About Cee Tee Jackson

An author and his nonsense. (Rebooting and restarting in 2021.)

Diddly Squat – A Year on the Farm by Jeremy Clarkson

Diddly Squat – Jeremy Clarkson

(Four and a half out of five stars)

If you’ve had a look at the other reviews on this blog, you’ll by now know that I am a big fan of Jeremy Clarkson’s writings. Having recently just finished ‘Can You Make this Thing Go Faster?’ I decided to go straight to this, his latest book, written about the first year of actually ‘working’ his farm. I did so because at two hundred and seven pages, and with larger writing, only around two hundred and fifty words to page, it was likely to be a quick read.

It was. Even quicker than I anticipated because the gap between chapters often amounts to between three and five pages, albeit there are minimalist sketches on the otherwise blank pages. (This accounts for the deduction of half a star in my rating.)

(This is being petty, I know. But it didn’t happen in any other of his books that were awarded five stars, so had to be reflected some way.)

That aside, ‘Diddly Squat‘ is vintage Clarkson, though I feel he has somewhat mellowed in his time away from high performance cars and racing across continents in old banged-up jallopies.

The wit is still acerbic but perhaps tempered by an appreciation for how much graft farmers put into twenty-four hours, together with his appreciation for the countryside in which he lives and works.

Jeremy is often much maligned by those who don’t quite ‘get’ him, but hopefully those who do so will, upon reading this book, have their eyes opened by what he is doing to help re-establish the equilibrium in the environment.

So yeah, in a nutshell, ‘Diddly Squat‘ is funny, sarcastic, wicked, self-deprecating while also highlighting the serious issues faced by the UK farming community in this day and age.

Once again – another great read.

I Was A Sucker For ’60s & ’70s Fashion Footwear.

My excuse is we were all rather impressionable in our younger years, and for my part, I was a complete sucker for ’60s and ’70s fashion footwear.

I’d have been aged eight or nine when these babies made their appearance in the mid-Sixties. I doubt I’d even reached the dizzy responsibilities of Seconder in the Cub Scouts when I first noticed some of the other boys proudly sporting them during Inspection. Actually, I wouldn’t have noticed them at all if it wasn’t for the continuous bragging of those little smart a****!

(Wayfinders – the hidden compass was the USP of the time.)

You see, the uppers bore no real difference to any other run of the mill shoe.  It was what lay beneath that made these shoes ‘to die for.’ (Sorry – that sounds just a tad too ‘cub scout camp.’)

Yes, the magic all happened below. Out of sight. On, and wait for it, IN the sole of the shoe. How radical was that?

True, some of the magic was dependent on certain geographical and meteorological conditions being met. It may have proved different for kids living in the more arid regions of southern England, but here in West of Scotland, we didn’t generally have to worry about a dearth of puddles, claggy mud and even snow.

However, the main attraction of these shoes was the small compass, secreted in a special compartment of the right foot’s heel. Genius!

Actually, the real genius here was not so much the design or designer, but the dude who by tapping into the sheer gullibility of eight year old lads, successfully marketed these inherently pointless yet novelty shoes to reluctant parents.

Wait, thinking of it, with thirty-two points on a compass, Wayfinders were anything but ‘pointless,’ but you get my drift.

I mean, seriously, what use was a compass to an eight year old? Unless your mother, in addition to your name, had sewn in the DMS (degrees, minutes and seconds) coordinates of your home address into the collar of your jumper, you’d be stuffed if you became lost.

What could you do? Even had you been awarded the Navigator Activity badge, without your home coordinates, you had only a one in thirty-two chance of stumbling back into your street. And the danger for those who hadn’t paid proper attention during the Pioneering Badge session, was they’d only retain two words: magnetic and north.

I count myself here as one of the stupid ones who would have ended up in Inverness or somewhere cold and bleak that was not really my intention.

But worse! What self-respecting young lad does not carry a bar magnet in their pocket? And that’s not a euphemism. You’d end up in Portsmouth, in a very confused state for goodness sake.

