PC 283 Lyrical

If you are a regular reader of these electronic postcards you may understand that I sponge up news stories like an industrial vacuum cleaner and these often include the daily obituaries. Some have a passing interest, sorry, no pun intended here: others are full of nuggets of wonderful examples of living life, sometimes well, sometimes not so well! Recently I read of Sergio Costa, who founded the Costa coffee chain and, not anticipating the explosion of the British love for coffee shops, sold it to Whitbread for £23m in 1995. Whitbread sold the brand to Coca-Cola for some £3.9 billion in 2019. Sir Ken Robinson was another (See PC 195 Snippets September 2020) and then there was Doreen Lofthouse , who virtually single-handedly grew the strong menthol lozenge ‘Fisherman’s Friend’ into a global brand. Another who caught my eye was Marilyn Bergman who died in January aged 93.

I hadn’t heard of her and maybe you haven’t either? You will however remember, if you’re old enough, the 1973 film ‘The Way We Were’ with Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford. The title song ‘The Way We Were’ was sung by Streisand and has been recorded by many others, but its lyrics were written by Marilyn Bergman who, with her husband Alan, became one of the most successful song-writing teams in musical history. (Note 1) Marilyn also wrote, inter alia, the lyrics for ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’, sung as Steve McQueen, playing the part of Thomas Crown in the film of the same name, flew round and around the sky in his glider (Note 2). I just need to close my eyes for a second to visualise this sequence; in my ear I recall lines like ‘Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel.’ Just gorgeous!

From The Thomas Crown Affair

Prompted by Marilyn’s obituary I began thinking how lyrics constantly invade one’s conscious and subconscious; bear in mind when you read my thoughts, lyrics are very generational!! How often do I silently sing ‘Monday Monday, so good to me’ (Note 3) at the start of the working week or does it get drowned out by ‘just another manic Monday’? (Note 4). In PCs 109 and 110 (November 2017) I scribbled about my own classical and ‘pop’ music journeys and what follows are just incoherent thoughts in the same vein!

In 1967 The Moody Blues sang a song entitled ‘Nights in White Satin’. I don’t think I ever saw the words written down and always imagined knights, as in medieval gentlemen, wearing white satin tights, which must have been all the rage in 1415 when we fought the Battle of Crecy. Personally I hate silky, satin sheets, white or any other colour, preferring a 200 thread count cotton sheet and therefore the satin-tight wearing knight is a better image!!

In the same year, the year that Celina was born so a good year (!), Procol Harum sang ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ whose lyrics started ‘We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor.’ What’s intriguing is this phrase ‘a whiter shade of pale’. There is no RAL number for ‘pale’; ‘signal white’ is RAL 9003 and Pure White 9010 (Note 5)

Some years ago there was a documentary called “Searching for Sugar Man”; it was intriguing. It recalled a three decade search for Sixto Rodriguez, a singer-songwriter whose 1970 debut album had no success in the USA. However it had found its way to South Africa where it found favour in the dawn of the anti-Apartheid movement.  Rodriguez was found living right at home in Detroit, unaware of his fame in the southern tip of the African continent; the subsequent three-venue concert tour of South Africa was a sell-out!  His lyrics have been described as Dylanesque and anti-establishment and there is much to like on the album ‘Searching for Sugar Man’. The song ‘Cause’ has some lovely completely bizarre lines that make no sense but, sung to his music, fit so well. Please, if you have never heard it, look on line; it starts: “ Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas, And I talked to Jesus at the sewer, And the Pope said it was none of his God-damned business, While the rain drank champagne.” Later he sings ‘So I set sail in a teardrop and escaped beneath the door sill’; somehow I imagine that!

Water features in one of Adele’s songs: ‘Set Fire to the Rain’. One of the interpretations I read was that, as water and fire both erode and destroy, the process of setting fire to the rain uncovers the truth behind the lies.  

Rod Stewart’s another whose lyrics resonate with me. Years ago on an Air Defence reconnaissance in Gibraltar, his ‘I don’t Want to Talk About It’ went around and around: ‘…. And the stars in the sky don’t mean nothing to you, they’re a mirror’. His 2013 album ‘Time’ contained a song ‘Brighton Beach’ with some great lines sang in his gravelly voice: ‘I remember when you were only 17, you were the finest girl my eyes had ever seen. I guess you found it hard to simply just ignore, this scruffy, beat-up, working-class, teenage, troubadour. …… under the stars on Brighton Beach.’  

I have little interest in football but keep a weather eye on the fortunes of the local team, Brighton & Hove Albion, sitting in the middle of the Premier League at the moment. The current manager has had a fantastic season. But it was in 1990 that the coverage the World Cup matches was accompanied by Luciano Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma. Did I care, did anyone care, what the lyrics meant? The aria (‘Let no one sleep’) is from the final act of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot and by the end of the tournament I guarantee the fans in pubs watching the match could sing the lyrics without knowing what they meant!

And it doesn’t matter! More to come later in Part 2.

Richard 20th May 2022


Note 1 She also wrote the hit song ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’.

Note 2 The original Thomas Crown Affair film was made in 1968 with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. A remake in 1999 starred Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo.

Note 3. The Mamas & The Papas 1966

Note 4 Manic Monday by The Bangles 1986

Note 5 RAL is a colour matching system used in Europe created and administered by the Gewrman RAL gGmbH.

PC 282 Back in The Hope

Cafés have been in the news recently as the population adjusts to more flexible working arrangements. Here Debrett’s, the British Guide to Social Etiquette that was founded in 1769, has issued advice on the problem of WFC (Working from Cafés) – not to be confused with WFH (Working from Home). WFH is all jolly well but it’s lonely and often the simple addition of being within sight and sound of others can lift one’s spirits. So those WFH have migrated to WFC! The issue Debrett’s has identified is that of table usage; become absorbed in your laptop and you hog a table for too long, depriving the café of income from new customers.

At one end of the spectrum, in Manchester and London the Costa chain is trialling soundproof booths you can rent for £13 per hour. At the other end the Hackney Coffee Company has introduced a policy of no laptops on weekends and after 1700 on weekdays.

The Hope has, you may recall, recently installed charging points so it’s a hot topic. Of course the primary purpose of a café these days is to host customers who are meeting friends for a coffee and a chat; in the Hope case this might also mean grabbing some delicious Brazilian pastry from the delicatessen next door!    

