Friday, December 24, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Black Swans breed in England

Although a native species of Australia and not listed as a British wild bird, I can report that Black Swans now breed in England.

A pair of these Black swans have been resident on the JCB lakes in Rocester, but not having been down there for a while I had something of a surprise to see them yesterday with three cygnets. These cute balls of fluff are not very old and I am worried that they may not survive the cold weather that is upon us. It is much too late for birds to be breeding in this country.


 The Black Swan is the State bird of Western Australia and we have seen them in the parks out there during our 2 visits to Perth. In Australia they were breeding while we were there during the month of October, but of course in the southern hemisphere that is spring time and much more conducive to raising a family.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hi Ho Hi Ho | It's Off To Work I Go

If you read my previous post (Hands of Time) you may recall that I had left school and my father had very kindly on my behalf arranged an interview for a labourers job. It was Easter time and the year was 1966. I was to meet my dad as he finished work then he would drive me down to the place where I was to go for this job.
While still at school, I had actually gone through the application process for three apprenticeships, all successful actually, though I chose to accept the offer from British Rail. The job I was now going for was to fill the gap between me leaving school at Easter and September when the apprenticeship would begin.

Applying for the engineering apprentice positions involved initial interviews, theory exams, practical tests, medicals and final selection interviews. When attending the interview phase it was necessary to project the right image and being of smart appearance was considered essential. Best bib and tucker was definitely the order of the day.
At 5 o'clock I was there as agreed, waiting outside of my my dad's work for him to appear through the factory gate.
"Why are you wearing your school uniform?" he said as he saw me, dressed in grey trousers, black blazer, white shirt and tie.

"Because I'm going for an interview" I replied somewhat perplexed.

"It's a labourers job on a factory, you don't need to get dressed up for that" he said with something of a smirk on his face.

Ten minutes later I was speaking to a woman through a small hatchway, telling her that I had an appointment for an interview.

"You've come for the job 'ave you Duck, here fill this in while you wait." she said as she handed me a form and a pen.

I completed my name, address and date of birth, ignoring the section at the bottom marked "For office use only." I turned the paper over but the reverse of the paper was blank, I looked around to see if I had perhaps dropped another sheet on the floor, but this appeared to be all there was. The woman's head suddenly thrust itself through the hatch and said "Just go through that door there Duck." then recoiled back like a Cuckoo in a clock.
I approached the door that the Cuckoo had indicated and very gingerly knocked on the door. Nothing seemed to happen and I could hear no sound coming from within then suddenly the door was yanked open  making me jump and gasp in surprise.
"Ah, there you are" said a voice belonging to the body that now filled the doorway, "thought for a minute you'd gone." He beckoned me into his office telling me to take a seat as he seated himself down behind the large wooden desk. He now looked me up and down as though not sure what to make of my appearance.
"Have you come for the labourers job? he asked.

"Yes sir." I replied.

"Are you still at school?"

"No, I left last week sir."

"Then why the bloody hell are you wearing your school uniform?" I am sure he wanted to say but refrained from actually doing so.

He glanced at the form I had handed to him then looked up saying "It says here you live in Alsager, how will you get here for 8 o'clock every morning?"

"My dad works in Tunstall and he will drop me off here each morning at about 7.45 which will give him time to get to work himself in Tunstall at 8.00." I answered confidently.

"We work 8.00 'till 5.00 with one hour for lunch. You'll get £4 10s (that is £4 and 10 shillings £4.50 in today's money) a week."
"Any questions?"

"Err no sir."

"Right then, you start tomorrow, report to reception 7.45 sharp."
And that was it. My first job. Interview done and dusted in five minutes flat. I must say the jobs market was so different back then, there were more jobs than there were people to fill them, especially unskilled jobs. I would meet lads who simply went from job to job chasing the best pay. My school uniform was never worn again and the following day I started work for real.
Although I had hated school, I soon realised that working for a living was going to be no picnic. On the dot of 8 o'clock I started work, there was no slacking and I could not take a note from me mum to excuse me lifting anything heavy because my arms still ached from the day before.
The business where I had this job was called Permaflex, they manufactured small ampules of lighter fluid used for filling cigarette lighters. Gas lighters had yet to be invented and people used petrol lighters similar to the well known "Zippo" consisting of a reservoir into which one poured the lighter fuel. The ampules contained enough fluid for a single filling.
My job was to stick labels onto tins, pack trays of the ampules into the tins, package them in cardboard boxes which I had to construct then prepare the boxes for dispatch. I had a table at one end of the warehouse and fetched and carried, stuck and packed for eight hours a day, five days a week. It was hot, heavy and very, very boring, it was not however the worst job I ever had in my working life.
If any of you reading this have ever heard of Permaflex based at Trubshaw Cross in Stoke-on-Trent, you may recall that the building caught fire and was burnt to the ground. But no, that was nothing to do with me, that was many years after I had worked there.
One of the songs I remember from that hot long summer of 1966 is Simon and Garfunkel's Homeward Bound. All day long I would be looking forward to being homeward bound myself. While stood at that bench filling a seemingly endless stack of tins I learned to switch off and escape into my mind, to think of things I would much rather do and places where I would much rather be.
Oh and I had a little insight into the world of merchandising and business. We supplied many different brands of lighter fuels, some very well known brand names of the time, but the only difference was the label on the tin, the contents were the same.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hands of Time

