Tick and Bash – Part 1

£650 per annum. Or was it £450? I couldn’t quite make out the hand-written figure. Whatever, I was delighted. I was offered a start as an articled clerk in the small practice of Ernest T Kerr & Co, Chartered Accountants who had an office in Cornwall Street, Birmingham city centre. It was early 1972.

So for four years I learnt my trade, in particular the arcane science of double-entry bookkeeping. I half believed my early instruction from a fellow clerk that Debit was nearest the window, Credit nearest the door. After six weeks it all sort of fell into place. Once I understood that Debit could be either an expense or an asset, Credit a line of income or a liability, I was flying.

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Actual photo of me, 1974

Virtually all our work was preparation of accounts from incomplete records – collating all the client’s paperwork into Profit & Loss Account and Balance Sheet. Finished a job? OK, the next job’s in that box over there. Barry’s Garage was a classic. Every single document or piece of paper Barry would file on a huge metal spike. There were years of them. Produce a set of accounts for Barry’s Garage and you could do anything in life thereafter.

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So we’d sit in the clerks’ office, four or five of us, high above Birmingham’s streets. Me, Pete, Arthur, John, Colin. Mr Farley and Mr Nock were the partners with their own offices. Mr Ricketts, an older accountant, also had his own office. It was the job of one of the clerks to sharpen Mr Ricketts’ pencils every morning. Presiding over all was Miss Pilley. No personal telephone calls and if you needed a new pencil you had to present the stub of the old one to her.

No computers of course. Technology amounted to a shared adding machine. It was quicker and easier to learn to cast rows of figures in one’s head, unless you needed a tally roll as a back up for your working papers. If there was a power cut (regular at one time) then out came the candles and you would work on without a pause.

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OK, found ’em

Along one wall sat the arcane Private Ledgers of clients, lockable with tiny keys. These would contain entries not deemed suitable for general viewing – Capital Accounts, Reserve Accounts, Drawings etc. All the entries beautifully made by clerks who had gone before us, dating back decades. I’m afraid our motley crew couldn’t live up to their standards.

And there were road trips out to the larger clients. There were factories out in the Black Country, part of a landscape that has now largely disappeared. Acres of belching smoke adding to the morning mist as you coughed your way into work. There was a shop in Wolverhampton High Street where we ticked and scribbled happily in the shop window. A foundry where the blokes worked in Hades-like conditions. They worked in pairs on piecework and shared the wage. But one big, silent guy worked alone, earning as much as the pairs did. You’d keep out of his way.

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And us articled clerks were studying to become Chartered Accountants, mostly in our own time through correspondence courses. Our comrades in the bigger firms were sent off for weeks on end to Caer Rhun Hall in North Wales to be hot-housed. But after work we’d head for the Reference Library and study, maybe testing each other on case law and stuff.

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And, when the library closed, we’d head for the pub. One Thursday evening in 1974 we decided to skip the pub. That night the IRA blew up one of our favourite spots, the Tavern in the Town.

My four years were up. I left Ernest T Kerr & Co who have now become a footnote in history. I spent a year with the firm of John W Hinks & Co of Smethwick. And somehow I scraped through my Final exam at the second time of asking. The world is your oyster, they said. They were recruiting hard for young (therefore cheap) professionals in the Channel Islands. In June 1977 I was headed for Jersey.

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The Sight

What a lovely piece of flash fiction by my author friend Pamela Wight.

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spirit, muse, life, deathTHEN

The longer Gertie watches her mother, the more confused she is. Gertie is 6 and never knew that her mom has tears.

“Why are you crying? Gertie asks.

“Your grandmother died today,” her mom answers.

Gertie closes her eyes. Nanny is right there beside them. When she opens her eyes again, a soft yellow light grows and surrounds her mom.

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Counting Down to Retirement

27 days and I’ll be free.

