bigjohn

There is many a good tune played on an old fiddle.

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  • My Life and Times

    I was born in 1939 BC. That's 'Before Computers'. Luckily I survived the following events in my life, such as World War II, The London Blitz, Rationing, and worst of all... Archbishop Temple's School.

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    During the mid 1950s I was enjoying Rock 'n' Roll and being a first generation teenager, when suddenly, just like Elvis, I found myself in uniform during 'The Cold War'...and then

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    I became 'a family'. Which meant that I sort of missed the 'swinging sixties', but still managed to look a complete prat in the 70s, just like everyone else.

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    During the 'Thatcher Years' I lost my hair and a lot of people lost a good deal more. My career fluctuated to say the least as I was demoted, promoted, fired and hired a number of times, but still I managed to stagger on into a welcome retirement and to celebrate 50 years of happy marriage.
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Archive for November, 2008

“Fings is bad and times is ‘ard”.

Posted by Big John on November 28, 2008

The other day I visited a giant ‘Staples’ superstore, and apart from the three or four staff chatting at the checkouts I was the only person to be seen within it’s walls. It was the same story when I later called in at ‘PC World’, and yesterday when I made one of my rare visits to a large shopping mall I found many of the shops to be empty of customers.

The newspapers are full of ads ‘shouting’ .. 50%  Off ! .. No VAT ! .. Half Price Sale ! .. and in the case of ‘MFI’, 80% Off – Closing Down Sale ! .. Even the mighty Marks and Spencer’s has been forced to have a 25% Off sale.

Poor old ‘Woolies’ has gone ‘tits up’, and despite the ridiculous 2½% cut in the rate of VAT handed out by our gormless Chancellor I’m sure that many more leading retailers will soon ‘bite the dust’ accumulating on their well stocked shelves.

Still, “It’s an ill wind as they say”, and if you have the cash, now is certainly the time to do a bit of shopping. The only problem is that my old brain is getting a bit confused with all the special offers around at the moment. There are just so many. There are ‘sale prices’ .. further discounts off ‘sale prices’ .. ‘buy any three for two’ (or is it two for three ?) .. ‘Nothing to pay for a year’ .. ‘Extra discounts on marked items !’ .. etc. etc., but I couldn’t believe the deal I got when I bought a couple of items at ‘Boots The Chemist’ yesterday, and was told by the lad at the checkout to go back in the store and select another item, for if I purchased three things instead of two I would get the cheapest of those three items .. “for free” ! … What a nice lad !

…   I just hope that he keeps his job.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

The first time I saw Paris.

Posted by Big John on November 24, 2008

Usually at this time of year I take a trip across The Channel to do a bit of pre-Christmas shopping in France, but this year I have decided to give it a miss due to the problems after the fire in the channel tunnel, the strikes and other industrial action at both British and French ports and the fact that we will soon be getting one euro to the bloody pound.

I’ve lost count of how many times I have visited France over the years and how many towns and regions I have explored, but I can still recall my very first visit way back in 1951 when I was just twelve years old …

comp-pass

I can remember crossing the channel on a steamship ferry and travelling on a train, in a carriage fitted with wooden seats, all the way to Paris  (Yes, a very long way in those days) with a group of other boys and teachers from my school. In the city we stayed in a school which I assumed was closed for the summer holidays. The only thing that I remember about that school were the toilets, which were situated in the playground and, apart from a roof, were completely open to the elements. In other words anyone passing could see you sitting on the loo, or rather squatting over a hole. Still I suppose that this was quite normal for a country where men urinated in the street and you could still see signs requesting that you not piss against the wall of someone’s house.

My introduction to French food was a bit of a shock and far removed from what I so enjoy today. Breakfast was a large bowl of coffee and a lump of bread. Apparently you were supposed to ‘dunk’ the bread in the coffee. Our first dinner consisted of a green vegetable that looked a bit like a cactus and which none of us had a clue how to eat, and a plate of large sausages covered in stewed plums. There was some hard bread and something which looked a bit like melting ice cream, but was in fact some sort of ‘sour’ cheese. All very strange to a kid used to his mum’s steak and kidney pie and ‘spotted dick’ and custard.

