And other disappearing things

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and other disappearing things

by Chris Whitfield

Published by Sedbergh Publishing at Smashwords

Copyright 2011 Chris Whitfield

Thank you for downloading this free ebook. Although this is a free book, it remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy at, where they can also discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

This book is available in print at

Dedicated to the countless people who have suffered at the hands of my sense of humour, which is basically everyone I have ever met.

I would like to emphasise that any resemblance to actual facts and reasonable opinion within these pages is purely co-incidental.





Picture Postcards

Whatever Happened To?

The Christmas Party in the Office

Black & White TV

The Filofax



The Road Atlas

Newspaper Classified Ads

People Who Can't Type


Sweet Cigarettes

Penny for the Guy

Saturday Morning Cinema Club

Sunday School

Streetwise Dogs

Black Sports Mixtures

Duck Apple

The Non-Photogenic Young


The Deferential Working Class

Sombrero and Donkey Souvenirs

Social Club

Bingo Halls

The Stiff Upper Lip


Kwik Save

Free Plastic Bags

Roller Towels

The Doorstep Pinta


The Phone Box

Video Rentals

Complimentary Mint Imperials


The Shellsuit


Big Glasses and Brushed Back Hair

Woollen Balaclavas

1960s Vernacular

Shirt & Tie on a Sunday


The 18 Hour Girdle

The Home Shopping Catalogue


Sexual Innuendo

Glamorous Grandmothers

Newly Wed Virgins

Tupperware Parties


Parker's Pies

Super Size Fast Food

Home Made Fizzy Drinks

Mild Ale

The Martini Set

Meat Paste

The Low Budget Picnic



Football Mavericks

The Wooden Rattle

Spot the Ball Competitions

The Man's Perm

The Tackle from Behind


Izal Toilet Roll

The Pipe Smoker

Boys Called Keith

Chip Pans

Foreign Pop Stars with English Accents

Cotton Hankies

The Stag Night


Switched Off Mobile Phones

The Mobile DJ


Circus Animals

Goldfish in a Plastic Bag

The Sexist, Racist & Homophobic Comedian

Corporal Punishment in Schools

Gary Glitter's Music

The Black & White Minstrels


Public Information Films


The Traditional Grammar School

No Smoking Areas

The Pools Coupon Collector


Amateur Car Mechanics

The Reliant Robin

Cars With No Radio

Bus Conductors

British Cars

The Suitcase Without Wheels



Energy Saving Light Bulbs

The Drug Bust






Chimpanzees in Dungarees

We live in a very fickle world. You know those designer jeans that cost you £500 from Harvey Nicks six months ago? The ones you bought with the tailor-made hole in the right buttock and the embroidered face of Madonna on the crotch. Well don't throw them away just yet. Some time soon, you should be able to hire them out as bad taste fancy dress garb. And see that X Factor winner, singing with a constipated face on MTV in the Arizona sun? Don't bother trying to get an autograph on his arena tour. Wait a couple of years, and you'll easy get one as he stacks the shelves in your local Aldi.

Fashions come and go, technology advances, social acceptabilities change, and gender roles shift. There are many reasons why something can be everywhere one day and on the slippery slope to oblivion, the next. As the saying goes, 'Today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper'. Or should that be toilet paper? I suppose using yesterday's Daily Mirror in the bathroom is not recommended, particularly if you have haemorrhoids. You might find your GP's prognosis impeded by the inverted image of the runners and riders in the 3.30 at Haydock. Let's stick with the fish and chip option.

But is there a chippy still trading that wraps your salt and vinegar drenched mush in newspaper? I think you’re more likely to find Pug and Potato Pie on the menu board. The saying may have survived, but the reality has long since disappeared, moving from the mainstream to the margins. And it’s far from alone. For starters, how about chimpanzees in dungarees? And that's not an invitation to eat.

The Tipps family were a national institution, icons from the golden age of television, the talk of every factory, office and school playground in the country. They were from simple working class stock, and people loved them for it.

Now they may have been simple, but they were certainly not ordinary because the Tipps were fully clothed chimps with the voices of film and TV celebrities. Stars of the longest ever running television advertising campaign that spanned six decades, these sartorial primates helped shift PG Tips Tea by the ton, catapulting the product from an also ran in the market to become the best selling brand in the UK, all in a matter of a couple of years.

