Monthly Archives: January 2016

A walk round the streets can do you good.

As a youngster Tim had been a loner – partly by choice and partly because of circumstance. Dad had always seemed to be changing jobs – changes that caused his son to be continually changing schools. He coped very well as a loner. On leaving school he went to Technical College to learn extra skills and from there earned a place at University. It was not one of the top ones – Oxford, Cambridge and the like were beyond him – but it was a pretty good one.

Today was the first time that Tim Peterson had been back in this University town since he had graduated. In those long gone days his life had been beer in the pubs by the river, rowing with the girls on the river and late-night combinations of beer, girls and a trad-jazz band of some quality in the bar close by the river. Oh, he had studied as well and had obtained a reasonable 2:1 at the end of it all.

He had arrived late yesterday, checked into the hotel, sampled the mini-bar contents and then fallen asleep.

His alarm told him it was eight o’clock already – and reminded him why he was there. He had a 10 o’clock appointment with the local college selection board for a teaching post there. Julie, his wife, had seen the advertisement in the Sunday paper and had convinced him that it was a post that fitted him to a tee. He wasn’t so sure but he had humoured her by applying. The college, much to his surprise, had invited him for interview – and here he was. Not only that – he was determined to make a good case for the powers-that-be to hire him.

To be honest – he could not really care less about it, but Julie did. She was getting fed up with his frequent changes of jobs. It was not too bad while she was working as well – between them they had a more than adequate income for their needs. Now things were changing. Julie was six months pregnant and it was time Tim got himself a stable job; one of security, stability, and a decent income. Today was the day he was out to prove that he had what it took. Julie deserved it.

A church clock struck twelve noon as Tim stood outside the college gates. He was disgusted, disappointed and extremely angry – and that was an understatement. The optimism, ambition and determination he had felt when he had left home were all gone. The dismissive interview had destroyed all that. He had forced himself to believe that this opportunity would make a fresh start for him and Julie and their soon-to-be little one. Now it was crushed; he was crushed; he had let Julie and himself down. He could blame the ‘interrogation board’ but they were just doing their job, even if it seemed a bit one sided.

He felt that it was him – Tim the failure again. He walked across to the taxi rank – ‘Station please’ he said as the driver opened the door.

When he reached the station despondency, fear, self-loathing hit him. It was made worse by his mobile ringing. It was probably Julie. He didn’t answer it. How could he ‘face’ her? He had failed.

When the call had ended he played it back. It was Julie. ‘Hello Tim; just wondering how things went. Give me a call when you pick this up. I love you – and little one has just wriggled in my tummy. Bye.’

Tim turned the mobile off; put it in his overnight bag and put the bag in one of the security boxes at the station. He just couldn’t face going home just yet.

He wandered out of the station and meandered along a street he hadn’t seen for years. West Street had changed in many ways since he had seen it last. There was a lot more traffic for one, but it was still recognisable in others. It was certainly more appropriate to his feelings than a stroll through the ancient colleges of the city centre. As he walked, the ‘feel’ of the street began to merge into his mood. He became aware of the tattooists, the bicycle repair shop, an Asian general store and a couple of Chinese restaurants. He stopped and looked at the low-cost furniture shop’s display and thought of the conversation he had with Julie about moving and refurnishing when little-one arrived. There were estate agents – no need of those now, they wouldn’t be moving to this town after this morning’s debacle.

He walked on to a road junction. Across the road was ‘The Blue Boar’ – a sleazy looking pub that told all and sundry that they were ‘open all day’. It didn’t look much like the pub he would normally frequent – but he needed a drink. To his left and right was a narrower – much less busy –street. The one to his left headed to ‘who knows where’. To his right was a street of drab looking houses. Tim forgot about the ‘Blue Boar’ across the road, and his plan to drown his sorrows, and turned up the street of those drab houses. They matched his feelings, so he thought he would join them.

He hadn’t walked far when he began to feel at home – not that it was anything like his home with Julie. This street had a ‘feel’ that suited his present mind-set – depressed, frustrated, yet now becoming determined.   All the houses opened straight on to a narrow pavement no more than a single stride wide. He walked on, then, without warning, the pavement did widened. A low wall filled the gap and behind that was a single cottage with grass that needed cutting and some shrubs that had seen younger days. The building was something tangible, cosy in its’ own right yet seemingly unoccupied and lonely; a house saying ‘you’re welcome here, I know how you feel’ to Tim.

