Pontiff Continues to Pontificate

The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury continues to play the windbag, continually failing to practice what he preaches and continuing to embarrass the Church of England instead of doing the job that he was chosen for.  One could say that he spends his time fiddling while Rome burns.  While his church continues to crumble around his ears!

Welby spends his hours playing his own brand of politics from any platform that suits him and where he may find an audience whether it be a television programme with a left wing audience, The House of Lords or one of newspapers such as the Guardian where he finds solace.  The vehicle for his more recent brand of narcissistic superiorism is his latest book.  A book which if he were not the Archbishop he would certainly have difficulty finding a publisher for and even more difficulty finding a buyer.

Here he rails against those who buy a second home accusing them of fuelling a dysfunctional housing market and destroying a sense of local community.  I will give Welby that he is an absolute expert on dysfunctionality and poor performance. He is also a specialist in condescension.  The, don’t do as I do. Do as I say type of condescension.

I am certainly not qualified to defend or attack 2nd home owners. All I can say on the subject is that I have seen at first hand, dozens of villages in North Norfolk being rescued from falling into disrepair by incomers and seeing shops that couldn’t restock until they had sold their last tin of carrots, soup or peas suddenly becoming a mini Fortnum and Masons and the shopkeeper’s kids being sent to private schools.  I have spoken to a lot of ancient Norfolk dumplings, retired crabbers and the like, who told me how glad they were to now be able to move to a little bungalow that was only a dream a few years back.

I remember asking one old retired salt if he wasn’t sad to be moving from his old way of life and his only but telling response was “Well, thar’s windy”.  Rather like the miners of both the North East and South Wales! When they closed the Colliery down, they’re really very, very glad!

I often say that if nothing changes, nothing changes, perhaps Welby thinks that if his congregations fall into the poverty trap and his congregations become peasants living in poverty, they will like the domains of Roman Catholic workers in South America, The Philippines or suchlike, worshiping their priests and plating their altars with gold.  No-one buys second homes and makes an injection of cash there.  The peasants may escape as economic migrants if they are lucky.

I’m no authority on the for’s and against of 2nd homes unlike The Most Reverend Justin Welby who owns a six bedroom stone built, second home in Normandy that he keeps empty for him and his family as a retreat.  Of course Welby states that he only owns one house which is the French Gite, because his main residence is his grace and favour home in Lambeth Palace.  He also neglects to mention that his six bedroom house in France also boasts a two bed roomed cottage.  Um! Isn’t that a second home?.

Of course Welby is also a passionate Francophile and bought the spacious Normandy property which is 30 minutes from the beach and near to Mont St Michel, when he lived in Paris decades ago.  That’s how come he is such an expert on Brexit.  I didn’t say an unbiased expert; in fact all he knows is what suits Justin Welby.  Will no-one rid us of this meddlesome priest? Thomas Becket he ain’t.


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A Pollywog loses his virginity

Dipping once again into my memory bank I came across another of my sailor’s yarns.  In these enlightened times of political correctness I am certain that the time honoured ceremony of “Crossing the Equator” has now been watered down to a routine, fairly mundane event mostly a spectacle for passengers on cruise liners. 

 Back in the day, when Nelson was a lad and I was an apprentice deck officer it was a serious event looking back to the days when ships were made of wood and the men were made of steel. It had a more serious purpose designed to test the mettle of novices in the crew and to see if they were made of the right stuff to endure the hardships of the sea.

By the time I first crossed the equator I had actually sailed twice around the world and progressed to the dizzy heights of Third Mate on a ‘dirty British coaster’, well not really it was a Cargo Boat or Tramp Steamer plying its way seeking profitable loads from A to B and in fact not even the Skipper knew our next destination or even our next cargo. My first trip took sixteen months and we actually had circumnavigated the world twice via the USA, and Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and back through the Suez Canal then repeated the other way around via Singapore, Shanghai and Japan all without going near to the Equator. We then left Japan still seeking cargo and sailed to Australia calling at The Marshall Islands and The Philippines.

It became apparent from seeing a cabal consisting of the Boatswain, the Shipwright and the Chief Engineer and ‘all the guys from the band’, that something was afoot. They became King Neptune and his Royal Court, Royal Scribes, Trusty Shellbacks, The Royal Baby, Davy Jones and Her Highness Amphitrite.

My memory fades in the mists of time but I can remember being very nervous when I was summoned, along with all the other Pollywogs (Google it), to appear before the Royal Court of the Realm of Neptune because it had been brought to his attention that the ship was about to enter those waters manned by a crew who had not acknowledged the sovereignty of the Ruler of the Deep and had transgressed on his domain and thereby incurred his displeasure.

I was seized, tethered and stripped of my dignity as I was covered with thick foam – a mixture of ox-blood and salt water normally used to fight fire aboard and then shaved from top to bottom by three of Neptune’s hand maidens using a wooden three foot long cutthroat razor. One of the said maidens had a beard and bore a strong resemblance to the Chief Steward, he might even have been a Bar Steward!

I was then put through a series of harrowing and embarrassing tasks, gigs, obstacles and physical hardships. The entire ceremony took over four hours during which time the ship’s ensign was lowered and replaced with a large Jolly Roger.

