Friday, November 02, 2018


We all had our exercise books covered in wallpaper. 

You got looked down on if you used woodchip wallpaper. Even more if you used old bits of brown paper, especially if it had come off a parcel from the butcher. Except for Billy Humphries. In his case we were never sure whether the blood was human or not. The posh kids had vinyl wallpaper in contemporary designs and were all superior about it. So Darren Cladthorpe pinched a book of wallpaper samples from the hardware shop and sold them to us at a penny-ha’penny a go and that put a stop to the nonsense. 

Why did we have to wallpaper our exercise books? The official reason was: “To keep them clean and tidy.” The real reason was because we’d all scribbled on the front cover. Every single one of us, even the Violet Elizabeths. Printed on the front cover of every exercise book, on the bottom right-hand side, was the inscription:


Five minutes after they got their new book every kid in our class had changed this to:

           LANCASHIRE gives
           EDUCATION to its
           COMMITTEE who are dim

So we had to wallpaper our exercise books. 

This was a shame because on the back cover they printed the answers to the really hard questions in tests. Lots and lots of tables of Avoirdupois weights and measures. Proper weights and measures in the old money. 

When schools went metric they changed the back covers but there wasn’t a lot of point because once you realised that any 100 centisomethings made a whole something it applied across the board. Something even teacher twigged after a few months. 

Proper weights and measures, they were more complicated because they applied to the real world, not just counting on your fingers. There was a natural consistency and flow to it. So twenty scruples made an ounce, sixteen ounces a pound, fourteen pounds made a stone, eight stones or one hundred and twelve pounds made a hundredweight and twenty hundredweight made a ton. Simple. 

It got a bit confusing sometimes, though. Fancy calling something “a rod, pole or perch!” Which one was it? “Miss, miss, is it a rod, a pole or a perch?” “No, it’s a rod, pole or perch.” Five and a half yards made one rod, pole or perch. Tommy Ecklestone said it must have been a blooming big budgie. (He was demoted from being milk monitor for that.) Four rod, pole or perches made a chain and there were eighty chains to the mile, or eight furlongs if you want, and one hundred and sixty square rod, pole or perches made an acre so it was all dead straightforward. 

Then there were cubits… “Miss, miss, what’s a cubit?” “It’s the length of Henry II’s forearm,” she said. We were baffled. Who was Henry II? We knew he wasn’t in our class because he didn’t say “Yes miss” when teacher was calling the register. But we’d know him when we saw him. Because he had four arms.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The horror!

Things were different when I was a kid. 

Not more innocent so much as more ignorant. We didn’t have your Google and your social media and stuff so we couldn’t look things up easily if we weren’t sure of things and there was no instant replay or catch-up so you always had to rely on the memory of witnesses and their ability to understand what on earth was going on. And we were crap at both of those. 

When I was at school the most terrifying film ever made — even scarier than Dracula and Frankenstein and that bloke with the bandages… 

Even scarier than them was this film that none of us had ever seen. It came on the telly once a year at silly o’clock at night when we were all in bed. Except for the ones that crept downstairs and found their mum and dad fast asleep in front of the telly. They got to see five or ten minutes’ worth before one or other woke up and told them to get back to bed. Only they didn’t know who anybody was, or what had happened and they weren’t so much watching the telly as watching their mum and dad for signs of waking up so that they had time to pretend to be sleepwalking so that they wouldn’t get told off. So they didn’t get to see much of the film and what they did see didn’t make any sense. But it was dead scary. 

The next day at school we’d piece together the fragments and try to make sense of it all. As far as we could tell, it was set in a far-off land where everyone runs round the streets with burning sticks and shout a lot. And this bloke had been tortured to death and made to walk round the streets with his jumper over his head and all he was allowed to say was: “The bells! The bells!” And lots of people died and it was dead scary. 

And we couldn’t have another look at the film to see if we were right because it wouldn’t be on for another year and we’d have forgotten the bits anyone had actually seen and could only remember the bits we’d made up to fill in all the gaps. We couldn’t go foraging on Youtube for it. We tried at the library: “Please miss, have you any books about horrible monsters in the films what wear their jumpers on their heads and kill people?” “There’s some new books about the Wombles over on that shelf over there.” 

And then someone would come into school and say: “That film was on last night and I know what happens ‘cos I saw a bit near the end where everyone dies.” What happened? What happened? “That bloke what’s been tortured to death, they make him sit on the roof with his jumper over his head and he has a magic world what kills everyone and they’re all mangled and screaming and everything.” 

And what was the magic word? 


Esmerelda! How impressive was that? Some of the more twisted little boys tried the magic word on wasps but it didn’t work, even if they pulled their jumpers over their heads. 

Imagine my disappointment when I finally got to see “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” for myself. I have great regard for Charles Laughton as an actor but there wasn’t so much as a tank top. 