Another thing – what’s the point of animal tracks moulded onto the sole of your shoe? Should Bear Grylls come across an unfamiliar track when out in the wilds, I’m reasonably confident in suggesting he’d use a pocket manual or something to help him identify it – not take off his shoe to compare the muddy imprint.

I did, and still do, enjoy the thought however, of a trail of these prints being left in a snow covered country lane – and the befuddled look on a hungry fox’s little face when he finally realises he hasn’t actually won the lottery and chanced upon a whole winter larder’s supply of food.

Anyway, the concept of individuality was alien to me at such a young age, and like a sheep, I followed the trend. I did actually manage to badger my folks into buying me a pair of these stoaters, even though they were quite dear at the time.

(Sorry – my hands made me type that last paragraph.)

(Proper, leather ankle boots.)

Over the next few years, my head was too full of football and nonsense to bother about fashion of any sorts. In 1971, though through my first winter at secondary school, leather, zipped ankle boots became de rigeur.

Surprisingly, considering the expense, my parents offered negligible resistance to my request for a pair. I was now part of the cool set at school. Deep puddles and wet snow – I laugh in your face.

If puddles and wet snow did indeed have a face, and they could laugh out loud, they would have been in stitches a few days later when they had exacted retribution for my callous disregard of their existence.

(Two bar electric fire)

Somehow soaked through to my socks when I arrived home from school, my Mum placed the boots in front of the two-bar electric fire. Within minutes there was an acrid, burning smell. And it wasn’t the usual overcooked burning cauliflower scent I had become so used to. (Sorry, Mum.)

I rushed to the rescue of my beloved leather boots and was aghast to see a lava-like rivulet spread down the front of the left one.

Yup! These ‘leather’ boots were made of plastic. These Boots Were Made For Melting.

With a renewed respect for puddles and wet snow, I returned to school the following morning, ready to be slaughtered for unfashionable, fashionable boots. I wasn’t disappointed. Kids can be so cruel, you know.

(Ox blood coloured platform shoes.)

My final foray into the world of fashion came a year or so later. Inspired by Glam Rock in general, the band, Sweet, in particular, and a distinct lack of personal height, platform shoes were my next ‘got to have.’ Purple ones. Or ox blood, I think was the delightful, correct description. Two toned ox blood ones, in fact.

Now I totally loved these. I looked well sharp and felt five feet tall.

But what is it with shoes, winter and me? Having worn these through the months of autumn, it had escaped my attention that the soles and more so, the heels had worn thin as the first snows began to fall. In fact, the heel rubber was non-existent. Well, what would I know … I hadn’t looked at the soles of my shoes since my last pair of Wayfinders.

Sat in double History, I was conscious of some surreptitious whispers and giggling from those sat behind me. To my horror, I noticed a puddle of water under my seat, just where I’d crossed my ankles for comfort.

The more I frantically pleaded that this was not the result of excitement at the prospect of reading about the French Revolution for the next hour, the more the mirth intensified. Even the teacher cast me some alarmed glances.

It was only at the end of class when I slipped and staggered out the room, leaving behind what remained of two, three inch, heel shaped blocks of compacted ice and snow, that my innocence was proved, and incontinence debunked.

Looking back then, perhaps I should have learned how to make better use the Wayfiinders compass. At least I would have determined at an early stage that my attempt at becoming a style icon would head in one direction only – and that was south.

_____________________________

Caravan Holiday Hell in The ’70s

(Caravan hell – 1970s)

I’d have been new to the ranks of teenager in 1971 when my parents came up with the whizz-bang idea of buying a caravan.

“… we’ll now be able to take weekend breaks throughout the year, whenever we fancy. Won’t this be splendid?”

‘Splendid?!’ Are you mental? Weekends? What happens to my athletics / cross country races? What about my football? My school parties? Saturday morning cartoons on the telly? What possesses people to forsake their nice spacious homes to go live in a claustrophobic, formica lined box on wheels?

(1970s caravan)

I was already counting the days till I could be legally left at home to fend for myself. I’d even willingly do household / garden chores while the family were away. Maybe we could broker some kind of deal? Creosote the fence or something?

