Fancy A Leek

When the email came through suggesting that Leek was going to be the place for The Gang’s Summer jaunt, the first thing I did was look it up on the map. The second thing I did was check the train timetables. I’d heard of Leek but never really knew much about the place, except a suspicion that it was in the Midlands…

My first shock came when I discovered the travel time…

Five and a quarter hours! 

That was the length of time it usually took me to get to Llandudno in North Wales!

Five and a quarter hours! 

I was a little taken-aback, I must admit. It’s a long way to go for an overnight. My mind began thinking in terms of a second night, perhaps the Friday night as I’d done for Shrewsbury. It worked well then, a really great weekend, plenty of time to explore. Besides, I didn’t want to go into the evening meal in Leek tired out and not be able to enjoy myself. 

Funny how a journey where you are sat down can tire you out, trust me, it just does!

I put the idea of an extra night to Topman. He told me he checked it out himself and said the rate for Friday would be extortionate.

“Why not come and stay with us overnight? You can travel up with us the next day and we can bring you back on the Sunday?”

It made sense to me and was an offer, in the words of Marlon Brando – with the appropriate amount of cotton wool stuffed in the chops – ‘an offer I couldn’t refuse..’

It would make for a better and longer weekend than originally planned. I liked it. A beer or two with Topman the night before, then off to meet the gang the next day in Leek.

A few days later I got the email through with the Menu choices on. I decided to give the old kippers a steam (wash my feet to the uninitiated) while debating what my food choices would be. 

I tend to give the feet a good soaking prior to cutting the nails. As I’ve got older I’ve found the toenails getting harder. Cutting them is something best done when there is no one around. It can be quite dangerous, especially when a particularly hard nail requires so much effort that it ends up  ricocheting off the wall. Well, you could have someone’s eye out!

Unfortunately, I was so relaxed I fell asleep with the old plates in the bowl. It wasn’t until the water cooled, I woke up with a shiver. I’d been halfway through a jam doughnut at the point I fell asleep, so my left cheek was sticky with jam. Another thing about getting older, I sometimes tend to drop off to sleep in the evenings, especially in the Summer after a four or five mile walk home from work…

I took the Friday off work to do the chores I would normally do on Sunday and was ready to travel at around 15.30, enough time to get the 16.14 to Newport.

Unfortunately, all the rushing around that morning and then sitting down in the comfy sofa in the front room, led to another badly timed snooze…

When I woke up, a sudden pig-like grunting snore initiating consciousness, I had a Corporal Jones moment. Not quite to the level of running up and down the room, but looking around anxiously, realising I was going to be late.

However, for once, the train being late worked in my favour. So, right train, wrong time. It made me a little less guilty about my unscheduled snooze.

The arrangement was to meet Topman at Newport station, and as he was expecting me at a certain time it was no surprise that I got a text asking if all was ok? Was I on my way? I explained that I was running a little behind, although technically because of the train being late, but it would’ve happened if it wasn’t as I would’ve missed it if it’d been on time…

At the station I met Topman and he decide we would take a taxi back to his place. He was to cook the evening meal but not before we had a beer in his rather impressive garden…I was always fond of a well-kept garden, and hate to see a garden that’s been left to go ruin, which is probably why I never look at mine!

It was bed just before mid-night and then up at about 7.30am. I took a shower, which I had difficulty with. It seems to be a little like trains, never seem to work to my advantage. I can’t seem to get the settings right. I either scold or freeze myself; sometimes both in turn. 

Breakfast was bacon and egg sandwiches, something quick so that we could get away sharpish. I’m fond of Bacon and egg sandwiches, so it worked for me. 

We were on our way at 8.40, only ten minutes later than planned.

The journey was rather pleasant, and a lot better than a crowded train for five and a quarter hours. At least the conversation was far more entertaining with people you know. I can never understand how some people can interpret someone travelling on their own reading a book is code for “come and talk to me”. If I wanted someone’s life story then I’d buy a biography… 

Funnily enough, if you’re sat just looking out of the window or staring into space no bugger wants to talk to you!

We arrived at 11.58. There was a short wait check in, but once that  was out of the way, I took my bag into a neat, comfortable room. There was also free WiFi, which was good, especially as I couldn’t get a mobile signal, which was bad.

Leek is in Staffordshire and on the River Churnet, ten miles from Stoke-on-Trent, it was given to old William the Conk at around the time of the Doomsday Survey. However, of more interest to me (and probably Blameworthy) is that it was famous in the 17th and 18th century for its ale. Although interesting, unfortunately, as I don’t have a time machine hidden somewhere in my house, I’m never going to know how good the ales were in those days. Like a lot of things, it’s something I’m going to have to learn to live with.

My brother-in-law would probably be interested in the Rudyard Lake Steam Railway, which runs along the eastern shores. If I’d been there for more than just an overnight, I might’ve gone to see it myself. The other, nearby attraction, is Alton Towers, not really my thing, which is the leisure facility of nearby Stoke-on-Trent.

Also, Leek has a Double Sunset on and around the Summer solstice, an attraction for certain tourists. The grounds of the parish church is the best place to see this. My timing was off, so I wouldn’t witness this phenomenon…

That was what I liked about the bi-yearly meet ups, the travelling to places I hadn’t been to, and in many cases, probably wouldn’t go to under normal circumstances. Having a walkies in a different place is something of a treat to me… 

Ten minutes after unpacking and a quick wash, Mr and Mrs Topman called for me and we’re off to find somewhere to go for a drink and a meal. It was decided that a pub lunch would fit the bill, but we passed on the nearby Wetherspoons. 

There was a nice little pub up a slight hill looked a good prospect. It was called The Fountain. Once inside I noticed it had a good selection of beers, but it didn’t do pub grub. However, the landlord helpfully recommended The Blue Monk, or at least that was what I thought he said the pub was called…

So we took his advice along with directions and walked further up the hill. It was just over a five minute walk, up the hill and just around the corner. It was then that I discovered that I’d got the name wrong. It was The Blue Mugge, not Monk. Still, got the Blue bit right though. Fifty percent correct…

The food was perfect for our group, not only a vegetarian option but also a gluten free one, which was good for Londontaff.

I went for a mix of healthy and unhealthy. A chicken burger with chips and salad. This along with a rather good pint went down the old cake hole rather well.

I was running short of cash. This was where I was Luck as  Mrs Topman lent me fifty quid, which was rather kind. To me, however, it was only a short term solution because as soon as the lunchtime session was over, I would have to find a cash point to get cash to pay Mrs Topman back and enough to cover the evening expenses for The Red Lion, at Thorncliffe.

Mr and Mrs Smiler were supposed to be with us for lunch but hadn’t yet arrived. They had to come down from Wigan, so delays were likely possible. I tried ringing from inside the pub, but the reception wasn’t up to much, rather like the hotel, but I managed to get a signal outside. They were in Leek so I directed them to the pub, telling them I’d stay outside so the place would be easy to spot.

So, Mr and Mrs Smiler, ten minutes later, arrived and went inside the pub. They’d checked in at the hotel before starting off for the pub. I was expecting Scrumcyclist to be with them but apparently she was double booked. She was doing the three peaks walk…not sure what that was but the fact that the sentence contained walk rather appealed to me. Maybe it was something I’d have a go at one day.

After lunch we took a slow stroll back toward the hotel via a different and longer route. On the way I took a few photos which, of course included pubs. Well, ok, let’s be honest, it was mostly pubs…

I spent ten minutes in my room, made some notes on my iPad and then decided to wander around the town. It wasn’t the brightest of days, considering it was July, but I was in England after all…but at least it wasn’t raining…

It wasn’t only my need to explore my new surroundings but the need to find a cash point so that I could pay for the evening meal and beer tonight. I also needed to pay Mrs Topman back, I hated to be in debt.

For a while I thought the placed didn’t do cashpoints, then after aimlessly meandering further and further away from the hotel (more pub photos) I returned back wonder if the place had ever heard of cash points. As luck would have it, there was one near to a supermarket on one corner of the street only a couple of hundred yards from from the hotel. Needn’t have walked so far out, but it was good exercise and I love exploring new places.

So, with my wallet filled with the appropriate amount of notes, I decided to try out The Fountain Inn, the pub that recommended the Blue Mugge; it seemed to have some interesting ales in there.

The Fountain, a multi-award winning pub (although I didn’t know that then) was only occupied by half a dozen or so people when I got in. I was served quickly and made my choice by the odd name of the beer. A pint of Wibbably Wallaby – sounded Australian and I only just stopped myself from doing the voice of a Neighbours character when ordering. The beer, I later found, was brewed by Wincle Beer Company Ltd, in Wincle, Cheshire. The beer had a gravity of 4.4%.

I was quite enjoying myself there, the beer was to my taste and in the surrounds of what I considered a comfortable, good proper pub. Unfortunately, half-way through the beer a group of Northern Rugby enthusiasts came in. (I’m not into Rugby, my only real experience of it was at school when an enthusiastic sports teacher arranged a match as part of our games period. As far as I was concerned the game is just legitimised thuggery.) I don’t know what match they’d been to, but their team must’ve won as they were cheerful and loud. It rather ruined the mood for me, so I decided not to go for a second pint.

In actual fact, they probably did me a favour as I’d probably would’ve overstayed my welcome. It just wouldn’t do to turn up at the Red Lion staggering around drunk.

I got back to the hotel, settled in room to have a shower, then made some notes on my iPad.

At 17.30 I was downstairs and meeting up with others from the gang. Sunny, Mr and Mrs Londontaff, Leaderladay and partner Headman and Mrs Headman and Thinker

Mrs Topman had booked two taxi’s to take us to The Red Lion at Thorncliffe. It was, as usual, smoothly organised.

The Red Lion at Thorncliffe was about 2.5 miles away. Since the gang visited it, there has been a change of name to The Reform. This happened in January 2018. The owners decided to go back to its original name from 1851. Understandable, there are rather a lot of Red Lions, but not many Reforms.

The beers on offer Abbot Ale (Greene King, 5%), Sharpe’s Doombar (4.3%), Pedigree (Marston 4.5%) and Life of Riley, (Wincle 4.2%). I was spoiled for choice.

I decided on the Abbot Ale and stuck with it for the evening, despite being tempted to try each of the others.

After catching up with the rest of the gang, and noting how the pub was filling up, we went outside. The weather had improved and my meal consisted of Soup of the day, tomato, Beef and ale pie with veg and chips and a pudding of Apple and Woodland Berry crumble, with custard. Fitrambler in paradise…

It doesn’t happen very often but the old Fitrambler cake hole struggled a little with that three course meal. The portions were awfully large; not that I’m in the habit of complaining about that sort of thing.

Topman organised a round of applause for the staff, an appreciation of their efforts for the evening. They had worked well and hard dealing with us lot…

The following morning, I was up at about 8am and had a fight with the shower. I’d had enough trouble with it the previous day where it insisted on coming out of the taps and the shower unit. Today it would only come out of the taps no matter how much I message about with the adjustments. Again I had to go through the scolding and freezing routine. What did showers have against me? In the end I gave in and took a bath; it took longer but was less traumatic!

I still was feeling a little full after the previous night’s meal. I wasn’t alone in that and agreed with Topman that a big breakfast wasn’t on the cards. Just enough to set us up for the journey ahead…

As I sat down he stared at my plate. He saw the double sausage, eggs, black pudding, hash browns and baked beans. He frowned and then looked up from his plate of bacon and toast.

“I thought you weren’t going to have your usual big breakfast…”

I frowned. “I didn’t bother with the mushrooms and toast…or a bowl of cereal…” I protested.

“Hmm, big difference…”

For some  strange reason he wasn’t convinced. 