All these slasher movies, they’re proper gory and downright horrible but they don’t really do it for our generation because there’s no really terrifying knitwear in them. We’d been conditioned from an early age. “Your Auntie Maureen’s knitted you a new pullover for your birthday. Put it on, let’s see how you look in it. He’ll grow into it… Don’t slouch! Stand up straight or you’ll make it look all baggy and peculiar looking. Well, don’t make it any worse than it is. Has that arm always been that long?” In no particular order we were scared of Jack the Ripper, the nit nurse and the lady from the wool shop.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

A bit of Danish

Round about the time we discovered that there was television after the Nine o'Clock News some bloody fool invented sex. 

Up till then making babies involved cough drops, strong ale and a couple of acres of winceyette nightwear. Then suddenly they invented sex. One minute nothing was allowed, the next minute some things were allowed but nobody knew which ones. Everyone was confused. And we were just entering adolescence, which is too confusing for words anyway, so we were baffled. 

Findlay Anderson’s brother worked in a sex shop and once a week he’d sneak something out of his brother’s stash to bring to school. There’d be thirty of so lads clustered round behind the cricket pavilion to have a look. (“Cricket pavilion!” — it was an old garden shed with a slate blackboard nailed on the side. Not that that was any bloody good because nobody could see it. They’d tell Darren Cladthorpe that he was the scorer and he’d spend the entire match drawing pictures of willies and naked ladies sitting in the bath eating the soap.) 

Anyway… round the back of the pavilion… The teacher on playground duty would say: “Are you boys smoking?” And we’d say: “No sir, we’re looking at mucky books.” “That’s all right then. I won’t have you smoking behind the cricket pavilion, you’ll be setting fire to the heavy roller.” 

‘Course, it was all wasted on us because we had no idea of the mechanics of the female form. It was an all-boys school so we hadn’t really progressed beyond the scabs on Audrey Mottershead’s knee back in Junior Class Four. Then we had a compulsory government sex education film. We had to go to it one Tuesday night with our dads. We hadn’t progressed beyond the scabs on Audrey Mottershead’s knee by the end of that, either. We were told that the male member was called the penis and it was part of the essential machinery of human reproduction; it was also useful because you could use it to relieve yourself against a tree; now let’s have a look at some of the more common venereal diseases. Half our class was convinced that if you had a slash against a tree with a film crew present your goolies would go blue and fall off. “I’m dying for a pee!” “There’s a tree over there.” “Can you see any cameramen?” “No.” “Keep a watch out for us will you? I’m busting.” 

That’s how ignorant we were. Thirty-odd of us clustered round a mucky book. Three of them could actually see the pictures, the rest frantically trying to find out what they can see. “What is it? What is it?” “It’s a nuddy lady.” “What’s she doing?” “She’s got a baby hamster in her lap…" "Ahh… that's nice!" "…and she’s feeding it a carrot.”

Saturday, October 27, 2018


I’ve got to that age where I’ve started looking back at childhood Christmases. It wasn’t all tinsel and plenty. They seemed magical at the time but now I can see that they were tinged with a sort of sadness. Like that time the kids from down the road were looking through the window and laughing at the Action Man that Father Christmas had bought me. Well, it was an Action Man to me, I didn’t know any better. It was my sister’s cast-me down Cindy doll with its hair cut short and a bit of boot polish smudged across the top of its nose. It was in regimental dress uniform, though, so it was special. Some dress uniforms include the kilts in the regimental tartan. This one included a pink PVC mini-skirt. Well, I wasn’t to know, I mean, what do you know when you’re a littlie? 

David Purbright, he had a proper Action Man. With Eagle Eyes. There was this little stick in the back of his head — the Action Man, not David Purbright — and if you waggled it to the left his eyes shifted to the right; waggle the stick to the right and the eyes shift to the left. And if you waggled it to and fro the eyes shot from one side to the other until they got stuck and he had to bash its head on the edge of the kerb to get them moving again. Kids from five streets away would cluster round and watch as David Purbright made Action Man’s eyes waggle to and fro. “Do it again, David! Brilliant!” 

iPads Pfah! 

Monday, October 01, 2018

Three wishes

A traveller chanced upon an oil lamp lying amongst some rocks in a deserted place. Laughing at his own folly, he brushed the dust off the lamp then gave it a vigorous rub with his shirt sleeve. There was a brief wisp of smoke, the smell of brimstone and cardamons and a sudden flash of purple light.

"I am the genie of the lamp," said the Djinn, "And I must grant you three wishes."

The traveller stared at the Djinn for some time. And as he stared he thought. And as he thought his eye caught the sharpness of the Djinn's sword. And as he thought the more his eye caught the coldness of the Djinn's eye. And as he thought the yet more his eye caught the cruel sardonic smile on the Djinn's lips.

"Tell me," said the traveller, "What is the usual punishment for men who try to be clever and wish for an infinite number of wishes?"

"Is that what you wish?" asked the Djinn.

"Certainly not!" replied the traveller. "I cannot imagine anything more foolish."

"Perhaps the punishment would be to grant the wish," said the Djinn slyly.

"I expect it would be," lied the traveller. "A wise man would not wish for such a thing. And even one as foolish as I would be wise enough not to do so."

"Why so?" asked the Djinn.

"Man is capable of the most terrible errors of judgement, even with the best of intentions," replied the traveller. "It is best that there is a limit to the mischief he may bring upon himself and the world."

