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Stairlift to Heaven





Copyright 2011 Terry Ravenscroft



Published by Terry Ravenscroft at Smashwords







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Cover by Tom Unwin



A RAZZAMATAZZ PUBLICATION

About the author



The day after Terry Ravenscroft threw in his mundane factory job to become a television comedy scriptwriter he was involved in a car accident which left him unable to turn his head. Since then he has never looked back.

Before they took him away he wrote scripts for Les Dawson, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise, Alas Smith and Jones, Not the Nine O’Clock News, Ken Dodd, Roy Hudd, and several others. He also wrote the award-winning BBC radio series Star Terk Two.

Born in New Mills, Derbyshire, in 1938, he still lives there with his wife Delma and his mistress Divine Bottom (in his dreams).





Also by Terry Ravenscroft



STAIRLIFT TO HEAVEN 2 - FURTHER UP THE STAIRLIFT

STAIRLIFT TO HEAVEN 3 - ALMOST THERE

STAIRLIFT TO HEAVEN 4 - STILL HANGING ON

CAPTAIN’S DAY

FOOTBALL CRAZY

IT’S NOT CRICKET

JAMES BLOND - STOCKPORT IS TOO MUCH

I’M IN HEAVEN

INFLATABLE HUGH

DEAR AIR 2000

DEAR COCA-COLA

DEAR PEPSI-COLA

LES DAWSON’S CISSIE AND ADA

THE RAZZAMATAZZ FUN EBOOK

ZEPHYR ZODIAC

SAWYER THE LAWYER

CALL ME A TAXI

GOOD OLD GEORGE

DEAD MEN DON’T WALK

THE RING OF THE LORD



STAIRLIFT TO HEAVEN



FOREWORD



The day before my sixty-fifth birthday I decided to start a journal that would chronicle the first five years of my life as an old age pensioner. The journal would largely be about my being old, about what it’s like to be an old age pensioner - I don’t like the term ‘Senior Citizen’, people my age are old and we draw a pension, neither is anything to be ashamed of, so why call ourselves senior citizens? Senior to whom? Try going to the chip shop and telling the yobbo with the number one haircut and the number four brain that you’re senior to him and therefore entitled to go before him in the queue and you’ll soon find out whether you’re a senior citizen or not.

My intention was not to write something every day, as with a diary, but only to record events that might be of interest. Therefore there are large time gaps in the narrative; if nothing interesting happened to me for a month then I didn’t write anything. There are quite enough uninteresting things published nowadays without my adding to the total.

Given my background and what people have come to expect from me I have confined myself largely to events of a humorous nature: however I have also included a few ‘more serious’ items that I feel might be of use to people of my generation, in the hope that the benefit of my experiences may be of help to them in their pensioner years.

Whilst all the events in the journal are true the dialogue is not a hundred per cent accurate, but as I remembered it. However it is always true in spirit and if I am guilty of embellishing it here and there it is only to make for a more entertaining read. A few names and place names have been altered to protect the guilty.

I have called my journal ‘Stairlift to Heaven’. It is a metaphorical stairlift on which I ride - as yet I have no need of the real thing, and sincerely hope I never will. But at my time of life I am certainly on it, sat at the bottom with St Peter and the Pearly Gates awaiting me at the top.

I cordially invite you to join me on my ride on the Stairlift to Heaven.



The principal dramatis personae in ‘Stairlift to Heaven’ are as follows.



Me. Now aged seventy-one next birthday. (I have learned that people of my age, when asked how old they are, never say the age they are at the moment but what age they will be next. Hopefully that is.) Ex-television and radio scriptwriter. Wrote for Les Dawson, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise, Not the Nine-o-clock News, Alas Smith and Jones and a few others. Wrote the radio series Star Terk 2. Now writes humorous novels.



My wife, Delma. Now aged sixty-eight. Hereafter always referred to as ‘The Trouble’. I call her this not because of the cockney rhyming slang thing, trouble and strife, wife, but because she has a habit, when addressing me, of beginning her sentences with the words ‘The trouble with you is….’ Sometimes, when I have clearly upset her, she will insert my full Christian name, ‘Terence’ between the words ‘you’ and ‘is’....viz, “The trouble with you, Terence, is....” If she stresses either ‘you’ or ‘Terence’ I batten down the hatches. You’ll see.



Atkins, from down the road. Now aged seventy. Atkins is a great friend of mine, a kindred spirit. I first met him about ten years ago when the Inland Revenue called me in to explain my debatable - their expression - claims for certain expenses incurred whilst following my profession. Atkins was the official delegated to grill me. In the event little or no grilling took place as we got on like a house on fire from the moment I mentioned I used to write scripts for Les Dawson. Atkins turned out to be a huge fan of Les, and we spent about an hour talking about him and then about two minutes talking about my expenses claim, which Atkins then accepted without question.

During the interview it transpired that not only did Atkins live in the same town as me, but on the same road, about twenty doors down. We had been living in close proximity for the past five years, completely oblivious of each other, like near neighbours often do. Ours would seem to be the most unlikely of friendships considering our previous occupations, inasmuch as I spent my working life trying to make people laugh whereas Atkins made his living trying to make them cry. However in many other ways we share similarities; we are the same age, we both have a healthy distrust of solicitors, financial advisers and politicians, and we share the same sense of humour, or, as The Trouble succinctly if rather unkindly puts it, “Atkins is as daft as you are.” And although Atkins is sometimes responsible for getting me into some situations I would rather not be in, our occasional departures from sanity re-charges our batteries and makes life a little less run-of-the-mill and thus more bearable. Neither of us are the worse for it, and we like to think it keeps us young.

