Sunday, 17 June 2018

Tom Zanetti, Daisy, Google Garage

This week, dance music producer Tom Zanetti liked my tweet. It was a pun on his lyrics, only I got his lyrics wrong in the first place. Fail.

I've been on leave all week, and have largely been typing up my grand-uncle's war memoirs. Stay tuned for those.

I've also met with a local social media company and may be arranging some work experience with them.

Thursday: I dropped onto the Manchester Digital Google Garage on King St, a public workshop offering free courses on a range of IT related subjects. I sat the Writing for Social Media course, designed to help bloggers, marketers and anyone with their own business looking to promote themselves better online. I got chatting to a few people on the course and made a contact in a local nightlife venue's Marketing team. Hopefully something will become of these new meets. I've put a lot of effort into being confident enough to approach people and say hi to them. It's not easy for everyone.

The Digital Garage will be in its King St unit until 1st November, when it will move to a different city in the UK. Presenter Asar Norman described how, as well as taking over shop units in various cities, we may also spot a big white 'Digital Garage Bus' making its way across the country.

We covered values, audience demographics, language choices (what words to use and which not to), guidelines for your marketing campaign, 'writing for goldfish' (i.e. grabbing someone's attention in 3 seconds), features and benefits, handling complaints over social media, and different apps and programs you can use to improve your output.

Well-presented, informative and delivered in a clean, friendly setting. They also teach how to use selfie sticks.

Give it a shot if you're free. The courses change frequently and the garage won't be in Manchester for much longer, so act now to get involved.

Saturday night: dropped into the Northern Quarter with Manchester Cool Bars, to Daisy on Tib St (hard to find but charming and quirky inside. It's accessible from inside Evelyn's).

We moved onto Science and Industry (a fun venue looking like a cross between a taxidermists and a meth lab). Bizarre bar accessible from inside Cane and Grain.

Manchester is quiet at the moment. I'm assuming it's due to daytime sessions in the sun, the World Cup, and The Manchester Day Parade (happening today).

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Bee You Journal Launch

Luke Ambler, former Halifax RLFC prop and founder of men's depression support group Andy's Man Club today launched his next venture- the Bee You Journal.

People have asked me, why a bee?” Luke presented to a room of people at his offices in Halifax. “Well, I was diving and I noticed that there was a bee in my car. My impulse was to swat it, but if you hit a bee, what's it going to do? It's going to sting you. I realised I needed to 'control the bee-' to control my own emotions.”

A good analogy. I had wondered what the insect connection was.

The book, Luke goes on to explain, should last 3 months, with each page offering a day's round-up, an opportunity to detail what you've achieved. One one side, a bee adorns the cover. On the reverse, a question mark on a black background. Flipping the book upside down gives you space to describe your day in the 'offload' section, on the left side of each double page spread. Here there's a space to describe any bad patches you're going through. You can get go back to the notes the next day and review them. It's designed to give you key focusses, to identify what you want to do and how.

A fun event. I've got my Be You journal. I'll be giving it a shot over the next few weeks.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Potato Fight on The Somersetshire, February 1939

The Somersetshire

My grand-uncle Dick has recently released his memoirs of his time as an officer in the RAF, serving in Sudan, The Eritrea and Egypt. They're too good not to share. Big Fear was a story included in these that occurred way after the war. We start here 7 months prior to the outbreak of World War II.

My Tour of Duty With No.47 (B) Squadron


It was February 1939. We staggered up the gang plank of His Majesty' Troopship Somersetshire, bound for the Red Sea and Port Sudan. We were laden down with suitcases and kit bags, and had recently passed out at RAF Manston, Kent as Metal Riggers. This was a reasonably new trade in the Royal Air Force and was the result of the modern metal aircraft being introduced in place of the fabric aircraft now being phased out.

In December 1938, due to the Munich Panic, the whole of RAF Manston was threatened with, 'No Christmas Leave, until the seventy-odd Avro Ansons on strength had been camouflaged' from their lovely shining silver covering. So our first introduction to an operational aeroplane was not an insertion repair but a two inch dope brush.

So there we were, four decks down hammocks, packed like sardines, Navy, Army and RAF, being fed out to all the stations from Gibraltar to Hong Kong and bringing home the time-ex fellows. Twice a year the troopers sailed, February and July.

Half of our class had been posted to RAF Khartoum, who when we arrived found that we had been allocated to No.47 Bomber Squadron operating Vickers Vincents, a large bi-plane.