One of their most successful commercials was set in Paris during the Tour de France, and its 'Avez vous un cuppa?' passed down into everyday lingo. The public adored it, bought more tea, and laughed until they wet themselves, partly from drinking too much PG Tips. We were too busy changing our soiled clothes to notice that the chimpanzee with the best lines had been forced to ride his bike along a concrete road until it crashed.

The complaints of the animal rights activist continued to be drowned out by our chuckles, until Brits finally recognised that pushing a piano up a flight of stairs was not normal behaviour for a chimp from the African rain forest. One of the reasons for this change in attitude came from the increasing number taking their annual fortnight's holiday in Spain. Tourists would return home with a red face, a sombrero, and an instamatic photo of their gormless child, standing next to a chimpanzee dressed like Rod, Jane or Freddie.

But as we gradually learnt that these animals were being drugged and maltreated by their money making keepers, the end was nigh for the Tipps family, and in 2002 they were dropped, never to return. The monkeys on dope are still to be found in Europe during the summer months, but only in the sense that the dance scene has been embraced by construction workers from Grimsby.

Confirmation that the chimp in fancy dress has been consigned to the past was provided on a recent visit to Prague. I was walking across the Charles Bridge when I heard the unmistakable sounds of an organ grinder.... that's the time-honoured street performer with a mechanical music machine rather than anything to do with the sexual technique of the Grimsby builder. The old music man displayed a permanent smile, a dancing chimp, and was playing a traditional Celine Dion tune. It was reassuring that, in line with modern trends, the animal was actually a cuddly toy, thereby saving a real chimpanzee from cruelty on two counts. The unnecessary human clothing and 'My Heart Will Go On' played on a constant loop.

There are so many things that have either disappeared or are disappearing, and this book contains over ninety of them. I should warn that the contents are somewhat parochial, in that the scope is geographically limited to the British Isles. Not that my target audience is a bunch of xenophobes. You won’t find an endorsement by Nick Griffin of the BNP stating, 'I laughed till I cried. Chris Whitfield is the new Mussolini!' But consider the average Chinese reader who will be very puzzled by the title of the book alone, though I suppose writing in Mandarin might have helped. China is still getting to grips with human rights, so concern about animals drinking tea in pyjamas is likely to be as rare as a philanthropist in my family tree.

And finally, in the vast majority of cases, change has been for the better. Any innate wistfulness is there for one reason and one reason only. To have a bit of a laugh. There may be many vanishing things in this former land of hope and glory, but one factor remains constant and completely resistant to change... two if you count the £5 note in the card from my Aunty Lil every birthday. I'm, of course, referring to the great British sense of humour.

Having said that, if you read this from start to finish, and it fails to raise even a titter, either I’m wrong, or I’ve just written a shit book. I’ll let you be the judge.

Chris Whitfield

December 2011


1. Advancement

To the Luddite, intrinsically resisting change and hankering for the old times... please read on to see the error of your ways.

Picture Postcards

This used to be the routine for the first two days of a foreign package holiday:

Your flight departure is delayed by eight hours due to an unofficial strike by baggage handlers who have walked out in sympathy with the sacked workers of a spoon factory in Sheffield. You're a non-smoker, but the only seats left are in the smoking section next to the morbidly obese guy who smells like a blocked drain, suffers chronic flatulence on the turbulent journey over France, and chain-smokes Capstan Full Strength for the duration of the flight. At the moment the plane touches down at its destination airport, your luggage is half way to South America.

The coach transfer deposits other couples and families at a variety of plush five star hotels, but your accommodation has the appearance of an electricity sub-station. Last on the drop off schedule, it is inaccessible to all vehicles except children’s scooters. You have a final hike up the North Face of the Eiger carrying your suitcases - nobody had yet considered putting wheels on them - before collapsing in the foyer of the hotel, surviving only because the porter, a Cuban GP earning his fortune abroad, is able to use a defibrillator to resuscitate you.

The next morning at the welcome meeting, you spend half your annual salary on trips and excursions to museums, archaeological digs, and a traditional sausage, chips and beans barbecue as recommended by your travel company’s representative, paid a basic salary of dry bread and water but Zimbabwe inflation style commission rates.

