All Posts by Michael

My Dirty Secret

You know what I think is missing from life these days?




When I was little, mud played a much more major role in life than it does now. And I think that’s sad.

I was a sporty little boy. Not particularly able, but I loved it.

I remember playing both football and rugby (and occasionally both) when I was a nipper… and getting completely caked in mud when I did.

So caked that, by the time I got home after the game, my legs were completely encrusted in dried out mud. When I bent my knees the hard mud would crack and I’d pick bits off and flick them.

That was until, as I grew older, pulling off the dried mud also meant I was effectively plucking my legs… an eye-watering experience that hastened the ending of that particular pastime.

And then it was bath-time.

Don’t forget this was in an era when showers were very much a novelty, and when we all slept in beds covered with sheets and blankets. Duvets hadn’t made much headway at that time, except with the early adopters… and, even for those people, they weren’t called duvets but “continental quilts”.

I’d half fill the bath, get in… and then leave the taps running for as long as, and as hot as, I dared.

There weren’t many mixer taps in those days either… you were sophisticated if you had bath taps of any shape other than that sort of cross with a ball shape at the end of each limb…

The bath served to loosen the baked on mud from my legs but, apart from that, it was a pretty pointless exercise really. The mud made the water filthy (which hardly left me clean). And left the mother of all tide-marks when I pulled the plug!

And it wasn’t just like that for little boys like me.

Frequently on Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon, in late Autumn and Winter especially, you’d see rugby matches where mud played a major role… where sometimes it was nigh on impossible to tell one team from the other because their heavy cotton rugby shirts (those were the days!) were universally brown with soaked-in mud.

And football took place on quagmires like the famous Baseball Ground – home of Derby County.

These days, even a relatively lowly team such as my beloved Wycombe Wanderers plays on a carpet-like surface in comparison. And when you watch most premier league games the grass looks as perfect as it was for the first game of the season.

But that’s not what makes me a bit sad.

It’s the fact that today’s young ‘uns, like our little boy William, seem to invariably play football on astroturf rather than grass.

Yes it’s a ‘better’ surface, the ball runs truer and you can play on it in all weathers.

But how’s he going to get all nostalgic about that in years to come?

Bring back the mud!

Too many “improvements”… bring back some of life’s rough edges, I say…

For example, let’s talk milk…

… blue tits attacking the foil tops of your milk bottles

… having to shake the milk to mix the cream (if the birds had left any) with the rest of the milk

… getting a mini bottle of milk at 11am at primary school… nicely warmed to room temperature (ewww)

Do you agree? What other of life’s improvements have stolen the nostalgia?

Remember This?

Wincingly Cringeworthy

I mentioned the joy of pencils – and the relative merits of pop-a-point pencils vs freshly sharpened traditional pencils – in my last post (you can see it here if you missed it) and one of the most popular comments was about the pencil sharpener that every teacher seemed to have had on their desk back in the day…

I’d completely forgotten about them… and I certainly didn’t realise that they were so iconic… did you?

Anyhow… the conversation led me to start searching online for an image of the said retro teachers pencil sharpener… and I found the image that you see above (which is pretty close to how I remember them to be except that I’m sure every one of my teachers had a two-tone brown one).

In my search for that image I came across what looks to be a much earlier version of the same sort of idea… the very grandly named “Planetary Pencil Pointer” from the 1890s and the 1900s…

Illustrated catalogue of school supplies. (1897) (14597497268)

How good is that? I bet it would make your pencil super-pointy!

But… and remember this is from about 120 years ago and fortunately times have changed… a lot…

…the advertising for the same “Planetary Pencil Pointer” is wincingly cringeworthy…

Shocking isn’t it?

Did you spot the name of the company doing the advertising?

A Dick.

How appropriate…

Original Is Best… Or Is It?

Isn’t it funny how things go full-circle.

The original, simplest versions are frequently the most enduring.  Other things come into fashion and then fade away.  Original is best.

Take watches for instance.  

