Suppose you opened your newspaper today and read a headline that proclaimed “DIY MOTs!” Just suppose that the article went on to explain that in future car owners would be required to carry out their own annual MOT and write their own certificate.  I am guessing you would be surprised, perhaps concerned because maybe you don’t know much about cars and then very alarmed to think that you could be sharing the roads with some very dodgy vehicles.

What if the article went on to explain that the now redundant MOT testers would be redeployed to undertake spot checks on vehicles and, if the owner had not done the MOT or had not done it properly, large fines would be imposed?  How would you feel to read that, if the defects were deemed serious, your vehicle would be taken off the road?  Oh, and incidentally, if you did have an accident and faults were found, you would be held criminally liable, could go to prison and your insurance company would almost certainly refuse your claim.

My guess is that you would be pretty incensed and, given that MOT testers are rigorously trained and regulated, you would demand to know how you could possibly be competent to undertake an MOT yourself.  Well, worry not, because the Government had anticipated that problem and thoughtfully issued a book explaining how to undertake an MOT, complete with a tick list, easy!

Couldn’t happen?  Oh really.  Well, until the enactment of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, your local friendly Fire and Rescue Service would inspect your premises, advise you on how to make your premises fire safe and compliant and then issue you with a certificate.  A bit like an MOT really.

The Order changed all that and now every business in the UK is required by law to carry out and record a Fire Risk Assessment; act on the findings of the assessment and train all staff in basic fire safety.  What is more The Health & Safety Executive and the Fire & Rescue Service may carry out a spot check on your company at any time, and if you haven’t carried out (and recorded) a Fire Risk Assessment you will be breaking the law and liable to prosecution. Further more, an increasing number of insurance claims are failing because of non-existent or non-complaint Fire Risk Assessments.

 My guess is that you when you were told of these changes back in 2006 you were pretty incensed and, given that Fire Safety Engineers are rigorously trained and regulated, you demanded to know how you could possibly be competent to undertake a Fire Risk Assessment yourself.  Well, you didn’t need to worry because the Government had anticipated that problem and thoughtfully issued a book explaining how to undertake a Fire Risk Assessment, complete with a tick list, easy!

If only it were that easy.  The two things that scare me are firstly, that enormous numbers of business owners are completely unaware of this responsibility and so could be operating out of premises that are death traps and secondly, any person who is deemed ‘competent’ (and there is no definition of competent) can undertake a Fire Risk Assessment on anything from a corner shop to a shopping centre; on a care home, a hotel, a factory, in fact any premises caught under the Act and that is just about every building that you and I walk into every day.  You thought the MOT thing couldn’t happen?  Well, in terms of fire it has but too many people are unaware of the situation.

Naturally there are professional, highly trained experts who work in this field and help to ensure that the buildings that you and I visit every day are compliant and as safe as they can be.

As a business, we were so concerned when we came to understand the issues, that we have associated with a company that undertakes comprehensive Fire Risk Assessments, offers pragmatic solutions to overcome defects and reports to business owners in a pretty unique way.

The full story is on the website .  Please check it out and please get in touch if you have any concerns about your premises, the premises that you occupy or premises that you visit.  Never has it been more important to say “Better safe that sorry”.

How to become Invisible

Back in the 1990s I discovered a way to become invisible, to speak and not be heard, to blend completely into the background and be totally ignored by people.  No magic cloak was required, no invisibility potion, it was much easier than that.

 After three years working in NatWest’s Skills Development Unit, running courses on subjects such as Presentation Skills, Train the Trainer, Training Skills Analysis etc. I was seconded to The Princes Youth Business Trust as Area Manager for South London.  My job was to promote enterprise to the young people of all the London Boroughs south of the Thames and inside the M25.  It was a great two years which really changed my outlook on life.

Our offices were above Evans fashion shop by Clapham Common tube station, reached through a short passage and rather uninspiring doorway.  We shared the space with a youth enterprise training company who ran business start up courses, so there was an excellent synergy there.  The courses meant that there was always a flow of young people in and out of the building.

