AFTER composing columns for 40 years on newspapers from the US to Hong Kong, since 'retiring' Roy writes a weekly one for Fylde coast daily, The Gazette. His latest column will be posted here on Fridays, a day after publication in the paper.

COVID-19 NOTE: Hope all well and keeping our spirits up. We may be 'social distancing' but need to keep in touch in other ways. This pandemic will pass but it will have changed us all - in some ways, let's hope, for the better.

Here's this week's column:

I EXPECTED, with greater freedom on our Covid roadmap to recovery, we would soon return to a more sociable spring. Drinks with friends outside a local pub or at the sports club came to mind, while She Who Knows busily arranged hairdressing or health and beauty appointments – for herself.

She's also booked me in for one – not the haircut, my local barber took care of that in several minutes (valuing his labour at over a pound a minute, not bad). No, she's lined us up for blood tests – rightly concerned at my increased wine drinking during lockdown.

But it seems sensible to be cautious in our comeback to 'normal life' (as we considered it). A beer in our pleasantly flowering garden feels preferable to joining noisy crowds, ordering on 'apps' in pub car parks.

It's peaceful for a start, though I can hear distant murmurs of pub conversation get louder as sunny afternoons wear on, until there's inane chanting or ugly rows. That old saying, 'empty vessels make most noise', still sadly rings true!

However, I'm not a curmudgeon - well, not all the time. As She Who wisely advised, “There's bound to be exuberance in first weeks.” Fair enough but so often a few spoil life for the many and must we accept rowdies, drunkenness and foul language? Let the young play, yes, but there are also lessons to learn and others to consider.

Cutting back recently on that Covid wine has proved beneficial, while it pays handsomely in the bank balance to stay at home more. It's just social contact with friends or family we miss. Still, thankfully, if we're cautious that should come.

Anyway, it was our second jab this week and I'm keeping my head down until I hear the all-clear. Even then, I dare say, many habits will have changed - possibly for the better.


* * *


EMERGING further from Lockdown this week, on Boris's roadplan to recovery, seemed like staggering from dark days of the 1950s or 60s into a modern, swinging world.

Shopping, or drinking, are no longer forbidden for long periods; you don't have to wander aimlessly in parks or amuse yourself quietly at home. There was something else, too - pets. We're no longer dependent on them for company.

Lockdown saw a surge in pet ownership, let's hope we don't desert them now we're free to roam. I thought of this the other day, as a family cat died. When younger and we lived in quiet, suburban avenues, I knew everyone down our road and also their pets. The one of my own I always remember was Topsy, who was given me as a tiny kitten. She followed me everywhere, meowing, even to school.

Sadly though - and unlike She Who Knows, I was never allowed a dog. There's true

devotion for you in a loving dog. Back in the 1970s and even 80s, this newspaper used to carry occasional feature articles on its leader page by editor-in-chief Sir Harold Grime – about his pet dogs.

There was one, he recalled, who used to visit him in our town-centre offices. As dogs also roamed free then, it would hop on the tram – then running along Whitegate Drive – and get off down Church Street. All the conductors knew the devoted creature. Then, after visiting, it would return the same way.

When these nostalgic stories appeared on his desk, our rather cynical features editor of the time (the late, lamented Peter Baxter) used to groan in dismay. He wanted something more up to date and racy. But Sir Harold knew his public.

After the article duly appeared, our postbag would be full from appreciative readers – nearly as full as when we published the wrong crossword clues!


* * *


 FORTUNATELY, on Boris's roadmap to Covid recovery, non-essential shopping can resume next week. We've missed hairdressing, also a drink or meal outside, but time, too, is fast running out.

No, I'm not ill and, thankfully again, should have my second anti-virus jab in a further week. It's just that the battery in my last timepiece is now dodgy too. The other day it faltered but, after a short rest and severe talking-to, it staggered onward. Not bad for a £5 watch bought years ago.

When its battery does stop it will be the third and last of my wristwatches to grind to a halt in Lockdown. Soon I'll just have my late father's gold retirement watch, a Smith's Empire I think, to rely upon – and will need to remember to wind it, though not too tightly.

I long ago gave up on expensive wristwatches, after a couple got damaged accidentally. I also got fed up of worrying about them – when, for example, I went for a swim or otherwise had reason to take them off and expose them to theft.

“Not worth repairing!” was the brutal response of modern-day watch 'repairers', upon viewing cracked glass or some other minor fault, “Cost as much as it's probably now worth.”

The best ever watch I got or, at least, the most useful, was an early digital one that was very clear to read, simple to operate and had a handy alarm. It was free in a petrol station offer. Since, though, they've become far too complicated.

Instead, I buy cheap copies of expensive classic brands. These, admittedly, fade in appearance but are reliable, reasonably fashionable and aren't missed too greatly when occasionally mislaid – a bit like myself these days. Still, they rarely let one down - like me too.

Let's just hope that, at long last, time is on our side!



* * *


ALTHOUGH in my 70s I'm launching a new career, as general handyman and builder. This startling move has been inspired by all the house renovation programmes She Who Knows now watches on TV - where pensioned-off Brits do up French châteaux, or start new ventures in Spain.

But, of course, I'm only April-fooling you!

My idea of a 'project' has been limited of late to investing in a cordless vacuum cleaner, or sewing buttons on to favourite trousers. I did sewing in the first year of 'senior' school and it's been highly useful. So much so, I wish us boys had done domestic science too. Whereas woodwork, which I did, seems redundant now - thanks to super glues.

However, I've always been 'thorough and doggedly determined', so they say. As a result, Lockdown has led me recently to getting out ladders and combating guttering problems in rain; also refitting hinges to back gates, then restoring a collapsed garden table.

I wouldn't say they matched professional standards but it's amazing how Gorilla Glue simplifies such tasks. I once used it on a four-poster that was wobbly in the joints (like me now). It worked, although anyone wanting to remove that bed would now have to take an axe to it.

My efforts at such practical tasks during Lockdown brought a sense of achievement far exceeding the quality of their results. However, I don't brag. It's sufficient that She Who Knows no longer notices gates or table are leaning. Silence and peace are a good husband's rewards. Besides, if I were to over-do self-congratulations, it would only bring more work.

There you are, some more lifelong wisdom for you. What's more, even as a keen journalist, I felt uncomfortable receiving rare public praise, preferring to observe from sidelines. They didn't teach humility at school, either, but then our motto offered a clue – 'Manners Makyth Man'.



* * *


SPRING is in the air and I hear the soft patter of tennis balls, like welcome footsteps of an old friend returning.

Tennis is one of those outdoor activities now reappearing in our lives with the sunshine. At Blackpool's largest, oldest club there's a welcome for newcomers seeking exercise and fresh friends in a safe family atmosphere.

Because of lockdowns and limitations through Covid, South Shore Lawn Tennis Club is offering membership fees and courses at special reasonable rates.

A spokesman said, “We'll be opening again from Monday, March 29, and looking to welcome new members. We will also run a six-week programme to introduce children from age four upwards to tennis, organised by the nationwide 'We Do Tennis' team.”

There is coaching, too, for adults from beginner status upwards. More details are on the club's website as well as at its friendly Midgeland Road centre on Marton Moss.

There are also plans for re-opening tennis next week at other clubs, in Lytham, St. Annes, Poulton and elsewhere on the coast. It's a great way to socialise as well as keeping fit, with welcoming clubhouses and lots going on. I met my wife through playing and we're still enjoying tennis – our final score's set at love-all!

One of my most popular novels, a light-thriller and romance entitled 'A Brush With Murder', is set at a fictional Fylde tennis club and partly dedicated to late friend Howard Sunderland, South Shore's much-loved former coach.

We'll also be seeing some uplifting cricket locally, after some disappointing matches on the worldwide TV circuit. Blackpool's picturesque ground by Stanley Park is almost renovated for the new season, with arrangements for county and club games.

All that sporting fun, along with a thorough tidy up and planting session in gardens, should make for a fine, long summer – let's hope. Even the blackbirds are bursting into song again!



* * *


ONE of the pleasures which lift Lockdown is music. A downpour the other day had me stuck inside again, but rediscovering old favourites among our dvds. That soon put my mind in the clouds - of the past – relishing good times, then and now.

The poignant ballad Homeward Bound, by Simon and Garfunkel, whisked me back to my 21st birthday, half a century ago. We held a party at home for my friends and I vividly recalled some most welcome, oven-baked sausage rolls, which had lifted an otherwise cold buffet.

The Bridge Over Troubled Water album had just been released and I played it almost continually. That reminded me of a live concert by the American duo in Manchester, around the same time. It was at the former Free Trade Hall, of Hallé Orchestra fame. That talented twosome gelled perfectly, just as on record.

Next up at home was a Rod Stewart version of classic Blue Moon. How evocative those wistful lyrics and melody are, withstanding the many years. They unexpectedly transported me to Vietnam, 30-odd years before, when I was travelling with a pal – now sadly deceased.