So here we go then:-



March 9 2006. HAPPY BIRTHDAY.



Today I am sixty-five. In my head I feel like I’m twenty five; in fact I’ve been twenty-five in my head ever since I was twenty-five everywhere else, some forty years ago. Probably in an effort to compensate for this my body is well over sixty-five, at least eighty-five I would guess, judging from all the aches and pains and things wrong with it. However in my mind’s eye I still look exactly the same as I did when I was twenty-five; no oil painting, but at least not the faded water colour that now looks back at me bleary-eyed from the bathroom mirror every morning.

Imagining myself to be still twenty-five catches me out sometimes, especially if I have accidentally made eye contact with someone young; for nowadays younger people, and especially young women, look straight through me. It’s not that they disregard me; they don’t even see me. It’s as if I’m The Invisible Old Man. I could easily sit in on their conversation without fear of being noticed. However, not wishing to learn how cool are the latest inane rantings of someone called Twopence Ha’penny or some other fanciful name, or how bladdered they all got last Friday night, and wasn’t it funny when Melissa chucked up all over the chucker out, I have somehow managed to get by without that diversion. I suppose I was just the same when I was that age; although I remember myself as being quite perfect.

Two weeks prior to my sixty-fifth birthday I had received a letter from the local hospital, Stepping Hill (known to everyone as ‘Step in ill, carried out dead’, not wholly without some justification). It informed me that I was to present myself at 10 a.m. on that day for a bladder examination. I showed the letter to The Trouble.

“That’s a nice birthday present for you,” she said, ever the droll.

“I’d rather they’d given me a pair of socks,” I said.

Having now had the bladder examination I would rather have had anything else. A pair of socks with a tarantula in each toe would have been lovely. A pair of underpants with a scorpion in them. A pair of trousers with a man-eating tiger in one leg and Jaws in the other. Bring them on. I once had a prostate examination that involved the doctor inserting his finger up my bottom and poking it about as though he were searching for a pound coin that had fallen down the back of the settee, which I thought was pretty painful. It was nothing. Compared to the bladder examination it was the caress of a lover.

Incidentally, quite a bit of the rest of these opening pages is about my waterworks. I’m afraid this can’t be avoided if I’m going to start at my sixty-fifth birthday as the first thing of note worth recording, given that The Trouble failed to give me breakfast in bed, or anything else for that matter, involves my waterworks. It won’t all be about my waterworks, but a fair bit of it will. However it’s doubtful I will be mentioning it again - my waterworks won’t be hanging over you whilst you’re reading the rest of the book, in a manner of speaking. But in the meantime you’ll just have to grin and bear it. As I did with my bladder examination.

I’ve had trouble with my prostate gland for at least ten years, probably nearer fifteen, and I have to pass water quite frequently. About twenty times a day on average. That’s bad enough, but having found a place in which to pass water I can’t pass it, usually for a couple of minutes or so, but quite often for five minutes, even longer sometimes. At first I just stood there waiting. Later, to fill in the time, I started counting how many ceramic tiles there were on the walls - in our bathroom there are a hundred and eighty four, two of them cracked; however in an old-fashioned Victorian public convenience in Manchester I once counted four hundred and twenty- three before the fountain started to flow. But tile counting gets a bit boring after a while so I started dreaming up other things to do to pass the time, given that I was temporarily incapable of passing anything else. Eventually I ended up with quite a few, so now, in the interests of helping any fellow sufferers who may also be at a loose end in similar circumstances - or more accurately an unloose end - here they are.

1. Do a crossword puzzle. My first job every morning is to cut out the crossword from the Daily Telegraph and prop it on the toilet roll holder in the bathroom. On average I fill in about six answers per visit so after about seven visits I’ve usually finished it. A word of warning though; if you have visitors who are likely to want to use the lavatory find somewhere to keep the crossword other than propped on the toilet roll, especially if the toilet roll needs changing and there’s only the cardboard tube left, as in the past I’ve lost a couple of half-completed crosswords that have been used as emergency toilet paper, and have had to go out and buy another Daily Telegraph.

2. Do a few simple keep-fit exercises. However, on no account do any exercise which involves rotating the hips from side to side, because if your waterworks suddenly decides to start up you might find yourself peeing on the bathroom floor, with all the subsequent earache from your wife that peeing on the bathroom floor inevitably brings with it.

3. Sing (daytime only). Don’t be embarrassed, people sing in the bath so why not in the bathroom whilst waiting to pee? I’ve been doing it for years and while my peeing has been getting increasingly poorer my singing has got increasingly better, so much so that Mrs Baxter next door sometimes sends in requests. For added enjoyment give some point and focus to your singing. I once sang the first line of twenty-seven Frankie Laine songs and it would have been twenty eight if the twenty-seventh hadn’t been ‘Cool Clear Water’, which set me off peeing.

4. Make plans for the day. On one waiting to pee occasion I planned to mow the lawn, weed the flowerbeds, wash the car, clear out the garage, put up a kitchen shelf and change a light bulb. However I only managed to change the light bulb as I spent most of the day waiting to pee.

