Holidays and Travel: Rome 2002

With lockdown making us all wish we could be somewhere else, I am reblogging this 2013 post about a short trip to Rome. David and Jude have seen it before, but it may well be new to most of you.


I had never been to Italy. Despite a lifelong interest in all things Roman, as well as a passing regard for Marco Polo, Garibaldi’s Redshirts, and a fascination with the nefarious exploits of Brigate Rosse during the 1970’s, I had never set foot on the land that also produced the wines I loved so much; Barolo, Barbera D’Asti, and Chianti.

Julie was well aware of my love of Roman History, and my somewhat morbid obsession with the arenas, and the gladiatorial combats fought within them. With my fiftieth birthday coming up, in March 2002, she arranged a ‘short break’ holiday to Rome, as her gift to me. It remains one of the best gifts that I have ever received, and this is the tale of our trip to the Eternal City.

Even the chosen hotel was to be a delight. The Art Deco Hotel, close to the Central Station, so…

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Film nostalgia

After a brief exchange on Twitter earlier, I decided to reblog this 2015 post about one of my favourite films. Apologies to those of you who have already seen it.


(This is about the 1967 film, not the 2013 remake.)

When I first saw the film ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, I was fifteen years old. I liked it so much, I went to see it again the following week. I didn’t know a lot about Warren Beatty or Faye Dunaway at the time. I had never heard of Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder, or Gene Hackman either. I thought I recognised the strange face of Michael J. Pollard, but I didn’t know where I might have seen it. The man playing the Texas Ranger was Denver Pyle, and I knew him immediately, from old westerns. The same applied to Dub Taylor, who played the father of C.W. Moss in the film.

I had been going to the cinema for as long as I was old enough to sit up straight in the seat. I had seen all kinds of films…

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Pub Signs for the 21st Century

As any UK readers know, pub signs have been a long tradition in this country. For those of you who have never visited Britain, here are two examples.

With many pubs being bought out by large companies, corporate names have fast become the norm, and our towns and high streets have seen the old signs disappearing fast.

I thought it might be time for some new names for pubs, to better reflect our changing society, and our dependence on electronics in this century. As I have limited artistic skills, I have not attempted to draw them. Instead, I offer only some name suggestions that could be developed into signs by someone with good graphics skills.

And if anyone does that, remember where it originated!

If there was a pub in Beetley, I would like it to be called this.


For those of you hooked on Internet dating apps, how about this name?


Compulsive mobile phone users might enjoy a drink in this place.


Twitter users would have this obvious watering hole.


Anyone foolish enough to have already bought an all-electric car might like to stop for a beer here.


Those phone users still on pay-as-you go options might like to meet up with others at their pub of choice.


Six selections for you, to get your minds ticking over.

Please add your own in the comments.

Talking To My Dad

I slept in late on Friday morning. Something had woken me up earlier, probably the gales, and I didn’t get back to sleep until almost 6 am. That meant I was still asleep at 10:45, when Julie decided to come in and wake me up.

As soon as I was old enough to have an opinion, I didn’t get on that well with my Dad. By the time I was twelve years old, he was working away a lot, as a sales and promotion executive for a record company. When he got home late on Friday nights, he seemed to resent the fact that my Mum and me had coped well enough without him all week, and his frequent absences made us grow closer together.

When I was fifteen, he moved us out of London to a house in Kent, as he felt our rented flat was too ‘down market’ for him in his new job. A year later, when I turned sixteen, he bought me a used car, even though I was too young to drive it legally. He liked to boast to people about that. He had become a rather boastful man, taking any opportunity to name-drop the various stars of the record business that he had dealings with.

By the time I left school, we were hardly speaking. Despite that, he got me a job through one of his contacts, selling records. That was so he could tell anyone who would listen that I got the job because of him, and not because I was any good at it. When I was nineteen, I moved out and shared with friends, mainly to avoid having to be around him.

