And now for my specialist subject…me!

Like many families, the restrictions of life at the moment, brought any opportunities for meeting to a sudden and unexpected halt. Although we are spread across the North and South East of the UK, we previously we would periodically be able to meet up…either for specific occasions such as birthdays, Christenings and so on…or just because we felt like it.

So in keeping with likewise many others, we periodically meet up on zoom and have a family quiz!

We are a family of mixed interests, education , professions and we have consequently had some interesting if not bizarre quiz rounds.

The range has been really eclectic…we had had rounds on The police (One of our family is a police officer), the bones of the human body (from our physiotherapist), Disney Themes, identifying names of chocolate bars from cross sectional pictures, World Airports Three Letter codes, Scotland and to the horror of most of us who have only scant memories of school chemistry, a whole round devoted to the periodic table!

One of the bonuses of the events that you are hosting (because it’s your birthday etc.) is that your household sets the questions. So when we were the hosts on occasion of my birthday, my wife kindly created the rounds and questions with one round dedicated to facts about me, yes ‘yours truly’ !

Somewhat embarrassingly I really didn’t excel and got many questions wrong including my shoe size!

I had always pondered what specialist subject I would offer if ever I became a contestant on BBC Tv’s Mastermind Quiz programme. I now know for definite I will not choose the subject as me.

I actually did better on questions about the periodic table!

A Mercedes bus, the desert and Mrs W’s tights.

This may seem like an unlikely three word clue for a TV quiz game, but in fact it’s the summary of an event from way back in my life but still memorable to this day.

My first job in the travel industry was working for an up market provider of specialised escorted tours to more unusual locations such as the Nile valley of Egypt. I worked in the office as a Tours Executive …a grand way of saying we took the bookings and managed the process of putting the tour together but although we were office based we were also all trained as Tour Leaders and on occasions  throughout the year
we also would take groups on these wonderful itineraries as Tour Leaders.

We would meet the group at London Heathrow and then fly out to the start point and accompany the group and ‘look after them’ at every step until finally returning to London.
We were thoroughly trained by more experienced colleagues so although most of us were just in our early twenties, we were able to cope with most ‘incidents’. I have many stories but I was reminded of one recently when a friend asked me for advice on a car overheating warning light!

On one such trip in Egypt, the majority of my group had booked for an optional day trip to Alexandria from our Cairo hotel base and as was expected, I too accompanied them. It takes about 2.5 hours by road to Alexandria. Cairo is a big city and it can take 25 mins just to get out of the city before you join the the desert road for then two hours drive of just desert and not much else. Whilst still in the outer districts of Cairo, our smart Mercedes coach began making a grinding noise and slewing in its alignment and it seemed we had a puncture. Fortunately we were able to pull in at a roadside repair ‘shop’ …this was grubby, chaotic and staffed by a couple of what looked like 14 year olds! Anyway action was swift, coach jacked up, wheel removed and spare on in 15 minutes and off we went again.

Now I haven’t yet described my group…let’s just say an eclectic mix. Anyway a lady I had christened Mrs Notebook (as she recorded in a notebook several questions per hour of things she needed to take me to task on) immediately demanded of me ‘they have fixed it, haven’t they? You wouldn’t be taking us out to the desert road with no spare?’ In true Pinocchio style I gave her what was hopefully a confident look and assured her that was the case…. but knowing it wasn’t!

We got to Alexandria without further incident, had a good day and started our return trip back down the desert road in the late afternoon. About an hour into the return journey back on the desert road, I found we were pulling in off the road in the middle of nowhere.

My heart sank…surely not another puncture. Who could be so unlucky and actually more so as now had no spare and we were were and truly out in the desert …back in the early 1980’s, this was not the more highway like route that it is today.

Leaving my group inside the coach in decreasing comfort (the engine had been stopped and so had the air conditioning) I went outside to talk with the guide who was accompanying us and the driver  into the 110 degrees F (40 Centrigrade) furnace! In the best style of school boy humour, with the guides translation, the driver announced there was good news and bad news! Good news was that we didn’t have another puncture (phew) but the bad news was that the coach fan belt had broken, so  we had an overheating engine (as this belt drives the water pump and alternator) and no air conditioning.

