Category Archives: Ipswich

Brain Fever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




*Look it up if you don’t believe me!

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

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


Posted by on July 14, 2017 in Ipswich, Schooldays


Nostalgia! It’s not what it used to be!

I need to update you a bit on some things that happened back in February when, you may recall, I experienced a surprising “spike” in my viewing figures for this site – particularly with regard to items concerning my schooldays.

Shortly after I noticed this I was invited by one of my former classmates to join a closed Facebook group specifically set up for my particular year group at Copleston Secondary Modern School for Boys.

Incidentally I mention the school’s full, official name from that era just to annoy Mike Vincent in Thailand who thinks that its post-1972, co-educational name of “Copleston High” sounds much cooler! I think Copleston High sounds like something out of a bad U.S teen movie!

Anyway, I accepted the invitation and when I went back over the postings from the few weeks that had elapsed since the group had started I found that someone (not from my class) had mentioned that if you Googled “Copleston” and “Prospicimus” (the school motto) you were linked to articles by “Little Alfie – whoever he is”! Someone who had been in my class then recognised me from the school photo that I use on this site, told the group and I got invited.

All of which explains the sudden rise in my visitor figures – which have, sadly, now slumped back down to their old levels!

I did, however, just manage to join the group in time to learn of an organised reunion at a social club in Ipswich, only a few hundred yards away from the old school. Fortunately Faith and I were visiting our daughter in Witham (a mere 30 miles or so from Ipswich) on the date of this momentous event so I was spared the need for a 100 mile each way drive.

It was a great evening – there were about 15 of us present – three of us who went all the way through the school in the same class and another two who were with us until the GCE/ CSE examination “split” at the end of the third year (Year 9 in modern parlance). The rest I recognised the names of but hadn’t ever “worked with” during those five years (except, possibly, for inter-house events).

We were all as rude to each other as if no time at all had passed and there was an awful lot of laughter about remembered fellow students, teachers and significant events. Suffice it to say that we are going to do it again and soon!

The chat and the subjects raised at that gathering fuelled the discussions on the Facebook page (which continues to grow as people are traced and invited) for several months and has reminded me of many names and events that even my prodigious memory for “historical” matters had forgotten.

And just when I thought I had reached the limit of the school-based anecdotes that I could use to initiate discussions, the same person who had introduced me to that group also added me to a slightly more general Facebook Group. This has a much wider scope and basically extends what I have been doing to the whole of Ipswich and what I remember of my time there from 1953 to 1979.

The schools memories are still of use here but I can (and frequently do) also comment on other things that I haven’t thought of for quite a while as well as throwing in, where relevant, bits from my late father’s memoir that he wrote covering his experiences as a teenager during the war and his army service.

Again that is all quite fun and I feel I make a significant contribution to what may one day be seen as a historical database of 20th and 21st century life in the town. I also (but only when I absolutely HAVE to) get occasional “plugs” in for this site so I may see some more spikes on the viewing figures graph.

I do notice, however, that while those of us in the Copleston Boys Facebook group all received, however reluctantly, a decent education and obviously take some pride in how the stuff we record appears on screen, a great many of the (currently) 13,000 Ipswich residents who belong to the more general group do not have such a sense of pride!

Either that or they were behind the bike sheds having a crafty fag on the day their Remedial English class did “Always starting sentences with Big Letters”! Certainly a great many of them wouldn’t know an apostrophe if it bit them on the bum and are unfamiliar with concepts such as “their”, “there” and “they’re”! I feel embarassed on their behalf on many occasions and quite annoyed that they didn’t bother to look at what they had typed before pressing “send” on others.

I presume that many of these were taught written English anything up to 60 years ago but their lives until now have been such that they just haven’t had to use it! For that reason I have patiently restrained myself from becoming an online Grammar Nazi and have so far managed to proceed on the basis that the content is what really matters here.

All of this is exercising my long-term memory quite well and I’m still learning a great deal from both groups but one thing still bothers me.

I mentioned above the motto of my school as being “Prospicimus” which is Latin for “Look forward” (or possibly “we look forward” – I’m not sure about that because Copleston didn’t actually do Latin).

Why then am I, along with a large number of my schoolmates, putting so much effort into looking BACK at it?!




Posted by on May 20, 2017 in Ipswich, Schooldays


Prospicimus we sing…..!

