Wednesday, 30 June 2010


I recently went to see the play 'Canary' by Jonathan Harvey. The play chronicles the history of the Gay Rights movement in Britain from 1960 to the present day. The title comes from a quote by Peter Tatchell who said

"Women and gay people are the litmus test of whether a society is democratic and respecting human rights. We are the canaries in the mine."

The play was excellent and was enhanced by the fact that the cast returned to the auditorium afterwards to take part in a question and answer session about the drama and its effect on us.

It seems appalling now that back in the 60's, homosexuality was considered to be both a crime and a disease. Some poor souls had to undergo 'aversion therapy' during which they were induced to vomit whilst being forced to watch gay porn images. The presumption was that they would then feel sick if confronted with homosexuality.

In this context, you cannot help but admire the bravery of those who spoke out publicly in favour of tolerance. It is easy to disassociate ourselves from our ancestors who indulged in the slave trade. It is equally easy to laugh at the pompous Victorian gentlemen who tried to prevent women from having the vote. The intolerance of homosexuality was equally wrong but in this case, it was happening in our presence.

The appalling truth is that lesbians and gays were not given protection from discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation until the Equality Act of 2007.

I for one, feel very ashamed to have been part of the apathy which allowed this intolerance and unfairness to thrive for so long.

Sunday, 27 June 2010


I was sad to read the recent story about the pet border collie who leapt into the family car and attacked their 7 month year old baby so ferociously that it almost severed it's leg. The family were astounded at the dog's behaviour since it had seemed to get on well with the baby up to that point. They felt that the dog must have been jealous. The dog was put down of course.

The incident reminded me of our own similar experience when my daughter Amie was about 2 years old. It was a lovely sunny day and Amie was playing happily in the garden. Our golden cocker spaniel, Crumpet, was out there too together with Crumpet's puppy 'Muffin'. You may have met Crumpet and Muffin before when I wrote about 'Puppy Love'. As with the other family, we 'knew' that they were safe together since they had co-existed happily since Amie's birth.

On this occasion however, we heard Amie scream and start to cry. I rushed out to find her with a small gash just above her eye as Crumpet moved away from her. My best guess was that Amie may have poked Crumpet in the eye. Who knows?

It was an easy decision to take Crumpet to the vet's to be put down but I wept bitterly as I stroked her gently while she received the lethal injection.

The moral is clear. Small children and dogs should never be left together unsupervised. Spread the word!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


I suppose the idea of sending instant, brief messages started with the Morse telegraph, which was patented in 1837. The first such message, sent in 1838, read: "A patient waiter is no loser". I think that for such a historic message, a little more work was required.

Some people, my dear wife among them, seem not to have grasped the concept of texting. While driving, I become aware that she has been tapping on her phone for what seems like an age. On enquiry I discover that this is a text to darling daughter which has just reached chapter 3. If I suggest that an actual phone call might have been a better option, I'm told that she didn't want to disturb her by ringing her. (Sigh).

Number one son is the opposite. A typical text from him reads "C U l8ter". In my opinion, this takes things too far.

The "Drive time" radio programme has an interesting slant on brevity by asking listeners to sum up their day in just three words. It's fascinating how much can be said in just words. "Had scan - GIRL!", "Just got fired", "Daughter got engaged" are just a few examples.

Brief can be beautiful too and has been made an art form by those clever Japanese in the form of Haiku. My favourite example goes like this:

"A trout leaps,
Clouds are moving
In the bed of the stream" (Onitsura).

I love the way Nature is reversed with the trout leaping above the clouds.

So in general, I would make a plea for a degree of minimalism - except of course, when pouring me a glass of wine.

Sunday, 20 June 2010


Thanks to the Gothenburg newspaper which had given me a full page display in my search for a job as an au pair boy, I found myself sailing across the North Sea to Gothenburg. It was Wednesday, 31st January, 1968 and I was 21.

As the ship docked around 7.30 a.m., I noticed that there were a few photographers and reporters at the quayside. I wondered who they were greeting and it turned out to be me! This photo was part of a special lunchtime edition asking readers if they remembered me from the previous article and informing them that I had arrived. This was my 15 minutes of fame.