Resistance was futile though, at least for a couple of years.

“Do you fancy going for a golfing trip to Pittenweem this weekend?”

If I’m going to stay in a five, or even four / three star hotel, then maybe.

“It’ll be fun,” they lied.

And so it was … frequent weekends were spent collecting the caravan from the storage facility in the neighbouring town; bringing it to the house; uncoupling it overnight and loading it with clothes and provisions for the weekend; reconnecting the car and driving to Fife, usually arriving just in time for lunch.

Reverse that procedure on the Sunday afternoon, ensuring we arrived back before the storage facility closed, and we had just enough time to squeeze in a round of golf and fish supper on the Saturday, and a walk along the windswept and bitingly cold beach on the Sunday morning.

Oh yeah – this was fun, alright!

Then, horror of horrors! Emboldened by admittance into the Caravan Club of Great Britain, my excited parents announced we’d now be taking an additional summer holiday. An additional week. In Dornoch.  In the caravan!

(Dornoch caravan park.)

Heavens above! Dornoch, even in 2021, is a good four and a half hours drive away. Fifty years ago, and towing a bleedin’ caravan …. a letter with a second class stamp would get there quicker.

“It’s a lovely caravan site – right by the golf course. And there’s a toilet and shower block too.”

And that’s the best selling point you can come up with?

I suppose having a site toilet block is better than the family sharing the chemical filled potty that stank out the wee cubby-hole that passed as a toilet in most caravans. Oh, perish the thought! (We actually used that space for storing the golf clubs.) But really, is it such a privileged luxury to waken in the dead of night, scratch around for a torch, pull on a pair of wellies / sandals  / golf spikes, and trudge a hundred and fifty yards to a damp, smelly and cold toilet? I think not.

We’d play golf in the morning and weather permitting, another round in late afternoon / early evening. This was summer in Scotland, though. Weather has a habit of messing with your plans. So we’d then be dragged off on some Godforsaken sight-seeing trip.

John o’ Groats? Nothing to see. Still wet there. Dunnet Head? Naff all there either. And just as wet. Thurso did have a chip shop, though.

(Dining / bed area, 1970s caravan)

Back at the caravan, my mum, not renowned for her culinary skills, bless her, would prepare a hearty evening meal. Something along the lines of tinned Heinz macaroni on toast, followed by Birds Eye instant custard and jam. Yes. Jam.

Mmmmnn! Yummy!

(Kitchen area / dining area – 1970s caravan)

Meals would be served up in instalments because the ineffectual cooker, fired by a suspicious and sinister looking gas canister, had the power of a Christmas candle. While we waited in not-so-eager anticipation, the combination of body-heat times four, damp clothing and smoke from the burnt toast (told you, didn’t I?) would cause the windows to steam up. A decision then had to be made: open the windows to clear them and die from hypothermia, or risk asphyxiation from the steam, smoke and ever-present hint of leaking calor gas.

Thankfully, I managed eventually to extricate myself from these tortuous events, playing the ‘I best stay behind to study for my exams,” card.

A couple of years later, freed from the shackles of holidaying with parents, a few pals who like me were leaving school in the summer of 1976, decided to go away together. Benidorm? Majorca? Blackpool?

Nope. We had all recently bought our first motorbikes – one had a car, a Morris 1100, I think.

( Suzuki TS125 – my first / only motor bike .)

Why don’t we drive over to St Andrews and rent (no! please, no! I can sense what’s coming ….) a caravan for the week? It’ll be a right laugh.

Noooooooooo!!!!

I’d love to tell you it was a right laugh. I’d love to tell you it was a right nightmare. I’d love to tell you it was a right anything. Truth is, I can tell you next to nothing! It’s all a bit of a haze.

I do recall we upset someone in a neighbouring caravan who was always on our case. So we did what any self-respecting gallus teenagers would do, and threw a pan-loaf worth of bread chunks onto the roof of his caravan in the dead of night.

(Angry bird.)