Following my recent report of people looking at the posts in the “Schooldays” category of this site I thought it would be rude not to write something for he/them – whoever they may be.

The word “she” was omitted deliberately there as the only female at my secondary school was the Headmaster’s secretary and it’s unlikely to be her.

Incidentally, if you don’t know what I mean about “categories” go to the bottom of the menu down the right of this page. There you will find the tags that I have, so far, chosen for these pieces. This one will be marked as “Schooldays” too when it’s published.

My next thought was of what aspect of school life I could write about that I haven’t already done and since I appear to be blessed (or cursed) with a memory full of this sort of pointless crap I thought:

“I’ll start at Day One and see where it goes!”

At the end of the summer 1964 school term I left Britannia Road Primary School in Ipswich having attended there for but a single term as a result of a family house move across town. I did this in the in the knowledge that, along with only one other boy in my class, I had not passed the “11 Plus” examination and was not destined for Northgate Grammar School!

So, at the beginning of the following September I presented myself in my new uniform (including a cap with a badge on) in the large playground of Copleston Secondary Modern School for Boys – which was actually within sight of the aforementioned Britannia Road school and only the width of a public footpath away.

We “newbies” were gathered together – they found us because only first years bothered (because we’d been TOLD to) to wear caps – and marched up to what was then the school hall. There we were given details of the school rules (which I must have forgotten instantly), the School song (of which more later) and sorted into our classes.

And it was here that I had my first and fortunately only, problem with the school authorities!

Now, as most of you, especially those of you reading this via my Facebook link, will know my real name is neither “Little” nor “Alfie” but is in fact “Searle”. And at the end of that Hogwarts-style “sorting” I was the only person left in the room but for the teacher with the hand-written list of names and HE now had two problems; what to do with me and what to do about “Scarfe” who had not turned up!

It does, I think, say much for our respective intelligences that I worked out what had happened first and had to timidly point out that if you wrote my name badly it might appear to read as Scarfe!

Upon reflection this may be why you never saw the cartoonists Ronald Searle and Gerald Scarfe in the same room together before (very, very) distant cousin Ron’s demise in 2011!

That initial trauma apart there were a number of very new and very strange things that we had to get used to, including:

  • No girls – they were all in the adjoining building and contact was forbidden. This probably explains why so many of the people I know from those days seem to have had so many marriages! We simply weren’t used to them! At least it stopped those sloppy and embarrassing games of “kiss chase” – it did for me anyway although there may even in those days have been some in that all-boys environment that weren’t fussy!
  • Different teachers for different subjects (I’ve mentioned some of them in the following pieces; , and I should, in fact, do another in that series to pick up all the ones I’ve remembered since.
  • Lessons in different classrooms all over the school (and even at a different site 1.5 miles away – and with only minutes to get from each one to the next. The moves from the distant annexe to the main school were done either in the 30 minute slot after registration when the rest of the school was having the daily assembly or during the 15 minute mid-morning break. I must have been so much fitter in those days – especially as I didn’t get access to a bicycle until after the completion of the new building works made the Clifford Road annexe unnecessary! The other bad changeover was when you finished P.E. in the gym and had 5 minutes to shower, get dressed AND get to the next lesson. We became experts at dressing while still more than slightly wet!
  • I don’t recall there being physical punishment at junior school but I was such a goody-goody that I wouldn’t have known about it anyway! At Copleston we had teachers who utilised things like the sole of a Plimsole, the 2 inch thick climbing ropes in the gym, the well-thrown wooden-backed blackboard eraser or Headmaster Ken Armstrong’s cane. I have to say that I had sufficient wits to avoid all of those but suffered my fair share of individual, class and whole school detentions, the latter type including the notable one that followed the detonation of the pipe bomb in the waste incinerator near the cycle sheds. I still wonder who was responsible for that one!
  • Michael Vincent! Yes I do know you’re reading this Mike and I don’t mean anything bad by it! Just remember that I’m listing some of the things I found to be “very new and very strange” and to ME you certainly came under at least one of those headings. OK? For anyone else reading this I should say that Mike was a force of nature at that school. His enthusiasm for anything (such as the “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” radio show or any other “off the wall” comedy of the day) was so “over the top” as to appear almost manic. And as for his out of school activities ….. but I’ll let him tell you about those! We didn’t really understand Mike at all and were somewhat unkind to him but I apologised for that when we resumed contact in 2009 and we are good friends now even though separated by 6000 miles and 6 or 7 hours of time zone difference. I’ll bet if any of us “non-entities” from that year met any of our old teachers and they had trouble placing us mentioning Mike would do the trick! They would probably recede very quickly over the horizon too!
  • Daily Assemblies. I don’t remember having such gatherings of the whole school EVERY DAY at junior school but we certainly did at Copleston. There were only a limited number of ways of avoiding this. Needing to run from the annexe to the main school was one them but I also got out of some by being in the school Recorder Group (later glorified with the name School Orchestra) who met and practised during one Assembly per week. There was a very minor Church of England religious component to the Assembly – one or two hymns and The Lord’s Prayer was about the limit of it but that was enough for the handful of Roman Catholics to have permission to wait outside until the important announcements were made by Ken Armstrong or his deputy. In case you are wondering about students with “other” religious backgrounds – there were none!

