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Author Archives: Alfie

About Alfie

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

Four wheels good – two wheels better!

When I was about 3 years old my parents bought me a car!

Not a real one with an engine as I’m sure you realise but it was made of sheet metal, fitted me perfectly and was operated by a pair of foot-bars which turned the back wheels via metal rods. The steering wheel worked, it was a dark red in colour and had the word “Thunderbolt” written along each side in white.

I was extremely fond of it for a couple of years – until I started school probably – and my mother has a photograph somewhere of me sitting in it, smiling broadly.

While it was fine for pootling up and down our back garden and even cruising along the pavement of the cul-de-sac we lived in, it didn’t have the speed capability to keep up with Mum (plus my little sister in her pushchair) on the mile long walk to and from school.

So I traded it in for something faster!

Actually, I didn’t really do that!

I think that Thunderbolt was stored in Dad’s capacious shed and eventually got transferred across town for use by my younger male cousins but whatever the course of events it was replaced by a two wheeled Triang scooter. Not one of those currently in vogue with tiny 4 inch wheels – this one had wheels at least twice that in diameter as well as a foot operated brake and a spring-loaded kick stand so I didn’t have to lean it on things when I got off it.

Over the next few years – probably up until we moved house when I was 10 – I developed quite a turn of speed on it. I was even able, when going flat out, to lean forwards pressing my lower body evenly against the handlebars and go NO HANDS!

I don’t remember ever crashing!

I did not use the scooter for the school run after Mum stopped escorting my sister and I – there was no such thing as a school cycle shed to park it in – but would regularly be sent to the shops near the school on a Saturday morning pick up items such as “three pounds of potatoes and half a pound of mince” for dinner that day.

I don’t remember whether that scooter actually made the move from Bourne Bridge to Broke Hall in January 1964 as by then I was getting too tall for it and the solid rubber tyres were wearing out anyway.

However long it lasted, my next transportation system moved up to eight wheels – roller skates. This wasn’t too successful as while the pavements around the new estate were well laid and smooth, they also seemed to pick up an inordinate amount of gravel from somewhere and with the very small wheels of the skates it only took one piece wedged under them to bring me to a very sudden and sometimes painful halt! If I was lucky I could throw myself onto a grass verge but I don’t think I have ever suffered so many skinned knees as I did during that period.

I really wanted a bike but a new one wasn’t possible so I had to learn to ride my mother’s around the estate. There was no way I was going to Secondary school on a girl’s bike so for my first year and a large part of the second year I went to school on foot – it was, after all, no further than I used to walk to either of my two junior schools!

I have already told you about the break and lunchtime races from the annex to the main school and that I was usually knackered by the end of the day – a bike would have made a great difference – but it wasn’t until the completion of the new school buildings that my paternal Grandfather decided he was never going to cycle anywhere again and gave me his heavy, ancient Raleigh. It wasn’t new or even remotely modern but at least it had a crossbar so I didn’t get ribbed about it.

While it regularly got a red “condemned” tag from the policemen who periodically checked the cycles in the school cycle sheds, that bike lasted me through school and for many a cross-town trip to various Boys Brigade football matches on Saturday afternoons. Until the day in early 1970 when it finally got past the point of reasonable repair and was consigned to the dustbin.

Fortunately the demise of that bike coincided with my getting a substantial (from £6.85 to £8.50 per week) pay rise so I decided I could now reasonably buy a small motorcycle on credit and my dear little Honda C90, ODX83H, came into my life for 18 monthly payments of £6.00.

The freedom! I was now able to whizz about town without having to worry about the hills and could explore the pubs in the surrounding villages as desired. No-one seemed to worry much about drinking and driving in those days and as long as you didn’t fall off or hit someone it didn’t seem to matter – just as well as far as I was concerned!

That motorcycle lasted for about 5 years and around 30,000 miles and in the last couple of years I enjoyed taking my fishing tackle and “English Law” by Smith & Keenan to Felixstowe on it and spent my Institute of Bankers’ study leave reading the book AND fishing on the pier! I passed the exam!

