Well it’s been a long time ‘no write’ and we’re well into the new year! All is well and good in the House of Ives yet, sadly, not on the mobility front. I should be jetting off in mid-February to cycle in Australia before Anna joins me. However, problems with a calf muscle and knee have stopped that. How I got this injury in late December is a true mystery but it’s been quite a blow for a bloke who likes to ride his bike or even take a long walk. In showing my knee to various people the last doctor was curious as to why there was no hair around my knee on what was a previously hairy leg? Ruefully I told him that one physiotherapy session resulted in surgical tape being applied to the area to help the healing process. That was fair enough but eventually removing it was more painful than the injury.
The issue arose after painting a kitchen ceiling with three coats of white emulsion at the Favourite Eldest’s house in Reddish. I really have no idea what I did wrong but there you go. I’m trying to be patient and stoic with my inactivity (yet others around me may disagree.)
I don’t often have to take tests or examinations at this age but I stepped up to get a Private Hire Licence. This is the same as a taxi licence in many ways but different in that I am not allowed to pick up random folk, it all has to be pre-booked. Why? I hear the nation ask. This means I can now drive the tour bus on my guiding trips with up to eight passengers. Learning not to swear (aloud) at other motorists with a bus full of paying guests will be a bigger test.
Probably like you I’ve always thought it was a doddle to get a licence. Far from it, I’ve taken a medical, had a driving assessment (I had to pass), taken a series of tests where I had to achieve a pass mark – Highway Code, numeracy (I got one wrong!), council policy on passengers and safe guarding. I also had a DBS check and demonstrated that I was proficient in English. A fair bit of this was done around Oxford and so some travel was involved. Next time you take a taxi then you’ll know that your driver has jumped through hoops to be your chauffeur.
Tour guide wise I’m scheduled to lead five tours, starting in June, in the Yorkshire Dales. Check out Jules Verne. After learning my trade last season I’m feeling confident and looking forward to getting out there again.
Wordle, is that a thing for you? Anna, I and our favourite eldest do it first thing every morning . Our average scores are very similar. So out of a maximum of six allowed attempts, to get the five letter word, we, on average, complete it in just under four. (That’s been worked out based on our hundreds of goes). Anna usually completes it last, after we’ve circulated our scores, and if she’s finding it hard asks me for clues. Obviously I view this as cheating in this very competitive morning mental exercise and don’t help her. However, she’s probably the best out of the three of us (but don’t tell her).
Despite my hobbling it’s been a timely opportunity to arrange holidays going forward. We’ve now got pencilled in Australia (without bike), New Zealand, Scotland, France and Spain. That takes us up to October. Part of my Spanish jaunt is with three old friends. The first of which I met in 1974 Neil) and the other two I met in 1978/9 (Tim and Paul). We go back a long way and our three nights in Malaga will provide a good opportunity to catch up. I’m good at staying in touch with old friends.
In my last blog (about being a tour guide this year) I write about some guest foibles and the highlights and that all tour should finish with tips!
One of my opening questions at the briefing is “what are you especially looking forward to during the week?” The men have no particular idea having scanned the itinerary months ago and probably having forgotten it by now. This can be true for the females but less so and there are always a couple of activities that excite. One was the Pilgrim’s Walk across from the mainland to Holy Island. This can only happen when the tide is out. I had one lady say that she’d gone into remission with breast cancer and this had been an ambition before and after her treatment. I was happy to help although the magic of the walk always escapes me. On both walks I’ve had two women fall over on their faces in the mud half way across. As a guide you’re horrified but they both saw it as hilarious and are probably still dining out on the story.
One guest advised that she needed to find a hairdresser to wash her hair. I half understood this. Obviously I have little fleece but having three females in my life I am always staggered by what they put on their hair let alone what they pay at the hairdressers. This was difficult to resolve as we were deep in the Dales and finding a sheep shearer might have been easier. One guest wanted details on what professional women’s football games were on in London at the weekend. Of course you can look at Google but where are the grounds, how do you best get there and how much?
I mentioned that a well curated tour is the most vital thing for success., followed by some decent weather. To think my ‘office’ was Hadrian’s Wall, the Northumberland coastline, Alnwick Castle, Malham Tarn, the Black Sheep Brewery or Fountains Abbey then you can appreciate that there was pleasure in introducing the guests, mostly southerners, to the magnificent landscapes. I never tired of that despite repeat visits. I have a sketchy knowledge of the history but that is improving and I enjoyed learning more, in fact I could have a dart at Mary, Queen of Scots, as my specialist subject on Mastermind. I did tell the other guides on our shared WhatsApp group that excitingly she stayed at one of the attractions I was taking the guests to. Quickly one wiser sage came back and said ‘Tony, she stayed every where!’ True, was in exile in England for 18 years and rolled from one stately pile to another with her entourage of over 50 people. She could fund this number as she was a widow of a former King of France on a very good stipend…enough now Tony.
There is considerable pleasure to gain command of the tour. You start hesitant but eventually you not only know where to go and what to say but you also get sufficient knowledge to deal with changes and variations without due concern. Another thing is that if the tour goes well for a couple of days the guests build up confidence in you and then if things go wrong they’re more forgiving and tolerant.
Some guests are hilarious and or interesting. One American guest took it in her stride a night when the party took on itself to go for a pizza in Settle. The Italian owner was cook, wine waiter and maitre ‘d. He was also a wind bag who took ages to do any of these jobs. This led to delays in the food arriving. It was my night off and so the next morning they all told me about this frustrating night. Were they unhappy? My American guest described this as ‘dinner and a show’ in terms of entertainment!
Often the news headlines would be discussed at breakfast. I kept quiet as my politics were usually not theirs but there was one sad story about an aggressive dog being put down for some terrible attack. The consensus was that the owner should have been destroyed instead! Another guest produced a video on his phone of his dog. I was encouraged to have a look, not an obvious delight for Tony. To my amazement his dog was walking on a tread mill! This is how it often took its exercise. He also recounted a story where his wife popped out for an hour and a half forgetting that the dog was on the tread mill. When she returned Rover was still plodding along!
One driver who was with us for a few days was seemingly relaxed and experienced. However one incident was very tense where he met an oncoming car as he finished crossing a single lane bridge. The woman in the car was gesticulating suggesting he was wrong to not give way. This was a strange point of view given the size of the bus and the fact he was already on the bridge. Anyway, cringingly he stopped beside the grumpy driver, wound down his window and started to debate the merits of her analysis. Fortunately it was relatively brief and the guests thought it was hilarious. I can smile now but surely keep your emotions under control with drivers you’ll never see again and you’re with a bus full of customers?
There’s only a certain amount you want to learn about guests and certainly only a limited amount you want to tell them. However, conversations start and you can end up down a proverbial rabbit hole. One British resident male guest had a career in IT and ended up a US national. As ‘I peeled the onion’ of his life it had started with a period of time as an ice cream salesman in Kansas. If this wasn’t a very baffling progression then he had chosen to remain a dual national. From here a detailed expose on the tax realities of such a status were revealed. The gist being that Uncle Sam got first dibs before HMRC swept up the balance of the due levy. From here another conversation of why retain both citizenships ensued. It never came with an answer I thought was compelling but there again stuff like Brexit or Scottish Independence never hinge on the logic of monetary arithmetic do they.