    On special occasions such as the start of term, end of term, state visits by local councillors or just when Ken felt like it, we would be required, in these assemblies, to sing The School Song! This had been composed by Ken himself (to try to make us feel like we were at Eton or similar) with music arranged by “Wombat” Woolford the Art Master and Official Pianist. The song was based on the school’s Latin motto which was on our uniform badges and which was “Prospicimus” or “We look forward”. That translation was also in the lyrics which were tediously banal and the first line began with the words I have used as the title of this piece. I won’t bore you with them here but I do have a printed sheet with both the words and the music which I picked up at the school’s 50th birthday event and wrote about here: – if anyone wants a copy……..! I do sometimes think it’s a little ironic that I keep looking backwards at a school that constantly wanted us to look forwards!

Well, that went well! From wondering what to write to almost 1500 words in one evening – that should keep you all going for a while! And, as I’ve said before, if you wish to comment but don’t want to do it on this post directly, please email and I will respond.



Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Ipswich, Schooldays


Doctor, Doctor!

When I was about 6 years of age (that is to say, just before the “Swinging Sixties” began) it was discovered that it wasn’t only the crappy school dinners at Luther Road Primary School (now known as “Hillside”) that were causing me to throw up in bed at night on regular occasions!

The “food” concerned was getting wedged in my throat due to my enlarged Tonsils and a visit to the local hospital was scheduled to whip them out.

This was a considerable improvement on a generation earlier – pre-NHS and in similar circumstances my father had HIS Tonsils removed by the family doctor on my Grandmother’s kitchen table! I’m sure that entailed no risk of infection whatsoever! I can only hope it didn’t interfere too much with my Grandfather’s dinner!

The old Anglesey Road Hospital in Ipswich was a massive Victorian (possibly even Georgian) stone-built building extended quite massively over the years. This extension may even have gone underground to some extent as my enduring memory is of being wheeled to the operating theatre down long, semi-circular, white tiled “tunnel” corridors reminiscent of some old parts of the London Underground.

I am, despite my prestigious GCE “O” Level in Biology, still uncertain as to the purpose or function of Tonsils, save that like the Wasp we seem to be better off without them! What does seem to be the case, however, is that they (Tonsils, that is NOT Wasps) are somehow inextricably linked with similar objects called Adenoids which extend into the nasal area and which are normally removed at the same time.

This double removal happened to me and resulted in a long-lasting psychological effect and what was probably my first brush with non-parental authority!

Before I went into the hospital my parents had dutifully taught me certain social skills, most notably how to avoid the classic small boys’ permanent snot dribble by blowing my nose on a handkerchief.

After my “operation” I fell foul of a rather stern nurse on the children’s ward and, because of the nose element involving those Adenoid things I was told off for blowing my nose as previously taught.  I am aware even now that had she gently explained WHY to me I would have made every effort to keep my hands off the hanky but when I was caught a second time she over-reacted by taking it away from me completely!

My way of revolting against the spiteful cow was a refusal to use a handkerchief at all for some years afterwards to the annoyance of my parents!

Fortunately I had no reason for further involvement with the 1950s/60s hospital system but have over the last 10 years or so (and indeed the last few months) experienced the modern equivalent.

My most powerful and prolonged association came in November 2006 (it was contemplating the 10th anniversary of that event that started me writing this in November 2016) when I collapsed with an allergic reaction.