At the end of Neptune’s Assizes I was ordered to kneel before the Royal Baby who was the ugliest shellback member of the crew and kiss his navel, which was filled and overflowing with really hot mustard, Ugh! Spit!

Thence duly inducted as a Son of Neptune. . . . . . . . . . .Be it known to all Sailors wherever you may be and to all Mermaids, Whales, Sea Serpents, Porpoises, Dolphins, Eels, Skates, Crab, Lobsters and all living things of the sea . . . . . . . . . . I was that Sailor!


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The tale of a rotten Apple.

My Apple iPad 2 32Gb is coming up to its six birthday and has travelled the world with me. Accompanied me up mountains, slept in a tent and sailed on ocean racing yachts. The only time it has put a foot wrong was when the internal battery had to be replaced. It’s not a love story but I have become quite fond of it as an efficient business tool.

Three days ago without warning it decided to upgrade to IOS11 itself, automatically and then rebooted itself. Once the silver Apple logo had finished its business and switched itself off it all looked good.

It then refused to switch on and the was notice saying it was Application locked until I typed in my Apple name and my password. Wrong! Name not recognised, then wrong password half a dozen attempts and am now frozen out until the following day.

Next day On the advice of the AppleSparks shop I switched the tablet on and before trying anything else I hard rebooted it. Same problem.

Apple have an impressive website for customer support and I went on that via my iPhone. To speak to anyone or contact by text or email you are required to prove you are a human being and not a robot by typing in a few letters and numbers. You do that, but the continue button remains greyed out. I tried that performance 16 times over two hours and could get no further. I’m a calm and placid type but my bloody iPhone nearly left my office via the window.

My local Apple technical repair shop had a go but got no further that I had and I was advised that if I couldn’t get on-line support I would have to go to my nearest Apple Store which is in Milton Keynes. A round trip of 30 miles! Have you ever tried parking in Central Milton Keynes?

I found the 🍏 Store in the centre and was fortunate to find a support technician who spent over an hour on the problem after expressing a determination not to let it beat him. I left bearing a working iPad now linked to my iPhone, with somewhat mixed feelings about Steve Jobs and the Apple Corporation.

A little bird in their store let slip that one of their biggest complaints was from customers not being able to access the on-line support website. Not good from the worlds largest Information Technology Company who also send their customers glitches in their updates. No doubt they will soon be sending out updates containing patches to repair the problems.

I wonder if this grumpy old sod can claim for wasting three days of my life and thirty miles worth of petrol in a V8 4.5 litre car for sending a maggot to eat into my Apple?

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It still brings tears to my eyes!

Watching a couple of young bloods in the gym while I was working out on one of the Abs Resistance Machines brought a long forgotten memory back. The lads were doing standing leaps up on to large padded blocks of some 3.6 feet cubes. I remembered some fifty years back I was in our club, prior to setting out for a some serious rock climbing. I carried out nearly the same exercise that the lads in the gym were doing but I was using our full size billiard table instead of gym equipment. One one of my jumps I didn’t quite make it and crashed my shins on the edge of the table. Serious rock climbing? I couldn’t walk to the ambulance. I sat back on the Abs Machine and stroked my shins. I still have a large missing chunk like a pothole out of my shinbone as an aid memoir!

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You cannot be serious. Oh you are!

As King Harold said, watch those ruddy archers, they could have someone’s eye out!  A re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings was cancelled last weekend by Elf n’ Safety because it was too wet. I need comment no further, so ‘nuff said.  However the news did jog this old chap’s memory and I thought that I might share it with you.

A few years back I was doing some writing work for an event organising company and I got blagged into managing a re-enactment of the Duke of Wellington kicking Napoleon’s French backside.  The battle was to take place on the cliffs around a Martello Tower at Folkestone.

The re-enactors were rather strange fellows who took the whole thing very seriously even to the point of living in true to life 1815 tents and cooking on open fires.

I arrived on the afternoon before the public event and the whole ensemble of troops, horses, female camp followers, even rabid looking curs scrounging around the camp.  The Frog troops were on the other side of the hill.  Both sides were living the whole dream in complete character.  Even though there were no public in attendance.  I was walking around introducing myself as the Event Manager with my jaw dropped.  I don’t think anyone heard me muttering “I don’t believe it, so many oddballs all in one place.

I spoke to a Colonel in the full dress uniform of the 1st Life Guards, I complimented him on his superb turn out and learned that he was a London Transport bus driver in his real life and had paid over £1500 for his outfit.  He pointed me to his leader, an authentic looking Duke of Wellington who even looked like Goya’s portrait of the great man, complete with cocked hat and his own tent.

I organised my part of the show ready for the following day, declined the kind offer from one of the large lady camp followers in her low cut calico dress, to join in the soldier’s supper of tripe and onions, and scuttled off to my hotel for dinner.

Up early the following day I organised my staff and went for a walk along the cliffs.  I stood for a while watching the re-enactors marching their drill.  I learned later that this particular regiment being put through their paces were supposed to be the German Brunswick Corps under Lieutenant General Prince Freidrich, Duke of Brunswick.