Someone surely has speeded up the Hands of Time, replaced the batteries in the world clock, making the fingers hurry around the dial ever faster. Perhaps our lonely planet has been influenced by a passing comet, causing it to spin more quickly around it's precarious axis.

Whatever the reason, time is going so fast, much faster than it used to pass by. Or is it simply an illusion, merely  one of the effects of my getting older. Do you wonder at the fact that we are now midway through May 2010, it seems like only yesterday that we welcomed in the New year (well actually Mrs Pecker and I did not enjoy that celebration - see this post January).

When I think about this passage of time, as I often do, I see the image of a schoolboy dressed in a drab uniform complete with short trousers and knobbly knees, and that was senior school. This boy could not wait for the day that he would finally be able to leave Alsager Secondary Modern. Yes of course that boy was me, I hated that school, hated it with a passion, hated every last thing about it. I always felt that the day when I would walk across the stage to shake the hand of the headmaster and receive my bible and school report would never come, it always seemed to be so far away as to be unreachable.

Then one day, arrive it did, I could finally leave that school behind and go out into that big wide world out there. No more having to be at school on time, being told what to do, answer for my every action, obey the teachers, Oh what a shock I was in for.

I left school at the Easter holiday of 1966, no exams in those days at a secondary modern school unless you applied to stay on for an extra year. You simply left and went on to an unskilled job, an apprenticeship or very rarely to a full time college course. Jobs were plentiful, dole or handouts of any kind for a school leaver were not an option.

By the time I left school I had already been signed up to an apprenticeship with British Rail Engineering at the locomotive works based in Crewe. This appointment which was for a duration of five years (but therein lies another story) was due to begin in the September of that year, however because of my previously mentioned hatred of school I took up the option of leaving at Easter. I needed to get out as quickly as I could, not wanting to stay a moment longer than I could get away with.

And so it was that on the day before Good Friday 1966, I bid my school a last farewell and I looked forward to a long enjoyable lazy summer.

As my dad returned home from work on the Tuesday following that Easter weekend, he informed me that I had an interview for a labourers job the following day. I was to catch the bus to Tunstall where I would meet him as he finished work, then he would take me to Permaflex at Trubshaw Cross. I needed a job he said to fill the gap between now and September.

I was certainly out of the frying pan but I was headed most definitely for the fire.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Short Term Car Insurance.

Short Term Car Insurance. Insure your car for up to 28 days with Aviva UK it said. Great way to add a temporary driver to your vehicle. There were also plenty of other companies offering the same product - it seems to be getting rather popular.

Search for short term car insurance on Google and it returns About 3,500,000 results.

Some examples of the descriptions on Googles results page:
 "At Day Insure, we provide a range of temporary insurance policies; whether you need to cover a car for a day, or need a van for short term use."
"A short term car insurance policy is extremely useful for you and your loved ones' protection in these temporary situations."
"However, this short term insurance style has come back with some force and it has saved many people substantial amounts of money."
Here is some of the blurb I found on one site;

How does short term car insurance work?
Adding someone to your existing car insurance policy, such as a visiting friend or relative, can be risky because they could wipe out your no-claims bonus. However, by setting up a short term policy, whether it is monthly car insurance or daily car insurance, they can legally drive your vehicle without putting your discount at risk.

Why would you need short term car insurance?
Short term car insurance is ideal for a number of people including:
  • Those hiring a car or borrowing a friend's vehicle.
  • Temporary additional drivers, which could include overseas visitors.
  • Those lending a car to a friend or relative.
  • Drivers who have just bought a new car and need cover as soon as they drive away from the dealership, but who haven't yet had chance to sort out an annual policy.
So why would this be of interest to me, I hear you ask. Well my brother-in-law and his wife are coming over from Australia shortly and I thought it would be a good idea to let them have the use of our car during their stay of 3 weeks. We do at the moment have a second car so the one we would be lending them is a 1998 Ford Estate worth less than £2000.
    Now keep in mind the snippets of the text that I have quoted above.