It was in the summer of ’71 that I rocked up at the staff entrance of Eagle Star Insurance in Birmingham to start my first job. I lasted six weeks.

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Whatever happened to them?

Still, it was long enough for me to earn enough to buy my first single (Suspicious Minds – Elvis) and first album (Sounds of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel). My one abiding memory of Eagle Star was of the woman who signed in the staff, drawing a red line at 9.03am to heap shame on those arriving a few minutes late. I was often to be found below that line.

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Whatever happened to him?

Strangely, those six weeks have long since been airbrushed from my c.v. Did they even happen?

So I’ll have been gainfully employed for 48 years, which I guess is par for the course. I can’t particularly afford to retire, but in that respect I’ll be in no better position next year or the year after. So I’m getting out at the right time, and for the right reasons. As a professional accountant I’ve long since lost interest in keeping up to date technically. The young kids coming through are light years ahead in that regard. And neither am I as sharp and accurate as I was. I could battle on for a while yet, but I no longer enjoy flogging into work every day.

Plans ahead? Yes, some vague ideas, but I aim to kick back for a little while at least and enjoy the sensation of not being under work pressure. Certainly I’ll find plenty to do – my neglected writing for one, various bits of voluntary activity on the other. (Jersey has a huge population of volunteers, particularly amongst the retired classes.) At the moment, for example, I’m enjoying doing a bit of tour guiding for Jersey Heritage, showing visitors around the fabulous Mont Orgueil. It seems I might have been repressing an inclination to take to the stage.

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Mont Orgueil, 800 years and counting.

As my 27 days tick away I may reflect in this somewhat stuttering blog on my work career.

Prague by Night

Ever been to Prague? Me neither. But as a reluctant traveller I enjoy reading the accounts of more adventurous souls. It has been a while since I read Britt Skrabanek’s semi-autobiographical Everything’s Not Bigger. It’s a lovely story but I particular like the way it climaxes with Britt’s alter ego Jaye’s non-date with Milan, by night in Prague. Here are a few samples. Britt’s book is now available in paperback as well as Kindle at Amazon.com, Amazon,co.uk or indeed all other Amazon online stores.

The chocolate melted on her hot tongue, its decadence thrilling her taste buds. Luminosity reflected in her eyes as they lifted open. 
It was a breathtaking sight.
They stood in between a far-reaching row of crystal shops. Bohemian glass competed with the moonlight, shining ferociously, instilling awe and brilliance in the antique windows. Jaye chewed the bittersweet morsel, sea salt sprinkled dark chocolate encompassing a creamy caramel.
It was the most incredible treat she’d ever tasted. It was the most incredible sight she’d ever seen.Prague1

They continued their journey through the serpentine streets, guided by charming street lamps. Crystal luminosity morphed into night life on the next block. Neon signs from pubs and bars welcomed pedestrians with cartoon images of frosty mugs and foamy beers.Prague2

Jubilant waves splashed against the barriers, serene and constant. Beautiful boats and historic buildings bordered the Vltava River, sprinkling the navy palette with hints of gold. The moon highlighted Jay’s sullen eyes.Prague3

Women in baseball, and beyond

This side of the Atlantic we don’t know much about baseball. There are pockets of interest and indeed there are a number of clubs making up the British Baseball Federation, and a league structure. At European level the Netherlands are the strongest nation.
At school the girls used to play rounders (maybe they still do) and softball goes through high and low spells, but is generally thought of as a social sport.
But Major League Baseball in North America is the stronghold. It is the quintessential American game, its history intertwined with that of its country. Even us Brits can reel off its legends – Joe diMaggio, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Joe Jackson (‘Say it ain’t so’).womens baseball1
And women play, *gasp*, always have done. Whatever next? As in most sports the women’s game has never commanded the attention that the men get. Its high point was reached in 1943 and the years afterwards by the formation of the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League. This was at the height of American participation in WWII which left a vacuum to be filled.womens baseball2
My fellow writer Britt Skrabanek has captured those heady days in her captivating novel Nola Fran Evie. She portrays three of the gum-chewing women with attitude that made the grade and some money before drifting back into civilian life. Thereafter they team up again in 1950’s Chicago – they’re changing and so is the world.
One passage that has stayed with me – Fran realises that the man she loves is rejecting her – their forbidden love can’t last.

