Trees down!

I read today that trees can actually communicate via their roots! Who knew.

Today, after hearing a loud ‘crack’ outside, I thought I better investigate. It turned out one of our cooking apple trees had fallen. The tree had collapsed due to it being weakened by disease and it was the sheer weight of the apples and rain combined that brought it down and snapped at the base of the tree.

It came down right across the garage. Fortunately no one had parked there so no damage.

Along with neighbours we made quick work of cutting it up into log burning sized pieces. We were all sorry to see it gone but it was one tree among hundreds of others where we live so no shortage of apples etc.

I think my new discovery that trees can actually communicate, maybe the conversation went something like this…
Treetop.
Hey! What the fuck was that?

Trunk.
It’s Blanche, she’s fallen over.

Treetop.
Oh no! Blanche, get up! FFS! Get up!

Blanche Groans.

Trunk.
Stop panicking Treetop, what’s the problem, she’s only fallen over?

Treetop. You just don’t get it do you. We’re like those things in the sky, I think they call them aeroplanes, like them, when we hit the earth in an uncontrolled manner, we stay down, we only crash once, we don’t get up, trust me, you have NO idea!

Trunk. About what?

Treetop.
Forget it, you’re barely past sapling, you couldn’t understand… Blanche! It’s no good, she’s gone.

Trunk.
Gone? What do mean gone. She’s only fallen over ffs. BLANCHE! Get up.

Treetop.
It’s no use.

Time passes.

Trunk.
Well I guess that’s… Wait who’s this?

Treetop.
Oh no!

Trunk.
Who the fuck is that? And what’s he carrying?

Treetop.
Oh no, fuck, here come more of them.

Trunk.
Are they carrying what I think they’re carrying?

Treetop.
I’m afraid I think you’re right Trunk. Everyone! Close your leaves! Cover your knots everyone, things are about to get pretty fucking horrific!

Everyone in unison. Can’t see a fucking thing from here.

Time passes.

Treetop.
Well that’s a fucking sight I never want to see again. Trunk? Trunk?

Trunk.
My God! I’m totally traumatised! She just fell over, now they’ve cut her into pieces! Fucking monsters!

Treetop.
Yeah, whatever you do Trunk NEVER fucking fall over. That older chap, I see that guy every day scattering ashes in the woods, now I’m no fucking expert but I’m pretty fucking sure that… Well let’s just say that ash tastes like fucking burnt wood to me.

Trunk.
Yeah, now you come to mention it… Oh my fucking God! You mean he’s… He’s…

Treetop.
It certainly fucking looks like it, there’s a lesson there.

Trunk.
Just look at all that fucking blood. (Sawdust)

Treetop. RiP Blanche. We’ll miss your apples.

Trunk.
Yeah, so lesson is DON’T FALL OVER! EVER! Otherwise they’ll cut you up into pieces before they throw you into a fire and cremate you, then they’ll scatter your ashes in OUR FUCKING WOODS.

Treetop.
Fucking nerve!

Trunk.
Disgusting!

Treetop.
What?

Trunk.
Nothing… So what do we do about it?

Treetop.
Well Blanche used to drop her apples on their heads but I’ve only got cherries and that ain’t gonna cut it is it?

Trunk.
Cut it! Lol! Get it?

Silence.

Trunk.
…Sorry.

Trunk.
Well I’m not gonna fall over here, I’d rather be anywhere else than near those fucking evil bastards, fuckit, I’m outta here!

Treetop.
Well good luck with that Trunk, anyway,  you can’t, your roots are here. You know your’re a tree right?

Trunk.

Just you fucking watch me… Ugh! Fuckit.

Time passes.

Trunk.
Fuck.

Treetop.
Anyway, it’s a bit breezy.

Trunk.
Yeah. Right. OK then, bye Blanche.

Treetop.
Yep, tree to earth, wood to pieces, ashes to ashes.

Trunk.
LMAO!

Silence.

Trunk.
Wish I could go back to being a plant again.

Treetop.
Sigh…

Toilet humour

You know those times when you get trapped in a public convenience? You know, when you NEVER want to touch the door handles so you just stand there repeatedly pushing the hand dryer button until someone else comes in?
I had just picked my wife up from Heathrow after her return from the USA and pulled into the Marks & Spencers service station on the A303. While there, I said I would visit the loo.
After giving Helen my sandwich, I entered the toilets, it immediately became apparent to me someone was having issues, there was someone in a cubicle obviously suffering from something, making all sorts of noises, I giggled, I’m sorry I just can’t help it, I’ll laugh at that shit even if I’m on my own.