I then saw the Duke of Wellington, sitting on the grass leaning with his back against the Martello Tower.  He was in full military dress, his horse was tethered nearby eating grass and the Duke was studying a Filofax while puffing a clay churchwarden pipe.  My first mistake was to say “Good Morning Graham” obviously I ought to have addressed him as Your Grace or Sir or something equally grovelling.

I certainly shouldn’t have pointed to the poor sods sweating as they marched up the hill and then marched down again and said you’ve picked yourself a much better part than the poor bloody infantry.

His Grace cut me dead and snapped “You will excuse me Jake but I am contemplating the forthcoming battle”.

I made my excuses and left without spoiling it for him by telling the twit that Wellington won the battle.  If I’d been an Elf ‘n Safety I would have cancelled his ruddy pantomime too!

You couldn’t make it up!

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Fastnet your safety belts

This is another tale from my memory bank.  I’m not sure if today’s blog falls into the category of another of my sailor’s yarns or one of my lifetime memories of “What the heck am I doing here?”, I do know that I keep finding myself in the same fixes, whether I am at sea or on the mountain, all of my life.

It was Cowes week, thirty three years ago and I had signed on as navigator on a 37 foot yacht, taking part in the legendary Fastnet race.  The competition was a huge flotilla, there were 303 yachts taking part in the 608 mile jewel of offshore racing from the Solent, along the south coast to Cornwall and out into open sea towards the Fastnet lighthouse, Ireland’s most Southerly point.  Ted Heath’s yacht ‘Morning Cloud was amongst the entrants.   We left the Solent in August 1979 heading on the 600 mile course.  Our 37 foot sloop was one of the smallest taking part.   The wind was blowing hard and we were making good time.

The shipping forecast predicted winds of Force 8, nothing for a seasoned, well trained crew of six hard men like us.  Conditions were near perfect for fast ocean racing and we were all in good spirits.  We then heard a later forecast giving us winds of Force 10 and more, and the seas were getting up.  The sunset was a weird mixture of colours a strange, spectacular ochre sky and we could all feel a strange pressure; the sea was being pressed down.  Fortunately my seaman’s instinct kicked in and I managed the talk the Owner/Skipper into deviating slightly into the Western Approaches to get some sea room.  A storm of an unimaginable force got up, one of such power that it brought to mind a seismic sea that I had been caught in on a cargo boat, when I was a youngster in the seas off Japan.  I thought that I was about to die on that occasion too.

Our radio was going mad with distress calls as vessels were scattered in the storm’s path like so much flotsam.  One after another, boats sank or capsized as the storm raged unabated.  The seas got up so big, they appeared to be like sixty feet high cliffs above our mast.  We were making some six knots under bare poles and rolling violently as the seas broke in all directions.  The noise was deafening like an on-coming steam train . . . . . . . here we go again…….What the #@&* am I doing here? . . . . . We thought that we had weathered the worst as dawn broke, when there was what sounded like an explosion and our steering gear gave way.  I looked over the stern and saw our rudder disappearing in the direction of Finistere.

The radio continued though the night, with hundreds of distress calls.  Fellow competitors were overturned, dismasted, sinking, – crews in life rafts.  We realised that we were going to have to be responsible for our own survival.  After a quick ‘Chinese Parliament’ we turned for the Welsh coast after hoisting a storm jib, picked up our skirts and ran before the wind like a scalded cat.  Steering with the Jib sail, thank God we had made the right decision.  There are no heathens in a lifeboat . . . . . All we had to do was pray and keep pumping the bilges.  We scuttled into Milford Haven where we were thankfully met by the Harbour Master and safely berthed.

Listening to the distress channel we couldn’t believe just how lucky we had been. Apparently during the worst of the storm the barometer plunged to the second lowest reading around the British Isles in 150 years.  The 1979 Fastnet was the worst disaster in offshore racing history, with 15 competitors dying along with six other yachtsmen who were not taking part in the race.  Only 83 boats out of the 303 fleet made it back to the Solent.

Our ‘butcher’s bill for the voyage apart from damage to the yacht was light by comparison.  A broken collarbone, a broken finger and a broken thumb.  I whacked my nose on the hatch combing.  When we had tied up safely, the Owner/Skipper moaned at me for dripping blood from my nose all over his charts.  Our hysterical laughter must have confirmed to the concerned onlookers that the whole crew were completely mad.  I confirmed this to myself when less than a year later I found myself skippering another yacht, clawing ourselves off Le Casquettes Rocks in a Force 9 gale thinking . . . .”What the #@&* am I doing here?”……..  The worst of it is thirty three years on, I still keep doing it.



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Oh Wa Ta Na SIAM! The ‘land of smiles’  

Travel writers are rather like politicians although they don’t lie quite as often!  However they both write to please their paymasters.  Every once in a while a politician, usually once he has retired or has lost his seat, will publish a book that professes to open Pandora’s Box and tell the truth.  Unfortunately the new revelations are usually more about selling the book.  Well I’m not selling a book but I did write myself a lot of notes while I travelled and now I have no paymaster and have relinquished some of the flowery language that were used to sell magazines.  I feel I gave my editors value for money but now my blogs are the unvarnished truth, honest Guv!