"A man who understands the importance of boundaries is a wise man indeed," mused the Djinn. "Perhaps you would wish to impose a limit of time? All you could ever wish for a whole year, perhaps?"

The traveller smiled. "Oh no. I have too little faith in my own self-discipline or judgement to do that. Besides, I suspect that such a heady brew would be impossible to taste once and then willingly walk away. No, I shall do no such thing, I shall know my limits."

"You cannot be persuaded?" asked the Djinn.

"I cannot be persuaded," said the traveller.

"You still have your three wishes," said the Djinn.

"I still have my three wishes," said the traveller.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Thingy!

Time flies when you're having fun.

2016 has to be the year where I get my arse in gear and start getting things written down. The four novels are mapped out in my head, together with a ton of dialogue; I've drawn the map of the locations and I've even got bits of stuff scribbled down in notebooks but none of that counts for anything if I don't get down to the grindstone.

Best wishes to all from me, the Small Object Of Desire and the Cat I Do Not Have.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 and all that

Well, that's been a rum old year. Luckily nothing too untoward this time; I hope the same can be said for yourselves.

Still working at Helminthdale; seriously considered jumping ship in this year's bloodletting but it works out that there's a considerable financial advantage to hanging on for next year's bonfire of the public services. I've survived it this long I should be able to survive another year, though it's hard work not to be extremely despondent with it all. Many of my friends have jumped ship from their respective local authorities; I can only envy them. I have my list of stuff I'm planning to do when I get paid off.

Helminthdale has been Helminthdale, except perhaps a bit more so: a shrill, last-minute lurch into insanity before the inevitable winding-up that must be in the offing in a year or two.

The Small Object of Desire has had a good year, being involved in a quite spectacular bit of new development for one of this year's quite spectacular new library developments (the number of these is ironic in a year where libraries are being closed or offloaded onto press-ganged volunteers but only the churlish couldn't take some positives from a visit to any one of them).

At home all is cluttered and messy and cheerful. The Cat I Do Not Have has discovered the joy of howling fearfully at the cat from next-door-but-one early on a Sunday morning. The Small Object of Desire has commandeered the dining room as The Sewing Room. Most of the sofa is piled eighteen inches deep in Books To Be Read.

Take care and be nice to each other.

Monday, June 16, 2014


The Small Object of Desire is in that mood where she needs to have been drawn by Leo Baxendale.We'd been round to my parents' for lunch and they'd had "Pollyanna" on the telly, the one with Amanda Burton as the auntie. We were back at mine with pots of tea when she asked:

"That film your mum and dad were watching..." 
"Yes. Pollyanna. What was that all about?" 
"It's a timeless classic. Haven't you seen it before?" 
"No. What was it about?" 
"Well... Gladness and the redemptive power of positive thinking. And that." 
"What a lot of toss. I'm going for a poo."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Everybody say: "Ahhh..."

Stung by reading yet another bit of thin blather, I turned to The Small Object of Desire and said: "I should become a library consultant. I can write a pile of weak bollocks like this."

"No you can't," she said. "Besides, you're not capable of kissing enough arses to get the work in the first place."

This is easily the sweetest thing she's ever said to me.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


2014 set out its stall on day one: more dark and dismal at noon that during the midnight celebrations. The Cat I Don't Own has been bored silly: punctuating periods of mad tear-arsing up and down the stairs with moody longueurs at the doorstep. When I suggest that she may want to go outside for a romp in the garden (or at least a crap) she gives me a look, mutters something about it pissing down then goes to have a kip on the pile of books on the spare bed. (There's a pile of books on the spare bed because the bookcase in the living room fell to pieces again, irreparably this time, due to overloading.)

Strangely enough, it's been mild enough outside for there still to be some bumblebees floating round the garden. There's thin pickings at the moment: just the Mahonia and a few primroses. The cyclamen finished a couple of weeks ago and the snowdrops are only just above ground level. I keep meaning to do something about the Winter flowering in the garden. If 2014 pans out the way I'm hoping it will I should have slightly more time for sorting these things out.


Happy 2014. Hopefully it won't be as shitty as 2013.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Consequences of an overdose of The Beano Book

I so wanted this to be a cover of the Bay City Rollers number.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chrimbo singalong

It's been a rough old year for many of us.

Pull up a glass of sherry and pour yourself some turkey gravy as we sing along to those carols we loved as children.

Season's greetings to you and yours. Play nice and stay safe.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


I had a slight gardening mishap. Nothing too bad: I'd just jabbed myself with a garden implement. Unfortunately it was in one of those places where the amount of blood pouring out is entirely out of proportion to the size of the wound. I thought I'd managed to patch myself up without spilling any on anything that couldn't be wiped clean, but apparently not. A couple of hours later I heard a shout from the bathroom:

"Eeeww... Is this your blood on the bog roll?"
I don't know what she imagines I get up to while she's out having her hair done.

Friday, November 08, 2013


The Small Object of Desire is at a Time Team Adulation Society meeting tonight

She'll be the one stood at the back, with a bottle of vodka, shouting: "Tony! Tony love! Is that a bit of Samian ware or are you just pleased to see us?"