Blackpool tennis coach Howard Sunderland was guiding us down the beautiful coastline to Saigon, where he settled for several years. In return, I'd introduced him to Hong Kong, where I'd worked on an English newspaper.

It was in a cosy bar in Hanoi that an ageing jazz quartet had played a haunting Blue Moon, with alto-sax leading. That recollection, in turn, took me back to an excursion into Red China as it opened to westerners around the 70s.

In a then dimly lit and low-rise Shanghai, I found a hotel jazz bar where an even older band had played – leaning their precious push-bikes against its walls.

Ah, but there we'll have to halt this musical memory ride – for it's stopped raining at last.



* * *


IT'S good children are getting back to school – as long as their teachers are vaccinated. But, for most of us, Lockdown lethargy continues.

We've been following friends on Facebook, but they're not getting up to much. One live-alone mate posts pictures of his latest culinary efforts, though they're hard to identify under all the gravy. Another chap concentrates on cake baking – but will need a bigger wardrobe of clothes come summer.

A female friend managed to train a garden robin to eat from her hand, displaying admirable patience. But our general apathy was summed up by another's comment, 'Think I'll re-arrange my socks drawer, this weekend'.

Still, it's funny they should say that. It just happens that – most unusually - I've some new fashion accessories to exhibit. They came at Christmas, but I'm only now daring to sport them on occasional sunny walks.

They're my new socks – in a 'luxury stripe, cotton-rich six-pack' from Pierre Calvini. She Who Knows bought them, without joking they're the only six-pack I'm likely to get. (Well, gyms are closed.)

Now she's getting envious. One pair of pink-striped socks has already disappeared from our shared laundry basket. Still, I'm flaunting the others shamelessly. They brighten up my day!

It's surprising how a flash of colour can lift you. I take back previous complaints about frivolous female purchases . . . well some of them.

Now I select my clothing around which socks I fancy. I'm becoming a popinjay – at least from the ankles down. Jumpers, trousers or shirts have to fit in with the chosen stripe of the day, where possible. At this rate I may have to replenish my entire wardrobe, just to match everything up. Once you become a fashionista there's no shirking from it . . .

If I see you around, then I'll give you a quick flash - of my ankles.



* * *


SO, we're March-ing back into life again – on Boris's road map to recovery. It feels like spring, too, as summer and something akin to normal life appear on our horizon.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to enjoy as good weather this year as last – the only redeeming aspect of 2020?

I look forward to a pint with friends again, sitting outside or in, preferably watching some action at Blackpool's refurbished cricket club by lovely Stanley Park. But I shall also be spending more time now, as we did last year, in our garden.

If anything good has come from all the suffering in lockdown and pandemic, it's a healthier appreciation of nature and our place within it. Hopefully, we have learned to respect our environment more, as well as how small and closely linked our world is – what happens elsewhere affects us all.

I admired Boris's 'building back better' optimism and hope that is possible, on a personal as well as national or even worldwide front. But don't let's get overly ambitious here, caution must still be our byword.

That inclination is echoed in what I say to She Who Knows, when we observe our bank balance has never looked better. Let's keep it that way, I suggest but, as she's likely to say, we have to re-energise our economy and start to spend again.

Yes, the first reunions will be great, then the greater gatherings – with theatres and cinemas opening and more events taking place. Let's just hope there's sunshine too, with time to spend being quietly grateful.

As for vacations, it's so long since travelling any distance at all that exploring our own holiday coast again is an exciting prospect.

Let's keep that pollution down. Don't just see 'staying at home' as an enforced condition, but rather as a passport to a happier, healthier life.

I'll see you around!



* * *


LIKE Boris, I'm cautiously optimistic for 2021 and our coming spring into summer.

But it wasn't just the prime minister's 'road map to recovery' which inspired me. It's because I'm an Ox and this is my year!

When working in Hong Kong I developed a wary respect for ancient Chinese culture and learned from their almanac I was an Ox.

This meant I was 'courageous, reliable and resolute, steady and thorough to the point of stubbornness'. I also had a robust appetite although inclined to 'over-feed and water' myself. Beware, though, we're ferocious once our placid nature gives way to anger.

It's good to know oneself and this difficult last year (of the Rat) has been a learning curve for all; leaving us more appreciative and, hopefully, respectful of nature and what matters.

If you're not convinced then at least heed Boris's birth sign – the Dragon! Accordingly, our PM is 'born to energetically lead and full of knowledge, power and capability'. Dragons are also 'adventurous and ambitious', with 'a strong drive to realise their dreams'.

What's more, like me, Boris is a Gemini. Apparently we're social butterflies and – says Google - 'quick-witted twins who can talk to anyone about anything' while 'buzzing between happy hours, dinner parties and dance floors'. Well, I'm sure Boris does anyway.

So, there you are, almost time to celebrate folks!

By the way, Rats have attributes too - my wife's one, really! They're 'quick-witted, lively and artistic' as well as 'natural home-makers' - while also getting on splendidly with Oxen.

Incidentally, 2020 was her year and its horoscope told us it would bring 'beneficial situations, opportunities and meetings with special people' – hmm. It would also, said the almanac, 'balance situations, dilemmas and changes that can push us out of our comfort zone'.

Much to contemplate there, I'd say, but we've time - while still in Lockdown.



* * *


I DON'T believe it – when I think of my advanced age. Being over 70 is shocking when, most days upon waking, I feel half that – well, almost.

Fortunately, it means I don't have to work except doing what I want to (apart from occasional DIY bodges).

This month my age also meant getting a Covid vaccination at our magnificent Winter Gardens. They make me proud of our resort and coast's heritage - as well as our 'Progress' (as is the town's motto) in conserving and, where possible, redeveloping it.

But it's hard during Lockdown languor, not to fall back into my Victor Meldrew syndrome. Like the grumpy, old hero of TV sitcom 'One Foot In The Grave', I find myself pursuing curious campaigns and, as aged fictional knight Don Quixote did, 'tilting at windmills'.

I even mutter that famous catchphrase of Richard Wilson, the sitcom star (pictured). Another old pal and former colleague on this paper – we'll call him Trevor – emailed with similar afflictions.

Trev wrote: 'The only activity locally this week was the laying down of a new pavement. Well I say pavement, what actually happened was that the old flagstones have been pulled up and replaced with – tarmacadam!'

He continued, 'When it comes to swapping new for old we seem to be going backwards, with regard to material quality and aesthetics, but I guess councils can't run to the expense of decent stone paths these days. By the time of the next replacement this 'tarmac' will probably be replaced by a dirt track.'

He confessed to 'obsessing' over this, while sitting forlornly in his front room, noting also that a curtain rail and bathroom shower support had collapsed - 'Everything's falling apart, just like the pavement!'

In return, I admitted my hobbies were now reporting fly-tipping and erratic burglar alarms at empty shops and pubs – I don't believe it!



* * *


IT'LL be a quiet Valentine's Day, this weekend, perhaps with me cooking a treat after thoughtful gifts for her Ladyship. We buy each other cards, too.

Still, in the quiet of lockdown, it doesn't take much to get us excited at Edmonds Towers. Even trying a new marmalade can thrill us! That, on toast, is breakfast most days and enjoyed in bed. We try different breads as well or, occasionally, go wild with hot-cross buns – though rather over-dosed when finding some with chocolate.

Anyway back to marmalades, the Scottish brands mostly went down well; then we liked Oxford and, finally, settled for Tiptree of Essex. I've gone through their range now and this week relished orange with malt whisky – a bit rich but as heart-warming as a wee dram.

Essex, incidentally, was where I first reported for newspapers - the only northerner in our office. Whenever I appeared with a story my Cockney boss would shout out, “Hey up! Eck-ee-thump! Is't trouble at mill, lad?”

This got tiresome but he consoled me with a whelk or mussel from the paper bag he kept cool on an outside window-ledge, beside his news-desk.

I had a boss later who lectured us on not only work but also life choices – like marmalade. Observing my shopping one day, he informed me the best brand was Stute. It was sugar-free and organic but, afterwards, avoided on principle.

Besides, bring on the sugar I say, specially first thing – and now with a whisky shot too!

Sadly, I'd fail at being a consumer guru, despite She Who Knows' thoughtful health advice. The old adage of 'a bit of what you fancy', three square meals a day and 'everything in moderation' make sense to me.

Well, perhaps not the last bit, She Who Knows comments, but thankfully - come Sunday - I'll still be her Valentine.



* * *


SO, phew, we've had our Covid vaccination this week – the British one from Oxford too. Good show, I say, though we had to join a patient queue with war-time spirit for deliverance.

The NHS invite came by post, while we were waiting to hear from our surgery. So, She Who Knows swept into online action.

It rather worried me when she confidently announced, “I've fixed up our appointments. The first jab's this Monday afternoon.”