Being honest I don’t really like Thailand, the humidity has always got to me, it’s either pouring with rain or the air is full of hot damp air, and no I didn’t only go in the rainy season.  When I was at school Thailand was known as Siam, as in the King and I.  It was changed for internal nationalistic reasons.  Thailand means ‘The Land of the Free’ and reflects the fact that it is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonised.  It is a Kingdom and is bordered by Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar (Burma, but that’s another story).

I’ve been to Thailand on a number of occasions and each time that I manage to return home it has always been with a sense of relief that I got our alive.  Whenever I travel I always do a great deal of research and you have the take your Panama hat off to Thailand, there are so many different ways it can kill you.  There’s all the obvious Southeast Asia stuff like Malaria, Dengue Fever, Japanese Encephalitis and of course Bird Flu.  A lot of scaremongering goes on about bird flu coming to Britain but I reckon you are more likely to fall foul (fowl, get it?) of the dreadful H5N1 (bird flu), if you holiday in a country where chickens are kept in the lounge.

Where Thailand really punches above its weight is when it comes to man-made deaths.  What a glorious array of people there are to be murdered by! Sex-crazed fishermen, jealous fellow backpackers, homicidal drifters, the pissed-off landlords of hostels, trigger happy policemen and malevolent cell-mates in the prison you may find yourself in following your doomed attempt at drug smuggling, think the Bangkok Hilton.

Over the past 25 years the number of attacks, murders, rapes and robberies against tourists is running into many thousands.  It appears that the type of person, who is attracted to the dreamy paradise of palm-fringed beaches and cocktails, is exactly the type to drop their guard in the presence of devious and psychopathic locals. It is also clear, since the devastating attacks in 2015, that tourists in the warm streets of Bangkok are now the target of murderous attack from terrorists

There is no doubt that the reputation of Thailand as a welcoming country with a tourist boom since the 1960s has created hatred and contempt for foreigners and a murderous indifference among many locals, to the millions of tourists who flock to the country’s white sand beaches, picturesque countryside and thriving nightlife each year. If we add to this widespread police corruption, violence and crime which are all blighting this country, once known as the ‘Land of Smiles’.  The country’s much prized tourist industry which accounts for 10 percent of the GDP, is in decay following more than more than 12 moths of political unrest, for as well as the murder of two British backpackers in mid-September, there was a bloody military coup earlier this year.

Leaving aside the number of tourist murders, many which go unreported, Visitors to Thailand are not warned by travel agents, airlines or their own governments that their passports are highly prized in Thailand. Depending on the nationality, a passport can fetch thousands of dollars on the black market, several months’ pay for many Thais.  There are gangs stealing passports to order. European, American, Australian and Canadian passports are particularly prized.  There is an established practice across the country of bike, car, jet-ski and other rental services requiring passports as collateral. When punters return to claim their documents, they have disappeared.

The daily robbing, bashing, drugging, extortion and murder of foreign tourists on Thai soil, along with numerous scandals involving unsafe facilities and well established scams, has led to frequent predictions that Thailand’s multi-billion dollar tourist industry will self-destruct, if we add to all of this the fact that the much revered King of Thailand died at the beginning of this month.  Not only is the whole country in mourning there is also much speculation and unrest as to who is to replace him, I think I will find another country where I can ride a motorcycle without wearing a crash helmet.

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Memory almost full!

I’ve lost my car keys, I’ve searched everywhere.  It doesn’t matter I won’t need them until I remember where I’ve left my car.  That’s a joke rather like my chum telling me that he is modifying his stair lift to speed it up.  That way he can get upstairs so fast that he will be there before he forgets what he went up for.

Memory; It bothers all of us of a certain age, that’s when we remember to think about it.  I was starting to believe that I had cracked it, my iPhone was proving quite a lifesaver, and I can use it to leave myself notes and can either write or leave a voice reminder with and alarm to jog my failing brain.  I also have an App. Called “Find my Car” I can even take a photo if it will help me.  Great, but not a great deal of help, if I have left it in my car, and that’s another nasty habit that I have also developed.

I have tried other ways to improve my failing mind by developing new habits in addition to my nasty ones.  I have placed a large bowl near my favourite chair; this is proving useful for the “I’ve lost it” syndrome.  I routinely use it for my wallet, reading glasses, house and car keys, cell phone and cash change.  I keep the bowl in exactly the same place and am now in the habit of going there first.  Before that is accusing my good tempered wife of moving my lost item, the one that I know I placed in my bowl.  It should work; after all they can train mice and dogs so surely I can train myself.

I have now got so bad that family and friends are convinced that I suffer from OCD; in fact I’m beginning to worry about it myself.  I work out at the gym every day and have got into the habit of going at the same time each day; parking in the same spot if I am able to, even trying to use the same locker.  All of my kit is in its proper place in my gym bag.  All of this would be acceptable of someone of my great age, if it worked.

