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Monday 6 November 2023

Snaps from a Box Brownie


Aversion. I hated my first name. Would have liked Tank (picked up from Wizard); sounded more masculine. I shudder at this now.

Post-divorce 1. My Dad got to entertain his three sons on Sunday afternoons. Mostly he drove us somewhere dull, read the newspaper, then dozed. Occasionally he visited an antiques dealer friend and on one such occasion I took my trumpet. Uninvited I played a hymn tune. To faint applause.

Post-divorce 2. Or we visited Grannie R, wearing her hat, waiting to be driven to Idle Baptist Church. Grannie R was forgetful, tended to repeat anecdotes. Cruelly, my Dad drew her attention to this; I admit I too was irritated. Luckily we’re rarely visited here in Hereford; so no poetic justice.

Mendicancy at the Telegraph. At Christmas it was traditional for one of the three tea-boys to beg for cash from the editorial staff. As senior tea-boy I found this demeaning, adding, “Besides there are plenty of them (ie, journalists) I don’t like.” Fred, the beloved sub-editor and who taught me much, stood in for me.

Getting used to London’s underground system. My first magazine job in the Great Wen; I was always late and knew the commissionaire took the names of latecomers. Took to entering the offices by the back door. Not knowing this was monitored by another – albeit invisible – commissionaire.

Sartorial blockage. I wore delicate elastic-sided boots at my first US job. It snowed and the company boss growlingly commanded I buy galoshes. In the UK galoshes are worn by the effete, the very old or the enfeebled so I ignored him. A week later I heard a voice, “Still no galoshes.” My work colleagues were horrified. “Disobeying the Old Man. Oh-oh.” Give the bastard credit; he’d hired me because I was foreign.


  1. Tank! So funny. When you say galoshes, are you talking about those old rubber boots that used to fit over shoes and have buckles? Those made a strong impression on me as a child.

    1. Also happy to now know about The Wizard.

    2. Collette: Galoshes - just so. And here's a sonnet; use it to mop up the floodwaters.

      Blogging’s Götterdämmerung

      Why do I blog? Maybe to blow off steam,
      Or tune noun clauses so they sing like birds?
      Or cite hard stuff like – Why not? – epicene?
      Or prove I do polysyllabic words?

      Technique apart, might echoes be the aim?
      Echoing lifestyles distant, far from mine.
      Echoes that light a more elusive flame
      Calming my Angst – I grow benign.

      Replies are down in these more recent years,
      Tone Deaf is deafer, crueller, less profound.
      The power to think shrinks as death nears
      That forward look becomes a grey background.

      Perhaps there’s comfort in the eastern states,
      Or way up north, to hell with dire straits.

  2. Your memories are always so amusing. Life is so interesting in the past context, and also funny. Sometimes poignant and also life lessons. Thanks for the fun read! Galoshes...REALLY?

    1. Sandi: The events themselves weren't amusing. The lateness episode led to my being hauled in front of the editor. But they all had laughter potential depending on how they're written up. I could, for instance do a real rib-tickler about my funeral and that hasn't happened yet.

    2. Sandi: Galoshes. This happened in unsophisticated Pittsbugh in January 1966. Were you even born then?

  3. Forgive my delay in getting to this post. We are in the final preparations for a visit from an Australian friend, and a week from then we will be off to Cuba. Our washing machine, dryer and water softener all decided to retire from service at the same time too, so it has been hectic shopping for replacements and getting people to come and do the installations. I was struck by “Getting used to London’s underground system” - now there’s an impossible task - any underground system, Toronto, Montréal, Paris, Moscow……especially where you don’t speak the language and all the stations are named with five consonants in a row, all bedecked with accents. If I seem to neglect your posts over the next little while you will understand of course that my Australian chum is a birder and will wish to see all that’s possible and some that’s barely so, and once we are travelling in rural Cuba internet access is very spotty indeed. Usually, I just go off line there.

  4. DMG: The irony was I was only about four tube stops (plus a 15-minute walk) from my office. The nearness encouraged me to lie abed, dreaming impossibilities. The headline seems to blame the London tubes; but it was my fault entirely. When I returned from the USA I resumed at the same office. Made a resolution to foreswear tubes, given that their transportational environment was utterly soulless. Used buses instead. Buses! you say. Subject to London's horrific traffic jams, Coming up with a realistic ETA really sharpened the mind.

    Cuba! For a split-second I wondered whether you were some sort of CIA agent. But then I remembered; your passport is Canadian. Or have US sanctions about visiting Cuba been relaxed?

  5. It's still pretty difficult for most Americans to get to Cuba. Speaking of CIA agents, have you ever read "Our Man in Havana" by Graham Greene? Pretty entertaining story of spies operating out of a vacuum cleaner store.

  6. DMG: I am an enormous GG fan; I suspect I read Havana the year it was published, struck by the fact that a tragedy could be presented comically. One of the rare worthwhile novels turned into an equally worthwhile movie. Not least for the fabulously good cameo by Noel Coward.

  7. Oh dear, Mr R , I find this post rather sad. When I read your title I was expecting some noisy fun. I share your enthusiasm for GG so can see how your history could make similar very black humour!

    1. Gardenb: I'm aware that many people think differently but disasters have more literary potential than happy events. One reason: the vocabulary is wider.