5. Read a book. Word of warning though; be careful in your choice of literature. Over the course of four days I once read ‘The Exorcist’ whilst waiting to pee, but at times it got so exciting I carried on reading it after I’d had a pee and was halfway to wanting the next pee before I realized, and by then it was hardly worth while going downstairs again. So to ensure you don’t spend any more time than necessary standing at the lavatory pick a book you will be glad to put down after you’ve finished peeing. I recommend something by Jeffrey Archer or Jilly Cooper, or anything by Tolkien. Young boys with waterworks trouble should read Harry Potter. Adults who read Harry Potter deserve to have trouble with their waterworks and should be made to read a proper book.

6. Put a television in the bathroom and watch Daytime TV. The programmes are absolute drivel, but there is something oddly satisfying and not inappropriate about watching ‘This Morning’, ‘Trisha’ and ‘Loose Women’ with your dick hanging out.

But back to my bladder examination.

I hadn’t really thought much about how the nurse was actually going to examine my bladder, but if I’d been asked to hazard a guess I would have suggested it might be something not dissimilar to having an X-ray of the digestive system after swallowing a barium meal. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As requested I had undressed and put on the smock-like garment beloved of hospitals, the one for which you need the abilities of a contortionist to tie the strings at the back, and which, if by some miracle you have managed to tie them, need the skills of Houdini to untie them, and was now seated nonchalantly with my legs dangling over the side of the operating table awaiting the ministrations of the nurse who had been charged with carrying out the procedure. I hadn’t observed anything overtly pain-inflicting amongst the apparatus laid out in antiseptic neatness on the nearby table, so it was more to make conversation than a search for knowledge that I asked the nurse what the two long thin plastic tubes were for.

“I insert them in your penis and push them down into your bladder,” she said, matter of fact.

I blinked. “Down my penis?”

The nurse nodded. I gulped. “Both the tubes?”

The nurse affirmed this with another curt nod. I gulped twice, once for each tube. “At the same time?”

She nodded a third time. I didn’t ask for any more details as I was sure it would only elicit another nod and I wasn’t at all sure I’d be able to handle the things she’d already nodded for.

“There’ll be a bit of discomfort,” she added.

This snippet of information seemed to me to be about as necessary as telling someone who was about to be hung, drawn and quartered that it wasn’t going to be a picnic. It crossed my mind that being hung, drawn and quartered might be preferable to the bladder examination, and I was just about to ask the nurse if this was an option when she went into action.

“Lie down please,” she said, snapping on a pair of rubber gloves in the expert way that all medical staff do, probably in the hope that it demonstrates their efficiency, when all it achieves is to fill you with an even greater sense of dread.

Although the nurse wasn’t particularly attractive she was still a young woman, and I must confess that initially I was more than a little worried there might be some spontaneous and unwelcome stirrings in my loins once she’d started to handle my private parts. Believe me, after realising what the nurse was about to do to me she could have been as desirable as Angelina Jolie and assisted by Nurse Cameron Diaz on one side and Nurse Penelope Cruz on the other and my penis would still have remained as limp as Dale Winton’s wrists.

“This will help deaden the pain,” she said, spraying my genital area with an aerosol. Having done this she selected one of the pieces of plastic tubing and eyed me ominously.

I had no wish to see what she was about to do with the tube, enduring it would be bad enough, so clamped my eyes firmly shut. The nurse went about her business. It was immediately obvious that the moment I closed my eyes she had swapped the thin plastic tubing for a Dyno-Rod, for surely it was something capable of clearing blocked drains that she then started shoving down my urethra with gay abandon.

I had no way of knowing whether the anaesthetic spray helped to deaden the pain, but felt that if it did it was wasting its time, for the pain was truly excruciating. When I was in the army a bloke in my platoon had been unfortunate enough to catch gonorrhoea, the symptoms of which he reported were ‘Like pissing broken glass’. By the time the two plastic tubes had been pushed into my penis as far as the nurse deemed sufficient I felt like I was passing not broken glass but broken bottles, and very large bottles at that.

The tubes inserted, I then had to stand up, my smock pulled up and gathered round my waist so that it wouldn’t foul the plastic pipes now dangling from my willy, whilst the nurse proceeded to slowly pump what seemed like the contents of Lake Superior into my bladder.

After about two minutes pumping she said, “Tell me when you can’t take any more.”

“I can’t take any more,” I said, almost before she’d got the words out of her mouth.

She pumped a few more times for good luck, hers, not mine, then, while I was still standing there holding the smock round my waist trying desperately to pretend I was somewhere else, she consulted a graph on the machine that had been monitoring what had been going on in my bladder while she’d been pumping it full of water. After making copious notes for what seemed longer than the time it took Tolstoy to write ‘War and Peace’ she pointed to a plastic bucket. “You can empty your bladder in there now,” she said. Then, getting to her feet, she added, primly, “I’ll go outside while you do it, I wouldn’t want to embarrass you.”

She started to make for the door. I called out. “Nurse!”

She stopped. “Yes?”

“Nurse,” I said, with great patience, “I have just lain down on an operating table while you inserted two plastic tubes down my penis. I then had to stand up, still exposing everything I’ve got, whilst you pumped God knows how many gallons of water into my bladder. How could I possibly be any more embarrassed than I already am?”