Then not long before my twenty-fourth birthday, he left my Mum, saying that he believed he was in a mid-life crisis, and needed his own space to think. We knew there was another woman of course, and it didn’t take too long to discover who she was, and where they were living. I never spoke to him again after that, and he died when I was thirty-seven.

With that in mind, it was very strange to be dreaming that I was talking to him last night. He was in another room, and calling to me to bring various things in to him. When my wife came in to wake me up because I had overslept, as I opened my eyes to look at her, my Dad’s voice seem to be coming from her mouth. It was the end of a dream, no doubt. That moment when you wake up feeling as if you have been ripped from another place.

A place that seemed very real. As real as the reality of waking up in my bedroom this morning.

‘Where I’m From’

This theme about composing a poem based on where you are from and grew up has generated some wonderful writing.
This is the original, on which to base your own attempt.

Where I’m From
George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree

American blogger, Maggie, has just published her own story as a poem.

I have no skill at poetry, but gave it a go anyway. If you want to try too, then send me a link to your poem in the comments, or just include it there.

Where I’m From.
Pete Johnson.

I am from hot pavements on a city’s summer streets
and frozen pipes in the winter

I am from flying ants emerging through cracks in the slabs
and the rainstorms that followed their departure

I am from the faces of men drinking beer to forget the war they had just fought
and the women with hands red from washing and scrubbing

I am from an outside toilet with newspaper squares on a nail
and the scary fat spiders that lived in the corners

I am from men being men
and women holding families together

I am from eating leftovers during the week
and learning how to make do

I am from limited expectations
and knowing your place

I am from respecting your elders
and doing that without having to be told

I am from where family came first
and nobody ever questioned why that was

I am from places that are still the same
and a time when they were very different

What I Don’t Miss About The 1970s

I was 18 years old in 1970, and 25 when I got married in 1977.
By the end of that decade, I was already an EMT in London.
It is easy to look back with fondness at some things from that era.
But I am also reminded of what was not so good in Britain at the time..

The awful sliced white bread.

The Christmas Gifts.

State of the Art portable televisions.

What was on those televisions for most of the day, and after midnight.

Some of the sweets.
(Mostly good)

(Mostly not so good)

The ‘long-bonnet’ British Leyland Mini.

Police Officers getting off the beat, and into silly-looking patrol cars.

Limited options for ‘eating out’.

Fashionable clothing for men.

The 1960s were pretty cool, as well as ‘Swinging’ of course.
But something went badly wrong on the 1st of January, 1970.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Junior Reporter.

Last week, I had a conversation with one of my cousins. It turned out that he had never heard about my short-lived career as a junior reporter on a newspaper. When I woke up this morning, I was thinking about that for some reason, so thought I would tell you about it.

In 1970 at the age of 18, I was between jobs. I had a job, but also the promise of a better one to come soon. I was marking time until that second job gave me a start date. One day, I was idly flicking through the local ‘Free’ newspaper, and saw an advertisement for a reporter required, to work on that very paper. Immediately, visions of Jimmy Olsen (look him up) flashed into my mind. I knew I could write, and felt sure that this could be the start of a wonderful career as a respected investigative journalist.

I arranged an interview, and got the job. With still no start date for my promised job in a record company, I resigned from my office job, and started as a ‘newspaperman’ two weeks later. The News Shopper Group has a series of titles, and covers the Kent commuter belt, as well as most boroughs of South-East London. I was to be based at the Orpington office. Although that wasn’t too far from where I lived with my parents, it was an awkward journey by public transport. Besides, I had got the job on the understanding that I had access to a car. I had a car, so I drove there.

I have to confess that I was actually carrying a tan raincoat. I was convinced that no self-respecting reporter would cover a story without wearing one. I had also bought some new notebooks, and three ballpoint pens. I was excited to know what my first reporting assignment would be, and rather deflated to be told that I would be on the front desk, taking classified advertisements from members of the public who came in and paid cash.