However in just the past two weeks I have left the token which I use in place of a £1 coin for my locker, on five separate occasions.  I’m far too embarrassed to ask if anyone has handed them in.  I have left my goggles and ear plugs after a swimming session.  Last week I got changed in the dressing room and did not realise that I was going upstairs to the gym in bare feet until I stubbed my toe and had to return to the locker room for my trainers.  On three occasions I have got upstairs without my drinks bottle and gone back downstairs for it.  I’m sure that climbing up and downstairs is great extra exercise. . . . . . . . .

This morning I was on a Cross Trainer before I realised that I had left my iPod in my locker. . . . . . .  I am just wondering how long it will be before I get into the Spa after my Gym Session sans swimming trunks and more to the point if I can convince anyone that it is just my memory that is at fault before I finish up on the sex offenders list.

Surely the Cops would believe me that my memory was the second thing that went once I became aged.  If that last statement missed its mark, then your memory is worse than mine.

 My chums are a sarcastic bunch and so after an early morning gym workout, over breakfast, one asked how I picked a subject to Blog about and I just told him that I just wrote what I was in my mind at that particular time.  A bit like a butterfly flitting between flowers.  Another of the ironic group immediately came back with “More like a blowfly going from dung-heap to cow pat”

As an old guy I often cover up my forgetfulness by saying that my memory is almost full.  However I do have a lot of memories stored in my filing cabinet of a brain.  One such is filed under ‘Sailor’s Dit’ from some 60 years ago.

To set the scene, two very green Royal Navy ‘Snotties’ (Midshipmen) learning to be officers and gentlemen were setting off to go sightseeing on a run ashore in Gibraltar.  In those days all Naval Servicemen had wear their Number One Uniforms ashore.  In fact civilian clothes were not allowed on board.

Gibraltar is a fairly small place and our huge Aircraft Carrier with a complement of 1500 officers and crew, overwhelmed it.  My shipmate Warwick and I walked through Dockyard gates and went into a small stone built urinal close to the gates and were standing at the long very smelly trough.  Before we could perform, in staggered a very drunk, three badge killick, that is a leading seaman with at least 12 years service.  On seeing us he stamped to attention and saluted, neither of us was in a position to return his salute so I muttered, ‘Carry on’.  He staggered forward and joined us at the trough.

As he began to urinate, he was swaying about and muttering in a broad Glaswegian accent.  He suddenly indicated a piece of electrical conduit piping that was sticking out of the wall just above his head.  It was probably where a lamp had been attached.  In his rough Gorbals intonation he challenged us to a pissing contest and began to urinate up the wall flicking it towards the pipe – BANG – the conduit was live.  The Scotsman was hurled backwards across the room to end up unconscious against the far wall.

I saw that Warwick had peed down his trouser leg and all over his shiny shoes.  I left him with the sailor who we found was still breathing, and ran to the Dockyard gate where there was a Police post.  When we got back I found that Hooky had come round and in spite of his charred bell-bottoms appeared to be feeling no pain.  An ambulance took the injured man to hospital.  Warwick and I were taken back to our ship by a Royal Naval Patrol, where we had to explain to the Officer of the Day as to why we were associating with a member of the Lower Deck, especially a drunken one.

The following day my friend and I successfully had a run ashore and went up the top of the Rock to see the Barbary Apes.  Unimpressed by the smelly things we returned back down into the town.  We decided that a cool glass of shandy would be acceptable and went into the first pub that we found.  It was teeming with our ship’s crew, Warwick suddenly said “I think we should leave” indicating a certain very inebriated Scottish Leading Hand who was carefully manoeuvring a very full pint of beer and negotiating through the crowd.

Warwick and I had quickly downed our drinks and we were nearly at the door when we saw our man bump hard into a Royal Marine, covering him with his beer, and to make matters worse said in a loud voice “Iaam sorry soldier”.  Now no-one calls a Royal Marine ‘soldier’ and expects to retain his teeth, I saw the look on the Marine’s face and saw him taking off his belt and wrapping it around his fist while three of his fellow marines were surrounding the unlucky sailor.

We left in a hurry as we saw the front window of the pub explode into the street.  We were nearly back at the Dockyard gates when we heard the bells of the R.N. patrol wagon and we strolled through the gates and smartly saluted the Naval Guard who presented arms as we marched away.

There’s a Little Green Urinal Just North of Waterloo and another a little further up, there’s a member of the army . . . . . . Attention on the upper deck, face aft and salute.

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Possibly our first “Jolly boy’s” outing!

1983 was the year of the “loadsamoney” generation.  Margaret Thatcher in the glow of the Falklands war triumph gave the Conservative party a landslide victory and wiped the floor with Michael Foot, turning the political map of the country blue.

Microsoft launched the world’s best word processing programme called Microsoft Word.  Cruise missiles appeared at Greenham Common along with large numbers of protesters.  Droughts in Ethiopia caused the death of 4 million people which gave Bob Geldorf a great money making idea.

I owned a garage and belonged to a group of local businessmen in Bedford who amongst other things sponsored the Bedford boys Amateur boxing club with some great events.  The group seemed fairly evenly divided with motor dealers and Estate Agents with the odd shopkeeper, accountant and a few solicitors. (If the devil should cast his net!……..) The sub-division of car dealers, motor traders and garage owners developed further into a dining, drinking and general entertainment group and we organised a night out when we took over a local night club for the evening with a caterer, bar and entertainment laid on.  It was that night out when the comedian came on and looked around the room and said “Bedford Motor Crooks” and our group was christened.