Tim stood and looked – something in the back of his mind was trying to get out. Something was beginning to establish itself when an aged man stood behind the window – staring at him. Before Tim could react the man had thrown open the window and shouted angrily in a dialect Tim didn’t recognise. He didn’t need to know what was being said – it was very clear that he was not welcome standing and staring just there. Tim mouthed a silent ‘sorry’ and moved on. The man reminded him of his grandfather who didn’t like people ‘gorping’ at him either.

It also brought back the interview he had attended that morning. The interviewers had not really wanted him. Tim was convinced that they knew the one that they wanted from the beginning. For them Tim – and probably one or two others – was ‘cannon fodder’. They were just going through the motions to make it look legit.

This street – strangely devoid of traffic – was taking hold of him. Was it showing the same depression that he felt? Was it in need of a ‘pick-me-up’ to bring it back to life? Tim mumbled ‘I know how you feel’. He walked on a short way then saw a welcome sign. ‘The King’s Arms’ it said. Tim still wanted a drink and went in. The place was empty apart for a middle-aged woman behind the bar – and she seemed to have the same amount of drive and humour as Tim felt – ZERO. He looked around – the place had seen better days and could do with a clean. He settled for a bottled beer and a bag of crisps. The woman served him then turned her back – she obviously did not want to talk. Tim drank his beer straight from the bottle, finished off his crisps and was just leaving as half a dozen men pushed in. They were obviously regulars as the woman started pulling beer as they walked in.

Outside the pub Tim looked at his watch. He should retrace his steps and get back to the station and his journey home but something in his mind told him – ‘not yet – walk a little further’. He looked again at his watch – ‘ten minutes more he said to himself’ then I’ll head back.

Twenty yards or so from the pub there was a road joining from the right. Sandison Street – a new name as far as he could recall from his past time here – looked like it should head back to the railway station. Tim turned into it. He hadn’t gone far when he saw a house that was so different from everything thing else he had seen.

It stood back a little from the road – there looked as if one or two cars could park there – and had been spruced up. The large window facing the road did not have a domestic look about it.   Moving a little closer Tim could see that interior was a workshop – a workshop with a very cluttered bench inside. It may be surrounded on either side by houses, and behind the workshop there may be a house as well – but in front it presented itself as ‘Peter Barker – Bow Maker’. Tim went closer. The workspace was crowded but not scruffy – and the bows were very obviously not for shooting arrows. Lying on a table were five musical bows for strung instruments. On the door hung a handwritten sign ‘Back soon’.

Tim stood there. Hadn’t there been a Peter Barker at his time at the Uni? Hadn’t he been a musician? ‘It can’t be the same guy can it’ Tim thought. With a shrug he looked at his watch and walked on.

The road turned to the left – it wasn’t heading to the station it seemed so Tim turned round and began retracing his steps.

The ‘Back soon’ sign on the door had gone and Tim paused and looked through the window. A man – presumably Peter Barker – was there, putting on an apron. As Tim watched he selected something from his bench before sitting down with a work-in-process bow on his lap. There was something about him – the way he’d walked; the way he held his head – that reminded Tim of the past. Could this be that fellow student of days gone by? Certainly the Peter Barker he remembered was musical with both voice and instrument. This one looked at ease with his work – work that no doubt he enjoyed. He looked up, saw Tim, smiled and nodded to him, then carried on with his shaping of another bow. Tim smiled, raised his hand in acknowledgement and headed back to catch a train. ‘If only I had more time’ Tim thought.

At the station he retrieved his bags and caught the next train heading homeward. Once on his way, Tim tex’d a simple message to Julie – ‘Been here; done it; taken a walk; home soon. Love you – and little wriggly-one’.

Once home he told Julie the whole story of the day. She cursed the appraisal board; said it was their loss not Tim’s; and then changed the subject to what the ‘little wriggly-one’ had been doing.

Tim decided that the board’s decision was their loss, and that the walk round the streets was his gain. There were more educational establishments around that needed staff – and anyway, there were more important things pending. One of these was only three months or so away.