You will have read how I have come to enjoy time in The Hope Café, overhearing conversations that might contribute to some sort of post, getting to know Josh and Susie, meeting Sami and Edith. To conjure up tales from inside one’s head is always possible but people relate better to real life observations! I would like to think I am sensitive to the WFC issues and on busy days vacate my table after an hour or so.

This week I found Sami head down in a book, with a half drunk coffee and a crumb-scattered plate. His latest book is The Man Who Died Twice, the sequel to Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club. He looked up and smiled as I approached; I sense his holiday has done him good or maybe it was giving his evidence to the Post Office Inquiry (See PC 235 Generosity in Government June 2021).

Hi! Richard. Glad I got that over …. but everyone’s been talking about the BBC Panorama programme ‘Scandal in The Post Office’ by Nick Wallis.”

“I’ve got it recorded but haven’t had time to watch it. Is it revealing?”

“Absolutely! The most significant case they reviewed was of Martin Griffiths. A sub-postmaster with an unblemished record of some 13 years in Great Sutton in Cheshire, a few months after the Horizon computer system was installed he had a shortfall of over £61,000. According to his widow, he was persecuted by the Post Office, made to pay it back and had his licence terminated. Unable to cope this father of two teenagers committed suicide.”

“Wow! That’s horrible!”

There’s more. A firm of forensic auditors, Second Sight, were investigating the hundreds of cases of missing money. A few days before they were due to report, the Post Office made a ‘take it or leave it’ financial offer to his widow Gina Griffiths on condition of her silence. They were worried that news of Martin’s suicide would have made headline news particularly for the tabloid press and the whole edifice of the Post Office would have come crashing down. The CEO of this organisation from 2012 to 2019, Paula Vennells, was made a CBE for ‘her services to the Post Office’. Now it’s been suggested she should have that honour taken away.”  

Isn’t she an ordained priest?

Sami nodded and shrugged his shoulders! ‘I don’t think being a priest necessarily makes you a wonderful manager and leader, or vica versa!’

I appreciate that this scandal may be of little interest to some, but for me and others it’s so utterly unbelievable yet jaw-droopingly true that it needs to remain in focus until those whose lives were destroyed, in some cases completely, see justice. Those responsible for the Post Office’s management and leadership during this time must be called to account in court.

I excuse myself and head back to my table, as I need to scribble something for this week’s post. Edith’s been rather down, reports Josh. He senses the whole Ukraine nightmare and the ridiculous use by Russia’s Putin of the word Nazi have reawakened nightmares of her own. While completely understandable, objectively it has caused many who had scant knowledge of the 1935-1945 period to reach for the history books, just as those who experienced it are coming to the end of their own lives. This is a good thing, understanding the past, particularly our own past, as it should help us to make better informed decisions today and tomorrow.

Josh hovers near my table, checking no one needs him, and asks for my opinion:

The other evening Luke and I had three other couples to supper and, after the main course had been cleared away and before some pudding, a couple got up saying they wanted to have a cigarette and headed for the front door. Another couple obviously liked the idea and joined them, leaving the table half empty! I want individuals to enjoy themselves but afterwards felt they could have waited until they walked home. Then I remembered how lovely a post prandial smoke was, so understood the urge.”

Wasn’t it just, sitting around the table, smoke from cigarettes and cigars mingling with the smell of red wine and meat! Later a glass of port, Cognac or Drambuie helped the conversation to flow. Times change and I understand your conundrum; are you gracious and don’t make a fuss or simply ask your guests to be patient? I wonder whether Debrett’s can rule on this conundrum! Should I write to them?”

Why not” says Josh then with a “sorry, need to get back to work, maybe see you next week?” he moves back to behind the counter.


Richard 13th May 2022


PC 281 Stepping Through Life

Some new acquaintances, a Ukrainian and her English partner, came to tea last month. I know I am sometimes insensitive but I just can’t help myself, wanting to understand how individuals came to be how they are, where they are today! What steps have led them to be sitting in our living room having tea and lemon drizzle cake with us? Then I had this image of stepping stones across a shallow stream, some stones small, others more like a boulder, some within an easy stride, others requiring a jump. You remember doing this, getting your balance, thinking how you are going to lift off through your feet, deciding which stone of two to step to, grateful obtaining your balance when you arrive; maybe stepping straight off onto another, maybe recovering your breath and pausing, assimilating, assessing?

If you look back over your life so far, you can see your experiences as these stones, these places you have moved through, sometimes changing behaviour to do so but more likely ‘more of the same’. Do you want to look under them to see what lurks in the darkness, or are you happy to see them for what they are, simple steps on your path through life? Most stones in a field have slugs lying under them and it’s damp and smelly; those across a stream are washed by cool water but contain a micro-kingdom of minute creatures and plant life. Revisiting one’s experiences can be cathartic and insightful or it can be painful and emotional. Experiences have happened and cannot be reworked or relived; they just are.

My advice is always to see them for what they are; don’t attach any unwarranted emotions to them and step forward to the next stone! Coincidently, my local Ekah yoga studio started their May newsletter with this quote from Abraham Maslow (he of the Hierarchy of Needs): “In any given moment we have two options, to step forward into growth or step back into safety.” I could add a third, ‘or to remain paralysed by indecision, fear and doubt’!!

Photo from The Times

Recently there has been some news coverage of how people look as they age and more importantly how they behave. We have always imagined that life expectancy would go on increasing as healthier lifestyles and better healthcare contributed to longer life; you may remember that in the USA at the beginning of 1900 the average age for a man was 46! Figures for life expectancy are very dependent on where you live. In the UK, in the most deprived areas where sadly endemic poverty, substance abuse and abysmal levels of expectation still exist, its 73.5 for men compared with 83.2 in the least deprived; for women its 78.3 compared with 86.3. Ten years of living lost just because you were born in the wrong place? In the words of the prophet: “Something must be done!”

Interestingly, as the end of one’s life becomes more of a fuzzy reality than something below the horizon, we stop investing in the future – for the future is here! The importance is to distinguish between being project-focused, ie getting stuff done and investing in the future and process-focused ie doing stuff and living in the present.  

Started in 2014, there are now five volumes of my scribbles!

And still with the life theme …..it’s getting better as far as ‘Living with Covid’ (Note 1) is concerned but there was a period just before Easter here in the UK when everything seemed to go tits up! Flights were cancelled, ferries didn’t sail, the M20 motorway to Dover became a lorry park and queues formed everywhere; ‘staff shortages’ became a defensive cry. One of the reasons may have been that the government increased the number of identifiable Covid symptoms from 9 to 11. Now the working population seem to think: “OMG! I have a sniffle/ache/memory lapse/itch/hot flush/brain fog/cognitive difficulties/red big toe. Maybe I have Covid?” in the manner of someone in a Bingo Hall shouting ‘Bingo’ – and so not turn up for work, for instance as security in an airport.