What was more, I got a special mission - not covert but a Covid role. I was invited to be a Yellow Card Monitor, advising NHS of side-effects. I've not felt so important since appointing myself house virus sanitiser.

On vaccination day we went to town for the first time since last April – when I bravely searched for lamb chops at the big Sainsbury's, following local panic buying.

This time we both queued outside the Winter Gardens for 45 minutes, then again once inside. But all officials were efficient, pleasant and polite. However, while waiting, She Who Knows was still envious of my special role.

“Why didn't they pick me?” she asked, wounded, so I explained, “It's purely random, dear.”

However, I made sure officials saw my Yellow Card form. I'd dressed specially too, in a short-sleeved shirt and gilet for ease of vaccinating. At my flu jab last year I had to unbutton a shirt and so expose an old vest beneath, much to She Who's embarrassment.

“How do I look?” I asked on Monday, before an Army captain woman vetted us.

“Like someone with an important Covid job,” she answered, clearly still miffed.

Then we were through, all done and dusted thanks to our troops – after two hours in all. But I've already started my special reports . . .

No signs of any side-effects yet, just a swelling head.



* * *


ALMOST forgot to write and send this column to Gazette Towers this week. So little is happening in life at the moment and every day seems similar. Our routines are all mixed up.

Take today, here in mid-week we're having our Sunday-lunch roast – but at tea-time, as we call it here, or 'dinner' - as the southerners would say. The only encouraging day-by-day development (apart from vaccine promises) is it's getting lighter earlier and staying so later.

But, ever the optimist, there are other good things to seize upon. Long-gone friends are now getting in touch again, stirred by Covid lockdown inertia.

At the weekend I heard from a former squash opponent – that's going back many decades – who emigrated to the big country, chilly Canada. He sounded just the same and offered to Zoom in on us; but now has a house number over 1,000 and laughs at what we call winter.

Then, yesterday, a former colleague who went off to a Euro newspaper in Brussels - and never looked back - emailed me. With Brexit upon us, he's wisely retiring and saying adieu to the Eurocrats.

Funnily, they both went on about curious little things in our past which I'd all but forgotten, but now came flooding back. The one in Belgium couldn't get over me as a bachelor, in a small flat with fold-down double bed in a disguised wall cupboard.

He'd retained this image of me entertaining girlfriends then, when supper (a posh, southern concept) and wine were finished, casually dropping the bed into action . . .

Of course, it never happened like that – but the notion made me smile. The only trouble was, all this nostalgia had got me lost in time again.

Let's just hope the magic jabs, when they come, return us all to the present. Or will that be a 'new normal'?



* * *


THERE'S a new hero in our Lockdown lives, though he's neither new nor heroic. It's Columbo, the down-at-heel LAPD homicide lieutenant; the only man who always wears a raincoat in Los Angeles.

We've tapped into a vast store of his inimitable murder investigations, after She Who Knows discovered the 5USA channel. Do you know, the scruffy detective of Italian heritage has been exposing killers for 50 years? No wonder he's good!

Even if we've previously seen an episode, it's worth watching for all you missed first time, or to be reminded of the show's many attributes.

To start it's relaxing, as the only murder drama where you know whodunnit from the start. But it's fascinating to see how a ruthlessly clever, meticulous killer will be caught, as they surely will, by our hero.

As She Who Knows points out, there are always beautiful, luxury homes to admire and wonderful scenery to go with them. It's a reminder, too, how far ahead of us America has been. They had kitchens and bathrooms – as well as teeth and wigs – half a century ago better than ours today.

Everyone's dressed smartly, except for our 'Lootenant' – who, with his shabby raincoat and ash-dropping cigars, fearlessly stalks the most exclusive haunts. But, at heart, he's an icon of unassuming virtues for our troubled times.

While appreciating the finer material acquisitions of others, along with their skills and achievements, Columbo drives the most run-down vehicle on the programme and happily accepts his lot. He is respectful of all equally, whoever they are, but humble within himself.

Besides, he always has 'Mrs Columbo' to consider, though we never see his formidable partner in life.

Columbo is eagerly observant, patient and, however powerful, famous or wealthy they are, brings criminals to justice and avenges innocent lives callously ruined.

A brave new world? No, it's been there all the time.



* * *


LIKE most people, we're exploring fresh frontiers in home entertainment at the moment – on TV, at least.

Friends are fans of Netflix, with one couple glued to Indonesian mystery thrillers and another pair enjoying a series in a Tokyo late-night bar – a Japanese 'Cheers', though a bit darker. Still, foreign dramas can't be more bizarre than recent BBC ones. Hopefully they'll spread international understanding, from this strange Covid era.

At Edmonds Towers we turn increasingly backward – into archive channel Talking Pictures. Stage-trained actors on old films enunciate clearly; there's no gratuitous violence nor foul language, only 'politically incorrect, outdated attitudes' - which suit us.

Even street scenes, with little traffic and few people, now seem oddly up to date – although in black and white. We record to view later, or She Who Knows does – pouring over TV schedules and zipping through channels on her remote, it's awesome to behold.

Who said watching telly is a mindless activity? Not in our home; you have to work at it. She Who Knows is in such a hurry it often freezes the controls. As a result odd things occur but, to us, they are now quite normal.

Recordings can be incomplete – jumping boring early scenes or halting abruptly before the finale. Episodes might be missing or – an inspired touch this – in the wrong order for the series.

The best example was my all-time favourite film, The World Of Suzy Wong (my treasured book of which is pictured left). Excited with anticipation,I had my drink and snack ready and got seated. Those colourful opening scenes from my youth appeared, with the lovely Suzy by Victoria Harbour – then ended suddenly, after a few minutes.

Still, as She Who Knows says, this all helps deter dementia – having to work out plots for ourselves; fill in those problem gaps and, what's more, we get to bed earlier too!


* * *


SO, we emerge from subdued festive celebrations with, yet more restrained times ahead. Still, staying home's not unusual this time of year.

At Edmonds Towers it went well. Shopping was efficient, too; mostly online for convenience and safety – with thoughtful presents, thanks to extra time to consider and bank balance fattened by staying in more.

This time I only made one error, or two-in-one to be exact. Unlike last year, when mixing up health and glamour products for She Who Knows. I 'd mistakenly bought her anti-wrinkle creams for ageing skin, rather than 'toning' ones. Still, I found them handy.

(Not as disastrous a present as one mate's to his wife – an ironing board.)

Towards this Christmas a big parcel arrived addressed, unusually, to me. I recognised it as a festive hamper my nephew and wife kindly send annually. When I mentioned it to She Who she said, “That's nice but they shouldn't, not now their children are adults.” (We used to give them birthday money.) Anyway, when sending their greetings card, I wrote, 'Thanks again for the hamper!'

One disappointment with my online orders was a gift box of Belgium chocolates, for She Who Knows, which was quite costly but hadn't arrived.

On the big day, imagine our surprise when opening that 'hamper' box. The relatives hadn't sent one after all. It was my box of chox, but not just the dark ones she liked; also a mixed collection, a separate box of truffles, another of 'cookies', plus a big tin of biscuits. No wonder it was expensive! Her disappointment, at not receiving the usual, much adored Hotel Chocolat selection, seemed rather unreasonable to me.

There's so much to munch it'll take us all year to get through them. By then, hopefully, my nephew and wife might have forgiven me, for what they must have thought a very sarcastic card!

 * * *

'HUBBIES' in my traditional-minded family are reluctant when it comes to DIY. Dad, while tackling most things, also advised, “Never do today what you can put off 'til tomorrow.”

My older brother, Mike, would rather move house than redecorate.

Regarding 'little jobs' at home, my credo is - if it offends the eye or conscience, hide it! Out of sight is out of mind.

However, She Who Knows still says airily at quiet moments in Edmonds Towers, “I was thinking, what we

need to do . . .” The 'we', of course, isn't royal but refers to me. Like her late mother, Wynne, she believes I'm able to fix anything.

Although flattered, I try to stay one step ahead. If spotting a potential problem or blemish upon our comfort and well-being, I 'bodge' it.

With New Year resolutions pending, here are tips for a happier life to all DIY dodgers.

When wallpaper is coming apart, put a chair in front of it . If it's in a higher position, hang a picture there.

Small things, like tiles, are most easily repaired with a spot of plasticine or glue.

Signs of damp about the house? Just leave a window open slightly overnight; if double-glazed, you can even lock it open.

Recent inspired bodges have avoided the expense and disruption of calling in both a tiler and the plumber.

When the border of a bathroom plastic floor tile crumbled, leaving an ugly gap, a strip of masking tape perfectly matched its colour and settled the eye. Then, even better, a hot water tap's worrying dripping was neatly halted – with a discreetly applied elastic band. Being blue it even matched the porcelain!

Finally, as this difficult year ends, my overall winning tip is - make sure neither of you wear reading glasses, when walking about your home. That will only show up more work.

