Significant Songs (79)

Reblogging a post from 2015 about a very old song that I love so much. Apologies to those who have seen it previously.
I was thinking about this song today, and it is in my head.

beetleypete

Pennies From Heaven

This song originated as the feature track from the 1936 film of the same name. Originally sung by Bing Crosby in that film, it was later recorded by almost every famous singer since. The list of those who covered the song is too long to write here, but it includes Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan. For me, this is best heard sung by a ‘crooner’, and the sadness underlying the central message of hope comes over well if it is recorded in a somewhat plaintive tone.

In 1978, the BBC produced a landmark television series of the same title, written by Dennis Potter, and starring Bob Hoskins, Cheryl Campbell, and Gemma Craven. The song featured heavily of course, and the version used was by Arthur Tracy. This was also made into a -best forgotten- Hollywood film adapted by and starring Steve Martin. The TV series…

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Significant Songs (4)

I am reblogging this 2014 post because other than Jude and Sarah, hardly anyone has ever seen it. I still love this record!

beetleypete

Woman Trouble

In the year 2000, I was 48 years old. I had just moved to Camden, and was living alone, for the first time in ages. I had a new car, and like many tracks featured in this series, I heard a record on the radio in that car, that I had had not heard before. I couldn’t keep still in my seat, and found myself jiggling around, oblivious to strange stares from other drivers, in the heavy traffic leading out to Brent Cross. I didn’t really catch the name of the song, as I was too busy humming along to it, and car-dancing like a fool, to listen to the announcement at the end. I wanted to listen to it again, straight away, and felt empty when it had ended.

I had to endure the embarrassment of going into a record shop in Central London the next day…

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Bringing Granddad Home

My maternal grandfather died quite young. He was only around 65 years old. I heard the news of course, and despite being only 12 years old myself, I took it quite well, without getting too upset. As was tradition, he was ‘laid out’ in a coffin in the parlour of the house, and every member of the family was taken to see him. It was the first time I had seen a dead body, and to me he seemed to just be sleeping. He had a short funeral, followed by a burial in Nunhead Cemetery, South London.

Many years later, quite recently in fact, I learned the true circumstances of his death, and how the family ‘brought granddad home’.

He died in Essex, at a place called Heybridge, near the town of Maldon. It was just over fifty miles from his home in the London district of Bermondsey. He and my nan had been enjoying a short holiday in a caravan they had bought some years earlier, to enjoy their retirement weekends and summer breaks. My nan had woken up that morning to find him dead beside her. He was cold, and very white. She had seen enough dead people to know nothing could be done. For many years, he had been receiving treatment for Angina, so it seemed likely a heart attack had taken him during the night.

Back then (1965) it wasn’t usual to ring for an ambulance when someone died. But a death did have to be officially confirmed, usually by the family doctor. It then had to be reported to the Police too. But my nan was fifty miles away from home, so she did something different. She walked to a nearby telephone box, and rang her eldest daughter, my aunt Edie. Edie in turn rang my mum, and then the younger sister, Betty. All three were married, and it was decided that the brothers-in-law would be enlisted to deal with the situation.

Edie’s husband was called Albert, and he had the biggest car. He picked up my dad, and then went to get Betty’s husband, Benjamin. They drove the fifty miles to the caravan through heavy Sunday traffic in east London and the Essex suburbs. When they arrived, they packed up my grandparents’ things, and dressed my dead granddad in his overcoat, to cover his pyjamas. Then they propped him up in the back seat of the car, his head against the window. My dad and Benjamin sat in the back with him, to make sure he stayed upright, and didn’t slip down. With my nan in the front, and Albert driving, they set off for the house in Bermondsey.

Despite encountering some heavy traffic on the return journey, nobody outside the car appeared to notice that anything was amiss. Once back at my nan’s house, they quickly carried granddad inside, then put him into bed in his pyjamas as my nan was telephoning for the doctor. The doctor arrived, and immediately pronounced my granddad dead, knowing nothing of the fiasco surrounding his return from Essex. He was prepared to issue a death certificate with Angina as the cause, and he also notified the Police. Undertakers were called to bring a coffin, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

It seems my nan was afraid that if she rang for help in Essex, granddad’s body would be taken to the mortuary at Colchester Hospital. That might involve a post-mortem examination too. Instead, she relied on her family to do the right thing, and get her husband back home.

It’s one of those, ‘you couldn’t make it up’, stories, and is now a source of great amusement to many of our family members.

Times were different then. They certainly were.

Christmas In An Ambulance

As you probably know, I spent a third of my life as an EMT in Central London. Anyone who worked in that job will tell you that the two busiest days of the year are New Year’s Eve, and Christmas Day.

