Dunkirk Spirit

Originally posted on Middle Man:

British fisher rescuing allied troops escaping...

Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 4th June 1940:

 “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

This…

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May 21, 2015 at 9:59 am Leave a comment

The joy of frequent travel……

image Those of you who frequent this site (my thanks!) will know that I am regular “commuter” between Crewe and the Smoke. On a weekly basis I find myself traveling on a Virgin Pendolino, in First Class, and regularly bemoaning the failings of the seat reservation system, the inconsistency of the number of sausages on my toastie, and the bloody awful wi-fi. But, after today, I would perhaps better describe myself as a frequent traveler. For today I have experienced what real “commuting” is like. For reasons too unfathomable to mention here, my journey today is going like this: Crewe to Birmingham New Street, to Walsall, to Birmingham New Street, to Euston. Only this last leg is on a sleek and glossy Virgin Pendolino. The others were on London Midland commuter trains. Now, my experience was not bad. All trains left and arrived on time and I had a seat. So, I have in no way suffered the daily hardships of those poor souls who are “reliant” on Southern Rail to get them to work every day. But, my experience was sufficient to convince me that I am glad that I am not a regular commuter. The trains were clean and not too busy. Unlike a Virgin Voyager, the overhead luggage bins were big enough to actually accommodate luggage. And the aisle was very wide, presumably to accommodate standing room at busier times. But, the people were depressing. That said, they were well prepared. And certainly better prepared than yours truly who just assumed that an at-seat drinks and food service was the norm. So, while I sat there listening to my stomach rumbling and wishing that I’d taken time to grab a bottle of water before leaving home, the train carriage I found myself in resembled a mobile picnic site. Everyone but me was enjoying a carry out from Costa or a thermos of tea. The flask option would point at an old-hander who had experienced regular bouts of unreliability and was prepared for the long haul. imageAnd many a Morrisons carrier bag (Waitrose customers don’t commute….) spilled forth its culinary delights of a breakfast cereal bar, a packet of Digestives (the man with the thermos) and the odd homemade cheese sandwich wrapped in tinfoil. And, my tummy rumbled on and on. The atmosphere of a mobile camp/refugee site was further added to by the fact that everyone on the train was damp. It had been raining hard outside and as a consequence the carriage was strewn with dripping umbrellas of various sizes and colour schemes, while many an individual was sporting a sodden cagoule or raincoat – why oh why is North Face not the brand of choice for your average commuter? As it was quite warm in the train, most people were gently steaming and the inside of the windows began to blur with condensation. And, there was a general smell of damp dog mixed with damp cheese sandwiches permeating the atmosphere. Which is not a good smell. And the people were depressed. Many were trying to sleep. Some were actually reading. I mean real books and newspapers. I quickly surmised that this was due to the lack of wi-fi, which meant that we were traveling in a time machine circa 1974, before technology; even before the invention of the Sony Walkman or the iPod. No one had anything to do. No laptops or tablets and no phone signal. There was literally nothing to do but read or sleep. Thank God that people were not resorting to conversation and social interaction, at least. Small mercies. Many of those who slept were making noises which, frankly, should only ever be heard within the walls of their own spare room. And, there was far too much drooling and dribbling for my liking. And the journey was slow. We stopped everywhere. And everywhere we stopped was nowhere. Or, nowhere that you would want to stop in, at least. There were places that even this Midland-born had never heard of and have already forgotten. And, because the train was slow, things that were normally a blur on my way down to London, were suddenly visible to me and in great detail. What some people do in their back gardens is disgusting. It was an endless onslaught of graffiti and graveyards of abandoned trains from a bygone era, and factory workers grabbing a cheeky ciggie sheltered under a piece of corrugated iron. I am glad to be back on board a Virgin Pendolino. Mr Branson, I take it all back. And, commuting is definitely not my bag.

May 18, 2015 at 8:58 pm 1 comment

The people can’t be trusted…..