She dropped her hand from Roland’s face and hugged her knees to her chest. She sobbed quietly, her head bowed, suffocated by grief the likes of which she’d never known.
‘I must be off my rocker here,’ Roland said finally.
She picked her head up. ‘Huh?’
‘It means I must be out of my mind. ‘Cause baby you’re right,’ he said, holding her knees. ‘Damn the rest of it.’
Immense relief flooded Fran’s body. Their lips joined together for the first time in truth. They recognized their love would continue being difficult, that they would endure battles other couples could never imagine. But their love was iron clad, the kind that could handle that kind of thing. So Fran and Roland didn’t surrender. They chose to show the world that not only was their love something to tolerate, it was something to be revered.womens baseball3.png

Get Britt’s book, now in paperback as well as e-book, here or at your national Amazon store.

Female spies of WW2

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was set up in 1940 by the Ministry of Defence. Its purpose was simple – to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in Occupied Europe. Of necessity, it was a shadowy organisation.

But, after the War, tales emerged of the heroic deeds of those involved. And many of them were women. Here are the brief stories of two of them.

VIRGINIA HALL, the ‘Limping Spy’, was probably the most famous of the SOE women. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Hall was aged 34 at the outbreak of war. A gifted student, she followed up her US college life by continuing her studies in Europe. She became fluent in the French, Italian and German languages whilst obtaining a diploma in economics and international law.

Following a shooting accident in 1932 her left leg was amputated below the knee. Thereafter she wore a wooden leg. Thus thwarted in her diplomatic career ambition, after the outbreak of war in 1940 she worked as an ambulance driver in Paris, but was forced to retreat before the advancing Nazis. She was quickly recruited by the SOE. Re-entering France under the guise of an American news reporter. She quickly established a secret network of resistance workers whilst training other SOE recruits.

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Receiving the DSC

With the Germans determined to capture the Limping Spy, she escaped to Spain. Soon after she joined the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and returned to France and once again began to create difficulties for the occupying forces with numerous acts of sabotage by herself and her team.

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In later life

Returning home after the War, Hall was awarded highest honours by France, Britain and the United States. She continued to work as a CIA analyst until her retirement.
Hall died in 1982 in her home state and is buried at Pikesville.

My long-time blogger friend Britt Skrabanek took this theme of female spy and created Alina who awakes to find herself under cover, in wartime Berlin, and in the bed of a high-ranking Nazi. She soon learns that she has been in Berlin for three years and is on a dangerous mission. Certainly a neat way of skipping lots of back story!

‘Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you supposed to be here on a clandestine op for the United States War Department?’ He pounded his fist on the wall and began pacing again. ‘I realize three years leading a double life as a spying lounge singer must be taking its toll on you. I understand you’re working against your own country, risking your life for another. Hell, you’ve been here longer than anybody else we’ve got, delivering intelligence that’s saved countless lives.’

Britt uses Alina, and the backdrop of wartime Berlin to craft a great story. But there comes the time she needs to do her night job – and the lounge singer nearly blows her cover, she can’t do the songs.

‘Is it me or is it hot in here?’ Alina touched the microphone, winking at the audience. The crowd whooped and whistled. ‘Why don’t we see if we can heat things up a little more? Welcome to Café Rouge, babies.’ She stuck out her hip, slapped her thighs, ran her hands up the side of her body, then reached her arms high overhead to show off her red, satin gloves.
More applause erupted and the band struck up.
Alina didn’t recognise the melody. Her arms floated down, slow and unsure.