I don’t believe I have ever told that story here although an abridged version does appear in the 2006 chapter of my fishing memoir) so here it is:

I visited my Doctor on the evening of 6th November 2006 with a “creaky” hip joint and was prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs of the sort that my wife has for serious back aches usually incurred by excessive gardening and which I have used myself in the past.

I took one before going to bed that night at about 11p.m. and woke up 7 hours later with a desperate need to visit the en-suite bathroom. I also noticed that my entire skin felt hot and itchy.

Much of what follows I cannot state as gospel truth as you will see but I don’t think Faith made any of it up.

A few seconds after I went into the bathroom she heard a crash and when I didn’t answer her calls she managed to get the door open, help me to my feet and get me back into bed. As I wasn’t coherent and fearing that I had experienced a stroke of some sort, Faith went downstairs to call an ambulance. While she was doing so I, in my befuddled state, decided once again to go to the bathroom and once again collapsed to the floor, this time passing out completely!

And that was how the Ambulance men found me.

They diagnosed Anaphylactic Shock and started me, in situ, on an Anti-histamine drip to keep me alive while my body tried to shut down completely.

What they failed to realise (and I don’t blame them one bit – saving my life was MUCH more important) was that the central heating had come on at full blast while I was unconscious and I was laying with my left hip wedged up against the feeder pipe for the bathroom radiator!

I spent most of the day in hospital on that drip and what turned out to be a third degree burn was taken to be a graze resulting from my fall in a confined space.

It took several months to heal completely and necessitated going to the Peterborough NHS Walk-in Centre every couple of days to get the dressing changed. As I went back to work after only a couple of days this meant evening visits and as a result I became quite well acquainted with the evening/night shift staff. As we went into December I quipped that as a regular “customer” I should get invited to the Staff Christmas Party.

They replied to the effect that, while they couldn’t invite all of me, my left buttock was welcome to attend!

I’m sure that the whole healing process was extended and made much worse by the fact that the burn, and therefore the dressing, was right where the waistbands of both my underpants and my trousers rubbed against me. That, however, wasn’t the fault of the Walk-in Centre staff for whom I had (and indeed still have) the greatest respect, gratitude and admiration.

Just lately, as I mentioned in my review of the year 2016 a few weeks ago, I have spent a lot of time escorting or visiting various family members at the Peterborough City Hospital and on all of those occasions the “front-line” staff have been brilliant!

And yet, I keep reading of and hearing about “Crisis in the NHS” and “Hospitals cutting back services for lack of cash” and have to conclude that this can only be because there are whole echelons of unnecessary chair-warmers hidden behind the hard working and caring front-line professionals.

Given the amount of well-informed press coverage there must, indeed, be whole teams whose sole purpose is to report on where cuts due to lack of funds need to be made!

Well, I may be being naïve here but wouldn’t cutting out those teams be a grand place to start saving money?

Prune out anyone in a team such as that who doesn’t actually do anything positive (right up to the top level six-figure earners at the head of the chain) in all of the many NHS Trusts around the country and I’m sure funds would suddenly be available again!

Sometimes these articles take a long time to finish due to my lacking a good way to end and this is a case in point!

As I write these last few paragraphs on 1st February 2017 (3 months after I started) I am sitting in a waiting room at the Hospital while my wife has a routine scan for Osteoporosis (all was fine I’m pleased to say) and a lady next to me is reading the Daily Mail which has an apt headline.

“Health tourism ‘chaos’ draining the NHS”!

Apparently the billing process for foreigners who don’t qualify for the “free” service that we natives get by virtue of paying for it, is completely screwed (surprise, surprise) and hundreds of millions of pounds per year are being lost.

Now there’s a job for those “cuts” teams!

Get rid of the people responsible for the messed up process, they are plainly inept , and give new contracts to these other spare parts paying them £1 for every £100 they recover from the non-paying “health tourists”. After all they seem very adept at bullying their own colleagues into cutting costs; squeezing a few quid from some defaulting foreigner should be child’s play!

If they get really good at it they might even be able to rise to the sort of earnings they expect highly trained Nurses to get by on!

And then, of course, there’s the £350 million PER WEEK that the NHS will allegedly get from our saved contributions to the EU following “Brexit” – but how many people would believe in a promise like that enough to vote for it?

How many?