Bedford Boys Boxing Club was already quite famous not least because British and British Commonwealth Heavyweight Champion Joe Bugner began his career here as an amateur before turning professional in 1967.  The club had a long history of providing an evening of top quality amateur boxing, hosting clubs from all over the country.  Anyway Bedford Motor Crooks had a table for ten, to wine and dine and watch some great amateur boxing matches.  After the bouts came to an end and cigars were lit, the tradition was that a large number of items donated by local businesses were auctioned off.

The more wine that flowed the more generous the bidding became, with all of the profits going to the club.  I can remember when one local entrepreneur took off his Rolex watch in a drunken gesture to donate to the cause and the even more inebriated bidding fetched about a thousand pounds more than the new value of the watch.  That sets the scene!  At our table one of the motor traders told us that he had just bought a top of the range Winnebago motor-home or as the Americans call it a Recreational Vehicle, it could accommodate all ten of us and how did we feel about an outing.

After a lot of discussion we unanimously decided that it was a great idea and we would all pile in two weeks time, sharing expenses and go to watch the Le Mans 24 hour race.  The talk went something like this, “It’s only 450 miles that’s nearer than Glasgow.”  Quite a few of went to car actions in Glasgow on a regular basis.  “It’s only just the other side of Paris, a piece of cake.”  “Sort of ten hours driving plus time on the ferry.”  “Let’s take it easy and allow three days to get there, one day for the race and two or three days back, perfect!”

A few days before we were due to depart; I got my first view of our holiday home.  What an eye opener.  It was the biggest motorhome I had ever seen.  Think 40 feet long, near double-decker bus size with a ladder up to the roof, a huge air conditioning unit on the roof next to an enormous generator.  In the centre on one side of this juggernaut was an annexe that powered out once the vehicle was parked up and retreated flush with the side to go on the road.  There were as promised, separate bedrooms, some with bunks sufficient to sleep ten people comfortably.  Shower room and toilet, a built in television and VHS player, remember this was 1983.  All of the furnishings including a cocktail cabinet were unbelievably luxuriously finished and would have put some luxury liner’s cabins to shame.  In 2016 a similar vehicle would cost in excess of a cool million pounds.

Come departure day all of us were excited about our luxury holiday and we met up at our agreed meeting point.

First unplanned glitch – Strike one.

Think ten people arriving at an airport with their check in luggage plus carry-on bags – enough to fill a carousel.  Right not a problem, someone has to climb up the ladder and stack all the luggage on the roof rack next to the aircon unit and the generator; it’s the middle of an English summer so of course it’s raining.  This turned into what the Special Forces call a Chinese Parliament with the difference that a SAS patrol is usually four men and we had ten all offering their opinions.  One of the gang disappeared to his business premises for a large tarpaulin to cover our luggage and I went to buy some straps to tie everything down.  Two hours later the cases were snugly secured and we set off.  Naturally by this time it had stopped raining.

Strike two

This was a few years before the M25 opened and before we got as far as the ferry, one of the guys worked out that were only doing four mile to the gallon.  Thank goodness that petrol, yes it was a petrol engine not diesel, cost around £1.70 a gallon.

Strike three

Because of our size we had to load with the Lorries and couldn’t get on the next ferry so we were delayed for another one and a half hours but at least we were in pole position for the next ferry.  Time for a meal, getting back in good time to board; we had left the air conditioning running on our luxury abode and first in line for the Lorries to load.  The engine refused to turn over, the air conditioning had flattened the positively enormous bank of batteries; ten motor crooks were unable to bump start the beast, no-one in the queue behind had a tow-rope but with the help of a couple of lorry drivers we were able to push the monster out of the line.  Did you know that Motor Crooks swear worse than sailors?

Another ten man Chinese Parliament decided that we should camp for the night where we were; not much option really and using the on board generator overnight to charge the batteries.

Strike four

After an hour charging with everything switched of except a couple of small wall lights and the battery indicator showing good signs of life; the generator stopped.  Examination proved that it had run out of fuel.  Another Chinese Parliament decided that we didn’t have a tube to siphon fuel from the Brute and in any case the generator ran on two stroke mixture.  A volunteer was despatched to the nearest garage to buy a can of two stroke fuel; better but two cans in case we need the generator in France.  Our volunteer finally returned having had to get a taxi to travel miles to find an open garage with the necessary fuel and we in due course got the generator running and the batteries charging.

We managed about 4 hours sleep before we woke to check over the vehicle and make sure that everything was working perfectly and took up our position to load on to the ferry.  Thank goodness I didn’t have to drive the Juggernaut up the ramp and into position on the loading deck!