As I was commuting by rail to and from work from 1976 to 1979 I had, luckily, no real need of independent transport but on my transfer to Norwich I bought a Suzuki TS250 Trail bike (street legal but with limited off-road capability) for my trip to work and to see Faith in Chelmsford at weekends. I kept this, as I have mentioned elsewhere, until just before our first child arrived when it was considered appropriate that I pass my car test and sold it on via the local paper.

And that was it for two wheels until we moved to Cambridge in 1988 – when I bought my all-time favourite bike. This was my silver-grey Vespa T5 which I enjoyed for a mere 18 months before an idiot Cambridge Taxi driver u-turned in front of me without warning and I stuck the poor scooter in his driver side door, writing it off and skinning my shins in the process!

After that it has been cars and pedal cycles ever since and although I would really love another scooter, it may be that the nearest I will get to it is one of these bicycles with a built in electric motor – and THAT along with a new mobile phone and a new laptop computer, is what I am saving Christmas and birthday money for at present!

You may be wondering what has prompted this strange little discourse, apparently out of nothing, and it was thinking fondly about that Vespa T5 from nearly 30 years ago that touched it off.

I was then reminded of a true story of one of my work colleagues from a job I had a couple of years before I retired. I’ll call him “Bob” (which wasn’t his name) and he was what he considered a “real biker”! That is to say he rode an unnecessarily powerful motorbike of the sort where you almost lay along the fuel tank and had a contempt for almost any other form of road transport especially those that had the fuel tank under the seat (which of course describes both my Honda 90 and the Vespa)!

He also had a computer desktop display bearing the words “Scooters are ridden by men who like to feel the wind on their vaginas!” which you will not be surprised to know I found more than a little offensive.

Until, that is, I found out that his main hobby was collecting large scale “Superhero action figures”. I found this out because on one occasion he had a couple of them delivered to the office and I had to sign for them.

I could not resist taking a measure of payback for the remark about scooters by calling out very loudly “Bob! Your dollies have arrived!”

Revenge was sweet!

Alfie

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Posted by on November 9, 2017 in Informative

 

Energise!

I don’t often return to subjects that I have written about before but today (1st November 2017) I was reminded of something that happened way back in 2012 when I had just started my all-time favourite I.T. contract – with Associated British Foods.

I was on my (and indeed the whole embryonic team’s) first assignment at the unwholesome sounding Speedibake Bakery in Wakefield and Bradford which I wrote about here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/ in my “On the road again” series.

I cannot recall with total certainly which of the two factories the incident I was reminded of took place at but I think it was Bradford. Before I tell you about it, though, I see on re-reading the article the above link leads to, that I have also never mentioned an amusing occurrence that definitely occurred at the Wakefield site.

Our workroom at the Wakefield site was a large conference room normally used by, and sharing a kitchen with, the New Products Department and it was while putting Windows 7 onto one of that department’s computers that I had a bright idea – Savoury Doughnuts!

I developed the thought a bit and mentioned it to the Departmental Manager while we were both making coffee in the shared kitchen. I postulated, instead of the usual jam or custard fillings, gravy, Bovril, Marmite or Peanut Butter and he seemed to be good-naturedly humouring me.

When, however, I made the suggestion that instead of powdered sugar, they should be coated in salt the good-natured smile vanished instantly and was replaced by white-lipped anger!

“Don’t ever say THAT!” he almost hissed at me in a furious voice.

Then, realising the shock that this response to a perfectly innocent (if somewhat odd) suggestion had caused on my own face, he forced himself back under control.

“I’m sorry”, he relented, “it’s just that…” he shuddered, “we did that by accident once – it lost a whole day’s doughnut production and a number of quality control inspectors got sacked for not noticing!”

I never ever mentioned Savoury Doughnuts at that site again. I still think it’s a good idea though!

Anyway, as I explained in the previous article we were under some time pressure at Speedibake on account of our Windows 7 migration activities blowing up the main server at Wakefield and having to move to Bradford (who were not ready for us) while they got it fixed. Once we did start rebuilding Bradford PCs we were several days behind and having to work longer hours to catch up. As by far the oldest on the team I was feeling really drained by the end of each day and asked some of my new friends staying at the same Bed & Breakfast establishment if they had any ideas as to how I could get over this.