Now, the front entrance was regularly used as a toilet at night time and the door itself had suffered several graffiti attacks which meant that the whole area was very unpleasant and not a good advertisement for the activities within.  So, when the manager of the training agency told me that they were all going away to a conference for two days, I resolved to do something about it.  Instead of the ‘smart casual’ wear that was my norm, I changed into an old pair of denims and trainers and an old sweatshirt.  With bucket, mop and scrubbing brush I took myself down the entrance and set to work.

As well as training, the agency helped people to develop their business plans and so students were encouraged to drop in to see the business advisers.  This day was no different and people were turning up and ringing the bell for the agency.  I would explain that they were all away at a conference and that there was no one to help them that day.  I was astonished to realise that at least 60% looked at me, looked at what I was doing, looked at what I was wearing and rang the bell again as if I did not exist.  Very humbling.

I have absolutely no doubt that if I had been dressed as I normally would, they would have listened to me, believed me and thanked me.  It taught me that the world is full of people as invisible as I was that day.  People we dismiss because of our preconceptions about them and what they do.

Ever since that day I have made a point of acknowledging and thanking those people who work to make our world work and I hope it makes their day a little brighter.

Pagan Ways and Pagan Days

Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity

The Barrow Stones
The Barrow Stones

There are probably not too many people in the world who pull back their curtains each morning and gaze into stone receptacles, even older than Stonehenge, that contained the bones of those who lived in the locality 5700 years before them. 

 Since the barrow stones lie next to the Church there is the fascinating contrast between the new monotheism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and the polytheism of the older faiths. I started to wonder about the old beliefs which set me on an interesting journey into the world of the Pagan for Paganism would have been their religion.

 A good start would be to define ‘Pagan’. The word comes from the Latin Paganus and was originally used by urban Romans to refer to country dwellers, people who preferred their local faith.  It was later applied to people who worshipped local deities, or people who practiced polytheism.

 There are many forms of Paganism, ranging from native shamanism to the sophistication of the Roman and Greek pantheons, but our local Pagans would have been profoundly influenced by the seasons of the year and the waxing and waning of the moon. Rather than going on bended knee to their all powerful deities, they worked with their Goddesses and their Gods to protect and treasure the land and the animals upon which they depended.  The earliest representations of deities are female with models of goddesses having been found which date from 35,000 BC and in the West it was not until some 1000 BCE that male gods started to become prevalent as societies became more structured and warlike and felt the need for warrior support rather than the nurturing of the Goddesses.

 Since there is no pagan ‘bible’ and no written record, much of what is known about their beliefs relies upon the oral traditions of the Norse/Germanic peoples who spread out across most of Europe.  The fascinating thing for me has been to realise that despite some 1600 years of Christianity, so many of the old traditions still exist and here a few of those that I have been able to gather to date.

 The days of the week:

 Sunday – named after: the sun

Monday – named after: the moon

Tuesday – name after Tiw (Tyr): God of battle and victory.

Wednesday – named after Woden/Wotan (Odin): Father and ruler of the Gods and mortals

Thursday – named after Thor: God of thunder and sky, and good crops.

Friday – named after Frigg (Friia): wife of Odin; great mother of the Gods.

Saturday – named after Saturn: god of fertility, agriculture, time.

 It is interesting that despite the days of the week having been Roman during the occupation, the old Goddesses and Gods Tiw, Woden, Thor and Frigg moved back in pretty fast when the Romans left!

 The Roman Gods did manage to hang to months of the year:

Named after the Roman god of beginnings and endings Janus (the month Januarius).

The name comes either from the old-Italian god Februus or else from februa, signifying the festivals of purification celebrated in Rome during this month.

This is the first month of the Roman year. It is named after the Roman god of war, Mars.

Called Aprilis, from aperire, “to open”. Possible because it is the month in which the buds begin to open.

The third month of the Roman calendar. The name probably comes from Maiesta, the Roman goddess of honor and reverence.

The fourth month was named in honor of Juno. However, the name might also come from iuniores (young men; juniors) as opposed to maiores (grown men; majors) for May, the two months being dedicated to young and old men.