Though this epistle is about my tour of duty with No. 47 Squadron in the Sudan and Eritrea, I feel that an account of the ten days on the Somersetshire would also be of humorous interest to the reader.

It was not long before we reached the Bay of Biscay and foul weather. All the 'land lubbers' were visiting the toilets and the side of the ship, much to the amusement of the Royal Navy personnel who walked around with smug looks on their faces.

The 'heads,' the naval term for the toilets, right in the aft of the ship, ran across the ship, port to starboard and consisted of separate cubicles with cowboy swing doors. They had a long connecting trough beneath all of them, flushed with running water feeding out of the ship's side, whichever way the ship rolled.

It was not long before all the 'rookies' were caught. Old Navy Petty Officers were quietly entering empty cubicles, screwing up pages of newspapers, setting them alight and placing them carefully on the surface of the water in the trough, where as the ship rolled, floated quietly under the backsides of the occupants in adjacent cubicles warming, or should we say burning, the cockles of their hearts.

Shouts of pain were heard regularly until the trick was discovered and nobody ever went into a cubicle without watching through a part-opened door for any Navy man entering the toilet area.

By Gibraltar practically everybody had found their sea legs and in Gibraltar Harbour the first batch of personnel went ashore. Similarly at Malta and after a few days we arrived at Port Said.

The Gulli Gulli men were allowed on board. These were Egyptian conjurers using three inverted egg cups, finding and disappearing numbers of chicks with their skills. No chick anywhere, lift up the egg cup, a chick, put it down again and lift up, chick gone. Amazing, even though we knew where they were going. How those chicks must have suffered.

The following day half the ship was taken on a route march around Port Said for exercise much to the amusement of the locals.

Incidentally, fatigues and duties were shared between three services daily and the day we were due enter the Suez Canal it was the Army who were on cookhouse fatigues. On the fore deck a circle of about twenty soldiers were sitting in a ring, on buckets, with potato knives, surrounding a huge mound of potatoes. There must have been a ton there with the numbers of troops on ship to feed. They were part of our lunch.

We were moving very slowly, about two knots, when suddenly the anchor was dropped and we hove to. Everybody wondered why and on enquiring from the Merchant Navy crew were told that a big Italian troopship was coming out of the canal in a few minutes.

Slowly she came past our ship, a beautiful huge shining white liner. Three times as big as we were, only twenty yards away. On its upper decks reclining in deckchairs were a number of senior officers, with their wives, dressed in pure white tropical uniform with multicoloured epaulettes. Italian troops were on the lower decks. It must have been trooping from Eritrea and Abyssinia and it was not long before one of our squaddies had shouted across the water gap “Up you Musso,” and with an immediate response of “Up you Engleesie” from the Italians.

Suddenly, a big potato became airborne and smashed into the side of the Italian Trooper, and then another, another and them within a matter of seconds the huge potato pile was aloft in the air and on its way to the 'enemy ship.' Then The Somersetshire raised their elevation directing it at the upper deck officers. They had to quickly duck into their cabins with their wives and families.

The rain of spuds travelling through the air was likened to the English arrows at the Battle of Crecy. Hundreds and hundreds. Corned Beef only for lunch- no spuds, but one up to the British.

And so we passed into the Canal. Incidentally the world had not forgotten how Mussolini had conquered Abyssinia from Eritrea with the use of poison gas in 1936. They were generally hated. As we steamed down the canal the Captain decided to exercise the troops. It was the only time that I had ever seen a tug of war match where both teams were pulling aft, out of sight from each other, behind the superstructure. A long rope around a big pulley was ran around the bow of the ship.

When the RAF team was losing ground two or three spectators jumped on the rope until, instead of a team of eight, thirty or forty were on each side. The RAF even wound their rope end around a bollard. Still, all good fun.

The day before we were due to disembark at Port Sudan we were told over the tannoy to collect our deep sea kit bags and be ready to disembark in the morning, in No.1 Khaki Dress.

When we took our KD out of our kit bags and changed into it you had never seen such a sight in your life. Nothing tailored, shorts below the knees, tunics too big, black boots instead of shoes, topees too big. (It's possible he means 'toupees.') Dad's army was never in it. (I'm assuming he's retrospectively referencing the TV show produced 1968-77.) The remarks came thick and fast. “Why should Britain tremble?” “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

And when we walked down the gangway and were met by a bronzed reception party from The Port Sudan, RAF Squadron, we realised how awful we looked.