She just smiled and went out. On her return she removed the plastic tubes. Immediately the pain, which had by then diminished slightly, became so bad that I almost asked her to put them in again. However faced with the prospect of walking about for the rest of my life with two tubes hanging from my John Thomas I managed to resist. A couple of hours later the pain had worn off to such an extent that it was only about as painful as hitting your thumb with a lump hammer.

I told The Trouble all about the experience when I got home. She was most concerned.

“We’re still going out for a meal tonight are we? Because if we’re not I’ll have to get something out of the freezer.”

“What?”

“We were going out for a meal to celebrate your birthday.”

“We still are.”

“You can walk all right?”

“They put the tubes down my penis, not my legs.”

“Because the way you were going on about it I thought you’d need at least a week in bed to get over it,” she said, in that sarcastic tone that women employ every time men claim they are in pain.

I didn’t argue. I learned my lesson long ago. Whenever men complain of pain women always play the ‘pain of childbirth’ card, and I wasn’t having any of that nonsense.



Note. No experience is wasted in the writing game and I used the events of my bladder examination as the basis of the final chapter in my novel ‘James Blond-Stockport Is Too Much’.



****



That evening, when we went to the pub, the waitress was one of those young bare-midriff jobs. I’m sure the only reason she noticed me was because noticing old people who are awaiting the attentions of a waitress is in her job description.

“Do you have any proof you’re a pensioner?” she asked.

We’d been to the Red Lion a few times previously. The food there isn’t bad, although largely limited to ‘baked potato with’ meals, but the main reason we’d chosen it above somewhere with a more ambitious menu is because it’s within easy walking distance of our home, an advantage which also enables us to share a bottle of wine without fear of being breathalysed. A further encouragement is that old age pensioners and their spouses qualify for a twenty five per cent discount on Wednesdays. Before ordering I had thought it prudent to stake my claim to this right, hence the challenge from the waitress, which took me somewhat by surprise.

“Pardon?” I said, noting that about three inches of her knickers were showing above the top of her trousers, and they were inside out too unless they’ve started putting the label on the outside. A few years ago women took great pains not to reveal Visible Panty Line, now they don’t even mind showing visible panties. I gave up trying to understand women long ago.

“Anybody could say they’re a pensioner,” said Bare-midriff. “I have to have proof.”

My first thought was to point to my balding head of grey hair, tell her at length about my waterworks problems - including that morning’s bladder examination - take out my false teeth and put them on the table and say, “How’s that for starters?” However before I could The Trouble, sensing a scene, stepped in and said, “That’s all right, no problem, we’ll pay the full price.”

“Please yourself,” said Bare-midriff.

I couldn’t let that go without getting in at least one dig at the little madam. “We are not pleasing ourselves,” I told her, “We are pleasing you and your disbelieving nature; which is just about all I have come to expect from little minxes like you with a ring through their navel.”

Whether it was my little outburst that was the cause of what followed or if it was just because she was plain stupid I don’t know. Probably both.

“I’ll have a baked potato and beef casserole, please,” said The Trouble, steadying the ship, and polite as always.

“I’ll have the same,” I said. Then I noticed they had a blackboard special, battered haddock and chips. “No, hold that. I’ll have the battered haddock. With a baked potato, please.”

“We don’t do baked potato and battered haddock.”

What was this? “You have battered haddock, don’t you?” I said.

She nodded.

“And you have baked potatoes?”

“Yes. But not together. The battered haddock and chips is a special, we’re not allowed to mess about with specials.”

“I’m not asking you to mess about with it. All I’m asking you to do is to replace the chips with a baked potato.”

She batted this back as effortlessly as Don Bradman in his prime, facing a rookie bowler. “That’s messing about with it.”

I considered the problem for a moment. I was aware that it wouldn’t be an easy one to crack; after all I was dealing here with someone who didn’t have the brains to put her knickers on the right way round, let alone see sense. Nevertheless I managed to come up with a solution. “Could you do a battered haddock and chips, and leave off the chips?”

She thought about it for a moment. “You’ll have to pay for the chips.”

“No problem. Could you also do me a baked potato and a beef casserole, but leave off the beef casserole?” Then, anticipating her answer, “Which I know I will have to pay for.”

“Yes,” she said, though now with a little uncertainly, with the air of someone who suspected she was being talked into something, but not knowing what. She was.

“Excellent.” I said. “Could you then take the baked potato off its plate and put it on the plate that contains the battered haddock, then bring it to me.”

Her reply was immediate and uncompromising. “That’s battered haddock and baked potato.”

“Yes,” I smiled.

“We don’t do battered haddock and baked potato.”

“Come on,” I said to The Trouble, getting to my feet, “We’re going.”

“The trouble with you is….” she started, but I was halfway to the door by then.

On the way home we got a takeaway from the Chinese down the road; sweet and sour pork, beef in black bean sauce, egg fried rice, prawn crackers. I asked the owner if I could have a discount even though I couldn’t prove I was an old age pensioner. He said he wouldn’t give me a discount even if I could prove I was Confucius.

Happy birthday.



****



April 27 2006. GOODRAMGATE.



The trip to the charity shops of York had gone off reasonably well until Harrison spoiled it by shitting in Atkins’s trousers.

Atkins and I, accompanied by Harrison and Hargreaves, acquaintances of Atkins, had been moved into taking the trip to York in response to an email I’d had from John Laithwaite, an old friend of mine.