At that time London, where I lived, was still showing it’s scars from the war, with ruins everywhere, but Paris seemed untouched. Rationing was still in force back home, and it probably was in France, but as I recall we boys stuffed ourselves with chocolate and bought things like packs of sugar to take home to our mothers. I bought a bottle of red wine for my dad, who only liked Guinness, so I doubt if he ever drank it, and a very, very, very small bottle of perfume from a very posh shop for my mum, which I know she made last for a very, very, very long time.

One of my great pleasures when in France is to sit at a table in a pavement (sidewalk) café and ‘watch the world go by’, and at the age of twelve I did this for the first time when, with one of my mates, I seated myself at a table outside a boulevard café and watched the strange sight of a policeman wearing a kepi directing the noisy traffic by waving a white truncheon in the air.

A waiter approached and asked us what we wanted. Well, for all I know he could have been telling us to “bugger off !” for my ‘schoolboy French’ was limited to say the least at that time.absenthe

I had no idea what to order and so pointed to a large advertisement painted on the wall outside the bar .. “Deux … s’il vous plaît” .. I ventured. The waiter nodded and went inside the café, returning a couple of minutes later with two ‘fancy’ glasses and a bottle on his tray. He placed the glasses on our table and poured two generous measures from the bottle. It was ‘Martini’, it was sweet, and I liked it !

Thank goodness I hadn’t pointed at …

the poster on the right !

Posted in humour, nostalgia | 1 Comment »

“A licence to …?”

Posted by Big John on November 19, 2008

It won’t be long before I reach my “three score years and ten”, so I don’t ponder too much on sitting in ‘God’s waiting room’, but this week I was reminded by the DVLA, of all people, that “time marches on”.

Yes, a form has been sent to me to renew my driving licence, as the one I have held for the past thirty years expires runs out on my 70th birthday. My existing licence is one of those green fold-up paper ones, and the one I held for twenty years before that was a little red book.

Now I am to be issued with a ‘photocard licence': so I stuck my picture on the little sticky square provided, ticked the box to agree that some poor sod could have my organs if they are still any good after years of abuse, and wondered why people of my age didn’t have to take some form of driving test ?

It seems ridiculous to me that a person could pass a driving test nearly fifty years ago, and all they have to do to renew their permit to drive it is to confirm that they can see OK and don’t suffer from any of the serious medical conditions listed on the application form.

Although I spent most of my working life ‘on the road’ and consider myself to be an experienced and safe driver I will admit that my reactions are not as quick as they used to be, but compared to most of the old farts who drive around here I’m bleed’n Lewis Hamilton.

Now my driving experience doesn’t go back quite as far as having a man with a red flag walking in front of my car, but I do remember being saluted by an ‘AA’ patrolman, and being able to park almost anywhere for free, but then I’m a youngster compared with some of the ‘Model T’ drivers in this ‘neck of the woods’.

I wonder how many of the local oldies who take part in the daily geriatric grand-prix to the seniors club and the health centre ever venture onto a motorway or into the heart of a major town or city ? From what I have observed most of them have a problem parking less than three feet from a kerb or overtaking a bicycle on a hill. Recently I saw one old lady drive her vehicle into three parked cars while looking for the exit to a car park, and then drive over a flowerbed to get out. To be fair, it was raining at the time, but I don’t think that this old dear knew that her vehicle was fitted with windscreen wipers.

Boy racers, ‘school-run’ mums, learner drivers and ‘white van men’ all make me nervous, but what really scares the shit out of me is when I am approaching traffic lights and I look in the rear view mirror only to see a mop of white hair above a pair of thick lenses which are barely peeking over the rim of the steering wheel of the vehicle driving ‘up my arse’ just …

…    as the lights turn red !  :eek:

Posted in humour, rant | 1 Comment »

Sycophants ‘R’ Us.