Beneath the Satin Gloves

See how Alina gets out of the fix by getting her book Beneath the Satin Gloves – shortly to be available in paperback as well as e-book – here or here.

Read my 2012 review here.

VIOLETTE SZABO (née Bushell) was born in Paris in 1921 to an English father and French mother. After her parents moved to London, Violette and her younger brother lived with their aunt in France until they were reunited with their parents in London when Violette was 11. From age 14 Violette worked in shops and stores in both London and Paris.

After the outbreak of war Violette worked as a Land Girl. She met a French officer, Etienne Szabo, and they were quickly wed. She gave birth to a daughter, Tania*, but her father never saw her, being killed in action. Spurred on to gain a measure of revenge, Violette Szabo was soon accepted into the SOE

.

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Etienne & Violette

The tales of her exploits and courage behind enemy lines in France are legendary, but her story was not to end well. She was captured, interrogated and tortured. Szabo was taken to Ravensbruck in August 1944. By every account she continued to resist ill-treatment and interrogation, and was a tower of strength for her fellow prisoners.
On or before 5th February 1945 Szabo was taken to ‘Execution Alley’ at Ravensbruck, made to kneel and was shot in the back of the head. She was just 23.

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*Tania lived and worked in Jersey for many years. She now lives in Wales.

Researching a Jersey Tragedy

I thought that I’d give this old post an airing. It relates to another scene in A Jersey Midsummer’s Tale. I’ve not progressed the matter since, maybe I won’t.

Back On The Rock

In A Jersey Midsummer Tale I incorporated a tragic story – that of the death of a young lad. He was wiped out by a plane which was attempting to take off from the beach at Jersey’s West Park. During the 1930s – until the airport was opened in 1938 – the sands on Jersey’s south coast were used for all aircraft movements.

Although the novel was set in 1935 the actual incident took place in August of the previous year. For a long time this has been nagging at me. Did the lad (I’ll leave out names for the present though it is of public record) have any relatives still alive in Jersey to this day?

Well, tracing descendants is harder than tracing forebears. However the excellent Jersey Archive Service gave me a lead. Indeed the young boy had an older brother. And, cutting the story short, I was…

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Lucille in Wonderland

My second book, ‘A Jersey Midsummer Tale’, isn’t very good. It just doesn’t work and several times I’ve thought about unpublishing it. What’s stopped me from doing so is the fact that there are some pretty good bits in there (if I might say so).

When I was writing it, it had dawned on me that writing has no boundaries; it was my book and I could put what I wanted in it. It was thus that I came up with Chapter 10, spotlighting Lucille, a simple Jersey farm girl. The year is 1935 and her head is filled with images from magazines and films of the day. She’s a dreamer. And one day she has a dream. Aeroplanes were still a novelty but Lucille found herself on one.

The plane dipped and turned and she saw now with surprise a coastline with blue sea shimmering in the sunshine. The plane circled low over the sea and now there were yachts and smaller boats and a harbour and a town.


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Then, after the plane had landed

‘I’ll take your bag Madame, if you’ll step this way.’ He gestured towards the car.
‘Thank you, but…can you tell me where I am?’
‘Why Miss Lucille, this is Monte Carlo Airport.’

After checking in to the poshest hotel in the town, Lucille went for a walk.monte carlo

Through the hotel grounds and into the busy streets she strolled, turning left towards the harbour. People smiled at her as she walked, ladies envied her, men admired her and she smiled and blossomed at the occasional wolf whistle. She walked tall, shoulders back as she examined the goods in the unfamiliar shops. A flower seller stepped out from his stall and presented her with a red rose with a little bow. She passed on the kindness by bending down and handing the rose to a little girl who followed Lucille with her big eyes open as she clutched her unaware mother’s hand.