I’ve always felt that charity shops are a perfect example of the distribution of wealth, stocked as they are largely by donations from twenty to sixty-five-year olds, people in work, and frequented largely by people under twenty and old age pensioners, people not in work. I’ve always made good use of them, hence the email from my friend John, who, aware of this, let it be known that he’d recently been on a trip to York, where he had been greatly enthused by the abundance of charity shops to be found there. He went on to say that there must be at least forty, and of that number upwards of twenty were to be found in one of the city’s main thoroughfares, Goodramgate, close to the famous Minster.

The only fly in the ointment, John warned, is that York is a university city, and as such is infested with a large population of students, and that because the vast majority of students are poor the charity shops are an obvious attraction, as not only do they offer the opportunity to rig themselves out in decent clothes but do so without causing too much of a dent in their beer money. Consequently students are frequent and voracious users of the shops. This often brings about occasions when a non-student charity shopper and a student make for the same item. The way to deal with them when this happens, advises John, is to poke them sharply in the ribs with the pointed end of a rolled umbrella, or, if they are particularly persistent, an electric cattle prod.

York is a lovely city, one of my favourites, and John’s email reminded me that it had been far too long since I’d last walked its impressive walls. News of all the charity shops to be found within those walls - especially in Goodramgate, which sounded to me to be very much like the Bond Street of charity shopping - only increased my desire to pay it another visit, and very soon; charity shops were certainly not there in anything like that number when I last visited York, but that must have been about ten years ago, the scale on which you get them nowadays being a quite recent phenomenon.

I mentioned John’s email to Atkins, who is an even keener patron of charity shops than I am, quite unable to turn down a bargain, and, courtesy of the joint efforts of Help the Aged and Oxfam, probably the only man ever to venture out in broad daylight dressed in a bowler hat and a kilt in the tartan of the MacGregor clan. This he did when we went together to the 2002 Commonwealth Games in nearby Manchester and he wanted to see if dressed in that fashion he could get into the Lawn Bowling for free by telling the man on the gate he was the entry from British Caledonia. The man on the gate, dressed in an even more bizarre manner than Atkins, in the official Games uniform of multi-coloured shell suit, flat hat and trainers, took one look at him and let him in without batting an eyelid.

The upshot was that Atkins and I decided on a trip to York in the not too distant future. This would include a visit to the Jorvik Viking Centre, which neither of us had visited before, and where Atkins hoped to get in for nothing provided he could pick up a helmet with horns in it at one of the charity shops.

The day before the trip I popped into our local Age Concern; spring had suddenly arrived, I was short on lightweight trousers, and I thought if I could pick up a decent pair I’d be able to wear them on our outing.

Many people draw the line at buying clothes from charity shops on the grounds that there’s a fair chance that previously they will have been worn by someone who has died, but the only way this would ever put me off buying them would be if the man who had died was still in them, and even then I still might be tempted if they were in better condition than he was. Whenever I’m considering the purchase of new trousers I always ask myself which I would rather have, a brand new pair of trousers or a pair of second-hand trousers with lots of wear left in them, plus a couple of bottles of decent wine. The second-hand trousers and wine win every time.

When I entered the shop I noticed a new assistant behind the counter. When I say ‘new’ I mean new to the job, as opposed to not old, it apparently being a rule in charity shops that none of the staff should be younger than ninety and have the appearance of someone who is in far more need of charity than the customers. In this instance the new assistant passed with flying colours, or maybe, given her advanced years, shuffling colours.

As is my custom with all new members of staff at Age Concern, on first making their acquaintance, I put on a worried expression, hobbled up to the counter and said, “I’m concerned about my age.” This always gets one of two responses: - (a) They look at me for a few seconds as though I’m stark-raving mad and set about tidying the nearest rack of clothes, or (b), they say: “We only sell second-hand clothes and books and things.” However on this occasion the new assistant rang the changes. She looked me up and down and said, “Well we all have to go some time, love, but I’m sure you’ve got time to buy something before you pop off.” She should do well.

In all charity shops the stock of women’s clothes outnumber men’s by a ratio of about seven to one. This isn’t, as one might suspect, because women are seven times more generous in the gift of their cast-offs, but because they have seven times more clothes to cast off, as any man who has compared the contents of his wife’s wardrobe with his own modest collection of clothing will be well aware. Consequentially the men’s section is only one-seventh as large as the women’s section and can usually be found, just, hidden away in the farthest corner of the sales floor from the door. This is the case with my local Age Concern.

There were about a hundred pairs of trousers on offer, a hundred and six if you include the five pairs of combat trousers and a pair of jodhpurs, but as it’s unlikely I will ever be waging war on anyone, especially on horseback, I passed up on them. I soon found something suitable, a nice pair of Chinos in pensioner grey, and took them to the counter to be bagged and paid for. The new assistant regarded them with approval. “Very nice,” she said. “They should last you a lifetime.” Then she cracked a horrible smile. I shall have to watch that one.

The following day, when our party arrived in York, we discovered that the shops in Goodramgate were all that my friend John had promised and more, and the four of us had a great time. I spent about fifty pounds on ‘new’ clothes, including a superb black and white hound’s-tooth check sports jacket from Oxfam, a fiver, which complemented perfectly the pair of charcoal grey Daks slacks I acquired from SCOPE - Atkins said I would look like a bookie but I think he was a bit jealous because I’d spotted the jacket before he had - and the others spent about the same.