Then another chap walked in and stood next door but one to me at the urinals and proceeded to do his business. As we both stood facing the wall, I was about to make conversation when the noises kicked off again, the other chap giggled too, after a second we were both like schoolboys desperately trying not make noises ourselves!
The tears began streaming from both our eyes, then there came an ‘Aaaahhh’ noise from the cubicle, the sound of trousers being pulled up and a zip, the door opened and out stepped the guy, he went straight for the door, grabbed it with both hands and left without even a glance at myself or my new found friend who clearly had a similar sense of humour to myself.

As we were washing our hands, my new friend said ‘Jeeeeze! What the fuck did that guy eat?’ I laughed, once we dried our hands, it became blatantly obvious neither of us was going to touch that fucking door! So we stood there, both now trapped, and by this time we were making stupid conversation, clearly buying time just so one of us left first, anything rather than grab that fucking handle! But someone was gonna have to grab that fucking handle first and that my friends, was not gonna be me. Eventually one of us had to make a move, ‘After you’ I said. ‘Are you fucking serious? There’s no fucking way I’m touching that door handle!’. Silence ensued. We did what most of us do in these situations, we just waited for someone else to come in.

What seemed like an hour, which in reality was only about 10 minutes (still a long time to spend in a toliet with some guy you’ve never fucking met in your life with) at last, someone entered the toilet, the look of relief on our faces must have looked a little surprising to the guy who had just entered, but this was no time for explanations, one of us had to act fast or this situation could look even worse than it already did to the now already suspicious ‘new’ guy, Immediately, and a little too zealously, I slammed my foot in the door just missing the guys foot by a millimetre, the somewhat shocked guy gave my friend and myself a weird glance whilst he looked back as he stood facing the wall.
I have no idea what went through his head or what medical problem the unfortunate guy who made the all the noises suffered from but it was a rather amusing visit to a service station toilet.
I returned to the car, my wife said. ‘You were a long time, you OK? You look like you’ve been crying?’. ‘Sort of’ I replied…

The Blow Up Lady Choir Singer

About 30 odd years ago, my next-door neighbour bought his wife a dildo. This was the same neighbour, Ben, (Name not changed to ensure identity) whom I had borrowed his Bosch drill from which blew up on me. (See ‘Neighbourly Love?’) We usually conversed over the fence as there was no Facebook in 1987, I remember he commented on how big the box was compared to the actual, ahem, cough, ‘lengthy item’ inside. Apparently, the box was huge. This was verified the following morning when I left for work, the ‘box’ was on the top of MY rubbish bin, not IN the bin but on top of it. On the outside of the box was a picture of its contents. There was no doubt as to the size of this phallic object. It was obvious for all to see. I will confess that in those days when I was young and making my way in life, I did wonder what the other neighbours might have thought. Clearly, so did Ben.

My first priority was to get rid. I knew that my bin was full to the brim already as only the night before I was jumping up and down on the bin to crush the rubbish down so I could squeeze just a little more extra space to fit in my daughters much loved, now frozen dead dwarf floppy eared rabbit that had died four days before and which I had retrieved from the freezer where I had put it until rubbish day. I felt a little guilty not having a dwarf floppy eared rabbit funeral but no one seemed too bothered at its demise and very shortly after discovering it dead, she was back to watching ‘Rainbow Bright’ and ‘BFG’ videos for the gazillionth time on TV. So rather than a garden burial, I thought it best to let it go and move on. Even if it was in the bin. To be fair, the now frozen stiff and very dead rabbit had a great life having a free run of the whole 80ft long garden after we gave up trying to catch her to put her back in her hutch shortly after we got her. A long, free and happy life before her subsequent and unfortunate demise at the hands, or rather paws, of what we assumed was a hungry fox one evening.

I seemed to be a regular target for pranks however when I am a victim, the perpetrators will always receive in kind with added knobs on! So pranking wasn’t new to me.
I got my own back a couple of weeks later. I had recently left my employment and my colleagues had chipped in and bought a life-size blow-up doll complete with hair and big red shiny lips with her mouth sort of permanently open as if saying or singing something? I think perhaps she was some sort of choir singer model as she looked rather like she was singing ‘oooh’ Anyway I digress, my colleagues (Or now ex-colleagues) had strapped the ‘singing choir lady’ in the passenger seat of my car and being the sport I am, I drove home through the high street on a hot sunny day with the roof down. It seemed many people appreciated my ‘lady choir singer’ as I got lots of sometimes weird noises from people as I drove by.

When I got home, I deflated the ‘lady’ having decided I’d keep her, to prank someone else someday, much against the advice and protests from my wife.
This was my moment, so I got her out of the cupboard, dusted her off, and sat on the sofa downstairs and proceeded to blow her up. My wife commented on her way out to work, I can’t remember exactly what she said but I do remember she wasn’t very appreciative and my shouts of ‘It’s for Ben!’ didn’t cut any ice, anyway now half blown up, I carefully put her in Ben’s dustbin with her arms and lower legs hanging outside, I also added some of my wife’s bright red lipstick for good measure. I must confess, I was quite chuffed at my efforts, I thought I’d outdone him by a long way, certainly ‘my lady’ looked ready and willing to sing, if a little deflated. She looked hilarious though.