Strike Five

No ten man discussion this time but somebody decided that while we were at sea we should run the generator to really top up the batteries.  Breakfast! And then when we were halfway across the Channel the ship’s tannoy demanded we return to our vehicle.  Oh my word surely nothing else could go wrong!  When we got to our vehicle we found an irate crew member jumping up and down – pointing to our generator shouting Das ist verboten; I’m not sure if he was French or English but he sounded like a Nazi.  He was abusive enough to upset several of the barrack room lawyers among our number,  One of whom insisted on being taken to see the captain to complain of his rude and abusive behaviour.

Because we were such a bloody minded lot we left the generator running and had fully charged the batteries by the time we had docked.  We drove off and parked up to await our representative.  He returned having had his apology.  It turned out that the Captain, ever such a nice chap, was a fellow Freemason.

 Strike six, seven and eight

Nothing else could go wrong other than a puncture just before we got to Paris.  The Monster had ten wheels in total!  It only took ten Motor Crooks around two and a half hours to work out where the spare wheel was hidden, then to work out where the jack was.  How were we to know that it didn’t look like a jack, just a three foot long piece of metal with a ratchet along its length on one side.  Then when we finally changed the wheel and found that the tyre was soft, not flat just a bit soggy and we had to drive slowly to a service area – Aires de service, where we blew up the tyre and checked the others.

Then in view of our history took our two fuel cans to get them filled up with two stroke mixture for the generator while we topped up the ginormous fuel tanks.  Use your imagination. . . . . . . ten English motor dealer with various educations attempting to explain that we wanted two stroke fuel for the generator by pointing to the roof of the Winnebago.  No, we didn’t need the air conditioning topping up, thank you!  Eventually we just filled the two cans with 2 stars and unbelievably one of the guys went into the shop to get a coffee and . . . . Bingo! Found a can on two stroke oil.

We left the Paris Boulevard Peripherique, turned on to the Route A11 when the engine began to overheat.  After finding somewhere safe to park, ten garage owners/motor traders/car salesmen/dealers and a motor auctioneer, checked the cause of the overheating.  You will have heard of the adage about the number of people needed to change a light bulb, well I can tell you that it takes ten motor crooks to find a small leak in the top radiator hose.

“We could wrap some tape tightly around it as a temporary measure, if we had some tape” – We didn’t.  Eventually someone found some baling twine in the hedge and a plastic carrier bag and we strapped it up and refilled the radiator from our on board water tank and we trundled off as far as the next service area where we stopped in a cloud of steam.  We resumed our struggle with schoolboy French to the staff who again responded with their by now routine blank faces.

I then gained Superman status by solving the problem by asking two coppers who I saw were sitting in their car drinking coffee. – They didn’t leave their car but 30 minutes later a mechanic arrived in a breakdown truck, took away our defective top hose and within the hour returned with a replacement.  He fitted it, refilled our drinking water tank, and checked our tyres and we were on our way.  The bill from the mechanic was 500 francs – less than £50.

My pals were slapping me on the back and congratulating on the way I charmed the ‘old bill’ and then began hooting when I explained that I had sorted the problem out in the time honoured way, I bunged them a ‘pony’ that’s £25 or in fact 250 francs and it worked like a charm.  Two hours later we pulled into the Le Mans racetrack campsite just as it was getting dark.  The fairground was in full swing with a huge Ferris wheel and lights and loud music.  Our millionaire recreation vehicle with its centre extension pulled out really looked the business and was the centre of attention.

Strike Nine

Once settled, the party started.  Our cocktail bar had been well stocked before we left but we had also made a few stops on our way down.  Well we were in France and as well as a six case of Courvoisier cognac, we had added a case of Moet et Chandon Champagne and tree cases of Premier Cru wine.  The word went round the raceway and more than a dozen new friends including some fellow campers, a couple of race mechanics and obviously at the mention of free booze a couple of journalists appeared.

I hadn’t mentioned that our ten motor crooks, as well as being boxing aficionados, were all member of the local rowing club and all of us were ex rugby players and we knew how to party.  I sat quietly with a bottle of Premier Cru and a personal bottle of Courvoisier.  I’m not sure if it was me that began singing a few rugby songs, it could have been.  Some of our new German friends joined in with German lyrics to the same tune.  Then some of the French lads joined in their own language.  The night went on . . . . . and on . . . . . and on I don’t recall when the actual race started but we all missed it.  I think I feel asleep on the floor of the motor-home but I woke up lying on the grass in hot sunshine and could hear the race engines but dozed off again.  I woke up in the dark with the fairground in full swing with lots of lights and lots of noise.

I decided to go back to the Winnebago for coffee and would then go to watch the race.  Inside the motor-home there were quite few people slumped around.  I made myself a coffee and sat on a sofa alongside one of the journalists from last night who had also missed the start.  Although a long while ago I can still remember him starting giggling and saying “I know the tune and most of the words, I’ll just put them together in time for the deadline” he fell asleep again.  I’m not sure when or how but I woke up in my own bunk, in my sleeping bag – Result!  I think all or most of the guys were in their beds and someone was using the shower so I went outside and across to use the campsite showers which were excellent as you may expect of France.  It was there that I learned we had not only missed the start but also the finish and the closing ceremony.