Yeah, you’re there – come first light, his caravan was besieged by a flock of noisy, ravenous seagulls pecking the bread and stomping around on the roof.

Have some of that!

(Pernod. )

Other than that, my only other recollection is suffering my worst ever hangover after a night on Pernod and lemonade. That took care of one of the seven days.

The hangover from Hell – and in a caravan.

I’d said it before, but this time I meant it. To this day, I’ve never even sipped a Pernod.

And to this day, I’ve never again set foot in a caravan.

I’d rather wash my mouth out with soap.

__________

FREE BOOK … IN EXCHANGE FOR HONEST REVIEW!

Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee – the humorous & compassionate book about the life of a dog walker.

I have two copies of the Victor Publishing produced edition of ‘Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee’ available, post paid and free to any UK address, in exchange for an honest review on Amazon / book sites & blogs.

These particular copies are from the first ‘proof’ batch of six that have two spelling errors on the back cover. Just think, with good reviews, and resultant healthy sales, these ‘giveaway books’ will become Collectors’ Editions and worth ££££thousands! Perhaps.

If you’d like one of these two copies to review, then please e-mail me at:

ceeteejackson@gmail.com

The two lucky winners will be drawn and notified on Friday 11th February.

Please be assured your address will be used solely for the purpose of posting the book and not retained thereafter. You’re e-mail address will not be used for any spamming / unsolicited messages.

‘Lifted Over the Turnstiles’ by Steve Finan

‘Lifted Over the Turnstiles – Scotland’s Football Grounds in the Black & White Era.’

(***** Five out of five stars.)

For football fans of a certain age, this book is a ‘must.’ Indeed for football fans of ALL ages, this book is a ‘must.’

The book’s subtitle, ‘Scotland’s Football Grounds in the Black & White Era,’ perfectly sums up what to expect in the two hundred and fifty-seven pages. These photos were taken when football grounds had character and individuality. Sure, they were pretty run down and verging on dilapidated when I first attended matches in the late Sixties. But they were happy and exciting times for me, and judging by the crowds drawn to matches not involving either Rangers or Celtic, a great many others felt the same way.

Many of the photos contained in this book actually pre-date my first visits, but I can still identify where I stood / sat in many of the images.

Yeah – time moves on, and health and safety of spectators is paramount, but I do miss these old football grounds.

This is a book I will pick up time and time again and drift back to a more colourful, if only black and white, time for Scottish football.

A Plastic Scandal.

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Many years back, towards the end of the Tang dynasty in fact, a court dancer named Yao Niang bound her feet into the shape of a new moon (whatever that would have looked like) and danced on her toes before China’s Emperor Li Yu.

The practice grew in popularity, and for best part of a thousand years, Chinese women, mainly with peasant upbringings, would similarly bind, and basically deform their feet. It was not always a voluntary action, and mothers would bandage their daughters’ feet this way because tiny, ‘lotus’ feet were considered very alluring and enhanced the poor girls’ ‘marriageability.’

Here in the West, we were of course horrified to hear such tales. We could never inflict such pain and discomfort upon our own children. Oh no, no, no!

And yet we did. At least our parents did. Yes, that’s your parents, dear reader. And mine. They tortured us not through some misplaced social belief or controlling instincts. They did so for reasons of thrift; because they were tight!

They bought us, and forced us to wear ….. plastic sandals!

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Most likely sourced in Woolworths, our gullible parents fell for the claim that products from the store’s own Winfield brand were ‘the mark of quality.’

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Nonsense.

They did leave a mark though, I’ll give them that. Both physical and mental.

First up, even if you were an uncool ten-year-old and made to wear wee ankle socks, the tops of your feet would still be left with a lattice shaped impression when you removed the sandals. The shape of the buckle strap could remain for hours!

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On returning indoors to watch Hector’s House, you’d change into your cozy little Thunderbirds or Sindy slippers. The bliss was not long lasting however – you’d experience a sharp, burning  sensation as you padded about the house and the skin around your ankle creased into the indentation left by the collar of the sandal.