I waited for the binmen to come so I could witness the reactions myself, they came bang on time as usual, (No pun intended) I didn’t have to say anything, on seeing her arms outside the bin they opened the bin up whereby the ‘lady’ immediately popped up like a jack in the box! I didn’t plan for her to do that, she just did it, there she was completely upright with her bright red lipstick, arms either side of the bin, seemingly ever ready to sing. The binmen fell about in hysterics, they couldn’t stop laughing, neither could I, it worked far better than I planned it, they grabbed the ‘lady’ and promptly made a huge fuss making all sorts of noises and positions! I swear the whole street came out to see what all the fuss was about, it was clear who’s bin it came from so I was ecstatic. Ben however, never spoke to me again…!

Nerd alert!

Way back in 1982 (ish) I had a kit-built computer. It was a little unusual at the time in that all the home computers back then were plastic and games orientated, the Sinclair ZX80, then the ZX81, followed by the Spectrum, then others like the Commodore Pet, 64 etc.

Computing was very much in its infancy then but even I knew I was caught up in an electronic revolution which was to transform the world. I had a ZX80 before the Powertran though and I remember many a night programming the thing until 2.00am still trying to get the fucking thing to work, I’d go over the pages in the magazine again and again which listed the whole program and very carefully manually typed in the whole some 1000 lines. (Probably much more but can’t remember, like most painful experiences, as humans, we tend to put the pain to the back of our minds don’t we)

I had no cassette tape loading then. I’d go over and over and over trying to work out why it didn’t work, did I put a comma where a colon should be, or a line number referral wrong somewhere? Something as simple as that could fuck the whole thing up. I’d keep this up for a few weeks, every night going into the early hours frustrated as to what mistake I had made only to find in the next publication the announcement; ‘Amendment to last months ‘How to Run the UKs finances’ program. (Yeah sad right?) And there it was! LINE 243, stated a SEMI COLON at the end and SHOULD HAVE BEEN A COLON’ That was it, many late nights up trying to see what I had done wrong and some fuckwit at the editing had inadvertently replaced ONE colon with a fucking semi colon! By then I’d had it with the fucking ZX80! Time to move up the ladder of computer nerdiness.
The Powertran was a ‘real computer’ to me, just like something straight out of the Tardis! It had a full-size keyboard and a metal aluminium case. It was really a huge calculator however incorporated an altered version of the ‘Basic’ language. There were no games for this machine but it was of huge interest to me at the time.
Although I had attended a technical college for a 2-year electronics course at 16, I left very near the end thinking it wasn’t what I wanted as a career so I was never actually qualified. (Fucking idiot!) But at the then age of 23 and having had over 20 jobs even by then, it was clear to me that electronics was pretty much all I could do! I had not started my own business then, that came years later. Having accepted my fate but having no qualifications as such and much to the huge disappointment to my great friend Bob (Name changed) who at the time was also the sound mixer of the band I was then lead guitarist in, (he also had a masters degree in advanced mathematics but was also equally self-taught in electronics) I managed to ‘blag’ my way into a job at a scientific equipment manufacturer as an electronics laboratory assistant in their research and development laboratory. Fortunately for me, I must have impressed the lab lead of my knowledge in electronics as he started to give me small circuits to design, prototype and test. I ended up designing elementary industrial control circuits from sketching out the circuits on paper then designing the PCB, then etching it out, populating it with the relevant components, then extensively testing for function and suitability, providing a detailed report on the results. These circuits got a little more complex the longer I was there. They were then introduced into the manufacturing line into various scientific equipment which were sold around the world. This equipment was sold for the same price as my house at the time I remember! I still have the circuit diagram track layout PCB’s with my name in the corner that I designed in my garage somewhere. I haven’t had anything to do with electronics at that level for a very long time now though and although I can still understand circuits to a degree, I doubt I could design the stuff I did back then.
Years later Bob told me he would have given up his masters mathematics degree just to have that job I managed to ‘blag’ my way into and that he was extremely envious. He was still my good friend and the band’s sound mixer at every gig we did though. We came to work together few years later at the same company (Different company, I’d moved on by then) however that’s another story altogether! Sadly, we lost touch a long time ago now and although I tried to track him down numerous times, I have been unable to…