Despite my telling him that John was probably joking when he’d mentioned that a good way of dealing with students was to poke them with an umbrella Atkins, lacking an umbrella, had brought along a cricket stump. Happily we experienced no problems with students so he had no need to poke them with it; much to his disappointment, I might add, as he said he quite liked the idea of poking a student as it was a student who had recently poked his granddaughter and put her in the family way before going up to Cambridge and leaving her in the lurch.

Ironically the only problem we had in this regard was when Atkins and Harrison both went for the same pair of trousers. Harrison claimed he had laid hands on them first, a claim hotly disputed by Atkins. The matter was resolved only when Atkins pointed out that not only was he the driver of the car that had conveyed all of us to York, but would not necessarily be conveying all of us back, but that he also had a cricket stump he was itching to try out, whereupon Harrison reluctantly let go his grip on the trousers and Atkins bought them for £3.50, a bargain.

After we had gorged ourselves on all that the charity shops had to offer and had stowed our purchases in the boot of Atkins’s car, Atkins and I made our way to the Jorvik Viking Centre, as planned. Harrison and Hargreaves had chosen not to join us, claiming they’d already seen the Viking Centre a couple of years ago, and apart from that they’d had more than their fill of Scandinavians what with ABBA. Atkins, perhaps getting the wrong end of the stick, asked them if they played ABBA records at the Viking Centre as he wasn’t all that keen on them either, and might forgo the experience of seeing a long boat if it meant he had to put up with hearing ‘Waterloo’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ again, but Hargreaves assured him they didn’t. So we agreed to meet back at the car later and went our separate ways.

At least one of the separate ways that Harrison and Hargreaves went led to a pub, because when we met up with them some two hours later they were both the worse for drink. Another of the separate ways they went was to the banks of the River Ouse where, no doubt due to his inebriated condition, Harrison had tripped and staggered into the river almost up to his waist.

If he had fallen into the river headfirst and wet his top half it would have been fine, for Harrison’s purchases from the charity shops included a variety of shirts, sweaters, waistcoats, jumpers and jackets. However he had not bought any trousers, the only pair he fancied having been bought by Atkins, as explained earlier. Atkins, who can be quite uncompromising if you get on the wrong side of him, was all for making Harrison travel all the way home in wet trousers until I pointed out that if he were to do this he would leave the back seat of the car wet-through and smelling of the River Ouse for weeks, something which Mrs Atkins might have a thing or two to say about. Atkins, Hargreaves and I had all purchased charity trousers so clearly a loan of a pair of them to Harrison was the solution.

Hargreaves is a much smaller man than Harrison, so any trousers he had purchased would clearly be unsuitable, and both Atkins and I, whose trousers would be approximately the right size, were reluctant to loan them to Harrison. In the end we tossed-up for it, and Atkins lost. Atkins, true to form, demanded the best out of three, which I acceded to, and won again, but when he then demanded the best out of five I demurred. Harrison went into a gents’ toilet to change into the trousers. When he emerged I remarked how smart he looked in them and what a perfect fit they were. Atkins gave me a dirty look and warned Harrison to look after them and treat them with respect. Some hopes.

All went smoothly on the return journey until we had been travelling for about an hour, Atkins and I chatting about this and that and listening to the radio whilst Hargreaves and Harrison slept off their booze in the back seat. Then suddenly, about a couple of miles after passing through Penistone and entering the bleak moorland of that area, Harrison awoke, farted loudly and shat himself. “Bloody hell I’ve filled my trousers!” he announced, totally unnecessarily, for the smell was both immediate and appalling.

Atkins stopped the car and turned to Harrison. “You dirty, smelly-arsed twat,” he said. I couldn’t have put it better myself, although I might have added a few more expletives.

“Sorry,” bleated Harrison. “I’ll pay you for the trousers of course.”

“Too bloody right you will,” said Atkins. “Now get out of the car and take them off, I’m not putting up with that stink for another twenty odd miles.”

“I can’t sit here without trousers,” protested Harrison, rather primly, considering what he’d just done.

“Nobody’s asking you to sit there without trousers,” said Atkins. “So shut up and do exactly as I say. Get out of the car. Take off the trousers you have shat in. Go to the wall at the side of the road and throw them in the field. Try not to hit a sheep. Then go to the boot of the car, which I will open for you, take out another pair of my charity trousers, put them on, and get back in the car.”

Harrison got out of the car and did exactly as Atkins had instructed him until he got as far as going to the boot of the car, whereupon Atkins, instead of opening it for him, set the car in motion in a fair imitation of the driver of a getaway car in a bank robbery, leaving Harrison stranded and trouser-less in the middle of the road.

“That’ll teach the bastard to shit in my trousers,” said Atkins.

Hargreaves, who by now had also woken up and taken an interest in the proceedings, protested. “You can’t just leave him in the middle of the moors!”

But Atkins could. And did. Like I said, Atkins can be quite uncompromising if you get the wrong side of him, and shitting in his trousers is definitely not the way to get the right side of him.

Apparently, according to Hargreaves, who I rang later for possible news of his friend, Harrison had eventually been given a lift back by the driver of a passing car, but only after about fifty cars had refused to stop for him, presumably because he was wearing a sweater, socks and shoes but no trousers, a bizarre outfit even for Yorkshire. Even then he had only managed to obtain a lift after assuring the driver of the car that he wasn’t a sheep-shagger, and after offering him twenty pounds for his trouble. Serve him right too.