You then smear your body with best cooking fat, lie on a sun lounger draped in tin foil, and proceed to sleep all day in the boiling sun. With third degree burns to your body, you ignore the warnings about the local water having the sanitation of a Bombay sewer and drink half an ocean, spending the next few hours on the toilet, pebble dashing the pan as you cough and tap dance in an attempt to cover up the sound of a thousand deflating balloons.

You gather what little strength you have left and drag yourself to one of three million identical souvenir shops on the main street of the resort. You buy about a hundred postcards and as many stamps. The cards show photographs of impossibly blue skies and unoccupied beaches, and you can tell the images are about twenty years old because the five cars parked in the picture are straight from a black and white Francois Truffaut film starring Jeanne Moreau.

You retire back to the hotel and forego your night's sleep by writing your postcards with the same, uninspired and unoriginal words. 'Flight a bit delayed, hotel and food great, weather really hot, going to barbecue tomorrow. To moisten the stamps and stick them to the cards, your tongue is put to more use than a Bangkok whore entertaining a coach full of sex tourists. You then spend about two hours trying to locate a postbox and eventually find one with a slot the size of a sparrow's arse.

And so finally, within forty eight hours of your arrival in the resort, your main mission has been accomplished. You then sit back and relax for the rest of the holiday. The postcards take six weeks to arrive.

None of this seemed to matter because the picture postcard remained as central to the summer break as stomach upset and sunburn, until technology made all the difference. Mobile phones, Internet cafés, 3G and wi-fi transformed how we communicated with people back home, and the postcard quickly lost its place as part of the essential holiday experience. Whether or not this is something to regret, only you can say. Answers on a postcard please.

Whatever Happened To...?

When I left school, apart from a small group of five or six pals, I accepted that I would lose immediate contact with all my other peers. As the years passed by, this always left room for a question like, ‘Whatever happened to Bernard Wignall?’. This in turn led to the answer, ‘Probably serving life for murdering his parents in the bath,’ which in turn led to the comment, ‘Makes you wonder why the three of them were in the bath together.’ There was a mystery about the fate of your old school yard contemporaries that fed your imagination and left your mind free from the inanities of real life. Today, everything has changed.

As a twenty something and part of the Facebook generation, you now get hour by hour status updates from anyone and everyone who was in your Class of 2005, most of whom you would rather have forgotten. This includes Kylie the fat girl with spots who wore a skirt so short, it looked like a headband stretched around two medieval oak trees. You've been kept reliably informed as to her six children from six different fathers, two English, one Afro-Caribbean, one Polish, one Chinese, and one guy who gave it large in Aiya Napa. Her eldest four children have either been given up for adoption, taken into care, or lost in the big Asda up the road. But the youngest two, Rihanna and Pink, live with her at home.

Kylie’s typical status reads, ‘Rihanna just shat her nappy and Pink spewed all over me' leggings.’

Her friends empathetically respond, ‘Never mind babe, wait till yer get shit-faced on Sat'day night.’

How could life not be enhanced by such new found knowledge courtesy of Facebook?

It’s the same lack of mystery with anyone famous who has been missing for a good few years. Let’s say you’re listening to Bland FM, ‘playing the most insipid music mix in the North West’, and you hear a song by your favourite Motown/Soul crossover band of the late 1960s, the Detroit Diamonds. You think, ‘I wonder whatever happened to them and their lead singer, what was his name...Wrangler Crabs?’

Your first thought is the realisation that the band’s front man sounds like a groin infection from wearing slim fit jeans too tight. You then go on to Google and enter the band’s name. You’re delighted to find they have their own website and are impressed that they have invested wisely in search engine optimisation support, because their site is top of the listings. These boys have talent and commercial acumen, a deadly combination. Your sense of joy is further intensified when you see the band is just about to undertake a tour of the UK. They’re playing Smethwick (31st March), Batley (1st April), Grimethorpe (2nd April), and a few less salubrious towns in the following week.

But when you read the ‘Biog’ section on their website, you're saddened to discover that Wrangler died of a heart attack in 1999 after reading his young grandchild the opening chapter from a Goosebumps book. Never mind, at least there's the other lads, Johnson Merriman III, Abdul Ali Junior and Blind Bill Tangerine, all fine specimens no doubt. Or at least they were. The Biog explains that Johnson died of an overdose of Alka Seltzer twenty years ago, Abdul choked in a pizza eating competition - he was runner up - and Blind Bill was flattened by a monster truck when crossing the road.