We spent the next eight hours in the Seamen's Mission (chaplain's room?) and finally embarked on the Sudanese train at six in the evening on our forty-eight hours journey to Khartoum.

The next two days were spent, firstly winding our way through the Red Sea Hills and finally out into the desert, via Atbara, to Khartoum and 47 Squadron. Every so often we pulled into small village stations where we were pestered by sellers trying to get us to purchase eggs and awful-looking bread. We had previously been instructed not to buy any native food. We had a good supply of service food, even though the butter and the corned beef poured out of the tins.

Finally, at about 6 in the evening, two days later, we arrived at Khartoum. The railway line ran past the camp gate, fifty yards away. Uncoupling our coach, the train steamed on to Khartoum Main Station.

We de-trained and offloaded all of our kit. A Sudanese came out of the camp gate leading a donkey, accompanied by two others with brooms. The entrance reminded me of the old fort gates and ramparts of the old Beau Geste films.

The Warrant Officer in charge of our party was asked to mount the donkey and slowly he was led in and under the camp gate. All of the time the two Sudanese were sweeping the road in front of the donkey. Later when asked why they swept the road we were told that 'It was to ensure that the donkey did not trip up and that the new draft arrived safely.”

As we walked under the archway we saw the Squadron on the roof and they rained hundreds of beer bottle tops down on our topees.

Inside, we were located by the chap we were relieving and taken to our billets with information to “Get a meal and then up the NAAFI for a big party.”

Later we climbed the stairs to the NAAFI, the only two storey building on the camp, dining room underneath, and were met by the Padre at the door. “Welcome to the Squadron. You'll find it quite hot, but you will get used to it. You've joined a smashing Squadron.”

We mingled with everybody, drinks flowing, piano going non-stop, and in a matter of an hour everybody was well on their way. Then all the squadron songs were starting to be sung and very rude they were. Salomi Somersetshire, the lot. (I can find no reference to this online.) In the corner, with a pint in front of him, was the Padre singing away.

F---- them all
F---- them all
The long, the short
And the tall

I was shocked, but found out later that he was a Cpl. Policeman posing as the padre. He certainly fooled us.

In passing, we found out that a barrel of beer had been voted from the PSI two weeks previous in readiness for the new draft's arrival. Beer was flowing the day we arrived and two weeks ago. And so it went on. Any excuse for a 'booze-up.'

Incidentally, I was still a strict teetotaller. My father, who prior to his retiring, ran a public house, had bet my three sisters and myself that there would be ten pounds for not smoking and ten pounds for not drinking until we reached the age of 21. I was the only one that had stayed 'pure' and my 21st was 3 months away. So I watched everything soberly.

In the morning I joined 'B' Flight, 47 Squadron and was given a Vickers Vincent bi-plane to look after, together with a fitter. She had a crew of 3; pilot, navigator and air gunner. All open to the weather and sun. Powered by a small Pegasus she sometimes carried a 50 gallon long range tank slung under the fuselage. Fuel was pumped up to the header tank behind the engine by a wind-driven propeller pump in the tank's nose. Starting was by a handle which wound up an inertia flywheel which the pilot engaged by pulling a cable. It was tough going winding up the engine at temperatures of 120F (49C) in the shade. Before the aircraft taxied away from the sand apron the pilot checked the engine and magnetos and we, the ground crew, had to hang over the leading edge of the tail plane to hold it down. The sand blast on the back of our legs was painful, sometimes enough to bring flecks of blood to the skin.

The air gunners were tradesmen, fitters, rigger and wireless mechanics and were called Part Time A.G.s. They received extra for flying. Often we flew in the rear open cockpit and over the period of a month also added a few shillings to our basic pay.

Just inside the camp gate was the hockey pitch and the station parade ground. When swimming had finished, about 5 o'clock on Sunday, the contents of the pool were pumped into a channel about 2 feet wide and fed right around the grass pitch and released onto the grass. By Monday morning it was a lake, Tuesday it had disappeared and on Wednesday afternoon we played hockey. It was the Station Warrant Officer's pride and joy and he even had fifty airmen running all over it banging tins in an attempt to ward off a plague of locusts which suddenly appeared one day.