As a guide then most of the other professionals you deal with whilst out and about are usually on your side and one meeting that touched me was at Hardraw Force Waterfall in the Yorkshire Dales. Leading the party I turned up at the counter to pay for the guests to walk up to the waterfall. The lady behind the counter was a little terse and sought our help on using the technology to pay for the visit. I also needed a receipt and this was another challenge for her. Anyway we did the transaction and the guests went up to see the attraction whilst I stayed behind. It transpired that she was nearly blind and that using the technology was a bordering on impossible. She told me she had terminal ‘blood cancer’ and that the treatment had led to her blindness. She owned this attraction with her family but she’d had to manage the admissions for the day.
As I helped her she was so grateful and I was offered chocolate bars and coffee for free. Frankly I was so glad I’d helped let alone needed to receive any gratuity. As they say ‘be slow to judge people’.
I must mention the camaraderie of the guides. This wasn’t just when working together but before, after or during a tour you’ve always got someone to ask about lunch solutions, train pick ups, walking short cuts, rescheduling and the like. If you have the experience then you’re happy to share and you know the pressure the guide is under time wise so that everyone responds with alacrity.
I worked for two tour operators on the four tours. Each operator’s brochure mentions tipping the guide/s on the holiday. Personally whatever I might receive then it was never going to be used to pay a bill or change my life. However, it does provide a fillip and boost for feeling you’ve done a good job. Everyone likes a ‘pat on the back’.
Before I started there were folklore stories about Americans being very generous and I knew what Anna and I had tipped on our holidays. Surely it’d be a pleasant surprise when they personally sought me out to press cash into my hand before they left? No, frankly it was miserable and I mainly came away thinking that the British were simply mean. The older the guest the lower the tip (or non existent) and as you’ve read then those are the guests who you help most, ask the most questions (sometimes repetitively) , re-arrange dining arrangements for and you have to listen to most to as they regale you with endless anecdotes. The simple fact is that many are lonely and this is a social event as much as a, say, sightseeing or walking holiday.
On average I received less per guest than they spent on cheese, as gifts for family and friends, when we visited the Wensleydale Creamery. For the hours spent, and the care given, this is awful. On my last tour I received no tips. In fact that’s not quite true as one guest organised a cash transfer for me. However, I needed a bank account in the country they originated from to access the dosh. I didn’t and so it remained uncashed. On this last tour I helped and accommodated one guest whose infirmity made their attendance very risky given the unavoidably difficult terrain we visited. If they had taken me to one side, at the end, and simply given me a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for my care it would have been lovely. If there’s one ‘take away’ from guiding then I shall have little or no expectation of gratuities on the next tour!
So next year? Well, I’m up for it and I’ve ‘learned’ my territory so that it should be less time consuming pre-tour and generally less stressful. During the winter I’m taking the necessary steps to get a Private Hire licence. (This is expensive and onerous but the land agent is helping financially.) In the uncertain world of recession and global headwinds who knows how the opportunities will work out but I’m hopeful it continues.
This is Part 3 of my experiences of being a tour guide in 2022. In this blog I’ve attempted to tell you about the detail that goes on in running the tour that maybe the guest doesn’t see. Also the problems!
On my first tour I was supporting a lead guide. A nice easy introduction to this tour guide malarky? Not exactly, I was on the train between York and the start in Newcastle when later that morning I got a text. The lead guide had a puncture, he was 20 miles away from the Station and may be late. Don’t panic! Each tour has an itinerary and whilst there is some spare time it is quite tight with distances to drive. What would I do with the guests as our bus and lead guide were absent? Anyway, the puncture, early on a Sunday morning, got fixed and by the skin of his teeth he turned up with the bus. The guests never knew about the issue. As this was all happening I was investigating taxis to transfer the guests to a pub 40 miles up the road where the bus might catch up with us.
As a guide you have an itinerary. It appears simple just to follow it when you turn up? However, it doesn’t run without a lot of intervention before and throughout the week. On Day 2 of this first tour we came under pressure as the guests worked out that the promised private guides, in the brochure, at the attractions weren’t in place. On this tour the guests, especially the females, knew exactly what they were entitled to. As a consequence one guest went ballistic and rang the tour operator to complain. Overnight the problem was sorted but the guides were left looking hopeless and that the decisions lay elsewhere. Needless to say the complainant was a generally disagreeable lady who took great delight informing the group that she had resolved the matter and that through her intervention it was all sorted. Strictly this was true but in reality she enjoyed being the battle axe that put things right and basking in the glow of her heroism. Separately I had caught her privately and apologised for this embarrassment. She knew the guides had no involvement in this omission but she didn’t have the grace to acknowledge our discomfort. (Overnight the guides without knowing her complaint had raised the matter with our management as well.) Your next thought is why did this happen in the first place? The land agent had failed to do this; maybe as a cost saving?
Our management (land agent) similarly were graceless. Whilst the next private guide at a castle was organised for us the lead guide was left to sort out a private guide at a further attraction. Where do you start when you’re driving the bus, handling guests and frankly very busy? To his credit he sorted it and that was another thing learned.
The guide tour information, prior to a tour, involve some details on the guests. However, some detail is missing including their health. Frankly as far as the tour operator is concerned then providing you’ve signed the disclaimer about your health, and have travel insurance, you can paraglide with one arm and a fear of heights as far as they’re concerned. I discovered on one dangerous section of a very wet and rainy part of Hadrian’s Wall that my 80 year old guest had a replacement hip and shoulder. I spent two and half hours as I helped her and waited with eternal patience for her to complete various sections privately calculating how long it would take the air ambulance to reach us from Newcastle.
On two of the four tours I was sharing the same hotel as the guests. This was terrific for convenience but on two other tours I was located over 10 miles away. In one Airbnb I shared with a guide he got the proper bedroom and I got the spare box room with a child’s bunk bed solution. This wasn’t ensuite and required my going down the stairs through the lounge and then the kitchen to reach the loo. Being of a certain vintage this was necessary during the night. Clearly whoever booked the accommodation just did a crap job and I had three days (and nights) of this nonsense.
However this was ‘topped’ by my turning up at a hotel specified in my joining instructions on another tour that was not only wrong but in the wrong town! I had checked in early and had just enough time to get to the correct hotel with the guests none the wiser. My last land agent problem is that those who book things in detail have no idea of the geography or distances. We took a train at a time decided by the land agent from Settle to Garsdale. I was suspicious this was the wrong train time but as a bus was hired to meet us at the other end I went with it. The bus collected and dropped us off as requested and we walked into Hawes. Sadly there was too little time for a Wensleydale Creamery tour and a sit down lunch. Knowing what I know now I’d have shortened the walk but sometimes you’re in the thick of a cock up when Plan B is impossible to deliver. (In fairness the guests were all on my side by then and I received forgiveness.)
Some things are also just sent to try you. The Queen’s Funeral fell on the Monday of a tour. This shut a number of attractions on the day. Worse was that it shut the cafes for lunch. This meant some itinerary juggling and the creation of a picnic. Where to get sandwiches? And, oh yes, one guest was on a gluten free diet! Knowing this was falling on this date I came armed to the tour with fruit, crisps, thermos flasks, a gluten free loaf and chocolate biscuits. The hotel kindly made the sandwiches and filled my thermos flasks with coffee and fresh milk. However this illustrates the tour ‘starts’ for the guide some days in advance.