Really?! It seems as though Education must be in trouble as well!

Right! That’s the National Health Service sorted – all the Government had to do was ask me! What’s next?


1 Comment

Posted by on February 11, 2017 in Ipswich


Dirty work!

I am descended, as is my wife (who does all the genealogical stuff in our household) from long lines of agricultural workers who seem periodically to have jumped into more modern occupations.

For a specific example, one of my great-grandparents started his working life as a “groom” to the carriage horses of the Earl of Stradbroke but saw the way the world was progressing and finished up as the Chauffeur of the first motor-car of the prominent Cobbold family in Ipswich.

Similarly, there are several other “lines” (if you’ll pardon the expression given what I’m about to say!) where humble agricultural families suddenly became, in the mid-19th century, “Railway Workers”.

Now I’m sure you’re all thinking “That’s over a hundred words and there is still no real sign of what this is about and where he’s going with it!”

Well, don’t rush me – I’m getting there!

This article is a “leftover” from the piece I did a while ago (5 years ago, actually, and you can find it here: ) concerning the great parties that used to be held at my house in Beaconsfield Road, Ipswich in the 1970s and particularly from the mention therein of my friendly neighbour, Brian. It wasn’t really appropriate in the earlier article and you may well decide after reading it that it isn’t appropriate anywhere else either!

Nevertheless it is something else that comes to mind when I think of those parties and if this site has any purpose at all it is to set down my memories as a “backup” against the day when some cosmic I.T. Department accidentally formats my personal internal hard disk (or “brain” as some would call it)!

Like it or not I’m going to tell you anyway, so there!

In the previous piece I mentioned Brian’s brewing and curry making skills but there was insufficient room to say much more about him. Plus it would have resulted in me getting seriously “off-topic” and I’m sure you’ve realised that I ramble off the subject quite enough already!

Brian was approximately 40 years of age when I knew him, as tall as me (6ft 4in) and possessed a magnificent black “handlebar” moustache which gave him a resemblance to the common caricature of a World War 2 RAF Wing Commander!

And, in common with a number of my ancestors, he worked on the Railway.

Not, it must be said, in the menial labouring capacity that I imagine the remoter of my railway forebears left agriculture for but as a Driver working out of Parkeston Quay, Harwich and Dovercourt at a time when ferries for the continent were not “containerised” as they are now but still on- and off-loaded freight by crane to and from trains “parked” alongside the waiting ship.

When his shift pattern allowed and his wife, Ruby, took the children to visit their Grandparents, Brian could often be found round at my house chatting about this and that over some of his own home-brewed beer with my lodger, Andy, myself and any of our friends who happened to be around.

And, when I mentioned him in the previous article I was reminded of one particular story he told us.

It concerns the working practices of the gangs of workmen involved in laying new or replacement railway track. It is no longer wholly relevant as most such activity is carried out on special trains that work on the same general principles used to lay transatlantic cables; that is the lengths of track to be laid are carried on special trains and are welded into one continuous length before being fed out onto the track bed and automatically fixed to the concrete (formerly wooden) cross pieces, or “sleepers”.

Such specialised and semi-automated trains are quite recent innovations and include special additional carriages for the workmen to eat, shelter and (for all I know) even sleep in but before such things existed much larger gangs laboured to lay the tracks by hand. Any railway rolling stock used consisted mainly of the flat-bed trucks carrying the lengths of new rail and not many facilities existed for the workforce (known as “Platelayers”) who were usually bussed to and from the working site.

For such things as the storage of food and drink for ingestion during the working day were Lunch Boxes and Thermos Flasks invented but provision was not made for removal of the inevitable waste products!

Men, and there would almost certainly never be Women doing such work, do not have too much of a problem divesting themselves of unwanted urine! I know from my own sea fishing activities that all you have to do is walk down to the water’s edge and simply increase the volume of the ocean by a tiny amount. Or, if fishing on the breakwater of Dover Harbour, simply stand at the rail (assuming the wind is off the land behind you) and take the appropriate action towards France.

Removal of other waste (Look! I’m trying to be as delicate as I can here, OK?) is a bit more of a problem – on my fishing trips I avoid it completely by planning ahead – but the railway workers, being simple, bluff, working men, adopted a very direct solution. They would simply squat down between the tracks and do the necessary on the nice, new, creosoted wooden sleepers!