I hasten to add this was before the days of mobile phones, and we were a long way from anywhere. As we were a party of about 30, flagging down a passing vehicle for a lift wasn’t really an option either. The driver reassuringly suggested that in about 3 – 4 hours one of the company’s other vehicles would be passing by and we could flag that down and use that to get somewhere!

This didn’t seem like a good option but it was the only option….so I got back on the coach and announced the good and bad news. This was generally accepted with stoicism – the kind of passengers we got on these tours were often retired military top brass, Miss Marple look alikes, feisty spinsters and so on, in general intrepid travelers.

I thought our fate was sealed for the next few hours…but suddenly I am approached by a lady from the back of the bus. I had got to know Mrs W quite well over the course of our time in Egypt. She was accompanied by her 21 year old daughter who was been taken on this adventure by her mother as a birthday present. I had assumed Mrs W was just coming for a chat or indeed to commiserate with my predicament. I was only two years older than her daughter and I think she felt a bit protective towards me (and also saw me as a prospective son-in’law) as I was now bombarded with questions from the other passengers…concerned not about safety but would they miss drinks and dinner etc.

But no, this was not what she wanted. Mrs W  had a queztion…. , Can’t we just fix the fan belt with a pair of tights? …she was sure she had read that somewhere once. From our conversations I knew she was well read in Dickens, Darwin, de Vinci and it now seemed also in car mechanics for beginners! I explained that although I too was familiar with that workaround it probably really only was any good when used as a quick stop gap for a Mini car to get you a few miles to your local garage…and besides which, who has a pair of tights on in these searing temperatures!

I do, she swiftly replied…and promptly retired to the back of the bus to remove them in a dignified manner.

Far from confident, I returned outside and through the guide I explained to the driver what was on offer. He evidently was not as well informed as Mrs W and me on this method of alternative fan belts and just laughed at this crazy Englishman and his ideas for his bus engine. However after much, much persuasion he said we could try. Now a car engine is one size, but a Mercedes bus engine is huge.

We used the entire length of the tights…both legs and the joined area (sorry not sure if how this can be otherwise described) to replace the belt that had linked the bus water pump, alternator and cooling pump! It was not a pretty sight… but the driver reluctantly started the engine waiting to be able to say to me …look, I knew it was no good. But miraculously they held (all credit to the quality of hosiery that Mrs W invested in) and the engine started cooling down and we had air conditioning. The drivers confidence seemed to grow and from point blank refusal, agreed to use this to try to get us back on the road and to the possibility of some assistance. Through the guide as interpreter I gave the health warning…don’t push our luck ..stick to about 50 km/hour and lets hopefully limp in to the first town that was only about 10km away to get a proper repair.

We set off with extreme caution…maybe only 10 km /hour…then a little faster, with constant checking for warning lights. A little increase to a bit faster followed , and then more.

Suddenly the driver became convinced all was well, foot went down and back to 110 km/hour… I was a bit distressed but as the miles went buy I realised we were approaching the town now and I crossed my fingers and held my breath.
But the coach was not stopping. The driver was now so convinced that Mrs W’s ‘Pretty Poly’ tights were the answer he ignored all pleas to stop and drove for a further 1.5 hours back to Cairo to deposit us at our hotel!

This was some years ago but I am now fairly convinced that for the remainder of this bus’s life, it was reliant on Mrs W hosiery for its cooling system, alternator and air conditioning.

Moments like these tend to bond people and in fact I remained friends with Mrs W and her daughter for many years to follow. When asked by acquaintances how we met..nobody ever really expected the answer she gives  them!

Valentine’s day again…disclaimers apply!

I will start with the disclaimers. I have noticed of late that several online retailers that bombard me with e-mail ads have asked me if I want to opt out of Mothers Day marketing, as for some this is distressing for those bereaved, estranged or have other reasons not to want to be reminded of that ‘celebration’. I understand this and appreciate the efforts that are made here.