* * *


WITH lockdown conditions continuing or even intensifying, we're watching still more TV at home – goggling at the box which, of course, is showing more and more repeats.

We're not Netflix people, more Talking Pictures - the British classic film and drama archive channel.

But today I'll particularly enjoy the Carols From King's, which kick-starts our Christmas while savouring some pâté, relish and toast with a glass of red wine.

It's an honour to be sharing Christmas Eve with you all in this column! Perhaps this could be the start of wider friendships and recognition . . .

“We could be one of those 'Gogglebox' couples,” She Who Knows has suggested, when we're commenting on our diet of telly in Edmonds Towers' cosy, festively decorated living room. There we are - drinks to hand and feet up on what were once called pouffes, if that's not now politically incorrect.

“You'd attract too much hate mail and proles,” I warned.

“You mean trolls!” she corrected.

I've long since given up trying to follow the news or other weighty issues which crop up on the screen. It's always interrupted by comments like, “That's a wig, you know,” or, “I can't believe she's wearing that dress again!”

Apparently, I always complain loudly about audience 'whooping' and certain personalities, like Jonathan Ross, who get on my nerves. “You've told me before, ssh!” She Who Knows will rebuke.

Her latest outburst was to call out to me, “There's some slip of a girl on TV, who's supposedly a professor!”

It's true, though, since Covid there appears to be an endless succession of young professors warning about health issues and the state of our planet (along with good, old David). It's all very worrying . . .

Anyway, don't let it spoil your 'holidays', as 2021 should be better.

Merry Christmas to you all!


* * *


IT was sad to hear of another fine Blackpool character passing away this dreadful year. John Moore, aged 86, was landlord of the resort's oldest pub The Saddle on Whitegate Drive, from 1982-92.

I first met John, an imposing but friendly former policeman, halfway through his tenure. However, I'd long enjoyed the cosy inn's fire-lit rooms and old-fashioned style. He also started the 'Seagull Division' of the Manchester-based Honourable Order of Bass Drinkers, of which I'm proud to belong.

(The 17th Century inn is illustrated here in a sketch by Peter Hughes.)

Back in those days, pubs closed for a couple of hours in afternoons and longer on Sundays. When it opened again the welcoming fires were crackling and brass and glassware sparkling.

Come evening, Mister Moore – a traditional landlord - would adopt his position on the public side of the bar, near stairs up to where his large family lived. He'd greet regulars while enjoying a Draught Bass and one of his favourite King Edward cigars.

John also showed me why he stood there. Thanks to ingenious mirrors on the bar, walls and doors, he could see into rooms and also his bar and till. Then he'd roll up his sleeves and descend through a trap door to the cellar, as the popular Bass or Special Bitter barrels ran dry.

You didn't hear shouting or music or TV (but for special sporting occasions). If some got carried away, John need only mutter, “Watch your language, please lads.”

Sunday afternoons he would sit with family and friends in the 'Lords' room, where my naïve, younger self was introduced one day and cheerily seated among his bevy of daughters. John shook my hand at his crowded table, then quietly informed me, “It's your round.”

He also gave me sage, Liverpudlian advice when moving into a nearby house. “Always leave some jobs to do – or they'll keep piling up!”

Top man, he'll be missed.


* * *


SHE Who Knows and myself made an outing to Lytham over last weekend; She Who being in dire need of retail therapy.

It was a shock to see such crowds, with cafés and restaurants open, too; serving takeaway drinks with even a few outside bars, where folk gathered chatting through the busy afternoon.

After quiet Great Marton it seemed decidedly hedonistic. We even had to don our face masks, just to feel safe, though few others on the crowded pavements bothered.

Still, it was good to see people enjoying themselves and a high street thriving.

Then, driving away at dusk, we spotted a huge flying saucer landed opposite Lowther Gardens, glowing in the darkness. Fortunately, that turned out to be a floodlit tennis dome now at Lytham Cricket & Sports Club - most impressive!

Also escaping leafy Lytham's vibrant social life is my local hero Sam Stone. The freelance reporter come investigator, a good-looking son of a gun often in trouble, is now in an eighth, stand-alone book of the popular series.

Happily, in fiction you can escape lockdown into even more exotic places than Lytham. So you may join Sam on an idyllic Greek island, with his new loves but also dangers. The novel is available in paperback or on Kindle.

This latest thriller/romance is entitled The Golden Door. I tell you this not out of commercial greed but because it's good to share feelings and hopes with others, specially at this time. Our light-literary website was started by retired journalists fed up of all the bad news. It's intended to be uplifting and, besides, is non-profit-making – at least so far!

This story also focuses on the plight of today's refugees, as well as our pandemic. We should think of them, too, as we prepare to pamper ourselves and feast; so everyone might share hopes of a better New Year to come.



* * *


AH, some good news at last. Covid infections are finally down by a third or more, locally and nationally, thanks to lockdown and your efforts! Also, the New Year promises to be brighter for Blackpool and our holiday coast.

It was heartening to read of two uplifting projects. The popular Mirror Ball, on South Promenade, is to have its 40,000-plus tiles restored, by our Illuminations team and Blackpool and The Fylde College students.

That stretch of Prom is a favourite walk and the four-ton, 18-year-old artwork is a shining landmark by a great viewing spot. However, the biggest facelift in town goes to a still grander, much older attraction, the Tower Ballroom.

A £760,000 grant from the government's Culture Fund will see the 126-year-old plasterwork ceiling of this world-famous ballroom restored to full glory.

While the Mirror Ball would brighten my spirits during lunch-time strolls when working nearby, the best of our resort's grand ballrooms always struck me with wonder – and my father before me.

When a bachelor, he was one of thousands who regularly got a steam-train return ticket from Manchester on Saturdays, which included Tower entrance and the promise of a romantic, if only brief, encounter. What's more, its famous organist, Reginald Dixon, was a cousin of mine.

I well remember trying out my own dance steps on that vast, sprung dance floor – and running out of moves halfway along. It was as demanding as a length in the old Derby Baths further up the Prom.

There's just one thing I'm wondering. Will anyone think to again open the ballroom's once sliding roof? I know of it because an older friend, who worked at the Tower as a youngster, mischievously operated its rooftop winding gear – to let in a downpour of rainwater puddles.

Still, how fabulous it would be to dance there, when dry - and under the stars!


* * *


'GET fit in 15 minutes a day', invited the newspaper column. I didn't see the exercises, as She Who Knows turned over the page. We were enjoying breakfast in bed.

“I got fit doing just six minutes a day,” I bragged, but she'd become engrossed in beauty tips. (Besides, I'd told her it all before.)

The memory took me back to late teens, when living at home and desperate to attract the opposite sex with a six-pack and beefy biceps.

It was called the Royal Canadian Air Force Workout and those telling minutes got increasingly demanding every day.

“What are you doing up there?” demanded my dad, when I'd just finished the six minutes in my bedroom. “Well,” I explained proudly, “there are press-ups where you have to clap hands, full body bends, then running on the spot with scissor jumps.”

“Well, stop it!” he said, “You're bringing down the lounge ceiling's plaster.”

Back then I was just under 13-stone, now I'm half a stone over it, but I have been 15 stone-plus in my 40s. That was a warning curve, when your waist size matches your age.

Keeping fit now seems all the rage in lockdown rather than, as usual, just following Christmas. Therefore, I offer you the following lifetime's advice.

Firstly, don't believe 'no gain without pain'. If it hurts then you're doing yourself harm.

Secondly, enjoy it! However beneficial, you won't keep up a routine if it's a continual trial; instead you'll slump into a deep malaise. We want happy, not miserable!

Find something you enjoy – walking (not sauntering), gentle stretches like yoga or tai-chi to music, and try to find a balance which fits in with you and is even fun.

Finally, don't stuff yourself later, or sink too many drinks, as you ponder the pandemic.

Consider this your chance to improve yourself!


* * *


MANY of us have taken up country walking during lockdown. The other day we wandered out on tracks by Marton Mere.

It reminded me of past rural outings before we'd hung up our boots and riding gear. Exploring rural Fylde brought the reward of meals in country pubs. Trouble was, our guidebook was out of date. Often paths were neglected, muddy and snared by brambles; or large threatening creatures, like boisterous bullocks, hindered our way. I have a healthy respect for anything bigger than myself.

Our most memorable outing was on Taffy, an ageing cob now at peace. He was a friend's horse we exercised weekly round rustic lanes. I'd cycle or walk part way, while She Who Knows rode, then we'd swap over halfway, just by a farm with a ferocious dog.

“Don't worry,” his owner assured us, as the Rottweiler barked and strained on his heavy chain, “if he got loose he wouldn't know what to do!” I wasn't convinced.

This day I'd cycled ahead and saw an impressive black bull at the farm, safely preoccupied with cows in the field. However, as She Who and Taff approached round a bend, the beast's nostrils twitched and he lumbered purposefully toward the fence.