Anyway, I digress. The Powertran was about 18″ square and about 3″ thick though the front was sloping down to about 2″. In those days the video output was either ‘composite or UHF’ I used the UHF with a 12″ portable TV and I was up and running. It also had a numeric keypad which I think was the only one at the time. The ‘Basic’ language used ’Reverse Polish Notation’ which essentially meant, when programming, that instead of say;
10 + 2 = 12 it would be represented as; 10, 2+ I forget exactly but it was something like that. The best thing about this computer though was that when you turned it on it displayed in a font that filled the whole screen, ‘B.U.R. P’ which of course referred to its ability to use ‘Basic using Reverse Polish’.
The picture is not laabelled as a Powertran it is the same casing and not the ‘B.U.R.P version, I couldn’t find a picture of the ‘B.U.R.P anywhere but it looked the same as this.
Oh, and that fucking ZX80!

No photo description available.
No photo description available.

A moment of reflection.

A moment of reflection.
When I think back to my younger days, particularly when I was a teenager, I thought I knew everything, that confidence of youth I guess. As I look back now and both my parents have gone, it’s when I look at photographs of them when they were at an age much younger than I am even now, that it becomes so evident to me more than ever before that they too, had a young life before, no doubt they too thought similarly about their own parents with the exception that there were far fewer photographs for them to look back on, perhaps their memories remained vivid in their minds because of the lack of photos, rather like I can’t read a map so easiliy as I did, relying on a sat nav instead, or using a calculator instead of my brain. Of course, we all knew our parents had a life before we were born but we couldn’t be a part of that, so all we saw was from our birth on.
Now, though when I look at some of the photos of their lives before, I find them so much more emotional and moving the older I get. A picture of my mum and dad, young, free, having fun, living life. Who knew…

Neighbourly love?

I remember when we bought our second house (after selling the first) back in 1987, It was a bit of a ‘doer upper’ and I was fitting a new kitchen when my drill blew up. I got talking to my new neighbour Ben over the fence while he was gardening. I mentioned my drill blowing up and I was stuck until I got it fixed. (We actually fixed stuff in those days!) He said ‘Hey no problem I have one, it’s a Bosch, really expensive but you’re welcome to borrow it’ So I thanked him but couldn’t help noticing him staring at the drill as he handed it over, I thought ‘well if you don’t want to lend me the fucking thing just don’t offer’ anyway I took the drill back into the kitchen, Ben carried on with his gardening. It was a hot summers day and the door was open, I could see Ben and he could see into my kitchen. I was using the drill quite happily when all of a sudden his fucking drill also went ‘BANG!’ instinctively, I threw it across the room where there was a secondary bang as it hit the wall, it was all so slick though, there was the first bang when the drill blew up, (fucking flames, smoke and everything!) I looked at Ben outside who by then must have been wondering what all the explosions were about had popped his head up over the fence, so I slammed the door shut almost simultaneously as I threw the thing against the wall so there was in fact three bangs altogether. The last two ‘bangs’ were so close that it must have been almost impossible to discern two bangs from the three which I had most definitely heard, oh yes, I most definitely heard THREE fucking bangs alright but the first one I actually felt! After double checking my hand was actually still attached and though numb, I quickly opened the door a tiny bit, fuck, Ben was by now almost in my fucking garden! I shut the door momentarily catching a glimpse of Ben looking towards my direction. Fuck! Now what. I grabbed the drill and hid behind the sofa hoping Ben wouldn’t knock on my kitchen door. ‘Knock knock’ ‘You OK? I thought I heard a bang? Thought I better check you’re OK?’ Fuck, just piss off Ben! (I thought) I was still behind the sofa, but I HAD to get rid of the fucking nosey bastard, ‘Er…It’s OK Ben, can’t come to the door… I… I’m in the bath!’ In the fucking bath? What the fuck was I thinking, THREE explosions and I decide the best thing to do was have a fucking bath? ‘Ah as long as you’re OK’ Then he left. Immediately, I took it to a number of places but no luck and over the next few days, the answer was always the same ‘Oh sorry, this is a Bosch, we can’t repair those they have to go back to Germany I’m afraid’. ‘Well how long will that take?’ ‘Oooh about 6 weeks I reckon’. There was no way I could hang on to Ben’s precious fucking Bosch for that long. Meanwhile every fucking day Ben kept asking if I’d finished with his drill. Eventually, I couldn’t hang onto it any longer without him thinking I’d actually stole the fucking thing so I picked the drill up and plugged it in and with a broomstick hit the mains switch on the wall, nothing happened, well at least it didn’t go bang. I gingerly picked it up whilst wearing rubber gloves and pressed the switch… The fucking thing worked! I immediately unplugged it, cleaned all the black stuff off and ran out into the garden where Ben was still doing some fucking thing or other in his garden again. I thanked him and handed him the drill. So, after my two weeks of worry and sleepless nights, ‘Ah thanks’ he said. ‘Was it ok?’ ‘Oh it was fine’ I lied. Then I started to walk back before he asked anything else, I heard him shout behind me, ‘It’s all a bit odd though?, fucking thing keeps going BANG on me!’ I stopped, I didn’t even turn round or answer, I looked straight ahead, for a second or so, I just stood there, I didn’t reply, then carried on walking back inside whilst in my head I was already imagining ‘The tale of the mysterious death of Ben’ found hanging by his neck from his treasured apple tree by his precious fucking Bosch…!

