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Category Archives: Informative

It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive!

This is quite a short piece by recent standards – because I think you need a bit of a break from long-winded rants at government agencies and the like!

On the assumption that I manage successfully to schedule this piece correctly on WordPress it should appear on both this site and my Facebook page on EXACTLY the 50th Anniversary of the event recounted. I’m not going to hold my breath over that though!

Let me take you back to Christmas 1967 when I was 14 years old! Apart from the fact that we spent it at home instead of at my Aunt and Uncle’s house (next door but one to my maternal grandmother’s house – thus doubling the available accommodation) as was normally the case, I remember exactly three things about it.

  1. One of my Christmas presents was a plastic model kit, somewhat superior to the usual Airfix ones that I tended to get, of an American Hot-rod car known as The Green Hornet. It had chromed plastic trim and transfers (U.S. = decals) of flames to be applied to the bodywork. It was a much larger scale than most of my aeroplane models and therefore involved much finer detail. I think this may have been it:

The other thing it had was…….. absolutely nothing to do with this story!

  1. I had a really bad dose of the ‘flu all over that holiday and concern that I might infect my three cousins may well have been why we weren’t across town as usual. My research tells me that most Influenza outbreaks in the U.K. up to that winter were weakening mutations of the great 1957 “Asian Flu” pandemic which, over its lifespan saw off somewhere between 1 and 2 million people worldwide. I caught its last feeble effort before it was replaced by a reinvigorated brand new strain the following year – the “Hong Kong Flu” pandemic of 1968. Nevertheless it was still powerful enough to cause me to spend all of Christmas Day and Boxing Day (and maybe other days either side) in bed and feeling thoroughly miserable. Remember too that I would have been effectively quarantined in my little bedroom with only my books and my little Benkson radio (as long as the PP3 9 volt battery lasted) – there were no such things as portable Televisions or computers to maintain any visual contact with the outside world!
  1. One of the reasons that I mentioned Television in the previous paragraph and another reason other than sickness to account for me being miserable was that I was going to miss THE major TV event of that Christmas, to be shown on BBC1 at 8.35 p.m. on Boxing Day. It was listed as “The Beatles present their own film, Magical Mystery Tour” and I really, really wanted to see it. I’m not actually sure if my parents would have consented but there was very little to compete with it given that my Dad had a very definite antipathy to just about anything (other than “The Saint”) produced by ITV! Whether the rest of the family saw it or not I don’t know, I only know that I didn’t!

And for nigh on 50 years that fact has rankled with me! It never seemed to get repeated and I was never able to find it on Video or CD. I was, of course, very familiar with the sound track – a mixture of extremely unusual and rather mundane songs and in my mind I made it out to be something absolutely brilliant that I was very much the poorer for never having seen!

And then…..

A few months ago I was sorting through some files on an old laptop hard disk and found a whole folder of videos and music albums that I had copied from a PC I had been upgrading to Windows 7 about 5 years previously. When I found a sub-folder entitled “Magical Mystery Tour” I thought it would be just the album but it turned out to be a video file of this major omission in my life!

Incidentally, can I just say that I have, of course, now deleted all the files I copied in this way – to keep them would be illegal!

Before I did so, however, I felt compelled to watch MMT and fill in this great missing piece in the jigsaw of my life.

What a load of old tosh it was!

The soundtrack music remains brilliant (as does everything MUSICAL that The Beatles ever did) but the film was the most self-indulgent, drug-addled, badly assembled pile of crap that I have ever watched! I could see exactly why it has never been repeated on mainstream Television!

I am left now with a wish that I had never found that computer file and that I was still in blissful ignorance and waiting hopefully for the something wonderful that I had missed to emerge from the shadows!

Or perhaps if 14 year old me had seen it back in 1967 I would have thought it wonderful and the memory would have been such that I would never have needed to see it again through adult eyes!

Ah well, we can never know!

Alfie

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Posted by on December 26, 2017 in Informative, Music Related

 

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The Little Alfie review of the year 2017

I know the year isn’t over yet but I’m going to take a chance on my not becoming a celebrity death statistic and spoiling it with only a week to go!