Over the following days Tim found himself having a more positive attitude than he had enjoyed for ages. The forthcoming ‘little wriggly-one’ was a great boost, and if he started to feel down he recalled watching Peter Barker.

He envied that man’s apparent self-sufficiency and every time he began to feel down Tim looked for ‘the Barker effect’. It worked – but he didn’t tell Julie that; she might get the wrong idea. In any case – when little William Timothy Peterson arrived there would be more pressing needs anyway.

One thing Tim never did tell Julie was that he had toyed with the idea of having their little fellow christened William Timothy Barker Peterson in memory of a day that began a change in his daddy’s view on life.

2,042 words



School exam challenges

Over the past week or so I have been having a tidy-up > clear-up > throw-out time of the umpteen cuttings etc. than I’ve collected over the years. However, I have kept quite a lot as well and you’ll have the chance to read some of the stories over the coming months both on this and my ‘talkinghistory’ blogs.
Do you remember school exams?
Simple questions always seemed to become impossible to answer as you sat, a lonely soul in a mass of equally lonely souls, as the clock ticked on to disaster.

In my tidy-up I found the following questions; without cheating by looking at the bottom of this post, please answer the following questions:-

    1. What is an animal with a backbone called?
    2. How can people conserve the environment?
    3. Give an example where the expansion of a solid causes problems, and say how it is overcome.
    4. Why can a bird sit on a high voltage cable without getting an electric shock?
    5. Name the Peace Treaty which settled the war in 1919.
    6. What does the sickle on the Russian flag stand for?
    7. State one change in boys at puberty.
    8. What is migration?
    9. Write down some way in which radioactive materials can be useful to human beings?


As well as the question and answer part of exams there were the pieces that required you to write in an informative or descriptive way. That’s when you could get really confused. These are a few bits of confusion that may bring a smile to your face – or may cause a ‘So….?’ response.

‘My first memory was when my nana used to carry me down the garden to look at the flowers. She would then sit me on a plate of egg and chips.’

‘The Pope could not marry Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon so Henry started the Protestant religion and married his self.’

‘As he grew older Wordsworth went out one evening because he felt the call of nature.’
‘Man is only a nackered ape.’

‘Margarine is better for you than butter because it spreads easily.’

‘There is no plague in Britain because we have a cure and rats are not popular and people are much cleaner and sterile.’

‘Exams do put enormous stains on you.


So, what were the answers to our nine questions?

1. What is an animal with a backbone called? [A vibrator.]
2. How can people conserve the environment? [Shoot trespassers.]
3. Give an example where the expansion of a solid causes problems, and say how it is overcome. [Your fingernails grow and need cutting.]
4. Why can a bird sit on a high voltage cable without getting an electric shock? [The bird’s feet are coated with rubber.]
5. Name the Peace Treaty which settled the war in 1919. [EEC]
6. What does the sickle on the Russian flag stand for? [Chopping people’s heads off.]
7. State one change in boys at puberty. [There vice deepens.]
8. What is migration? [It is a headache that birds get when they fly south for winter.]
9. Write down some way in which radioactive materials can be useful to human beings? [Atomic bombs.]