I think I may have seen similar for Valentine’s day..again for those who perhaps who may be troubled by the trumpeting of doey eyed love etc. Having said that, it is a day to celebrate all love..whether that is for family, friends or even just a slobbery but lovable dog called Alfie. Anyway, if mention of this day , which unlike Mothers Day is always recognised on the same date globally, will trouble you then now is the point to hit delete.

Still with me? Good, I will carry on. The new world order of (depending where you live in the world) having some degree of lockdown has presented new challenges for the romantics amongst us. As men, generally speaking, we are not as well organised as woman so actually having to plan, order on-line etc. for cards, let alone flowers, chocolates or other appropriate (…or inappropriate!) gifts will have been challenging and surprising for my fellow men. I have heard several accounts already today of confused looking men looking forloningly at closed florists shop doors that in previous years have welcomed their panic last minute buyers willing to pay serious money for not very wonderful red roses!

When I was a teenager (…and for the avoidance of doubt, this was quite some time ago) Valentine’s day was really all about ego, bravado, mystery and intrigue. It was also about kindliness as well. Disposable income for my peer group depended on how much pocket money you got and/or if you had other income such as a paper round or Saturday job. I worked in a pet shop…but that is indeed a tale (tail!) for another time.

Why kindliness?..I knew of several kindly siblings, friends and occasionally parents who would send a card to someone in their family or circle of friends to lift their spirits, add sparkle to their life etc. Maybe people still do that now? Done with the right intentions it probably on most occasions is a gesture that has value rather than damage…but I know there can be occasions where unwittingly it just adds torment to the recipient ūüėĮ

These gestures aside, I recall sending cards slightly anonymised but with sufficient clues to link me to being the sender, but ample opportunity for escape if the recipient indicated displeasure about being the recipient of a card from me. One of my favourite clues was leaving my initials written under the stamp…a sure sign if that level of forensics was involved they really were despite to find out the sender!

I also had a few mystery arrivals in my post back in those years and dutifully steamed off the stamps but the sender(s) did not seem to share my methods. Postmarks also didn’t really help – I lived in Glasgow a big city and the postmark often gave no clues other than the city name.

Those were fun times, but not so much a few years later when into my early twenties when a slightly devious girlfriend sent me two cards….one a pink and fluffy one (she was a pink and fluffy kind of she was the obvious sender of that) she sent a second one that was very anonymous…it seemed this was a test to see if I admitted getting it. I did, but that then was the beginning of the end and Miss Pink and Fluffy moved on to make someone’s else’s life pink and fluffy!

Happy Valentine’s day to you all…and remember …if in doubt admit to every card received!!

Postman Pat

Two week’s ago this blog festured ‘The Wheels on the bus’. Don’t get too excited thinking you have cracked the Enigma code here and seen a bit of a pattern with children’s really is purely coincidental.

Incidentally for those not from or familiar with the UK these really are what our rural post boxes look like (to this day) and sadly what our public phone boxes did look like although you see less and less of them in use. In some small villages they have been turned into book exchanges, or will house defibrillators; in more urban areas they have also mostly gone but you find the odd one that now houses a cashpoint (ATM)

Anyway, for those not in complete¬† harmony with UK¬† children’s TV and the corresponding theme tunes, Postman Pat was an animation character of a friendly middle aged postman in a fictional village bordering Cumbria and North Yorkshire. Our own¬† children who are all now professional adults in their mid twenties had postman Pat so ingrained in them that even now , particularly¬† if we are in that locality (which is only an hour or so away from where we live) will still exclaim…’ah, it’s postman pat’ if we drive past one of the iconic red Royal mail vans that are still used in rural areas. Like any good parent I just indeed assure them it is that very person, he is probably delivering a letter to Mrs Goggins and Jess, Pat’s Black and White cat is safely curled up asleep in front of the fire at home!

There was obviously many years of indoctrination to get this almost Pavlovian response to seeing a red van (and a man probably in shorts and other non winter weather clothing which is a somewhat stereotypical but true image of our posties)

So what next? ..if we see DPD delivering will there be shouts of …it’s Mr Higgins?¬† DPD in their tracking messages are always very formal and tell me that Mr¬† ‘so and so’ will be delivering shortly.