There are two good reasons for taking this chance:

Firstly, the number of “celebs” dropping off this mortal coil has seemed to be considerably lower than the “great purge” of 2016 – so the chances are much reduced.

Secondly, and more significantly, I am in no way a celebrity anyway!

Of course if you, my loyal readership, would do a bit more in the way of spreading the word of my witty musings to the wider world it might just happen! Not this year though.

Here then are the “highlights” of my year – some of which have already been considered worthy of their own articles – I will put links to them where appropriate and won’t go into quite as much detail where you may have already read all about it:

2017 began, as do so many years, with January, which went by in a bit of a blur. Much of it was spend trying to persuade my dear wife, Faith, to relinquish our new grandson (who was born two weeks before Christmas 2016) so that Grandad could have a cuddle and attempt rudimentary telepathic bonding with him!

Also in January I took my long-awaited (I signed up for it in the previous October!) Archery Beginners Course. This entailed spending a couple of hours on three consecutive Mondays in a Sports Hall in the as-attractive-as-it-sounds Peterborough suburb of Dogsthorpe. At the end of it I was considered sufficiently competent to be invited to join the club conducting the course and be covered by ArcheryGB’s insurance while shooting. I am now a fully paid up member of Nene Bowmen Archery Club.

In February, bearing in mind that we are retired and not constrained to stay in the UK for the whole of winter, Faith and I departed from the still comparatively small and friendly East Midlands Airport to spend the week including my 64th birthday basking in the sun in Gran Canaria. It was lovely and the nice hotel management left a bottle of iced Cava in our room while we were in the pool on my actual birthday!

As much as I enjoyed it I have to say that having now tried the four largest Canary Islands I still prefer Lanzarote (see articles in March 2013) so we’ll probably go back there again next time winter starts to depress us.

Earlier that month I had attended the first (of many, hopefully) School reunion for my year group which had started out only a month previously as a new, closed Facebook group. With the 50th anniversary of our leaving the hallowed halls of Copleston Secondary Modern School for Boys coming up in July 2019 we have much to talk about and many more “Old Boys” to locate and contact.

For our wedding anniversary in March Faith and I attempted to return to the Essex hotel where we held our Wedding reception back in 1980. It did not seem familiar to us until we eventually realised that a new hotel has been built on part of the grounds of the old Furze Hill building at Margaretting and the old hotel that we had used was across the lawns and is now used exclusively as a venue (with accommodation) for large-scale weddings. Still, as there was no-one about we were able to saunter across the invisible division between the two parts and peer through windows into the very dining room that we and our guests had used 37 years earlier!

Towards the end of April my younger daughter Carla went into labour and on the final day of that month produced our new Granddaughter. This was quite an event in my family as my elder daughter, Hannah and my sister’s three daughters had all produced boys! So, my mother (now in her 90th year) has had to wait for seven great-grandsons before getting a great-granddaughter!

A lot of time over the next six weeks was spent driving down to Witham to see the new arrival while also maintaining close contact with her slightly older cousin back in Peterborough.  He, however, got to familiarise himself with us and his other grandparents over almost a week at CenterParcs at the end of June. I told you about that trip here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2017/06/

The summer proceeded with occasional days out combined with babysitting but my next personal “highlight” was my hugely entertaining Colonoscopy and the preparations for it in August. This was documented here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2017/08/ but at the time it was published I had not received any results. I can formally advise you all right here that my large intestine is officially perfect – so that’s all right then!

As my blog posts seem to have dwindled a bit in number lately you may have noticed that the paragraphs with links to other postings are suddenly appearing rather closer together. And here’s another one: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2017/09/ which covers me doing my bit for my old home town when it got to host the British Mensa AGM in mid-September.

In October we were off to CenterParcs again! This time at Woburn (only a 40 minute drive from Peterborough) with Carla and Dave, his parents and our little grand-daughter who, thanks to this trip, now recognises us immediately and breaks into an angelic smile when she sees us!