With the breakfast nestling in the old tum-tum, and a short period of chatting to let it digest, goodbyes were said. There were the comments of the Christmas do, which was the next time we would all meet again…

We were underway and strangely enough, Topman got the urge for some coffee when we were only twenty-five percent into the journey home…

It was a near to Stone that we pulled off the motorway and into a Service Station. It was going into the car park that we spotted Scrumcyclist going towards her car. One presumed she’d done the three peaks and was making her way home. We all had a brief chat and then went to get the coffee Topman had been keen on.

Once we got back to Newport, Topman and Mrs Topman began preparations for a late Sunday lunch. It was after that I was off to the railway station and home. A rather good weekend…

As I look back on that trip, one of the regrets I have was not having a pint in the pub called The Earl Grey Inn. Having been a fan of the tea for over thirty years, it would have been good to have on my list of pubs I’ve visited…but you can’t have anything…

Silly Old Bag

It was Saturday and the beginning of a week’s leave; always a happy time for old Fitrambler. I planned on spending it with my parents who live in Plymouth. It’s like a holiday and parental visit rolled into one.

The weather forecast was not promising but then it hadn’t been promising for some time. The recent snow in Swindon caused vast problems recently, even though it only lasted four or five days. I’ve never been able to understand why bad weather during the winter months is such a surprise for our public services. The comment “we weren’t expecting it” always rings out. I mean if you can’t expect snow in Winter, when can you expect it? You would have thought the severe weather warnings would have given it away?

But no!

Needless to say, once I’d paid for my train ticket I was told I’d be travelling by coach. Well, of course, why wouldn’t I be? Buy a train ticket, travel by coach. Yeah, makes sense!

So, clutching my ticket, I was told I’d need to go to the car park where the coach would be waiting. I frowned, slightly; maybe if I paid to go by coach they’d put me on a train? No, thinking about it, that was silly. More likely I’d end up being put on a rickshaw pulled by an old man!

I was directed to the high spot, above the ticket office, where the cold wind cuts across, not directly outside where all the other coaches leave from. Well, of course it would be, why not shove the passengers to where the wind is likely to cut through their bones.

So, once up there and spending two minutes in the cold, slight flakes of snow making me dread what could be ahead of me on my journey, I was approached by a rail official.

‘Where are you travelling to?’ he asked politely.

‘Hopefully, Bristol Parkway,’ I replied, my optimism wasn’t at its best.

‘That goes from here,’ he informed me.

‘Great, that’s what the lady who sold me a train ticket told me. It’s good to see we all agree…’

He ignored my less than good cheer – he probably saw a lot of irritated passengers during the course of his days – par for the course. Probably from the naive ones who thought that when they bought a train ticket they’d be travelling on a train.

He told me I could wait in the building behind me. I followed his directions through two automatic doors. There were some comfortable seats and I chose one, dragging my purple suitcase on wheels. It’s only a small case, but it had a couple of towels, DVDs of “Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple” for Mother, slippers, my shaver, medication and some photos I’d printed off, again for Mother. I don’t pack much by way of clothes because I have plenty I’ve left down there from previous visits with the family.

I was alone for about five or so minutes, thinking at least I didn’t have to deal with the biting cold from outside. It was grey and bleak out there, a few flakes of snow had fallen but not settled. Snow was forecast again but weather opinions change so frequently, rather like the weather…

The comfort of being inside in a relatively warm area was short lived. Others turned up and played the game of “let’s walk in and out of the doors so that the cold air cuts into the room”. It was quite a popular game played by half a dozen or more, especially those with kids. It was such a great game the rail official decided to join in. Funny how things catch on? It left me thinking I’d have been no worse off if I’d stayed out in the cold.

It was setting itself up to be another one of those wonderful journeys. All that was missing was the obligatory noisy brat; the one that cannot talk below a thousand decibels!

Finally, after a false alarm, the coach arrived and we boarded it. I stayed back a little and was one of the last to get on, even though I was the first there. I didn’t mind too much as there was a brat (yes, “it” had arrived) and it’s mother was in front of me. I wanted to see where “it” sat before I found the furthest seat away from it. You get to learn these things.

I took on board my rucksack and let the driver put away my wheeled, purple suitcase in the compartment on the side with the other passengers’ luggage. I wasn’t too happy about not having it near me on the journey but understood why I couldn’t.

Once settled, in a seat and with no one sat next to me, I relaxed a little. In the interests of fairness, I have to report that the brat was quite quiet and very well behaved (probably given a sedative before “it” left). It was a pleasant change…

However, two seats in front of me a man talked the whole journey, which wouldn’t be much of a problem if he hadn’t been doing it as though he was on stage performing; a poor man’s Brian Blessed. I could have sat right at the back of the coach and still heard him loud and clear. From the expression on the poor sod who he was talking to, I got the impression he was no more enamoured by this “talking machine” than I was. The poor listener seemed to only be allowed three contributions to the conversation “did you”, “yes” or “Oh dear”, neatly slotted in the appropriate place.

I can never understand people who feel the need to tell strangers their life story. I can accept people who tell the odd anecdote about something amusing that happened to them, but the autobiography renditions, running to several volumes, no.

When I’m travelling, unless it’s with someone I know, I prefer to do it as quietly as possible. I don’t want to be involved with anyone travelling with me. If I do have the inconvenience of having someone sit next to me on a train then I’d prefer it if they just kept quiet.

The coach left a minute late (laudable by train standards) and the journey took about fifty minutes.

I was so glad to get to Parkway and have the chance to leave the talking machine behind. I also felt for the bloke who’d been listening to him up for the best part of an hour. He was relieved to see Talking Machine get off the coach; some peace and quiet for the remainder of his journey.

‘See you again, maybe,’ said the talking machine and disappeared.

The expression on the talking machine’s victim suggested “not if I see you first!”.

I dashed off the coach and made my way inside Parkway. Out of the two Bristol Stations, I like Parkway the best. Not exactly sure why, perhaps it’s because it’s not so busy and crowded like Temple Meads.

Of course, it could be that there were only four platforms on Parkway. That means when they decide to change platforms for a train’s arrival, there’s only a few minutes travel between them. Unlike Temple Meads where if there’s a platform change they make sure it’s the furthest one away and with fifteen platforms, that’s quite a distance, and usually you’re only given a couple of minutes to do it. Maybe it’s part of their plans to get customer fitness up. (Side-bets by staff about who goes ass over tit trying to catch their train in the meagre time given is purely an added bonus.)

I got inside and checked the timetable. It was 15.55 and the next train that would get me to Plymouth was at 16.30. I walked along to Platform 2 where I decided to take refuge from the cold wind inside the waiting room.

It’s amazing how things catch on, so I wasn’t surprised all that much to see that the game of “let’s walk in and out of the waiting room so that the cold air cuts into the room” was being played here as well.

It wasn’t until I checked my watch and saw it was only thirteen minutes to go, that I noticed my purple bag wasn’t with me. My little suitcase on wheels…

I looked around anxiously and then remembered that I’d been so anxious to get away from the Talking Machine that I hadn’t waited for the coach driver to unload the bags and collect mine.

Tip top!

I rushed out of the waiting room and back to where the coach dropped me off. It was thirty minutes since I arrived so didn’t expect the coach to still be there. However, there were two blokes who were supervising the arrival and departure of coaches.

I explained my problem and he patiently listened. Once he dealt with the current coach he made some phone calls. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get hold of the coach who dropped me off and speaking to Head Office resulted in very little. Finally, he told me that when the driver came back the bag would be discovered and more than likely be dropped off at the ticket office.

Still trying to avoid the natural instinct of doing a Corporal Jones impression and running up and down yelling “Don’t panic!” I went back inside Parkway Station. I’d now missed the 16.30 train and the next was due in less than an hour.

So, I went into the ticket office, being as I’d been told that was where my suitcase would go to. However, I wanted to know what they’d do with it then? I mean was I to pick it up on my return journey? Hmm?

So, I spoke to a chap in the ticket office who said it would probably end up in the small office upstairs. However, he took my number and said he could ring me when it turned up, which I thought sounded helpful.

I thought it would be an idea to cover all bases and speak to the blokes upstairs where all the lost property ends up. As I was making my way towards the stairs – feeling I was getting a lot of exercise, so not all bad – I saw the two coach blokes coming down. The one I’d spoken to earlier smiled at me.

‘We’ve found your bag and it’s being brought back here, should arrive at around 17.23’

I thanked him, went back into the ticket office and updated him and then looked at the departure boards. The next train going to Plymouth would be 17.26, three minutes after the coach arrives with my bag.

I frowned and saw that the train was expected ten minutes after its scheduled time. For once, the train being late was to my advantage. No doubt I’d suffer later for that piece of luck…

While I had time on my hands – it was only 16.50 – I went upstairs and got myself a chicken and bacon baguette and a hot chocolate. I handed over a tenner and the change I got back made me feel like I’d been mugged. I mean I can take a joke but…

After a scoff and a drink, I walked around a little, while I waited for the coach to arrive with my estranged bag. I felt I might as well get a bit more exercise in, so just wandered aimlessly around.

Fortunately, the coach turned up on time (are you paying attention train companies?) and I was reunited with my bag. We didn’t quite run at each other like Cathy and Heathcliffe, shouting each other’s names, as the scene goes in “Wuthering Heights” but when Coachguy held up the case, I did feel a little emotional.

But no kiss and cuddle; I’m English, after all.

I offered to buy coffee for the Coachguy but he refused. He told me it was part of his job and I wasn’t alone in losing a case or a bag. Obviously he was a veteran of many bag loss campaigns. Whatever, it was nice to know that someone in the rail transport system was on the ball…

Keeping the bag close to me, I walked back into Bristol Parkway, onto Platform 2 where I would catch the train that would take me back to Plymouth. It was now seventeen minutes late, but for once I didn’t care…

Stout Fellows

The Three Crowns

It was back in July 2013 that Blameworthy and I last drank together. That’s nearly four years ago. It’s a long time by any standards.

It wasn’t as though we intended the gap in our meeting to be so long, it just seemed to work out that way. During that time, we kept in erratic contact via email but we seemed unable to tie down another meeting.

However, 2017, was to be the year a plan would come together. Finally, we would get together again for a few – or probably more accurately, a lot of beer.

Over a bout of email tennis, it was decided we would have a lunchtime session; and in the spirit of past adventures it would be Chippenham on a Sunday lunchtime.

Close and local is not us.

On reflection, our last drinking session together was in Wroughton, some four miles or so from where I live and a little further from where Blameworthy lives.

Wroughton was an old stomping ground from the 1980s. In those days we would quite often on a day off from work or of an evening we would walk out to a pub called the Carter’s Rest or The Wheatsheaf; although occasionally we would grace another pub in the village with our presence.

In those days Blameworthy and I lived closer to each other, a street away. But now, some thirty years later, we lived about thirty minutes away from each other.

For that trip to Wroughton, we agreed we would meet up in The Town Gardens in Old Town. To me it seemed like an odd place to meet up. However, Blameworthy does have a rather large garden these days. Perhaps he was looking for a few tips. The only gardening tips I ever entertain are the ones that will get my garden paved over as soon as the funds become available.

The Town Gardens

However, part of Blameworthy’s plan was to get to Wroughton by a different route to the one we were used to. It was certainly different to the one we would have taken in the 1980s.

As I walked up Victoria Hill, just before mid-day that Saturday afternoon, it was warm, and I was looking forward to the day ahead. Beer and exercise and all in good company.

However, by the time I got to The Town Gardens, I suddenly looked for my wallet. I don’t know why. Maybe it was a subconscious thing, or just one of those coincidences. I can’t explain but on checking I found that my wallet wasn’t in any of my pockets. Almost as if to torture me, a memory stirred, one of me placing the wallet on my table before devouring an early lunch. (When old Fitrambler sits down to eat, all other considerations disappear from the brain box.)