Or what about DHL? ..Will there be chants of …’look a huge¬† envelope arriving’¬† ….this of course sealed with industrial strength polythene impossible to permeate that will then reveal a tiny envelope.

Or of course a non descript white van¬† ….aka an Amazon delivery of a very large box…just filled mostly with air and perhaps a tiny package!

No wonder Mary Poppins got excited by parcels!

So very sorry to disappoint you….

I have been watching a lot of The Crown on Netflix recently, but it seems to be a never completed task as no sooner do I get to the end of one series, another comes out. Like painting the Forth bridge. You no sooner finish than you have to start again.

Forth bridge

For those not from the UK, the Forth bridge is a steel railway bridge across the Forth of Forth in Scotland that is renowned for its need for continuous maintenance!

Although The Crown is intended to be fictional in terms of detailed content, the fact that the characters are real people, and the political and social events portrayed also match historical fact, it’s of course quite hard to believe that much of what is presented does not match reality. There have been many eyebrow raising revelations already. For most a quick Google search validates at least the rumour, if not the truth. So quite a number of revised opinions about various political and royal figures is now the state of things.

So why am I sorry to dissapoint? I am not considering writing memoirs at this stage in my life , and no, this is not a deluded rhetorical protest of ‘but surely you are not old enough’ nor is it the reverse. Actually age perception is a funny thing in my family and particularly in late departed mother who lived well past her eighties . From about the age of 60 when having the suggestion of replacing an item of furniture or investing in a new appliance would always say…’ no need for that, it will see me out’. I am glad to say she was very wrong and outlived most of these things as we knew she would.

No, quite simply nothing I could put in memoirs, or even a daily diary. I have no exciting revelations…not a single forgotten romance with a princess, no hidden trips to visit foreign leaders of state and no newspaper headline splashes of a hedonistic lifestyle.

But don’t despair…a recent chance family conversation about a Wallace & Gromit train track game played many years ago by our then school age children gave rise to a throw away comment of ‘would you have liked to be a train driver Dad?’ . Much to everyone’s surprise, I revealed that at age 13 I had actually driven a train! Back then, before I discovered girls I had discovered trains and on a spotting visit to local railway yards to get train numbers I was invited by a friendly train driver to have a go at driving a locomotive. Back in the early 1970’s it seems that Health & Safety , or indeed protection of children from adults hadn’t really been at the top of the agenda.

For the avoidance of doubt I neither crashed the locomotive nor was I subject to anything inappropriate!

The kindly driver will have long since retired and will be driving trains in the sky, but anyway I will maintain a degree of anonymity about when and where.

Brian – a very intelligent squirrel

We have a resident squirrel or two in our garden. One of them in particular is remarkably intelligent.

I can’t really give too much provenance to his early education although I am told he played on 2012 University Challenge Cambridge University team some years ago (but possibly as mascot) and more recently has been a successful contestant in some TV quizzes. His skills are however not confined to the subjects of biochemistry, early English literature and nano physics, but also to how to open a bird feeder that has a spring clip and then to be able to remove nuts out of reach of his legs by swinging said feeder vigorously.

We have actually become very fond of Brian, and although the natural next step might be to just leave the peanuts in a more accessible place, there are downsides to this. Firstly the mental challenges are probably good for him – current restrictions will be limiting his social interaction and there are of course no pub quizzes for him to enter at the moment and a local gymnastics competition that I know he has been considering training for and participating in has just been deferred for some months. The other reason of course is that Brian has a wide circle of friends and providing dinner party facilities for such a group would probably require stocks of peanuts that we just don’t have readily to hand at the moment.

Squirrels are relatively new to our garden….our resident garden guardian Geoffrey also felt it his duty to ‘see them off the premises’ but alas Geoffrey is not with us anymore, but probably looking down from doggy heaven with slight bemusement at the new residents.

Our kindly vet who looked after Geoffrey in his later years would often comment, ‘if Geoffrey could talk, I am sure he would be a very polite dog’ , I think based on the dogs stoicism and acceptance of prods, examinations and the odd injection. Praise indeed , and proof that we always have had only the best in our garden.