By the time they'd arrived it was clear from his snorting the bull was steaming with desire, not for Taffy but She Who Knows!

I never discovered what scent she was wearing as, just then, the barking-mad dog's chain broke.

We all stared, She Who, Taffy and me, fearing the worst. But the farmer had been right. His dog halted in its tracks, dumbfounded, then quietly retreated into a kennel.

Wary of a gleam still in the bull's eyes, I urged She Who onward - not pushing our luck any further. It was time to head for comfort and safety, by the snug fireside of a village pub.



* * *


 IN lockdown I've been reading much more; mainly novels, which capture the imagination and divert the most.

When younger I read books to learn about life, from Lady Chatterley's Lover to Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game. Now I'm content with a whodunnit, preferably without too much violence and gore.

Peter Robinson pens favourite thrillers or, more lightly, Yorkshire-Mysteries maestro Roger Silverwood. I've also enjoyed espionage novelists Eric Ambler and Alan Furst, while Raymond Chandler remains the private-eye master. Among other contemporary writers, William Boyd and Douglas Kennedy are amazingly varied, well-researched and rarely disappoint.

But what continually dismays me, especially in so-called police procedurals, is the image of my profession, the media. We journos and hacks get a terrible press!

Over years, I've worked for many newspapers here and abroad; big and small, high-brow and red-top; also agencies, TV and radio. Most journalists (not all, admittedly) want to right injustice, to ease rather than cause suffering and, as best they can under pressure, maintain a professional sense of ethics.

They take pride in doing their work competently but also responsibly. Headlines are sought, yes, but not at the expense of truth or another person's well-being (unless justly deserved).

I've been personally maligned; once called 'carrion', then even 'not fit to eat out of a newspaper, let alone work on one'! On both those occasions, I – and colleagues - were righting wrongs in high places. Corruption is only painfully winkled out, for all to see then deplore.

Happily, I've also been cheerily applauded, both at work and otherwise in public, for articles some admired or were popularly appreciated. Those occasions I found embarrassing, while the insults surprised, hurt but, eventually, amused me.

These days I'm privileged to write this column, but also my own fiction. Freelance reporter Sam Stone, has romanced and thrilled us through several books now. He's my local hero, so there!


* * *


IT'S surprising how you can manage without items others find essential; or discover you really need something never previously known to you.

I'm of that generation who survived happily without television, at least for several years. At Edmonds Towers, She Who Knows routinely switches on telly just 'to brighten the room'; while I turn it to mute or sub-titles - old misery! However, we're both glad to have not used an iron for years and there's no wrinkles on us, our clothes anyway.

But Covid changes all. Just lately the internet's our best friend, from catching up with news to online shopping or emailing this column; we're both on laptops from breakfast onwards.

Now I'm wondering about 'smart' phones. We've had mobiles, cheap pay-as-you-go ones, for ages but don't often use them. They were handy when driving distances, in case of breakdowns; also to find out where each of us were, when separated.

When I first got a call, playing tennis, I had to ask a 10-year-old on the next court how to open my inbox. Even when I lost my mobile near our home, youngsters found and returned it, rather disdainfully. It was clearly of no value to them.

But in Lockdown we don't drive long distances and there's nowhere open to sneak off to on your own. So, maybe it's time to get 'smart'.

“I'm told they can cost up to three figures,” I muttered to old mate Tom.

“Well, mine was £400,” he revealed, casually swiping its touchscreen, “some are over £1,000.”

“But do you understand it?” I politely inquired.

“Do I 'eck as like!” he confessed.

With so many unknown 'apps' awaiting us, I'm taking a cautious first step – buying an idiot's guide to the diverse range of tablets and smartphones . . .

At least it's something to read, until the pub opens again.


* * *


BLIMEY, it's almost November! Still, for once at Edmonds Towers, we made the transition to British Winter Time with seasoned smoothness.

I should explain. We have copious clocks and timing devices at home, almost as many as She Who Knows has mirrors.

Perhaps it was because her old family house faced a jeweller's shop with a large clock in its window. They relied on that to check the time, letting their own timepieces stop or go wrong - odd, I know, but there you are.

To avoid the laborious winding forward over 11 hours of our own chronometer collection, I made the lazy mistake in the past of just turning them all back one hour.

Afterwards our cuckoo clock called out at unexpected intervals instead of on the quarter hour. Also, a wall clock in our hall with a different birdsong for each hour began playing them at different times – causing great confusion.

Instead of a blackbird's cheerful wake-up call at 8am, came an alarming barn owl's screech. These disturbing shrieks also startled visitors or callers at our door, like the postman, even people just phoning us.

Ah, but this year I out-foxed those birds. Instead of doing any winding or altering timing dials on various immersion and radiator controls, I stopped the clocks for an hour; halting the cuckoo's pendulum, taking out the birdsong clock's battery – along with the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom ones – then switching off plugs of relevant electrical devices.

My Operation Winter-Time began promptly at 2200 hours - much to She Who Knows' consternation. Then, at precisely 2300 (when going to bed), I ran round replacing batteries, switching on plugs and getting the cuckoo swinging again – all with perfect timing!

Happily, readers, spring isn't so far away. Hopefully, by then we'll just move clocks forward one hour – and be enjoying sunshine and better times again!


* * *


EVERY morning when I draw back our curtains I smile. It's the trees, a couple of sycamores and even taller poplar, also the lovely lilac and delicate laburnum. They're so majestic and, well, natural!

The 'back-street' behind our Victorian houses, now thankfully gated, is what's called unadopted. Consequently, saplings sprung up and were allowed to grow. They're an early sign of the seasons, as well as instant weather forecasters. Also, of course, they're a boon to wildlife, from squirrels and birds to insects that feed them and help fruit and flowers germinate and flourish.

They also remind me of my childhood. In our Manchester suburbs there were trees lining every road, avenue and street. We kids and our roaming dogs knew them all! We recognised the leaves, barks, sizes and fruits – specially 'conker' trees – and enjoyed climbing them, too. So much for health, if not safety.

The latest survey on our changing landscape reveals a welcome upsurge in tree planting. It's not only hot countries which gain from their shade and succulents. They help us breathe clean air in polluted cities and that is where the growth has come – in our busy suburbs. If anything, the 'countryside' – especially the intensely farmed part – is to blame for clearing forests.

Now salubrious districts of the South-East are leading the way with trees; while hallowed landscapes like the Lakes or Dales are short on woodland. The breezy Fylde lags behind, too, but we're catching up. Years ago the Clifton family made Lytham leafy, to improve their hall's outlook. Today councils and volunteers, like the Friends of Stanley Park and Salisbury Woodland, are doing the same wherever possible.

Householders, also, have been won over. With the pandemic lockdowns the joy of a garden is the new 'must have' for homes - and why not? Nature costs so little but gives us so much.


* * *


SO, it's change but no change – at least for Lancashire. I'm talking, of course, of the coronavirus which still hangs over us.

Remember when Corona used to make 'pop' and a virus only lasted several days? How the world can change – and yet doesn't, essentially. For while nature has its seasons there is a pattern. We've had pandemics before, far worse ones and 'plagues', yet survived.

As bouncy Boris told us Brits, yet again but with determination, the people will overcome this. What's more, here on our Irish Sea coast – for the moment - we can still go outdoors or enjoy a drink or meal. We'll just have to be a little more 'distant' and guarded than usual, like southerners!

Soon it will be British Winter Time and our days still shorter, but with brighter mornings. Probably Covid restrictions will tighten further too. It's time to settle in and settle down; to be thankful for what we have and hopeful for the future. After all, spring and next summer aren't far away - tempus fugit, especially for us old 'uns!

At the beginning of this week, during rain, I stayed inside and tidied up remote corners of Edmonds Towers. We last thoroughly spring-cleaned back in March, when all this started. The gardens will be next, for a severe sort-out before winter.

However, as I surveyed the job ahead - from behind the kitchen's glazed door with coffee in hand - I saw our little robin had returned to winter with us. The red breast is a sign of the seasons and always lifts my spirits. It speaks of cosiness and quiet cheer, amid homely winter scenes.

As Wordsworth said, we should let Nature be our teacher. Perhaps we wouldn't be in this mess, if we'd shown more respect for 'her' in the past.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said we had a narrow 'path' to walk. Let's do so together, wherever we may live in the world; in good faith and, of course, with some civilised care - and sensible compromise.


Note: Since posting the above, further restrictions have been placed upon Lancashire until Covid cases recede again. What's more, the forecast is for rain! Time, my friends, to start a new book.



* * *


AN unusual event this week, we got a dental appointment! It's several months since last being at the nearby practice, before Lockdown. They were kind enough to phone us and offer a joint check-up. Spouses are in the same 'bubble', so can be seen one after the other without a surgery needing 'deep-cleaning'.