My first ever task as a junior reporter was to accept an advertisement from someone who had some baby lop-eared rabbits for sale.

The day went by fast, as it was actually very busy on that desk. Cars for sale, Lonely Hearts, tradesmen advertising services, even a young woman selling her wedding dress after her fiance had jilted her at the altar. (She was crying throughout the transaction, and I gave her my clean handkerchief. I never saw that again.) Pleased with myself, I got ready to head home, when the Deputy Editor came down, and asked me to talk to him in his tiny office.

“What are you doing with all these classifieds, Pete? You are supposed to ‘sell-up’. Get them to use more words, suggest bold type, tell them a box will get much more attention. And those trade ads? Tell them we can add a graphic, like a paint brush for painters and decorators. All the stuff you took today won’t even cover the cost of setting and printing”. It hadn’t occurred to me that talking people out of their cash was part of my job. I had helped write some of the small-ads, but never thought to try to double the cost of them by suggesting all the expensive extras. And nobody had shown me what to do. But I didn’t mention that.

The man shook his head. “I have a different job for you tomorrow, come and see me when you get in”.

The next day, I was told that I would now be ‘Zodiac’. The ‘Your Stars’ was one of the most popular sections of the newspaper, as people liked to get their predictions for the week ahead. I told him that I hadn’t a clue about astrology, and went on to add that it was meaningless anyway, as there were thirteen signs of the zodiac at one time, until they were trimmed to a more manageable twelve.

He laughed. “Don’t concern yourself with any of that, just use this box”. He produced a very long file box, containing cards in sections marked by tabs. “This is how it works. Go back six months on the date tabs. Whatever was that weeks prediction for Pisces now becomes this weeks for Capricorn, and so on. Take out the prediction card, get them in the right star-sign order, and lay them out ready for the typesetter”. I was incredulous. All those people basing their lives and aspirations on a few lines from a newspaper zodiac had no idea that a few months ago, that same prediction was for someone born under a completely different sign.

As I left carrying the box, he called out behind me. “And check if there’s a full moon on the calendar. If there is, mix them up a bit, and add a few lines about how the moon will be affecting their mood”. I turned and asked him, “Won’t they catch on that everyone is supposedly affected by the moon?” Without looking up, he replied, “They only read their own sign. Nobody cares about someone else’s sign”. I spent the rest of my first week between being ‘Zodiac’, and helping out at the front desk trying to ‘sell-up’ advertisements with little success.

The following Monday, I was beyond excitement to receive the news that I had to go out and cover some stories. The first one was to interview an elderly lollipop lady (crossing guard) who was retiring after 20 years in the job. I drove over to the arranged place to find a perky 80 year-old dressed in her uniform, clutching her sign on a pole. She was accompanied by the head teacher of the school that she worked outside of, and her own daughter, who was as proud as punch of her Mum. I wrote down the lady’s story, making sure to also take the ages of everyone there, and their full names.

Back at the office, I was thrilled to be sitting in the reporter’s room, alongside the other two reporters based there. Using an ancient manual typewriter, I wrote up that mundane story as if it was a report about the D-Day landings. When I corrected the typos and read it back, I had to admit I had exceeded even my own expectations. The sub-editor laughed all the way through as he read it. Using a thick red pencil, he deleted over two-thirds of my text, and corrected some spacing and capitalisation. When he was finished, he handed it back. “This can go through. Get the boy to take it for typesetting, and make sure the picture editor approves any photos”.

I stopped dead in my tracks. “Photos? There are no photos. There wasn’t a photographer there, and I don’t own a camera”. Shaking his head, he reached out for the sheet of paper, and when I handed it over, he impaled it on a metal spike. “You should have booked a photographer. What use is a local-interest story like that without a photo of the old girl and her lollipop?” I was red-faced. Nobody had told me to book a photographer. They had just presumed I would know that.