They advised me that they coped by consuming energy drinks and recommended the one called “Relentless” a cheaper version (but with similar ingredients) of the stronger and more well Known “Red Bull”. I duly bought a couple of cans from the late-opening supermarket opposite the B&B for consumption the next day.

I worked perfectly normally the next morning, rebuilding or replacing 3 of my allotted 6 computers for the day then restoring all the user data to them exactly on schedule but after lunch felt that I was losing my edge a little. I remembered the Relentless and duly drank down a full half litre can!

Unfortunately, my friends Stuart and Paul had failed to mention to me that they took the occasional sip of the stuff, making one of those cans last for several hours and failed to consider what the effects of a whole can might be on a metabolism that hadn’t experienced it before!

My head was buzzing and my heart was racing like never before! Far from just keeping me going, whatever it was that stuff was made from turned me into a one man Windows 7 migrating machine! I located a bank of 6 desks in a block; 3 of which were earmarked for me that afternoon and the other 3 also to me the next morning. It turned out that the owners of those 6 computers were either on holiday or at a conference for 2 days so I started all 6 at once!

Four needed  rebuilds of the existing machine and the other two had to have the data extracted and then replaced in brand new machines – a much quicker job as we already had a stock of newly built machines with all the correct software on. The rebuild process (if you’re interested) involved, essentially, cocooning the user data, sliding the new operating system in over the old one, then “exploding” the compressed old data back to its proper place in the new set up. That took about 2 to 3 hours per machine but in my hyperactive state I was doing four of them concurrently after the fashion of a circus plate-spinner!

As we finished our tasks we would return to the workroom to tick them off on our big white board and I, as normal, wasn’t first back. When I did return (no-one left until we had all finished) there was no surprise when I filled in my afternoon allocation but shock when I then moved to the next day’s list and ticked off half of my ones on there!

I don’t know if it was concern at what drinking more “Relentless” would do to my health, or if the other guys thought I was making them look bad but I was asked not to have any more – at least not a whole can! I was happy to comply – it gave me a terrible headache later and I had a hard time getting to sleep that night. From then on I just did what was assigned to me but that high speed afternoon helped us to catch up and finish the site on schedule.

At the start of this piece I said “I was reminded…..” of the events above and you may have been wondering what it was that brought it all back.

Well, I was on the bus into Peterborough for my Library volunteer work last week when a couple got on in Orton Goldhay (not the best part of town). There was an abundance of tattoos and muscles (and HE looked quite hard too!) and they sat down very pointedly in the seats marked for use by elderly or disabled passengers. The woman seemed to be anticipating some murmur of complaint about this because she anticipated it by announcing to all and sundry that she has a heart condition and was on her way to hospital for an operation on a faulty valve!

There was no response and having satisfied herself that she had settled the issue she reached into her bag, pulled out a large can of Red Bull and proceeded to drink the whole thing straight down.

This of course is what got me thinking about my own experience with such energy drinks and I watched with interest to see if a faulty heart would behave any more spectacularly than my healthy one had. She may have exploded later but not until after I had left the bus!

And that my children is what journalism is about – you take a short and uninteresting anecdote and turn it into a 1230 word story!

Alfie

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

The CD of My Life – “I’m Not in Love” – 10 c.c.

You should all know the premise behind this series by now (even though I haven’t done one for a while) but for those who don’t – some memories call to mind certain songs or, as is more likely, hearing a particular song opens a box in my memory containing details of a specific event. These songs make up the eponymous “CD of My Life” and these articles are the “sleeve notes”.

I have passed swiftly over some bits of this story in an earlier chapter of this series (https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2011/12/25/) which was really about a holiday in 1978, so if any bits are similar, that will be why.

To recap then, in 1977 I was young, free and (except for legal technicalities) single and commuting daily between my house in Ipswich and the Barclays Bank Trust Company office in Chelmsford – 40 miles away and about an hour’s travel by bicycle and train.

The men in the Tax team at Chelmsford were a sociable bunch and I was very soon “one of the lads”. They were often to be found in the main Chelmsford banking branch (our office was a large portacabin in their car park) flirting with the female cashiers!