Our dentist is highly qualified and senior but looks pleasantly youthful, with a cheerful, ready manner and, of course, perfect smile. Thanks to an insurance plan, it doesn't cost an arm and a leg for the latest treatment and technology – just, in my case, the odd tooth over years.

Still, this was only a check-up.

“If we were spraying or drilling we'd be in full, protective gear and hardly able to talk,” he explained. All I had to remember was not to touch my mouth, or my hands would need sanitising again.

He said they'd been in the surgery every day of lockdown, furloughing or altering staff rotas, dealing with emergency calls, implementing all that Covid clinical guidance.

“It now amounts to 172 pages,” the dentist groaned.

By this time I'd managed to inadvertently touch my mouth three times and had to be repeatedly resprayed. (“You're always doing that,” said She Who Knows after we left.)

What had shocked and clearly interested the dentist, from a professional point of view, was how routine problems could degenerate into horrors if left untreated too long.

“Instead of an average one emergency a day for surgery, I returned to something like 190,” he revealed. “There were broken teeth, cracked crowns and split bridges along with ulceration and boils – it was positively medieval!”

That showed the importance of regular check-ups; to treat small problems before they worsened, or detect mouth cancers. Thankfully, we have both taken dental care over the years.

We were able to leave with a relieved smile.



* * *


SO, October is here already and it feels like autumn too. What a year we've had! As a writer of novels as well as this weekly column, I'd agree that reality is stranger than fiction.

Meanwhile, the story of the pandemic is unfinished and still playing out. We're all aware of its worst results, as well as the destabilising conditions 'Lockdown' brings.

Along with this scary, science-fiction-like scenario, Covid brought new expressions into everyday life. 'Social distancing', 'shielding' and 'isolation' reflect the tone of a strained 'new normal' best represented by the face mask.

However, it isn't all grim. Lockdown came and, perhaps, sustained a long spell of good weather. It reminded us how therapeutic nature is, even if just sitting in our gardens. The air was cleared of much pollution, if not all the virus; while most homes got a thorough spring cleaning, as we had time on hands to tidy up our lives.

We might even have begun to truly appreciate those nearest and dearest, along with some simple but free pleasures – like time for quiet relaxation.

'Going forward', as politicians now say (to cover obfuscation – I've learned a few other words), what can we look forward to?

Well, for a start, many have saved money by not going on foreign holidays, or even a 'stay-cation'. Christmas, too, should be less costly or stressed than usual, though quieter or lonelier. Still, autumn and winter are natural times to hibernate in our homes; while government, through us taxpayers, has been generous assisting many unable to work or run businesses as before.

After this shared experience, it's time to take stock of what good things remain in our lives, as we look toward a New Year and more freedom and improvements.

Let's keep our heads down but also stay firm, with fresh resolution and those priceless qualities of hope and good faith.


* * *


WE were sitting in the beer garden of a popular Poulton-le-Fylde pub, me and a couple of old mates who live nearby. They had wanted to meet before stricter restrictions came in for socialising, throughout Lancashire - except Blackpool.

It seems extraordinary sleepy Knott End, for example, is in comparative lockdown (for private gatherings at home, inside or in gardens) while bustling, bawdy Blackpool isn't. However, our resort is doubly fortunate, being both a unitary local authority while, also, recording relatively low levels of Covid cases (though now rising).

I revealed to my former Gazette colleagues that not only was I lucky to live in the Blackpool district of Great Marton but, at Edmonds Towers, we also have a magic wand to wave away all those nasty virus-carrying bugs.

The ironic thing is that our battery-operated 'wand', called a 'Foldable Sterilization Wand', was - like most things today - made in China. Of course, this pandemic famously started there. However, I'm prepared to accept any compensations or deterrents they may offer. It was purchased, for £20 or so, by She Who Knows, who is also my health adviser and chief shopper.

You just open the wand and wave it closely over dodgy deliveries and so on; although not, unfortunately, upon our biggest risk – people. Its safely adapted UV-C light then zaps 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, mould and dust mites in seconds. I think it only works on hard surfaces but, there again, perhaps I could wave it at any 'hard cases' down our local pub.

Well, it all helps and I wanted to share this benefit with those unlucky to live beyond Blackpool's famous fresh air and fun. It also makes far less mess of our deliveries than previous gels, sprays and even hand wipes.

So, readers, I wave it, too, over you. May you all stay safe and happy, wherever you reside!


* * *


 “I'VE gotten three A-levels!” the schoolgirl told BBC News, amid that fuss over result algorithms. Hopefully, one wasn't English. Her Americanism rather undermined outrage at under-marking pupils.

Then I heard it again from a radio announcer who'd, 'Gotten a spider bite' in her garden. Only a squirrel digging up flowers disturbed the peace of ours, in months of Lockdown which made us appreciate nature. So much so, I looked up a poem learned at school (see 'Leisure' on this website's Poem page).

'What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare; no time to stand beneath the boughs, and stare as long as sheep or cows . . .'

I even looked up its author, W.H. Davies (pictured), as is so easy now on Google. Well, what a character he was!

I'd assumed he'd be another well-bred poet of independent means, who loafed around composing dreamy verses beneath the boughs, but not a bit of it.

Welsh William (1871-1940) was brought up in a Newport pub by his oddly clashing grandparents, a retired sea captain and his chapel-crazed Missus. Young Will was a tearaway; messing up at school after 'stealing handbags', then not knuckling down to a trade. In fact, he became a tramp – or 'supertramp', also working his Atlantic passage (several times) to north America and becoming a 'hobo' then gold 'pan-handler'.

What brought him back and set him to writing poems again was a rail accident alongside another reckless vagrant, named 'Three-Fingers' Jack, which cost our Bill a leg.

He returned to London where, now aged 52, he married a girl 30 years younger in a registry office. Then he became a hit with the arty set, living in a Cotswolds cottage and with a statue of himself erected in Monmouthshire.

Why didn't they teach me all that adventurous stuff back in school? I'd have gotten more interested in literature much earlier!


* * *


THIS week saw the dramatic exit of world number one tennis player Novak Djokovic from the American Open, with automatic disqualification for dangerous hitting of the ball.

The moody Serb had casually hit the ball behind him after a point had finished, with him losing, as he struggled in the first set of a match against dignified Spanish opponent Pablo Carreno Busta. The ball hit a female line judge in her throat, making her collapse.

There was a lengthy discussion with officials but the rule held fast; only later did Djokovic apologise earnestly. Earlier he had hit a ball violently against a side boarding, but not received a warning. You wouldn't get Roger doing that!

Hopefully, this sensational incident might make a few more humble tennis players think of something I’ve often complained about on court, what I call 'ball etiquette'. It's a regular sight on our park or club courts, a thoughtlessly hit ball between points hitting a distracted player or bystander.

When this is done in anger and the ball hit hard, it can obviously be dangerous. Many's the time such a ball has narrowly missed my head or, occasionally, connected. I even managed to hit my wife on her head with a service, when we first partnered each other. But that's another story, with a happier ending.

Watch and play that ball carefully, aware of where others are on the court, while either playing a point or just walking around. It's a good lesson in life, too!

Also, another long-term grouse, don't return balls for playing until they're needed. Wait until a player wants a ball then send them one, while they're watching and with a gentle bounce, so they can catch it. Otherwise, it's a waste of everyone's time and energy.

That's simple enough, surely? Yet even the greatest fall foul of safety-first sometimes – then must pay the price.


* * *


BIG chicks are taking over our garden. Not the flirty, short-skirted sort from back in my 20s. These are of the feathered variety, though getting bolder. We've spent so long in our garden over Lockdown, they're becoming used to us.

I can imagine a chirpy conversation in our giant ivy hedge (everything's growing wildly, with this sunshine then rain). “Those two big birds are out again! Still, they seem harmless.” Meaning me and She Who Knows, once more spending a stay-safe afternoon in the sustaining sunshine; feet up after much dead-heading, reading, drinking and snacking.

Yes, Lockdown has been very much back-to-nature with our mean streets off-limits, certainly at night - except to those restless, Virus-fearless youngsters. Our garden's been a life saver, but it's grown so much into my imagination that I'm now having dreams about it – and not all pleasant.

The other night, as I told She Who, I had a nightmare about the blackbirds. These, with the smaller species of sparrows, blue-tits, wrens and robins, all share our garden refuge.

I'd been putting out yet more fast-disappearing bird food (though their only thanks is to leave white stains all over garden furniture), when yet another cheeky, chubby blackbird chick appeared.

They're so accustomed to us now, they practically feed about our feet like park pigeons. I knocked and gestured, trying to get its attention from our kitchen-door's window, pointing out the freshly hung fat balls.

However, its watching parent misread my attentions. No doubt protecting his chick, the 'father' flew at me fiercely. I knew he hadn't realised double glazing separated us. His beak rammed into our closed door so forcefully it then began to slowly open - with madly flapping bird attached. Then I awoke, rather shaken. What does it all mean, dear readers?