But they actually feel fine so when Lucy says let’s go on a four day break to Budapest and Alan says yes, let’s and they get to Luton Airport for their Easyjet flight, to find the queues are horrendous and why didn’t they allow enough time and when the local newspaper’s reporter shoves a microphone in their face to ask for their reaction, Alan says there aren’t enough staff, that the queues are horrendous and the country’s going to the dogs. Irony alive!

Stepping through life is often recorded in celebrating birthdays and Celina’s is coming up. She needed a new Kindle; her much-loved one is tired and we knew that the sharpness of the display had improved immeasurably. Amazon advertise a ‘Trade-in’ offer for an old Kindle. Send it back and they give you a £15 voucher and 20% off a new one. But if you are an avid reader you don’t want to be without one, for even a day. I ordered a new one, it arrived and we deregistered the old one. The Trade-In instructions are easy to follow and it’s gone; the offer of £15 plus 20% off a new one is now valid. I manage to find a real human to talk to in Amazon Customer Services and explained to John I had just bought a new one, wouldn’t be buying another new one for a few years and could he give me the 20% refund. This question was above his pay grade and I was put on hold; 10 minutes later a refund was agreed. You just have to ask!

When I started reading the last paragraph of Rose Wild’s Feedback in a Saturday Times a fortnight ago, my imagination went into overdrive: “While I was writing this a cow came crashing down the chimney bringing with it 100 years’ worth of soot and dust.” Once the absurdity of this picture dawned, I reread it. For ‘cow’ read ‘crow’!

Don’t be paralysed by the unknown; have faith that the step you take will be OK. And if it isn’t, that’s OK too, as you can learn from what transpired.

Richard 6th May 2022


Note 1 Had my Spring Booster Covid vaccine last week so all up to date!

PC 280 One’s Heart

My sensitivity to the one organ of the body without which we can’t live will become apparent in due course. But first let me explain why I needed to scribble something; ‘needed’ as in ‘have to’!

I enjoy a wide variety of programmes broadcast on television, from The Repair Shop (see PC 274 Tick Tock March 2022) through all sorts of films and drama series to Grand Designs, a programme of 22 Series, each of nine episodes, featuring individuals building their own ‘grand design’ house. I have seen many of these and feel there are two issues common to every programme; all builds go over budget and every woman client gets pregnant during the construction!

Sorry! I digress. Recently we have loved the final series of the BBC drama The Split about the lives and loves of a family law firm in London (Note 1). Of course these days if you get hooked early on you can use BBC iPlayer and watch the rest one after the other. It used to be that ‘to binge’ meant a period of excessive indulgence in an activity, especially eating, drinking or taking drugs. Nowadays you could add ‘binge watch’ to describe seeing every episode one after the other, being impatient with the TV scheduling! And this is not to say that the original binge activities are not mutually exclusive from each other and this new meaning.

If you haven’t seen The Split, here comes what’s known as a ‘spoiler alert’. I remember my grandmother betting on the football pools and the television announcer giving the day’s results saying: “If you don’t want to know the result, look away now.” (Note 2) In this final series, at the end of episode one, James is knocked off his bike and killed. The writer Abi Morgan writes: “To kill a much-loved character is always hard but I felt in a way this was the arc of his journey. One of the last things he says to his wife is ‘I don’t want to miss life, Rose.’ I thought if that’s what the audience is left with then what an amazing gift to have left everybody.” Not quite sure I understand this but I am not a writer of dramas so the nuance may be lost on me?

For me the issue is a more basic one, about his heart. Prompted by a shortage of people opting to allow their organs to be transplanted to help someone else, the law in England changed in May 2020. Now it is considered that you agree to become an organ donor when you die, providing you are over 18, have not opted out (still an option) or are not in an excluded group. Other countries may have different rules. I suspect we have all thought about being a volunteer organ donor and just never got around to it; now you don’t have to think about it!! Phew! All the details are found at www.organdonation.nhs.uk. Being reasonably young, James’s heart was a good organ for transplanting and it was placed in the chest of other chap; let’s call him Andy. All good and nothing for me to get incredulous about. Over the ensuing months Rose his widow comes to terms with James’ death and agrees with a counsellor that she’s ready to meet the chap in whose body her husband’s heart pumps.

She arranges to visit Andy and his wife at teatime. After the initial hugs and expressions of ‘heart-felt’(!) gratitude we get to the bit where for me time stopped. Rose just happens to have a stethoscope in her bag and, with Andy’s obvious consent, places the pad on his chest, over his heart. The only sound one hears is the regular beat of a healthy heart. But this is James’ heart, sorry, no, it’s now Andy’s – but Rose has heard it beating before no doubt, maybe lying with her face across James’ chest after an afternoon’s romantic country picnic. The turmoil of emotions she must feel were transmitted to us, the audience, well to me certainly. I can think of recipients of kidneys, bits of liver or bone marrow and I’m unaffected, but to personally listen to a sound you have known in another body is just so weird. Sorry rant over!

My sensitivity to the heart started in 2013 when I went to my GP with irregular chest pains. An ECG was followed by an Angiogram that found a reduction in the diameter of the main artery of some 80%. So the heart was fine, the piping needed replacing; a triple bypass sorted it out (Note 3). But I could have joined the 60,000 people in the UK who have a heart attack every year, away from hospital – of whom 5% survive!! I could have been one of those 57,000 – I could have died! Lucky, huh! Physically I feel fantastic and manage my five hot yoga sessions a week with ease, but there is this little piece of memory that keeps me smiling; put simply, I might not have been here. Today I went down to the beach, to look at the calm sea; (we have high pressure!) Did it make any difference that I was still here, that I hadn’t died? Would nature notice my absence? The sun will surely rise tomorrow, whether I’m here or not; funny thing, life.

Richard 29th April 2022


PS In PC 278 Unintended Consequences I wrote how us chaps must take care of our crown jewels. Jeremy Clarkson, writing in the Sunday Times on Easter Sunday, two days later, about his home gym, said this: “……  after a few seconds the pedal fell off the bicycle, which caused my testes to slump heavily onto the saddle. So I had to spend the next ten minutes uncrossing my eyes and  ….”!