They also spent a lot of time in our small staff room in that portacabin playing darts in practice for the inter-branch knockout competition (in which they were usually quite successful while never actually winning it) and would work late if there was a match on rather than going home first.

When I joined the team this arrangement obviously suited me provided someone could guarantee getting me back to Chelmsford railway station for the late train. It also suited them as they had been playing a man short and had been having to ask the Manager to turn out. He wasn’t a bad player but there were always conflicts with various Managers’ Club events and when that happened it was always “career prospects first” to the detriment of the rest of the team.

As the darts competitions in the Chelmsford District covered nearly all of Essex the early rounds were all “zoned” to minimise travelling and this meant that more often than not we would get drawn against one or other of the many teams of our neighbours in the 2 High Street, Chelmsford banking branch.

This made life a lot easier for me as those matches tended to take place in city centre pubs and were always in easy walking distance of the station.

In the opening round of the 1977 inter-branch competition my team was drawn against one of the High Street branch teams and the match was arranged in The Wheatsheaf, a pub roughly halfway between the office and the Railway station. Our opponents turned out to be a group of young lady cashiers (some of the ones the rest of the team used to flirt with) and it wasn’t taken terribly seriously.

I think we won but I remember it being a happy, pleasant evening and being rather attracted to one of the girls.

I didn’t do anything about this but did tend to use her till more frequently than before when cashing my cheques.

And then, in September or October of 1977 my colleagues asked if I was interested in attending the Barclays Chelmsford Social Club disco in Southend-on-Sea at the beginning of November.

Now Southend was out of the range of my British Rail season ticket (and a pretty gruelling trip home in the small hours of the morning anyway) so I said that while I would love to go it was rather impractical.

I think that my colleagues in the office were anxious to expand my social life for me so one of them (Ian, who lived in Rayleigh near Southend) offered me his spare room for the night – an offer I gladly accepted.

So, after work on the first Wednesday of November, instead of rushing off to the railway station I took the overnight bag I had brought with me and went home with Ian. I assume that they fed me but food didn’t figure highly in my life or my memories of that time – as “The Who” so beautifully put it “There was nothing in my life bigger than beer”!

Then Ian, who didn’t touch alcohol (he was, frankly, manic enough without it) drove Linda (his wife) and I to the dubious delights of “Zhivagos” night club underneath a typical 1960s shopping precinct. I doubt I’d be able to find it today.

I don’t recall the internal layout in detail but there were booths of varying sizes around an under-lit glass dance floor – an innovation that I don’t believe “Traceys”, the nightclub I sometimes went to in Ipswich, had thought of yet.

I sat with my colleagues Ian and Errol and their respective spouses but as the evening went on these gentlemen were taking longer and longer to return from trips to the bar or the toilets and could clearly be seen continuing their flirting with the High Street cashiers. This earned them increasingly frosty receptions from their wives and it began to seem to me that war was about to break out!

Being the only unattached person at the table during this was becoming uncomfortable and I thought to myself “Sod this for a lark! I’m going to dance with someone!”

So I took my pint of bitter and went for a wander. There were, of course, people there from all over the Chelmsford District but I eventually recognised (and was recognised by) the young ladies from that darts team including the one I had been chatting to at her till.

I asked her to dance and we spent the rest of the evening together.

As usual, the impending end of the evening was heralded by a number of slow dances, which I took maximum enjoyment from. I’m sure there were quite a few but the one that sticks forever in my mind is the 10 c.c. song mentioned in the title of this piece. Here is a YouTube link to it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rgepWg4rzw

At midnight or just after we all got turfed out of the place and Ian and Linda took me back to Rayleigh to sleep very happily in their spare room.

And the rest is history!

Faith and I started going out regularly after that; got married in March 1980 and are still together now, 2 children and 2 grandchildren later!

It will not have escaped your calculating minds that the first Wednesday in November 1977 was the 2nd which is why this article has been scheduled to appear today.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Faith!

 

David (not my usual sign-off but it wasn’t “Alfie” who danced with her and fell in love!)

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2017 in CD of my Life

 

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

 
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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

 
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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

 
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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

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2017 in Informative