I looked at my watch and saw that I had enough time to finish the walk to meet up with Blameworthy but not enough time to go back, get the wallet and meet Blameworthy on time.

Oh hump! I thought and one or two words that might be deemed a tad stronger.

I decided I’d go the punctuality route and meet Blameworthy. It didn’t sit well heading towards a drinking session with little more than enough change in coins and silver for a couple of rounds.

After the preliminary greetings were over and just before we started the walk to Wroughton, I told Blameworthy about forgetting my wallet. Although I felt bad about it, it wasn’t a regular occurrence. Blameworthy said rather than go back he would cover the expense of the session. He’s that sort of a chap.

This time the walk to Wroughton would be more like a walk in the country, rather than one that followed major roads. We came out of The Town Gardens and followed Goddard’s Avenue to a little side-pathway that I didn’t know existed. We followed that road that led over a bridge into a new estate – or at least it was new to me at the time – called Wichelstowe.


It was while we were walking through this new estate that the Fitrambler imagination started up. The place seemed totally deserted. I looked around at the windows and it was as though they were all occupied, but no sign of people.

It made me think of a post-apocalyptic future where Blameworthy and I were the only ones left. That soon died as another fantasy played across the brain box; that we were gunfighter coming to town…

“We’re a’comin’ for ya, Kincade!”

Well, they always seem to be called Kincade, don’t they?

O.K, back in the real world, we were in a deserted estate (sans the yapping dog that suddenly runs the length of the street. Possibly a dog who once starred in many a Lassie film, and now was reduced to this bit part).

It took roughly ten minutes to walk through that estate and not once did I see any signs of life. Did everyone emigrate lunchtime?

Finally, after about fifteen minutes, we ended up in Wroughton, and our first stop was The Carter’s Rest. As in the 1980s, it had a good selection of ales.

The Carter’s Rest

Again, I thought back to the 1980s, when we drank there, we mainly stuck to a back room which had a pool table. It was fairly private with good access to a hatch that gave us an easy way to get our beer. Most of these pool sessions were dinner time ones whereby we could play games mostly un interrupted.

The room also contained a Duke box and we spent quite a lot of hard-earned silver in that machine. If not filled with our coins, the locals took their choices. (Well, you had to be fair now and again and let them have a go.)

Frequently, the Glen Miller track ‘In The Mood’ played. That would cause an impromptu dance routine. This would usually involve movements with the pool cue; waving and swinging. How those overhead lights survived is anyone’s guess, especially after half a dozen pints…

I always felt the routine was professionally done but being half-cut, you can believe anything. More sober witnesses to the display probably just despaired at the idiocy of the young!

After a couple in The Carter’s Rest, but without any games of pool, we moved onto The White Hart. Probably one of the first five pubs I ever drank Real Ale in; a Wadworths pub.

The White Hart

I have to say after The White Hart the memory becomes a little hazy. I think our next port of call was The Check Inn, where I missed out on the round. This was partly because I was getting light-headed and also as I was feeling guilty that Blameworthy was footing all the beer bill.

The Check Inn

Once we came out of there our final beer was one in the new estate of Wichelstowe, The Bayberry. People serving behind the bar, people drinking behind the bar convinced me that after all there was life in the new estate.

Then, as we were something like half-way home, it decided to rain. Well, it would, wouldn’t it, especially as I didn’t have a coat. Once home, the pangs of hunger began and picking up my wallet from my table, I phoned through for a large Chinese takeaway…

The Bayberry

Those thoughts about our last meeting played across my mind as I waited outside Swindon station that dull but dry Sunday in mid-April.

I reflected on the fact that I’d only had a couple of pieces of toast with soya margarine; not a good breakfast if you’re intending to have one or two dinner time, or as is more likely the case, a half-dozen.

As it’d never happened before, so was quite positive it wouldn’t this time, we wouldn’t eat during a session; not even a pub lunch. Blameworthy doesn’t do eating on a drinking trip. (And yes, there are those wags who would say I do more than enough eating for both of us!)

Sometimes, with people I’ve been friends with, after a long gap, there can be a certain discomfort. That never happens with Blameworthy. It’s always as though our last meeting was yesterday; nothing has changed save for the odd wrinkle and grey hair.

We didn’t wait long for the train, nor did we have any trouble getting a seat. Usually, when I travel alone, all sorts of things go wrong, but it started off well…

…if you didn’t count the woman.

On the seats opposite, there was a woman who seemed in the process of wanting to re-arrange area where she was sat from the aisle. She was constantly bending over to mess with something I couldn’t see, waving her arse close to my face. Trying to pay attention to what Blameworthy was saying while having buttocks waved in one eye line wasn’t easy. I suppose I was lucky she wasn’t suffering from a bout of wind!

After ten minutes the woman seemed to settle, and I could give my full attention to Blameworthy.

We arrived on time and as soon as we were out of the station I remembered the last time I was in Chippenham. It was 24th April 2010, a beer festival and with Blameworthy, Gloom-Laden and Mrs Gowithit.

The walk to the pub took about twenty minutes, but by Blameworthy’s own admission we weren’t going the direct route. A good walk would add to the thirst.

The pub was The Three Crowns. It wasn’t open when we got there but we didn’t have to wait too long before it did. I’d no sooner sat down outside when the landlord was opening the doors.

Once inside it was just a matter of deciding which of the beers to have. There was a good selection of dark beers.

Chippenham 2018 1

However, there was the danger signal we both spotted early on but neither of us mention although both of us probably had the same thoughts. The beer was called Killer Stout, and at 7.9% it wasn’t hard to figure out how it got its name. We both felt it would be wise to stay away from that one. It would be the sensible thing to do. After all, it would be foolish to drink something of that strength at dinner time; and not too wise in the evening either.

Unfortunately, despite our obvious maturity (and the fact that we should know better) we both knew that, a few pints down the line, one or the other of us would give into temptation. It would be one of those things that ‘seems amusing at the time’.

As soon as we got the barman’s attention, I bought the first round. We found a window seat. I quite liked the first pint, it went down well but Blameworthy suggested we try one of the others for the second round. He went to get up, but I stopped him and got the second-round in. I reminded him that he bought all the beers the last time we drank together. I owed him and intended to pay.

Chippenham 2018 2

After trying a different beer, we went back to the first. We stuck to that until the penultimate round. I was on a comfort break and when I returned I saw Blameworthy at the bar. I was a little disappointed because I felt I should be getting the round! I detected a few grins and wondered what the joke was. Then, Blameworthy brought the beer to me, suggesting we go into the backroom. He made the confession at this point that he’d just bought the Killer Stout.

There wasn’t anyone else in the backroom which suited me. I’d felt a little dizzy when I returned from the toilet and so if I was going to fall over after the Killer Stout I wanted as few witnesses as possible.

As it turned out I remained upright, thankfully. The Killer Stout went down as easily as the previous three pints. We had another pint, but not a second Killer Stout. Sometimes it’s best not to push your luck.

I was also happy that I was able to get back to the station walking in a relative straight line. Inevitably, though, when I got close to the station, the need for another comfort break was upon me.

There was a pub close to the station and Blameworthy headed straight for it. Where there’s a pub there’s a toilet, or so I thought it was reasonable to believe.

Old Road Tavern

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go that easily. It turned out rather like doing the conga, as we walked into the pub through one door, through the bar area, out into the garden, then back in to the bar and then out again without being able to see a single sign for the toilet!

By this time, I was almost dancing with the need to empty my bladder. Fortunately, not too far away and right near the steps leading into the station was a parking area, walled off sufficiently to advertise itself to me as an unofficial toilet.

I was sure my eyes glazed over behind the cover of the wall and was able to reduce the contents of my bladder.

We didn’t have much time before our train was due. Unfortunately, as is often the case when you need to relieve yourself in a hurry, the whole process takes on the image of a stuck tap; it won’t bloody turn off.

Fortunately, it did eventually and in time for when the train was supposed to arrive. However, I’d hurried (panicked) for nothing as that train was cancelled and so we had to wait for the next one. Had I known the train wasn’t going to arrive on time I would have found somewhere with more dignity to relieve myself – like a public toilet…

Anyway, as we travelled on the next train to Swindon, Blameworthy was already making plans for our trip to Oxford…

Long Ago In Llandudno…


Llandudno 1980s Style: The Prom

The association with North Wales began in 1980. Up until that year I hadn’t considered it as a holiday choice. To be honest, I didn’t know anything about the place.

But in 1980, friends of mine, Mr and Mrs Post, were going to Llandudno for their holiday.

‘We’re off to see Llandudno,’ said Mrs Post.

‘And I’m off to see the Wizard…’ I re-joined cheerfully, bit my voice trailed off as two pairs of eyes gave me hard stares. ‘…the won…der…ful..wiz…’

Deciding my failed attempted at humour was over, Mrs Post continued. ‘It’s in North Wales. Our daughter was going with us but she’s decided to spend the week with her boyfriend,’ she explained. ‘We were wondering if you’d like to come along? Have the room she was going to have?’

I agreed. It was somewhere I hadn’t been and as such it’d be an adventure. Besides, I suspected they’d lose their money if they couldn’t get someone else to take the room; and it was quite a few years since I last had a holiday.

Fortunately, taking the room intended for their daughter didn’t involve dressing up in women’s clothes. I have always been one for trying something different but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere! Besides, it would have been a devil of a job getting something in my size that showed me at my best!

(Apologies to those of a weak disposition in whose head I’ve put pictures of a distasteful nature!)

Anyway, with the holiday agreed, I let my parents know (I was still living at home at the time). When it got around to how we were going to get there I said it’d be by train. However, Dad Fitrambler said we could use his car rather than fuss about with a train journey.

That being the case it made life a lot easier for the Posts and me.

So, the day arrived and off we went. I can’t remember how long the journey lasted but I do remember we made several stops. One of which was in a place called Ruthin where I managed to use the public toilets and find a shop which sold bottles of Old Peculiar; the two are not mutually exclusive! I bought four in a pack, roughly just under a half pint per bottle. Well, on many holiday one must ensure you stock up on essential supplies; first rule of survival.

A View From The Room 1

The place we stayed in was in Lloyd Street which led directly to the promenade and the beach. Unusually, if you went in the other direction it also led to the beach, although not directly and not the same beach. Llandudno had two beaches. The east and west beaches; something I’d not come across before.

The house was divided up into small self-catering rooms. Mine was one of the singles at the back and with just a view of other houses, along with one of the biggest features in the resort and that was the Great Orme. The Posts’ room was a double at the front and the view was the main street and the building opposite housed the Lifeboat Service.

My flat, as with all of them in that house, was self-catering and the room was equipped with a sink, a cooker, a fridge. On top of the wardrobe in the corner opposite the window and next to the door was a television. It was only a black and white set (only the double rooms got a colour set). It was a room I’d use for my visits over the next five years.

Once I’d unpacked and had a quick wash, I went to the Posts’ room and we all went out for a stroll for the evening. Mrs Post wasn’t in for the long walk or indeed a few beers so took advantage of the Bingo games going on. That left Mr Post and myself to try out a beer.

A View From The Room 2

After the long journey we went to The Albert (a Greenall’s Pub) for a beer.

The beer, a mild, didn’t taste too bad, in fact it was a lot better than I expected. I’ve always quite liked mild. So, I was pleased that quite a few pubs served a mild; it was to be the first of many.

As we had arrived rather late in the day so we got an early night, only having the one drink.
Over the week, we paid a visit to Colwyn Bay, the next day, and I had a half (I was driving) in The Park. There was a lot of work going on in the town, mainly along the coast. A little further in there was a mini-market with stalls selling a variety of things from records to sweets to foods, including Welsh Cakes. (It must be recorded here that The Pink Lady makes a wonderful Welsh cake which I’ve been lucky enough to sample on more than one occasion.)