Obviously many things got easier on subsequent tours including remembering names of the guests. I had one tour with two Jennys and a Jane. I’m sure that the Jennys got called Jane and Jane Jenny. On the final night I commented that we should have been together for another week, not least, because by the end of week two I would know everyone’s name.
Walking down the rocky path from Malham Tarn I got a call from the ‘office’ asking in a reasonable way about the high hotel bills I was incurring with the guests? I didn’t understand. It turned out that two of the guests, albeit, strangers to each other, should be sharing. You’ll know that there is a premium for a single room supplement. Two guests had simply kept quiet when checking in and the hotel had given them single rooms. I should have known there were sharing guests but my information wasn’t clear and I never thought to ask/check as it’s unusual. I was all for turfing them out of their single rooms immediately but the hotel didn’t have accommodation with two single beds. In this situation the wider good of the party, its bonhomie and atmosphere comes into play and I was told to leave it be. Frankly I was enormously upset at the deception.
I mentioned that the females have a detailed knowledge of what the tour has included and what they pay for. At one castle I entered the ticket office to advise the person behind the counter that the guests would pay for themselves. ‘Ah’, she replied to me, ‘We have written down that we should invoice the land agent’. I thought that was wrong but didn’t have the operator’s brochure to hand to confirm it was wrong. Rather than have an embarrassing stand off with the guests and castle staff I waived them through. Of course checking later I was right and they should have paid and they probably all knew.
I only point out these two issues to highlight that an assumption that the guest is kind and honest could be over exaggerated for the naive and trusting. You’re by yourself as regards the policing of all this when you’re out there leading a tour.
In my last blog I write about the highlights and some of the things the guests might ask you and gratuities (or not).
Following from Part 1 I’ve continued to write about other aspects and experiences of my inaugural year of being a tour guide.
I was ‘selected’ and went through to training because I came across as having an outgoing personality (who could engage with guests), was demonstrably organised, physically fit, appeared trustworthy, had an attention to detail, was customer focussed and displayed some energy/enthusiasm for the tours. This is my conclusion at least! Whilst it reads well then I feel most folk have these attributes. However, you do need some agility and emotional intelligence to ‘read the room’ with a tour party and prevent or resolve challenges.
It started in February with a reconnaissance trip, with other newly hired guides, around Northumberland and very briefly in Yorkshire. We visited the walks, towns and attractions (albeit usually just to the outside of these great buildings.) The days were chilly, wet and bleak and we ended up with a curtailed programme as Storm Dudley blew in and we spent (too) little time in the Dales. The other guides were experienced, with other operators ,and I was the complete newbie. From here there was the plan for me to obtain a Private Hire licence so that I could drive the guests around in a small minibus. This was aborted after starting out to complete the process in Newcastle. You needed detailed street by street knowledge of the Toon to get qualified, I was never going to achieve that. Each council have their own specific requirements and other councils don’t necessarily stipulate this. This meant, this season, I’d be relying on other guides to drive or we’d have to use taxi minibuses.
Two other sets of training were mandated. First was obtaining an Outdoor First Aid Certificate. This was 16 hours of kissing dummies (or cardiopulmonary resuscitation – CPR) in the Peak District. It was a long two days and involved pretending to be half alive rolling in the grass whilst another course member had to establish your cause of injury as you lay ‘comatose’ (avoiding the nettles.) Anyway, I got the Certificate and if problems arise then I’m ‘off Go’ but apart from the responsibility of giving First Aid I’ve come to learn that the paperwork is horrendous if a guest has an episode or accident (on behalf of the tour operators.) I now request all guests mind their feet and take no risks just to protect me from endless form filling (rather then their health.) Some laugh at this but I’m being serious! I learned many things I never knew and in many ways I think all folk should do some First Aid training.
Lastly, I had to complete a five hour online course for one operator. Most of it was about adopting their ethos and procedures. I suppose the issue is that the guest has bought one of their holidays and the operator wants consistency and maintenance of the brand equity. However this was a global operator and so much seemed irrelevant. Having been on similar tours overseas many issues and processes are different and it all seemed ‘box ticking’ as it wasn’t appropriate in the UK. For example the guides were meant to check the accommodation prior to arrival. In a shack in Nepal this seems a good idea but is it relevant with the equivalent of a Premier Inn in Northumberland?
So that was the formal training but separately I must have visited the Dales on four separate occasions to familiarise myself with the sights or experiences eg. Fountains Abbey, Bolton Abbey, Aysgarth Falls, llama walking, location of hotels etc. This is time consuming and personally expensive in terms of car miles (round trip of 120 miles) but it was vital to give that, attempted, seamless experience and to be able to field those inevitable questions.
It was important to develop a good relationship with all the guests and have a decent daily conversation with each one. However, there are inevitably places ‘not to go’ such as politics. Innocently you can be drawn into conversations on Boris Johnson or economic policy! If all that merits a swerve then you also may need to be discreet on your own life. I’m not sure if I was stalked or I let it slip about the blog but one lady kept coming up with cryptic comments about my writing. You have to remember that you spend around 12 hours a day with these folk and keeping mum on everything isn’t easy if they’re inquisitive.
Our old friend GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) was high on the list of the operator. We were instructed not to share information between guests. So we always sought consent prior to any data sharing. Frankly, the guests had no concern about giving their telephone numbers not only so that we could have a link in case problems arose but also to set up a WhatsApp group. On WhatsApp, which it seemed 90% of the guests already had, we all shared, during the week, photos, restaurant options, menus and occasionally advance notice of coming weather especially if it was wet! Some women start the holiday with the usual ‘I don’t want my photo taken’, ‘bad hair day’, ‘wrong clothes for a photo shoot’, ‘I always look terrible’ etc. So, of course, I respected their wishes but after a couple of days they’re scouring WhatsApp for all the photos and asking to be included. They’ve now worked out it’s a great way of quickly passing the best images on to family and friends and they’ve relaxed to be a bit more confident in the group. Needless to say I quickly deleted all this information post tour.
I always was kept in mind of playing the role of Mr Carson, the butler from Downton Abbey. That is, you’re not part of the group but you are ever present literally opening doors for them as they walk serenely along, answering all sorts of questions with supposed authority, operate as the very personification of discretion, be able to communicate on their level but never let it turn into a conversation where you let slip your wealth or superior travel experiences, be prepared to resolve anything no matter whether it is large or small, attempt to be invisible and whilst you’re ultimately in charge you’re never as important as the guests. Again I know, Tony ‘Humble’ Ives does seem like a long week for me but it wasn’t. You’re working, and as we all do, you adopt different behaviours in a work place.
In my next blog I write about the challenges. There are quite a few!
A good friend, Peter, asked if I was interested in becoming a tour guide? He was recruiting for the ‘land Agent’ he was working for. Land agent? If you were to pick a holiday that included a tour guide then that guide probably won’t work for the company you bought the holiday from but for their contractor or land agent. (The guide is often assumed, by the guest, to be a tour operator employee. Nope.) Peter seemed to have had a good time, got to ride a bike for a week and earned some money. I thought what’s not to like if you had the spare time? I signed up (but I ended up on walking tours!)