You’re now thinking that the concert tour will be unbearable due to the overpowering smell of decomposed flesh, until you read that the average age of the current group is only twenty five. None of them were in the original line-up, but just as you are about to lose interest, you see that the new lead singer has a strong connection to the old band. His dad was the session bongo player on the recording of their smash hit, ‘Bongo Blues’. That clinches it, and you waste no time in booking two of the best seats in the house to hear the authentic sounds of the Detroit Diamonds. The concert is shit and a waste of £50... £65 including booking fee. You leave, cursing Google.

I was thinking of using a pseudonym for this book, in case the likes of Bernard Wignall happened to come across it and the enigma of ‘Whatever Happened to Chris Whitfield?’ was resolved. As for my nom de plume, I should confess that the front runner was Wrangler Crabs. But in the end, I have given Bernard what he needs and used my own name. I have to accept the inevitabilities of progress. My long life as a man of mystery has come to an end.

The Christmas Party in the Office

Let’s make it clear, the Office Christmas Party is alive and well. It routinely involves party hats, a three course meal, a disco, the girls from accounts getting rat arsed, Steve from Sales exposing his private parts, and the Managing Director shagging the arse of his PA in the toilets. It’s the season of goodwill, and everyone has a good time. But it all takes place at a local restaurant or hotel and not in the office itself.

The Christmas Do held in the office is now a myth. Yet every year, lazy journalists provide a survival guide to the Office Party with a photo of the celebrations taking place in something like the Purchasing Department. Even The Office perpetuated the falsehood by setting its Yuletide bash in the Slough Industrial Estate building, long after it was passé. Its real heyday was in the 1970s, and I should know. Because I was there.

I remember one year in particular. We were partying in the spot where there was usually a discussion regarding a missing delivery note, and everyone was getting pissed. I was compos mentis because I was on the coke, the fizzy drink not the powder... these were more innocent times when a drug habit was your Aunty Val’s addiction to soluble aspirin and sleeping tablets. I could see Lavinia, the office stunner, surrounded by a group of males, buzzing like flies on fresh shit. Pete ‘the moustache’ Bennett emerged as the victor, leading the long legged beauty towards the makeshift dance floor to the sound of Tavares booming from the distorted speakers of DJ Barry's disco. At that moment, I felt two arms envelope me, and my heart sank like the Bismarck. It was Julie from Invoice Matching.

Julie was not the most charismatic of individuals. She had a face that had gone ten rounds with George Foreman, the physique of the long lost triplet to Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and convected the aroma of an unwashed Sumo Wrestler in a sauna. The problem was, with a few bevies inside her, Julie thought she was Farrah Fawcett-Majors and I was the Six Million Dollar Man. So when she started to fondle my bionic parts, I shouted for help. My cries were ignored, especially by Pete and Lavinia, now sword-fencing with tongues. I had to engineer an escape.

I just about managed to wriggle free from my captor’s grip, yet the only route to freedom was blocked by a couple of desks in the corner. I tried to do an Eddie Kidd and jump over, but my right knee caught the corner of a comptometer... a big old heavy mechanical adding machine for those interested in the history of accounting technology. I landed the other side in agony but managed to crawl to outside the gents, where I collapsed to the floor, almost losing consciousness.

As I leaned back against the wall, cold sweat dribbling down my forehead, the door next to the boys' room opened. Out walked Barbara, the comptometer operator, adjusting her blouse and pursued by the Deputy Accountant. I reasonably assumed that they hadn’t been dealing with a particularly challenging financial reconciliation. The dreaded Julie suddenly reappeared, launching herself on top of me, and I had to summon my last drop of strength to wrestle clear and take refuge in the gents. This didn’t stop her. She followed me in with the determination of a lion that hadn’t eaten for a week, could smell raw flesh, and was taking part in the annual ‘Which lion can eat the most human flesh?’ competition.

I locked myself in a cubicle with Julie banging on the door, and wondered what next. My saviour came in the unlikely guise of Ralph from the Cash Office. He walked in, said hello to Julie as though she was waiting for a bus, and entered the adjacent cubicle to mine. He then proceeded to crap out his innards. This was too much for Julie, and she beat a hasty retreat.