Car woes

Recently, I had a problem with our car so looked around different forums for answers and I came across a guy who said ‘It would be hilarious if my self dismantling car (Manufacturer removed) belonged to somebody else!’ A few years ago, I had a ‘self dismantling’ car of the same make too. It was fine at first then after a few months it had developed an awful noise coming from the engine and continued for some time. My theory was, (still is) if I don’t know what it is, just keep driving it until it fails altogether then at least I’ll know what is wrong. True to form, I did exactly that.

We had been sailing on ‘Makathea’ where she was currently moored in Cornwall for the weekend, which was some 70 miles from home. I wasn’t thinking about the car’s engine noise at all, after all, it had got us 70 odd miles to Cornwall and it hadn’t got any worse, so feeling quite confident it would get us home, I turned the key and started the engine. To my horror there was a horrible banging and screeching noise, then I saw smoke coming from under the bonnet. I told Helen (wife) ‘Not to worry, I’ll fix it’. Helen wasn’t convinced. ‘Shouldn’t we call the fire brigade?’ ‘Don’t be silly’ I said, desperately trying to inspire some element of confidence. I stopped the engine, upped the bonnet and had a look. There were flames coming from somewhere down the left side of the engine, it was a diesel car so I wasn’t that concerned. To my relief, (And surprise) somehow I managed to smother the fire with a rag I’d grabbed from the boot and the flames went out. Fuck me! I was a successful firefighter now! Yet another string to my bow I thought. Now at least, I’d stabilised my predicament, I looked up over the bonnet at Helen, now with her door open clearly ready to leg it, I said ‘relax, it’s OK fire’s out’. ‘Great’ she said, while slowly removing her hand from the door handle but kicking the door further open.
Being 70 miles from home I thought I’d try again. I got back in the car, I noticed Helen’s hand on the door handle again, obviously ready for a speedy exit if necessary, she also wound the windows down, ‘Sensible’ I thought. The car started and to both our immense surprise, there was no noise at all!! It literally sounded like a new car! Clearly, I’d fixed it. I was well chuffed, I did fuck all except throw a piece of cloth over the fire and I’d fixed it! Helen’s face was something to behold, I looked at her, she looked back at me, ‘Piece of piss’ I said. I was beginning to feel my lifetime risk taking attitude to life was at last having an effect. She looked gobsmacked. Feeling more confident, we got on our way. Helen wound the windows back up and took her hand off the door handle. I did though, notice some bits on the ground in my mirror as we pulled away, I dismissed them as ‘bits’ that were already on the road though. As it happens, I now realise that was the start of our self dismantling car. (Manufacturer removed)

After about 10 mins though, the first light came on, a circle inside two brackets. (O) it had ‘ESP’ inside the circle, ‘What’s that?’ Helen said. ‘I think it’s some sort of warning in Spanish, maybe a temperature thing? But we’re not in Spain so not to worry’. I thought it must only be relevant if I was driving in Spain which I wasn’t, so I ignored it. Then after another 5 mins another light came on. Very similar to the Spanish warning light except apparently, it was something to do with my ABS, my torso muscles were fine so again, I ignored the warning. This was almost immediately followed by another lamp. This looked rather like a genie lamp. Underneath it, it said ‘oil’ though I couldn’t see the connection, a little perplexed, again I carried on. I had no manual for the car so I didn’t know what they meant apart from that to me, these lights looked like some sort of Egyptian Hieroglyphics but must be trying to tell me something potentially important, still, everything seemed fine so I kept going. Then after another 10 mins or so, practially every light came on, from dark places on the dash that I never even knew existed, certainly I’d never seen them before, some were even flashing. It was August so Christmas was 4 months away yet here I was driving a car with its own internal fucking Christmas tree! Multi coloured lights flashing every fucking where. Then, suddenly, somewhat to my surprise and immense relief, they all went out but then shortly after one huge word came on instead, a huge red light said, ‘STOP!’ OK, I can take a hint, so I did. But still, the engine sounded good, brakes, steering, also good. I looked under the bonnet again, no fire and our ‘self dismantling’ (Manufacturer removed) was still running seemingly perfectly, in fact it had never sounded or driven better, I got back in and pressed on. By now I was about half way home.