This was because, and it’s not exactly rocket science, sandals being summer wear, were worn when the weather was generally warm. Feet swell in the heat, and at a damned sight faster rate than plastic does. Duh!

Somebody, not least our parents, should have realised that perspiration and a plastic inner sole are not a clever mix: that little feet would randomly slide around the albeit restricted confines of the sandal while the ankle was already set in following another, more conventional and safe direction.

Remember the excruciating pain of your toes sliding up into the sandal’s toe cap as you stopped walking at pace? It was times like that you regretted locking yourself in the bedroom when your mum said she was going to cut your toenails with the kitchen scissors. Lesser of two evils and all that.

 I say ‘walking at pace’ because the external sole of this footwear offered possibly even less traction, rendering attempts to run almost impossible – certainly foolhardy.

You know that Jon Bon Jovi chap? The rock star. Well, his band’s best-selling album was written and recorded based on the true-life trauma of being forced to wear plastic sandals as a kid.*

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Too chuffin’ right these things were slippery when wet. We were suburban kids. We played in burns and streams. Possibly, our parents had too, but plastic sandals weren’t a ‘thing’ when they were young.

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They had never experienced the excruciating pain of scraping the skin from your shin bone as you slipped, trying to make the jump onto the big sharp stepping stone in the middle of the of the stream. Neither had they been subjected to the ridicule of friends as you played out the rest of the afternoon with a bloody lower leg and a wet back side!

I should also add that I grew up in the West of Scotland. It rains frequently, even in summer. Pavements and paths are never dry for very long. And our parents wondered why we’d go through a box of Elastoplast every week?

Here’s another thing: perhaps you were lucky enough to go on a family holiday in the summer. Perhaps though, you were unfortunate enough to end up in a place with a pebble / shingle beach. Rustington in Sussex springs to mind – about two miles east of Littlehampton. On the face of it, the idea of plastic sandals is actually quite sound, when your folks would dig in the windbreaker and set up ‘camp’ for the day at the point on the beach furthest from the sea.

“In case the tide comes in, dear. It’s ok though, you can walk to the water in your plastic sandals. Heck! You can even wear them in the water. That’s the beauty of plastic – you can’t do them any damage. Aren’t Winfield such clever people? Aren’t you so lucky to have your own natty brown pair? Off you go, dear. Have fun.”

‘Have fun?!’ I think it was about this age that I developed a cynical sense of irony.

Neither was it true that plastic sandals couldn’t be damaged – the strap would always be the first bit to go. So now, instead of just tentatively tottering across the beach like somebody seventy years older, you’d walk with a pronounced limp, trying your best to keep the now flapping sandal on your foot.

After endless minutes of playing in the cold sea, you’d opt for the surely more pleasant option of something to eat (the ‘chittery bite,’ we called it.) Further anguish would inevitably follow when it was discovered to your horror that the day’s ‘chittery bite,’ was actually just a pilchard sandwich. With lettuce.

On exiting the sea though, the weight of water in your little size five sandals was extraordinary, though this soon dissipated as you watched water gush from the sandal slats like that produced by the bilge pump on the QE2.

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(NOT the QE2)

And so began the quest of traversing the pebbles back to ‘camp,’ your feet slip sliding inside the sandals, one of which would be just hanging together in no more, while the sandals themselves would be slithering in every direction on the stones.

You’ve seen the films of newly hatched turtles heading for the sea? This was it in reverse.

Neither were these abominations that passed as appropriate footwear of any earthly use in the unlikely event of prolonged dry weather. Each grain of sand, dry soil, dust, whatever, reacted like a mini ball-bearing when stuck to the soles of plastic sandals.

It meant relying on a speedy getaway from any situation, like, just say, stealing apples, which some bad boys and girls did, was somewhat injudicious. Precious seconds could be lost as your feet sought solid grip with the ground in kind of Wile E. Coyote style.

What the Chinese did to millions of young girls was dreadful; abhorrent. But even though it took almost a millennium, they did officially ban the practice in 1912.