The wheels on the bus …..etc.

Those familiar with the children’s song will know that the lyrics do a fine job of stating the obvious…the wheels on the bus go round and round, the ladies on the bus go chatter, chatter, chatter, the babies on the bus go waaa, waaa, waaa, (this line far better sung than written), the wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish and so on.

There are probably also regional variations on this to meet local needs. For example, If you travel on the bus in Bermuda it is expected practice that you greet each and every other passenger individually. Joining the bus at busy times means most of your journey is occupied just by this!

Anyway, back to this meaningful set of lyrics….although not having the classicism of a Lennon and McCartney Beatles ballad or an Elton John anthem, you get the feeling of that everyone on board knows what is happening, who is doing what and generally feels safe and secure on the bus.

This wasn’t the case outside my home today. We live in a semi rural area and although we have the luxury of one public transport a few times a day, these are mini buses , not much bigger than a large family’s people mover!

Today however a strange scenario…it seems that the nearby small town to us had its link road to larger neighbour blocked for most of today and the regular ‘big grown up’ service featuring a full size double decker bus was being routed along our narrow country roads.

Fortunately not many passengers on the bus being a Sunday, but a quick look at them said that they had not been told of this foray into rural Yorkshire…the faces gave an impression of a range of feelings from kidnap victim to horror story….calling for a quick rendition of the final and least known verse of the above song…the people on the bus screamed help, help, help……

It’s all about communication..!

Happiness is a sharp axe….

For anyone alarmed by this title …please don’t be. I may have considered many mid life career changes, but being an axe waving terror figure has never made it to the list.

My axe activities are solely directed towards chopping logs into kindling for my wood burning stove. I actually (no pun intended…) own three being a real hand-me-down from my parents home. It’s worryingly  quite lethal and although it’s blade is not sharp, having probably last been sharpened in 1967 and chopped a lot of firewood since then, the axe head does have a tendency to detach mid-chop and fly off the handle (literally) at an unexpected trajectory. No amount of gloves and  safety goggles has been proved to be sufficient PPE when using this lethal weapon, so it’s had to be retired.

The remaining two are both young entrants to the world of domestic tools…the first being one I purchased myself and it’s near twin, arriving only a few weeks later, a kindly but unexpected gift from my father in law when we had just moved into our current house and became proud owners of a wood burning stove.

This though was some years ago. When we bought our house it was the very opposite story to some of the horror tales one hears where the previous owners remove every last thing they can. Our predecessors were very generous and left large amounts of logs, chopped and bagged kindling and much more.

They did however leave us a few mysteries as well…a confusing lighting system, numerous electronic gadgets and control systems, but with a bit of detective work we have probably got to grips with most of these.

Anyway we have finally finished the bequeathed kindling and are now making our own.

I think I have found a new vocation…it’s cold, damp, still some snow on the ground but a few hours chopping logs into kindling has been surprisingly very gratifying. Who needs visits to stately homes, gift shops or tea and cake in tea¬† rooms on a winter Sunday anymore?

Look out for next week’s blog where I make myself clothing from animal skins and build a cave house.

New dogs required?

Driving along one of our local motorways a few days ago, I was a bit perturbed to see numerous overhead gantry signs with the message ‘ The UK leaves the EU on 31 December, new dogs required’ . I knew things were changing but not that every pet owner had to replace their four legged friends. With the average price for any pedigree puppy being around GBP¬£2000, it could be an expensive business.

Who wouldn’t like a new dog?

The displays certainly aren’t clear……as my mother in law,¬† on a separate journey actually read it as New Docks required and was left wondering why Dover, Southampton, Hull etc. were all being consigned to the history books.

It took an eagle eyed family member in the car who could focus on the signs and not the road ahead … note that the message is actually all about ‘docs’ as in documents ..not dogs or seaports.

Another sign I spotted a junction or so later helpfully asked the question ‘Travelling to France? Covid Test required’.  Very helpful info you may say, but this road junction in Yorkshire, Northern England and is some 4 hours drive (about 250 miles) from the nearest seaport from where you can take the ferry to France! In reality the majority of cars who use this particular exit are either travelling to the local Ikea or Lidl and really not much further!