Posted by Big John on November 16, 2008

I’m a bit pissed off at the moment as I never got an invitation to Charlie’s birthday bash, especially as, like so many other old pricks pensioners, I spent part of my gas bill money on sending him a little present and greetings card.  :-(

Still I’ve cheered up a bit now that I’ve seen his birthday portrait. Bugger me ! .. he must have a bloody big   ‘dressing up’ box, and how about all those medals, orders and other decorations given to him by his mum ? … Blimey ! .. you wouldn’t need a Christmas tree with him around.

His mum gave him his first medal when he was three and he attended her coronation, and she has been hanging them all over him ever since: but what puzzles me is how he got hold of New Zealand and Canadian ‘gongs’, including a long service clasp on The Canadian Forces Decoration. I know that he was pissing about pretending to be a sailor for a time, but I don’t remember him serving with any of those ‘colonial type’ chappies.

I see that, as usual, his mum read a little speech in praise of her eldest offspring earlier in the week, and the PR parasites at the palace worked overtime to re-invent the silly old sod as Britain’s answer to Mother Teresa, with all those references to his “hard work” for charity etc. Unfortunately the word ‘work’ and ‘prince’ don’t sit comfortably together.

Perhaps it might help his image if he added …

…  a nun’s habit to his dressing up kit.  :evil:

Posted in humour, rant | 2 Comments »

Lanky leeks are legal !

Posted by Big John on November 13, 2008

I can remember many years ago shopping in markets in Spain and having a problem in identifying certain fruits and vegetables. Great big knobbly yellow, pink and green fruit turned out to be tomatoes and small bent rough green gourds were in fact cucumbers, but what I had no trouble with was the taste. They were all delicious.

Even in the UK, fruit and vegetables came in all shapes and sizes: and then along came the EU who said that everything had to be ‘uniform’, which also meant tasteless in most cases.

As with all EU laws and directives the British government immediately sprang into action threatening to ‘hang, draw and quarter’ anyone who sold a crooked cucumber or wonky carrot, whereas our cousins across The Channel, as usual, mainly ignored Brussels and continued to sell assorted size sprouts (Oops! Sorry), golf ball size spring onions and grotesque garlic.

Now it seems that The European Commission has re-peeled controversial laws that prevent oddly-sized or misshapen fruit and vegetables being sold in Europe, but with typical EU bureaucratic thinking, our European masters say that it only applies to twentysix varieties … apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocadoes, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts, water melons and chicory.

The rules will remain unchanged for another ten types of produce, which account for 75% of EU fruit and vegetable trade, so you won’t be able to buy ugly … apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches, nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, grapes and tomatoes.

Oh, Yes you will ! …  Provided they are labelled appropriately. So an apple which does not meet the standard could still be sold, as long as it were labelled “product intended for processing” or some equivalent wording: but will it be sold by the pound or by the kilo ?

Bleed’n hell ! … Where do they find these nutty commissioners ?

I always knew that …

…    they were bloody ‘bananas’ !   :roll:

Posted in humour, political, rant | 3 Comments »

“Some corner of a foreign field”.

Posted by Big John on November 10, 2008

joanThis is a photograph of one of my father’s sisters, my aunt Joan. It was taken early in World War II and shows her wearing a small portrait brooch bearing a picture of her husband Arthur, who was at that time serving with The Royal Corps of Signals in the Far East.

Arthur was reported ‘missing’ shortly after the Japanese entered the war and I know nothing of his fate, except that his name appears on the Rangoon War Memorial in Burma (Myanmar).

Many of my family served in both World War I and World War II. My great aunt Eva’s husband Bill died in ‘The Great War’ of 1914-1918 somewhere on the battlefields of Europe, and Arthur never returned from the jungles of poppy1South-East Asia: so .. “at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” .. I’ll remember two widows and couple of ordinary blokes.   …

…  Uncles I never knew.