It was the month in which Julius Caesar was born, and named Julius in his honor in 44 BCE, the year of his assassination. Also called Quintilis (fifth month).

Originally this month was called Sextilis (from sextus, “six”), but the name was later changed in honor of the first of the Roman emperors, Augustus (because several fortunate events of his life occurred during this month).

The name comes from septem, “seven”.

The name comes from octo, “eight”

The name comes from novem, “nine”.

The name comes from decem, “ten”.

It is equally remarkable how the celebration of the old festivals and the traditions associated with them have also survived.

Yule is an ancient festival celebrated at the winter solstice around 21st December.  This is the shortest day and many religions celebrate the rebirth of life at this point as the days start to lengthen again and the hard days of winter start to pass.  It is a time of birth and hope and many pagans celebrate the rebirth of their God at this time.  Fir trees (the home of the woodland spirits in the wintertime) were brought into the house and decorated to join the celebrations.  The fairy on the top of the tree is said to represent the Goddess, whilst the shiny balls that we use today reflect back to the witch balls that were hung in windows to protect the home.  Mistletoe has long been a sacred and mysterious plant.  The Celts in particular revered it as the golden circles of mistletoe in the trees represented the rebirth of the sun.  The original giver of gifts was the God Woden who would ride through the sky in his wooden chariot bringing gifts to children.  The yule-log was dragged in with much ceremony and had to burn for the length of the festival to help the strenghtening sun to grow. 

Easter is another very significant celebration, named after the Saxon Goddess Eostre.  There is a legend that she came across a wounded bird and healed it.  Every year thereafter in gratitude the bird presented her with a gloriously decorated egg.  Eggs have always been associated with birth and they also reflect the power of the new moon. Eostre’s earthly form was that of a rabbit from which we get the Easter Bunny.  Even hot cross buns are said the represent a sacred circle marked with the four ponts of the compass and their associated elements of earth, air, fire and water.  All the changing seasons would have been celebrated as would the phases of the moon which play a vital part in Pagan ceremonies.  Full and new moons hold great significance and the date of Easter Sunday, the most important Christian festival, is still calculated as being the first Sunday after the first Full Moon on or after the Spring Equinox.

I have also discovered that so many words that we take for granted have their roots deep in ancient times.  Just one example comes from Sweden, where Halogaland County was named after Hel (Mother Earth), whom the Scandinavians worshiped as the one all-powerful source of life’s abundance and there is evidence from sculptures that she has been known to humanity for at least 25,000 years. They didn’t see any separation between this Goddess and themselves and because of this they all took names containing hers as a root-word (Helga, Olga, Ole), for self-identity was not of the greatest importance. There was no complicated mythology to believe in, unlike under later Viking-rule. Spiritual practice was simply the art of serving and living in harmony with the whole of the Goddess’ creation. A sacred place of communion with Hel was often near water, that embraces and flows through all, formless free and alive.  It seems likely that the present site of Holy Trinity was a sacred place by the river where those who were here before us came to meet their deities.

When the Vikings invaded Scandinavia they imposed their own deities and in particular created Valhalla, the home after death of warriors.  Hel, was then forced underground, to be considered a lesser goddess who took in women and men, who were not brave in battle, after their deaths and tended and cared for them until they were ready for reincarnation.  Helvete (Hell) later became the name of the Christian inferno of endless pain when the bible was translated into the Germanic Languages.

So far reaching was Hel that her name is reflected in Holland, Helvetica (Switzerland), Helas (Greece) and even England and Scotland – Albion and Alba respectively meaning both “offspring (bearn) of Hel”.  She is also the root of the now-English words, heal, holy, help, hail, hold, whole, all, elf, etc.

How remarkable that so much of the what we hear and see and do have their roots so very, very deep in the past.

Memoirs of an Investment Banker or how to be in two places at once

Way, way back in the mid 1970’s I worked at the National Westminster Bank in Chipping Sodbury as ‘Safe Custody and Foreign Clerk’.  Basically that meant that if you wanted to lodge your valuables in the bank safe, buy or sell shares, invest or withdraw from your Building Society or buy or sell foreign currency, I was your man.  Of course times were tough then.  We were suffering the secondary banking crisis, there was recession, inflation was rife, interest rates were high and there was shortage of mortgage funds.  Hmm… sounds a bit familiar.