Very nice for them I’m sure but not so great for their colleagues or the next shift who would have to walk out along the tracks from their transport while avoiding treading in these little piles of poo!

Brian told us that, as with most occupations that develop their own vocabularies over time, the railway workers devised a term for these unpleasant heaps and he told us what it was.

Thereafter if Andy or I spotted that one or the other was about to tread in dog poo (this was before the days of pooper-scoopers or fines for irresponsible dog owners) we would give warning with “Watch out for the…….” and use that expression.

So if you ever are in my presence while out walking and you hear me say “Look out for the Platelayer’s Weasel” just watch where you’re treading!


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Posted by on November 9, 2016 in Ipswich


Still boldly going!

I pride myself on my memory – that and my intelligence are what I have going for me, mostly!

Oh, the body isn’t THAT bad! Some of it is still too big and some of it is still too small (Stop right there! I mean my FEET – size 10 for a height of 6 foot 4 inches means I come to a point and it’s a wonder I don’t fall over a lot) but most of it works as it is supposed to most of the time. I suppose at 63 years of age that’s as good as it gets!

Nevertheless, it is my memory that stands me in good stead when doing quizzes and having the recollections that form the basis of many of the almost 280 posts on this blog since it started in 2009.

Many people seem amazed at my ability to recall in tiny detail quite obscure matters such as things that happened in my schooldays which ended 47 years ago this week.

As an example, during one of my volunteer sessions at the Peterborough Library recently I was asked to locate some of the books shown as “missing” in this year’s stocktake. One of these was the Collected Works of the Satirist and Author who wrote under the name of “Saki”. Sure enough it was missing from the fiction shelves under “S” but without even realising I was doing it I went to the letter “M” and sure enough, there it was. When asked why I looked there I explained that I knew Saki’s real name to be H.H. Munro. So they asked me how I knew THAT and I explained that one of our English Literature set books had a “Saki” story in it and the teacher had mentioned his real name.

“But that was nearly 50 years ago” they said. “So what?” I replied.

I don’t know just how my brain goes about indexing and cross-referencing things I experience, making so much of it accessible to me – IT JUST DOES! And, as I said at the start, I am immensely proud of it.

All of which makes it all the more annoying when I have occasion to look something up and some detail makes me realise that my memory of it is not strictly accurate.

I mentioned an example of this about 3 years ago when I found that an episode of a radio comedy programme was not aired until 4 years after I left school while I could clearly recall discussing the jokes in it with my classmates (the ones that had any kind of sense of humour, anyway).

That could not have happened, so why do I THINK I can remember it? If you want to read it for yourself you can find it here:

And it has just happened again!

I was watching the 2009 J.J. Abrams’ reboot of “Star Trek” and the fact popped into my head that the original TV series was first made and shown in 1966. The Mathematics Division of my mighty intellect soon calculated that this was 50 years ago and I resolved to give it some sort of celebrationary mention in a blog post – this one!

If I may, I would like to digress here and go down an apparently unrelated path.

In the early part of 1967 I joined the 3rd Ipswich Boys Brigade Company and was then aged 14.

I don’t recall the exact date I joined but I know it was before 14th August because on that date I was in a Boys Brigade tent in a field near Hadleigh in Suffolk and that was the date that all the Pirate Radio stations were driven off the air by the stuffy and repressive government of the day. Except, of course, for Radio Caroline whose bold defiance of the Marine (Broadcasting) Offences Act 1967 was heartily cheered by all of us in that tent when they continued after the midnight deadline.

The Boys Brigade football season that began in September 1967 and ran until (I think) April 1968 was the first one where I played for the 3rd Ipswich BB and I continued to do so for the 1968/69, 1969/70 and 1970/71 seasons at which point I had to “retire” having reached 18 years of age.

Now, as with the tent and the partial demise of Pirate Radio, I have a very clear recollection of those teenage Saturdays and how they unfolded.

First off, my mother would try to bulk me up in the winter with a massive plate of Stew and Dumplings or, in warmer weather, with Sausage & Mash followed by Bread Pudding and Custard! It was a wonder that I could move on the pitch at all – opposing players must have run into me and bounced!

After that dinner I would cycle to our Church Hall (in any weather), cycle with the team to the match venue (in any weather), play for 80 minutes (in any weather) then reverse the process (in any weather).