A couple of weeks after I arrived we were given a free cinema show in the NAAFI. Cpl York, the Squadron goal keeper was the supplier. He had been given a cinematic projector and camera by Alexander Korda the film producer. The very first Four Feathers film had just been completed at Khartoum, near the big native village of Omdurman. Cpl York had been loaned to Korda to radio Egypt and UK for supplies. Not being permitted to be paid, this was the way Korda had thanked him. Yorkie used to hire old films from Egypt and give these free shows once a month. And very funny they were. We used to hiss the villains, cheer the heroes and boo when the film broke.

And so we settled down to the routine of the Squadron. Woken up by the billet boy at half past five with a mug of tea and a chunk of fruit cake and work by six o'clock. Breakfast, eight to nine, and with topees, back to work until one o'clock. A light meal, tiffin, and a quick shower and into bed. All shutters of the billet had been closed by eight o'clock in the morning, with six big fans in the ceiling trying to keep us cool. Peace reigned until four in the afternoon when the sportsmen got up to pursue their different pleasures.

Khartoum had a small zoo, two cinemas and on the river outside the Governor General's Palace was moored a small gun boat, used by Lord Kitchener when he reconquered the Sudan with the final Battle of Omdurman. It had been transported across the desert in sections and reassembled further up The Nile.

The big native village of Omdurman was allowed to be visited by parties of six only.

The Squadron was occupied in routine flying, visiting and checking on landing strips in the Southern Sudan. Shortly after arriving at Khartoum three Vincents, with myself in the rear cockpit anchored by a monkey chain, flew to Kassala on the Eritrean border. This was a huge mountainous mound of rock jutting out of the desert and was the first and only Sudanese village to fall to the Italians in the first few days of the war in June 1940.

It was quickly recaptured. Later in the year we camouflaged the silver Vincents with dark green, light and dark earth distempers.

Across the other side of the aerodrome was the Imperial Airways hangar where our mail used to arrive by big four-engined bi-planes. Handley Page HP42. Later in the year the mail arrived by Short Flying boats landing on the River Nile. It was with us within 2 hours of landing.

We had a visit from the engineer running the Imperials Airways Flight requesting help with an engine change. A Corporal Fitter was loaned; they worked all night and the aircraft took off early the following morning on time towards South Africa. He was rewarded with fifty pounds, an absolute fortune on those days.

Come back next week for some elephant watermelon bombing, and further war stories.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Last Night

Far from happening last night, I wrote this in 2014 after a rather weird excursion to Newcastle. The following is based on reality, but you can probably guess where the fiction takes over. I took this to Writers Connect to get feedback, then promptly lost the notes. They appeared again four years later in a giant pile of papers in my lounge. The feedback group encouraged me to 'divorce it from reality,' which I've done only slightly, although as I was drunk I don't honestly remember it with enough accuracy, so I may have made it more true to life.


In a VIP booth, a group of men in late 20s / early 30s sit around a table with a built-in ice bucket, pouring out vodka, bourbon and brandy.


The group congregate outside. One of them, Matt, a slim, short lad, is noticeable more drunk than the rest. One of the larger, bigger members of the group, Jason, speaks up.

Matt, we're not going to get in here unless you sober up.

I'm sorry, and you will do what?

Another member of the group, FERRO, steps between them.

Woah, woah, woah. What the fuck?

Matt, you need to apologise for that now.

Yeah, you do, you dickhead.

Alright, sorry, whatever.

Ferro pushes Matt away from Jason.



Matt and Ferro wake up in twin beds. Matt looks decidedly hungover.


FERRO (chuckling to himself)
Matt that was the most pissed I've EVER seen you. Um, Matt, you might wanna apologise to Jason 'cause you were a DICK with him last night.

What... what did I do?

Jason was telling you to sober up so you could get into that club, and your response was basically, “What are you gonna do.”

Oh, for fuck's sake. Really?

I wouldn't, y'know, make a big song and dance out of it, but just be like, 'Sorry about last night,' and move on.

Oh, I dunno, y'know. A song and dance might be a perfect reconciliation.

Big band music swells. Matt marches down the staircase with a cheesy grin, doing jazz hands and high kicks. Jason sits at a dining table, bemused.

MATT (singing)
I'm sorry about last night

FERRO & HICKS (backup singing)
Last night

I realise that I was a massive twat with you
I'm sorry about last night

FERRO & HICKS (backup singing)
Last night

I might have to work on my attitude
I realise in hindsight that I was a turd
I blame it all on the Woodford Reserve
And now I must make sure that you have heard
I'm sorry about last night

Enter busboys pushing mops in synchrony, wearing aprons and barbershop quartet straw hats.