However, although Woolworths and their ‘quality brand’ Winfield disappeared from our High Streets back in 2015, others have stepped (limped) up and now produce, market and sell this dangerous footwear, camouflaging the discomfort and pain by calling them ‘jelly shoes.’

And that, my friend, is nothing short of a plastic scandal.

(* This may not be completely accurate. Or at all.)

_________



‘Can You Make This Thing Go Faster? ‘ by Jeremy Clarkson

(***** Five out of five stars.)

I’m no petrolhead; cars do nothing for me and the only way I can be moved by them is by sitting inside one. Consequently, TV shows such as Top Gear and Grand Tour in which Jeremy Clarkson featured / features, leave me pretty cold. As do his books in which he discusses the virtues, and lack of, relative to cars that in the main I’ve never even heard of. It’s all just a list of incoherent numbers and letters to me.

Jeremy’s books however, those that comprise his rants and musings on life and situations in general really tickle my cynical and sarcastic funny bone.

As with the other nine I have in my collection, ‘Can You Make This Thing Go Faster?’ is a collection of his weekly articles for The Sunday Times. These ones cover the period between, 7th January 2018 and 29th December 2019.

Spread over three hundred and eight pages, each section runs to only three and a half pages, around one thousand to eleven hundred words. This makes it perfect for us with short attention spans and poor memory! If you’re looking for a quick hit of acerbic wit to brighten your day, this is it.

Jeremy Clarkson’s sense of humour may not be to everyone’s taste these days, but as a tight-arsed, grumpy Scotsman with short arms and long pockets, I firmly believe everyone should be able to laugh at themselves above and before anything else. He may not be ‘politically correct’ in his attitudes,but I love it!

The Adventures of Tintin.

Maybe it is s a little weird, a sixty-three year old reading and commenting on the Tintin series of books, but hey – why not? These books take me back to my childhood and there is a lovely innocence about them.

I actually bought the full twenty-three book box set a few months ago and am gradually working my way through them. (I know – more money than sense, probably.) Interestingly, with present day PC / ‘woke’ attitudes, to complete the full set of books, I had to purchase ‘Tintin In The Congo’ as a separate edition, the producers of the box set probably not keen on reproducing stereo-typical images and language from less informed times.

The first book in the series, though, is ‘In The Land Of The Soviets.’ from 1929 and appeared initially in the children’s section of the Belgian newspaper, Le Vingtieme Siecle. Tintin author Herge, had just been employed as an artist for the paper, and although he had not been to Russia himself, he was inspired by a book he had read the previous year to write the story line highlighting the Soviet propaganda machine,

The artwork is monochrome and pretty basic, with no more than six image panels to a page, resulting in this book being longer, certainly as far as pages go (141) than any of those subsequent.

Of course, the language is very ‘stiff upper lip’ quaint and pours ridicule and scorn on the Soviet Union and all it stood for. Ironically, in doing so, the book could stand accused of pushing propaganda on behalf of ‘the West.’ It’s all jolly good fun though.

The second Tintin book is the one mentioned earlier – ‘Tintin In The Congo.’ It does not even merit a mention in the box set of paperbacks. The copy I have is a ‘Collector’s Edition’ hardback that ‘completes the series of twenty four Tintin adventures by Herge.’ It is published by Casterman, as opposed to Egmont who ran with the rest.

The story once again appeared in serialised newspaper form, in 1931, then published as a book a short time after. The book’s foreward states the following:
‘In his portrayal of the Belgian Congo, the young Herge reflects on the colonial attitudes of the time. he himself admitted that he depicted the African people according to the bourgeois, paternalistic stereotypes of the period – an interpretation that some of today’s readers may find offensive. The same could be said of his treatment of big game hunting.’

Yeah – I can see why some may consider the book to be inappropriate nowadays. Personally, I’m certain the author had no intention of causing offense, but it was a good idea to withdraw this adventure from the box set and not ‘force’ it upon buyers keen to read all the other stories. This way the curious and ‘completists’ like myself can still access the book, and in the prior knowledge that it could be upsetting.