 Anyway customers would call at my little window to seek my advice and my method of suggesting their investment strategy was pretty sophisticated.  At that time, all the Building Societies had representatives who visited the banks to tell people like myself about their interest rates etc.  They were all pretty desperate for funds to lend and so were keen to get me onside.  As a result, their visit was often followed by an offer of lunch, the quality of which they hoped would swing my opinion in their favour!  I remember that, back then, if you wanted a mortgage, you very often had to save the equivalent of your monthly repayment for a year to prove that you could afford them.

 Foreign currency for holidays was also very restricted and you were only allowed to take £50 abroad each year.  I had to record the amount taken in customer’s passports and then note any that they brought back.

 Chipping Sodbury was not a large office, although at that time there were some 22 of us working there and the camaraderie was splendid.  There were some real characters; my pal Tony who never started work until he had read his Racing Post and laid his bets for the day.   Chris, the Manager’s Assistant (who was also a Baptist minister) who smoked some evil herbal concoction is his pipe and Les, the Administration Manager who restored antique clocks (the safe was full of them) and who played the electric organ in the The Oak public house on Saturday nights for charity. 

 There always seemed to be something slightly wacky going on but one day in particular sticks in my memory. It was about 11.30am on a glorious summer’s day.  We had summers then.  All was quiet in the bank, flies buzzed lazily in the window and the aforementioned Les emerged from the Manager’s office.  “Right” he said, “It is Mrs Peterson’s funeral at 12.00 and the Manager wants the bank to be represented.  He’s told me to go but I am going to the pub so he’s said that you can go instead.  Just make sure that reporter from the paper gets your name as a mourner.”

 Now at that time (even as a bank clerk) I was a dedicated follower of fashion and no one had wider lapels, flarier flares or livelier floral kipper ties than young Tim.  “Oh no Les!” said I, “I can’t go to a funeral dressed like this!”  However, none of my entreaties would dissuade him and so, with a heavy heart and my jacket buttoned, I trudged down to the C of E as instructed.  It all seemed suspiciously quiet and when 12.00 had come and gone with no sign of a funeral, being an alert young man, it occurred to me that all was not well and I decided it best to trot along to The Oak to find Les and report my apparent failure.  The news was not received well with Les expressing the opinion, in fairly florid language, that the manager would be less than pleased with us.  I seem to remember ‘guts’ and ‘garters’ being mentioned.  “What’s the matter Les?” enquired a chap at the bar and the story was told.  “Ah, that’s where you’ve gone wrong,” said he, “the funeral was at the Congregational, you’ve missed it.  But, as luck would have it, I was the reporter on duty, so all we have to do is to add Tim to the list of mourners and keep him out of the manager’s way for a couple of hours.”  So that was the plan.  Beer was poured into me until 2.00pm (it may have been later) and I was smuggled out of the back of the pub so that I could approach the bank (rather unsteadily) from the correct direction.

 My name duly appeared in the newspaper and when the manager asked me later if all had gone well, I was able to answer, with complete honesty, that it was the finest funeral I had ever attended!  That is how to be in two places at once.

Which is Right? Left or Right?

Call me a sad git if you will, and I am sure you will, but something that has long bothered me is the mystery as to why we in the United Kingdom (and other noble domains across the globe) drive on the left hand side of the road, and so sit on the right hand side of our vehicles, whilst a fair chunk of the planet have decided to reverse the situation; drive on the right, sit on the left.  The question is then, is right right or left right?

Sheer weight of numbers has persuaded the right brigade that they must be right and that we on the left are a quaint anomaly. Not so.

Consider, if you will, the horse.  Its design has changed little in millions of years and ever since some brave homo sapien (presumably) decide to hop aboard one, the method of mounting has also been unchanged.  Approach left side of horse, grasp mane, leap upwards swinging right leg across horse’s back, sit on horse and proceed in forwards direction.  To dismount reverse process.  Simples.

