Category Archives: Comment/Opinion

I Don’t Understand It: Cricket

England won the World Cup, then they’re playing again a few days later! Don’t they have a rest? I believe they’re currently playing Australia. They play the same team and it goes on for days. All day; not ninety minutes like football. I wonder about the spectators who spend a whole week watching the same match – don’t they have jobs to go to?

Other things about it I don’t understand: some days the ball is white, another time it’s red. Sometimes they wear vivid colours, sometimes both teams are in white. And what’s this I hear about poor light stopping play? Why not turn the floodlights on??

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On Becoming an Oldie

(For those of you getting on in years – read on. I wrote this piece for The Oldie magazine. They said it was delightful, but didn’t use it. Anyway, here it is for the delectation of my blog readers…

It’s started. I’ve enquired about my first over-55s reward card. I was dining out with my wife – at the Ship Inn in Leighton Buzzard – when my attention was drawn to the offer to join the Emerald Club – “Where Experience Is Rewarded.” That works for me: I’d probably be coming back for another meal sometime, and I could claim 15% off the food bill. Before I’d even touched my pint of Doombar I asked the young waitress to rush over an application form. The application form arrived on a card, showing the smiling faces of two late-middle aged couples holding aloft glasses of white wine, evidently subsidised by their 15% saving. One bloke looked suspiciously like Jeremy Corbin.

Doubt set in when  the small-print on the application informed me I’d only get a discount between 11am and 7pm Monday to Friday (so this is why older people eat early?). More importantly, I started to worry what people now thought of me. When I asked for the application form I did it in a slightly jokey way. The waitress smiled without batting an eyelid. I secretly hoped she’d jokingly punch my shoulder and flirtingly exclaim “you’re never over fifty-five!” If she demanded proof of identity I already had my driving licence poised ready for inspection.

As the waitress went about her business with a quiet efficiency, I thought I detected a slight smirk on her face. I grinned weakly in return, imagining we were sharing some kind of private joke. I wanted to ask if the pub had a dedicated parking area for mobility scooters, just to show that my sense of humour hadn’t whittled away with old age. Regrettably, I was in the loo when she made her final visit to our table (the frequency of toilet breaks has been an issue since my thirties, along with occasional bouts of gout).

I wished I’d never started this sorry business. Only minutes ago, I’d breezed past the pub’s staff in my brown leather trousers and brown linen jacket, full of health and vitality. I was a young-for-my-age fifty-seven year-old metrosexual. I had decades of productivity left in me. I’d been contemplating starting a new career, for God’s sake. I’d now, rashly, self-identified as being over the hill. Tired of living? I’m still waiting to start, mate.

When I picked up that card I instantly become an Oldie. I felt differently about myself. Maybe my behaviour would change involuntary? Maybe I’d take on the habits of old people who I’d observed: blokes jingling the change in their pockets, or whistling indiscernible tunes in supermarket aisles. Perhaps I’d feel the urge to potter about in garden centres, or take bracing walks along the prom in Eastbourne? (I’d already started the latter, so maybe the process was already quite progressed). There would inevitably be decisions to be made in the future about bus passes and such like. I fancied that my eyes hovered a bit too long on the ads for stairlifts in the Oldie. Maybe we’d need to move to a bungalow in anticipation of my sad decline?

I’d already floated the idea of buying an “Old Guys Rule” T-shirt, but my idea was vetoed by my 52 year-old wife. Watching Coronation Street, I’d often tell her she could shoot me should I ever start dressing like Roy Cropper. Maybe my jokes hid a secret desire to buy a grey cardigan or an anorak? I laughed about it with my wife, taunting her that she wouldn’t be able to enjoy the benefits of the Emerald Club for another four years. I’d be out with my new friends, enjoying discount meals and toasting each other with the finest wines known to man.

The event made me examine my own views of myself, and of ageing generally. I owned up to being middle aged in my late-thirties, and had happily accepted the manopause. I put on the leather jeans and played bass in a rock band in my forties, but in other aspects I became “set in my ways”. I was quite aware of this though. I would often challenge myself on my Oldie status, and try to keep things at bay.

You don’t have to behave like Keith Richards, but you don’t have to give in to the concept of age. You shouldn’t accept limitations unless forced to. It’s a number thing really. Age is only a number, and I’m no good with numbers. I am a free man, not a prisoner of age. No sir, I shall avoid pigeonholes. I’ll try new things, think in different ways, and continue to learn and explore. I shall always make sure I eat pub dinners after 7pm, despite the offer of discounts.

I was now noticing over-55s offers everywhere. A few weeks’ later I noticed an over-55s deal at my local fish and chip restaurant. Tempting, but ultimately I didn’t feel ready to accept discounts in return for pigeon-holing. I wasn’t going to define myself by a number. I never filled in the application. I’ll review things again at sixty.

If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, you have my sympathy.

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Spoilt by Progress?

The bank with no money. My local Halifax bank branch recently re-opened without a counter; just machines, and one or two staff members standing around. I hadn’t really needed the counter service as I usually just pay in and take out cash.