When I got home I would have a long soak in the bath – I was usually pretty muddy – followed by Bread and Jam for tea while……. watching “Star Trek”!

That’s why this wasn’t an irrelevant digression and that is where the memory problem arises.

You see I have convinced myself, to the point of absolute certainty that the routine I just outlined took place over that entire 4 year period of my “footballing career”.


When I looked up some basic screening details I was expecting the USA/UK TV situation to be as it is now – that is, popular shows come to the other side of the pond maybe a series (sometimes only a few episodes) behind.

Obviously that wasn’t the case in the 1960s because when I looked closer I found that all three series of “Star Trek” comprising 79 episodes in all had been shown in the USA before we in the UK got to see a single one!

In fact it was 12th July 1969 (the week before I left school) that the BBC started showing episodes here – so the discussions about it with Sci-Fi minded classmates could not have happened either. They must have been with Sci-Fi minded Boys Brigade friends instead but that is not so likely AND it’s not how I remember it!

However, it does explain one tiny mystery for me.

If you follow the link I gave you earlier you will note that the episode of “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” that it refers to also concerns “Star Trek” and I was at a loss to explain why they were doing a skit in 1973 about something that had ended several years ago. With what I know now I can see that as far as the UK was concerned it was still pretty current and, therefore, fair game for a “send up”.

So, for us Brits it’s not yet 50 years since the Grammar Nazis started screaming about “Split Infinitives” and how the words in the opening titles should be “Boldly To Go” and not “To Boldly Go”!

Personally I still love “Star Trek” in all of its incarnations and I still love to happily split infinitives – whatever THEY are!

So, Happy 50th Birthday to Star Trek.



Posted by on July 17, 2016 in Ipswich, Schooldays


The CD of My Life – “She wears Red Feathers” – Guy Mitchell

You all know this bit in its various forms! If you ever need to get ME back from a coma or similar brain wipe situation – play me these tracks and read me these articles as they are inextricably linked in my head.

The song that is mentioned above came on the radio the other day and, on hearing it, Faith asked me if it was from the 1950s.

I responded that it was indeed almost as old as me and that I clearly recalled hearing it at my Grandmother’s house. From that point onwards I was back there, which is all it takes to qualify it for this series – as I’ve said before I don’t really have to like a song to include it here and this one never has and never will be on my list of personal favourites. I do find it almost embarrassingly “cringy” in fact!

I was born in the front room of my maternal grandmother’s house at 177 Ranelagh (pronounced “ran-lee”) Road, Ipswich in 1953. I was supposed to be born at our house near Bourne Bridge but at the time I was due the 1953 floods were only slowly abating and we had to relocate to somewhere a midwife had a good chance of reaching without a boat!

A bed for my mother was set up in the downstairs front room – my Gran considered that pregnant women should not be allowed to attempt perilous activities such as climbing stairs! I mentioned one of her other strange beliefs here .

Later on when I actually remember that room it had the best sofa and the piano in it but most of my visits were spent either in the long, narrow garden that stretched down to the railway sidings, or in the “living room” which contained the dining table, a couple of armchairs, the TV (in later years) and a massive walnut veneered Radiogram.

For the uninitiated a Radiogram was the Music Centre of its day combining (as the name suggests) a large radio using thermionic valves instead of micro circuits and a mains powered record player (to replace the impossibly old-fashioned clockwork gramophone).

It is probably fair to say that my Gran had any number of records, gathered over the years but most would have been scratchy pre-war 78 r.p.m 10 inch objects the content of which would not have interested me in the slightest.

There were, however, two 7 inch, 45 r.p.m. records that I was interested in and I remember asking her to play them at every visit I made either pre-school or in the school holidays up to about 1960 when I would have been 7 years old.

As with “Last Train to San Fernando” the song that properly started this series, I would sing along to this one without really knowing what the words actually were!

Here is my usual YouTube link to it:

As you are probably wondering what the OTHER one of Gran’s two singles was I shall tell you that it was “The Yellow Rose of Texas” by Mitch Miller – a slightly later song than “Feathers” and which was also the title song of a movie. Which came first I don’t know. Here’s a link to that as well:

And when I told that story to Faith and she suggested it should be part of this series I was already leaning over the side of the bed and making notes in the little book I keep for just that purpose!


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Posted by on June 20, 2016 in CD of my Life, Ipswich