So I thought I might write up a blog after a season of four separate tours in Northumberland and Yorkshire. Friends are always interested (and think they might like the idea of guiding.) There have been a lot of things to learn including the sights/attractions to swot up on, walking routes to know the stiles, streams and hazards and the location of every toilet on a day out! I never had a concern about dealing with the guests. I had been, with Anna, on similar types of holiday in Sri Lanka and South Africa, I knew the type who took these holidays and in many ways they were like me in interests, age, income and fitness. However, the statistics show, it seems that many are single and female. They are between 50 and 70 years old and 61% of my guests were. Of course all the guests were strangers to me to start with and expected a seamless experience from Sunday to Friday. Is that what happened? I thought I’d break down, in a couple of posts, the tours and my journey to competence.
Before we do this then it does beg the question how many guides are my age? Err… not many I expect, the mould seems to chuck out 25 to 40 year olds who are outdoor types and actually live on the money they make. This is difficult I can tell you. This isn’t lucrative but if you want a part time, outdoor job with beautiful scenery and attractions it ticks many boxes. They typically work across many land agents and try and have a full diary during the season. I was happy to have a few weeks work: after all I had my own holidays to fit in!
You need to be fit, able to cope with five or six hours sleep per night, be highly organised, prepared ‘to go the extra mile’, sociable and able to talk with all sorts and not least able to lead and to be agreeably compliant, in the background, but often at critical points confident to be strict. I had been on this type of holiday, had several degrees from the University of Life, knew the parts of England I was working in, I was always eager to learn a new skill and very happy to be outdoors.
I had three walking tours that were between five to eight miles worth of walking usually toward or around coastlines, castles, abbeys, waterfalls or in one case, happily, a brewery. The other tour was not as energetic and was focussed on the sights and had better dining and lodgings. The tours were curated between two operators and the guests had paid starting at £1,500 each for the pleasure. It was five nights each time and the size of the parties were four, twelve, eight and five, the low numbers are not lucrative for the land agent but their contractual commitment means they must proceed. (For the guide it was easier to organise a smaller group.) The accommodation was hotels and the day started at around 9am. Nothing on the itinerary started at the hotel and we had to drive to the start of a walk or sightseeing opportunity. Lunch was usually taken at a cafe, always reserved in advance and we’d be back at the hotel around 5pm. Restaurants were pre booked and the guide attended dinner although the rules were that we could have a night off. I didn’t always take mine.
It was tiring as you’re always thinking ahead, stopping older guests walking out in front of traffic (!), dealing with changes or closures, trying to motivate the stragglers on a walk whilst not delaying the fit walkers who wanted to push on, dealing with hospitality issues such as tables, ordering and organising the bus to drop off or pick up in busy places, sorting out various tickets to the attractions when you arrived. All the time you’re working on creating a happy holiday. On one long walk, without a cafe break, I produced cream cakes much to everyone’s delight or attempted to add something extra to a tour that they call a ‘twist’ and didn’t expect. For example, Barter Books in Alnwick is always such a solution. Frankly despite all your hard work then dry and sunny weather and a well curated tour are the major ingredients for success. After the tour finishes the operator contacts the guests separately and requests the guide is ‘marked/rated’. The land agents pore across the feedback with interest. You’re always having your performance monitored.
In my next blog I’ll highlight some of the training and guidelines to operate by….
I have to start by posting that my father-in-law, Eric, has passed away after a short illness at the grand old age of 90 years old. I wrote a blog about him in January that probably captured his later days. However, this doesn’t do justice to a fine, mild mannered, sportsman, architect and a happily married family man. He lived a couple years longer than his wife, Margaret, who he married in 1956. He has three successful daughters and seven grand children who all thought the world of him. As regards his immediate family and the many females in his life he played the role of ‘Best Supporting Actor’; a role I have often played and one that I have learned, from Eric, the moves and lines. He would often appear with Anna’s mother at our house and soon disappear into the garden with a pair of shears. I now get the pleasure that brings: helping the daughters, literally, invisibly with either a trowel or painting brush in my hand hoping that as I’m somewhere around their property a cup of tea and a Tunnock’s will arrive as my reward.
If the truth were told then I’m still trying to recover the lost sleep from my tour guiding. I’m not working again until September but have taken the opportunity to get into the Dales to walk some of the routes and see the sights of my next assignment. Bolton Abbey, Hawes and Fountains Abbey in the sunshine are a delight and busy, it should be a good tour.
Before my last tour I had a large task to complete that was most of the time a delight but became a big job with a demanding deadline! It was cataloguing a large LP record collection. Tragically a long time family friend of Anna’s and latterly mine, Neil passed away in 2019 from cancer at the young age of 59. One of his passions was music, playing or collecting it. He’d amassed a giant record collection of 1,043 LP’s and 322 Twelve Inch singles. (This doesn’t include all his CD’s and Seven Inch singles.) Neil with some sad foresight wanted his friends to have his record collection should he be gone.
His widow, Becca, wanted to enable his close friends to view the collection and take their pick. The collection wasn’t remotely sorted and needed putting physically into alphabetical order and collating onto a spreadsheet by artist name, album title, catalogue number, genre and value. From here the friends could easily pick what they wanted. Valuing is achieved by going onto Discogs, a website to buy, sell and value records. There isn’t a record that you cannot find wherever it was pressed in the world or the year. The value is dependent on condition, popularity of the artist and scarcity. Whether you can realise the value easily, if you sell, is a debate as it may take time. Needless to say vinyl LP’s are generally much sought after nowadays.
It was a pleasure to listen to the records as I catalogued them (and the Ives family likes a list). The weekend came and went when the friends visited and collected their records. Job well done I think as I got a framed print, a few LPs, several years of copies of old music papers and some chocolates. More importantly I got to think about Neil and his music tastes, surprising inclusions, omissions, preponderance of purchases in certain years, his loyalty to some obscure bands and his travel to buy them whether in North America, Europe or the UK. A privilege really.
There may be some more blogs ahead as I head to France after Eric’s funeral. It seems a long time since I slept under canvas and I have a flight and a ferry booked. There’s about 700 miles to cover in 10 days, cycling and camping, before I’m back for the Favourite Youngest’s wedding. I think I should be guaranteed some sunshine given news of French wildfires and record temperatures!
Lastly, an observation from the road. I was nearly bowled over on my bike by a woman cycling out of a side street in York. She was struggling to tame her heavy electric bike and found it difficult to stop at the junction. I cycled on but met her again at the traffic lights 200 metres up the road. She’d caught me, moving quickly, up the hill with her assisted power. After the lights she sped off only to eventually turn off the main road into the busy station car park. The traffic included taxis, buses, cars, pedestrians and cyclists. She didn’t indicate and simply dived left. She wasn’t wearing a helmet. People who haven’t ridden a bike since they were children are buying a lot of new electric bikes I think. My cycling sensitivity to traffic and other road users is heightened after years of experience. I expect the electric bicycle revolution will lead to a number of deaths.
So I left the last blog hanging with the promise to write about the drama of my following Leeds United. For the last game of the season we needed to better the result of Burnley and, on paper, we had the more difficult fixture: they had Newcastle United at home and we had Brentford away. I decided I couldn’t bear to watch it live on Sky and started to wash the car during the game. Why watch the agony?
Anyway the Geordies (actually I expect it is mainly Frenchmen, various Africans and the odd Spaniard etc.) started to beat Burnley and I dared to sidle into the lounge and watch the Leeds game from behind the sofa through my fingers. The upshot was that Burnley lost and we won. Euphoria broke out in Acaster Malbis and the relief of not having to worry about Premiership survival could be parked until August when the trauma would start again. There is no cure.