But why Christmas Day? The shops are closed, and most people are at home opening presents, wearing bad taste jumpers, and anticipating a day of eating, drinking, and watching TV.

For emergency ambulance crews, the day starts with the leftovers of the previous shift. Christmas Eve parties, drunken revellers who had fallen over, some in virtual comas from excessive alcohol consumption. Head injuries, cuts and bruises from fights, maybe broken ankles if the streets were icy. Calls to the Police Station to examine injured prisoners, and all this on top of the everyday medical emergencies that don’t go away just because it is the 25th of December.

Once the presents are open, there are the accidents involving children. Rushing off to try out new rollerblades, skateboards, and cycles, many have sustained injuries not long after breakfast. For some, that will mean a few hours spent in the emergency department of the local hospital, awaiting stitches and Tetanus injections. For the unlucky few, it will result in being on life support in the Intensive Care Unit; worried parents sitting by the bed.

Many people start drinking much earlier on Christmas day. Few of those would usually have alcohol just after breakfast, so by midday they are feeling the effects. As the food comes out of the oven, the calls change to burns, scalds, and deep cuts from carving knives. For those that escape kitchen accidents and settle down for the afternoon, the greater than usual consumption of food becomes the problem.

Wind can be incredibly painful. Though it is not life-threatening, to a family the worse for drink and stress, that sharp pain may be indicative of something more sinister, like a blocked bowel, or perhaps a heart attack. So they call 999, and then get stressed out even more by having to wait longer than usual because we are so busy. For some unfortunates, the combination of alcohol, stress, and over-eating does actually cause a heart attack. Also Diabetic Coma, exacerbation of existing breathing problems like Asthma, or the rupture of an Aortic Aneurysm.

By early afternoon, it is not unusual to be trying to resuscitate people who have literally dropped dead in front of the Christmas Tree. This is usually going on in front of a number of distraught family members, some still holding unopened presents.

The early evening brings its own problems. Calls to people who cannot be roused because they have had so much to drink. Babies and small children put down to rest, then found in situations of medical emergency, like high temperatures or even cot death. Following those dramas, people start to leave for home. This now involves car accidents where the drivers are over the limit from ‘just a couple of drinks’. Their relative insisted they have something before they leave, and that might have been a whole tumbler full of brandy, on top of that ‘couple of glasses’ with dinner. They might be unfamiliar with the area, go the wrong way up a one-way street, or not notice that person who was walking over a pedestrian crossing.

In some cases, the victims are also drunk; sometimes wandering around in the hope of finding a shop open, or deciding to cycle home after having been drinking all day.

For most of you this year, it will be a happy and trouble free day. But when you hear a siren in the distance, or see the blue lights of an ambulance pass your window, now you will now why.

Christmas Past: Part Two

In part one, I wrote about my childhood love of the Christmas season. But it wasn’t long before the magic wore off.

In my teens, I got myself a regular girlfriend. All is going well, then Christmas gets mentioned. She tells me that she has to spend Christmas at home with her family. My mum tells me that I am expected to do the same with mine. So Christmas starts to become something to get past, so that life can return to normal on the 27th. Besides, I know there’s no Santa by then, and my dad has long since stopped piling the toys at the end of my bed.

Now I am twenty-four years old. My dad has left my mum for another woman, and I definitely cannot leave her on her own for Christmas. So I don’t go to see the woman who will become my wife the following year, and she is expected to stay with her family. Which set of parents get our company starts to become more important than the real reasons for the celebration, and also takes over from the tradition of all the families meeting in one place.

People have moved around, and no longer live that close to each other. So I have to make choices.

Once I am married, my wife graciously accepts that my mum is on her own, so we will go there on the 25th, and to her family on the 26th. Three years later, I become an EMT working shifts, and all previous rules are abandoned when I have to work on the 25th, a ten-hour day shift. After trying to resuscitate a small child found dead in its cot on Christmas morning, then later an elderly man who collapsed and died as he was carving the turkey, I wasn’t feeling very festive when I got home from work to eat with my mum and my wife.

For the next thirty-three years, I did shift work as an EMT or with the Metropolitan Police. I used to try to get the 25th off, usually having to agree to work on New Year’s Eve instead. When I managed to get a free day, I had often been working a night shift before, coming home like a zombie, then having to drive to see my mum and go through the motions of appearing to enjoy a Christmas meal.

It wore me down. It was a chore, not something enjoyable. A whole year of stress, bulding up to two days that I always dreaded.

I grew out of Christmas.

Christmas Past

I didn’t always dislike Christmas.

As a child, I would ask to go to bed early on the 24th, so I could wake up and get all my presents when it was still dark. I am an only child, and though not spoiled, I was never short of a pile of presents from my mum and dad, as well as my extended family of uncles and aunts.