The next day we made a trip to Conwy where I was rather impressed by the Castle. I managed to get one in at The Liverpool Arms; a half of bass.

The Self Catering Flats are now just Private Flats.

After that there was the day we drove up to the top of the Great Orme. I remember the facilities reminding me very much of the 50s and 60s; very minimal. It was like some of the early cafe’s where they did mugs of tea, bacon sandwiches and fry-ups. The tables were wash vinyl style. But on top the Great Orme it was like a vast assembly room from school with tables and chairs. A big difference compared with my more recent visits. So not much to get excited about except, of course, the view. That was quite stunning and remains so.

It only took a couple of days for me to decide it might a good place for Blameworthy and I to visit next year. That was mainly down to there being a vast number of pubs and I thought it beautiful part of Britain. It was also an area Blameworthy hadn’t been too. Of course, transport and getting from place to place would be important. As we would be drinking, me driving wouldn’t be a good idea, presupposing Dad would lend me his car again.

Llandudno itself isn’t on a direct rail route. Approximately three miles from Llandudno is Llandudno Junction which is a station on the main line. There are regular trains that go from Llandudno Junction to Llandudno and back again during the day; Llandudno Junction is a station on the main line The North Wales Coastal Line. This goes along the coast to as far away as Holyhead in one direction and Chester in the other. Between Llandudno Junction and Llandudno is Deganwy. Like Rhos-on-sea and Colwyn Bay, Deganwy and Conwy almost seem as though they are the same place

I did think about taking the tram up to the Great Orme but never got around to it. (Some twenty years later the Pink Lady and I did.) However, more importantly, only a few yards from the tram station was a pub; The King’s Head. I nailed that one (naturally) that evening. Pints all round as I wasn’t driving, and fish and chips from a place no more than ten yards away.

Fitrambler in paradise!

The next day was a drive to Rhyl. It was the furthest we ventured that week. A strong memory of that trip that remains after all this time was Mr Post and I having a drink in The Abbey Vaults. It was in this public house that I tried my first half of Marston’s Pedigree. Again, I was playing it safe as I was driving…

The Albert (Picture Courtesy the Blameworthy Archive)

There was a television in one corner, high up on the wall. A Gerry Anderson series called Joe 90 was just starting and brought back memories of my childhood. It wasn’t best series Gerry Anderson produced (I’m more of a Thunderbirds fan) but it was entertaining enough. I would have liked to have watched the episode all the way through as it didn’t seem to get many repeats in the Swindon area. But Mrs Post was outside and it was unfair to leave her there on her own, despite the weather being rather good. Some years later, video would be mainstream and owning TV programmes would become commonplace.

Conwy From The Outside

The Rhyl monorail made an impression on me. I hadn’t seen anything like it before (nor since) and had to have a photograph. Up until recently, I always thought it was around for years but that wasn’t the case.

Conwy From The Wales of the Castle

The monorail opened for business in August 1980. It was about 15 feet in the air on specially made pillars and ran about six hundred yards. It was doomed to failure because it suffered regular technical faults, most of which were between stops. I don’t suppose the sight of passengers climbing down ladders was a good advertisement for the ride. The sight probably caused some amusement; except if you were one of the passengers and suffered from vertigo.

It lasted six weeks and ran up debts in of over of £650,000…

Another of many Pubs We Drank In.

Another thing I noticed within the amusement arcades and that was pool tables. Blameworthy and I were rather partial to games of pool. In fact, we began an annual pool contest on the strength of the many opportunities we got to play.

The Doomed Rhyl Monorail from a distance

Having had good weather all week I got back home feeling it was money well-spent!

A few days after that first week, I managed to persuade Blameworthy that North Wales, with Llandudno as our base, would make a good place for a booze-hound week.

So, the following year, again in my father’s car – he was kind enough to lend it to me again – Blameworthy and I began our journey. It was no surprised he’d prepared a route which would take us to some good pubs on the way.

Of course, I played it sensibly and only drank shandy…

A Closer Look At The Monorail

All was going quite well until the final part of the journey and negotiating a lot of bends high up in North Wales. I don’t think, up until then, I’d ever been around so many bends and certainly not as many so high up.

We’d been travelling a few miles when disaster struck!

It was my fault, really. I made the mistake of spending too much time looking in the rear-view mirror at the chap behind and not enough on the road ahead. With each bend, I could see him get closer. It wasn’t a sensible preoccupation and I found that out when taking a bend that seemed to suddenly creep up on me too fast!

I swerved to avoid and narrowly missed – and I mean by mere inches – the car coming the other way; having strayed to the wrong side of the road taking that bend. Then I found that I was heading for the other end of the bend, the one with only a barrier between the end of the road and a very long drop. I turned the wheel again and we hit a barrier side on, smashing it, the poles either end of the barrier hit the front and back of the car before we came to a halt. A little further and we would have plunged over the edge and not only could I have been done for reckless driving but also for flying without a pilot’s license!

It was only when I got out of the car to inspected the damage that I realized what a drop it was.
Although it was probably of little importance in the scheme of things, the half dozen eggs given to me by Mum, were still intact in the box. However, some of the butter had got into Blameworthy’s jacket and it seemed to reappear throughout the course of the week.

From the car I nearly hit, a man charged over. At first, I thought I was going to get a crack on the conk. I’d come so close to smacking into his car so I couldn’t blame him. However, he was quite good about it. He asked if we were all right and if he needed to get the police or an ambulance. Blameworthy dismissed that idea.

‘You scared my wife. Anyway, best get back, she can’t seem to get her hands off the steering wheel, gripped it so hard when she saw you coming at us.’

I apologised as I remembered how close I’d come to smacking into his car. I guessed he’d take over the driving, once he’d prised her hands off the steering wheel…

The man strode off to his car and left us alone.

A few minutes later, I was, all things considered, feeling lucky. Part of that was because we hadn’t gone over the edge and partially because the dent in the front missed penetrating the radiator by millimetres; that really would have put the tin lid on things. We wouldn’t have been able to get to Llandudno in it; or indeed anywhere in it.

The bonnet was in a mountain shape but was soon bashed down but we tied it down with string; not sure where that came from? It rattled a lot and made things tense as I imagined it would fly up at any minute and block my vision. Another accident wouldn’t have been welcome!

As we changed the back tyre, a shard of wood puncturing the tyre, I thought about how I was going to explain this to my father, the grievous bodily harm I’d inflicted on his pride and joy. I worked on it for most of the journey to Llandudno.

As we got into Llandudno, it began to pour down with rain and we eventually made our way to the flats. By the time we had settled in, the rain had stopped. Blameworthy wanted to get out and around a few pubs. I suppose the alcohol would sooth his shattered nerves, if they were shattered. He seemed remarkably calm considering what had happened to us…

Over The Top Of The Entrance To The Fun-fare At Rhyl

However, I rang my father first. I used a call box because in those days iPhones or indeed any sort of mobile phone were not common place. I felt it was better to get the bad news out-of-the-way first. I told him what happened. He asked first if either of us were hurt and when I told him we weren’t he said not to worry about the car, we would talk about it when I got back…

Later, I would find out that my sister retorted ‘…and then he’ll kill you!’

Despite the bad start, or perhaps because of it, it was quite a good holiday. There was no chance of using the car but a couple of places were within walking distances and others we got to by train. We discovered a weekly train pass that allowed us to travel anywhere along the North Coast – Holyhead to Chester. It was only nine pounds. A bargain however your looked at it.

Being in a new area and one that was hundreds of miles from home was the different sorts of beers available. We certainly allowed ourselves to sample as many of them as we could over the week. It was also an opportunity to try many different pubs. I think we went around 40-50 during that week in 1981.

That first year I believe we began a tradition that seemed to last quite a few years – being forced to walk from Llandudno Junction to Llandudno. For some reason, every time we got the last train back from Chester it was late and because of that we missed the last train from Llandudno Junction to Llandudno.

Boo hiss!!

The Links Hotel in the 1980s

The station between those two was Deganwy. For some reason, Blameworthy and I thought it sound like a South African state. So much so that we took to punching the air and saying rather too loudly, ‘Deganwy!

Well, we laughed!

By the end of the week the ‘joke’ died somewhat and we gave a slight raising of the hand and only muttered ‘Deganwy,’ almost instinctively while distracted by reading the paper

Of the pubs’ we visited (numerous times) in Llandudno was The Links Hotel; it served JW Lees beers; a beer I hadn’t heard of prior to the holiday. It was like Marston’s the previous year.

There was also The Washington where we played darts quite often. In those days it was an Ansell’s pub. I can remember the Ansell’s brand from the commercials. Several men, walking to the pub with the designation ‘The Ansell’s Bitter Men’. I didn’t qualify for the title as I tended to drink the Ansell’s mild; rebel that I was. Then there was The King’s Head, another favourite; we had quite a few late-night drinking sessions there.

Something else (besides the forced walk from Llandudno Junction after a visit to Chester) that became something of a tradition was a walk to Conwy. We did most of the walk along the beach, then across the bridge that led to the little town built inside castle walls. We seemed to always have the right weather for that walk, dry and sunny.

In those days, my focus would have been more on the beer and the walkies, the odd game of darts and pool – and no one plays odder games than Blameworthy and I.

After a week of drinking I remember that we got an early night on the Friday and began our journey home at 5am Saturday morning. This was because of the state of my father’s car and wanting to avoid too much attention of the way home; a flapping bonnet was inclined to be something of an attention grabber.

Initially, on my return home, my father wasn’t home but once he returned he seemed a lot more relaxed than I expected him to be. However, a few hours later that changed; a closer inspection gave rise to the full extent of the damage. His main complaint beyond the obvious was how I managed to hit three sides of the car; the back, the front and the side. At first, he developed the theory that I hit the side first and then had another couple of attempt to hit the back and front. I let the accusations go as I knew the full impact (no pun intended) of the damage had got through to him. I couldn’t really blame him for being angry. It was a mess!
After that accident, I made one of those promises that you make after an evening putting away too much booze; and that was never again. I decided I would give up driving.

However, later in 1981, friends of mine got me to hire a car and drive them to Cornwall, Bude to be precise. I got the taste for driving back. So much so, that the following year, 1982, in an Auction in May I bought a Yellow Mark III Cortina for £390.00. The only other car I had ever owned prior to that on was a mini, in a similar colour. The new car had a problem driver seat (and some might say a problem driver) but that and a few other irritations were fixed by Neatentidy. He was always rather good with cars.

It was in this car which I christened ‘Chloe’ but others later called it ‘The Yellow Peril’ that I made my second visit to Llandudno in, with Blameworthy. After the previous year’s accident, I felt he was very brave to go through that journey with me a second time and he did it without a sedative. Fortunately, this time I got us there without a redesign of the car’s bodywork. I did consider having another accident so that Dad would feel less paranoid about me crashing his car but felt Blameworthy’s nerves probably couldn’t stand it. I knew mine wouldn’t.

The funny thing about these holidays is that I remember it as being Sunny all the time.

Roughly seven weeks over five years and not a single rainy day seems quite preposterous in Britain. Still, memory is often selective.

Betws y Coed

I did most of the cooking as our holidays were self-catering. There’s another sign of Blameworthy’s bravery in the face of adversity. I sometimes think, what with my driving and cooking Blameworthy should have been awarded the George Cross years ago; but then, that medal is generally awarded posthumously. I am sure when given the choice between being alive without the medal or getting the medal and being dead that he would choose the former. I certainly would.

On one occasion, deciding on a cooked breakfast, he told me he liked his bacon crispy, so I did my best. He ended up with bits of bacon so crisp that when he tried to cut into it sent pieces charging across the plate like shrapnel from a cluster bomb.