He's sorry about last night

Yes I am

He knows that he can sometimes be a bit of a dick
He's sorry about last night
He's hoping he can get your forgiveness quite quick
He just didn't want to pay for a lap dance
And he thinks it's a shame you have taken that stance
Now he'll do anything to redress the balance
He's sorry about...

FERRO and HICKS (overlapping)
Sorry about, Sorry about...

Busboys grab ketchup and mayonnaise bottles from nearby tables and spray them symmetrically over the walls, then throw them aside, take off their hats and circle them across their sternums.

Last niiiiiiight!

Matt drops to one knee at Jason's side with hand extended. Busboys gather behind him in formation. Jason mouths a forkful of hash browns and shakes hands with Matt.

Alright mate.

He chews on. The room is silent.

Did I really say that, though?


Monday, 11 June 2018

Come to the Bee You Journal Launch

Former pro Halifax RLFC player and founder of Andy's Man Club Luke Ambler takes his business into a new chapter with the launch of his Bee You journal.

'The Bee You Journal is a 2 in 1 journal that gives you the tools, techniques and strategies to help you thrive and not just survive.'-Twitter

Get down to Croft Mill in Halifax, 1pm Saturday, for the launch event and get 20% off a journal.

Sunday, 10 June 2018


This week, in order:

Love Island Season 4 has begun, and I am for some reason watching it. All getting a bit samey. The launch was Monday, raking in 2.9 million viewers, double of last year's launch. I watch it to see if I can pick up tips with women, but after watching season 2+3 I can't say I've learned jack shit. Still, I'll probably be getting my picture taken with a few of these characters in random Manchester bars over the coming months.

I attended a pretty unique event on Tuesday night. Have you ever been networking and go-karting at the same time? I went to Netkarting at TeamKarting Rochdale on Tuesday night, ran by Director Andy Hall and CEO Matty Street. A nicely arranged, unique night with 2 bouts of karting, a presentation from the organisers and a chance to meet other people for business networking.

I can't kart for the fucking life of me, but it was still fun. I was so bad, in fact, that I got pulled over for blocking or something. I dunno.

Friday: finished work and on leave until the 20th.

Sunday afternoon: Orton's Manchester Writers Circle met in Nexus, and I dropped in to check out the new group. Writers Connect has unfortunately folded after around 9 years of twice-monthly meetings. Sad times. But Ortons met today in the same place an hour earlier, midday. Their meetings seem a little more varied, not just critique sessions, and at a variety of times. We'll see how it goes. Today's meeting went well, with no warm-up exercise unfortunately but some very knowledgeable advice being dished out.

That is all.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Does Turmeric Help Depression?

A month ago I described how various scientific journals had found the use of turmeric to relieve the effects of depression. I decided to put this to the test by taking one flat teaspoon of the yellow powder every morning. Gross. Anyway, a month has passed and I've had a lot of turmeric. What's happened?

I've been focussing on four personal bests at the gym. 10 minute cross train, 10 minute run, chest press and horizontal dumbbell fly. They are four of my oldest PBs. I was hoping that an improved mentality would hammer me through some of these, but it was not to be. I'm still encroaching these targets. So, hardly an uplifting experience. (Pun?)

What about other areas of life? Work? Still learning a new responsibility after a month or so now. It's repetitive but there are a lot of steps to the task. I'm picking up speed. Social? Got my arse handed to me at go karting again. It seems I got worse since April. I've had a few social challenges, like discussing depression onstage in a local bar with Andy's Man Club. This went great. But I've not particularly had any nights out or done anything else social. I tried running some meetups but the response to them was abysmal. Despite this hermit lifestyle, I'm still running out of money at a horrific rate. Career? Fired out a few applications; heard nothing. HMRC? Another Citizen's Advice meeting happens Monday. In the last month I've heard nothing. Typing? Thought I'd beaten a PB, actually hadn't.

It's been a tough month, and if turmeric is worth taking, it's been this month I've needed it. A combination of that, and a 25ml dose of sertraline, hasn't been particularly helpful. I came down to half a dose from 50ml a day as the antidepressant was leaving me feeling numb and was piling weight onto me. My appetite was through the roof. I'm still overweight now.

I'll stick to including turmeric in dishes, but I'm not going to put myself through the spoon-feeding process again.