Blog

WFH; WTF; VPL

cabin

I’m one week in into working from home or WFH to give it its abbreviated title. It would seem these are the words used by WFH novices; veterans of WFH call it: “working remotely”.
However, with the closure of anywhere where you can sit for hours on end tending an increasingly cold cardboard cup of something which originally housed a large latte, these “remote” people will be restricted to WFH and therefore, be on the same level as us WFH newbies.
This could go on for three-months – or, if you’re a gynaecologist, a trimester. I am not a gynaecologist and the nearest I will be to being one is that I own several pairs of gloves, most of which have remnants of begonias on them, none, as I’m 62, have a giant loop of elastic attached.

What are the essentials to a three-month imprisonment? There could be a lot of downtime, so read everything by PG Wodehouse, this is essential to keep your spirits up and also books by John Buchan to read about the derring-dos you’ll be re-enacting once you’re released from your confinement.

john macnab
It is also important to have one DVD – the BBC version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy being my DVD of choice and have my own competition with myself before I say “dead, mate!” to the TV screen.

tinker
You must still take on liquid – you don’t want to be the person who doesn’t return to work because they’ve dehydrated. Drink Benecol drinks if you have high cholesterol, Irn Bru, if you don’t. Don’t start eating more cake as your gym has been closed, time to get that Bullworker down from the loft if you’re tempted by a Victoria sponge.

Bullworker_in_1960s
Learn another language. Esperanto will probably be the favourite as we’re all in the same boat and we all need one thing which will bind us together. If you can’t get hold of a copy of Teach Yourself Esperanto then buy John Buchan’s John Macnab and learn how to capture salmon off posh Scottish people.
Knitting, crochet and cross-stitch will become less important as most people tend to only create toilet roll covers and soon we’ll be out of that – if you have a garden, build a pine forest – suddenly you’ll start to get on with your neighbour (wouldn’t that be nice, to quote the Small Faces).
But worth occupying your heavily-washed hands (opticians will soon be closed, so you don’t want to be doing too much self-isolating) so, building the Bismarck out of discarded matches might help pass the time – unless you’re a convicted pyromaniac, in which case carrying on sniffing glue while constructing an Airfix ME1019.

me 109
And if you’re looking for live sport, badminton is still on, but I bet you’ve not watched it longer than five minutes before you’re saying: “Stone me, they hit that hard, don’t they?”
Stay safe and remember, it’s just a matter of time before they are re-showing Mind your language.

shuttlecock

Generation (Dure)X

parade

The day you felt you’d become a man (certainly in the rituals in place in south London in the ‘60s) would be the time you no longer need the bench to sit on at the barbers. In effect, you’d only started to enter adolescence and the well-thumbed copies of Parade, Reveille and Health & Efficiency, almost overnight, became more interesting than the Beano or Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly.
The time you did, at least in the barber’s eyes, become a man, was when your mum no longer took you. Although in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, with so many people opting for longer hair (I blame Chicory Tip), I’m surprised anyone went to the barbers, unless they needed something for the weekend and knew too many people working in their local Boot’s.
I can remember sitting for ages in my Balham barber’s knowing, when accompanied by my mum, that the magazines could have been housed in Fort Knox, such was the chance of me touching one, let alone opening one.
You would wait patiently looking around the shop at photos of hairstyles you could have (although many of the photos were quite old, so if you wanted to look like Clement Attlee, this was the place to go). There were also many displays of , some magic stick which stopped you bleeding after shaving and combs. Things for the weekend were not in sight. When you hadn’t yet entered puberty (some days I think I’m still waiting) things for the weekend were footballs, Jimmy Clitheroe and roast beef; this might explain why I have fourteen children.

Under the Moon

new moon

The closest I ever got to witnessing any form of diabolistic activities growing up in Balham in the ‘60s was during a full moon.
My nan and my great aunt would take me (I always feared I was about to be offered as a sacrifice up to some pagan god who lived in the River Wandle) into the gardens of our block of flats, with their purses, and “turn their money over” (or in my great aunt’s case, rearrange her collection of Embassy cigarette coupons).
Animals weren’t allowed in our flats, so there was little chance of having your path crossed by a black cat and because the flats reached the height of eight storeys, you rarely saw any ladders to inadvertently walk under. So, my chances of become superstitious (like my aged relatives) were limited; we were too poor to have mirrors.
There were receptacles for putting in eyes of newts, toes of frogs and wools of bats, but these were meant to be for rubbish – people tended to use them for discarding old copies of the TV Times and Reveille rather than dismembered reptiles. Again, little evidence of witches.
Every November there would be a big fire in the garages where we lived. After the release of the 1973 film, The Wicker Man, came out, and after all the coin-churning, I’d half expected Edward Woodward to suddenly appear round the back of a Ford Cortina.
I’m not allowed matches, so it wasn’t me.