At the bottom of the garden

When I was a young lad – I was 6 or 7 at the time but I can’t remember which – my ‘best mate’ lived a little way down the road in a place called ‘Furness Cottage’. His name was Frederick but his mum always called him ‘Freddie’. In modern terms Freddie was a real ‘nutter’, always getting into trouble, always taking risks – and never getting hurt and, as far as I can remember, never getting blamed for anything. The rest of our gang, and me in particular I seem to recall, were blamed for all the things that we did. He thought it was great fun – well he would, wouldn’t he – when we got told off about the things we did. We always called him ‘Fearless Fred’. I could tell you lots of stories about our little gang but you’ll just have to put up with this one.
It was Monday 13th January 1947, and our last day before we had to go back to school. It was also Fred’s birthday and all our gang were having one last day of fun before the holiday ended. There was Colin, Roger, Steve, Fred and me, and we were playing down at the far end of my Nan’s long back garden. It was a great place to play. Grand-dad had died in 1936 but Nan’s many friends made sure most of her garden was looked after. The far end was a place for garden rubbish, summer bonfires and fun and games for us. At that far end was a hedge and beyond that was an open field. At this time the field had just been ploughed.
On ‘our’ side of the hedge was an old tree. Old but not too big, it ‘sat’ there at the bottom of the garden, leaning at a 45° degree angle. It had been like that for all my years and was a great place for us to have fun on. On this day we were having fun.
‘Fearless Fred’ was the first to climb up the tree; Colin was close behind followed by Roger. I had no head for heights but was next to do the climb. I was just touching Roger when there was a creaking sound and then the tree fell flat onto the ground! Four of us were too much. I picked myself up while Colin and Roger untangled themselves. We were all OK.
We looked for Fred. He was nowhere to be seen. We panicked. Was he under the tree? We had started to pull off the ivy that grew on the trunk of our tree. Then we heard a cry – Fred’s cry. It came from the other side of the hedge!
The falling tree had thrown him over the hedge – or had he jumped?
We all rushed round to the field on the other side and there was Fred – very muddy and laughing his head off!
We gave each other a ‘hands brush down’; left the field and wandered off to have a bit more fun elsewhere. I said nothing to Nan – or Mum & Dad – about it and it was not until the next week that someone realised that the ‘tree and the bottom of the garden’ was lying on the floor. We were ‘so surprised’ by that. ‘How could it have happened?’

Having relived this piece of my past I thought I’d have a look what a January 13th Birthday Astrology had to tell me about my friend of so long ago. Well – this is what I read about individuals with a birthday on this day:
‘Fearless, reckless, eager to meet all life’s challenges sums up January 13th Capricorns, who often lead a tumultuous existence. They often give the impression of being emotionally unstable, but they have the power to learn from their mistakes. They can see the funny side of even the most difficult situation.
Blessed with a pleasing personality and happy disposition, January 13 natives are the envy of friends. They’re witty and have the ability to make others feel good about themselves. Despite a reputation for being frivolous and fickle, they are stable and faithful.
That describes the Freddie I knew to a tee but just to make sure I looked elsewhere and found this one:
‘Being a Capricorn born on January 13th, your loyalty, discipline and intelligence define your personality. Although you may be shy when meeting new people, you are extremely open and loyal in your close relationships. Your friends appreciate your loyalty, but they are inspired by your determination and quick mind. Whenever you are met with a worthwhile challenge, you have the fortitude overcome it
Earth is your sign’s paired element and in fact, of all the zodiac signs, you have the only fundamental relationship with the element. More so than other Earth zodiac signs, you are an active self-starter. Earth’s influence keeps you grounded and realistic in your expectations. Embracing your practical earthly qualities will play a key role in your future successes. Be wary of becoming overly cautious and prudent however, as you may miss valuable life experiences.
The Capricorn’s ruling planet is Saturn, but as you were born in the third Decan, or part, of the sign, you receive planetary influence from Mercury as well. While Saturn’s planetary power is responsible for your discipline, determination and organization, it is Mercury’s influence that relates links to your gifts of communication and mental agility. Your unique combination of planetary influences makes you more intellectually driven than the other Capricorn Decans. In love, you dedicate yourself fully and faithfully, but may have trouble letting go of the past. If a loved one has wronged you, try not to hold grudges, as this will only increase your unhappiness.
Your natural abilities are well-suited for a variety of careers, but narrowing your choices down to one may be difficult. Your intellectual pursuits may lead you down such paths as teaching, history, or philosophy. Similarly, if helping others is your passion, you may do well in politics or counselling.

This is all very nice and informative but it’s 60-plus years ago that this all happened.  We moved away the following year and soon after Nan came to live with us.  I lost touch with all the gang I’ve talked about here.  That’s life I suppose.

Jamie copies Mr Samuel Pepys

Jamie always started a new diary at the beginning of the year. ‘Well, how will my children and grand-children know what we did if I don’t keep a record?’ was his excuse.

It was January 2nd and he sat, looking at a blank page. The New Year’s Eve’ celebrations, including some rather good wine, had meant that the first day of the New Year had drifted through as a bit of a blur. Now it was the time for the New Year’s diary records to begin. What should he write? What could he write about for the benefits of posterity?