November was, as normal, highlighted by my annual sea fishing trip with my former Barclays colleagues (my 34th consecutive year). This took place in Somerset at a beach near the village of Bossington with our accommodation (and all the associated drinking) in Minehead. I had a terrible time losing tackle in the rocks (as did most of the participants) but fortunately my three teammates all managed to catch something – which was enough to give us our first victory since 2010.

For well over a year Faith and I have been proud possessors of tickets to the two-part theatre production “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and finally got to see this just over a week before Christmas. I am in the process of writing about this trip in a typically amusing fashion so won’t say more about it here. You will probably have to wait until the New Year for that.

As I am managing to finish this off on Christmas Eve I don’t know how Christmas Day or the remaining week of the year will go but on the basis of the rest of the year I’m sure it will be great!

So, once again, I will take my leave of you while getting my customary kick from saying:

“Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers!”

Alfie

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2017 in Informative

 

Whose job is it anyway? – Alfie gets serious!

I don’t often do pieces like this – perhaps I should do more of them!

***

An open letter to the advisory staff at Peterborough Job Centre:

Good Morning,

May I please suggest that you read this carefully to acquaint yourselves with certain aspects of “real life” that my recent experiences suggest are passing you by in your working lives.

To set the scene and introduce myself, I am an I.T. Support and Helpdesk technician of 20 years’ experience who has now retired from full-time employment.

Two years ago when I started to experience difficulty obtaining new contracts (due, I am 99% sure, to my age – I know that 64 is considered “old” for any I.T. work) I “signed on” at your office and was immediately sent on a 3 day course to teach me how to use a computer to write a C.V.!

The only thing that I learned on that course was that there were a huge percentage of my fellow participants who did not have even the faintest idea of how to turn a computer on! In fact, I spent most of those 3 days helping these people as far as I could – the tutor pressed on with his syllabus regardless, presumably on the assumption that everyone sent on the course must know the basics! He was wrong!

Since then I have come to regard assisting the vast numbers of what I term, respectfully, “The Incomputerate” – those people who through age, work history and personal or economic circumstances have simply never been exposed to computer usage – as a personal mission.

And now, in an effort to do some small amount of good in this area, I volunteer every Tuesday morning at the Computer Suite of Peterborough Central Library to teach “absolute beginners” – one of two such sessions each week (the other being on Thursday afternoons). I am only involved with the Tuesday session so my following remarks and descriptions can relate only to that.

To clarify what these sessions entail, the library sets aside a row of 8 Personal Computers for the exclusive use of jobseekers and a block of 4 PCs in an alcove for those looking to acquire basic “beginners” computer skills. All of these machines can only be logged on to with a staff account between the hours of 10:30 and 12:00 but the other 30 or so PCs in the Computer Suite remain available for public use as normal.

On the Tuesday morning session that I am involved with the staffing arrangements are as follows:

1 member of Vivacity full-time staff behind the Suite reception desk and dealing solely with queries (printing, scanning issues and the like) for the “public area”.

1 member of Vivacity full-time staff (when not required at another branch library) supervising the whole “reserved” section and helping when needed.

1 Volunteer (with some medical problems – so attendance is irregular) specifically concentrating on assisting the job seekers. Because of the occasional absence of this person their “Job Club” function is often carried out by the full-time (albeit untrained) staff member mentioned in the previous paragraph.

1 Volunteer (myself) overseeing and assisting the beginners to get logged into their “Learn My Way” web-based training program and, when asked, providing tuition on specific aspects of computer usage.

And it all works very well under normal circumstances!

As long, that is, as all of the job seekers are sufficiently computer literate to log themselves into their Universal Jobmatch, email and employment agency accounts – they can (with only occasional pauses for questions) be left to get on with it.

Sometimes (and I am sure you will be pleased to know that we are now moving towards the specific case that caused me to write this) it transpires that a person will present him/herself to me for beginners training and, when asked if they have a particular reason for learning these new skills, will tell me that they need to learn how to apply for jobs online. This, you will appreciate, puts them somewhere between both of the facilities available to them in the library so I try to resolve this by spending a few weeks sorting out the basics (mouse and keyboard usage) and then pass the person over to the Job Club to put their new knowledge to practical use.