Posted in family | 4 Comments »

Ban the brats !

Posted by Big John on November 8, 2008

I see that a cinema group has banned children from screenings of the new James Bond movie, ‘Quantum of Solace’, although it carries a 12A certificate which normally means that youngsters under twelve need to be accompanied by an adult.

This new rule has nothing to do with on-screen sex or violence. It’s because the kids are a bloody nuisance and spoil other people’s pleasure with their constant talking, swearing, eating and texting.

What a good idea ! … How about banning the little bleeders from pubs, restaurants, cafes, shopping malls and everywhere else that they are allowed to run wild.

My local pub lost my custom when it became “child friendly”. It even advertises that .. “Kids Eat Free” .. during some school holidays. I now avoid ‘like the plague’ anything involving ‘Special Deals for Kids’, and scan the ‘holiday’ pages in the newspapers for anything that is ‘Child Free’ or ‘Adults Only’.

OK, so I am a grumpy old sod, but I do believe that children’s behaviour is getting worse by the day. Just take a look at the out of control little monsters causing mayhem in the aisles at your local supermarket, or jumping the queue at the bus stop. Chain ‘em to the trolleys (carts) and make the little buggers walk, I say !

On a more serious note, it has now been reported that 46,000 children aged 11 and under, including 4.000 under 5,  were expelled or suspended from schools last year, not just for being a bit ‘naughty’, but for offences ranging from racism to drunkenness.

Many parents today seem to think that it is perfectly alright for their little darlings to behave in a disruptive or destructive manner, and will often jump to their defence in an aggressive way if someone, including teachers, dares to ‘chastise’ their precious offspring.

I can’t see things improving anytime soon, if ever, so I suppose that I will just have to get used to steering clear of kids, unless I want to be accused of being a paedophile, or being told to ..

“F**k off !” ..  by a five year old.

Posted in humour, rant | 4 Comments »

Mystery mementos.

Posted by Big John on November 4, 2008

On Sunday I visited my re-discovered cousin at her country cottage home. We enjoyed a traditional ‘Sunday Roast’ lunch and settled down to examine a number of recently discovered boxes of old family documents, photographs and assorted ‘junk’.

Some of the items discovered are shown below …

Amongst the small collection of old coins I spotted an American 1925 ‘Buffalo Nickel’, but to my great disappointment I have since discovered that it is probably only worth  two or three quid ($5), so I won’t be buying that yacht anytime soon.   :-(

It was nice to find the medals awarded to one of my uncles during WW2 and I shall see to it that they are restored to their original condition, but there are two damaged military decorations among the collection which are a bit of a mystery.

They are interesting in that they come from two very different wars in two different centuries.

z-medalOne is a ‘Zulu War’ medal (left) which was awarded to the survivors of British regular troops who had served in South Africa between 1877 and 1879 (Remember the movie ‘Zulu’ with Michael Caine ?). This medal bears on the obverse a beautiful portrayal of Victoria as the young queen, wearing a coronet. The reverse shows a lion, half-crouching watchfully, behind a protea bush and a military trophy consisting of a Zulu ox-hide shield and four crossed assegais. The edge engraving on this medal bears the inscription … 29/2077 PTE. W. SIMMONDS. 58th FOOT. Regrettably I have no idea how Private Simmonds could be connected to my family. 

The other decoration (right) is in two pieces and is a blackened silver WW2 German ‘Panzer Badge’ or ‘Tank Combat Badge’. This decoration appears to have been broken by a bullet striking the ‘Nazi’ eagle emblem in the right wing. I assume that this item was a war souvenir belonging to one of my soldier uncles, and who may have used it for target practice. I just hope that the poor bloody ‘Jerry’ to whom it had been awarded …

wasn’t wearing it at the time !   :eek:

Posted in family, humour, nostalgia | 5 Comments »

 
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