The ‘STOP!’ light went off, only to be replaced by numerous other warning lights I’d never seen before. Then they all went out again. Curiously, our ‘self dismantling’ (Manufacturer removed) car still drove beautifully.

Eventually, we got home and thought it’s true to say, I had never actually flown a Lancaster bomber, the journey seemed to me rather like flying a Lancaster bomber coming into land with two engines out, zero fuel, a full load of unused bombs with the undercarriage stuck in the up position! Though I’d been biting my lip all the fucking way home, we made it.

Next day I tried to start it, it was completely dead. I mean like nothing. Eventually, I got it fixed, apparently it was a bearing that had disintergated on the alternator, the belt got trapped between the pulley and the shaft, the friction had ignited the belt and caught fire. So the journey home had eventually drained the battery low enough so that the voltage to the engine management system hadn’t a clue what the fuck was going on. (That made two of us then, at least I had something in common with an engine management system) Anyway, a couple of days later, after it was fixed, I was on the motorway and noticed headlights flashing behind me, and a big gap as everyone hung back. I also noticed a trail of some rather worryingly large bits that had obviously come from the car! Clearly, it was time for our ‘self dismantling’ (Manufacturer removed) to go…!

Tunnels at Fort Amherst.

Try to imagine, if you can, being a boy of 13 years old and discovering various Napoleonic forts within walking distance of your home? Forts that had been left to nature. Later, when I had my flying lessons we flew over the forts, mostly they were completely overgrown and from the air could not be seen. One of them, Fort Amherst I think was the biggest, it had a fence erected around it by the military which was also covered in overgrowth and was at that time monitored for any mischievous trespassing little bastards like me. Of course, that didn’t deter us one jot, in fact it made it all the more exciting. Once in though, it was a labyrinth of miles of pitch black tunnels. We would explore these tunnels so extensively that, after a while we didn’t need candles (Which is what we used at first) or torches at all, we could navigate completely in the dark without any problem at all.

I remember it was incredibly exciting though, every single time we explored this place. There were some remarkable sights too. For example, carved in the chalk wall of a lengthy tunnel, about shoulder height, was a beautifully carved, almost 3D picture of a galleon, presumably of the ship that carried the unfortunate Napoleonic French prisoner of war to this very place of incarceration.

I also remember some friends who were with me tried to vandalise it, I have to say, I feel quite proud that I persuaded these ‘said friends’ to refrain and to leave it be. I note that today, when I visited Amherst recently that this very carving is now enclosed in a glass casing to protect it. I feel quite proud that I was, at least in part, responsible for its survival.

There was so much excitement in this place for me, even then, history was important to me. But it was also extremely dangerous. Only when I visited this place after it was eventually awarded a National Lottery grant to restore the place and opened to the public that I realised just quite how dangerous this place really was.

During the tour we walked down one tunnel where I vividly remember jumping over a 6ft diameter hole with only our candles when I was 13 only now it was pointed out by the tour guide that this ‘hole’ was 200ft deep! We thought nothing of jumping over this hole. Such is the confidence of youth I guess.

Much later in the late 1980s my wife and I were looking to purchase a house in Gundulph Rd in Chatham which was about a mile or more away from fort Amherst. When the estate agent took us to look around the house he took us down to the enormous cellar, and I mean enormous! It definitely went under other properties. It looked something like a church crypt complete with arches, there was a tunnel at one end which led all the way to Fort Amherst!

The Medway towns were (Are) in fact riddled with tunnels that connected many of the local forts. Amherst was just one, there were about 3 or four others. (Which we also used to explore) One was right next to the secondary boys school (If you could call it a school) that I attended occasionally, and called Fort Luton school for boys. The fort next to the school was unsurprisingly called ‘Fort Luton’. This was much smaller than Amherst but was literally at the end of my road where we lived so I used to visit it more than Amherst. How lucky was I to live near such exciting places to play in!

I was quite proud of the fact that, with my friends, I had explored Amherst so much that when I took my motherinlaw and fatherinlaw to visit Fort Amherst, I couldn’t wait to show them the 3D ship on the wall, I wanted to mention that it was me that helped save it from the ‘White Roaders’. (Note: White Road Estate. The council estate where I grew up which had the worst reputation in the UK apparently) Onward, we entered one of the newly opened officers mess when the tour operator pointed out that ‘Of course, over time, particularly the early 70s, this place has had its fair share of hooligan visitors’, this was then demonstrated very clearly when the tour guide shone his torch on the ceiling where there, in large black sooty marks made from candles strapped to the end of a long branch was the word ‘Gibbo woz ere 1973’! (Gibbo was my nickname) I coughed, looked slightly embarrassed and looked at my motherinlaw who just smiled…

The tour guide spoke up, ‘Right, let’s move out and down the tunnel and if we could all keep slightly left that would be good’. I spoke up, ‘Is that because of the 200ft drop about half way along?’ ‘Oh, we have a smart arse with us’ He said jokingly. Little did he fucking know! I could say so very much about this period, Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’, Slade’s ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ or Mott the Hoople’s ‘All the Young Dudes run through my head every time I think of that place, and every time I think of that place, those songs enter my head again. Music is the instigator of nostalgia and vice versa it seems.

