Being a writer

I’m currently reading ‘Confessions of a Ghostwriter’ by Andrew Crofts, one of a handful of recent books from Dorking’s Oxfam Books. It’s prompted me to recall the time I sat in an office opposite Colin, who was a freelancer and had the job title of technical writer.

At the time I never understood how someone could write a technical document on a subject they had no knowledge or experience of. My view of Colin was probably also conditioned by the fact that he seemed to spend most of the working day on the phone discussing this, that and the other about cricket. Colin was either a cricketer or involved in the running of a local cricket club or league. I don’t recall seeing any technical documents Colin produced, so I’m not able to judge whether he was good at his job.

As part of the process of developing computer software, I always loved writing the necessary user documentation. I wrote documentation much as I wrote software. I dived in and after many re-writes and revisions I would arrive at what I regarded a pleasing end-product. This is probably not recommended or efficient but it was the way that suited my way of thinking and working.

Interestingly, when it comes to writing a blog post, I can often write something in my head but when it comes to entering it into the computer I somehow lose the words. Hence most of my posts are mainly images!

Saturday’s newspaper

When did Saturday’s paper stop being interesting? We’ve always bought a Saturday paper. A couple of years or so ago we switched from a lifetime reading The Guardian to The Times. But today I switched back, partly because we were getting tired of The Times. But today’s Guardian is no improvement and costs a monstrous £3.20 (The Times costs £2!).

Is it that we’re already saturated with news? We listen daily to Radio 4’s Today programme and to TV news bulletins, as well as checking out many of the newspaper sites on the Web.

Our daughter has suggested switching to a Sunday paper so maybe that’s worth a try.

I think that at my age I’ve become worn out by politics, endless tragedy, conflict and disaster. I need a rest. I need to block it all out.

Is it wrong for me to be annoyed by the use of the word “your” rather than the word “the”, as in ‘Here’s your weather”?

The 10:12 from Clapham Junction

Many times I’ve travelled on the 10:12 from Clapham Junction towards Southampton.

In the last year of my mum’s life, when I had become fed up with the drive, I would catch this train to visit her in her care home. I’ve also used it to carry on beyond Southampton to Brockenhurst and eventually Lymington, one of my very favourite places. From Lymington you can walk or catch the little ferry to Hurst Castle, you can walk around the coastal path, and you can catch the larger ferry to the Isle of Wight. I love ferries, large and small.

Over the past 12 months I’ve also caught the 10:12 in order to reach the starting points of the four sections of the Itchen Way walk – Southampton, Eastleigh, Winchester (twice).

On most of these train trips, I’ve bought a coffee and KitKat from the on-board trolley service (I’m a creature of habit), and on most of these times I’ve been served by the same East-European lady with the lovely smile. And though I remember her, she probably doesn’t remember me.

On Tuesday I set off to start the last leg of the Itchen Way walk. I was standing on the Clapham Junction platform, waiting for the 10:12, when an express, non-stopping train shot past, but with its hooter blaring. The next thing I know is that station staff are active, moving waiting passengers away from the platforms. Someone had jumped under the express train. Chaos followed as trains were suspended in order to deal with the emergency. I abandoned any thoughts of doing my walk. Two days later I tried again, this time without incident.

I guess that forever, when standing waiting for the 10:12, I’ll spare a thought as the express train shoots through, for the person who had had enough.

Terrible news

We were on our way for a walk along the Thames when a phone call brought the terrible news of an ex-colleague’s death. She had taken over my role when I retired. She wasn’t sure whether she was up to it and I also had my doubts – it was a sometimes technical role. But she accepted the position, and despite requiring my help every once in a while for the first couple of years – I don’t think she ever really mastered database queries – she was a success in the post. She was always bubbly and cheerful, which makes her taking her life all the more shocking and hard to comprehend. Things change, but I wish I could turn back the clock.

In the centre of this picture, taken today, is a branch of Strada where two or three times we met in a reunion of the team. A colourless image seems appropriate on this very sad day.

Earning pocket money (1)

I guess I was about 13 when I started delivering newspapers to make some pocket money. The Sunday papers weighed a ton, as they still do, so there were only about thirty or so papers I could manage before having to return to the shop for a second lot. Of course, this was in the days when kids delivered papers. Nowadays you can’t get a newsagent to deliver – kids don’t want to do it and fewer people buy papers. Sometimes you see papers being delivered by someone in a car! Continue reading “Earning pocket money (1)”

Not everyone can whistle

Not everyone can whistle, but I have always been able to! I can even whistle and hum at the same time, as well as whistle by sucking in rather than blowing out. I like to think I whistle in tune.

When I was a kid, probably around 13 or 14, I thought I could compose tunes and so I whistled away with my little compositions. Of course nothing was memorable enough to survive, and so sadly I was no budding Lennon–McCartney.

Naïve art

What’s the only thing grandad can draw, I ask nearly 5 years old Chloe? A house, she always replies. Here’s my pathetic effort – my artistic daughter approves of the perspective!


When I was a kid I used to have two recurring nightmares. There was the falling one and the chewing tobacco one. I don’t know over what period they lasted but they eventually came to an end. They were both extremely unpleasant nightmares.

Last night I had a nightmare in which I became extremely distressed (in the nightmare) and which I brought to an end in order to end my distress. Even so, I was still very shaken despite being awake. Fortunately I don’t get many dreams or nightmares like that.