I stayed still, setting a new world record for holding my breath, but eventually I had to race out and was relieved to find that Julie was nowhere to be seen. I’d had enough and decided to go home, though not before I glimpsed Pete and Lavinia writhing against one another in the stationery cupboard. The sword fencing had progressed to a form of judo, and Pete looked a black belt to me. It was true what they said. The Christmas Party in the office was a recipe for Roman degradation and immorality. I drove home in my Austin Shed, listening to Andy Williams singing 'O Come All Ye Faithful' in the hope of regaining some faith in the decency of human nature, though I didn’t quite appreciate the irony of the hymn’s title.

This was a typical year, and there were a fair number of similar parties held in the office that followed with the same level of impropriety. But the onset of the health & safety culture and the arrival of the desktop computer killed the office as a venue for a party. Desks became workstations that couldn’t be moved because of all the IT cables, and unless your workplace had a function room, the Christmas Party was forever transferred to the local hotel.

As I write this, I’m off to our own Office do this Friday, proof that all is well with the annual works celebration. The only certainty is that there won’t be a Farrah Fawcett who sees me as the Six Million Dollar Man. The ravages of time have seen my value deflate somewhat dramatically... by about one nickel under six million bucks.

Black & White TV

These days, we take for granted our HD Ready TVs provide high resolution images of the zits on the face of the latest Britain's Got Talent contestant. And so it’s hard to imagine just how dire television pictures were in the pre-colour days.

I remember trying to watch the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 1964 and hearing David Coleman’s classic commentary of Anne Packer’s heroics. As she came from nowhere to win the Women’s 800m, the BBC man gushed with the excitement of a monk discovering the joys of his own erectile tissue for the first time.

'Fantastic run, oh, fantastic run, magnificent, magnificent, magnificent...'

Well it might have been, but all I remember seeing were a few fuzzy grey lines that made the screen look like an etch-a-sketch portrait of an alien humping a telegraph pole in a snowstorm.

'For those of you watching in black and white, Spurs are playing in yellow.'

'For those viewers watching in black and white, the pink ball is just behind the green.'

These classic football and snooker commentaries have taken their place in folklore. They clearly show why the arrival of the colour television put black and white viewers at a permanent disadvantage. And so it was no surprise when sport turned out to be the driving force behind the change to colour broadcasts. Even so, plenty of consumers held on to their monochrome sets due to the prohibitive cost of a colour model, which was expensive enough for many people to rent out their granny to a specialist agency so as to afford one. But when consumer electronics plummeted in price, the only reason not to upgrade the black and white goggle box was the TV licence. This annual government levy to fund the BBC cost a little more for a colour TV, and there were plenty of mingebags out there who begrudged paying the differential. I used to work with one.

She was called Isabella, an active Equestrian competitor alongside Zara Philips, living in the most exclusive part of Cheshire where any restaurant with less than one Michelin Star is considered down market. And yet she had some ancient Murphy UHF black and white set because the BBC licence fee was apparently too expensive. Mind you, this was the same person who routinely put copper coins in collections, thereby qualifying as the second most penny-pinching person I have ever met in my life.

The biggest miser was a guy I worked with at Liverpool Council called Bill. In the final week before I left to take up pastures new, Bill used one tea bag to make three cups a day for five days, a total of fifteen cups of tea from the same Typhoo bag. You can imagine that the last brew didn’t even warrant the ‘looks like piss’ label.

Today, it’s easier to buy a second kidney or a small child from Malawi than a black and white television. The monochrome image may have maintained a sense of cool in photography, but in televisual terms, it’s about as popular as a sexually transmitted disease at an orgy.

A few years have passed since I last spoke to Isabella, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she is still hanging on to her Black & White TV. I think I’ve got her email address somewhere, so perhaps next Christmas I’ll send her an e-card… in black and white of course.

The Filofax

The 1980s were like marmite. Some consumed it by the bucket and enjoyed every mouthful, while others spread it on their toast before spilling their guts. It was a decade of excess and deficiency born out of the political changes sweeping the country during the Thatcher government’s time in office. The natural economic realignment that followed the industrial relations difficulties of the 1970s was taken so far to the right, if the world had been flat, we would have fallen off. The laissez-faire policies produced winners and losers. The losers had no job, self-worth or hope. The winners had a Filofax.

Ostensibly a glorified diary, the Filofax was a personal organiser bound in high quality leather that was the essential accessory for the aspiring executive. The genuine users were the epitome of personal efficiency and used it to optimise their organised worlds, but there was a breed of individual to whom the Filofax was a high end status symbol. A breed otherwise known as dicks.