Then there was the curry, the one I tried to do without a packet sauce. Half-way through he told me he felt the chunks of pineapple – as he identified them – were a bit over the top. It puzzled me and then when he pointed one out I corrected him and told him they were cloves of garlic. He didn’t look too comfortable about that, especially as he had chewed and swallowed about four of the things. (Unlucky, as there were only four in the whole mix – what are the odds?) Still, we had little trouble getting to the bar in crowed pubs, he just breathed a pathway.

It was the day we were going to check out the pubs in Prestatyn, I’d run out of milk, so we ate our muesli without it. Our enjoyment of the macabre was such we finished a whole packet of the cereal. It seemed funny at the time.

There were quite a few regrets during that day; the beer we drank seemed to expand the cereal in our stomachs. I am sure I must have got a bout of wind that compared to thunder for the rest of the day; jet propelled or what!

Fortunately, not all breakfasts were disasters, (well, unless I cooked them!) We had many days when we just went for the breakfast cereal (with milk) and it was only the excesses of beer that did for us on occasion. To be fair, though, I cannot remember getting a single bad hangover on those holidays. But then, I suppose you need to be sober to get a hangover.

Over the years, we must have been in most pubs along the coast of North Wales and played pool in many of them. We did have an annual pool match every year. A lot of the games I remember playing in Rhyl in one of the large amusement arcades; this was when pubs shut between 3pm and 5.30pm.

During one of these games in the arcade, I went and got two hotdogs for Blameworthy and myself and decided to be very over generous with the mustard; again, it seemed funny at the time. As it was me who’d done the damage to the hotdog I felt I obligated to finish mine with all the mustard on; I think Blameworthy was sensible enough to remove a lot of the mustard on his; giving me a slightly disapproving sideways glance as he did.

Once the first couple of years were over and we had been to most pubs once we tended to go back to the best ones which often had a pool table. One of those was the Dudley Arms in Rhyl.

We drank in there quite often and played quite a bit of pool.

One year, much to Blameworthy’s annoyance, of each game we played and I kept the score in a small notebook, meticulously recording the results of every game.

After a few days, it became known as ‘that bloody book’. Looking back, I can’t blame him for getting annoyed, I think I even got to hate it, but it had to be filled in. I don’t know why it did, but the OCD in me said it did!

On the return from a drinking session, quite possibly in the King’s Head, we got Fish and Chips from Tribells (still going today and it’s really called that and I don’t think it got its name from a Star Trek episode.). It was only a few hundred yards up from where we were staying. We got a few yards away from the chip shop when Blameworthy, for some reason I don’t remember, decided he didn’t want his fish and chips and lobbed them across the road.

There was no way any of my portion of fish and chips would end up taking flying lessons. I kept a tight hold and ate mine alone in the flat. Unfortunately, I still felt hungry after mine. So, and I put it down to the vast quantity of beer I’d probably drunk that night, I went back outside and looked for Blameworthy’s thrown fish and chips. A grin to rival a Cheshire cat’s spread across my face as I found they were still there. Fortunately, wrapped in several layers of paper and undamaged.

What’s the old expression? Waste not, want not. Well, that was certainly my motto that evening.

And yes, they went down rather well.

The next morning, I planned to confess what I’d done and pay Blameworthy for them, but in the cold light of day I felt a little embarrassed. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

The Washington – we played a lot of darts there

I think it was the third year, 1983, that began the mystery of the disappearing jeans pockets. It was something that bothered my mother for a few years. When I got back from Llandudno, when washing my jeans, she noticed the inside of the pockets were missing. It wasn’t as if they were worn away because there would have been traces of them, they were gone!

Eventually, I confessed. There were a few times when I used some public toilets and unfortunately there wasn’t any toilet paper, so one had to improvise. Don’t judge, the alternative wasn’t a pleasant option!

And talking of toilets, in the place where we were staying, there wasn’t a toilet on suite. But one on each floor. My memory tells me the one of my floor was just a toilet and there was a separate bathroom. From the door to the toilet itself was quite a few feet. It also had a slightly faulty lock. You thought you were locked in and then it would click and the door would slowly open.

The first time this happened, I’d just sat down and the door creaked open. Not wanting to be exposed, I got up and moved to the floor. Unfortunately, as my trousers and pants were around the ankles, I fell forward. For a few seconds, whilst laying there, I had visions of another guest walking by and seeing me flat-out on the floor white buttocks on show – not a pretty sight!
Fortunately, I got up, pulled up the trousers and made sure the lock was engaged properly before without being seen! I could then conclude my business without interruption. Fortunately, there was always toilet paper in there so the jeans pockets survived!

I think the last time I went to North Wales with Blameworthy was 1984. I’m not sure why we stopped, it could be we had done North Wales well and truly.

But then, I didn’t know that I was far from finished with North Wales and Llandudno because 20 years later…

‘The Name Is Moore, Roger Moore’

Sir Roger Moore 0001

One of my earliest memories of Roger Moore was from a series called “Ivanhoe”. It was made in 1958. It ran for a total of 39 episodes, and although the pilot episode was made in colour, the actual series was filmed in black and white.

Moore starred as the lead character of Sir Wilfred Ivanhoe and his squire/armourer was played by Robert Brown. Brown would go on to star in the Bond Film “The Spy Who Loved Me” as Admiral Hargreaves, but later took on the role of M (after the death of Bernard Lee) for Moore last three Bond films, “For Your Eyes Only”, “Octopussy” and “A View To A Kill”.

Moore followed this with a series I’ve never seen called “The Alaskans”. It ran for 37 episodes.

Following on from that series, Moore also filled in for James Garner, who was in dispute with the makers of his hit show, “Maverick” – it’s fifth series. Moore played Beauregard Maverick, a cousin of Brett Maverick; the English accent was explained away by having the character return from many years in Britain.

Then, it was the big one, the series that made his name internationally, “The Saint”. It was also the one that got my interest. It was one of the few non-science fiction shows I took interest in. It was through Mr. Moore and this series that I moved from reading comics to books. I discovered that Leslie Charteris created The Saint in a book series than began in 1927. I avidly read the books, usually second hand, as many were out of print at the time.

It was Roger Moore who introduced me to the Bond films and the books. I hadn’t taken much interest in them before but once he left his latest series – an all-time favourite of mine – The Persuaders to become Bond, I decided to give them a go.

Oddly enough, the first Bond films I saw starred Connery. I’d been following the making of “Live And Let Die” in various film publications, when I got my chance to see my first Bond double bill. It was “Dr. No” and “You Only Live Twice”.

The next two films I saw were From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. I took my sister with me to see those and our choice of favourite Bond left us in different camps; fortunately, we never fell out over it.

It seemed then that all the films went through one of our local 2 cinemas (now gone) within 12 months. I got to see them all. However, for pure entertainment value, Roger Moore provided that as Bond. Connery may have been a closer portrayal of the character with regards to Ian Fleming’s books, but Moore never failed to entertain.

At the time repeats with regards to TV series and re-showings at cinemas was the only way to enjoy these pieces of entertainment; video-recorders were at least 15 years away.

As previously mentioned, my all-time favourite TV series with Roger Moore had to be “The Persuaders!” I found the clashing dynamic of Roger Moore and Tony Curtis irresistible. It originally ran on a Friday night through 1971 to 1972 and got a Sunday repeat a few years later and each time I managed to con my father into watching the episode again.

Roger Moore hung up the Walther PPK after “A View To A Kill”. It was around this time that video-recorders were about and I rented one. This opened a new world where you could rediscover old programmes and enjoy them again; or in some cases wonder why you enjoyed them the first time around.

While in London, a large record/CD store stocked video cassettes – a vast store house compared with Swindon – and two they had there were edited “The Persuaders!” episodes. At £30 each I felt it was expensive, but I thought, this was Roger Moore and Tony Curtis, it was “The Persuaders!”. So, it was a case of ‘sod the expense, give the cat another goldfish’ and I slapped down the old credit card. I had my hands on four episodes of the series, albeit edited into making 98 minute tv movies with new opening titles. It was close enough at that time.

Sir Roger Moore 0003

But it was back in 2011, September, that I got to meet Sir Roger Moore – as he now was – in London. It was a promotion event by Network, who had remaster all the episodes and were releasing them in the Blu Ray format, along with extras.

It cost me £80.00 to get The Gold Napoleon (named after an episode of the series) ticket for the event, which entitled me to a buffet (sandwiches, sausage rolls, nuts, crisps and the like), drink (wine or fizzy cider some would refer to as Champagne) and to meet Sir Roger himself, get my box set of “The Persuaders!”. There would then follow, after a showing on a big screen of two episodes of the show (‘Overture’ and ‘A Death In The Family’), an interview with Roger Moore, conducted by Barry Norman – and a very nice interview too – along with a question and answer session.

That ticket might have seemed expensive if it hadn’t been that it included a copy of “The Persuaders!” Blu Ray box set, retailing at the time £55.00. So, I guess, technically the ticket was only £25.00 more than I would have forked out anyway. (It’s how I persuaded myself, ok?)

As I’ve always been of a nervous disposition (aka: a snivelling coward) I decided I didn’t fancy travelling the tube late at night (the event was scheduled to end between 10-11pm). So, it came to pass that with the help of Topman, I booked a hotel room for about £100.00. On top of that there was the train fare of £33.00. I also, the next day, treated myself to a full breakfast (the hotel room didn’t include this) at a placed called “The Angus Steakhouse” for about £12.00.

It was about twenty minutes into the event that The Gold Napoleon ticket holders were asked to leave the buffet and queue up ready to collect their box set and then join the queue to see Sir Roger. It seemed like two thirds of the people who came joined that queue.

Despite how tedious it must have been for him, Sir Roger was smiling and always polite, the English gentleman through and through. It was one of those occasions, I’m glad to say, where meeting your hero(s) did not disappoint…far from it…



The Taming of the Shrewsbury


What started off as a Christmas meal away from home had become a twice-yearly jaunt. The addition being a Summer get-together. In 2015 the Summer jaunt was to be Shrewsbury.

I felt as I wasn’t likely to have the usual holiday I decided to have an extra night, Friday as well as Saturday. Mr and Mrs Topman did the same.

Unfortunately, a few days before the trip Topman told me he and Mrs Topman wouldn’t be able to make it. That just left Scrumcyclist and me for the extra day.

I last visited Shrewsbury back in 1981, when Blameworthy and I went on holiday. He’d a few pubs he wanted to visit on the way. It served as a prelude to a week of booze-hounding, pool playing and general travelling along the North Wales coastline. Being in our twenties we were probably more like booze-puppies.

The only memory I have is of being outside a pub where there was a bridge nearby. However, the memory is vague and it’d be quite possible I’ve mixed it up with another memory…

The day of the journey it was raining. (Well, of course it was!) It was then, as I looked out of my bedroom window. I sighed but managed to find a light raincoat, not too heavy so I’d not arrive in a sodden mess.

Once I checked through to make sure I have packed everything I needed I decide to go to the station to have my traditional fight with the ticket machine.

I hate the bloody things and they bloody hate me; I am not paranoid, they really do! Time for these bouts are now added to my journey time whenever I go on a train journey. One becomes wise after a while.

As usual the ticket machines aren’t being used as I approach but once I get within fifteen feet a dozen or so people suddenly crowd around them.

Once I got my tickets I head off to the platform. The train I want, surprisingly, is already there and ready to be boarded; but not in any piratical way.

This meant I had time to settle day in a seat with a table – such luxury. Checking my watch, the train would leave in twenty minutes. The emphasis always on ‘should’; I’d decide long ago; bus and train timetables were produced to just keep printers in work.

I looked around and there are few people on board at that moment. But at some point, there will be the usual person who thinks that because I’m reading a book it means I want a conversation with them.

Across from me there is another set of four seats with a table. It’s the spot most likely for the obligatory noisy brat with a mother who has no real control over the ‘little darling’. It’s a little service all the rail companies provide for me; bless ‘em.