If anyone knows of a people who mount a horse from the right hand side I’d love them to tell me.

 Anyhow, the point is this.  Imagine yourself (rider or not) standing on the pavement outside your house and next to you, neatly parked, is a horse with its left side conveniently available for mounting.  Spring lightly aboard as instructed above and tell me, which side of the road are you on?  The left, the left, not the right.  Now imagine you are going to move off and join the flow of traffic.  Would you rather stay on the left and go with the flow, or battle across a lane of on coming traffic and go to the right hand side of the road?  No contest is it?  You’d stay on the left.

 The next thing.  If you are old enough to remember cowboy programmes on the television, e.g. Roy Rogers, Lone Ranger, Bonanza etc. picture in your mind the guys riding into town on their chuck wagons.  Which side did the driver sit?  On the right, the right.  Which side was the brake?  On the right. Stage coaches were the same.  The driver always sat on the right. I am right aren’t I? So why, in the name of heaven, did they start to build cars with the driver on the left?  Bizarre, truly bizarre.

Chuck Wagon

Chuck Wagon

 So there we are.  The logical, natural and correct side of the road upon which to drive is and always has been the left.  No argument, the left and, just in case you do not believe me, herewith is a picture of a wild west wagon, all set for the driver to sit on the right.

 As we used to state at the end of algebra equations QED.  No I don’t know why either.

What is a Young Entrepreneur?

Newtricks Training runs a monthly networking breakfast club in Chipping Norton rather creatively called the 729 Club and our speaker this morning was 20 year old Tom Woolley of Pizza Pizaz the new Pizza takeaway and delivery service in Chipping Norton.

Tom was a successful golfer until a back injury put paid to his career as a golf pro and, as part of his presentation, he posed the question to himself “What is an Entrepreneur”.  Well, given that he has now launched three businesses I would suggest that entrepreneur describes Tom exactly.  As it happens, through New Tricks, Ken & I have had the opportunity to observe quite a few entrepreneurial young people and these for me are some of the traits that they have in common.

Entrepreneurs have lots of ideas

 They seem to be able to spot opportunities and better ways of doing things that ordinary mortals fail to notice.  In fact, they tend to have so many ideas that they literally have to keep lists.  We ran some Presentation Skills training for 14 -18 years olds who were taking part in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ type of challenge called The Pitch a few years ago.  One of our protégés was offered significant financial support by the investors and Peter Jones who was ‘Head Dragon’ asked if he had had any other ideas.  When he replied that kept a book of them, Peter Jones told him that he did exactly the same.  Tom Woolley is also brimming with ideas and is starting with those requiring the lowest set up costs to build the capital to fund his future empire.

 Entrepreneurs are creative but also plan carefully

The young people on The Pitch had taken a week out of their school summer holidays to go to Business Boot Camp to learn about business and to start putting their business plans together.  They then spent their Saturdays researching and refining.  At the beginning of last year, Peter Jones was instrumental in founding the National Enterprise Academy (NEA) based at a college in Amersham.  Hundreds applied but just 28 16-19 year olds were selected to attend the 6 month residential course in Entrepreneurship.  Not Business Studies but Entrepreneurship, the first ever course of its type in the UK.  Many gave up GCSE and A level courses to be there.  All were passionate about their business plans and we were privileged to run sessions for them on Presentation Skills and Business Risk Analysis.

 Entrepreneurs take risks, but measured risks

 Entrepreneurs are excited by the numbers behind their projects and undertake shrewd risk analysis to gauge the level of risk to which they are exposed.   If you watch Dragon’s Den you will be in no doubt about their financial capabilities.  My session on Risk Analysis at the NEA was a revelation and I was hugely impressed at how numerically skilled were this very diverse group of young people.  They absolutely understood the significance of the figures behind their businesses and need to produce and monitor cashflow forecasts, budget forecasts etc.