There is a very good reason why most contestants on the TV quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire put more value on their “phone a friend” option than they do their “ask the audience”. It’s because an audience cannot be trusted to know anything more important than who really killed/fathered/slept with/all of the above with whoever on Eastenders, Coronation Street or Hollyoaks. You only have to look at the “success” of some of the recent winners of X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent to understand why democracy doesn’t work. And so, the Great British electorate has voted for the political equivalence of Jedward – Cameron and Boris – to rule over us for the next five years. And, in less than a week, this great nation has been cast backward into the 1980s with its “winner takes all” and “them against us” attitude. And, at the very time that the country is celebrating the seventieth anniversary of Victory in Europe and the ensuing rebuilding and reshaping of a peaceful continent after the defeat of a nationalistic right-wing plague, the Tories have begun the process of dismantling our relationship with Europe, promising a referendum on leaving the European Union, a question and issue which, I fear will be a little more difficult to comprehend than the twists and turns of a soap opera plot line. Especially when the political elite rules the message. The Tories have already announced that they intend to rein in our only independent broadcaster, the BBC, because of a perceived Labour bias in the run up to and during the election. Margaret Thatcher broke the free press newspaper industry of Fleet Street back in the day and now, it seems, Cameron intends to do the same to Auntie. Greater austerity, a war on welfare, more food banks, scapegoating all immigrants, and building a barricade on our southern shores while fighting guerrilla wars in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is the Tory way. And this in the context of increasing restrictions on the freedom of independent journalism which will result in Katie Hopkins becoming the Government spokesman (nothing so politically correct as a spokesperson…..) and Russell Brand the de facto opposition. The only good things to come out of this election is the demise of UKIP – although that buffoon and champion of the bigot, Farage, refuses to lie down – and the enforced change at the top of the Labour Party with the two Eds falling from power. I am Labour at heart, but could not tolerate Miliband’s lurch to the left, and Ball’ smug, belligerent face under any conditions. I am sorry to see the collapse of the Liberal Democrats, who I genuinely believe acted as an anchor on the Conservatives’ worse excesses over the last five years and put the head and heart into some of the Coalition’s more successful policy. Let us hope that the opposition can rebuild quickly and reclaim the centre ground that the Tories will inevitably relinquish as they swing to the right. In the meantime, I’m considering moving to Scotland. Who is coming with me?

May 11, 2015 at 8:10 pm Leave a comment

It’s Time for Change!

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Things need to change. No I don’t mean the nature of politics and the political nature of our country. But they do. Bring on proportional representation. Bring on a new leader of New Labour. Bring on a revitalised Liberal Democratic Party. And, bring on the total demise of UKIP. And, bring it on quickly before the Conservatives bring on the type of radical, right-wing change that drives us straight back to the 1980s when it was us against them and everyman for himself.

But, at least with Ed Balls (result!), George Galloway (result!), Vince Cable (shame) and Nigel Farage (result!) all now out of work, I am really looking forward to an excellent series of Celebrity Big Brother this year. And, your local pantomime will have no difficulty filling the role of the baddy this Christmas…..

But, I didn’t mean politics. I meant personal

I am pushing fifty. Many of my friends are, or soon will be, on the wrong side of that particular milestone in life (not that I like to rub it in…..much) but it will be my turn all too soon. And, I need to consider my weight, my fitness, and my health.

My Facebook news feed is full of friends who are running 10ks, marathons, and iron man competitions and/or promoting healthy nutrition, cleansing regimes and angelic lifestyles. Well, good for them. I am impressed by their efforts and heroics but they are not my motivation.

No, my motivation is personal. It is an ever-expanding waistline and an increasing reluctance to look at the bathroom scales in a morning. It seems that I have not inherited my dad’s slim gene. But, I have inherited an old man’s knees and a taste for the finer things in life.

And so, C and I have decided to do something about it. Well, actually, C decided to do something about it and I agreed to go along. We have decided to try the new Couch to 10k app. I think that getting fit using my iPhone appeals to the X-Box ninja in me…. We will soon be seen (as a blur) circuiting the block at first walking, then running, then walking a little less and running a little more until we are able to run non-stop for a full 10k.

So, the new to-be fitness regime involved getting the right clothes to wear. Yesterday, we set off to John Lewis to acquire running gear for yours truly. We failed at the first hurdle – JL’s selection of running shoes was pitiful, especially as I was adamant that the new foray into self harm wasn’t going to cost me an arm and a leg…..literally, figuratively, or financially. Any shoes that were within budget failed C’s “you’re not going out in those test”. My cunning plan had been foiled….