Not everyone, however, is a “natural” when it comes to computer use and some take much longer than others at grasping the very basics – particularly if they have been essentially a manual worker all of their life and do not have a computer at home to practice on.

So we now get to specifics – one of my “regulars” over the last five months. Let us call him Harry (which is not his name), a man in his 50s who has been out of work for many years while looking after an aged and infirm relative.

Harry, it has to be said, still does not “get” computer keyboards and despite all those weeks of practice it still takes him some minutes to correctly type his email address and password. Because he does seem to be trying hard I do not wish to give up on him and shunt him off to the “Job Club” desks and have instead split his time between the Learn My Way application and setting up rudimentary Searches on his Universal Jobmatch account.

Because I frequently have 2 or more other pupils to help I am not able to give Harry the “one-on-one” attention that he really needs and I have on several occasions left him with a whole hour to fill in a simple job application only for the PC to log out automatically at the end of the session with the application unfinished, losing the information already entered!

And then, a few weeks ago, Harry turned up on the Tuesday morning in a state of considerable agitation! After calming him down I discovered that he had been given a new “adviser” at Peterborough JC who was threatening him with “sanctions” if he didn’t start applying for some jobs forthwith. “Sanctions” as I understand it, could mean not only cuts to his meagre benefits but the possible loss of his home too!

I gather that he mentioned me and the help I was patiently giving him each week and was then told something along the lines of “Well you had better get down to the library and tell your ’friend’ to apply for some jobs for you!”

Now you people in Peterborough Job Centre to whom this is addressed do not know me but a lot of other people who read this blog do and they, I am sure, will understand why this reported conversation made me absolutely FURIOUS!!

So angry in fact that I have had to leave the writing of this piece for several weeks to enable me to calm down!

Let me just give you a few bullet points drawn from the rest of this article and my subsequent thoughts:

  • I am not experienced at Job hunting. In my own career my contracts largely came from “networking”, and word of mouth referrals. I am a computer specialist and have no wish to be anything else.
  • I am a VOLUNTEER which means that I do this PC training work because I want to and NOT because I have to. No-one should, therefore, regard me as an ever-present resource.
  • Staff (including volunteers) at Peterborough Library are told specifically NOT to complete forms on peoples’ behalf – this is guidance given across the UK library system as a whole.
  • Just what is the Job Centre for? It seems, on the basis of my experience to exist for the sole purpose of threatening people who through no fault of their own cannot cope with the system that they insist upon everyone using. And then shoving the responsibility for these people finding work off onto us well-meaning amateurs!
  • I believe that, as there is now no aspect of our lives where we can get by without computer know-how at some level or other, this is only going to get worse! As good as I am, I cannot teach everyone in Peterborough who needs it to use a computer – not in one and a half hours a week anyway!
  • The next time you want to make any kind of suggestion that MY work on behalf of one of YOUR clients is in some way inadequate, please have the balls to come down and tell ME personally – we’re only about 5 minutes’ walk away and my colleagues and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the many inadequacies that we perceive in YOUR methods and procedures!

Perhaps the answer to this problem is for the Department for Work and Pensions (who are, after all, part of this Government which is decreeing that everyone has to apply for just about everything on-line) to set up “Absolute Beginners” computer courses for this forgotten sector of the populace in major towns and cities around the UK. I have no intention of returning to full-time work but would happily help with either the construction or implementation of such courses in my local area.

I would want paying for it though!

Thanks for listening and PLEASE moderate your attitude to voluntary helpers!

Yours faithfully

David Searle

P.S. Twice now in the last four posts on this site I have found it necessary to append my real name in the “sign off”. In this instance I have done it because I hope to find ways in which the above document can be distributed amongst the staff not only of Peterborough Job Centre but others around the country and I feel that I should not be hiding behind a pseudonym for this serious purpose.

Alfie

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2017 in Informative

 

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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

 

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