Note 1. The issues covered included a long con artist, early pregnancy, an affair which is further complicated by a pregnancy, a divorce, a marriage and an unrealistic love affair. Exhaustingly busy!!

Note 2 This could have been Manchester United 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 3 – but maybe in my dreams?

Note 3. The human heart is about the size of a fist. For the new pipework the surgeon, or maybe one of his minions, took a vein from a leg. My left leg has a scar from mid-thigh to my ankle, some 65 centimetres of vein, to replace three pieces 8cms long??????

PC 279 Starstreak

As much as we would love it to be otherwise, there is probably a point when all of us could resort to violence. It’s like saying to someone ‘I will give you some money if you …..?’ ‘What’s your price?’ …. and they protest and say ‘I can’t be bribed’ and then they are given a figure which starts their own internal challenging of the issue but still they resist ….. until an amount is offered which would transform their life and their principles lie shattered on the floor …… and they take it!

I think it’s same with violence. Unless you are tricked into a situation when struggle is immediately rewarded with your demise, such as trying to escape a concentration camp by climbing the fence in full view of trigger-happy guards, a one-on-one situation will quickly move towards some physical or assisted response. It’s one of the reasons why countries where guns are readily available have higher deaths per million of population than those who don’t. On the sliding scale of responses, going from A-Z if there are graduated options is better than if Z is very close to A.  

But the desire to defend what we hold dear, the values of our chosen society, is basic. Most countries have some form of Armed Forces the notable exception being Costa Rica, which abolished its military in 1948 after a bloody civil war.

Here is England one of our kings, Harold, was killed when an arrow fired into the sky embedded itself in his eye. Ouch! It wasn’t the first time that projectiles fired into the sky had been used to attack ground forces but the advent of heavier-than-air machines in the First World War meant Biggles-type pilots flying over the enemy trenches could drop hand-grenades and bombs. Those below responded by firing their rifles and machine guns; thus started the need for defence from attack from the air.

Some 47 years after the end of that war I walked across the threshold of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and spent the next 20 years wearing a uniform. I spent some years in West Germany looking east towards the threat from the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. My last role was commanding an Air Defence Battery in the UK equipped with a first generation, shoulder-launched missile system called Blowpipe. The operator had to track the target and the missile at the same time and hopefully the two combined in some impact. (Notes 1 & 2) It was first used in anger during The Falklands War, whose 40th anniversary fell this month. Like many first-generation systems it was extremely difficult to use and came in for a lot of criticism from those who imagined you simple fired the missile at a target and got a hit. (Note 3) Records suggest its operators succeeded in bring down 5 aircraft.

Towards the end of my Battery Commander tour, during a bi-annual live firing practice camp at the Royal Artillery Range at Manorbier in South Wales, I was approach by someone from Short Brothers, the company who made the system, and offered a potential sales role. I joined them in April 1985 and became a salesman for air defence missile systems, initially for Blowpipe’s successor Javelin. (Note 4)

I was a typical salesman, developing contacts and giving presentations and demonstrations to those who were responsible for such purchases; loo paper, cars, mobile telephones or missiles, it’s the same basic process although a ‘demonstration’ for ‘loo paper’ might be an unnecessary one!! My ‘pilot’ bag contained slides and videos and I got on an aeroplane at Heathrow – initially to European capital cities and then to ‘India and The Far East’.   

Whispered confidential conversations about the next generation system during a visit to the manufacturing plant off Montgomery Road in East Belfast (now Thales Air Defence) got me up to date with what the company called Starstreak.

Starstreak comprises a rocket which blasts three little steel darts, captured in a laser beam, towards the target. The kinetic energy released on impact is enough to destroy the aircraft. I used to travel with one of those three darts in my pilot’s bag to aid my presentations. I would always declare it at Customs as that was the easiest way to get through. Most thought it was a scale model of a much larger missile; I did not enlighten them!

One particular memorable live firing demonstration took place at the company’s range at West Freugh south of Stranraer in Scotland. A delegation from Denmark watched as the three darts shredded a canvas sheet sitting on a raft about 2500m out to sea. I left the company in 1991 and completely forgot about it – until last month when I read that it had been used in the war in Ukraine. Whatever development programme you might have been involved in, it’s gratifying to read that the end result is a highly successful addition to an army’s air defence capability.

The Tripod-mounted Starstreak

On Wednesday The Times reported that the UK are giving Ukraine the Starstreak system mounted on a tracked vehicle called Stormer.

And finally, an Army connection! I met Crichton at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst on the 9th September 1965; he was commissioned into the Royal Gloucesters. It’s lovely to still be in touch and he commented on Unintended Consequences post card (PC 277 April 2022): “I am constantly impressed by your ability to write about complete trivia (I don’t think all of my posts are trivial!!) but make it interesting and fun, especially when you have been people watching in your local café!”


Richard 22 April 2022

www.postcardscribbles .co.uk

Note 1 CLOS Command to Line of Sight is the basic. Then Semi-Automatic Command to Line of Sight (SACLOS) and finally Automatic (ACLOS) when the system tracks both target and missile

Note 2 The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was always looking to buy weapons for its conflict against the British State. The cartoonist Jak brilliantly summed this up, depicting someone holding a Blowpipe cannistered missile for sale, with the caption acknowledging its native origins.

But don’t ask me what end you blow through!

Note 3 There are two basic types, one infra-red seeking aka ‘Fire & Forget’, and one which relies on the operator or system to track the target.

Note 4 This name is now used by the American company Lockheed Martin for their Anti-Tank missile system.

PC 278 Refuge – The Hope Café

Refuge:  ‘shelter or protection from danger or distress’, ‘a place that provides shelter or protection’ or ‘something to which one has recourse in difficulty’.

Haven’t managed to get to the Hope Café for a while, so it was good to push open the black-framed door and enter its cosy warm space – a sort of personal refuge. Nothing had changed so it’s comforting to see the familiar! I reach a table near my normal one as that’s occupied and raise a hand to Josh, who indicates a double espresso is on its way.

Susie is also behind the counter so he brings it over:

Morning! Haven’t seen you for a while! You OK?”

Yup! Fine! You?”

“Of course! You probably expected to see Sami here but he’s gone on holiday, now his evidence to the Post Office Inquiry is over. He thought it went well but he was exhausted having to relive the sequence of events that eventually resulted in his bankruptcy.”