It’s been a busy time since then. A couple of days was spent in Manchester stripping and painting a shed. This task was necessary for the upcoming wedding of the Favourite Youngest. It was the elimination of an eyesore in the garden (of the evening party after the wedding.) Two days stripping and painting a shed? Living the dream. Anyway the preparation was arduous and with some help from the fiancée and even the fiancé we got the shed to the state where we could paint it. The block of flats, it was sited behind, got a free overdue job done and I got takeaways, Tunnock biscuits and regular cups of tea.
After this it was down to North Wales to see my sister, Ann-Marie. She lives near Conwy. We did a couple of jobs at her home and had a trip out to the wonderful Secret Gardens near Menai Bridge on Anglesey. I’m not ordinarily wowed by gardens but it is sensational. You should visit it if you’re over that way.
Back to York I had three album reviews to submit to Country Music People. This month the three albums were dull affairs and listening to them and writing reviews a chore. If you like the album then scribing is a lot easier. I publish a fraction of the albums I review on my own site. If I’ve had to suffer them I see no reason why you should!
A flight to Limoges was booked for July. I’m taking the bicycle and will camp and ride back to Europort (Rotterdam) over a couple of weeks. That’ll be a fabulous opportunity to relax albeit with lots of pedalling.
This week it’s been up to Northumberland guiding. After the season I will put together a blog. (I think that if I did it now they’d sack me.) It starts with greeting the guests on Sunday night and continues through to Friday, albeit I was barracked 10 miles away and so I didn’t see them after Thursday night. The weather was sensational, the sights and walks superb and the guests good humoured, flexible, resilient and good company.
However there were the usual challenges with the week to keep the show on the road. The first was going on tour without my credit cards and no cash. I left these in York. Fortunately I had my phone and Apple watch with the banking Apps and they worked all week. Then there was the small matter of breaking my spectacle frames! A local Morrisons had some superglue for a repair to temporarily solve that. However, I woke up every morning, at around 5am, only to find my brain irretrievably switching on to start thinking about taxis arriving, tides to reach Holy Island, submitting menus to the guests to pre-select, the mobility of a couple of the guests on the walks etc. No further sleep happened those mornings. Just about most days were 13 to 14 hours long. So by Thursday night you start to feel zombiesque and hung over with tiredness. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, I don’t have to do it.
Gosh it’s been awhile and for a retired bloke who mainly paddles about there’s been a lot going on. Here’s the start of a catch up. In looking back through the last few weeks then I think we’ll start with the llamas!
The thought of visiting the Yorkshire Dales to walk with llamas and alpacas wouldn’t have been on my mind until February this year. However on a recce, for a holiday tour I’d be working on later in the year, I had cause to visit Nidderdale Llamas near Patelely Bridge to see their 100 plus llamas and alpacas.
What a delight these strange South American animals are. As part of Anna’s birthday celebrations we trooped up as a family to the farm to spend time being introduced to these quirky quadrupeds. The llamas have to be worked gently and work shifts with the public to minimise their stress. On our shift were a selection that were introduced and their personalities discussed and explained. After this we were paired with a beast that matched our personality and confidence and we went for a walk!
These gentle companions enthralled everyone; they were easy to lead. (I think they’d done it once or twice before!)
Katrina had a very slow animal. Apparently his handlers identified him as the equivalent of a troublesome teenager who had an attitude. Katrina urged him to walk faster and pulling did no good either. In her exasperation she broke into his native language, Spanish, to make him get a move on but to no avail. From here we departed for a lunch to a nearby restaurant to complete the birthday celebrations.
With Sophie and Harry’s wedding in August looming some serious beverage decisions needed to be made and ‘tasters’ gathered in Reddish to partake of the vine. We ‘blind tasted’ the selection. Hilariously the wine I liked least was the one I brought. I can’t repeat what I called it but I may never hear the last about that comment!
As part of her birthday gifts Anna got a new bike: an electric one. Yes, I know: I spoil her. It’s second hand but has been serviced and the wearing components replaced. We’d found it at a bike hire shop on the Monsal Trail near Bakewell in Derbyshire. It flies and when we first went out together I was well ‘off the back’ as Anna ploughed on without a backward glance.
Cycling is still the theme but this time in Mallorca. A long arranged trip for myself, Tim and Martin had been in the diary fro some time. Leaving Leeds Bradford on Jet2 with Tim was difficult, sadly another story of delays and very long queues. Despite being there nearly three hours early we still ended up having to jump up the long line for Security and were one of the last folk to get onto the aircraft.
As we waited and it was only 7.15 am my thoughts turned to lunch and I thought I’d have my tuna salad that Anna had specially prepared. Not the most logical breakfast, I grant you. The upshot was a difficult plastic container lid didn’t come off easily and most of the salad ended up on the floor. At this point I also discovered that we had sat in the wrong seats and leaving one awful mess we hopped across the aisle slightly relieved to be escaping the carnage on the carpet. Much to our surprise those three seats remained unoccupied for the flight and no one had the opportunity to grind it all into the carpet. However, not being all bad I did alert the cabin crew to the mess and that Tim was responsible.
Delays continued in waiting on a bus at Palma, where we met Martin. By early afternoon we had got to our splendid hotel in Puerto Pollensa and the holiday had started. For the four days we we cycled on the west of the island and up and down some very steep hills. It was terrific as Mallorca is road bike heaven.
We ate out most evenings and in line with our other obsessions we were able to watch English football and Leeds United’s inept performance against Chelsea. Relegation seemed inevitable. The next blog will address the emotions of it all.
It seems a long time ago that I was packing my laptop, projector, extension cable and heading off to some dark village hall to talk about my bike ride across the USA. The ‘tour’ of all these village halls had started when I declared on BBC Radio York that I would happily talk about this expedition in return for a donation to York Carers Centre. So began a trip around the local outposts of the Yorkshire Countrywomen’s Association and Women’s Institute. There have been other groups but these are my main victims. I get booked up months in advance. Last week the Easingwold W.I. evening came around. Over 30 women quietly listened to my tale of a long bike ride that included tales of mountains, McDonalds, bears, camping, prairies and coal trains. After I finished I got a cup of tea, a cheque and then quietly packed away my gear.
I often get waylaid by old dears telling me about their own American adventures. On this night a lady in her 50’s stopped to thank me and talked about her husband’s similar exploits and vast number of bicycles. It was all in the past tense? Yes, he’d got a melanoma and it progressed quickly to his demise in months. She still seemed exhausted and devastated yet capable of reflection. My talk had been an insight into a man’s world of bicycles, obsessive planning, lists of things to pack, a desire for adventure (with stupid levels of excitement) about the unknown. It took her back to happier times.
My tour guiding tours require me to have an Outdoor First Aid certificate. The one in question required 16 hours of class. I found a course in the Peak District and circled the dates on the calendar for an April weekend. Tony doesn’t do blood, unconscious bodies or mouth to mouth resuscitation: it could have been a difficult experience. So in a scout hut in the small village of Youlgreave I turned up with ten other people who were either renewing their certificate or starting afresh. Most seemed to be tour guides although a couple mentioned ‘life skills’: I need to ask my eldest daughter what those are but I’d guess it was something acquired spending two days kissing a dummy in the countryside.