Bjorn and Agnetha, the couple who I was to live with as an au pair, met me and took me to their home. I was to look after the newborn baby to allow Mum to continue in her job. Much more importantly, I could now find Anna, the love of my life and we would live happily ever after.

At the first opportunity, I went to her home where I was quickly disillusioned as it became clear that my love was unrequited. Anna had enjoyed our holiday romance but that is all it was to her. I was dumped.

The pain was somewhat lessened by the fact that some 150 girls had offered their 'companionship' in response to the newspaper article. I began 'sampling' them. In addition, Bjorn was a jazz saxophonist with his own band and I toured with them at weekends when I was off duty. Through this I encountered a great many girls.

Although Agnetha had planned to go back to work after having her baby, as you may have guessed, once it was in her arms, she couldn't bear to leave it. I became redundant. Under the terms of being admitted into the country as an au pair, I was only allowed to stay for up to 3 months. Bjorn and Agnetha honoured their obligation to employ me for until the end of April but then I had to leave.

However, I now had a new love, Karin, another stunning blonde like Anna, and I moved in with her. Despite the regulations, I managed to stay a total of 10 months in the country which I had grown to love but then Karin and I ended our relationship amicably and I had to leave.

I had enjoyed a wonderful adventure but now that it was clear that I would not be emigrating to Sweden I needed to resume my life in England.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


Having revealed in my last post that back in 1967 at the age of 21, I had the need to place an advertisement in a Gothenburg newspaper, I had better explain the circumstances.

I had met a lovely Swedish girl called Anna while she was on an exchange visit to Bristol but sadly, though we had become close, she had to return home to Gothenburg. I was desperate to go to Sweden and pursue our relationship.

I resolved to emigrate to Sweden but discovered that they weren't letting anyone in unless they were on a short list of trades such as plumbers, electricians etc. I was none of these. Then I spotted that at the bottom of the list were 'au pair' girls. I thought 'Why should au pairs be girls?'

So I placed a small advertisement in a Gothenburg newspaper advertising my services as an au pair boy. Luckily for me, the editor of the paper thought this was newsworthy and wrote to me asking for more details and a photograph. Yes that's me aged 21. They used this to produce a full page story in their paper.

As a result of this coverage, I was inundated with job offers. I eventually chose a family in which the wife was a manageress and about to give birth. She wanted to continue her job soon after the birth so I was to look after a new-born baby. Her husband was a jazz saxophonist with his own band.

I suppose I do look a little like a Beatle in my photo and the Swedish girls must have thought so too because I also received around 150 offers of quite a different sort!

But my heart was lost to Anna and very soon I would be able to join her and live happy ever after in least, that was the plan. I soon learned that the best laid plans often work out very differently.

Sunday, 13 June 2010


Imagine for a moment that you need to place a classified advertisement in a Gothenburg newspaper. Now this would not be a difficult task if you lived in Sweden. You could perhaps look up the phone number in a directory and call them.

But for the sake of this exercise you live in England. How will you set about the task? I'm going to reveal my amazing mind-reading powers and predict that your plan involves making a search on the Internet - right?

However, when I needed to place this advert, it was 1967 so there were no home computers let alone internet. So what did I do first in order to accomplish my mission?

While you are thinking how you will achieve this, it's worth reflecting on just how reliant we are on computers and the internet for such matters. However did we survive before they existed?

The way in which I began the task was to contact what was my first port of call whenever I needed help. I went to "The Citizens' Advice bureau", an amazing organisation who could find out anything about anything. Their offices were manned by volunteers back then and it was a free service.

It was set up as a temporary measure but is just celebrating it's 70 year anniversary! Their brief history is as follows:

"In 1938 when the prospect of a world war loomed, the National Council of Social Services, the forerunner of today's National Council of Voluntary Organisations, established a group to look at how to meet the war-time needs of the civilian population. The group recommended that Citizens Advice Bureaux be established, particularly in the large cities where 'social disorganisation may be acute'.