****



June 1 2006. COUNTDOWN.



That toerag Ron Atkinson was in Dictionary corner on Countdown this week. I didn’t watch it, but I hope it went like this....



THE COUNTDOWN STUDIO. THE URBANE DES LYNAM AND THE UBIQUITOUS CAROL VORDERMAN ARE IN THEIR USUAL PLACES, ALONG WITH RON ATKINSON.



DES: And now for a little light diversion from the normal Countdown fare; a special game for our special guest for the week. Consonant please, Carol.

CAROL: N.

DES: Consonant.

CAROL: G.

DES: Another consonant.

CAROL: R.

DES: Vowel.

CAROL: I.

DES: I’ll try another vowel please.

CAROL: And that one is E.

DES: And a final consonant.

CAROL: And we complete the word with another G. So that’s N..G..R..I..E..G.

RON: That’s only seven letters.

DES: Six actually, Ron. Now all you have to do is arrange them into a well-known word. At least a word well-known to you, that is. And here’s a clue - it isn’t ‘Ginger’. And your time starts….now!

RON: Er….Greign?

DES: No.

RON: Ignerg?

DES: No. I’ll give you a clue, Ron. It starts with an N.

RON: Nergig? Is Nergig a word?

DES: No. It starts N I G.

RON: Ngireg? I’m sure Ngireg is a word.

DES: No.

RON: Sorry then, no idea. So it looks like its early doors for me then.

CAROL: Oh I’m sure you can get it if you try, Ron.

DES: It starts N I G G E. You’ve only got one letter to put in.

RON: Sorry. No idea.

DES: Say the word, Ron.

RON: No.

CAROL: Say it Ron.

RON: Look, you guys, I’ve only just managed to worm my way back onto mainstream television, give me a fucking….give me a flipping break will you.

DES: Say the word Ron.

RON: No.

CAROL: Say it - and I’ll promise not to appear on any other television programmes apart from Countdown ever again.

RON: Not even for that.

DES: Say it Ron, or we won’t ever invite you back.

RON: Er….er….Ashley Cole.

DES: What?

RON: Well he’s a nigger, isn’t he….shit!



****



June 14 2006. A BUDDING ENTREPRENEUR.



Having not visited Yorkshire for ages I went again a few weeks after our York trip, this time to Sheffield to pick up a water pump for the garden pond. I chose to wear the sports jacket I’d bought in York, the one Atkins said made me look like a bookie. I asked The Trouble how I looked in it. She said, “You look like a bookie.” I wasn’t surprised; she shares the same star sign as Atkins, Capricorn the Idiot. Besides, there are worse people to look like than a bookie; in my experience bookies always look as prosperous as they actually are, which is very prosperous.

I managed to buy the water pump without anyone coming up to me and saying ‘I want a fiver on Lucky Charm in the 3.30 at Redcar’, and nothing else of interest happened worthy of comment until I stopped on the way back.

My trip took a little longer than expected and I’d started to feel a bit peckish as it was well past my lunchtime. The countryside route, partly through my home county of Derbyshire, was not short of hostelries offering pub grub - a Chef & Brewer, a Beefeater and a Happy Eater amongst them - but these places invariably promise more than they deliver, as I’ve found to my cost. Apart from that it always seems to take forever for your food to arrive and I wanted a quick fix. A tip - avoid like the plague any pub that advertises ‘fare’ spelt ‘f...a...y...r...e’. If they can’t spell the word ‘fare’ there’s a very good chance they can’t cook either.

Ahead of me I spotted a mobile snack bar parked up at a lay-by, the sort of place at which lorries pull in, although there were none there at the moment. A sign said ‘Hot Food, Cold Food’. Just the ticket, I thought, and drew in. The proprietor was at the hatch. He was wearing a relatively clean white overall and not scratching his belly or picking his nose or anything, always a good sign. There was no menu advertised so I asked him what he had to offer.

“Bacon barmcake, egg barmcake, sausage barmcake, bacon, egg and sausage barmcake,” he rattled off.

“I was looking for something cold?”

“Sorry mate, haven’t got anything cold.”

“Your sign says ‘Hot Food, Cold Food’,” I pointed out.

“Yeh, ham barmcake, cheese barmcake, cheese and ham barmcake. But I’ve run out. Hot day, had a run on cold stuff,” he said, then added, doing his best to make it sound tempting. “The bacon, egg and sausage barmcake is very nice.”

“I don’t doubt it for one moment,” I said, “But it isn’t cold, is it.”

He thought about it for a short moment then said, “You could wait for it to go cold.”

What enterprise! What ingenuity! I certainly wouldn’t have got such a response if a branch of Chef & Brewer had run out of cold food, neither from the Chef nor the Brewer. “Sorry sir, there’s nothing I can do about it,” said apologetically, rather than matter-of-fact, if I were lucky, but more probably I’d have got a silent and disinterested shrug of the shoulders. Not from this man though. His entrepreneurial skills had kicked in immediately the problem had presented itself, and he had overcome it with ease. Britain could do with more men of his ilk; they are to be encouraged.

I encouraged him. “A bacon, egg and sausage barmcake, please.”

Not a second over two minutes later this Alan Sugar of the highways slid an orange-yolked fried egg onto the crispy bacon and plump pork sausage he had already placed on the bottom half of the barmcake, then joined the two halves together. Two minutes, mind. It would have taken at least half-an-hour at a Happy Eater and even then there’d have been something wrong with the egg, apart from its yolk being a sickly pale yellow.