After the previous years’ experience (2014 see Telling Tales ‘Arrival’) I allowed for a thirty-minute gap between connections. I was determined – especially as I only had two days in Shrewsbury – not to waste any more time on travelling than I needed to. This seemed to work as the train to Newport was on time and the connection that would take me to Shrewsbury was also.

Deep joy!

However, the connecting train wasn’t without fun! Although I’d got a reserved seat, it was rather cramped – there must’ve been some sort of ‘fatso’ convention going on (to which I hadn’t been invited) somewhere and they’d all decided to get-together in the carriage I was in; so, any thoughts of doing much was severely limited. Even the small laptop I had was impossible to use with the old elbow room being at a premium. And, of course, having the table seat next to a window, meant I had to disturb the bloke next to me when I needed to go to the toilet. The trouble was, the more conscious I was of disturbing the chap the more I seemed to want to go. These days holding on is not an option; age brings with it all sorts of problems…

By the third time of disturbing the chap, I noticed there were seats in the other carriage which would let me come and go without disturbing someone. Besides, it gave me the elbow room I needed to use the laptop. So, self-sacrificing hero that I am, I moved and gave the chap rom to spread out.

It was halfway through this journey I ate my packed lunch. I always take a packed lunch when I take a long train journey. I hate paying train prices for refreshments, one mortgage in life is more than enough!

It was still drizzling when I arrived at Shrewsbury. I was beginning to think booking the extra day might not have been a good idea. The fantasy had been to spend the afternoon and early evening wandering around getting a feel for the place; depending on when Scrumcyclist would arrive. Still, what is done is done and if the worst comes to the worst I could polish up a few blog articles or catch up on some reading to pass the time.


I didn’t pay too much attention to my surroundings as I left the station. I was too preoccupied with the drizzle and getting a location for the hotel via my mobile. It was about a ten-minute walk from the station and about five minutes from the town centre.


Once at the hotel I booked in and settled myself into the room.

It was quite a large room. On the left as I walked in was the toilet and shower room – I was later to find out that the one in my room was recent addition. It certainly had a feel of newness to it. The bathroom made the room ‘L’ shaped. There were two single beds on the left beyond the bathroom. To the immediate right was a wardrobe, then a little further up was a small desk. Probably typical of me I latched onto the desk first, to me it almost seemed more important than the bed. It would mean I would have somewhere comfortable to work on with my laptop; with the rain outside that could become important.

I put my case on the nearest bed and then began putting my clothes away in the wardrobe near the door. It was then I saw a notice advertising free Wi-Fi. I’ve always been fond of the word ‘free’, I never tire of hearing it.

Once I had unpacked, I looked out of the window and although it was still dull out the rain had stopped. I thought about having a shower to wash away the journey but instead decided that the rain might not stay off for very long so I should explore a bit. I wanted to check the pub out that was almost literally ten feet from the hotel.

So, ten minutes later I was out of the hotel and standing outside The Hop & Friar. It was a Marston’s pub. I remember checking it out on-line some days ago. On the map, it seemed quite close to the hotel and going into street view I found out how close. But now, ahead of me, was the reality.


I was tempted, yes, I must admit I was tempted. However, it was only 2.30pm and I felt I ought to be sober for when Scrumcyclist turned up. It was only fair.

Less than a week ago when I was looking on Street View of Google maps, I saw a sign in the pub window. It read:

“Telling a drunk woman to calm down is like trying to bath a cat.”

That sign was no longer in the window; another had taken its place:

“The jelly fish has survived for eight and half million years and doesn’t have a brain. This must be some comfort for stupid people…”

The centre was no more than five minutes away and I was immediately impressed by the lack of chain stores in sight. Most shops were individual. If you wanted most of the usual brands they could be found in a Mall not too far away, seemingly buried below ground level of the town; works for me…

I wandered around the town for about half an hour before heading for the river on the other side to the hotel. It was still dull weather but the rain had eased off. I took a few photographs and then made my way back into the town centre and thought, as it began to rain a fine light rain, I would have a look in the Darwin Shopping Centre. There were the usual mix of chain shops like Home Bargains, Monsoon, Poundland, River Island, Topshop (wonder if Topman’s relations are involved in that, Shrewsbury is close to Wales), Marks & Spencer, W.H. Smith….

It was around 4pm when I decided, after about two hours, I would take a rest. I found a good coffee shop and treated myself to a cappuccino; sod the expense, I thought, give the cat another gold-fish; you’re on a mini holiday after all.


I found a place in the Shopping Centre called Café Flavour. I did think about going back to the Caffe Nero I saw on my wanderings, but felt a rest was in order and I would try this place out.

Like a lot of the shops in the Shopping Centre, it was in a compartment, like a room off a large corridor. The furnishings were comfortable and when I got my cappuccino I was told that they had an offer on. If I kept my receipt, then I could have my next drink for half-price. Worked for me!


I found a seat where the likelihood of someone nesting next to me – usually a bint who couldn’t control her child, it’s not just the railways that provide this service – and pulled my iPad from my rucksack. I read for half an hour.

It was after this break that I decided to do a little more walking. I wanted to make my way to The Pear Tree where we would be eating tomorrow night. Perhaps get a photograph of it. However, before that I started to look at other pubs and eateries.


I looked at a few places but as I was taking the long way round to see what I could discover it began that damn fine rain again. The road I was on was taking back to the hotel but I felt I might need a change of trousers by the time I got back to the hotel.

I sat in the small lounge where near the opening where I booked in just over four hours ago. It then in conversation with the chap on reception I found out that on room was one of many that was modernised; the bit with the toilet and shower room added, removing a corner of the room. The hotel owner also mentioned that for most of the week it had been rather sunny and warm. Hmm, well, I was here now, wasn’t I?

I reflected on how this wasn’t going to be the greatest of breaks if it was going to rain for the two days I was there. It was July and I expected sunshine; yes, I know, I was deluding myself. I was in England and all the jokes about the weather were unfortunately true.

It was now close to 7pm and the old tum-tum was demanding to be fed; it hadn’t been fed since 12.30pm today when I was on the train.

I looked outside and it was cloudy but the rain had stopped. I decided to have a walk into town. The intention was to find a restaurant but after over an hour of wandering around most seemed too crowded. I didn’t like the idea of either sharing a table or being too close to people I didn’t know.

So, I found a supermarket and bought sandwiches and fruit. I wasn’t sure what the hotel policy was on taking food back so I hid the food in the rucksack. I didn’t feel inclined to eat in the street; well, it’s an awfully common thing to do, isn’t it?

By the time I got back to the hotel it was after 9pm so by the time I fed, made some notes on the Laptop and read for a while it was after 10pm so I showered before having an early night…


I got up at 7am the next morning and the weather couldn’t have been a bigger contrast to the previous day. The sun was shining, and on top of that I felt refreshed. I would say I leapt out of bed but at my age I rarely leap anywhere. Besides, I’d make one hell of a thump once I landed and the people in the room below might get a little miffed if they have to clean up bits of ceiling from their hair and the floor.

I was showered and shaved just before 8am and at the breakfast table.


The breakfast was the full English. It was one of the things I always enjoyed whenever on a jaunt like this; tucking into a damn good cooked breakfast.

I checked my phone and it registered that I’d walked nearly ten miles’ yesterday. That made me feel rather pleased as this time last year I could hardly walk half a mile without a great deal of pain. Now it was becoming second nature to walk half a dozen miles a day and I rarely struggled. How things had changed…

I polished off the breakfast, washing it down with orange juice and coffee.

By 8.30am I was out exploring the street as I had yesterday but seeing Shrewsbury in (literally) a rather better light. I decided to see the river again, and travelled most of the streets I travelled yesterday; snapping away getting quite a few photographs.

I walked around with a greater enthusiasm than I did yesterday. It’s funny how a change in weather can bring about a change in attitude. I tried not to go too far from the town centre because I wanted to be back at the hotel after noon when I expected the first of the gang would arrive.


As I was snapping a few pubs amongst all the other photographs, I thought of sending one to Blameworthy, see how long it would take him to guess where I was. However, I decided I’d wait until later, until I’d snapped a few more pubs before I’d do that. As it turned out I deferred on that idea and decided to wait until I updated the blog. (Which has taken over two years; my how time flies.)

It was just as well I didn’t wander too far because after a couple of hours I suddenly felt the need of a public toilet. The only one I knew for certain was in the Mall area which, although not far, was quite a distance considering the urgency of my need.


Years ago, when I used to watch the sitcom ‘Dad’s Army’ I use to find it rather amusing the way Private Godfrey use to always ask to be excused; these days it was too close to home to be quite as funny…

I hurried as quickly as I could and was rapidly approaching the stage where a certain part of me was playing ‘flight of the bumble bee’; perhaps not as professionally performed as a full orchestra, but too close for comfort, especially as I was , so to speak, limited to only the one instrument!

Fortunately, I made it to the conveniences in the Mall just in time. I haven’t quite reached the stage where I wanted to be regarded as incontinent!

The more I looked around the more I told myself I wished I was here for a few more days. (I made a mental note to put it on the list of places to return to.) With the unique individualistic nature of a lot of the shops in this market town I felt it might well be somewhere the Pink Lady might also like to look around.


At around 11am I got a cappuccino in the Café Flavour, the same place I got one the previous day; determined to take advantage of the offer of coffee at a reduced price of 99p having bought one there yesterday. As Tesco people tell you, ‘every little helps’; a slogan that doesn’t work awfully well as a chat up line!

Quite often I have a habit, when in a new place, where I just turn down streets without any real logical reason other than to see where they take me; pure curiosity. I’d been passed a church, a couple of pubs and ended up in the car park of a large building which had a rather scenic view despite there still being a few dark clouds hanging around. It showed the land beyond the town centre where trees seemed in abundance, almost hiding streets and houses. I could see a castle turret or at least something that looked like one.

A few hundred yards ahead there was the River Severn (not sure what happened to the other six, perhaps they dried up?). It ran into the distance on the left and right as I stood there taking in the view. If I wanted to get to that turret I would have to go the long way around; especially as I hadn’t thought to carry my swimming trunks with me. It was a warm day but not that warm…


I moved on after ten minutes, especially as the car park I was in looked like being a tad private and staying too long might put me in a little trouble.

By about 12 I decided to go back to the hotel and take another shower. I was anticipating that some of the others might be arriving soon, besides I was feeling in need of a little rest. I felt I should be there to meet them. I suspected the first arrivals would be Sunny and Mr and Mrs Londontaff; they live near enough to each other to share a lift. They usually were one of the first to arrive.

There was no doubt in my mind who would be the last to arrive, and that would be Thinker. For a man of his high intelligence you would not have thought that he would find being on time such a difficult thing. Still, that was the reality and one we’d become accustomed to. Topman and I once decided if they were looking for another Doctor Who, then Thinker could be their man.

I was sitting in the lounge-reception area when the trio arrived. They looked over at me then back at the reception desk. Sunny took a second good look as I approached the reception desk. None of them had recognised me at first. The beard was gone and I wasn’t wearing what they considered my trademark bow tie. The hot weather made bow tie wearing rather uncomfortable.


They booked in and then said they would freshen up before taking a walk around the town and get something to eat; perhaps a beer or two. It sounded like a good plan to me so I waited patiently in reception for them to return.

Londontaff is gluten intolerant so we needed to find somewhere they can cater for that.

Having walked around most of the town centre I can show them to the pubs that provide food alongside the beer; I wasn’t an expert on the menus but had at least noted where likely suitable eateries were. It took nearly an hour before we find one that caters to Londontaff’s needs.

The Hole in The Wall, a Marston’s pub was quite busy but seemed to suit Londontaff’s needs. Mrs Londontaff checked with the bar-staff and found that a meal could be that didn’t contain gluten.