I remember when a boy (Dale Autey was his name) created a mass of excitement in our junior school when he brought in the first digital watch any of us had ever seen.  It was one of those original LED jobbies… where you had to press the button to see the time in red numerals… no alarm or stopwatch or anything like that… it just told the time.

Just imagine it… 30 (they didn’t seem to bother much about class sizes back then… and teaching assistants hadn’t even been invented as a concept) of us sidling up to Dale almost begging him to allow us to press the button to see the time in red.

Dale’s Pulling Machine!
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But the rise of those watches were short lived… swiftly to be replaced by the LCD versions which became so ubiquitous.  

Initially they just told the time, the only addition to spice things up was a backlight.

Then they added an alarm, a stopwatch (did you used to play the game where you had to try to stop the stopwatch EXACTLY on 10 seconds too?  It was the precursor to the “stop the petrol pump exactly on £10.00… oh rats, £10.02…. I’ll put £15.00 in today…. £15.02…. drat and double drat (as Dick Dastardly would have said)… except you can’t pay that game on the toilet (my favourite location for the stopwatch game as a teenager!)

Oh it had a lap timer too.  Did anyone ever use a lap timer?

As time progressed and Casio came to dominate the genre they added in pretty well everything you could think of and that you didn’t really need… fully functioning calculator, World time in a gazillion cities, databank… I’m sure some had/have thermometers, altimeters, games, personal organisers… you name it.

The Ultimate Casio “
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Oh… and the bain of our teachers’ lives… the hourly chime.  After all, as the manufacturers clearly reasoned, how could anyone function in the 1980s without knowing exactly when the hour struck.

Digital watches were taking over the World.  The traditional watch with hands was dead.

Except it wasn’t.  And until a few years ago pretty well everyone had reverted good old-fashioned, traditional watches… with an occasional fashion flurry of digital watches rearing their retro heads every once in a while.

Now there are “smart” watches popping up.  Like Dale Autey’s watch on steroids… 

Bet they go the same way as their LCD predecessors… but only after they’ve made Apple, Samsung et al a shedload of money…

Not entirely unrelated, are you, like me, fighting the mobile phone fight?

I really like what my phone offers… I can send messages, read books, navigate… even make phone calls!  There’s pretty well nothing I can’t to on it if I want to.

But it’s like having a stalker… knowing exactly where I’ve been and when… asking me to review places I haven’t even asked it to direct me to (it just knows I’ve been there).  It’s getting completely out of hand… and it seems to get worse every day.

Maybe it’s me just getting old… but I don’t like it.

I need to get a non smart-phone.  

…once I’ve worked out how I’ll find the quickest route without resorting to physical road maps anyway.

Do you think that the “smart” in smart-phone and smart-watch is just clever marketing… brainwashing us into believing that these things are there to help us?

Want to know what made me start thinking about this “original is best” loop?  I was looking at my favourite writing implement… the humble wooden pencil.

At infant school when we used wooden pencils the next step up was the Pop-A-Point pencil. Remember them?  

I remember having one where each of the modules (I’m not sure what the proper Pop-A-Point terminology was for the plastic bits that held the leads) was a different colour.  It was very useful as a compact colouring tool… but the colour I wanted was generally in the furthest position to retrieve.  I soon fell out of love with that pencil as a result.

A Classic Pop-a-Point Pencil
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Propelling pencils then took centre stage.  The ones with very fine leads… about 0.5mm from memory. Leads that broke incredibly easily… or for me they did anyway!  (I know that you can still get these but their star seems to have waned a bit… except, I would think, in the circles where an ultra-fine, ultra precise pencil is required..)

For me, the best pencil is wooden one.  Simple, efficient, perfect.  Without the rubber on the end.  Why?  Because they seem to make those rubbers out of special “do not rub out but smear the writing and end up ripping the paper” rubber.  They are, surely, the rubbishest rubbers in the World!

What is it about using a wooden pencil just after it has been sharpened?  It’s one of life’s little joys.  That crisp, sharpness of the pointiest point…

And it comes with the added bonus of the fresh woody just-sharpened smell too… which, for me, is almost as good as freshly mown grass.

It’s the simple things… Do you agree?