“Don’t blow on it,” I admonished him.

“I was helping it to go cold,” he explained, a little hurt.

Helping it to go cold! Alan Sugar? Here was another Richard Branson in the making! “That’s all right, I’ll have it hot,” I said.

It was quite delicious too.



****



August 14 2006. TEENAGE AFFAIRS.



‘Burton’s old flame tells of affair at 14’, screamed the headline in the Sunday Times.

It struck an immediate chord with me and I read on with great interest. The article told the story of author Rosemary Kingsland, now ‘an attractive woman in her early sixties’, and of her clandestine affair with actor Richard Burton when she was only fourteen. Apparently nobody else knew about the romance at the time and she has told nobody since, but now she ‘wants the truth to be known’.

In the absence of any corroborative proof of their liaison some people might consider Mrs Kingsland’s revelations to be a bit iffy to say the least, especially as being a writer she could easily have made up such a story; however I am not one of the doubters, not least because a similar thing happened to me in 1956 when I too was a fourteen-year-old.

At the time I had gone to stay with my Aunt Polly and Uncle John in Los Angeles for a while. Like most boys of my age at that time I was madly in love with Marilyn Monroe, so imagine my great joy when one day I happened to spot her in a Hollywood diner having a coffee. Shyly I approached her and asked her for her autograph. She was even lovelier in real life than she was on the silver screen. She was very friendly and unaffected and after we’d chatted for what seemed ages she asked me if I’d like to go back to her place for a coffee. I said that she’d only just had a coffee but she told me not to be silly. Ten minutes later we were making love on her big pink bed. Over the course of the next week we made love a further fifteen times. She told me that I was a very good lover, not quite as good as President Kennedy but better than Bobby, which I thought wasn’t bad for a fourteen-year-old whose only previous sexual experience had been with his soapy hand whilst sat on the lavatory.

Our affair might have gone on for longer but one day when I had gone down to the drugstore to get a soda for Marilyn I happened to bump into Natalie Wood. I mean literally bump into her. As we picked ourselves up off the floor our eyes met and we were immediately attracted to each other, and when my hand accidentally touched one of her breasts as we dusted ourselves off it was all that was needed to bring us together. Our affair started just five minutes later. Our intention had been to go to Malibu where Natalie had a beach property but we were so attracted to each other we couldn’t wait and ended up on the back seat of her open top white-wall- tyre pink Cadillac at the side of the freeway, screened from prying eyes by a roadside billboard advertising Pepsi-Cola.

We eventually did make it to her beachside property, where we spent the next four days making love and relaxing in the Californian sunshine. Four days might have become four weeks but on the fifth day, whilst I was taking an early morning stroll along the beach, guess who I should meet? Greta bloody Garbo. That’s right, the same Greta Garbo who once ensnared Peter Cook. All thoughts of a life with Natalie were put on hold when Greta told me she wanted to be alone with me, and of course the moment she was alone with me we made love. We spent a blissful, passionate, six days together but then sadly it was time for me to return to England as I had exams coming up.

As is the case with Rosemary Kingsland and her Richard Burton story I have never told a soul about my affairs with three leading Hollywood film stars until now. Again as with Mrs Kingsland I was never seen with my lovers and nobody knew or found out about us. A final coincidence is that my lovers too are now dead and unable to either confirm or deny any affairs we may have had in the past. But Rosemary and I know the truth.



****



November 3 2006. BEST BEFORE.



There can’t be many people who can boast that they have their own beefsteak maturers, but happily I am one of them. Actually everyone in the country has their own beefsteak maturers but very few of them are aware of it. Let me explain.

In my home town, as is the case in many other towns up and down the country, we have a Co-op Late Shop. Why it is called a Late Shop is a moot point. The majority of people, but by no means an overwhelming majority, maintain it’s called a Late Shop because it stays open later than most retail outlets, in fact until 10 p.m. each day. Others however, Atkins and myself among them, hold that it’s because the check-out queues move so slowly that whenever you shop there it makes you late for whatever you intend to do next. Atkins further maintains that the ‘Late’ part of the name is probably a synonym for dead, as the checkout queues are so long and inert that one could die whilst waiting in them. On one occasion when I was in a Late Shop queue I thought this had actually happened when the woman in front of me collapsed to the ground in convulsions, but it turned out she was a diabetic who had been in the queue for so long she’d missed her insulin injection.

However the Co-op Late Shops, for all their faults, and death by check-out queue is but one of them, have the saving grace of being superbly efficient steak maturers. They are not aware of this of course, otherwise they would immediately put a stop to it and make themselves inefficient in this regard too, so as to bring it in line with everything else they do. In the meantime though, for the reader who wishes to avail his or her self of their unbeatable steak maturation service, here’s how you go about it:-

Never buy any of their cuts of steak at the full price. Wait until they reach their ‘Best before’ or ‘Sell-by date’ and have a ‘Reduced to clear’ sticker attached to them. By this time the steak will have lost the bright red colour it had when first put on the shelves about ten days previously and will now be a very dark red, almost black colour, fully matured and ready to eat. These steaks are not only very easy to come by but have the added advantage of having been approximately halved in price - typically a sirloin steak that started life at £3.99 will now be priced at £1.99.


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