    The quote for 3 weeks cover was

    £467.10 with an excess of £500

    Looks like they'll be using the bike.


    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Mother in Law continued or One in the eye for MIL

    Well things did not go as expected regarding Mil's visit to the Manchester Eye Hospital that I was telling you about in this mornings post Five hours in total she was there with Su and Si and came away without having it done. So far I have only heard a brief version of what happened.

    Apparently the visit got off to a bad start when they said they had no record of an appointment and so were not even expecting her. She was however seen by the surgeon at some point and underwent a procedure whereby they inject the eye in order to examine the retina. The news was not good, she has two places where the retina has become detached which will need surgery to effect a repair with no guarantee that it will be successful.

    She is now on the list but they could not give any indication as to when she will be recalled, tomorrow, next week, next month they could not say. Just go home and wait.

    Surgeons, doctors, hospitals, medical staff may all do an excellent job technically, they can save lives, sew back severed limbs, perform all sorts of miracles but often they or the system is so removed from the emotional side of humanity.

    Mil is a woman of 84 years of age. She was sick with worry this morning, anxious about the 90 minute journey to a strange hospital away from her home, away from her comfort zone. She was upset to think she was having to rely on others, her son and his wife to drive her to Manchester, myself and Mrs P to take their children to school (no I could not make that journey at that time of a morning because of my own problems) then friends to look after them after school if they are not back.

    Now she has to do it all again, at a time and date as yet unknown.

    Mrs P spoke to her just a short while ago, she says she is not going to have it done, she cannot face that ordeal again.

    Mil is 84 years of age, is British has lived and worked in this country all of her life.

    The School Run | The Mother in Law | Manchester Eye Hospital

    This is unusual, 9.30 and only on my second cuppa, no breakfast yet either. The reason - we've just done the school run, not a normal activity for myself and Mrs P these days. We had set out allowing plenty of time, with two schools to go to, on routes we had not travelled before at this time in the morning.

    Everything went without a hitch though, no great hold ups and we even had to sit outside the second school for 25 minutes before the youngest nephew could go in to join his mates who had by then started to trickle into the school yard. All schools around here seem to have different start times.

    So, why were we doing the school run? Well the answer lies with the dearest Mother-in-law ( Mil ). She has to be at the Manchester eye hospital at 9.00 this morning. Hopefully the magical genius of the eye surgeon will restore the lost vision in her eye, caused they are 99% certain, by a dislodged retina.

    Poor Mil started to have loss of peripheral vision and floating black spots appearing before her eyes a few weeks back. She was quickly referred to a neurology specialist at our local hospital who then referred her to a specialist optician. Unfortunately (or fortunately perhaps) before she had received an appointment, her vision in that one eye went completely, that was at the end of last week.

     I must say that once this happened they didn't hang about, she was seen the very next day by a doctor at the hospital and arrangements confirmed for the procedure to hopefully correct this detached retina be done today.

    Of course as good as this response to the problem was you are then left with the task getting into Manchester at 9.00am prompt.

    Monday, February 22, 2010

    Robbie Williams | Reality Killed The Video Star

    My latest CD/Album of the moment has to be Robbie Williams' "Reality Killed The Video Star" and I make it my selection for #musicmonday this week.

    I must admit to falling out of favour with Robbie since he did the "Swing when Your Winning" album, swing being one of the few genres of music that I do not like. Following that collection of critically acclaimed old time favourites, he seemed to dissapear into the wilderness for a while. His latest music however has resulted in that unmistakeable voice of his sounding once more in my lug-holes.

    Robert Williams was born and raised in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, within a few miles of where I have lived all my life. I also worked for a period of around fifteen years in his home town of Tunstall where everyone seemed to have some connection to the Williams family. They knew him, grew up with him, knew his mum or lived next door to someone who's sisters uncles girlfriends dog was once boarded in the kennel next to his mothers aunties dog. He, Robbie that is not the dog, was never fortunate enough to know me personally.

    I can't say I was ever a fan of the original Take That but from the minute that Robbie Williams launched his solo career I sensed a completely different style of music emerge from him. I was instantly hooked, not particularly on Robbie the man but definitely on Robbie the musician and performer.

    His first three albums "Life thru a Lens" "Millennium" and then "I've Been Expecting You" each made their way onto my all time favourites list. I enjoyed the brilliance of "Angels" long before it became a hit and was universally loved by so many.