My next potential ‘scoop’ was booked for the next morning. I had to travel into South-East London to interview a war veteran. He was dying of cancer, and whilst at hospital receiving treatment, someone had stolen his treasured medals. I was told that I didn’t need a photographer, as the interviewee had his own photos of himself wearing the medals, and was happy for us to use them.

But the next morning, my car wouldn’t start.

At the time, my Dad was in hospital, having an operation to rectify a slipped disc on his spine. Parked outside our house was his brand new company car, which he had only got a couple of weeks earlier, before he went in for surgery. Desperate to get a story in the paper, I took the keys from a hook inside the house, and drove his new car to my appointment. Before I got to the address, I got a little lost in the maze of unfamiliar streets in that district. Checking my paper map book, I found where I needed to go, and accelerated across a junction without noticing a STOP sign. A car driving fast along the road with right of way hit my Dad’s car so hard, it literally ripped the front section off it. That car slewed across the road, and went through the front wall of someone’s garden opposite.

By any estimation, it was a bad accident.

The other driver was trapped, unable to get out of his car. I had a very painful shoulder, but was otherwise uninjured. The police arrived, the fire brigade arrived, and then an ambulance arrived to deal with the other driver. A couple of people who had been waiting to cross the road gave statements about what they had seen, and I was also asked to explain why I had driven across a stop sign into the path of an oncoming car. As I had no idea what to say, the policeman reported me for ‘Driving without due care and attention’. When he discovered that the car belonged to my Dad’s company, he also reported me for not having insurance to drive it. “You will have to go to court”, he told me with a smile.

I found a phone box, and rang the newspaper. When I told the deputy editor what had happened, he wasn’t sympathetic. “So no story, and now you don’t have a car. Don’t bother to come in tomorrow, I will send your cards in the post”.

As I walked to a bus stop to work out how I was going to get home, I had to reflect that my career as a newspaperman had lasted less than seven days.

Friday On My Mind

It only dawned on me a few hours ago that today is Friday.

Are you old enough to remember this song from 1966?

No? What about this one, from 1992?

Both songs are celebrating ‘Friday’. That last day of the working week for most people. The day when school is finished until Monday, and the weekend begins in earnest.

Until I started working shifts in 1979, Friday was always something to look forward to. When I was young, I was allowed to stay up a bit later, as there was no school on Saturday. Then when I was old enough to have a regular girlfriend, it was the night to go for a drink with friends, getting a jump on the weekend activities to come.

Once I was older, and married, it was often the night we would go out to eat. A Friday night Indian meal, or perhaps a Chinese. Something spicy and different, after a week of home-cooked food. Alternatively, it might be a trip to the Cinema, on a night when it wasn’t as busy as it would be on the Saturday.

Whatever we did, it always came with that ‘Friday Feeling’, knowing we had two clear days ahead to do what we wanted, even if we didn’t actually do anything with them.

By the time I was just 26, I was working three out of four Fridays, and the same with Saturdays too. It didn’t take long for Friday to start to feel like any other day for me. But I didn’t forget that good feeling from before, and 42 years later, I can still recall the excitement of a Friday night.

I hope you all have (or already have had) a wonderful Friday!

Euthanasia does exist

Thinking about my Mum this morning, and her distressingly hard departure from this life. The Liverpool Care Pathway mentioned in this post has since been discredited.

Too late for her, unfortunately.


During the last quarter of her life, my Mum was often ill. Her breathing problems became so bad, there would be crisis after crisis, occasions where she was not expected to survive. After recovering from these, she would usually say the same things, and have an identical conversation with me. She lamented the fact that voluntary euthanasia was illegal in the UK. She could see a future where she would not want to go on, but be unable to end her life with dignity, at a time of her own choosing. A vocal supporter of the ‘right to die’ campaign, she would always tell me that she did not want to, in her words, ‘end up as a cabbage’.  There were numerous times, when she would ask me to reassure her that I would advise any medical authorities that she was not to be resuscitated, and that her life was…

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