By the time my parents were awake, I had already read my Christmas Annuals books, and all of my toys and other gifts would have been opened and examined. Like most kids then, I dreaded receiving ‘sensible presents’, like clothing. But I will never complain about my childhood Christmases, as I can still remember the thrill of them. And I appreciated every gift, however small.

Then it was off to my maternal grandmother’s house, for a massive family Christmas lunch at 2 pm. Everyone would be there, and trestles would have been set up for a huge table top to rest on. Then every chair in the house, mismatched or not, would be crowded around so that everyone had a seat at the table. Before that happened, all the men would set off for the lunchtime drinking session in the nearby pub, while the women and older girls took on the mammoth task of preparing all the vegetables, and laying the table.

And all of this cooked in a single small gas oven, with a three-ring hob above.

The men would return just in time to sit and eat, still merry from too much beer and whisky. Then in the afternoon, they slept off the booze, while the exhausted women washed up and cleared away, ready to serve up the ‘Christmas Tea’. Assorted shellfish, bread and butter, lots of cakes, and anything sweet.

The evening would see a huge Christmas party. Crates of beer lined up in my grandmother’s parlour, the ‘good rug’ rolled up and stored away, and my aunt Edie exercising her skill on the piano as my dad and my uncle sang popular songs of the day, as well as wartime melodies. Everyone over the age of sixteen smoked, so the blue haze in the room would sting my young eyes as I sat enjoying the seasonal show.

When it got too late for me, I would sneak into my grandmother’s bedroom, and creep under the pile of coats laid on her bed. They included ancient furs that smelled of mothballs, and huge wool overcoats that had the aroma of tobacco.

I never really remembered my dad lifting me up to take me out to the car.

But I always woke up in my own bed on Boxing Day.

The Rizla+ experience.

A post from 2013 that I think only Eddy has seen. My claim to fame, ‘Reinventing the spliff’!

beetleypete

In late 1972, I applied for a job as a company representative for Rizla, the manufacturer of cigarette papers. The LaCroix family had been involved in paper production in France since the 16th century. As early as the late 17th century, the company began to market papers specifically targeted at the emerging hand-rolling cigarette market, which was beginning to become an alternative to pipe smoking. By modern times, they were the the leader in the distribution of cigarette papers, and even though there seemed to be other brands available, they were probably a subsidiary. In effect, they had a European monopoly of these products. The foundation of the paper is rice, hence the name; RIZLA+.  Riz is French for rice, and the La Croix family name was shortened by the use of the cross symbol.

I was successful, and employed to cover the areas in the East; Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk…

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A Very Personal Ghost Story

I posted this in 2014, and reblog it most years around the time of Halloween. I don’t celebrate the festival myself, but I know almost everyone else does. This is a true story, and I have reposted it again for the benefit of the new followers who will not have seen it previously.

I have never really believed in the supernatural. Ghosts, apparitions, reincarnation, life after death, and all things associated with these. Not that I wouldn’t have liked to, it just didn’t seem plausible. Psychics can often appear to be very accurate. They claim to know things about you, even to be communicating with a family member, long since dead. Unfortunately, their ‘gifts’ are very easily debunked, and like most of these things, it has to come down to simple belief. And I don’t believe it.

My paternal grandmother was a great character. She had a very dark complexion, black hair, and a gravelly voice. Mother to three sons and two daughters, she had to fend for herself for much of her adult life, as my grandfather deserted the family home when I was a small child. When she was still a young mother, before the second world war, she was run over and seriously injured. Trapped under the vehicle, her leg had to be amputated at the scene. I remember being somewhat fascinated by her false leg when I was a child. It often stood in a corner of a room, as she was able to get around surprisingly well without it. Once she was going out, she would always wear this prosthesis, and other than a stiffness to her gait, you would be unaware that she had only one leg. She was a houseproud lady, and her home was usually neat and tidy. The step outside her front door was dark red, and she would clean this with a red polish, called ‘Cardinal’. This had a very distinctive smell, and on occasion, it would stain her fingers red, as she did not wear rubber gloves. We would often visit her on a Sunday, and she would accompany us on family holidays to the seaside, where we would go in a large group. On one of these holidays, she once showed me the stump of her thigh, and I remember feeling most uncomfortable having to look at it.