In some respects, those put off by the attitudes evidenced in the ‘Congo’ book could also find offence in some of the depictions in the third book, ‘Tintin In America,’ originally published in 1932.

This adventure sees Tintin confront danger at the hands of ‘the mob’ and also native Indians. Already, the storylines have a good deal familiarity with those already read, but (forgetting they were written for children) they are still good fun!

Cigars Of The Pharaoh‘ sees the introduction of the Thomson Twins – two bowler hatted, policemen who have the knack of messing things up. At this point, we know of them only as the police numbers, X33 and X33A and it is a few tales down the line before we we are made aware of their surname. I believe they appear in all but one of the following storylines.

From the title and cover artwork, I fully expected this adventure to be centred around Egypt, but as it happens, most of the action I would say takes place in India, which i did find a little strange. No ‘spoilers’ here, but I was interested to read about a present day world problem being an issue back in the times of this tale too..

Well – that’s four down, twenty to go! I have to say, I’m actually enjoying these books. I don’t remember owning any of these as a kid, but have vivid and fond memories of reading them / borrowing them from my local library.

This box set I now have, comprise the larger, glossy, paperback versions. They are bold and colourful, produced on good quality paper. At £89 (at time I bought) from Amazon, it’s not a cheap purchase. Broken down though into an average book cost of £3.87, then that changes the perspective totally, and in my opinion, well worth the outlay.

(From time to time, I will post further brief comments on the others in the series.)

_____________________________________

Making a hash of things.

Silence.

Our parents would often demand it, but soon as they got it, they became suspicious. Worried, maybe.

And so it would be. I’d be playing quietly and thoughtfully in my bedroom on a wet and miserable day, and Mum would poke her around the door:

“You’re awful quiet,” she’d say, the distrust in her tone strikingly obvious even to a ten year old. “What are you doing?”

“Building a fort,” I’d reply in all innocence, draping a bedsheet over the two stools I’d earlier hauled up from the kitchen. Another blanket would be hanging over a couple of empty boxes, retrieved from the garage. “So’s I can repel the hordes of marauding raiders who are trying to steal my pots of gold.”

My vocabulary and imagination were infinitely better than my construction skills.

“That sounds like fun, dear.”

And it was.

For that’s how we rolled in the late Sixties and Seventies. It was the era of making our own fun.

It was the era for making everything.

From a very early age, my sister and I were encouraged by our parents to become involved with tending the garden.’ Modern day slavery,’ is how I think it’s now referred to.

We’d each be allocated a little plot to tend. We’d have to plant seeds, grow flowers and vegetables and learn the ethos and rewards of hard work.

I hated it! Rona’s plot always looked way tidier than mine. ‘Outside’ was for playing in, not working, was how I looked at it. I was rubbish.

Our garden wasn’t all that big, but my dad had it organised to maximise the space, and so we had a few rows of redcurrant bushes. These produced loads of fruit every year and of course my sister and I would be roped into the ‘harvest.’

With the berries collected, mum would then boil them and add ‘stuff’ then pour the mix into what looked like an old sock hung from the washing pulley in the kitchen. The smell was so sickly sweet, I wanted to barf for days on end.  Gradually though, over the next day or so, the liquid would drip into a bowl, then scooped into jars onto which a handwritten sticker was adhered.

‘Redcurrent jelly’ it said – as if we needed reminding.

To get away from the smell, I’d try to spend as much time as possible in the living room. But that wasn’t easy either. I’d have to tip toe through acres of tracing paper spread over the floor. And listening to the television was well nigh impossible. The volume controls back then barely went to ‘five’ never mind ‘eleven’ and so offered no competition to the constant ‘takka takka takka’ of the Singer sewing machine as mum rattled out another bloody home-made trouser suit for wearing to the neighbour’s Pot Luck / fondue party that coming weekend.

Crimplene was the favoured material, I believe.

I think I’m right in saying that girls at my school were offered sewing, if not dress making as part of their Home Economics course. Us blokes weren’t given the option – just as at that time, girls were not thought to be interested in woodwork and metalwork.