Lavez-vous maintenant les mains

Handwashing illustration

The NHS has suggested singing “Happy Birthday” twice as the recommended duration for hand washing. Alternatives are the national anthem or La Marseillaise.

While every good Cub would have learned the national anthem (if you were a good sixer you’d learn the verse about “knavish tricks”), but few, being brought up in south London, would have had La Marseillaise high on their musical repertoire, unless your dad had been Charles de Gaulle, Charles Aznavour or Asterix.

Or, of course, if you had a French teacher at your school who decided to introduce a “Continental Evening” (as if the recent introduction of Scandinavian quilts wasn’t abhorrent enough).

At my Tooting school in 1970 we had just that.

Our class was to sing La Marseillaise.

It has fifteen verses.  Fifteen!!! (If you washed your hands singing that you’d end up with fingers like ET).

In 1970 we’d not even joined the European Community let alone left it; many of us were still smarting after the 1967 NON! rebuke by the aforementioned Charles de Gaulle (who, after retiring from being President of France, became an airport).

We simply learned the French words. This was to protect us knowing that the last line translated into English is: “To cut the throats of your sons, your women!”. In Tooting, in the early ‘70s, the only person who was likely to cut your throat was your barber if you’d tried to hide a copy of that week’s Parade up your jumper.

We duly learned the song and performed it in front of our parents. However, this foreign lark didn’t catch on in my house and after a week of being served escargots, mum reverted back to egg ‘n’ chips.

Vive la Révolution? bugger that, thought my mum.

Foiled again

foil

In the ‘60s, growing up, one obsession I had was collecting silver foil to send off to Blue Peter to help provide guide dogs.
I was an avid viewer of the programme and keen to do my bit.
I had two sources of silver foil (aside from nicking my mum’s Bacofoil so we didn’t eat a roast for several months): the tops of milk bottles and the insides of some cigarette packets.
Within our Balham flats there was a grocer on site. I was insistent my family visited every day to “drink a pint a milk”. I’m sure there will have been dairy farms serving the SW17 area on high alert to produce more milk because of my calcium-intake keenness.
(As the only child and grandchild I was always treated to the “top of the milk” to put on my tinned fruit cocktail).
My dad smoked Senior Service. Once unwrapped and the top of the packet opened, covering the fags was a strip of silver foil. During the Blue Peter campaign, I’d got my dad smoking sixty-a-day.
While I never understood, how they turned my offerings of silver foil into Labradors and Golden Retrievers, I innocently assumed John Noakes must have been an alchemist?
Get down, Shep.

Alphabet soup

alphabet

I was eleven when I properly mastered the alphabet.
At secondary school we’d be seated in alphabetical order for every lesson. Thereby, that’s how I learned my A-W (we didn’t have anyone in our class named Xylophone, Yacht or Zither – it stopped at Williams).
At primary school we could sit wherever we liked. I avoided the girl who wanted to be a golden retriever when she grew up (she’d be 434 now).
The other difference was being called by your surname. No teacher called me Mick at secondary school. Nor did they call me Michael, a name which meant I’d not cleaned my room, I was late for my tea or both, so Richards was preferable.
Rather than learning more complex times tables, obscure African cities or historical events before Christ, we would, in a very regimented way, learn the procession of the alphabet because, for every lesson we’d be sitting, in order: Atkinson, Bates, Bird, Bower until Williams.
Although we all sat in the same order for academic year after academic year, from this group of ordered individuals, came an alpha male. He was Mark Finch – or Finno, as he deemed Mark to be far too effeminate for the classroom role he portrayed.
Finno was self-elected leader of the form for three reasons: he wore Cherry Red Dr Marten’s; he was the tallest and he was the first to develop pubic hair. By default, he became a Demi-god.
We were at a grammar school, but in our class, you didn’t need to go past the letter F.
And as we all know, there is no F in haddock.