“Poor chap! Really hope that he and all those wronged individuals get good compensation.”

As Josh ensures there are no crumbs from the previous occupant of my table by wiping with a cloth, he turns his head towards another table. “There’s a lady over there who has heard about you and wants to tell you something. Her name’s Edith.”

I pick up my notebook and walk across to the purple-hatted elderly lady who has a pot of tea, a crumpet and an empty chair in front of her. “Hello Edith! My name’s Richard and Josh tells me you want to chat?”

A crumpet with lots of butter!

“Sit down, Richard” she says in heavily accented English, “I recognise you from standing outside Trinity Medical Centre a year ago (See PC 224 Trinity) but more importantly I overheard your conversation with Josh the other week about how Jews fled from Nazi Germany. I was one of those refugees; I was aged 3 and more to the point, came from Prague with a great friend of mine Marie Korbel.

“Not a name I recognise! Who is she?”

She looked down and I saw a page ripped from The Times with the obituary of Madeleine Albright.

 “Was! She became the American politician Madeleine Albright and her obituary was in the paper on 23rd March; she was 84. Apparently she had been a refugee twice in her life. The first time was aged 2, when her family fled to London as their home in Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis in 1939. It was almost sixty years later that she learned that her grandparents and a dozen of her relatives had died in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. After a brief return to Prague, the Soviet-backed communist coup in 1948 saw the family sail for the USA. It says here that Madeleine thought Britain welcomed refugees then asked when they would be leaving, while in America they felt welcomed and were asked when they would become US citizens.”

“You didn’t go back to Prague, Edith?”

“No! My parents found work, I went to school and became ‘English’; have been living quietly here in Hove for years.” She reached out and put a slender hand marked by purple veins and parchment-like skin on my arm. “Now you can mention me in your writings, again!” she said with a smile as she turned back to her crumpet.

That’s a really interesting comment about how we British expect refugees to return home, especially today when millions of Ukrainians have fled the conflict engulfing their country. I sense Ukrainians who have been displaced by the conflict will, in their hearts, want to return. The issue may be when that will be possible, given the wanton destruction and therefore rebuilding necessary. By that time they, like Edith, will have become embedded in their host countries, adults into work, children into school and so on.

We used to have a history of welcoming refugees in this country, starting with the Huguenots. They were French Protestants who were so persecuted by the Catholic Government of France in the C17th that they fled, in huge numbers. Some 45,000 sought refuge in England, others in non-Catholic countries in Europe or in the United States and Africa. They brought the French word refuge into the English language as refugee. (Note 1) 

Jews were banned from this country for 300 years before Oliver Cromwell overturned the ban in 1656. Since then there has been a steady trickle and a surge in 1938/1939 of whom Edith and Marie Kobel were just two. Parts of North London are heavily populated by Orthodox Jews.

Whilst the plight of the Ukrainian refugees and their treatment or non-treatment remains headline news, the English Channel continues to be a popular route for others. Refugees from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan particularly, some 5000 so far this year (Note 3 & 4), are making the perilous 22 mile crossing from the Calais area to Dover in dangerously overloaded inflatable dinghies in journeys organised by people smugglers.

I read an interesting and arresting news item in the paper last week. The head of the White Helmets group of search & rescue volunteers in Syria, currently numbering some 3200 individuals, accused European nations of giving preferential treatment to the refugees from the Ukraine over those from the civil war in Syria. The figures suggest he’s correct; over six years some 20,000 Syrian refugees have settled in Britain, whereas 22,000 visas have been granted to Ukrainian refugees in the past month. (Note 2) “It’s double standards. Refugees should be treated equally regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion, because they have equal rights.” In an ideal world he’s probably right, but ideals suffer for pragmatism and I suspect European Ukrainians are viewed as having more equal rights than Arab Syrians.

And finally, in last month’s PC 275 ‘Kerfuffle’ I scribbled about the use of two swear words f**k and s**t. Two weeks on and Rose Wild in The Saturday Times reports that the subject is very current!!

A busy morning in The Hope Café!!

Richard 15th April 2022


Note 1 Refugee: “The UK government accepts someone as a refugee if he or she has fled their own country because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group of political opinion.”

Note 2 Our Home Office has come in for a great deal of criticism over its handling of those from Ukraine wishing to move here.

Note 3 Some 600 on one day this week, the 13th April. Nine out of ten are economic migrants and are male. The Government plans to send them ‘for processing’ to Rwanda!

Note 4. The breakdown of illegal immigrants arriving last year across the English Channel is thus:

PC 277 Unintended Consequences

I know some people have stopped reading, listening to or watching the current news stories, such is their general gloomy and doomy nature. Personally I am a news sponge, soaking up the facts, the fiction and the analysis; history is being made as I write. Years ago there was a newscaster here in the UK who tried to provide exclusively ‘good news’ stories; it didn’t last long!  Today there are many websites offering it: www.goodnewsnetwork.org – “good news itself is not in short supply; the broadcasting of it is.” Or www.postive.news –  “the first media organisation in the world that is dedicated to quality, independent reporting about what’s going right.” (See PS Below)

I guess the broadcasting organisations give us the gloomy and doomy stuff because there is something compulsive about its absorption; a little like driving past the scene of an automobile accident – and having to look, to stare, to work out what happened. If you are driving at the time this is an absolute no-no. (Note 1) There’s even a verb in English to describe this foolish action – ‘To Rubberneck’. 

My car key fob: open, close and open tailgate

‘In the old days’ some things were much simpler but technology has given us gadgets galore to make our lives easier. I mentioned amongst other things in PC 167 Modern Complexity (January 2022) the TV remote controls; the need to get up off the sofa to change a TV channel was erased overnight. It’s the same with the locking/unlocking device for your car. A real key was necessary to unlock the doors and boot. Then a remote locking system became pretty standard. My Saab’s key was actually hidden inside a moulding, which fitted into the slot on the console.

On Monday last week I met up with Jon in Bill’s in Lewes. Bill’s, a quirky restaurant both in food and decor, was started by Bill Collison in Lewes in 2001; the second one opened in Brighton and now there are currently over 70 branches in the UK.

Produce for sale in Bill’s

I had parked in the local Tesco car park (free for 3 hours!). After a convivial lunch we walked together upriver back to the car park and to our respective cars; Dick Head had parked so close to me I could not get in the driver’s side. (Note 2)

Fortunately the parking space on the passenger side was empty. I unlocked the door by pressing the key fob ‘unlock’ (obviously) and lowered myself onto the passenger seat then lifting my right leg and placing it in the driver’s side foot-well. It was a good thing I do Yoga as this sort of manoeuvre requires certain flexibility. All good! The key fob was in my right hand and inadvertently the tailgate button got pressed. It rose silently and gracefully into the damp air and it was this, the sense of the damp air that alerted me to the problem. Note 3.