Is Hichcock's Birds chiller coming to reality, or maybe Covid Trauma's setting in?


* * *


COVID has made most of us feel more vulnerable in many ways. Things taken for granted aren't there anymore. Then this week we lost our best friend in this 'new normal' – the internet.

How would we get the weather, news or catch up with friends – even email in this column, all once at the touch of a finger?

I tried the usual remedies, re-plugging cables and network connections, even the old slap on the top, but not a glimmer from our devices. There was only one thing remaining, our web master - time to reach for the Sky.

After an anxious vigil of recorded music and apologies our deliverance came, a real person from 'technical support' - Clare. She listened patiently, made remote checks, then solemnly judged, “Your hub needs replacing.”

This wasn't a surprise. As I told Clare,“My hip and knee are going the same way.” She laughed sympathetically, noting also that I was an MP.

“Well, no,” I confessed. “My shaky handwriting when originally filling in the form made my 'title' look more like MP than Mr. Ever since, you've addressed me as a Member of Parliament. My wife was delighted, thinking it got us better service.”

“Not really,” Clare assured, though clearly amused, then added gently, “I'll have to demote you, sorry.”

“I'm used to that,” I told her. “So what happens next, with wifi?”

“We'll send a new router in the post,” she promised, “won't cost you anything, despite demotion.”

Trouble was, we would have to wait up to five working days! But, no, dear readers, you have your column on time. Our hub was delivered next day and, in the blinking of an electronic eye, we're up and running again . . .

Perhaps that bit of humour with Clare helped – even more than being an MP!



* * *


THE summer's not over yet, so why not make more of our beautiful coast and its facilities?

You can also discover what first attracted She Who Knows to become my partner . . .

Blackpool's biggest tennis club is offering a one-day free pass to try out the sport, or renew your acquaintance with it. It's a great way for all the family to get healthier and make new friends. I know, I grew up with tennis, enjoyed some of the best times of my life through it and even 'courted' my wife playing it. What's more, we're still in the game and meeting new people.

South Shore Lawn Tennis Club, spread out across a rural Marton Moss setting, is having an open evening and afternoon this weekend. You and your family can come along tomorrow, weather permitting, or Saturday afternoon – and all you need are trainers.

Committee member Helen Ashworth explained, “The aim is to open our doors to locals who may be interested in looking at the facilities and, hopefully, having a game of tennis. Visitors may enjoy a game and also chat with members. Racquets and balls will be provided.”

Families are welcome at an open day for the club on Midgeland Road just by Progress Way from 1-4pm on Saturday, but visitors can also come tomorrow evening between 6-8pm, weather permitting.

Helen added, “They can get a one-day free-tennis coupon and discover just how easy it is to pick up a racquet and have fun on court! Refreshments will be available.”

The club will also be offering new members a late-season discounted membership rate.

The long-established site, where there is also croquet, has grass, shale and floodlit all-weather surfaces as well as the coast's only purpose-made indoor court – recently upgraded; along with a tennis pavilion and spacious clubhouse offering regular social and music events. Come along!


* * *


IT'S not often I queue for the barber's, being more or less retired and also follically challenged. I just pop in at quiet times. Of course, after Lockdown, even I was desperate for 'a trim and tidy-up' - as my local gent's hairdresser calls my routine cut.

So, there I was, mask on after gelling hands, writing down name and contact details while also, impressively, getting my temperature read; then waiting with others, all 'socially-distanced'. As one teen had his head partly shaved, Mohican-style, it gave me time to think how barbers have changed since I was a lad.

I never saw a pudding dish actually put on anyone's head but that's what the short-back-and-sides traditional cut looked like, all shaved around the sides and trimmed a bit on top – ugh! Then Jean-Paul's arrived in our suburb.

The pair, one bald but with a stylish beard and moustache, the other swarthy and hirsute, were Greek-Cypriots and the first foreigners to open a business locally, before the Chinese and long before Indians.

Suddenly, the 'barber's' had a continental feel, they even had pictures of 'styles' you could have and I remember people asking for 'a Tony Curtis' with a well-greased quiff. They also brought the trendy 'square-neck' look.

Later came fashionable city-centre cutters, with eye-watering prices to match.

Now, I'm afraid, I've reverted to the trim and tidy-up. The last time I tried anything different was overseas, when a very camp Chinese hairdresser asked me how I'd like it.

“Thicker would be nice,” I quipped, but he took me literally and back-combed it all. I was horrified and looked like an ageing drag artist. Across the road I rushed into a public lavatory and stuck my head in the washbasin.

Now I'm just happy to emerge clean cut and 'tidied up' (eyebrows or other unwanted hair). What's more, even She Who Knows approves.


* * *


IT was like a stroll back into halcyon times at the weekend, as we enjoyed a sunny start to August.

I'd wandered along the side of lovely Stanley Park and found a match in full swing at Blackpool Cricket Club (pictured).

It was a timeless scene, with the men and boys (or girls) in whites out on the treasured green square, that gentle echo of leather upon willow with polite applause.

What's more, two of my favourite club teams were competing, the home first XI and Lytham's finest too. On the grand clubhouse terrace, with its panoramic view, I found familiar faces, many old friends from both clubs not seen from before Lockdown.

Some had put on weight, others lost it; some had longer hair, others a fresh look; most were in good spirits although, sadly, there was disturbing news of others who weren't.

The sun shone, while the ale and menu lived up to the award-winning reputation, now with government sponsorship mid-week too.

Our lads were skittling out the opposition, I thought, then realised in the absence of my glasses I'd mixed up the teams.

Time to move on, for recent months have changed everything. Almost outside the gate, a bus was just arriving. There was only one other passenger aboard and both of us were masked,

Then, before home, came a socially distanced, quick shop around the neighbourhood supermarket, but I was still in the garden by mid-afternoon.

We've come to savour its quiet retreat, specially at weekends; relaxing under a parasol far from the madding crowd. Those simpler home pleasures of a more restful past have been rediscovered. Now we've done up both house and garden we appreciate them even more.

Hopefully, our world's still on track to a fuller recovery but, in this indefinite meantime, let's appreciate just what we do have – here at home, on our wonderful, diverse coast.

* * *
IT was nice to have a pint again in our traditional neighbourhood pub, here in Great Marton. Since Lockdown, though, it's now a different atmosphere.
There's a 'greeter' checking you in, then sanitiser, arrow-path and spaced queue, also taking of names and contacts, with directions where to sit. It's almost as though we lost a war and have been occupied. Fortunately though, this regimentation is benign and we're no longer rationed.
Worse still, was our casualty list. There were several reported 'missing' at the Saddle Inn – Blackpool's oldest pub - by leading barmaid Lou. They were popular characters who'd passed away, though not necessarily from the virus. It added to an air of solemnity. They will be remembered and missed.
Prominent among those absent was Sailor Jack, otherwise known as Miner Jack and Oldham or more accurately Tyldesley Jack. He and his retirement shipmate Little Paul had skippered the inn's 'Commons' room for a decade or two. Their doorway booth faced the TV, permanently tuned to racing. They were an institution, even getting personal service off Lou and young Ash-Leigh.
You could name any port in the world and one or both of the old salts had been there, with a stock of enjoyable tales to tell. Jack's favourite was Hong Kong, where I'd worked, so we had much to talk about, with Paul chipping in too.
Now former ex-ship's cook Paul is in hospital getting his old land legs rehabilitated; but Jack slipped away quietly at home several days ago. We never talked about his coal mining background, where he'd been severely injured in a pit collapse, but rather his proud, action-packed years before with the Royal Navy.
In those halcyon times he had clearly been Jack The Lad and he retained that charming twinkle in his eyes. We'll miss him and send our sympathy to widow Jean and their family.

* * *

NEWS of the blaze at Central Pier reminded me of enjoyable visits hobnobbing with – and even entertaining – some popular showbiz stars on our piers.
From first days here as a reporter for this paper in the 1970s, I thought it wonderful to stroll out on a pier. Usually it was North Pier, near our Victoria Street offices. I'd eat my lunchtime sandwiches amid the crash of waves and revitalising tang of sea - all enjoyed without even getting my feet wet!
The evening shows were uplifting, too, and I recall meeting the charming Linda Nolan at hers on Central Pier.
It was 'Landladies Night', when guest-house owners and hoteliers (and the Press) were invited to new shows so they could tell guests about them through the season. Linda popped my cork, with a bottle of champagne, probably as I was accompanying entertainments editor Robin Duke.
Of course, it was a different experience approaching winter.
When my parents came to visit, sometime during the Illuminations, I took them to see Cannon & Ball at the North Pier on Saturday night.
We had a bracing walk along the pier in the rain and dark, during which Mum got her high heel caught between the boards while struggling to protect her 'hair-do'. Even once inside the famed theatre, everyone in the audience kept on their overcoats as a howling 'draft' rattled round the old timber rafters.
More recently, I visited there with She Who Knows, for an end-of-pier show. Afterwards she challenged me to ride one of the carousel horses. We were the only two daft enough in late evening. However, the operator kindly started it up then, at her encouragement, racked up its speed.
As I clung on desperately, we earned some late-night applause. It came from no less than stars Hale & Pace, who'd emerged from the closed theatre to witness our 'show'.