 Entrepreneurs are doggedly determined

 Once they have done their planning and convinced themselves of the viability of a project, then they will go all out to bring it to reality.  The evidence for this is found in the commitment shown by those on The Pitch and NEA Courses and the barriers that Tom Woolley had to overcome to persuade a bank to invest in him.  If you won’t take ‘no’ for an answer eventually someone will say ‘yes’.

 Entrepreneurs will always accept help and support

 Tom was more than happy to acknowledge all the support he had received in getting his business of the ground.  The young entrepreneurs that we have worked with have been simultaneously stimulating and exhausting in their enthusiasm to extract every last piece of advice and information.  They were totally willing to learn.

What else.  Well, without exception, the young people with whom we have worked have been polite, courteous and genuinely grateful for the support they have received.  Working with young people like them really does offer hope for the future.

Want to Tweak your Twitter?

Getting an interesting and professional looking background to your Twitter home page can be tricky, until now.  This is a quick and easy and free way to set up a page that looks just the way you want it.

 Basically you need to create collage of pictures or scanned text (or whatever) that will form a border around the edge of your Twitter page and at a file size acceptable to Twitter.

 There are probably lots of ways to do this but using Picasa the free picture handling download from Google at works really well. 

 When you have downloaded Picasa (it takes about 40 seconds) you will need to populate it with the pictures you want on your Twitter page by using the Import function.  I have been using Picasa for years but I have an idea that when you first load it will search your drives for pictures and organise them for you.  Once you have your pictures, select the ones you want to use by holding Shift and clicking on them with your mouse in the usual way and thumbnails will appear in the bottom left of the screen. Clicking on the little green thumbtack ‘holds’ them.  You will probably get three pictures up each side of your Twitter page.  Now click the Collage button third from the right also at the bottom of the screen.

Picasa Screen

Picasa Screen

 This will throw the pictures you have selected onto one screen.  Arrange them around the edge of the screen as you want to see them on your Twitter page by left clicking on the pictures.  When you release the mouse button a wheel will appear on the picture with a white button to the right.  Click on the button and your cursor will turn into a hand.  Moving the cursor left and right makes the picture bigger and smaller, up and down spins the picture.

Collage Screen

Collage Screen

 When you are happy with the collage, click the Create Collage button and wait while it completes.

 When it is complete, click the Export button at the bottom of the screen and save to Desktop (or wherever you prefer and can find it) having set the Resize to 1300 pixels (type it in) and Image Quality to minimum.  The resizing is not an exact science because screen sizes differ so you may have to experiment a bit when you have seen it on Twitter.

Export Screen

Export Screen

 With that done it is simply a matter of opening your Twitter account and clicking the Settings option at the top of the page.

 Then click Design and, below the suggested patterns, click Change Background Image. 

Click Browse and select your collage file from wherever you have saved it.  Make sure ‘Tile Background’ is unchecked and click Save Changes.

 Your new background will then appear.  If things don’t quite fit, you can always go back into Picasa and edit the collage, resave it and upload it to Twitter again.  Have fun!

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A School Trip

Cast your mind back to your school days, what stands out for you? If you are like me,  I’ll bet that long days sitting at a desk have blurred into one but the days out, the school trips, are vivid decades later (depending when you left school of course!).

I guess you might also look back and be horrified at some of the things you got up to and the danger in to which you put yourself and yet at the time, with all the confidence of youth, you could not understand why older heads might have been concerned about you.

 When I was at school in Bristol I took Geography A level and a recommended part of the course was to go on field trips during the Easter holidays.  In my first year I hopped on my Triumph motorbike and went down to Swanage for a week which was all jolly interesting; Lulworth Cove and the like.  I drank brown ale, made lots of friends and came home.

When the time came to plan the second year trip, I was the proud possessor of a motorcar and it was decided there would be a trip for four.