I worked with a dick whose name was Richard, though for additional comic effect, I will refer to him as Dick. This guy was so full of shit, he should have had the initials ‘WC’ emblazoned on his suit jacket with a toilet roll hanging from his shoulder. He was one of the early adopters of mobile phone technology and his handset, the size of a house brick, would dangle down from its trouser belt attachment like the deformed penis of a Cannibal tribe leader.

Dick was also very fond of his Jujitsu and enjoyed nothing more than spontaneously practising his kicking technique within the confines of the office, always choosing the easiest of opponents. You’re probably thinking that must have been me because I have the natural aggression of Piglet on dope, but I was always able to dodge his flailing leg. In actual fact, it was Dick versus The Filing Cabinet and, unsurprisingly, Dick won every encounter. The dents in the office furniture and the scuffed toecaps of his shoes bore evidence to this fact. No doubt, he recorded all of this in his top of the range, brown leather organiser.

As technology advanced, the Filofax slipped down the status hierarchy and very quickly became passé. The dicks turned their attentions to electronic organisers, the forerunners to the current crop of blackberries, smartphones and iPads. And if you’ve bought this book from a car boot sale in the year 2025, may I speculate and extend this list to include the mobile phone/life support machine with unlimited texts, unlimited calls, unlimited internet and unlimited resuscitations. The Filofax user, within the context of these technological whipper snappers, now looks as dated and relevant as the policies and ideology of a certain greengrocer’s daughter from Grantham, Lincolnshire. I don’t expect the Filofax to make a comeback. As with Mrs Thatcher, its demise is not for turning.


I sometimes wonder how we used to get our information before the Internet. Was it my nan’s friend Elsie? Did she used to let us know that Mott the Hoople's latest album was to be released on October 24th, and that the band were playing the Liverpool Stadium on November 17th, supported by Paul Rodgers' new group, Peace? Was it the same well meaning busy body who would knock on the front door to recommend the latest novel by Ken Follett, the master storyteller? And was it Elsie who, over a nice cup of tea and rich tea biscuit, would explain the implications for world peace from the squeeze on oil prices by The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries?

I’m not too sure, but during the 1980s and 1990s, a key source for news and information was Teletext, the information service transmitted to TV sets alongside the programmes. BBC’s pioneering Ceefax, first introduced in the 1970s, was considered a marvel up there with sliced bread.... at least, that was my opinion.

We now had the latest news on tap, interactive puzzles, and a new way of watching football matches, refreshing the screen in the vain hope your team bagged three last minute goals to overturn a 2-0 score line. You could even book holidays through ITV’s Oracle service.

Your eyes would catch sight of a 14 day break in Albania for £59 on screen 95 out of 106, and you pressed pause on the remote control, just as the page had moved on to 96 out of 106. You would then wait about an hour for 95 to come around again, by which time the price had increased to £99. You would then ring the number given and be jubilant when told that there was still availability. But the jubilation deflated on hearing the news that the price on Teletext excluded the fuel surcharge, airport supplement, local taxes, duties, VAT, coach transfers and hotel protection racketeer levy. By the time you had booked your holiday, you were unsure that the new price of £399 per head was such a bargain after all.

Teletext was truly the precursor to the Internet, but it was analogue technology and ultimately had to give way to the digital age. It's now at the end of the same journey that my nan's friend Elsie took about twenty years ago. God rest her soul.


Home taping is killing music! And it’s illegal!’

This was the old slogan from the British Phonograph Institute, the record industry’s association, in response to the perceived threat of home cassette recording on single and album sales. To put the ‘record’ straight, home taping was never going to kill music and nor was it illegal. And if recording the latest Felicity Kendall keep fit album to cassette was illegal, then presumably you were to be hung by the testicles and shot at dawn for masturbating to the soundtrack.

A few years before the BPI's ill-conceived campaign, around the time Neil Armstrong was prancing about on the Moon, my elder brother had bought a second hand reel-to-reel tape recorder from the local junk shop. It was a chunky piece of kit, more at home in a Second World War bunker full of wired haired mathematicians than at NASA’s Mission Control Centre in Houston. We recorded a few spoken words and watched in wonder as the illuminated green bar moved left and right in response to the processed sound. When we listened to the playback, we heard two pubescent male voices speaking from inside a biscuit tin. We were mesmerised. It was as though we had invented television or discovered penicillin.