The only way to close it is by pressing the button on the tailgate itself! I extract myself from my delicate position astride both front seats and exit the car. I walk around to close the tailgate and make a second attempt to get into the driver’s seat from the passenger side, keeping an eye on the safety of the Crown Jewels, the proximity of the handbrake level and the location of the key fob. Success! Key into the ignition, start the engine and reverse out of my space.

Mentioning ‘the Crown Jewels’ and we are not talking here of what HM might wear to the State Opening of Parliament, reminded me of other slang words for male genitalia: ‘lunch box’, ‘meat and two veg’, ‘naughty bits’, ‘tackle’ to mention a few. Believe me, banging the Crown Jewels is momentarily completely incapacitating and has been compared with child birth. As pain is very subjective it’s impossible to make a judgment, apart from saying that pain in the nuts fades quite quickly whereas giving birth can take many hours.

But this little experience reminded me of cinematic recreations of two individuals trying to make love in a car. Invariably there is a great deal of huffing and puffing before achieving their goal, for which they should be awarded an Olympic medal for gymnastics. Steamy windows? Well only when Mr Plod spots the car in the deserted car park with its four way flashers operating (something inadvertently pressed the button) and tries to see what’s going on. What was it Tina Turner sang: ‘Steamy windows – zero visibility. Steamy windows – coming from the body heat!

Recently there has been a move to make our internet purchases more secure, by the introduction of a ‘security code’ sent to your mobile telephone. This is a good idea, except that it is not instantaneous! The other morning I bought something online, was told to wait for the ‘security code’ ……. and I waited …… and I waited ….. the page on the website asked whether we wanted to log out ……. I made a cup of coffee …… I checked my text messages – nothing …… I waited …… and finally, after 38 minutes, I got the code which if I had actually been patient and waited for it, would probably have ‘time-expired’! (Note 4)

Now, next week I will be scribbling about …………..

Richard 8th April 2022


PS  Something to mull over; this week recorded the 40th day of the Ukrainian war. In that time western allies of Ukraine have delivered some one billion dollars’ worth of military hardware. On the other side, Russia is receiving one billion dollars each DAY in revenue from its oil and gas sales. 

Note 1 Researchers in the USA estimate that 10-16% of all accidents there are caused by rubbernecking, ie distracted drivers. Some 1000 people are injured daily by distracted driving. You have only got to go onto YouTube to watch people being complete ****wits!

Note 2 In the last year I have lost some weight ….. but the bones don’t shrink! There was absolutely no room – well 15 cms perhaps.

Note 3 Recorded by the comedian Gerald Hoffnung (1925 – 1959), The Bricklayers Story is a tale of unintended consequences and my car experience reminded me of it. Although dated (1958) it should raise a laugh if you listen to it on YouTube. Hoffnung had fled Nazi Germany as a boy in 1939 and died in Hampstead of a cerebral haemorrhage aged 34.

Note 4 I had bypassed the code system by simply putting in my details and finished the payment.

PC 276 Pictures at an Exhibition

I imagine we’ve all traipsed around art galleries at some point in our lives, whether on a school trip to one’s town or city’s municipal display or to the capital city, as a student of ‘Art’ or as an adult who appreciates drawings, paintings and sculptures. In London this would probably mean visiting the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, the National Portrait Gallery around the corner in St Martin’s Place, Tate(s) Modern and Britain, The Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly, The Hayward and The Serpentine. Abroad and you’re also spoilt for choice, with The Louvre in Paris,

…… the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, MoMA and The Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Museu de Arte do Rio in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro or the galleries in every state capital in Australia; the list is endless.

My view of Aberystwyth in Wales

Using the verb ‘to traipse’ might give you a clue as to my abiding feeling, ‘To walk or move wearily’; initially I am always enthusiastic but find after two hours I have had enough and need to sit. Sitting in front of an internationally renowned painting doesn’t work, as the crowds of visitors block your view. It’s better to find a less popular artist and a work you can get lost in, if you get my meaning. I visited one gallery every time I went to Copenhagen on business back in the 1980s, just to sit in front of one particular painting, in silence, and get my fix! If you don’t want to wear out your shoe leather you can always look at all the paintings and creations on line, in detail, up close.

Local artists here in Brighton and Hove have a large choice of wall space on which to hang their creations, some obviously for sale but others simply to grow their following. These days they probably do that on Instagram as well.

My latest triptych

At this point you might wonder why I am scribbling about a subject, Pictures at an Exhibition, which is already covered by thousands of books and here’s me trying to be succinct, in a thousand words! The connection is the capital city of Ukraine, one we knew as Kiev and now know as Kyiv.

My knowledge of Russian classical composers only covers four of the main five and probably just their more well-known works. (See PC 109 That Reminds Me (1) November 2017) Think Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Scheherazade and The Flight of the Bumblebee), Alexander Borodin (Prince Igor), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (the ballets Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, his Symphony no 6 (Pathétique) and the Violin Concerto in D major) (Note 1) and Mussorgsky (Pictures at an Exhibition). What I hadn’t known was that Mussorgsky’s first name was Modest! A quick Google search reveals it’s not unusual in Russia as a male first name and its female version Modesty is tagged internationally to the main character of the comic strip Blaise.

I can’t imagine that the saying ‘Modest by name, modest by nature’ applying to a classical music composer with a big ego but I can’t find the origin of the saying so it may be I dreamt it?

Modest Mussorgsky 1839 – 1881

Mussorgsky had been born in 1839, some five years after the artist, architect and designer Viktor Hartmann had been born in St Petersburg. They probably met in 1868 and quickly became friends, both devoted to the cause of Russian art. Hartmann gave Mussorgsky a couple of paintings; Mussorgsky dedicated a composition to Hartmann. Sadly five years later Hartmann died of a suspected aneurism aged only 39 and Mussorgsky became deeply depressed. Friends of Hartmann organised a memorial exhibition in the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg in February 1874; over 400 paintings were exhibited, including the two that Mussorgsky owned.