I got back to the motor-home and found all were present, when I passed on the news that although we hadn’t planned to watch the free practice or the qualifying, we had come all this way and missed every part of the 24 hours race itself.  One of the guys said “Bugger I know why they call it and endurance race and we all collapsed giggling like a bunch of schoolgirls.  We decided that we weren’t in a fit start to leave until the following morning so our journey home would take two days.  That evening we would go over and have an evening at the fair.  When we got there it was closed and in the process of being dismantled.  We fell about laughing again.  We found a good restaurant and had an excellent meal, sans alcohol.

Strike Ten

We had a perfect drive home and for some reason our fuel consumption improved to over 7 MPG.  We drove unhindered straight on to the ferry and had a lovely drive home.  One of the Crooks owned our local car auctions and a couple of weeks later he had the Winnebago valeted and detailed and advertised it nationally with some sort of story behind it, not the true one I’d add.  The Millionaire RV made a handsome profit for both the owner and the Car Auction.  Between them they covered the whole kitty for our holiday including my bung to the ‘old bill’.

Who says my memory is getting bad?  Some things are unforgettable!  Do you know I’ve been to motor races all over the world but I’ve never seen the Le Mans 24 hour Endurance Race?

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They call tattooing art!

My regular readers will recall that I often dive into my memory bank and even dine out on the tale of my being naked in the gym changing room when a young man, equally naked, accosted me.  After reeling back and before adopting a krav maga defence position, because I don’t swing that way, I noticed that he was covered in Gothic style tattoos.  He pointed to my single tattoo that I sport on my right arm and said “Nice ink matey”. 

Once I realised that he had no designs on my body – do you get that? Designs – tattoos.  I became friendly and although he really was only asking me to admire his own tattoo portfolio and commenced to tell him that I had mine done many years ago in South Africa by a native Zulu who had been wearing an ostrich plume headdress and full tribal dress also that he had carried out the procedure using a sharp piece of bamboo which he rapped with a wooden mallet.  My new friend said “Cor! Were you in the Boer War?”  I turned and strode towards the showers, cheeky sod, calling me matey when he hardly knew me.  End of memory – Well not quite I can remember that it bloody well hurt and it was like being stabbed in slow motion, hundreds of times.

Having admitted to having a tattoo, which is of a Springbok posed in front of the old Union of South Africa flag with a scroll that used to say simply South Africa but is now a dark blue smear as time has taken its toll.  I still subscribe to the rather snooty position that unless the tattoo wearer is ex military especially Navy or Army where tattoos have been the custom since Nelson was a lad, tattooing is still very “Club Chav.  It’s still the preserve of Pole Dancers and people with England flags fluttering from their car aerials.  I was seventeen when I acquired my tattoo, I was a sailor and I had partaken of a few glasses of tikki hock.

Nowadays the law in the UK states that you can’t get a tattoo unless you are drunk that’s why 18 is the minimum age!  I must also admit another snooty prejudice from when I was an employer.  I interviewed a lad who was computer literate and eminently qualified for the job, he bemoaned the fact that he had been applying for jobs for months and couldn’t understand why he kept being turned down.  The fact that he couldn’t see the reason why was enough for me to also turn him down.  He had a spider’s web tattooed on his face and neck.  I didn’t enlighten him and wonder if he ever got a job that didn’t involve emptying rubbish bins or mobile toilets.

Tattoo art is invariably awful.  David Beckham looks more like an Iron Maiden album cover and as for Cheryl Cole/Fernandez-Versini/Tweedy apart from the cost of what she calls her rose tattoo, the pain must have been incredible.  All I can think when I see a picture of it is “Does my arse look big in this tattoo?”  Whatever you call it, it certainly isn’t art in the same manner of the great artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh, and Monet.  We know that they would apply their skill and dexterity to just about any surface; walls, ceiling, canvas, paper and often did but not the human body.  Mind you I wouldn’t put it past Tracy Emin but that still wouldn’t be art.

Look at the stereo-typical tattooist, eighteen stone of Hell’s Angel with most of B & Qs stockroom stuck through his ears and nose.  Proper artists spend ages considering their approach to a work, photographing it, looking at views through squared fingers and discussing it.  The Hell’s Angel will give a five minute consultation before producing a very painful, expensive doodle.  I suppose the advantage of having such graffiti on one’s back is the fact that you can’t see it and it is only seen by very good friends.  I have heard of a friend’s wife who had an intense love for her Ferrari that she had a prancing horse tattooed just above her G-string.  Now whenever she bends over people ask her why someone has drawn a donkey on her back.  As usual its rubbish and she is stuck with it for life, as am I with the Springbok on my arm but at least I can relate the tale of the Zulu warrior with his sharpened bamboo stick.

I zigga zumba zumba zumba, I zigga zumba zumba zai 
I zigga zumba zumba zumba, I zigga zumba zumba zai

Hold him down you Zulu warrior 
Hold him down you Zulu chief 
Hold him down you Zulu warrior 
Hold him down you Zulu chief, chief, chief, chief

That’s the South African Boy Scout’s version which made my spell checker go wild.  I also made a promise that I wouldn’t ever sing again’ and as I only know the tune for the Rugby song version which is far to rude for here, that’s all you are getting.





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