This was a part of my youth that has remained foremost in my mind the most, I often think about those times, the earthly smell of those tunnels took me right back to the early 70s when I re-visited Amherst a few years ago. Those ‘friends’ and what happened to them. They were very happy days for me, I felt free, though I think my mother called it ‘out of control’! Unlike how many young people seem to be today, the sense of adventure I had back then was simply incredible by comparison, such a shame.

The photos below are all from Amherst, the stairs look like a film set straight out of Errol Flynn’s ‘Robin Hood’! Sadly, I can find not a single picture of the galleon carving anywhere.

The photos were not taken by myself and I got them mostly from the Fort Amherst website.

 

Breaking up for Xmas at my old school.

As we all start getting ourselves into the festive spirit, yes even miserable bastards like me, but mainly as there’s a lot of wine around, I can’t help but reminiscing about my school days. Particularly the last secondary school. I remember gearing up in a similar way but obviously much earlier as we got closer to breaking up for the Xmas holidays. The school was a pretty dire one where survival for the teachers as well as us was above education.
I commented on a friends wall yesterday about bunking off school and it prompted me to comment about my days attending the school, (or mainly not as it happens) there were many fights with teachers which could clearly be seen from the playground as we all looked on laughing as the desks went flying as if they were positioning themselves in some sort of threatening Maori display before actual close combat. It would usually end with another teacher rushing in to break it up but there would usually be spilt blood.
Hardly any of us wore the school uniform, I had a gold satin jacket which was the same as the one Adam Faith wore in the tv series ‘Budgie’ which I loved at the time. Practically every fellow pupil offered so much stuff for a swap but I was never tempted. Pretty sure that jacket kept me from being bullied actually! Well that and being the school joker! I also wore a blue check ‘Brutus’ shirt in protest as opposed to the required school white shirt. The Brutus shirt was a Ben Sherman copy with button down collars as we couldn’t afford a Ben Sherman. I was an extremely cocky teenager and was in my mother’s words ‘A little shit’ but she was right, I was totally out of control and got myself into a lot of trouble many times. Many years later, when I was over twenty years old, I apologised for ‘all that shit’, she just said ‘We lost your father, I felt I had to be tolerant, besides, I love you’…
The staff teachers were almost entirely made up from temporary ones which never stayed long. On one occasion a very old gentleman dressed in a tweed suit arrived, having come out of retirement for some reason. He had a beautiful English upper class accent and sounded to us like Royalty.  He was very tall, thin and sported an Errol Flynn styled moustache, he looked straight out the 1930s.  He was totally out of place in a school located smack bang in the middle of one of the roughest council estates in the UK. He must have been well over 75. Of course we all knew he would be lucky to last a week. I remember when he did leave though, it was when he walked out after calling the register and someone had neatly laid a turd inside the first page, which someone had retrieved from following the school caretaker’s dog. When he opened it, he stood up quite authoritatively and shouted ‘WHO did this?) much laughter ensued, this school was totally out of control. In unison the class shouted “REX!” He immediately walked out and was never seen again. It was his third day. I remember this mainly because we were swiftly marched onto the next lesson which was history, a subject I actually enjoyed. The history teacher had been there the longest and had become THE target as we tried ever harder to oust him too. (We really were evil fuckers) As he tried desperately to control the class, he would get louder and louder until he turned around and shouted “Look, ALL you lot have to do, is directly copy exactly WORD for WORD what I am writing on the blackboard and next year you WILL have at least ONE exam pass, so do yourselves a favour and GET WRITING!” The class went silent, then a rubber hit the blackboard. He turned around sensing that he might still have an element of control, he again shouted, “The next person who throws another rubber will get this one back!” He then waved the blackboard rubber. Now anyone who went to school in the 70s will know blackboard rubbers were about 6″ long by about 3″ thick and made mostly of wood. He turned around and continued chalking up what he was himself, copying directly from a history book, he continued, seconds later I threw a rubber which hit him in his ear, he immediately turned around and true to his word, threw the backboard rubber at me, it hit me hard on my forehead. Bang, the class went quiet. The only sound was the tap, tap and scratching noise of his chalk on the blackboard. I must admit I was a little startled and shocked, as was the class, then I noticed the blood dripping down onto my desk. I shouted ‘Whooa!” the whole class gasped. More silence as the teacher continued chalking away, tap tap, scratch scratch, no doubt pleased he had at last gained control. Someone spoke up, “Sir, he’s bleeding!” The teacher turned around with a look of horror on his face, that actually scared me more! He came over and said “Oh god, come with me to the back room, I’ll fix you up” Going to the back room with a teacher was always a source of ridiculing from fellow pupils at this school but I was now bleeding quite profusely so went along. Once inside, he closed the door behind me, he ran the tap and soaked a peice of cloth I remember. He bathed it and after a little silence he said “It’s OK, it looks worse than it is, you’ll be fine…And I’m sorry”. All sorts of stuff was racing around my mind, ‘I deserved it, it was fair play’, then he said “You’re not going to tell anyone are you?” Immediately I was thinking how I could capitalise on my unfortunate circumstances, but by this stage I began to feel sorry for him. I must have taken too long to answer him as he then reached for his pocket and pulled out a ten bob note, he handed it to me slowly not knowing my reaction and repeated “You’re…You’re… not going to tell the headmaster are you, I would get into a lot of trouble” Now ten bob was a lot of money in 1973! I gingerly took it and replied “No, I’m fine”, “Good lad” He smiled. He put a large plaster over the cut. We left the backroom and got back to work where to my surprise everyone had actually copied all what the teacher wrote on the balckboard! I like to think I took one for the team that day, most of the class passed history the following year, I did not!