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I soon gave up on “tracksuit bottoms” as they no longer exist. At least, not in the format that they did the last time I was doing any serious exercise – circa 1990. The new running tights made me look like Mr Invincible – all shoulders and chest with a pair of out-of-proportion skinny legs propping me up. And that was only when I was sucking in my stomach, which I suspect I will not be able to do for a full 10k. And the new training trousers made me look as if I was in my pyjamas and ready for bed. So, I selected a pair of shorts, deciding that my knees will just have to be exposed to the fresh air.

And, I also selected a not-too garish/not-too dull top, albeit that was far from an easy task either. Some were so tight they made me look like a stack of spare tyres wearing a gimp suit. Others were so baggy that they needed to be pegged out. But, eventually, I got sorted.

However, the whole process was exhausting and so I felt the urge for a pizza and the sofa, which is kind of the reason I had got into this position in the first place. But, while ensconced on said sofa I did at least manage to surf the net and acquire a pair of running shoes. So, that’s the first step of Couch to 10k completed. Result! Getting off the sofa might be a little more tricky……and painful.

PS. I would just like to take this opportunity to apologise to my knees.

May 10, 2015 at 5:25 pm 1 comment

As Time Goes By…..Quickly

time

Where did all the time go? Why does time move faster the older we get?

It is May 1st. Already. Spring has sprung and the second quarter of this year is upon us. Already. It can’t be so, can it? We’ve only just finished washing up after Christmas dinner. Surely? We’re fresh back from that New Year mini-break in Doha. Surely? That go-live deadline I signed up to in January can’t be up this weekend. Surely?

My cute little baby god-daughters can’t be in their last year of university having just celebrated their twenty first  birthdays. Can they? Their dad and my other friends from university cannot really be fifty years old. Can they? (I am the baby of the group and do not have that “privilege” until next year, thankfully….). I will (hopefully) be married for twenty two years this coming September and yet it seems like only yesterday (almost) that C and I were sharing our first kiss after a date at the Windows bar of the Park Lane Hilton.

And, apparently that is part of the problem….

One of the reasons why time seems to speed up as we mature is the lack of new, memorable events. Your first day at school; your first bike; getting caught shoplifting (or is that only me?); your first girlfriend; your first car; graduating; your first job; getting married; the first Gulf War; 9/11………these are the type of life events by which we all measure time. But, as we get older we, unfortunately, have less and less memorable occasions and, consequently, time flies by.

And then there is relativity. No, not the general grinding effect of relatives (I am blessed…. ;) ) but the amount of time that has passed relative to one’s age.

As a child, Christmas was a big event – months in the planning as my parents bought stamps for the hamper throughout the year, and squirreled money away to save for presents. We made present wishlists and paper decorations and played a shepherd or a king in the Nativity Play and sang carols in the choir. We counted down the days while eating the chocolates from the Advent calendar, and went to bed early on Christmas Eve to hasten Father Christmas’ arrival. These days, there is hardly enough time to sell all those unwanted gifts on eBay before Santa is leaving his snowy footprints around the tree again. It comes round so quickly.

Maybe it is my biological clock grinding to a much slower pace? Or, maybe I am just paying less attention to time and events? But, I suspect that a certain degree of stress might be playing its part. Stress, stress, stress. Long days. Short nights. Working through the weekends. Too much traveling and not enough sleep. Emails, webinars and telcos. Meetings after meeting after endless meeting. There are simply not enough hours in the day to get things done….. even when you are burning the candle at both ends of multiple time zones around the world. There are targets to hit and deadlines to meet and one quarter of the year has already gone.

byeSo, we need to chill a bit. I need to chill a bit. We need to celebrate new memorable events. I need to celebrate new memorable events. We need to reprioritise our time. I need to reprioritise my time….before time passes us by. Passes me by.

 

 

 

“I know this much: that there is objective time, but also subjective time, the kind you wear on the inside of your wrist, next to where the pulse lies. And this personal time, which is the true time, is measured in your relationship to memory.” ― Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

May 1, 2015 at 11:41 am 1 comment

Lest We Forget – One Hundred Years On….

Middle Man:

Today we mark one hundred years since the start of th Gallipoli campaign…..