Much later on, after my Mum and Dad split up in the 1970s, I lost touch with my grandmother. Family differences made it very hard to keep in contact, and visiting her had to be arranged in advance, so as not to bump into my Dad, with his new ‘lady friend’. We made the trip a couple of times, and I was pleased to see that she hadn’t changed a bit, though she was no longer in good health. She was always happy to see us, and we tried as much as possible not to waste time discussing the problems we faced, as a result of the unexpected separation. By the late 1980s, other than exchanging Christmas and birthday cards, I hadn’t seen her for a long time. I was living in a small house in Surrey Docks, with my then girlfriend. I got a telephone call from my uncle, my Dad’s youngest brother. He informed me that my grandmother was in hospital. She had serious liver problems, and was not expected to live. I told my Mum, and we arranged to make the trip almost into Kent to see her. We checked that it would not clash with a visit from my Dad, to avoid any nastiness. On the agreed date, we struggled through the rush-hour traffic to the suburbs on the border with Kent. Caught up in delays, we arrived after the official end of visiting time. When we explained the situation to the nurse in charge, she was more than happy to allow us to spend some time.

It was a sad visit. We tried to look upbeat and casual, as we gazed down on this frail lady, yellow with jaundice, trying for her part to be cheerful, and obviously delighted to see us. We talked over old times, and about other members of our extended family, never once mentioning the advanced state of her illness, or her gloomy prognosis. After a while, she finally raised the subject of my Dad leaving us, and told my Mum how much she had missed seeing us both. She asked after my wife too, and I decided not to mention that we had split up, and that I had since met someone else. I wanted her to die thinking that all was well in my world. We said our final farewells, avoiding comments such as ‘see you again soon.’ We all knew that this was the last time we would see her.

I dropped my Mum off on the way home, and went back to tell my girlfriend, who had never met her, about the last visit to my beloved Nan. There were no tears, just fond memories; and frustration about the years lost, due to petty squabbles. We went to bed quite late, and I went straight off to sleep. In the early hours before dawn, I was awakened by an unusual noise. It seemed to be coming up the staircase from the room downstairs, as if someone was dragging something up, one step at a time. As my eyes opened, I was overwhelmed by an all-pervading smell. I recognised it immediately, it was Cardinal polish. Still sitting up in bed, I watched as my Nan’s head appeared at the top of the stairs, level with the bedroom door. She looked at me and smiled, continuing the difficult process of walking upstairs with a heavy false leg. She was dressed as I remembered her, and wearing an apron over her clothes. She walked into the bedroom, and sat down heavily on the bed, right next to me. Street lighting outside was enough to provide sufficient illumination, so I could see her clearly. She reached for my hand, and held it in both of hers, high up, near her shoulder. I could feel the roughness of her palms. She said one thing, ‘It will be alright’, and she was gone.

The next thing I was aware of was my girlfriend talking to me. She seemed confused. ‘Who were you talking to?’ She asked me. ‘Why are you holding your arm up, does it hurt?’ She continued. Then finally, ‘And what is that smell?’ The following day, my uncle rang me, to tell me that my grandmother had died during the night. ‘I know’, I replied.

I still don’t believe in ghosts. I suspect that it was a vivid dream, having just had the emotional experience of going to see my Nan, and knowing that she was dying. I can rationalise most of it to my satisfaction, but one thing has always been a mystery, and remains unexplained to this day. Why did my girlfriend smell the polish?

Tech Nostalgia

I am old enough to remember when Tech stuff just worked, and never went wrong.
The days before ‘planned obsolescence’ made sure we had to throw it away and keep buying new things.

My first ever cassette player. Never let me down once.
Then they stopped making cassettes.

The wonderful Ferguson Videostar VHS player/recorder.
Always reliable, and never once failed to work.
Then they stopped making VHS tapes.

My first CD payer. It cost the equivalent of a month’s wages at the time, and I could only afford to buy six CDs the first year.
It never let me down, but it was so big that when I moved I had to get a ‘mini-system’. I gave it away, still working.

You can buy a DVD player for £20 now, but when I bought my first one, there wasn’t much change from £500.
It was a monster machine, and always worked well. It is in a box somewhere now, as the size became an issue.

From the 1960s until the year 2000, those products served me well, and never once failed to work.

Shame we can’t say the same about the Tech that’s around today.

My Favourite Mobile Phone

The first mobile phone I ever bought was the Motorola StarTAC.

STAR TAC mobile telephone by Motorola,

As you can see, this was a ‘flip’ phone that closed down to a small and manageable size. The flip action also terminated the call, making sure that you were not still connected by mistake.

The SIM card was the size of a credit card, and slid into a narrow slot on the phone.

It had no camera.
It could not connect to the Internet
It could only make calls and send a text.

But.

It never failed to connect, and stay connected.
Any call made on it was as clear as anything, and never fuzzy or muffled.
You only had to extend the short aerial to always guarantee a signal. (At least in London, where I lived at the time).
I had it on a ‘Pay and Go’ deal, where I topped up the amount I needed. No monthly fee.
The battery lasted for days on end.

I don’t know where it is now, or even if it would still work.
But I wish I had never upgraded from it.