Anyway, back to that day. I kept my word and did not go to the headmaster. I got home and watched the normal kids TV stuff, I think I remember ‘Magpie’ it was the ‘alternative’ to the established ‘Blue Peter’. Ever the rebel eh? Then my mother came home from work. She was a single parent as my father had died a few years before so had to work. When she got home she pounced on me! “What is THAT on your head? What have you done?” “Nothing, it’s fine” “It’s not fine, what happened? “The teacher threw a blackboard rubber at me” “WHAT! Right I’m having tomorrow off and going in to your school!” “But mum!” “No buts, he’s not getting away with this!” There was no stopping her, she was fiercely protective. I wondered how this was going to unfold, was I going to have to give the ten shillings back? Not gonna happen I thought, anyway I’d already bought a few packs of cigarettes which I had planned to re-sell at school.
So off she went, she had a real pop at the headmaster as I stood there “Look at his head, I sent him here for an education!” Oh mum I thought, this was the last place for that! Anyway he profusely apologised and she seemed happy. I went to my class and everything went back to normal. Well that was until our next history lesson, the teacher looked at me angrily as we went in. After class he pulled me aside, “I thought you weren’t going to tell the headmaster?” I paused for effect, “I didn’t” He looked perplexed, “But, but” I interrupted “You never mentioned not telling my mother”. I’m sure I detected a look of surprise with a tinge of respect on his face. Fair play. Then we broke up for the Xmas break…
What did we do when we bunked off? That’s another story altogether!

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The Wall of Death.

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Anybody remember these fucking things? The Wall of Death I think they called them. I know I do. In 1974 myself and a couple of buddies bunked off school and went to Dreamland in Margate. They had one of these fucking things there at the time so we thought it a great idea to have a go. I remember the feeling of excitement as the thing started to spin. The feeling just before the floor dropped away was, well, something else. The weird thing was though, was that as we spun the guy dead opposite me seemed dead still, I thought it an odd sensation, then as we spun even faster, still the chap opposite me seemed to not be moving at all, I guess relative to me, he wasn’t, then the floor dropped away and there we were, all glued to the side. I kept looking at the chap opposite me, he kept sliding down to almost at right angles to the guy next door to him. That guy had a look of such terror on his face, his eyes looked like they were going to pop right out of his head, his stare unnerved me, the other guy was by now completely sideways on the the guy next him, still, he kept looking at me, he seemed to be trying to tell me something and for a moment I thought I detected a sort of nodding motion, such that he could do while his head was stuck against the wall but somehow I understood him. He was definitely trying to tell me about the guy next to me, I tried really hard to move my head but couldn’t quite turn it far enough but by almost forcing my eyes at a weird angle I was able to see enough to see the vomit that was now streaking its way from the guy’s mouth next to me and getting ever closer to my face! So now I looked terrified too. The bastard opposite me was now laughing his fucking head off! I on the other hand was desperately trying to avoid the guy’s sick next to me! Whilst I’m sure it was a ride I would have enjoyed, it was rather spoilt somewhat by this guy’s vomit. But he wasn’t alone, about 70% of people were sick too! Then what seemed like a fucking eternity the thing started to slow down and the floor came up. Once it stopped, many were actually upside down and collapsed in a heap. Never again…Fucking things.