The Pink Lady is dairy intolerant and it’s at times like these I feel rather lucky that I can eat almost anything without problems; and often do!

I went with Fish and chips with peas, even though there was a full three-course meal ahead of me that evening. (And a couple of pints of Pedigree. Well, I was on a sort of holiday and I hoped that all the walking I was doing would balance things out.

Before walking moving on, I went for a comfort break, and made a mistake because I was happily thinking of other things. I turned from the wash basin and saw a slot so tried shoving my hands in it thinking it was an automatic hand-drier. My hands wouldn’t fit, and I immediately realised it was a Durex machine. (Note to self: eye test badly needed!)

Sunny – who we converted to real ales – was anxious to find a local brew to sample. He was quite insistent because he felt it would be a shame to drink a beer you can get most places and not sample something particular to the area. I agreed with him but it was finding it.

We popped into a few shops before coming back, the idea being, we make out way to the hotel. However, in an attempt to get Sunny his pint of locally brewed ale, we tried the Nag’s Head.


We stayed just over half an hour and managed to swill back two pints of Hobson’s Best.

The hotel is only a few minutes from the hotel and the sun is still shining. It bodes well for the evening get-together.  before deciding time is moving on and we need to make our way back to the hotel.

After today’s walking I felt as though I could with a shower and a couple of hours’ rest before the evening feast.

Adding together a couple of pints in The Hop & Friar, then a few along with the meal in The Pear Tree, four pubs were visited in that weekend; pretty low number considering how many Blameworthy and I would have tackled in the old days but as ol’ Bob D once remarked, ‘the times they are-a changing…’




A Leg Up

Definitely not where the deer and the antelope play!

Definitely not where the deer and the antelope play!


It was in the Range – no not the place where the deer and the antelope play but the store – when it really started and I was subject to the machinations of Mr Pain.

Over the years Mr Pain and I have crossed paths many times, despite my best efforts to avoid him. The trouble is that old Mr Pain is quite indefatigable.

Anyway, there I was in The Range, shopping (like you do) and Mr Pain struck!

All I did was bend down and pick up a boxed Cafetière, stood back up then walked three paces…yes, just three normal paces.


It was like someone had tugged my calf bone away from my knee-joint.

‘Ahh!’ I cried, like you do.

I rested a minute or two then moved a couple of paces forward and it happened again.

‘Ahh!’ I exclaimed again. Well, you have to don’t you, pain does that.

A couple of more repeats of this and some people around me either thought I was someone only let out at weekends, or possibly thought I’d achieve a eureka moment. Needless to say none of them were correct.

After about fifteen minutes the pain in the knee halted and so did my cries of ahh!

The Pink Lady was at the craft section and so I made my way there. I was trying to work out how just bending down, picking something up and then walking three paces could cause me such grief. I did recall that back in the early part of this century it happened before but then it was just once and after a minute or two it went away; which, needless to say, suited me.

Within a few feet of the Pink Lady it happened again.



‘Nothing…’ Then I moved again. ‘Ahh!’

‘What?’ Responded the Pink Lady but this time a little more irritably. ‘And don’t say nothing!’

I moved another step forward intending to explain but instead went: ‘Ahh!’ As pain shot through my knee again.

Deciding the best way to get out some sort of explanation was to stand still. I did and then was able to explain my constant exclamation of the first word of an old gravy commercial.

‘Did you twist it?’

I shook my head. ‘No.’

‘Bash it.’

‘No,’ I sighed, feeling that I had already explained.

‘You just walked three paces and the pain started.’

‘Yes,’ I responded, glad we’d finished with a sort of reverse charades.

‘Does it hurt now?’

‘No, only when I walk.’

Well, don’t walk, then, a voice in my head said in a Tommy Cooper voice…

I managed to hobble about for the rest of the day but once I got home the knee was throbbing and I was happy to rest it.

For the next few days even walks of a short distance, the few hundred yards to the shops proved very painful. However, my optimism was at its best and I felt it’d go away in a week or so. I put it down to a muscle strain.

After two weeks, it was July and the knee was still as painful as ever, more so if I tried to walk on uneven ground. Slowly, as time moved on I thought it was getting a little better, then it would start again and I’d be back to square one.

A couple of weeks before the old annual jaunt to Llandudno, I bought a walking stick; the type used by walkers. I could adjust it to shoulder height – rather like a ski stick or to the height of a normal walking stick. It spent most of its time as a walking stick. Needs must and all that sort of thing…

Just over a month later The Pink Lady and I met up for our annual jaunt to Llandudno and went through a really terrible journey; the worst we’d ever experienced. (see Telling Tales: Arrival). That did not help the old knee but it held up and by Sunday there was the annual walk around the Great Orme to look forward to.

It began promisingly as I made it up the steep incline and to The Rest and Be Thankful tea room. But coming down with the weight being put on the knee it got progressively worse and did for me. The week, although not a total disaster, wasn’t one of our best. I got home with the knee in a worst state than it had been when the trouble began.

So within about ten days of getting back home I made an appointment to see Doctor Calm. It was then I found out it was more than just a muscle strain. It was a slightly torn cartilage.

‘Normally,’ he smiled, ‘if you were a top athlete or professional footballer…’ (yes, yes, I suspected he was trying to be amusing too!) ‘You would be booked in for intensive physiotherapy…’ He paused again as he shuffled through some papers in a drawer and then came out with a photocopied sheet of paper that he passed over to me. ‘…but you’re not you will need to go through these exercises.’

I looked at the sheet of exercises and wasn’t really keen but he was the doctor and as such should know best. I would just have to give it a go…

Unfortunately, beyond walking and riding a bike I have never been the sort of chap who goes much in for other sorts of exercise. Joining a gym has never thrilled me much and the thought of continuing with a sports like I was compelled to do at school never appealed either.

I tried to do the exercises but my will was weak. After a few weeks of feeling nothing much had changed I weakened and the gap between doing them lengthened and finally I stopped doing them.

I began to get depressed and told myself it was all over. It was walking with a stick from now on and it’d be short distance walks – like to the bus stop and back – but nothing much beyond that. I couldn’t manage more than five or ten minutes on the old pins without being in terrible pain!

Age had taken its toll on old Fitrambler and had been cruel enough to do it while he was in his mid-fifties. Still, nobody ever said life was fair.

So, I slowly fell into a depression. I hadn’t seen Blameworthy for nearly a year. That last get-together had us walking from Old Town in Swindon to Wroughton. It was a fair few steps we got through that day and I had hoped we would get-together and do something similar this year.

The knee poured the proverbial cold water over that idea. After all, as obliging as Blameworthy was, piggy backing me to the pub and back was far beyond what one could expect from a friend; less still when you consider the poor chap had back trouble himself not so long ago!

No, it was all over, no more walking. I felt very, very sorry for myself because I was really hoping I’d be active well into my sixties…and beyond!

It was one of many evenings during the dark winter – when I was into my thirtieth night of feeling sorry for myself – that I remembered the 2006 jaunt to Llandudno; the second this century. It was then that I met Walkalot and his wife Mrs Walkalot (who didn’t). He and his wife were staying in the same guest house as me. On first appearance I placed him in his early sixties. No grey in his black hair, not overly wrinkled. In conversations I discovered that even though he was retired he still walked about eight miles a day.

Eight miles a day! Eight!

At the time I was forty-nine. I was just beginning to get my fitness back after a little bit of a health scare (See Telling Tales: A Shock To The System). Before it all went downhill for me at the beginning of this century I usually managed five to six miles.

Then I found out he was in his middle-seventies!

It was a shock and one that put the proverbial boot up the old backside. If a man in his seventies could walk up to eight miles a day, then I should be able to at least half a dozen, if not more being in my late forties. This spurred me on and I vowed I get my act together and be fit enough to gradually get up to that sort of standard and then beyond.

I have to admit even though it sounds like blowing one’s own trumpet, I did become a lot fitter over the next few years. So much so, that in 2008 I managed to walk from Rhyl to Llandudno in a day. I didn’t know the distance while I was walking it for the first time but later found out if it was twenty miles.

As luck would have it I walked it on a very clean and sunny day; perhaps a little too hot. It was the sort of day that when you looked out to sea you couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the sky began.

The following year I walked it again to prove it wasn’t a fluke.

The memory faded and I was back in 2014 with a dodgy knee and depression…I wouldn’t be able to do that walk ever again…

So, the local bus service began to make a lot more money out of me as I hobbled from home to bus stop and from work to bus stop…a repetition that only added to the depression.

It was in late November 2014 when I was talking to Scrumcyclist that things changed for the better. Our group was going out for our Christmas meal at The Narrowboat, at Weedon, , where we would stay the night and Scrumcyclist offered to give me a lift. It was a kindness that would save me going through getting train tickets to Northampton and then busing it to the place where the festivities were taking place. Instead it would be return tickets to Oxford and then driven to the venue. Over the last ten years or so I have lost my enthusiasm for rail journeys and so been driven in the company of someone you know was a much better prospect.

Worked for me!

‘The trouble is,’ I said, after mentioning the injury, ‘by not doing any exercise I’ve put on quite a bit of weight. I know I should cut back on what goes in the old nosebags but…’

I mentioned about the knee injury and the visit to Dr Calm. ‘I don’t fancy having an operation on it but if it’s the only way to sort it out…’

‘A slightly torn cartilage you say…’ Scrumcyclist said. I nodded. ‘Hmm. Well, they probably want to avoid surgery. The idea behind the exercises is to strengthen the muscles around the knee to take the strain off the cartilage. That way you don’t feel the pain so much and don’t need surgery.’

I thought about that and it made perfect sense. If I hadn’t been in such a rather large sulk about the situation I might have thought of that myself…hmm, perhaps not.

We finalized the details of the trip. I would go by train to Oxford and Scrumcyclist would pick me up at Oxford station, and then it was on to The Narrowboat together.

On the bus home that night I decided I’d begin to get some exercise. As much as I was sure the exercises the doctor gave me would do what they were intended to do, I decided I would work out my own regime to strengthen the knee muscles…

So I made a plan. I would walk to the bus stop every day. Big deal, I hear you cry! However, it would be the second bus stop along the journey to work. I did that for two weeks, then for the following two weeks I did the third, then the fourth. This took me around a third of the way to work. Just over two months the pain was getting less as I walked for longer.

Finally, there was the big test. I again took the bus into work but began walking the whole way home. For the first week I found it wasn’t the knee that gave me the problem but my lower back began to ache by the time I’d walked about a tenth of the journey. It was quite uncomfortable and I began to wonder if this wasn’t going to be another block to my walking days.

However, by the end of the second week, the back ache began after about 25 percent of the journey. By the end of the month it was down to the last ten percent.

By the sixth week I felt elated. The old Fitrambler stride was back. I could go walkies again, even take the old ball, throw it and chase after it… (hmm, note to self, must get that dog!)

By eight weeks I was getting more adventurous and walking routes that didn’t directly lead to home but went via parts of the town I hadn’t visited for many years. The lack of pain in the knee was encouraging my adventurousness…

Not every walk was via the old proverbial scenic route but it did put me in the mind-set that my walking days were not yet over.

Apple And Blackcurrant Squash

Which Is Bad For You?

Which Is Bad For You?


To say Blameworthy and I drank rather a lot during the eighties is something like saying the Pope prays a bit. The amount we drank throughout the eighties would have had today’s health lobby in epileptic fits. Fingers would be violently wagged and predictions of doomed kidneys not far behind; with the added threat of a badly battered liver thrown in.

Nowadays it’s all referred to as Units of Alcohol and if you go over a certain amount of units then you are in the danger zone. Trouble, ailments galore…and lashings of tut-tuts!