She met a couple of familiar-looking women at a waterfront bar.greta garbo

mae west

I don’t think we’ve met,’ her neighbour went on. ‘Of course I know who you are. But my name’s Greta and this is my friend Mae. Mae, this is Lucille from Jersey.’
‘Hello!’ said the lady the other side of Greta who Lucille noted for the first time. She was blonde with remarkable red lips.
‘We’re in the movie business Lucille, but maybe they don’t show us in Jersey?’
‘Oh but they do! Only this morning I was at the pictures watching John Wayne…’ she paused, momentarily puzzled. Was it this morning, or yesterday, or did she just dream it?

Lucille is invited to a grand dance by the Prince of Monte Carlo. Getting ready, she encounters a shower for the first time.

Cautiously, she stepped into the contraption and twisted a knob. Nothing. Then she pulled down a lever and a freezing jet of water shot over her pale body. Squealing, she hopped out of the shower a lot faster than she had gone in before turning to regard it with suspicion.

And at the dance

Then they danced to the band, the other couples leaving the floor to the Prince and the lovely Miss Lucille from Jersey. After this they edged off the dance floor and, still waltzing, made their way onto the balcony overlooking the town and harbour.
‘Lucille, I think I’m falling in love with you.’
‘No, that cannot be. I am but a humble farm girl and you are a prince!’

And there’s finally a dream within a dream. After the dance Lucille awakes to find Lillie Langtry, the famous Jersey socialite and actress who lived her later years in Monte Carlo, by her bedside. They chat, and Mrs Langtry tells Lucille that, despite her extensive travels, she always loved Jersey best.lillie langtry

‘Why don’t you go back to Jersey then?’
‘Oh but I have gone back, Miss Lucille. And now I think that’s it’s time you also went back.’
‘But I don’t want to go back!’ wailed Lucille, tears starting to fall.
‘My beautiful girl, you’ll find that your dreams will come true of their own accord if you’ll just let them and don’t force them. Now let me help you back’.

A bit Alice in Wonderland, isn’t it?

My Running in 2018 – a review with pics

 

It’s been a funny old running year. For much of it I just couldn’t get going. It was a struggle. On two successive Sundays I bailed out of my long runs and got the bus back home. I felt sluggish.

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Our glorious west coast

 

Everything hurt. Although I continued to lead groups on Saturday morning, and Wednesday evenings during the summer I stopped enjoying it so much. I didn’t feel up to entering races. In fact I entered four half-marathons (Southampton, Winchester, two in Jersey) but didn’t make the starting line in any of them.

 

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Stirling Castle

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Rozel Harbour

I started wondering if it was time to pack it in altogether.

 

 

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Fishermen’s Church, La Rocque

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At Radier Farm

At which time I considered my diet again. Not for the first time in my life. I dusted off the juicer, hit the fruit and vegetable shelves, started following my own preaching about avoiding processed foods.

 

 

 

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At Queen’s Valley Reservoir

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South-western rockscape

And what a difference it made, almost immediately. My body reacted joyously, I felt loose again, less achy, a spring in my legs. The enjoyment came back.

 

 

 

Once more I started to look forward to running. Early morning runs before work became a habit. The miles built up. I happily ran in the last few races of the year, the highlight being a 52-minute Autumn 10k, the age-equivalent of my best time set eight years ago. I hit my 1,000 mile target which, at one time, was looking hopeless.

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Petit Port

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Overlooking sand dunes

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Harbour, St Brelade’s Bay

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Neolithic passage chamber, St Ouen

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Bouley Bay

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Misty evening on the dunes

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Super Slow run, St Lawrence

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View up to Portelet Common from Ouaisné

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Old Smugglers Inn

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Railway bridge, St Clement

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Site of former Mont Mado quarry

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St Martin’s Churchyard

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St Catherine’s Woods

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Windmill, St Mary

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Dappled sunlight, Grantez

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L’Etacq

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A break from jogging the trails at Grantez

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One more of our west coast

So looking towards a good 2019 with renewed enthusiasm.