    But what about "Reality Killed The Video Star." This I feel marks a return to the Robbie Williams sound that I first enjoyed. I believe the album was mostly written in Robbie's home studio and he collaborated with a number of songwriters to produce the tracks. In my opinion the time spent producing this piece of work was time very well spent, it contains all the old Robbie Williams magic.

    Reality Killed The Video Star - Tracks:
    Morning Sun
    Bodies
    You Know Me
    Blasphemy
    Do You Mind
    Last Days Of Disco
    Somewhere
    Deceptacon
    Starstruck
    Difficult For Weirdos
    Won't Do That
    Superblind
    Morning Sun (Reprise)

    Released in November 2009, "Reality Killed The Video Star" is easily obtained on CD or on download. I have also played tracks from the album on my Blip.fm station.
    Have a listen now by following this link http://blip.fm/woodpecker50

    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    Snow Again

    I could hardly believe my eyes this morning as I peered through the curtains - Snow Again.

    Most years a fall of snow would be a once-a-year event, this year it's becoming normal. Is this what we will come to expect in our winters. Are the changes to our weather pattern all a result of global warming, or is it simply a natural cycle of change.

    I look out the window and I see very little activity, throughout the day very few people seem to walk up or down the street. The snow fails now to bring the children out of doors, at least around here. I cannot see anyone enjoying snowball fights or building snowmen, I am sure if I was young and fit I would have been out there today. As it is the day has been spent inside the house again, passing away the time wishing that the wintry weather would come to an end.





    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Snow for a Change | Weather Forecast | Staffordshire England

    We have not had any snow for a few days, apart from odd little flurries that failed to stick, until last night that is. Tucked away from the world inside our house cosy and warm, I was quite surprised to look through the window before going to bed to discover that it had been snowing. It was in fact still snowing, quite big fluffy flakes of snow and already it had laid a blanket on the ground. I quickly closed the curtains and shut it out, enjoying instead the feeling of warmth and comfort from being inside our snug little house.

    The snow continued through the night. I am often awake throughout the night and sometimes unable to lie in bed, last night was one such night, so I did continue to sneak a peak through the window. Luckily we did not suffer a plummeting thermometer and so the snow failed to build up to any significant depth. As the morning progressed towards dawn, a very fine rain took over and the snow in places began to melt away.

    As the daylight established the true start of morning, I could see the blackbirds waiting on the fence and in the Pear tree. Snow covered the back garden completely save for odd looking rings of bare earth around some of the plant pots and the birds maybe felt they would sink into the snow if they landed onto the herb garden where the mealworms are put out for them.

    After feeding the birds and adding some warm water to the bird bath, for I had noticed that although not frozen solid the contents resembled a huge slush puppy, I decided to switch on my connection to the internet and see what weather was in store for us.


    I think I'll just keep the curtains drawn !!

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    Blip.fm | Music monday

    I have recently signed up to Blip.fm a fun and social way to share music. One of the cool things about it that I like so much is the ability to link blips to your Twitter account.

    A “blip” on Blip.fm is a way to share a song and with the option of adding a short message under 150 characters, like a tweet in Twitter. If you have linked your Blip.fm account to your Twitter account then the blip appears in your Twitter time line along with a link to the music. (There is also the option to connect with a Facebook account).

    In "account settings" you can choose whether you want the links active or not. This is great if you are trying out songs or modifying your playlists and do not wish blips to show up in your Twitter updates.

    With Blip.fm you become a DJ playing the music of your choice. You can also create your own playlist and listen to other user’s playlists as well. This is a great way to discover new music or perhaps be reminded of some of the songs you liked in the past. Discover other DJ's and add them to a list of favourites, keep blipping music and people who like what you play will choose to follow you.

    Oh and by the way, it is totally free.

    Blip.fm is simply another social networking tool with the emphasis on music, bringing together people who share the same tastes.

    To sign up to blip.fm (quick,easy and safe) go to Blip.fm

    If you would like to visit me on Blip you will find my station here; http://blip.fm/invite/woodpecker50

    You can find me on twitter here; http://twitter.com/Woodpecker50

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    Poetry corner

    The boy stood on the burning deck,
    His body all a-quiver.
    He gave a cough,
    His leg fell off,
    And floated down the river

    A streaker running through the park,
    had buttocks like a peach.
    Two old ladies had a stroke,
    the third one could not reach.

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    Mumford & Sons | Music Monday

    I was watching Bargain Hunt at lunch time, this being my normal lunchtime activity if at home, when I noticed that the background music of the programme was that of Mumford and Sons. I decided to make the Mumford and Sons album "Sigh no More" the object of today's Music Monday selection.