Well, despite us being well over the unit safety limit – many times over in a night let alone a week – Blameworthy and I have survived reasonably well physically. That’s not to condone the copious amounts we drank but more to say we are doing ok considering…

In later years we have found a way to curb what the health critics would call excessive alcohol intake – we rarely drink together this has a tendency to curb our drinking by fifty percent…or at least I try to convince myself it does.

Some wags have suggested that as Blameworthy and I rarely frequent the pubs together like we did in the ‘old days’ it’s a possible explanation as to why so many Public Houses have closed over the last twenty years or so. Their profit levels dropping rapidly after our semi-retirements – if that is what our abstinence can be described as.

It has to be admitted that The Duke of Wellington – so frequently blessed with out custom – is no longer a pub. Whether this is evidence of their reliance on booze hounds like Blameworthy and I is anyone’s guess…

However much the doomsayers of old condemned our capacious ability to consume beer, there was little warning of another beverage which was in recent times to do me more damage than alcohol ever did.

And that is Apple and Blackcurrant squash.

How so, you may ask. Well, get comfortable and I shall tell you the woes that accompanied the pint of the aforementioned concoction.

Ever since my brush with Doctor Calm and the need to take medication for my rather OTT blood pressure, I have been taking a pint of Apple and Blackcurrant squash up with me to bed in the evenings. The main reason for this is down to one of the pills I take for my blood pressure in the morning. There is a particular tablet that whilst keeping the old BP down does drain the liquid in my body necessitating me drinking more liquids than I have ever done before to replace those the pill gets rid of.

Even beer didn’t disturb my sleep as much as this tablet does. Three times a night! Three times! And each time it’s during a good bit in a dream I’m having!
Anyway, a particular night in 2012, I was in bed early as I needed to be up early in the morning. I got out of bed at around 1am to take care of a need precipitated by the tablet and returned a minute or two later to replenish the liquid lost.

Being half asleep pouring the liquid in worked ok but when I went to put the glass back down on the bedside table I misplaced it on top of a pen which unbalanced the glass and sent the contents pouring across the bedside table and the floor.

With an exclamation of ‘Oh dear’ (or perhaps something a little harsher with about the same amount of characters) I switched on the light to commence a mop-up operation.

Needless to say once finished I was wide awake.

Back into bed I found I couldn’t get comfortable. The quilt wasn’t quite in place; it wasn’t covering one corner of the bed. Not vitally important but after the debacle with the Apple and Blackcurrant squash I wasn’t happy. I wanted it to be in the correctly place…

However, anger and stubbornness had me shaking the quilt from the top to try to get it into place. The more it didn’t the more I became angry with it and increasingly aggressive.

I know it would have been easier to get out of bed to get the thing in place. I know that trying angrily to shake it from a semi-laying down position was totally the wrong way to do it!

But anger removed all rational thought and I became determined it was going to be shaken into place without me having to get out of bed.

The fight went on for about twenty minutes – such was my stubbornness – before it finally fell into place and I had secured the victory I wanted.

Another hour and the adrenaline had died down and I drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, I managed to get up early and into work. I ached a bit but all seemed to be fine.

However, by 8am that evening I began to feel some chest pains; aches I couldn’t figure out where they came from.

That night I was in quite a lot of pain and found it difficult to sleep laying down so had to sit up. This stopped the chest from hurting so badly but had the effect of every hour on the hour of me having get out of bed to shake my arse – hula dancer style sans grass skirt – in order to restore the circulation in my buttocks quickly enough for me to get back into bed for another hour’s asleep.

I dread to think what the neighbours – if for some reason insomniac – would have thought if I hadn’t had my curtains closed and me being observed going through the hourly arse shaking ritual.

I am not sure I have much of a reputation for sanity in the street where I live. In the early part of this century I did some gardening – not something I do often – and filled about a dozen large sacks with garden waste. These I stacked in the small area outside my front room window. My friend Anecdote offered to load them in his estate car and take them to the tip.

All went well. We loaded the car – after a couple of beers – then made off to the tip. But, we were too late and it was closed. We had to bring the rubbish back.

Unfortunately, the neighbour who saw us load the car also witnessed us unloading and putting it back at the front of the house.

I could imagine him saying to his wife: ‘That bloke next door. He just loaded his garden rubbish into his friend’s car and took it for a ride round for half an hour…’

Anyway, I digress…

Finally, as is so often the case, a new day dawns and the pains are worse. Walking and breathing were difficult but I managed to get into work; albeit later than planned.

More or less as soon as I walked through the door Mrs Immediately noticed I was not well.

‘You look pale,’ she said. ‘Are you alright?’

‘A little achey,’ I responded.

Within five minutes of sitting down Mrs Immediately commented again. ‘You don’t look well.’

‘I’m alright,’ I replied, despite the pain.

‘You should get a doctor’s appointment.’

‘No, no I’m fine. It’ll probably go by the end of the day.’

Five minutes later.

‘You’re no better. You should ring the doctor,’ said Mrs Immediately; yet again.

I inwardly sighed. I knew I wouldn’t get any peace until I rang the doctor. When Mrs Immediately got the bit between her teeth she wouldn’t let go; never give in. It was unwise not to do what Mrs Immediately told you do… well immediately.

And to be quite honest I wasn’t getting any better. I felt pretty bad the breath was becoming even more difficult and painful.

‘If you don’t want to do it then I will,’ she said.

I hadn’t reacted within a split second so she was onto me again.

I dialled the doctor’s number and got an appointment for 16:30 that day. If nothing else my ears wouldn’t get a bashing from Mrs Immediately.

Shortly afterwards I informed Topman and he was insistent that I go home now and not hang about. Topman wasn’t prepared to listen to a word of argument and went even further to tell me that he did not expect me in the next day.

So some half an hour later I was on my way home. I was walking quite slow but allowed enough time to get to the bus stop on time.

Once home I dozed and wake up half an hour before I was due for my doctor’s appointment. I decided I would get there early and began making my way.

It was this walk, normally no more than six or seven minutes, which brought home to me how bad the old chest was. I took twenty minutes to get there. It also helped me understand why Grandfather Fitrambler couldn’t walk very far in his later years.

Grandfather Fitrambler had breathing problems and, as I was finding myself, if you couldn’t take in enough oxygen then movement of any kind was difficult. It depleted your energy levels.

I got to the doctors, managed to get my breath back enough to tell them I had an appointment with the emergency doctor.

Ten minutes after my appointment was set for I got to see Dr Calm. I explained what was wrong.

‘Hmm,’ he said with a frown.

Then he got me to stand up and stood up himself. He stretched his arms straight out in front of him.

‘Put your arms on the outside of mine…’

I frowned but did as I was told. If this was the first stage of the beginning of some sort of Morris Dance…however the lack of the sound of bells from the direction of his knees took that thought out of my head. Besides, if he wanted to Morris Dance I would have pointed him in the direction of the Pink Lady; she was far more experience in that than I ever would be.

‘Now try and push my arms inwards,’ said Doctor Calm.

I did as he said and although it hurt managed to move his arms a little.

‘Hmm.’ he said.

He got me to sit down and then got me to do some deep breathing, which also resulted in pain. After that he clipped a device to my finger, checked the reading on it.


I babbled within this time telling him that I thought it was probably strained muscles. Or probably hoping he’d say it was…


He then got me to strip to the waist, listened to my back and chest.

‘Hmm.’ Then: ‘Ok, you can get dressed, please.’

I got dressed and then, once settled back in our respective seats he began to fill out the ‘Hmms.’

‘It could well be you strained the muscles in your chest. This would have the effect of making breathing painful. Shallow breathing means you’re not getting enough oxygen. The oxygen levels in your system seem to back that up. However, just to be safe, I’m going to book you in for an immediate ECG with the nurse. I’ll arrange an appointment for an x-ray tomorrow…’

Being the devoted drivelling coward that I am I asked: ‘Any chance of some painkillers.’

‘I’m not sure that would be a good idea…’ Doctor Calm replied as he tapped the keys on his computer.

I thought it was a great idea. Painkillers equals no pain and a happy Fitrambler…what’s not to like?

‘You can take some Paracetamol. But you need the pain so that we can see if you are getting better or not.’

For a few seconds I did consider grizzling but felt that probably wouldn’t change his mind.

Ten minutes later I was in the waiting room awaiting the call from the nurse.

Once I was called I shuffled my way into her office she smiled at me. I tried to smile back but because of the pain I probably grimaced; an expression more at home in a Hammer horror film.

She got me to strip to the waist and take off my footwear. My walking trainers were coming to the end of their life so some nose twitching accompanied this; but in a very English way nothing was mentioned.

I moved over to the trolley which was where I would lay down. I suddenly felt a cold sweat form. Laying down caused pain…I didn’t like this one bit.

What I didn’t predict was the pain I was going to go through trying to get on the trolley to lay down in the first place. I couldn’t use my arms to lever me on because that caused pain and I couldn’t lift my leg high enough to use that to get me on top.

However, while the nurse went to get the ECG machine I saw a chair by the trolley.

Ah ha!

I would use that as an intermediate stage to getting on the trolley. I raised my leg to the chair with minimal pain but then when I put the weight on the chair I must have been at the wrong angle. I slipped and sent the chair ten feet away from the trolley.

Unfortunately, I let out what can only be described as a girly-scream. If I’d had more chance to evaluate the pain I might have been better prepared and been able to let out a manlier scream but no, a girly one issue forth…

I got my breath back after a minute then went to get the chair back just as the nurse was coming in. She frowned at me.

‘I thought you would’ve been on the examination trolley by now?’

‘Working on it,’ I said.

She sat back on her seat while I struggled to get onto the trolley. She was untangling the wires for the ECG and then filling out some more paperwork while I struggled a second time only sending the chair a couple of feet and this time managing to suppress a potential girly scream!

Finally, I got on top of the trolley but when I tried to lay down and relax pain went through my chest and there was another stifled girly scream.

It seemed like hours I was there laying in pain but was only minutes and then the nurse got up and started to place the wires on the strategic parts of my anatomy.

‘You should have asked for help if you were having trouble getting on the trolley…’ she said.

Personally, I felt the yelps of pain and sending the chair flying a couple of times might have given her a clue but hey ho!

Once the tabs were placed on she started the ECG and then walked away just as tab felt off my side.

‘Tab’s fallen off.’

She carried on walking to the desk.

I repeated myself. ‘Tab’s fallen off!’

She seemed not to pay attention and went back to tapping her computer keyboard.

A few minutes later she came back and looked at the ECG then at my body and saw the loose tab.

She sighed. ‘You really should have said one of the tabs had come loose. We don’t want to be here all night…’

I went to say something but was in too much pain. She re-applied the offending tab and then walked away while the machine did its stuff.

This time there was a reading and she smiled. ‘Right, you can get down and get dressed now. All over.’

‘A bit of help, please,’ I said as I tried to get in a more upright position.

It was a wasted remark on her receding back. I struggled stifling an excessive amount of girly screams as pain shot through me.

I got to the chair a few minutes later just as the nurse looked up from her computer.

‘Not dressed yet, are we?’

Well, I wasn’t but she seemed ok.

I managed to get my clothes on and left the bow tie to sit in my pocket. I felt I didn’t want to inconvenience her any more than I had.

I slowly left the surgery and began what now seemed a long walk home. The physical pain I’d just been through was fading but the memory was pretty clear…

I hadn’t eaten since breakfast so bought a tin of soup from the corner shop before going home. It would be a simple thing to cook. And for what could be termed a red-letter day in diaries of those who knew me, I didn’t feel hungry.

Fortunately, there was not any permanent damage and I was surprised that the pain eased off within days. However, all those dire warnings about the dangers of alcohol and it turns out that the spilling of a pint of Apple and Blackcurrant squash was far more dangerous than any beer I’d drunk in the past or was likely to drink in the future…