As he sat there and thought, Susie – the wife – came through the lounge where he was pondering. ‘Stop chewing that pencil’ was all she said as she headed to the kitchen.

‘I wonder if Mrs Pepys was as rude and bossy to her husband Samuel when he started writing his diary,’ Jamie mused.

Samuel Pepys had started his diary on 1st January 1660 and kept it in great detail for nearly 10 years. Jamie had been starting his diary at the beginning of each year for the last 6 so ‘I should be able to match and beat him don’t you think?’ he murmured to himself. Jamie sat back in his chair and began thinking about the similarities and differences between himself and Mr Pepys:-

Pepys had kept his diary all year, every year. Me? Well I can be quite busy you know. Other demands get in the way. Take last year for instance:-

It started off well and was writing something nearly every day – then Susie decided she wanted one of the bedrooms painted. That was in early February. By the time I had finished that it was time to start cutting the lawn and doing things with the flower beds.

I did write some bits in early April – well it was quite wet outside – but then Janice, our eldest, moved in with her boyfriend on the other side of the country so I had to take all her things across – darn near 200 miles each was that was. That took me well over a week to move and by the time I had finished the grass needed cutting again.

I’ve just had a look at last year’s diary and I see that in early June I wrote three whole pages. There would have been more but Susie liked so much what I had done in the bedroom that I was ‘requested’ – that means ‘instructed’ – to do the same with Janice’s room now that she had left home.

I finished that just in time for Susie and me to go on holiday for a couple of weeks. That would be a great time for me to catch up on the diary notes I had missed I thought. When we got to the hotel I discovered that I’d left my diary book at home! I must admit, though, that a thought had gone through my mind that perhaps a ‘certain lady whose name begins with S’ had sabotaged its’ trip! That wasn’t too bad, though, because I could use the hotel notepaper that was in the room.

We had a great time there and were quite sad when it was time to go home. The journey home was a bit slow due to traffic and roadworks but we made it and flopped into bed – happy to be home. Unpacking could wait until the morning.

First thing next morning we emptied the cases and the washing machine was soon going full tilt. Stuff that didn’t need washing was stashed away in its own place. There was just one thing missing – my make-shift holiday diary!

We searched the cases, the clothes and the car – twice. It was nowhere to be found. We – no, me according to Susie – must have left it in the hotel. I ‘phoned them and they said they would check and call me back. They called the next morning. There was no luck – they said that they had checked ‘our’ room and all other possible places but nothing had been found. They suggested that it had probably been put into the tidy bin in the room and then into the main rubbish bin. They had sort of told me it was my own fault because all room rubbish – they had called it ‘leavings’ – was put into the main waste bins within two hours of resident’s departure and that sort of rubbish was collected first thing each morning – earlier than I had called them.

I decided to sit and write up as much as I could of the things I remembered.

I had been at it about half an hour when the ‘phone rang. It was Janice. She and her bloke had been doing nothing but argue since the moment she had got there. He was not like she thought he would be. Would I please come and collect her – NOW!

I did – and she came home with the same things she – I – had taken over there not that many weeks previously.

My diary re-construction for the year was put to one side – and was never completed. Why’s that you may ask.

Well – Janice’s things needed sorting; the grass needed cutting and flowers needed beheading because of our two weeks away.

Also Susie wanted the remaining bedroom to be decorated as nicely as I had done the other two!

I bet Samuel Pepys never had this trouble as he wrote his diaries.

Me? Well you’ve just read the first piece for my diary for 2016. Wish me luck with the rest of the year. I’ll keep you posted from time to time.


Belated Happy New Year


I hope you had a good Christmas – with lots of things you hoped for and, I suspect, some things that caused you to think (sometimes outloud I guess).  That’s the way things go.

Well, after what was at times a very stressful second half of 2015, we’re hoping for a much better 2016.  The first post will be hitting the airwaves at 18.30 GMT today.  What I’ve tried to do with this first story, and a number of others that are w.i.p., is take a person or event (or both) from the past and see how a modern day person would cope with a similar situation.

Fingers crossed that it works but your comments would be much appreciated – good, bad or indifferent!

I’m really looking forward to 2016 with quite a few new ideas and stories at the w.i.p stages both here and my talkinghistory2013 blog.

Have a good year whatever you plan.