However, seriously… The course is focussed, full on and ultimately might help me save a life. CPR and mouth to mouth resuscitation part of the teaching but if you had a nearby defibrillator and an the ambulance turned up in minutes you’re still only looking at a 40% chance of survival and that’s after I’ve broken your ribs by pressing down 6cm on your chest 30 times consecutively before blowing twice into your mouth. Apparently the breath we exhale still has 40% oxygen in it. It was all hands on (in the building and then an afternoon doing it outside in a woodland) and repetitive for the process of assessing the casualty. This repeated assessment did drive it home and it was always with another course member. My unlucky partner/victim was a young bloke called Paddy who runs a gym in Meanwood. He knew it all and constructively appraised my shortcomings and helped me get better.
Preserving life is the number one aim. Maintaining airways and ensuring they cannot choke is the number one priority. Therefore you can move someone with a spinal injury if they’re going to choke to death. Let’s hope I don’t need to kneel beside someone in distress and utter the immortal words of “Hello I’m Tony, I’m a First Aider, can I help you?”
In less profound developments I realised an ambition. I saw a wallaby in real life not in a zoo or Australia but three miles from our house! Great nephew Ted needed entertaining and at a local agricultural college they have some curated wildlife in the grounds. I was disappointed on my time in Australia to have never seen the animals in the flesh and so this realised a bucket list item. This was alongside otters, meerkats, raccoons, marmosets, llamas, goats (!) and giant tortoises. I think I was more excited than Ted but that’s nine year olds for you!
Delightful news emanated from Manchester in mid February. Wedding bells. The Favourite Youngest Daughter, Sophie, and Harry were getting engaged. They have been together since university and, maybe unkindly, the first reaction could have been ‘about time’. They have lived together for many years in their own property. Nevertheless this is an exciting and lovely event for August. For the females in the family now is a feast of calls or meet ups on dresses, menus, guests, wine tasting gatherings etc.. Enjoy, this is what the best of life should be about.
However, all is not well with another female love, Samantha. She’ll be 12 this year and is showing signs of age. First there was a misfire and back firing when in second gear. When that was hopefully fixed she started to spray water, via the bonnet louvres, onto the screen. The radiator was kaput and she was shedding any coolant in the system. My treasured Morgan after such a quiet life is now making my, and her, life less smooth.
A new radiator was needed. There were several suppliers and a popular forum website gave me a name for an approved source. (The radiator is not a standard or volume part.) It was the lowest price as well. £619 later I’m trying to find a slot at the local garage to fit it. However, there’s the small matter of towing the car to the garage as it can’t be run there without coolant. I’m sure she’ll be fully restored; it’s important as apparently she may have a bit part in Manchester in August.
More immediately we’ve just had a lovely relaxing week in Lanzarote. We went in search of heat and sun. We got the sun but the temperatures were not as sizzling as we might have ordered. Anna jogged along the front at Playa Blanca and I headed north on a hired bike. My route was a 46 mile loop with 800m of climbing and involved mainly battling into Lanzarote’s horror head winds going north turning round and then ‘flying’ south. On my second ride the wind was so horrific, with sudden gusts, that I decided to walk the bike for about 200m at a height of over 400m as the bike violently slewed across the road. I’m seldom frightened on a bike but this was one such time.
However, aside from that we rested and ate well with the highlight being a Portuguese restaurant and a delicious shared cataplana. Across the island you’ll find many walled fields of ash/lava with withered vines in dug holes attempting to avoid the ever howling wind. I thought it was a very unproductive piece of agriculture and the produce probably mediocre. Little did I know as we sampled some of the fayre at a bodega. It was delicious whether red or white with the latter being a very attractive dry drink. I shall look it up in the UK. In our apartment we had all the main UK TV channels and watched the awful news from Ukraine. What can you say?
There’s no coverage of the actual war. Instead we have reporting on the Ukrainian people, their suffering or flight. We also receive a diet of the latest Russian lies or atrocities and the brave statements of the Ukrainian President. We all feel helpless and angry. At the end of the day I expect this won’t end well for Ukraine with all the displacement, destruction, loss of life and territory. When it’s over and an inevitable compromise negotiated do the Russians expect to trade or mix with the West normally?
In the British media and on social media we have a talent for eventually dividing along the usual fault lines of Left and Right and fighting amongst ourselves. Stand by for 24/7 recriminations about what we did, as regards Ukraine, too slowly, too quickly, too little, too much etc.
I nearly wrote a blog about the former manager of Leeds United when we were promoted out of the Championship. Timing is everything; sadly this blog is an obituary.
Like most British football supporters I had never heard of Bielsa when my mid table Championship club wheeled in the latest managerial solution to attempt to lever the club back into the Premier League (after sixteen years in the lower reaches.) Good luck I thought as he looked at the meagre talent in his squad and the absence of significant money to address the problem. Leeds United had turned into a saloon door scenario for managers passing quickly through. The new post Cellino Board had appointed some real clunkers prior to this and nothing bode well.
What happened over the next three seasons is of legends, well at least in West Yorkshire. Bielsa transformed the team into a free flowing, ever running attacking force and got the team promoted at the second attempt. Journeymen players were transformed and the football we played was often sensational and much admired. The desperate and loyal fans were energised, inspired and beyond grateful. What at an exciting time ahead. It was dream time.
Bielsa was, in reality, the anti hero. The very definition of understated. Despite the large salaries coaches earn that could support a very plush lifestyle. Portly and forever dressed in a sweat shirt and tracksuit bottoms he exuded humility, compassion and kindness. He eschewed ever publicly speaking English and seldom looked at the camera in an interview. His post match comments were often weary and evasive gibberish: talk of ‘efficiency’, ‘execution’ and ‘moments’ that never gave you any meaningful information or emotion. So from here we dissected small vignettes of his kindness or personal relief. For example, the enormous hug he gave one of his coaches when the third goal went in against Burnley and secured the three points was such a moment, here was a man under enormous pressure. Kindness involved his interaction with the fans or paying a fine he received for the misdemeanour of sending someone to watch a Derby County training session. Kindness was paying for a gym for staff to use and the endless selfies he posed for. Many of these images were taken around Wetherby where he lived. Morrisons will miss him! He was a very regular sight and even I saw him one Sunday morning.
The inevitable difficult second season in the Premiership came along and Leeds have stuttered. Yes, injuries, a feature of a Bielsa regime, have bedevilled the team along with many complaining the squad was too few in number. I personally don’t subscribe to all of this. The team appeared to fail to turn up for several fixtures and the tactics employed the season before no longer surprised the opposition. Maybe the team was too tired to swamp the opposition. I had no confidence that our catastrophic run of conceding 17 goals in the previous four games was about to dry up. What could the Board do? They did the inevitable, initiated a departure and found a new coach.
The grief and resentment to the Board was palpable amongst many of the fans. Many would have preferred to stick with him and gone down with him. Such folly was the case with Nottingham Forest who stuck by Brian Clough in 1993, all the way until they were relegated into the Championship. Leicester City had no emotional attachment to Ranieri who perished in 2017, the season after miraculously lifting the Premiership title. Football clubs are £ multi million businesses with shareholders, debts and employees. Players have release clauses that may mean relegation sees them sold at fire sale prices etc. It’s logical and correct that changes should be made when needed. Unfortunately for the coaches they are obvious first casualties, unlike players, shareholders or directors who may have all serially failed.
They’re talking of erecting a statue or naming a training ground after Bielsa. I would like that. It would be fitting but, there again, where is the one for Don Revie or Howard Wilkinson? If Leeds do get relegated then Bielsa may have crawled away from the wreckage in good time. I hope the affection endures and his reputation grows as we all go marching on together.