I seem to be able to bring a dream to an end simply by recognising it’s a dream and deciding to end it. Well that’s what I think is happening. I don’t know whether that’s the same for everyone.

My small but not so smart phone

My phone

It’s small; it’s not smart; there’s no Internet constantly pinging notifications; no one’s going to steal it; it was cheap; it’s a social embarrassment; there’s no Internet to look up mapping, bus / train times; it’s not big.

We had porridge for breakfast

We started the day with porridge. Big flakes of oats in a small dish – with syrup. When I was a kid my mum would serve up a large plate of smooth porridge such that the edges would cool down quickly and form a sort of skin – and we added far more syrup than would be advisable these days.

Just before the new series of Beck begins, this firework was captured out the window.

Being 6 feet (and a whisker) tall

Mrtallimage“Six feet”, I say to anyone who asks. This week my height was officially measured as “a whisker over six feet”. I came in at 1.84 metres (=72.4409449 inches) so that whisker is actually 0.4409449 of an inch, or near as dammit half an inch. Am I growing taller rather than shrinking, as would be the norm at my age?

I spend a lot of time in bookshops, and being tall means I can reach the books on the top shelf but struggle with the books on the bottom shelf. There’s a small bookshop in Scarborough where not only is the bottom shelf at ground level but the books are at the back of the shelf rather than displayed more to the front. Hopeless – I don’t bother with the bottom shelf in this bookshop.

Being tall, cooker hoods are a hazard. Also, tree branches overhanging the pavement, and beams in old pubs. We don’t have a cooker hood, so I’m not expecting one when we stay in holiday flats or cottages, and inevitably I get another forehead wound. Sadly I don’t get many opportunities to avoid beams in old pubs.

With this extra half an inch I’m going to have to be even more careful!

Was my dad innocent?

train-set-on-floorI don’t have many memories of my childhood but I do remember when the train set disappeared, though my recollection may be a bit dodgy.

My dad brought me / us a train set (for Christmas?) and I have fond memories of laying the track to run under the furniture. My guess is that it was a clockwork train, though I don’t really remember. I don’t know how long we had it, I suspect not very long, but when my dad again left the family home for what was to be the last time, the train set disappeared as well.

The explanation I’ve told myself since that time over 50 years ago, is that my dad took the train set with him, but it’s always puzzled me as to why he would have done that.

For no good reason I have recently pondered whether my dad did actually take the train set when he left. The only other explanation for its disappearance is that my mum kept the train set from us. But why? She couldn’t be bothered to get it out? It was a reminder of my dad? She sold it (we were poor)? Although my mum is still alive, her situation doesn’t make it an option to pursue this, and it really isn’t important.

But it’s interesting that even after such a long time it’s possible to look at something in a completely different light!

The cash machine story

A few weeks back I used a bank’s cash machine to withdraw £100. I put the money in my wallet without checking the amount, and waited for the receipt, and waited. The machine was whirring away which is probably why I looked down and noticed a tiny piece of paper wedged in the cash slot. I must have realised what was happening because I checked my wallet and confirmed I had been short-changed £20 by the machine and now the machine was still trying to give me the rest of my money. I tried to encourage the tiny piece of paper out (my £20!), but to no avail. Eventually the machine gave up trying to eject the note and after some more whirring it retracted the jammed note and concluded the transaction by spitting out the receipt from the receipt tray.

So I went into the bank, which was not my bank, and told the story to a member of staff. She informed me that I would need to take it up with my bank! And this I did, using Internet banking. My bank’s system has a menu item for just this situation, so it obviously happens more than occasionally. It would take up to 19 calendar days, the system said.

Well the 19 days passed and I had heard nothing, so I fired off a chase-up message. But almost immediately after doing this I spotted a mysterious £100 credit to my account, with a description containing the date of my original cash machine transaction. So it looked as if I was no longer £20 down but instead I was £80 up!

Being an honest person, I fired off another message to my bank apologising for my earlier chase-up message and pointing out that I appeared to have been recompensed, not for the missing £20 but for the whole transaction! So how did my bank respond?

“Thank you for your message. £100 was sent to us from the other bank. Have a lovely day!”

Saturday’s interactions

  1. I accepted a religious pamphlet from a street missionary and put it in the first available bin. Maybe I should have returned it to the missionary further down the street who tried to give me another one.
  2. The ATM outside a bank shortchanged me by £20. I only spotted this because the machine was taking ages to print the receipt  and was also still attempting to eject one of the notes . This wouldn’t have happened if I had been prepared to queue at the machines inside the bank. (Queue? See later!)
  3. The man in the small newsagents refused my i newspaper subscription voucher – it takes too long to get payment back, he said.
  4. On only my second visit to Wilco I abandoned my budget notebook on seeing the 10-deep checkout queues. There should be a bin near the checkouts so that customers unprepared to wait in the queue can abandon their goods rather than leaving them on a random shelf, as I did.
  5. At home, my bank’s Internet banking site has an option to report problems with ATM transactions, which was helpful and suggests it’s a fairly common event.
  6. A very fine evening interacting with old friends on our first visit to the excellent Mute Swan pub in Hampton Court. Good food, lots of space between tables, and for a Saturday night not too noisy. I shouldn’t have finished with a strong, black coffee, but that’s another story.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