War was declared on 3 September 1939 and the first 200 bureaux opened on 4 September. Arrangements for bureaux varied wildly; one even operated out of a horsebox. Seven decades later we are, each year, advising two millions clients on six million problems from 3,300 locations."

Back in 1967 they managed to locate a firm in London who could perform the service for me and my mission was soon accomplished. You may wonder why I needed to place the advert but this will be the subject of another post.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


A couple of years before my Mum died she said "Are there any questions you want to ask me? Because once I'm dead it will be too late". Of course, I couldn't think of any back then - but since her death, there have been countless times when I've thought of some.

I mention this because I've just bought myself a Father's day present. Yes, yes, I know that isn't the idea but I'm sure that if dear daughter had seen it she'd have asked to borrow the money to buy it for me on the spot.

It's conveniently called "The Father's book" and the idea which the author puts forward is this:

"What was your favourite band when you were my age? What was your first job like? Were your parents strict? How did you meet Mum? What makes you afraid?

Have you ever asked your Dad any of these questions? The sad likelihood is that you haven't. Our Dads' stories tend to get overlooked, perhaps because Dads aren't that great about opening up, or perhaps because we aren't great at finding the time to ask them.

But don't let the opportunity to discover your father's story pass you by. Packed with all the questions you would ever need to ask, plus stories and poems to inspire him, The Father's Book is a gift for you and your Dad to share and treasure."

I'm going to have great fun filling the answers in and I hope that dear daughter will find them interesting. There is a Mother's book version too but sadly, they weren't published in time for me to give them to my own parents.

Maybe there's still time for you?

Sunday, 6 June 2010


I heard a clever advert on the radio recently which had sound effects created by a book. The book was repeatedly shut to produce 'footsteps' and dropped on the floor to create a door slam sound. The pages were rustled to make a crackling fire effect and so on. The advert failed insofar that I have no idea what they were trying to get me to buy, but it did succeed in reminding me about my life-long love affair with books.

Regular readers (if such animals exist), may remember my previous rant called 'Refusing to turn the page' where I railed against the advent of e-books. I genuinely fear that the demise of the printing industry may be on the horizon to follow the long list of trades which technology has made redundant.

I do hope that like me, there has been a point in your life where a book has grabbed hold of you and refused to let go.

Sadly, like young love, the last time this happened to me was as a student in the days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. The book in question was 'Lord of the Rings' by Tolkien and I can remember lying on my bed for hours as it held me tight and transported me into a fantasy world. Or was that my young love experience? My memory is so bad nowadays.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


I was reminded recently of an event from my past which I am not proud of. Forgive me reader for I have sinned and it is 3 decades since my last confession.

It all started when I put my car in for a service. The garage appeared to have done a pretty good job not that I am qualified to judge such mechanical matters. My level of knowledge about what happens under the bonnet is on a par with a dear secretary at school a few years back who would say "I know all about cars - I get in and turn the key. If it starts I drive to work, if it doesn't I walk to work".

Yet in my ignorance, I became aware of a problem which developed a few days after the service in the form of a rattle from the engine area. Having spent 10 minutes working out how to raise the bonnet because being male, I obviously won't resort to opening the handbook, I began to peer about underneath hoping that passing neighbours might be fooled into thinking I had some idea what I was doing.

If you are easily impressed, I may go up in your esteem if I reveal that not only did I locate the problem but I also fixed it - permanently. However, this inflated esteem which you have bestowed on me will quickly burst when I add the detail that the rattle was caused by a mechanic at the garage having left a screwdriver on top of what I'm guessing was the battery. This was not just any old screwdriver but a magnetic and multi-headed screwdriver which I sort of forgot to return to them. *Blushes with shame.

The story which brought this sad event back to mind was a report of surgical procedures in Scotland which reveals that it is quite common for surgeons to leave their tools in patients and then sew them back up again. Apparently swabs, needles, drill bits and even forceps have walked out of the hospital inside post-operative patients' bodies!

So it is very clear to me that the forgetful car mechanic has since had a change of profession and now works as a surgeon somewhere near Glasgow.