On finding an old pound coin under the sofa – no doubt put there by the cat – I thought I’d take the coin to the bank and exchange it for a new-style coin. On asking what I could do with my obsolete coin I was told that the bank would change it for me – but not at this branch as they don’t have a counter service!

Rather than spend £4.80 on a return bus trip to the Halifax in Luton, I took my coin to the Post Office; on the advice of the bank that doesn’t deal in cash.

It’s a freakin’ bank! Isn’t that what a bank is for? Surely they’ve at least got a petty cash-type box hidden away somewhere? And don’t get me started on on-line banking – how do you pay cash in??.

Come on your millennials; tell me I’m out of touch and this is progress, I dare you…

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The Book they tried to Ban: Brexit Rant

My book is still a couple of months away from publication. Here’s an excerpt from a chapter that I didn’t include in the final draft.

 

Don’t Mention the War

I didn’t feel strongly either way, but I voted to leave the European Union. The EU had expanded to include former Communist countries. Some of the new entrants had very different cultures from the established EU members. They had no experience of mass immigration and they had much weaker economies. I couldn’t see what they were bringing to the party. We had the fifth strongest economy in the world at the time of the referendum. Maybe we should have helped form a breakaway Premier League?

A couple of the new member countries made it clear they weren’t going to take their share of refugees from Syria if they were asked to. Other member countries had economic problems, and it looked for a time as if they might be forced to leave the union. Citizens in other member countries also wanted to leave the EU. So, if the EU was to break up, someone had to be the first to leave and make the first move. Someone had to be Ginger Spice.

If anyone is to blame should the whole thing go tits-up, it’s Cameron’s fault for calling a referendum. The government made no provision for a leave vote whatsoever. For me, all the pathetic scare-mongering from people like George Osborne helped make my mind up how to vote. Maybe it was a token gesture on my part to call their bluff, but none of us expected the leave result.

I was now apparently a “Hard Brexiteer” because I took the government’s pre-referendum flyer as gospel. They led us to believe it would be easy. Cameron was going to invoke European Union Article 50 the following day and we would leave the EU lock, stock and barrel. I thought we’d just cancel the direct debit and unsubscribe from the newsletter. They told us no different. Nobody said there would be months of legal wrangling before Article 50 could be activated. Nobody mentioned a huge divorce bill, a lengthy transition period, or the thorny issue of the Irish border. Unsurprisingly we have heard nary a word from Dave Cameron since he deserted us, the slimy toad.

I don’t think the EU appreciates what a sensitive issue the Irish border is. The EU wants a proper border between Northern Ireland (United Kingdom) and the Republic of Ireland (European Union), yet in other parts of Europe they allow borders where there shouldn’t be any. There’s an illegal border on Cyprus, which is EU territory. Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, my arse – there’s no such country. It’s only recognised by Turkey. Turkish Cypriots are EU citizens, whether they like it or not. Talking of borders, the EU stayed quiet on the matter of Catalan independence in 2017. Whatever happened with Catalonia – are they independent now or not?

Brexit was subsequently blamed for many of the country’s problems. Banks and other institutions used Brexit as an excuse for making staff redundant. In the wake of the referendum, Lloyds bank announced 200 branch closures and 3,000 job cuts, but it transpired that the redundancies were planned before the referendum. The funniest claim came from Mayor Kahn and TfL who said that the “uncertainty of Brexit” was partly to blame for TfL expected loss of £400 million in 2018. It was nothing to do with Brexit. People were deserting the underground because it was overcrowded, full of rowdy people, and prone to cancellations and delays. Buses had lost their popularity because they were too slow. TfL had also shot themselves in the foot with the unrestricted licensing of private hire. This started a race to the bottom and made it cheaper to travel by mini-cab than a bus.

Many in big business are nervous about the UKs withdrawal. Of course they are. They’re worried they won’t be able to get any more cheap labour from Eastern Europe. It’s not Brexit itself which causes panic; it’s the uncertainty and the scare-mongering. Uncertainty is acerbated by the slow progress of negotiations with the EU. Mrs May took three months out for a vanity election in 2017, and talks have been conducted at a French escargot pace ever since.

The British are tough people, or at least we used to be. It’s generally older people who voted to leave the EU. The older you are, the closer you are to World War Two. Our ancestors were tough. They had to be. They needed faith and determination. Not enough people believe in the country any more. A stiff upper lip is now seen as cold and insensitive, but we need to pull together and invoke the Spirit of the Blitz once again. Sadly, it’s no longer PC to say that Britain’s great, or call to make Britain great again.

Time will tell how things will develop once we’ve left the EU. It might be a disaster. Some of our own citizens want us to get a bad deal so they can say”I told you so”. I say off to Traitors’ Gate with them. I’m still not sure how I’d vote if there was a new referendum tomorrow, though I’d probably stick with my original decision and see things through. If the referendum result isn’t respected I’ll be in Trafalgar Square with Nigel Farage setting fire to the EU flag.

The EU had to make it difficult for us in order to warn others about having the same ideas about leaving, but how dare they ask us for all that money? I can’t help thinking that the EU is something of a boys’ club, and I wonder how much money is spent on fat cat pensions and the EU wine cellar (admittedly, I might be sore because I don’t have a pension. Or a wine cellar).

