Friday, December 05, 2014

When Dad was sworn Apprentice (but not in Lincolnshire!)

I was looking through some of my late father's old envelopes the other day and came across his apprenticeship correspondence. The actual deed of apprenticeship is far too long and flowery to show , but here is the initial letter (dated 10th January 1931) sent to his father, my grandfather, to kick off his employment. The rates of pay look laughable by today's standards, but today apprenticeships are few and far between. Many of today's youngsters who pay to spend 3 years at university and come out with a degree which is useless to them and the business world would be better off and more happy to have learnt a useful and remunerative craft or trade instead.
(Says he, who spent 3 years learning the blacksmith's trade)

My grandfather - my dad's father was a Rolls Royce chauffeur to a consultant surgeon (he was the first to drive a Rolls in Westmoreland in the early 1900's. He continued driving the surgeon's widow, long after his retirement age and was rewarded when she died with a car (Austin - not Rolls!) and the house he occupied.
Dad said he always wanted to do the same, but the old man insisted that he learn a useful trade first. He became a very skilled carpenter/joiner - a trade he followed all his life (he was still making furniture as a hobby the day before a heart attack carried him off). He spent the years of World War II in the Royal Engineers, re-building bridges, never saw an enemy combatant and never fired a shot in anger!

Ironically he never learnt to drive and rode a bicycle all his life. His day often consisted of cycling seven miles to the above employer's to arrive by 7.30am (in all weathers). If he was employed on a job away from the works, then he was expected to cycle on to that, too. He usually arrived home about 6.30pm in the evening. This was his working life until he retired about 1980.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


A couple of years ago I converted one of my bicycles by adding an electric conversion kit (see my post of 17th November 2012). A stroke the following year left me with a slightly weaker left leg, so it was confirmation of that earlier decision, since it meant I could still cycle 50 mile days around my "Little Corner of the Earth".

This original Claud Butler still does the job, but the battery is 2 years old and they will only accept about 1000 recharges. A new battery costs £400 - £500 (who said electric bikes are cheap to run? Although, compared to cars..............), so rather than replace it and finally about to retire for the second time, I decided that I would celebrate my freedom by splashing out on a "proper" (i.e. purpose built) e-bike. I had recently sold one of my two remaining motorcycles for £2,600. The e-bike's price was £1,500 so you could say I have made a "profit", although its price was more than many of the fifty motorcycles I have owned since 1957 (my first motorcycle, a BSA Bantam, cost me a whole £95, second hand - 20 week's army pay at the time).

So, off to the nearest distributor some 20 miles away in the Weald of Sussex, near ancient Bodiam. To slightly amend Julius Caesar's aphorism, "I came, I tried, I bought" and the chosen one can be seen here.

Whilst its performance is a little better than the kit bike the real improvement is in comfort since it has telescopically sprung front forks and a sprung saddle post (The by-roads of Kent are not noted for their smoothness). However, a few "old faithfuls" had to be transferred over from the Claud Butler:
  • Pedals and toeclips - essential to a life-long club cyclist.
  • Brooks leather saddle - still the most comfortable - you can keep your plush, padded items where your essential bits sink in rather than are supported free as air on hard, smooth leather. (Freudian fetish? No - rather superb practicality).
  • Gearing - the new bike had a 52 tooth front chainring - far and away too high - I have substituted a 40 tooth item (you can read about the mysteries of cycle gearing in an earlier blog-post )
We have cycled about 100 miles together so far and all seems well. Yesterday we managed 35 miles through the autumn, leaf-strewn lanes of the Kentish Weald. My recent affliction of an inner ear infection (mentioned in an earlier post below) does not seem to have affected my balance either, as I was afraid it might do.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Today is 25th October - St. Crispin's Day, and this always sends a shiver down my spine!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Second Retirement

Back in 1997 I had the chance to take "early retirement" from my job with a suitably enhanced local government pension. I was 58.

It turned out to be a traumatic year - retirement, selling two houses and moving into one with my widowed mother joining us and being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

However, time moved on, as it does if you wait long enough. A major operation in 1998 meant that I am still here in 2014. My mother eventually died in 2001 and I found part-time occupations in 1999 in charge of my local Neighbour Mediation Scheme and also used past qualifications to train novice bus drivers (an unusual combination of talents(?) ).

The Mediation Co-ordinator's job I left in 2002 but a minor stroke in 2013 did not interrupt for long my bus driver work - actual training and presentational lectures to groups - which I have continued busily and happily to date.