My four year old cousin, Karen, certainly wasn’t interested in my woodwork, that’s for sure. I made her a boat, all lovingly painted and everything. It sank in her bath. Sank! It was made of balsa wood for goodness sake!

It takes a special type of cretin to make a balsa wood boat that sinks.

And metalwork! Whose whizz-bang idea was it to have several classes of fourteen year old boys make metal hammers to take home at the end of term? The playground crowds quickly scattered that afternoon, I can tell you.

My effort was dismal.  

“Thanks very much,” said my dad, in a voice just a little too condescending for my liking as I presented it to him. But that was okay. We both knew I was total pants at making things.

Having evidenced my cack-handed attempts at simply gluing together several pieces of labelled and numbered bits of plastic to form the shape of a Lancaster Bomber, his expectations were naturally low.

I know – how hard can it be to assemble an Airfix model? To be honest, while I enjoyed looking at those my dad made on my behalf, I had more fun from letting the glue harden on my fingers and then spend ages peeling it back off to examine my fingerprints.

Yup – THAT’S how much I enjoyed making things.

It came as no surprise then, that Santa never brought me a Meccano set. By the age of ten, it had become obvious spanners and me would never get along – no need for me to screw the nut.  

For a while, I did consider there was something wrong with me. Every other kid I knew was into making stuff. It was The Seventies – it’s what children did; it’s what they (I’d say ‘we’ but I’d be lying) were actively encouraged to do.

The top children’s television programmes told us (you) so. They even showed how make stuff.

I tried that once. A Christmas decoration it was. A decoration to hang over the Christmas table; made from coat-hangers; and candles. And you’d light the candles. It would be joyous.

“Hark!” The herald angels would sing.

“FIRE!” The herald angels actually screamed.

I know NOW I should have used fire-proof tinsel. I’m almost sixty-three. I’m not stupid. But then I was ten. And impatient. Ten year old boys cut corners. And anyway, how was I supposed to make a surprise for the family if I was to give the game away by asking my folks if they had / could get some fire retardant tinsel?

At least they still got a surprise of sorts.

Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves had a lot to answer for.

Other than pyrotechnic Christmas decorations, they encouraged us to make models with Lego; less structured and more wobbly ones with plasticine; scrap books; hammocks for dolls; cakes for birds; puppets from old socks; pencil cases from washing up liquid bottles and even cat beds from washing-up bowls.

I did try, truly I did. But I was hopeless. A lost cause. Never has anyone said to me,

“Wow! That’s awesome!” when I’ve showcased my handiwork.

Just the other day, I prepared a meal. I threw some leftover corned beef, potatoes and onions into a pan and fried them through. I didn’t think it was burnt as such, but my wife screwed up her face and stared at it rather disapprovingly.

Without even the merest hint of irony she looked up and said …. well, I think you probably know what she said!



**********

Grandad – What was football like in the 1970s?

(***** Five out of Five Stars)

I loved this book! Partly because this is the era I grew up in and started going to football matches with my mates, and also because I run a blog devoted to this decade – ‘Once Upon a Time in The ’70s.

I found it took a bit of time to get going, and I was on the verge of giving up, but I’m so glad I persisted. Not unnaturally I suppose, author Richard Crooks focuses very much on his team, Sheffield Wednesday – especially so in the early pages. Nothing wrong with that at all.It would still have been an interesting read overall.

However, the scope of the book widens as you read on, and all aspects of football in England through The Seventies are covered, evoking some really strong memories – even though all my football experiences during the decade (other than a couple of trips to Wembley and one to White Hart Lane) were in Scotland.

Richard paints a vivid picture of the match day experience, covering everything from the players and referees of the time to the grounds and half time refreshments. Pages are als devoted as the means by which matches and results were reported and how e, as fans, would discover how our rival teams fared.

If you’re of a certain age, this book is full of warm nostalgia; if you’re not quite there yet, you’ll realise how spoilt you are now when you go to watch your team.

(OR – are you ….? )