I suggest the EU remember what the UK did for Europe during the war. Germany built up its infrastructure quickly enough after trashing Europe. European transport systems make ours look like the third world. Britain’s Family silver had been sold off to foreign investors years’ ago. Foreign transport systems are cheaper and more efficient than our own. Is this because so many of our transport systems are run by European governments? It’s the same with our domestic energy supply. We had rationing until 1953. We didn’t pay off war-time loans to the USA until 2006 – around £27 billion in today’s values. Other countries progressed while we were still crippled with debt from the war. I think we deserve some respect. If I was Mrs May I’d tell the EU to bugger off, we don’t owe you anything.

People confuse the EU with Europe and think you’re anti-European if you want to leave the EU. You can still drink fine wine in Paris and eat cheese strained through an old man’s sock. You can still lie on a Spanish beach until you turn red and sizzle like a chorizo sausage. You can still drink murky over-strength ales in a Belgian bar. You can still do whatever you normally do on a weekend in Amsterdam they can’t touch you for it.

I’m sorry we’re not such close trading partners, and that borders will re-appear, but I love Europe and Europeans, and I shall continue to take most of my holidays within the EU and the English-speaking world. Admittedly, preference is given to those countries that were on our side in the war. The European project has sidelined the Commonwealth countries: countries with whom we share deep ties, and a common language. A few of them mght have funny ideas about civil rights, and they might put your head on a spike if they think you might be gay; but during the war our Commonwealth cousins rallied round. There were also the plucky Poles, Czechs, Greeks and Scandinavians. But lest we forget, there were also some Bayern Munich-supporting wannabees who aligned themselves with the team they expected to win. They know who they are. It’s sad that the Germans are still telling the Greeks what to do. Search out the World at War series on the Yesterday channel for further details. I guarantee you’ll be a frothy-mouthed Hard Brextremist by the end of it – though I warn you though, that the series lasts longer than the actual war.

So what’s all this got to do with the London cab trade, I hear you ask. Probably nothing. Who knows? Anyway, I’ve gone on a bit in this section. File my ideas under half-baked if you want to, but I reckon I know as much about it as some of the so-called experts I hear on radio phone-ins.

 

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Where did it all go Wonga?

I’m sorry to hear that Wonga are about to call in the recievers. Could they not get a loan to tide them over until pay day?

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Burka King

I’m not a great fan of Boris Johnson, but I feel he’s getting some unwarranted flak on the Burka-Gate scandal; not so much for what he said, but for who he is. He now faces a show trial. Just laugh it off, Boris; it’s just a Brexit diversion.

Let’s not forget that he spoke against a ban on the full veil. I also don’t favour a ban, but I don’t like full face coverings. Nobody’s face should be covered in public places where security is an issue, or where clear communication is needed. You wouldn’t be allowed to wear a balaclava in a bank, and the idea that someone can teach in a school wearing a veil is preposterous.

Boris has got people talking about a contentious and complex subject. His bank robber and letter box comments might have upset some people but we all know what he means. All he’s done is make a couple of fairly lame humorous comments about garments that some people chose to wear. If women aren’t wearing certain clothes by choice then that’s another discussion that is needed. I notice it’s only women who wear full face coverings. When I see a woman in these Medieval garments I see oppression. It demeans the wearer and disrespects others. You are stressing your difference. You’re saying “Don’t talk to me.” If you want to speak to me, I want to see your face.

Free speech is being eroded with each passing day. If a person faces a hearing for these comments, it’s a sad day for all of us who view serious issues through the prism of humour. Does this mean we can’t chuckle at hipsters’ Civil War beards or people wearing pyjamas to go to the shops?

As I say, I’m generally not a Boris fan. I feel I could have a laugh with him down the pub, though I wouldn’t trust him. The reverse is probably true with Jeremy Corbyn. Jez has been quiet on the burka issue. The Boris issue has taken some sting out of Jeremy’s Jew-baiting. I’d imagine Jez is keen on full-face coverings though, whether a Hezbollah scarf or an IRA hood.

Oh come on I’m only joking, Jeremy. Can’t we laugh about anything these days?

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My World Cup Shame

I’d like to say I remember something about the 1966 World Cup – ANYTHING – but I can’t. True, I was only 4 1/2, but you’d think I’d remember something; at least the atmosphere around the event: perhaps my dad holding me aloft like the gleaming Jules Rimet trophy as our little black & white TV showed us beat off the West Germans? No, nothing.

During the 1970 World Cup I was living in rural Staffordshire. Like all my friends we collected the free Esso World Cup coins from fuel stations (not silly stickers in those days). They were swapped amongst us, and put on to a commemorative board (shown). Again, I remember nothing about the actual football event.
I don’t think my complete coin collection made it into 1971. In fact, I think I can remember destroying it, once it became irrelevant to my eight year old head. I expect they would’ve been swept away in a spirit of punk rock revisionism six years’ later anyway.
I’m not even going to research how much that collection might be worth now…
essoEsso 2

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