I mentioned in my last blog about taking on a tour guide job for a few weeks during the summer. This week saw me spending time visiting and familarising myself with parts of the Northumberland coast and the Yorkshire Dales along with other trainee guides. I was the only complete beginner and whilst the other guides were not familiar with this sets of walks and routes they were all experienced. What a delight and what countryside to understand! Any visitors will be spoilt (especially if the weather is 10 degrees warmer and the sun peeps out.) Most of the trips are walking holidays with sights at the beginning or end of the walk.
The weather was grey and blowy but with our time constraints we were not encouraged to walk the Pilgrims Way from the mainland shore across the sand to the island itself. This can be taken at low tide. It’s advised to do it in bare feet as the sand clogs everything. Many of the future guests are walkers and will leap at this. We took the tarmac causeway that is only passable at low tide. Personally I’d contemplate the walk in a sedan chair only! From here it was Berwick- on-Tweed. Despite swapping between the English and Scottish over a dozen times it’s been English since the 18th Century. It has a magnificent set of fortifications to walk along.
A quick lunch and then back in the bus. The guides will have to drive this. As the passengers will have, in effect, paid to ride in the bus the driver needs a private hire licence. This means taking a number of tests. Back to school and learning the Highway Code for me. So what colour are the cat’s eyes on the outer edge of a dual carriageway?
Our drive back south took us past the magnificent Bamburgh Castle. At this point the rain was coming at us horizontally.
Next and last was Craster. Famous for it’s crab catches. No such luck for us but we checked out the parking and did a couple of the walks from the village.
The party was getting to know each other and used to hopping in and out of the minibus!
Day 2 saw us leave our trusty Travelodge and head up first to Walkworth to see my favourite amazing castle.
Next to Alnwick for a planned walk and to visit the castle.
From here it was time for a toasted teacakeat the amazing and famous second hand book shop, Barter Books.
A drive inland took us to Cragside, the first house in the UK to have electricity, and a walk in a forest. Again these form part of the walking tour with Explore!
On the last day in the North East it was time for some Roman history and in increasingly gale force winds we saw some of the sights on Hadrian’s Wall. All these brief visits were not to dwell or enter the sights but work out the route and logistics for when the guests are in our company.
This was all for the day as the weather got dangerous and awfully wet. We drove down to York and the next day was in the Dales. We got to York in a virtual monsoon! We started early on the last day in Skipton and concentrated on the sights around here.
A couple of weeks before I’d been up in the Dales with Peter, the regional manager. We’d visited the llamas near Pateley Bridge, Wensleydale Creamery, Settle and the various hotels that the guests would be staying at. I may now know a lot more about my home county than I ever did before.
After this there is a lot to study and think about. It’s another thing to take strangers around a part of the world that you yourself are not overly familiar with. My first tour is in May and so there’s plenty of time to get that pesky driving licence and become more expert on the history.
Selby Town Hall welcomed one of the UK’s most respected country duos, My Darling Clementine. For those not familiar with Selby it has an industrial heritage and the industrial bit left decades ago; the town is now mainly a dormitory for workers and families in Leeds and York. The Town Hall is a cultural oasis and a credit to the organisers. They curate an interesting selection of acts including country, americana, bluegrass, blues, rock and stand up comedy. The acts veer between several worthy but unknown US acts to UK heritage bands from the 1970s or 80s.
Ordinarily acts play, surprisingly, to a full house. The ticketing arrangement is that if you buy three tickets you get a fourth free. Yorkshire knows value for money when it sees it and there’s not a better offer midweek in winter. However, this season the attendance has been dented by Covid hesitancy. Those who brave the cold and dark nights still often don’t match the acts they’ve bowled up to see in age group, taste or humour. Just as English comedians ‘died’ on stage at the Glasgow Empire then I’ve seen Selby break several creative hearts. California’s Dustbowl Revival were bemused at the indifference to their lively show, blues sensation, Sugaray Rayford wandered amongst the audience to check pulses and I’m surprised someone hasn’t quipped that the only thing that moves in Selby is the smoke from the crematorium chimney. However, whilst Colorado’s The Railsplitters’ bluegrass didn’t get feet moving they did provoke some outrage. The lead singer said she liked the ‘village’ of Selby. The natives grew restless and were quick to demur that the settlement was certainly larger!
So onto our erstwhile impressive duo. This was their first post pandemic gig and the start of a long tour that would see further UK nights followed by a European jaunt and then some dates in the US. In front of depleted numbers Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King trod the boards with a backing guitarist and ran through 20 songs from their back catalogue including some from their Elvis Costello covers album. King’s strong voice leads the way whilst Dalgleish, his wife, takes a number of leads clutching her red handbag and scarf. The traditional acoustic country is a delight and the voices meld well and often a special atmosphere is created by the poignancy of their lyrics.
King tries to engage with the audience and soothes any fears of anything too racy by confirming this will be a laid back show (how little he knows) to help them ease back into playing live after the pandemic lockdown. His first misstep was introducing “Our Race Is Run” from their 2013 The Reconciliation? by calling the Prime Minister a bastard and that this song was for him. I’ve sat through many acts apologising for Trump and even more cringingly an excoriation of Nigel Farage by Fairport Convention’s Chris Leslie. What artists don’t realise as they fail to ‘read the room’ is that these UK politicians get a lot of votes in North Yorkshire. Whatever happened to not discussing politics and religion with strangers or in polite company? I digress, other musical highlights include a wonderful “Yours Is The Cross I Still Bear”. King attempts some bants with Dalgleish: if they’re enjoying it then the audience isn’t reacting. As we approach the break Lou implores the gathering to have a drink and return ‘pissed.’ With slumped shoulders they shuffle off for their own stiff drink. I feel their pain.
The second half sees the the adaptation, into duets, of several of Elvis Costello’s country songs. The strength and timbre of King’s voice approximates to Costello’s and the interpretations are superb, not least “Indoor Fireworks”. The explanation of the co-writers that Costello worked with from Jim Lauderdale to T Bone Burnett adds to their performance. King plays “I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came”, a Costello co-write with Loretta Lynn. He opines that this has miraculously racked up 6,000 plays on Spotify in Russia and pertinently suggests ‘that maybe Vladimir’s gone country?’ When the audience prematurely applaud “I No Longer Take Pride” before the end, but after his vocal finishes, and before Dalgleish’s starts he ruefully comments that in the ‘duet game’ prenuptial agreement then both parties will have to sing on each song and we’d overlooked this clause!
The crowd is hardly on fire as the set concludes and King turns to another tragic crash. He notes that today is the 63rd anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death. Prior to the encore a rousing “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” is sung as a tribute. I hope they recovered their mojo following Selby. They are superb and I’ll be checking out their quality catalogue. Oh yes, and this is the second time they’ve played Selby. Now that is the stuff of a song!
A drive into the Yorkshire Dales provided an unbelievably beautiful moment. When breasting the top of Buttertubs Pass. The gloom, at 2.5°C, was broken by two large shafts of sunshine as they shone down through a break in the clouds. This windy pass is special as it was on the 2014 Stage 1 Tour de France route.
