villa before 4pm so that I could go off and get horribly sweaty playing Badminton awfully badly! They should rename the sport “Awfulminton” in honour of my prowess or lack thereof!

On Wednesday we were able to start a bit earlier and fish for longer – again with adjacent (but different) platforms and I was annoyed to see those bloody Carp taking the piss by not only refusing even to look at our bait but also taking a route between the decking we were sitting on and our floats! Some of them were well within the reach of my telescopic-handled landing net and I was seriously tempted to scoop a couple of them out with that, photograph them and put them back!

There is a certain code of honour covering such things though – so I didn’t! Aren’t you proud of me?

I have since discovered that the “wildlife team” here feed those Carp at a regular time and in a place not in the fishing zone so Anglers really have no chance – that IS cheating!

On this second occasion, however, I did hit a patch of much larger Roach and stopped counting when I passed 8 so my total was well into double figures. I was very happy with that!

That was also “finishing on a high” as other booked sports and baby-sitter duties put Thursday out of the picture and the gear had to be re-packed into the car early on Friday.

So, if you bothered to read to the end of my previous piece you will know that it ended with the words “No fish were harmed during the making of this holiday!” Well, because of my careful unhooking and use of barbless hooks, I can still say that. I do, however, feel the need to add to the end of that sentence “…..but at least (and at last) some were actually caught!”

And the odd title of this piece?

Before they learned that I wasn’t going to feed them and went away I was bothered by a number of ducks – one of which thought it would be fun to take a peck at my waggler (it’s a type of float).

The following exchange occurred when I related the story to Faith:

“A duck nibbled your WHAT?!”

“My waggler”.

“Well I’m sure your mother warned you that might happen if you wave it about in public!”

Honestly! What a dirty mind that woman has!

Alfie

 
4 Comments

Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Holidays