Inspired by his friend’s paintings, Mussorgsky composed ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, a suite of ten piano pieces with a recurring theme, in three weeks in 1874. It was not well received and didn’t get published until five years after Mussorgsky’s early death at the age of 42. I probably have heard the whole suite but it’s the Great Gate of Kiev that is memorable and my ears can recognise it instantly. Hartmann had designed a monumental gate for Tsar Alexander ll (1818 – 1881) to commemorate his escape from an assassination attempt in 1866 – “in the ancient Russian massive style with a cupola shaped like a Slavonic helmet”. The sketch The Bogatyr Gates was included in the exhibition and became the 10th piano piece.

The painting which prompted Mussorgsky’s The Great Gate of Kiev is top left

Other paintings of the ten included a ‘ballet of un-hatched chicks’, two Jewish men, a dark painting of the catacombs and the ‘Hut on Hen’s legs’.  I have this rather romantic notion that all cities had monumental entrance gates; maybe I have watched too many Ben Hur-type movies. Certainly the inner city boundaries have been subsumed by urban sprawl and Kyiv doesn’t have anything resembling Hartmann’s design.

Watching the current wanton destruction of Ukraine’s villages, towns and cities raises many questions; how do people survive, how will they be rebuilt and who will pay for the rebuilding, currently estimated to be $100 billion but this is just a finger in the air figure? But rebuilt they will be and tourists in the future will wander the streets of, for instance, the old port city of Mariupol and marvel at the ancient buildings and narrow streets.

If they have no knowledge of history they will be none the wiser. Take Warsaw, a city flattened by the vengeful Nazis after the 1944 Warsaw Uprising of the Polish resistance. The uprising infuriated German leaders, who decided to destroy the city as retaliation.

The ‘old’ centre of Warsaw today

It was rebuilt brick by brick, stone by stone, to look exactly as it had.

Richard 1st April 2022


Note 1 Possibly Tchaikovsky’s most famous work is his 1812 Overture, composed in 1880 to commemorate the Russian defence of Moscow against Napoleon’s invading armies sixty-eight years previously.

PC 275     Kerfuffle et al

I have scribbled in past postcards of my observations of coincidental stuff, for example seeing The Pink Panther in a dream and later that same morning stencilled onto the bow of a dingy, or talking about St Kilda (PC 81 And the Buses Came in Threes October 2016) over supper with Ted & Richard and seeing a huge article about that particular island the very next day in The Times. I have to assume that sometimes my brain is somehow more tuned to seeing the connections than if it’s in its normal ‘half-asleep’ state.

Gathering ideas for this week’s missive, I had noted some words that I don’t usually use but love their combination of letters and implied meaning, like Kerfuffle. Pulling these together last Saturday, I paused to read the newspaper and, after the pages concerning the Ukrainian war and its possible outcomes, scanned Rose Wild’s Feedback. It was as if she knew what my latest postcard might be about, more wonderful words. She started: “Ciaran Bruton from Galway sprung a new word on me this week. ‘First Max Hastings and now Matthew Parris’, he complained, had been ‘fumfering about negotiating with Putin.’ What could this mean?” 

She continued: “Fumfering is an onomatopoeic sort of word …… and my online dictionary defines it as ‘to waffle, to stutter, to mutter, to putter aimlessly.” There we go again, Onomatopoeia, another word that I do not use regularly but one I had already mentioned in my draft for today’s PC. ‘An onomatopoeic word is one whose meaning is only their sound, as for example bang, buzz, hiss, sizzle, boom (of a firework exploding), tick tock (of a clock see PC 274 Tick Tock) or ding dong (of a door bell). Animal sounds are mostly onomatopoeic – quack, moo, miaow, cluck.’ So I agree with Rose that fumfering is a sort of onomatopoeic word (Big of me huh?)!

My draft scribbles had started:

Within the space of three days recently, I saw ‘hodgepodge’, ‘hoich’ and ‘commingles’ and would be the first to admit these are not words in common usage. The first was used by the writer of an obituary to describe someone’s early years – ‘a confused mixture of jobs and tasks, a real hodgepodge’. It can of course be written hotch potch but I think hodgepodge has a certain sound that conveys warmth as well as confusion.

While I am here, ‘hoich’ means to move or pull abruptly as in ‘she hoiched her child from behind her to introduce him to the headmaster.’ Commingles means mixing or blending but to hear it raises this meaning to a whole different level! One of my favourite words is discombobulated, meaning ‘confused and disconcerted’; sometimes I wake up feeling discombobulated, although just getting my tongue around the word helps to relieve the symptoms – well that and a cup of coffee!

Rose added a couple of new words found in on-line dictionaries but I know they won’t be in my 1962 Oxford Illustrated: ‘hockety’ meaning ‘infirm, lame or rickety’ and the Irish unisex greeting ‘a chara’ meaning ‘my friend, my dear’. However in my dictionary are two words I love as they do exactly what they say on the tin: ‘gawp’ and ‘desultory’!!      

And here are two words whose two meanings are completely unrelated: rumpty tumpty   – ‘complete nonsense’ or ‘a bit of rumpty tumpty’ meaning having occasional sexual intercourse: funny language huh! Writing of words and their uses, how come the word ‘Fuck’, a slang word for the physical act of making love, in itself an intimate personal and mainly pleasurable experience, is also used as an expletive? Meaning whatever you want it to mean: “Fuck! I have deleted that draft email!” “Fuck! I have missed the bus!” But ‘Shit!’, another exclamatory swear word, is disassociated from its biological meaning, which incidentally helps to convey true depth of tone.

Some months ago a crossword clue asked for the name of a tropical rainforest mammal related to the Raccoon. My knowledge of little animals is not great so I Googled and found it was called a Kinkajou. You probably haven’t heard of this little chap either …….

……. but the name was familiar to me and brought back a funny memory. Between the hall and the kitchen at my parent’s house in Balcombe (see PC 58 Going Home October 2015) was a duct to facilitate airflow. Each end was covered in chicken wire and a little stuffed toy animal was placed inside; it was known as the Kinkajou cage! A lack of an inquiring mind has often got me into trouble or slowed a process that was inevitable; I was no Gerald Durrell and I never bothered to learn all those years ago what a real Kinkajou looked like!

Something that did occupy one’s mind as a teenager was the longest word in English dictionary. It was a toss-up between ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ which is the act of considering something to be worthless and

Antidisestablishmentarianism’ which is the opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England which seems like a double negative?