I have been searching for something to fill in a bit of time and certainly on a part time basis. It had to be something I’d enjoy and use a bit of brain power. My good friend Peter mentioned a job that he’d done as a tour guide. He was connected to a UK company and so I put my name forward, was interviewed and accepted. I think my being the age of some of the guests, quite organised and being able to rattle on about most things was a benefit! My training starts in February. The arrangement is that tour companies like Jules Verne or Explore sell Yorkshire or Northumberland short holidays. They ferry people around on a mini bus stopping at the many sights. My employer is a charter for these tour operators. I’m passionate about our great county of Yorkshire and the Northumberland coast, castles and Hadrian’s Wall are also treasures. Everyone I know is concerned about my ability to be ‘nice’ for six straight days. Anna is even more concerned that I am prone to gesticulations, and worse, with other road users. Obviously I don’t recognise these possible failings. I’ll be fine.
The BBC is to lose the licence fee. This led to many tears on social media and many BBC employee were pointing out that £0.43/day is surely nothing when you think of what you get? I think those who’ve grown up with the organisation would possibly exalt the Beeb (as many do the NHS.) However, the debate is not about my age group. I think our daughters give the veritable institution little or none of their time, maybe ‘Call The Midwife’? News, music, sport, drama or entertainment has been migrating over the decades to the internet fed channels and stations. The end was signalled some time ago. There are some BBC radio stations we all must admit we have never listened to. There’s maybe much of the BBC to retain in whatever model: subscription, advertising or reduced licence fee. Like the ‘High Street’ the internet may have found another victim.
In a week where I got a new car I also came across a photo of an identical car I first owned. My new car, my first in seven years, is a BMW 320i estate. My first car was a white Triumph Herald. There are 56 years between the two motors. The hand over of the new car took over two hours despite the fact the deal and monies had been sorted out a long time ago. Most of the two hours was filling in paperwork, sending texts to each other or waiting for the salesman to paddle about looking at my part-ex or trying to find a way to expedite payment for a service package (for his own personal advantage no doubt.) In fact, of the time spent, about 20+ minutes was spent sitting in the car whilst a kindly technician went through the mind boggling intricacies of the dashboard electronics. Just about most things, including the windows, can be operated by voice. By the time this was complete it was dark and I had to drive off into rush hour Friday night traffic. Not ideal or a bonus of the customer experience. Irrespective of what make or model of car you buy then there is always something deeply disappointing about the sales process.
My first car’s registration was KPF 587C. The technology was none existent apart from a choke. (Answers on a postcard what one of those is please.) The car was one where you could lift up the bonnet and feel you might actually have a clue as to what to do to solve a problem: nowadays I can just about work out how to refill the screen wash. I had this car, starting in 1973, at Ealing Technical College and then at Manchester Polytechnic before selling it in 1978 to someone I worked with at Aveling Marshall in Gainsborough. Like all 60s British cars it had chronic corrosion issues. The passenger footwell filled up with water and any girlfriend was well advised to wear wellies on a night out if it was raining. The front of the car was all one piece (above the chassis). It was a massive bonnet that opened the opposite way to how bonnets open today (like the E Type Jaguar). The bonnet corroded to the point of nearly falling apart and I was lucky to get one of the last all steel replacements. There was a lesson to be learned for life in not selling a car to someone I knew! I sold it to a work colleague and it shortly exhibited brake problems where after pushing the brake pedal it could slew violently to the left (brake fluid was leaking onto the brake drum.) Not great when approaching a corner at speed. I had to work with the chap who bought it and needless to say he looked at me with a lot less affection thereafter!
A friend who has become a grandfather was elaborating on the appropriate address for the child when they could speak. He’d been subsequently christened ‘grandpa’ and his wife ‘nana’. On the latter he had rubbished his wife’s moniker as being a ‘bit council estate’. I did comment this is what I called my grandmother! However, I digress, as I raised this important matter with my first wife to discover that all this had been discussed and she was to be known as ‘grandma’. As for me I do wonder at what age the child will be able to say ‘Mister Ives’.
Eric, my father in law, is wheeled into the visitor’s room. He’s now wheeled everywhere. It was a battle for him to accept his walking days were over: another sign of mobility and independence ebbing away. A carer is pushing him. She’s in her uniform and behind her mask. The relationship between the carers and residents is kindly and they show concern and patience with their charges. She turns to go and Eric asks for two teas, it’s 3 O’Clock and time for afternoon refreshments. He’s maybe a little cheeky to ask on my behalf. However, she has no problem with the request and disappears. She goes behind the door into the corridor that I’m not allowed to enter without supervision as the home seeks to control the spread of the virus.
“Good afternoon!” I begin. I’m there as Anna’s abroad. Her attendance is around three times a week and heaven knows what she finds to talk about each time: a talent no doubt of the fairer sex. Our lives can be routine yet Eric, now a widower, has little variation in his daily schedule to talk about. However, Eric’s pleased to see me. I expect it makes a change from the daughters. I’ve now known Eric longer than I knew my own father; we go a long way back.
I begin by complaining about the wintery road surfaces being dirty and wet and how washing a car is pointless as you’ve undone the cleaning after half a mile. Of course, Eric knows the weather from a quick peek from his window. The opportunity to get out given the temperatures and the pandemic have been severely restricted, it’s a big loss and now his life runs on his memory. We discuss the snow and temperatures Anna’s experiencing in Finland. I say it’s not for me although Anna has taken enough thermals and layers to have made a serious attempt on being comfortable for a trek to the North Pole.
Scandinavia is part of Eric’s heritage. His Norwegian parents emigrated from Oslo. He warms to talk of the weather and how folk survive the winter. He’s only been as far north as Anna on a cruise with his late wife, Margaret. We relive the ship’s progress up the fjords as it dropped off groceries and supplies to the villages combining tourism and freight movement. Suddenly I think of the WW2 German battleship Tirpitz being attacked and fatally damaged by the RAF in the Kaa Fjord above the Artic Circle and asked Eric if he’s been up there? “Of yes”, he rejoins and goes on to explain the quality of Norwegian supermarkets in the fjords enabling the inhabitants to exist quite easily. Obviously he’s misheard and I settle back to learn about his understanding of Artic grocery retailing. I’m here to provide him with some company and whatever we discuss is fine.
The carer returns with the tea. Yippee, there’s a biscuit! However, because the food is calorie counted it’s a solitary fig roll. Not all bad I think until it nearly breaks in two as it’s so old and dry. She pauses near Eric, leans over him and asks if that’s okay? He grabs her fingers in a small act of affection that’s noticeable and touching. He’s not a tactile man and hilarious stories come to mind. When he had four females in the house it was observed the only member of the family who received any soppy or sentimental chat was the dog!
This is now his home and will be for the end of his days. They’ve done a magnificent job in protecting the residents from the virus but you can’t help, and sadly, reflect how many have lost some glorious time with close relatives or loved ones as the pandemic has locked them away. Anna’s photos of the Northern Lights, reindeer and huskies are shared on my iPad. He marvels at the quality and the fact that she’s still there, yet here we are and have these photos to look at. The family is always delighted to be inclusive and ‘transport’ him into their lives wherever they are in the world. He’s interested, engaged and stimulated.
Suddenly the door opens and a new carer appears. The visit is over in 30 minutes. The room we’re using is booked for another visit and a no nonsense approach is enforced as his wheelchair is turned on its axis and I watch his back as he trundles off across the corridor to his room. The carer bellows up the corridor, in broken English, for someone to show me out. My plastic apron is handed back and an external door is opened and I’m soon out into the winter air. Bye bye Eric.