We captured music from the transistor radio, and although the recordings sounded more subterranean than X2 Zero from Stingray, we naturally assumed some kind of career in the recording industry was a cert. But a few days later, the novelty of our lowbrow recording was beginning to wear off. We had come to realise that handling the tape reels required the care, dexterity and patience of a bomb disposal expert. The reel to reel was quickly condemned to the loft.

So when the compact cassette arrived at an affordable high street price, we all lauded its appearance as the dawn of a new age. Unfortunately, this optimism was as short lived as the mayfly. Problems with cassettes included the difficulty of skipping to specific tracks, the ease with which the tape could be mangled by the cassette player, and the fact that the sound was normally accompanied by the hiss of someone urinating into a frying pan of boiling fat. Dolby attempted to solve this problem by suppressing some of the higher frequencies. The results sounded muddier than a 1970s first division football pitch at Derby County's Baseball Ground.

But sales of cassettes were turbo boosted by the arrival of the Sony Walkman. Suddenly you could listen to what you wanted, when you wanted. This might be when walking, jogging, or simply fondling yourself on public transport. And the cassette was to enjoy an even greater longevity because, rather like the gin swigging Queen Mother, the Walkman proved to have a much longer life than expected. This was due to the unreliability of its natural successor, the portable CD player, which tended to behave like a seven year old girl, liable to skip at a moment's notice.

The cassette Walkman was eventually finished off by the arrival of the digital jukebox, the mp3 player. In these iPod and iPhone days, nobody holds a candle to the cassette, sitting as it does in the no man’s land that separates the old school technologies of vinyl and the CD. And so it has been consigned, forgotten, to the past.

The BPI is still at it, now claiming that ‘illegal’ downloading is killing music. I think it's time for someone to tell these fat cats that it might kill the traditional business model for the record industry, but music is as safe as ever. The BPI is as big a victim of the changing technologies as the compact cassette. And if that is a depressing thought for you, Mr Record Label Executive or Mr Old School Rock Star, as the bailiff drives away your Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, why not try and borrow a cassette copy of Felicity Kendall's keep fit record? You could relive the good old days. And don't worry, it isn't illegal and it won't kill you.

The Road Atlas

For the first thirty years of my life, I found navigating my way to unknown places an absolute breeze. It was as though I had an internal compass guiding me, a natural partnership between nature’s magnetic forces and my own. Though ask any member of the female population, and they would question any association between me and inner magnetism. And yet almost overnight, I lost the power, unable to tell my north from my south, my east from my west, or my arse from my elbow. As regards the latter, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve bent my arm and shoved it down a toilet.

Despite the change, I lived in denial, still believing I had the ability to get from A to B without reference to any road map. Things came to a head on a visit to a Travelodge in Barnsley with my wife. And before you ask, no, it wasn’t an anniversary treat... I think it was her birthday.

It was well into the early hours of the morning as we drove around the outskirts of the town centre, searching in vain for the cut price hotel. By 2.00am, and after the umpteenth drive along the same by-pass, my wife’s patience snapped at my increasingly desperate comment, ‘But I’m sure it used to be there, between that chippy and Harry Spratt’s 50p Shop’. I learnt my lesson, and never again would I delude myself as to my directional capabilities. I bought a Road Atlas.

I loved pouring over the details of the motorways, the A roads, the B roads, and the larger scale city street map sections. However, there was still a problem. I only studied the maps after a journey. Before its start, I would scan the atlas with the brevity of an emotionally fragile and squeamish President of the Hedgehog Lovers’ Society who can see the remains of a spiky creature that has been pulped by an Eddie Stobart lorry.

My failure to reach journey's end in a straightforward way continued until the day Sat Nav reached the High Street. At last I could drive with confidence to any destination, my every move dictated by a woman in a sultry voice... I’ll resist the temptation to make a cheap shot about the gear knob. As the word on the street about GPS technology spread, its adoption became widespread, and the Road Atlas became an anachronism. My first Sat Nav was at the budget end of the market and had a tendency to send me via Australia. But when I invested in the market leader, the prospect of driving aimlessly around the outskirts of Barnsley for a few hours became a distant prospect. I had, with the help of technology, rediscovered my inner magnetism. Girls, form an orderly queue please.