 When I say I had a car, it was actually a 1952 Morris Minor convertible which I had bought for £2 17s 6d at the beginning of the previous school summer holidays.  When acquired, the car was painted in a camouflage pattern of mat olive/green, the bumpers had been sawn off and it still had its original sidevalve engine, the brakes didn’t work and the hood was held together with duct tape.  By the end of the school  holiday and many trips to local car breakers later, it had the gearbox out of a Minor 1000, the engine out of  (I think) an Austin A40, a newish braking system, it was brush painted bright blue and, miraculously had an MOT.  Total rebuild cost £25.  The ratios were all wrong between the gearbox and the back axle so whilst the acceleration was dramatic, it was pretty much flat out at 50 mph. By the following Easter it was not quite so smart because I had crashed it into a few things but it was running fine and so it was decided that we would take it to a field course at Ballycastle on the north coast of Northern Ireland, a round trip of 1000 miles almost all pre-motorway.  Complete madness.

Intrepid Travellers

Intrepid Travellers

 The plan was to start early from Bristol and drive up to Croketford, just the other side of Dumfries, just 320 miles away.  We would camp overnight in a pub campsite, complete the journey to Stranraer the next morning, catch the ferry to Larne and then up to Ballycastle.  Simple.

 So I collected up Russ, Steve and Leoni and off we went.  I learned later that their parents were appalled at the vehicle they loaded into!  Four large people, luggage for a week, camping equipment, all in a 18 year old Morris Minor.  Actually the trip to Croketford was long but uneventful.  We arrived in the late afternoon, just as it was starting to snow, and pitched camp.  Then it was a walk to stretch our legs, campfire supper, a pint and to bed.  Unfortunately whilst we were walking (now in the darkness) I stopped to light a fag, ran to catch up with the others and smashed my face straight into a signpost which split open my forehead and spread my nose across my cheek.  It was actually now so cold that I felt little pain and it was too dark for them to see the damage.  I do remember the horrified expressions on a pubfull of faces as light fell upon my shattered and blood splattered features!  So, no supper and off to Dumfries Casualty to be cleaned up etc.  I can still remember the embarrassment of having to lower my trousers for a tetanus injection in front of a young nurse.  Well, I was wearing a pair of ex-army longjohns which had been tie dyed bright orange!  Don’t ask.

 Back the campsite about midnight and with the snow falling steadily we packed up the tent and tried to sleep in the car (a convertible you will recall).  By 1.00am we were still wide awake and freezing and decided to set off for Stranraer.  So off we went through the snow and the darkness.  Of course, once the heater came on, my passengers fell asleep leaving me to negotiate a very treacherous A712 all by myself.  I do remember seeing a sign saying “Gated Road Area Ends”, worrying because I didn’t know it had started!

 Somehow I got to Stranraer, we caught the ferry, we were greeted at Larne by the sight of armoured cars (the troubles were really starting to kick off) and found our way up to Ballycastle and the course hotel to be greeted by the organisers.  Now I should mention that the courses were run by the Inter-Schools Christian Union and it was 1970.  Imagine their delight when this bizarre vehicle clattered into view and out poured four young people (three guys and a gal) all in biker gear, all pretty grubby after 40 hours in a car and one looking as though he had been on the mother of all fist fights!  It would be fair to say that the first impressions were not good!

 The week was splendid, we collected to large chunk of Giant’s Causeway to further overload the car, learned quite bit, drank Guiness, made some friends and set off home.

 The return trip was reasonably uneventful.  The windscreen wipers packed up in Scotland and so we all took off our bootlaces and tied them together, ran them out of the driver’s window, tied them to the driver’s wiper and back through the passenger side.  The front passenger then used the laces to operate the wiper.  Simple.  On our way through the Lake District the exhaust pipe dropped off as we were struggling up a very steep hill.  The further loss of power meant the passengers had to get out and walk and apparently the spectacle of the small blue car bellowing up the hill, with flames blasting from the remaining exhaust stayed with them for some time.  Anyhow, we rolled down the other side, fixed the exhaust, camped the night and arrived home without further excitement.

The week was actually a great experience but on reflection it was very dangerous and I have to ask myself whether today I would consider taking four people 1000 miles in a small car cobbled together from bits from a junkyard and all of that in very wintry weather.  Yes, come to think about it, I probably would!  In fact………….