Originally posted on Middle Man:

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My granddad, Albert William Jones, was just twenty-one years old when war was declared on Germany on 4th August 1914. You can only imagine the wave of patriotic fervour which will have engulfed him at that time. Life in Lancashire had been tough. There had been strikes of railwaymen, transport workers, miners, and amongst the spinners and weavers, and there was a real threat of civil war across the water in Ireland.

Just three years earlier, Albert had been living with his parents and two siblings, above his father’s imagenewsagents and sub-post office in Beeston, Leeds.  But in 1914, Albert, born in Irlam, chose to join one of the many Lancastrian Pal’s Brigades. He had been working as a machinist in the locomotive industry. Perhaps the owner or manager had gathered the men together and, with assurances that their jobs would be waiting for them following a swift victory over…

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April 24, 2015 at 7:47 am Leave a comment

The weather is…….changeable

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The weather in the UK right now is, as they say all too often, changeable. It is the time of year when we Brits face the perennial challenge of what to wear? Should we wear a light jacket, a heavy jacket, or no jacket at all? Should we carry an umbrella or leave it at home?

Wednesday saw the hottest day of the year, with 25 degrees being registered in central London. And, I should know. Because I was there.

I should know because I travelled home on Wednesday evening on a Virgin Pendolino. Temperatures on board were rising because, as it is all too often, the seat reservation system wasn’t working when we boarded. Little pockets of “seat rage” were popping up throughout the train, but particularly in First Class where people lacking arms and legs simply wanted to collapse into the seat for which their limbs and appendages had been sacrificed.

About ten minutes into the journey, and, therefore, about ten minutes too late, a reboot of the train’s system fixed the seat reservation…..and rendered the air conditioning useless. On the hottest day of the year.

Temperatures in the cabin rose to a sweltering 30 degrees and, unlike the days of old when opening a window and sticking your head out might have offered a certain relief (especially if another train was coming the other way) modern Virgin Pendolinos are hermetically sealed units through which breezes and, frustratingly, mobile phone signals, will not pass.

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Everyone began to sweat and melt into chairs that had been reserved by other people. I texted C to apologise in advance for my unkempt and whiffy state, masked only by the occasional spray from my pocket-sized Channel Blue.

C responded, most sympathetically, and I returned home to a most welcome, cooling and stress-relieving candlelit bath and a change of clothes. The bath and C’s sympathy were also most welcome as I saw neither for the next couple of days.

We awoke on Thursday morning to find the boiler locked out. No heating. No hot water. The boiler had locked out because we had run out of oil. We would not have run out of oil but for the unseasonably chilly weather which had preceded Wednesday’s aberration and a broken oil tank gauge. Or so I argued. But, ordering the oil is my job. And so a chill descended as C gazed upon me with a mix of disappointment and murder in her eye.

I thought I might have been given a reprieve as I immediately called the oil supplier and secured a delivery for Friday and because Wednesday had been the hottest day of the year. But, as I said, the weather can be changeable this time of year. Thursday’s chill was not just to be found in C’s metaphorical frown. It was meteorological too.

Fleeces were donned, electric heaters were recovered, the fire was lit, and I spent much of the day sitting around the heat of a hot cup of coffee while being admonished for my inefficiency in the oil ordering department.

It was even colder yesterday. And, of course, yesterday was the day when the power company chose to undertake essential line maintenance, requiring our power to be shut off between the hours of nine in the morning and four in the afternoon. No hot water. No heating. No electric heaters and no hot cups of coffee to huddle around.

The oil was delivered but, when the power came back on the boiler remained locked out. Thankfully a plumber was found within the hour and he was able to shift the air and get the oil flowing. But only after we had been required to dismantle half of the kitchen unit above the boiler and breaking one tile. And, payment of a hefty call-out charge.

The hot shower yesterday evening was a welcome relief.

Today is sunny, although it is far from hot. It is about 14 degrees. And yet many of the citizens of Sandbach this morning had been lulled into a false sense of temperature and, like moths drawn to a flame, left their homes with an inappropriate jacket. Indeed, a high proportion were shivering, wearing nothing but t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. Fake tans, muffin tops and tattoos aplenty were on display.

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At least today, I was able to return home to a hot cup of tea, heating and hot water.

I must not forget to order the oil. I must not forget to order the oil. I must not forget to order the oil. I must not forget to order the oil.

April 18, 2015 at 5:48 pm Leave a comment

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