Newspaper Classified Ads

Ebay has killed the classified ad. Whether you want to buy a washing machine, a car, or a small child from the Amazon, you no longer scrutinize the newspaper for willing sellers. Even if you want a plumber – perhaps you have a leaking tap or want to shoot a home grown porno – you now head to Google or And what about holidays? To book a break today, the majority log on to the Internet, the traditionalists head for the Travel Agent, but very few scour the classified ads in the newspapers. Yet in 1978, the latter was one of the more obvious choices, which is how we came to endure a fortnight away from home with the scent of cooked lard assailing our nostrils at every waking hour.

The advert in the Daily Mail read:

CORNWALL: 2 Bedroom Mediterranean Style Apartment to rent - £50 per week summer rate. Tel: St Austell 53078.

This was cheap, two weeks in the heart of Cornwall for only £100. The foreign holiday was gaining in popularity, but for newly weds with a mortgage to pay, a UK destination was still the norm. A phone call later, and I had agreed to leave a small deposit to secure the first two weeks in July... well I was a bit excited about the whole thing.

The months rolled by until we were finally in the car on the road into St Austell, frantically consulting the road signs to locate our little piece of the Med in the South West. When we found the estate, it did not disappoint. A myriad of clean whitewashed buildings stretched out before our eyes. This may not have been the Costa Del Sol, but it could have been with the intense early evening sun casting long shadows behind us and a cloudless, vivid blue sky. We couldn’t believe our luck. Thanks to that small classified ad in the paper, we had a dream holiday home. But we soon discovered the drawback.

Our flat was in the shopping quadrant of the estate. And no, it wasn’t above the grocery store, the newsagents or even the launderette. It was above the chip shop, and every room smelt of salt, vinegar, chips and fat. We adopted the half glass full attitude and congratulated one another on having fish and chips on tap. Fifteen minutes later, we were staring disconsolately at a bag of grease laden, stuck together chips that looked like medical waste from a surgical operation. The next day, the weather changed, and we had to summon our innate Dunkirk spirit to deal with the biting wind, torrential rain and lard induced nausea. It was a long fortnight.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the following year we went to a Travel Agent and booked a holiday in Italy. We never trusted the classified ad again, and we’ve since been joined by the rest of the population.

But the story does have a happy ending... I still love chips.

People Who Can't Type

1977 was the year that the Punk revolution of Malcolm McLaren and his Sex Pistols hit the mainstream and subverted the monarchy’s plans for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, ensuring that the British Establishment would never be the same again. Punk meant it was alright to wear a bin liner, stick a safety pin through your nostril, and gob to your heart's content... although some thought I'd got carried away at this new found freedom by spitting on the vicar at my nephew’s christening. I still maintain it was a tickly cough. Meanwhile, in a quieter corner of the nation, another revolution was under way, albeit one of less significance. I was learning to type.

In those days, there weren't many young males who could handle a typewriter, other than the inbreeds of Gloucestershire participating in the annual ‘Throw a typewriter down the hill while eating cheese’ contest. Typing was unequivocally a woman’s job, and I was predictably mocked by the older females in the office when composing my own letters. My typing technique was far from perfect, but I was by no means a one-finger man, so to speak. I was a self-taught, two-fingered operator and proud as a peacock.

But as Punk gave way to New Wave and New Wave gave way to the New Romantics, the typewriter had to make room for the word processor. The typing pools disappeared, secretaries were re-branded as Personal Assistants, and my USP as a man who could type was under severe threat. And by the time House and UK Garage were providing the soundtrack to the appearance of the personal computer in every living room, the ability to type had lost its place as a niche skill. The same technology that had killed off the typewriter democratised typing. Like sex in a farce, everyone was doing it. My boast was dead in the water.

It was enough to make me spit.


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And other disappearing things iconAnd other disappearing things

And other disappearing things iconHere is a book by a man who put his life on the line in order to bring coal miners from abject poverty to a better way of living where today they enjoy some of the good things of life, things they richly deserve

And other disappearing things iconDisappearing Act”

And other disappearing things iconIn making things end, and in making things start

And other disappearing things iconHow things got to be the way they are

And other disappearing things iconI. Of First and Last Things

And other disappearing things iconAll These Things I’ve Done

And other disappearing things iconWere such things here as we do speak about?

And other disappearing things iconEight things this book will

And other disappearing things iconOf Time and Space and Other Things

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