As a nation, in the UK we are actually quite used to unusual the early 1990’s we had the Traffic Cones hotline promoted all along our motorways  complete with a freephone 0800 number. The only problem being nobody had a clue why it was there?

Some people thought it was to report stray or lost traffic cones, others a counselling service for those to report and get advice on an unhealthy romantic attraction to these plastic hat impersonators, some assumed it was to complain about there being too many of them and so on. In fact it was actually an information line you could ring to find out where there were roadworks on the country’s motorway network, presumably to avoid them…or if you had a strange interest in them, so that you could plan a Happy weekend of contra-flow driving complete with other features including those family favourites…’raised man hole covers’ and ‘temporary road service’.

Anyway, such signs are now just history.

But despair not, visit Scotland’s motorways and you will still find signage to delight. In Scotland, people just generally say it as it is and this is the tone of the signage there too. My favourites are the signs displayed on many stretches of motorway with helpful motoring advice…’Watch your speed’. Yes for sure many a driver will be prodded by this reminder and ease off the accelerator pedal a bit; another is , ‘Check your fuel’..likewise a quick glance at the fuel gauge makes sense….but the ‘icing on the cake’ goes to ‘Check your tyres’….really??? At 70 miles per hour in the fast lane!!!

Just call me Baked Potato?

Go into the world of song lyrics and you will find a lot of artists giving hints about to what to call them. Paul Simon from the Graceland Album has one of the more well known ones – ‘ You can call me Al’ , well that is if you are in the over 40’s age group.

For those of a younger musical generation, I can offer ‘Call me Maybe’ from Carly Rae Jepsen ….and probably many others if I put my mind to it. Perhaps another time……………..

This name calling seems to have extended to the world of internet fraudsters ‘phishing’ for my personal details. Like many people I have ended up with a few e-mail addresses, mostly from when I have had to register myself on-line and create an account for something and have either got caught in a loop of where they say they already have me, and I can’t reuse the same address (…but I can’t find the password!) or sometimes when I have been so reluctant to give them my routine address, I have created a new one just for them and other questionable organisations to share.

Typically these alternate e-mail addresses I have created bear no relation to my name and depending on my mood at the time of having to quickly create a new one, may be a bit off the wall. was one of my favoured choices at the time, but it seems somebody had got there before me so I couldn’t register it.

Anyway it therefore  becomes very obvious when I get the e-mails from fraudsters addressed to these as though it was my first name telling me that I have got a income tax refund (I wish…!) or my EE mobile account is about to expire (….funny, I don’t have an account with them) or my campervan vehicle duty is unpaid, and if it isn’t paid immediately it will be crushed. Or was it that I will be crushed? Anyway, I don’t have one of those either…and having quite a dislike of them (with all due respect to people who love them….), I would be quite delighted for any campervan to be recycled into food packaging . Dear Baked Potato , we regret to inform you that your vehicle will become Heinz Baked Bean tins must have a certain irony to it.

The world is generally full of good people, but the bad guys and girls are out there trying to cheat our friends, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and so on via these scams…I think for those of us who are tech savvy and scam savvy,  it is  our duty to always to remind those who are not,  of these people and the methods used to steal data. Anyway to help me remain aware, I have decided on a new address (assuming its available) of and look forward to my first e-mail addressed to Dear PleaseJustIgnoreThisemailItsAScam it appears you have not paid for your TV Licence etc.

Those of us of a certain age in the early days of e-mail will all have had the communications from the very polite man in Nigeria explaining that his family millions rightly owned by him need transferring safely out of the country away from corrupt officials, banks and car park attendants and he just needs a little help from me as I am known as honest and trustworthy person. If I could just send him 100 dollars this will pay for a bank transfer fee and then 100,000 dollars  will be in my account which he and his honourable family will gladly share with me.

Ah…those were the days, I wonder how that man is now? Is he happy and well and living in Suburban Surrey and did he ever transfer his millions….