Making an impression

fyfe

In my Tooting secondary school, during the early ‘70s, I discovered that, as well as bringing in sweets, being able to mimic helped you not being bundled – the medieval secondary school event which involved thirty boys piling on top of one another preventing the entrance of the divinity teacher (and this was a bloody grammar school – no wonder Mrs Thatcher made no effort to keeps ours going).
Mimicking of teachers was the greatest and most revered talent to have, second only to being able to imitate a Trimphone (very popular in the ‘70s) – a great asset to have to confuse people in the silence within Balham Library.
I couldn’t imitate a single teacher, or phone apparatus, but could mimic an assortment of other people: including most of the Goons; Jake Thackeray and Dudley Moore. However, my piece de la resistance was my impression of Fyfe Robertson. Fyfe Robertson was a roving TV reporter in the ‘60s and 70s and would be sent to report from obscure places, invariably surrounded by sheep. He’d start every report with “Hello there, I’m Fyfe Robertson” and would confirm the obscure place where he was standing. I could sound like him and announce to my classmates “Hello there, I’m Fyfe Robertson and I’m standing on a traffic island in the middle of Balham High Road”.
I could also imitate the actions of Reg from the greengrocers opposite my flats, as this greengrocers wasn’t terribly well-known, my likelihood of auditioning on Opportunity Knocks was never on the cards.
I often toy with entering Britain’s Got Talent, but sounding like Bluebootle, Minnie Bannister and Eccles is never going to be as powerful as a song by Susan Boyle.

Cream crackered

Cream Cracker Biscuit

I never read as a kid (The Beano and  don’t really count) but one book which I would absorb, lying on the shag-pile carpet in the lounge of my Balham flat, would be the Guinness Book of Records.
I wondered if I’d ever be in it.
I was quite tall as a kid and pondered whether I’d ever reach 8’ 11” – diet being key in height development. However, I can attest that egg ‘n’ chips consumed daily only gets you to six-foot, slightly smaller than marginally under nine-foot.
I deliberated if I could balance fifty spoons on my body? The fact that we didn’t have five, let alone fifty, spoons in our flat meant I’d have to attempt this world record in the ABC café on Balham High Road. Assuming you’d have to be partially naked, this would have only been practical in the warm weather. Either way, it’d have got me banned and I did so like the iced buns and cups of tea with more head than tea you got at the café.
What we did have in our flat were cream crackers. Could I eat three of these in under 49.15 seconds? Did you know it only takes ten seconds to become totally dehydrated? I found this out aged ten.
At 62 some records are now beyond reach. Sitting in baked beans for over 100-hours would never work – at my age I’d be needing a wee after half an hour.

Chain-saw messenger

Sawdust

Ernie Binks, the caretaker at my school, could multi-task: not only had he got a very useful left foot, he was also very adept at scattering sawdust.
There was no such thing as after-school club in the ‘60s in Balham, but at my primary school, if you stayed in the playground after the 3.30 bell had rung, the caretaker would give impromptu football lessons. He played in goal for Balham United, as far as we were concerned, it was like having Sir Alf Ramsey coaching us.
Mr Binks did have a very cultured left boot (probably the only thing cultured in Balham in the ‘60s) and this was demonstrated in the playground on many an early evening as he tried to encourage us ten-year-olds to “let them know you’re there”. Even though I played for the school football team my interpretation of this was to involve your opponent in some of philosophical debate (while also being concerned whether I’d ever get dubbin off my hands).
Unless you played football, Mr Binks was largely absent, unless, as they say on announcements on London Transport, there was a Code 3 incident. In which case he would enter our classroom with his bucket of sawdust, scatter it liberally, but accurately, after which we would return to advanced calculus or hitting a Glockenspiel very hard, depending on whether it was a Tuesday afternoon or not.
Mr Binks lived on site, probably with a forest of pine trees (native only to Balham) in his back garden, all ready for sawdust preparation. Thankfully he never mistakenly came into our classroom with a chain-saw rather than a bucket.
They won’t forget Ernie.

Into the fold

chatterboxes

A supply teacher at my Balham school in 1968 proved I was never going to make it as an aeronautical engineer.
Instead of doing maths, history (always the bloody Tudors) or geography (the field trips were always to the field adjoining our school – so not much of a trip) – we were taught origami. The supply teacher was from India, so closer to China than Balham, so he had credibility with us ten-year-olds.
While my efforts to fly paper-airplanes were similar to watching grainy and speedy footage of man’s earliest “flight” I did become very adept at other things which involved the intricate folding of paper.
Although I should have been learning important dates in history, capital cities of the world and times tables past 12, because of the supply teacher, paper folding became my new obsession.
The making of water bombs resulted in the entire class up before the headmaster as we’d doused the dinner ladies during morning playtime; the thing I was best at was creating chatterboxes.
However, this talent was not one I should have taken with me to an all-boys secondary school.
My schoolmates, amazed at the proficiency of my origami, became slightly confused (the more sexually advanced kids in the first-year, slightly angry) when, after much swift action between both thumbs and forefingers – and vigorous counting at pace – they read, “kiss a boy” or “I love you”. These had worked as a pre-cursor to mixed junior school kiss chases, but rather made me a target during inter-house rugby matches.
There were many who wanted to tell me my fortune – many without the aid of a carefully folded sheet of A4 paper.