However, a recent infection of the middle ear occasionally leaves me with nausea and vomiting. The doc says it will clear up in time, could take a year, but to "be patient".

So I have finally decided to retire (again) at the end of this year when I shall be 76. I could say that I have been involved, as a Road Safety Officer, for over 50 years.

As for things to occupy me then, some of my enjoyments are a trifle curtailed at present. Motor cycling and cycling I need to be careful with since the ear problem can upset my balance. I no longer (at present) have a dog who needs walking and people tend to look askance at solitary males wandering the local woods and fields (a sad comment on these times).

However - time will move on yet again and some of the above will be better able to be enjoyed once more. My old friend, this blog, should come in for more use again, too. I have been most remiss about it recently.

So "hello" again and sorry to have been so long away.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

R.I.P. Rex

Those of you who were reading this blog back in 2009 will have seen that Rex joined us from a rescue centre after our previous German Shepherd had to be put down.

Now, I am afraid it has been his turn. In March he complained of a back problem, which was cured by anti inflammatory pills from the vet. However, this returned recently. Then, last week, his back legs gave way and he could no longer walk - just pulling himself along with the front legs.

The vet diagnosed degenerative myelopathy, akin to MS in humans. It is incurable, so I had his life ended there and then. He was only 8 years old.

We have had dogs in our lives since 1960, but I wonder if we shall ever get another. At my age (75) would it be fair on a dog to gain and then lose a master after a comparatively short time?

Answers on a postcard (as they say) please.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


Adlestrop Station before its destruction in the '60s Beeching cuts

Yes.  I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly.  It was late June.

The steam hissed.  Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther

This poem, by Edward Thomas, holds for me that moment during a busy, noisy journey when everything
stops for a moment and one is a traveller in an unfamiliar place. Indeed, it has an essential sense of time and place which seems almost unequalled.
And yet it was one of Thomas's very first poems. By this date (1914) he had had an unsuccessful career as a journalist and literary critic and was in a profound depression. He had been befriended by a fellow depressive, the American poet Robert Frost and was in fact on the train journey to meet him at Frost's home near Ledbury, Gloucestershire. Because of that meeting Thomas's poetry blossomed.
It was a short blossoming. The first world war started a few months later. He was 37, married with 3 children but insisted on enlisting although he would have been exempt at the time. In 1917 he was killed on the first day of the Battle of Arras..
I wonder if he felt that the England he had so perfectly captured in "Adlestrop" was in danger and he had to do his bit in its defence? Perhaps a fitting meditation as the first World War is remembered now on its centenary.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


I was delving into a box of bits yesterday and came across a memory of my youth:

A small lapel "button-hole" badge from my days as an adolescent bell-ringer at Mereworth Church.
There was not too much to do  for a teen-ager in a small country village in the early '50s. No television or street lighting and definitely no digital stuff so we needed to find our own enjoyment and interests. As a developing youth, if these could also involve girls it was decidedly a bonus!
Sunday's main church services were then morning and evening (with the afternoon reserved for the little 'uns Sunday School) and the peal of 6 bells was always rung twice on this day, with a practice night on a Wednesday. The bell ringers were mainly the farm labourers of the parish.These, to us, were dignified men, usually in their 50's and 60's and the tower captain (of the ringers) was eager to draw in younger blood.
The result was an intake of 3 boys and three girls and since one of the girls was already the subject of my distant admiration I became one of those boys.
It was all good, clean fun with the added attraction of being able to walk home, hand in hand, with the girl and even a peck on the cheek as a "goodnight" (these were more innocent times).
With no heating in the church tower ( and only in the church proper on Sundays) it could be bitter cold up there on a winter's eve and you needed to be ringing to keep warm. As we stood to our "sallies" (the striped hand-hold of the bell rope) the ringer on the treble bell would utter the words in my heading and ringing would commence.
It all seemed incredibly complicated for a start, trying to hunt through the bells around you during the performance (compositions with names like "Grandsire Triples" and "Plain Bob Minor") and these would be written out for us to learn and understand by the tower captain in heavy pencil on the back of strips of old wallpaper. Here is a part of an example which runs for several pages:
For some, the farm labourers of this (and earlier) periods were portrayed as dull sons of the soil, but they were far from that, skilled in a multitude of now forgotten crafts and able to remember many such compositions, which could continue to ring over a long period, even hours at times. They also took a no-nonsense view of bell-ringing and you would never see them at the church service afterwards; their job was done and the pub down the street was now open!
A small badge brought back a host of memories.