    Music Monday:
    Music monday ( hashtag #musicmonday ) is a term given to a favourite trending topic featuring on the social networking site, Twitter. Those of you who are already a part of the Twitter community can find me on Twitter here; @woodpecker50 ). If you want to join twitter then visit the website and you are able to join in a matter of seconds. all you need to submit is a user name, password and email address.

    Blip fm:
    I have also recently joined Blip.fm, this is a free to join online radio station where you play the songs of your choice. You can then invite others to listen in to your songs or playlists if you so wish. I have only just started on Blip but it does seem OK and easy to use. There also seems to be a vast choice of music on there to listen to. Here is the link to my station - http://blip.fm/woodpecker50

    Back to Mumford and Sons:
    It was Christmas morning (2009) when I was first introduced to Mumford and Sons by daughter "P" who had been given the CD as a gift. She played it for me, being sure that I would like it and she was indeed correct. I immediately thought of them as being an Irish folk band, musically accomplished, performing a music rich in melody yet played with passion and vitality. The vocals were filled with close harmony, at times soft and gentle, then raw and rugged.


    I was surprised to discover that far from being Irish they are in fact 4 young men in their twenties from West London. The genre of their music is loosely defined as folk rock whereas their individual backgrounds embrace jazz, blues, bluegrass, folk and rock.

    They are a band of four vocalists, three guitar players, two drummers, a pianist, an organist and a bass player, while the banjo, dobro and mandolin are often thrown into the mix for good measure.

    Needless to say I was soon out buying the CD for myself and have been playing it often ever since. Today I have featured on Blip.fm, four of what are possibly my favourite tracks off the album. Have a listen and see if you agree. The album is available on CD from all the usual outlets or for download.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010

    January

    Dear friends, followers, bloggers, Twitters and Twits, please forgive me, for I have sinned. It has been 17 days since my last blogpost and that was to be honest a rather insignificant effort and the only one since I wished you all a Happy New Year. Tomorrow we see the end of January, one month already gone.

    Blogging experts would no doubt give me very low marks for not posting regular updates, for not keeping my readers informed and for a general lack of content. I would be voted off "Celebrity come Blogging."

    In my defence I would maintain there is little point in publishing posts when words of any significance elude me and meaningful discourse fails to form in the inner depths of my mind. I have in fact made many attempts and laboured in vain for hours in a fruitless endeavour to produce a string of words that could be in some small degree entertaining or at the very least be of some interest to my readers. Alas the more I tried, the less productive were my efforts. Page after page of scribble rewritten over and over again were consigned to the re-cycle bin.

    This condition I am certain is very much to do with a state of mind, and the state of my mind recently has been in a very poor state indeed. That I am also certain is linked to ones physical state, the physical well being of a person being a factor where this temporary mental impairment exists.

    This state of mind goes back I believe to the first day of January, to the very start of the New Year. Big Ben signalled the beginning of 2010, fireworks exploded in the sky, people kissed and Auld Lang Syne was sung throughout the land. I turned to Mrs Pecker saying "Happy New Year,"  she echoed the greeting then we both settled back in bed to go to sleep. We had been struck down with the Winter colds so many have suffered from recently. Not like normal colds, they have differing symptoms and seem to keep coming back.

    Then of course there was the snow, great to look at initially with magical landscapes, but bringing chaos throughout the land. With my unfortunate disabilities that make walking difficult at the best of times, I became a prisoner in my own home. Knowing that I could not venture outside onto the treacherous footpaths made me want to go out all the more, that of course is human nature. The television people became totally obsessed with showing us repeatedly over and over again scenes of the snow until we were sick of seeing it. It also highlighted more than ever this new phenomenon of the outside news correspondents who are sent all over the country to report on every single news event. Why do they have to be there? How much does it cost to have so many people reporting live on camera from so many places?

    "Look over there Mummy, look at that enormous snowman."

    "That's not a snowman dear, that is a TV reporter with a large red nose."

    We have also endured an unusually prolonged and severe spell of cold weather from December 2009 into January in addition to the recent widespread snow. Road gritting salt stocks had run so low that government ministers despite telling us that there were no shortages of stocks, asked highways authorities to review again their salt spreading strategy and prioritise local networks as necessary. The typical winter we have tended to have over recent years has always been mainly mild and wet with a few cold spells chucked in between. This winter seems to have been the complete opposite of this. More like winters I remember as having as a child back in the 50's and 60's. the latest news is that there is more cold weather to come. Sorry, I thought I would just throw that one in for good measure.

     I suppose I can say that I have now made some progress as the end of January looms ever nearer with every keystroke I make. This is evident by the very fact that I am making those key strokes at all. I am actually writing again, whether you think it was worth the effort is I suppose another matter, but at least it is a start.

    See you again in February.