Wee Willie’s Woes

I have always been a fan of Stanley Holloway and his famous poems.  A few years ago I was moved to try to write something in his style.  The poem below is based on an actual event that happened to a colleague on the train from Versailles to Paris.  Trying to explain himself in French was far from fun.  Having written it I sent it over to Ronnie Barker for his verdict (he was at that time, helping my business partner and I, tweak our two man West End show) and he was kind enough to make some improvements so this is a joint Barker/Lyon effort!


Wee Willy’s Woes


Now Mr & Mrs Fezackerly

Keen for some sea and some fun,

Embarked on a trip to t’seaside

Taking wee Willy their son.


They thought about going by chara’

But had promised young Willy a treat

So dad said “We’ll go on the railway”

Little Willy said “E this is greet.”


The train it were diesel electric

The kind with the doors that do slide

And very soon Dad, Ma and Willy

Were all safely seated inside.


If ever you’ve travelled with children

You’ll know how important it be

To ensure that before the departure

They have all been along for a pee.


They weren’t too long out of t’station

When young Willy said “Hey-up, Dad”

“On the train where the heck is the lavvy?”

Dad said “ There isn’t one lad”


At this Willy showed consternation

For as certain as certain could be

The message from little lads bladder

Said he urgently needed a wee.


“Whats to do then Dad?” asked little Willy,

“I’m feeling quite faint from t’pain.

If I don’t get relief in a minute

I’ll widdle all over t’train”


Now Ma had been sitting and thinking

She said “It might be against law,

But when train next stops at a station

You’d best piddle out of the door”


They decided t’were best plan to follow

And soon into station train sails

Wee Willy whips out his wee willy

And rapidly moistens the rails.


The relief it were really exquisite

And Willy ran back to sit down,

Leaving Dad stood in door way, confronting

Stationmaster’s big ominous frown.


His station had won many prizes

For being so tidy and neat.

He thought that poor Pa were dispenser

Of bright yellow pool at his feet.


“What’s meaning of peeing on’t platform?”

“That’s disgusting I call that” said he

“We’ve Gentlemen’s toilets provided

For those that are needing a wee”.


“T’weren’t me” cried poor Pa in fluster

“It were my little Willy t’blame”

He said “I don’t give a dam what yur call it”

The outputs the blooming same!

Centenary of Income Tax

The following is an extract from the Bristol Times and Mirror, Tuesday, November 16, 1897.  I happen to have it because the page also describes how one of my forebears was fined 10 shillings for assaulting a police officer whilst drunk and disorderly in Hotwells Road, Bristol!

 What a shame we missed the opportunity to celebrate this great event in 1997!

 These days we celebrate all sorts of anniversaries, jubilees, and centenaries, but up to date we have not observed signs of any movement to celebrate in a fitting manner the centenary of the income-tax, which is due next year.  There was something of the nature of an income-tax imposed early in the sixteenth century, to enable us to carry on war with France; but the thing was not firmly established on anything like the present basis until 1798, when Mr Pitt carried a scheme “as an aid for the prosecution of war” – the war being, of course, against France.  It was a war tax pure and simple, and it has never been popular except in time of war.  There have been protests and even riots against the imposition, and Governments have tried all sorts of expedients in the hope of gilding the pill because of their natural reluctance to sacrifice so useful and income.  Reference was made to the subject by Mr Lewis Fry at the Dolphin banquet, and he humorously predicted even greater popularity for the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he should find himself able to take off a penny.  Alluding to what the Chancellor said in reply, the Birmingham Post feels “bound to remind him that eightpenny income-tax rankles in the breast of a good many who earn anything but a modest competence, and who feel that the imposition is one which ought not to be recognised as a matter of course during a Unionist Administration.”  It is not likely that the general public will take any steps for marking the centenary of the income-tax with rejoicings and festivities.  But there is fine scope for the Government.  They might celebrate the occasion by reducing the tax to sixpence.

 For those too young to remember eightpence equates to about 3 ½  ‘new pence’, in other words 3 ½ % income tax.  Whatever would they have made of 50% or 10 shillings in the pound!  Perhaps we need to seriously consider ‘protests and even riots against the impostion’!