Rindfleischetikettierungsűberwachungsaufgabenűbertragungsgesetz’ was German’s longest word and means ‘the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef’. It has been confined to the linguistic history books as it was no longer necessary when the EU halted BSE-testing on healthy cattle at abattoirs. Now the longest in their dictionary is ‘Kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung’ meaning motor vehicle indemnity insurance. Quite!

On the island of Anglesey, off the northwest coast of Wales, there’s a small, quiet town called, for short, Llanfair PG. Its full name is:  Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

But the longest place name place in the world (85 letters) is a New Zealand hill named by the Maoris: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateteaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu.

It lies inland from Hawkes Bay on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

In case you have forgotten, the title of this PC is ‘Kerfuffle’, a good word to get your tongue around and one that means a commotion or fuss, especially one caused by differences of opinion.

Richard 25th March 2022


PS Hope to be back in The Hope Café in a couple of weeks to find out how Sami’s evidence to the Post Office Inquiry went.

PPS After Rose Wild’s Feedback following my lead on funny words, in last Sunday Times’ Style Section was a watch survey entitled Tick Tock. (See PC 274 Tick Tock!)

PC 274 Tick Tock

After last week’s grim scribbles, I hope these are altogether easier to absorb! If someone had simply read the title to you, you might have been forgiven for thinking this was about Tik Tok. That, in case you don’t know, is a video-focused social networking service known in China as Douyin. It hosts a variety of user-made videos covering tricks, pranks, dance and entertainment which last anything from 15 seconds to three minutes. 

When few people owned a watch, towns built clock towers. The one on North Street in Brighton was opened in 1888 and its golden ball still rises on the hour.

A large Victorian town hall was built on Church Road in Hove in 1882, but destroyed in a fire in 1966. It had a clock tower.

Its replacement was opened in 1970 and is an example of the Brutalist style of John Wells-Thorpe; personally I think it’s disgusting! It has a modern unattractive tower complete with a clock.

Sometimes the clock tells the right time; often it seems to be surprised when we change from GMT to British Summer Time or vica versa. Mind you, it’s easy to get confused. Eire, The UK and Portugal are in the same Time Zone; move further east and you add an hour for Central European Time. Many years ago I flew into Brisbane (QLD) Australia, set my watch to local time, hired a car and drove south to Byron Bay for a few days. Arriving in a local restaurant for dinner the following evening, I was surprised when the manageress said: “You booked for 1930 but we kept the table for you.” I looked at my watch, which showed it was indeed 1930. I glance enquiringly at the woman. “Ah!” she said, looking at my pale English complexion, “you probable flew into Brisbane. We’ve in New South Wales and an hour ahead!” (Note 1) 

Scribbling about Australia, I love this from Chris Hammer’s book ‘Opal Country’, a fictional town in New South Wales:

“At the centre of the roundabout sits a squat brick clock tower. Approaching from the north or the east, the clock tells the correct time during the winter, but at this time of year it lags an hour behind, so that it’s telling Queensland time instead of summer time. Coming from the west, it is perpetually five thirty, and coming from the south, forever ten past ten.”

I own a half-hunter as an accoutrement when suited and spurred, but it’s not as visible as a timepiece worn on one’s wrist.

Fortunately for me the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont (See PC 6 Petropolis April 2014) was a friend of Louis Cartier, one of the three sons of Louis-Francois Cartier who had founded a jeweller business in Paris in 1847.

Needing two hands to control his flying machine, Dumont was unable to look at his pocket watch, nestling in his waistcoat pocket. Cartier made a small version, attached a leather wrist strap to it and presented it to Dumont in 1904. He called it the Santos Cartier.

In one of my boxes is a collection of old watch ‘detritus’; some work and some don’t. I should really throw them out but each contains some sentimental memories. Most of the watches I have owned don’t emit the traditional ‘tick’ – well, certainly the Cassio digital one didn’t!

A further tray has my Christopher Ward (CW) ones – four that get rotated on an infrequent basis. Celina has a CW slim wrist watch but rarely wears it; time now of course comes courtesy of one’s mobile ‘phone!

If we care to look we are constantly reminded of the time. In our living room there’s a digital clock on the Bosch Microwave, on the oven, on the Brennan music system and on the landline handset; on the end wall a large modern clock.

‘To Clock’ is a verb meaning ‘to notice’ or to mean ‘taking a particular time’ as in “He clocked 10 seconds in the 100 metres race.”

There are many examples of rather odd public behaviours and obsessions during and in-between the Covid-induced lockdowns of our society. One is a renewed interest in more old-fashioned pastimes and a revulsion about our ‘throw away rather than repair’ attitude; ‘The Repair Shop’ has been an unlikely hit series on BBC television. Filmed in the Court Barn of the Weald & Downland Living Museum in Singleton, West Sussex, the fictional workshop to which the public bring items of huge sentimental value for refurbishment has developed a cult following; so much so that a 9th series has just been commissioned. Those who follow it have become absorbed by the skill and artistry of the repair shop experts who tackle the restoration of eclectic items brought through their door;  leather chairs, paintings, trophies, teddy bears and dolls, grandfather clocks, radios etc etc …… and recently a ‘clocking on’ machine.

If you couldn’t understand why I was scribbling about The Repair Shop in a postcard entitled ‘Tick Tock’, now I hope the penny’s dropped? Clocking On machines were prevalent in factories where the workforce punched their attendance card on arrival and departure. A clock recorded the time and naturally they became known as ‘clocking on’ machines. One was recently brought into The Repair Shop by a chap who had used it personally for over 40 years when working for an engineering company in the West Midlands. When the building was demolished he bought it.

My step-father loved his large clocks and wound them every Friday evening on his return from the office in London. Although there was no grandfather clock, all the downstairs rooms and hall had a ticking clock; the latter, sitting on the hall table, chimed the hour and that sound echoed through the house (See PC 58 Going Home – December 2015). When the house was still in the early hours, when to a young boy ghouls and ghosts wandered about, the sinister atmosphere was magnified by this sound.

Tick! Tock! Tick! Tock!

Richard 18th March 2022


PS Big Ben is Big Ben. But actually that’s the nickname for the Great Bell of the striking clock on the north end of the Palace of Westminster. The Elizabeth Tower, as it is now officially known, has undergone a £79 million refurbishment which will end this summer. The whole edifice, tower, bells and clock, is one of London’s most iconic landmarks and will always be called ‘Big Ben’!  

Note 1 QLD is GMT -10, NSW GMT -11, Western Australia is GMT- 8 but the Northern Territories are GMT- 9½!