* * *

UP in our loft there's a dusty cardboard box containing my past. There are childhood and family pictures, then photo albums from later working overseas. Their covers bear the logo, 'The Times Of Our Lives'.
But my best times weren't then. They're now, at 70-plus!
Yes, those early years were exciting with new horizons. But, upon reflection, I've never felt as free or fulfilled as now. There have been four months to think this over, while keeping a Covid diary – just published - with observations from this lifetime's experience.
While we miss friends and socialising, 'Lockdown' has made us look more closely at our lives and what matters most.
The pandemic brought untold tragedy and will long have a devastating worldwide impact. We are fortunate to have a home with garden, pensions and each other, so this sunniest of springs was spent peacefully with those closest to us.
There was less noise and air pollution, which encouraged wildlife. We were grateful for those working, but sorry for those alone, unable to earn or otherwise suffering. It made most of us more neighbourly and caring.
'Borrowed Times', sub-titled 'Beyond Three Score Years And Ten' is, hopefully, a humorous and uplifting memoir, even within this coronavirus crisis. It celebrates the treasures of life through a cartoon-illustrated collection of anecdotes, confessions and revelations. There might even be some useful advice!
The publisher's blurb reads, 'At the sunset of years life is not black. The view is glorious, with a glimmer of light upon the horizon. A veteran newspaper columnist turns his back on bad news and paints a brighter picture.' (I'll try, anyway.)
'Borrowed Times' is on Kindle or in paperbacks sponsored by the British Arts Council. It also includes some favourite columns from The Gazette (with thanks to the editor).
I hope it helps you, too, make the most of life, even in these troubled times.

* * *

“IF you want to know the weather, stick your head out the window!” advises our no-nonsense friend Margery. But we like to plan ahead, specially my wife.
The odd thing is, although we use the same online and TV forecasts, we rarely agree on what it says.
“Tuesday looks fine for tennis,” She Who Knows will assert, while I'll warn, “There could be showers, also high wind.”
Of course this will be familiar to most married couples, learning over years that husband and wife have different recollections of the same conversation or event. No wonder courts frown upon testimony from spouses, even the defence!
It's like a pal of mine pulled over for speeding. He'd just been reprimanded by the officer, acted contritely and seemed about to be pardoned for his singular offence. Then his wife popped her head into the squad car eager to join in the conversation, adding, “I'm always telling him he drives too fast!”
But that's another story. This one, however, also ends with the man in the wrong. She Who Knows once again proved she deserves that title.
The other day we were both eagerly awaiting the TV forecast, as nowadays weather interests us far more than news, when our regional map appeared with symbols.
“Oh dear, rain!” she exclaimed. “But not for us,” I objected.
“Where do you think we are on this map?” she demanded, rising and approaching the screen.
“Just above Liverpool,” I declared, offended.
“No, we're up here!” she cried triumphantly, pointing closer to Lancaster. It was a good inch higher than where I've always looked.
“Here's the Ribble at Lytham, just south of us,” she went on, finger tapping screen.
Who could deny it? I'd been wrong all these years!
Now I wonder about those other conversations she always remembered wrongly . . .

* * *

“I'VE got a hairdresser's appointment!” She Who Knows exclaimed, bursting joyously into my quiet study at Edmonds Towers the other day.
It had been rare rainy weather during our usually sunny Lockdown, so we were both busy inside.
Now she could look forward to a professional makeover on her 'barnet', which has grown bounteously. (Though She Who's done a grand job home-coiffuring – while saving money too!)
My feeble locks have also grown, but more like fluff down the back of my neck. Neither am I sure when the barber's here might open again, probably the same time as the pub opposite, Blackpool's oldest, the Saddle Inn.

Will they be the same though? Clearly not. My usual few words with the barber could be muted by face masks. As for the pub, or our other 'locals' here – the Number 10 Alehouse and Boar's Head – we should be keeping our recommended distance.
Must we order drinks via mobile phones? Oldies find them fiddly to operate, specially when wearing Covid rubber gloves. Sitting outside might be okay – or inside within metre-wide 'bubbles', but that sounds rather unsociable. Besides, you just know the weather will put a dampener upon us. It's called Sod's Law.
Gone are the old days when we shouted at the bar in our locals' code – “A chicken, a tiger and a couple of hamsters, luv!” (Translates as, a pint of Speckled Hen, one of Everards' Tiger and two Hamlet cigars.) Probably we mustn't say 'luv' either.
Neither should I joke with the barber if asked, “How do you want it?”, by answering, “Thicker would be nice!” The last time I tried that, a camp city hairdresser back-combed it and I looked like an ageing drag act. Sorry, that all sounds very un-PC too.
She Who Knows suggests a permanent face mask could be my 'new normal'.

* * *

IT was midsummer yesterday but our blackbird was still singing from dawn 'til dusk. He's also helped four fledglings grow and spread their wings from Edmonds Towers.
Nearby trees have spread and our garden flourished. We've also sparrows, blue-tits and a wren; even the robin stayed.
Then there's a curly beaked toucan, even a golden eagle – but they're plastic. Also in the menagerie are geese, ducks, a giant toad and red squirrel – all stone.
After ruthless spring-cleaning, She Who Knows is re-floating the economy by spending Sunak-style at the nearby (and dearest) garden centre. We boast a bountiful hanging basket and have potted our new annuals and re-homed bushes into giant pots – our Lavatera's recovering from manhandling by its roots.
There's a new trellis planter with yellow and pink roses; honeysuckle hanging with bluish-purple wisteria (artificial) round our new arch; then exotic crimson climbers (plastic) among our oleander.
I've arranged parasols and chairs (including the now terracotta-painted rocker) to catch the sun or avoid wind, depending on weather and time of day. We move position through afternoon from raised lawn (artificial) to sheltered patio.
It's like a South Sea Island paradise, this little corner of Eden; most pleasant to sit and read, or enjoy snacks, drinks, even ice-lollies.
Friends are doing the same. One former editor from this paper emailed to say, as they're now unable to visit National Trust gardens, his wife is busily turning their own into one.
When everyone's back working or at school, for the remaining summer we now less vulnerable 'oldies' can turn over a new leaf. As well as welcoming 'open' signs at restaurants, theatres and pubs, we'll admire each others' gardens.
Amid abundant nature, we can share afternoon teas and revive those nostalgic, sunny days of Lockdown. Then, as evening shadows gather, raise a toast to everyone enjoying life fully once more, safely together.

* * *

OH MAMMA! As this newspaper rightly said, it felt like the end of an era to hear at the weekend Blackpool's most popular Italian restaurant was up for sale.
Mamma's was an institution on Topping Street, the road regarded as the last frontier for locals before entering tourist-land central in the resort's nightlife.
Its cheering style and atmosphere seduced us away from the Yorkshire Fisheries up the road, with the creamiest of lasagne accompanied by carafes of romantic chianti and roses (plastic perhaps) upon gingham cloths over simple tables with an artfully maintained Italian-village feel.
Those ebullient Italian waiters also helped, of course, with their lively, dramatic manner, flattery and flirting; also the relaxing background music – and, naturally, those reasonable prices.
How often She Who Knows and I walked expectantly along its aromatic entrance corridor, where the owner received all-comers at his cashier command post.
From that dais he overlooked both the cosy bar come waiting area then also the spacious, split-level dining room. It worked like a treat, always buzzing but also reliable. Thinking of Mamma's reminded me of other nearby eateries we favoured over the years. Da Vinci, close by in King Street, regarded itself as a cut above other Italians, with its white linen tablecloths and murals of Venice and Florence.
“What competition?” its owner once asked me, bemoaning the rise of the pizzeria, “the others are all bread factories!”
She Who Knows and myself came to favour another Topping Street landmark, Casanova's, as it was usually less busy than Mamma's and genial owner Paulo flambéed us up tasty Crêpes Suzette for post-theatre suppers.
Paulo still has a home in Blackpool and is often seen strolling amiably through Great Marton, or crown-green bowling nearby. He used to draw the theatrical stars to his cosy ristorante, after their shows, and fondly remembers those good times.
So do we – and thank them all - Grazzie!

* * *

THE window cleaner looked impressed. “Off to play tennis?” he inquired, when I answered his knock and paid for our regular clean. I was wearing tell-tale shorts and sports top, plus he knew we'd been keen players – before 'lockdown'.

“Tried it myself, with a mate,” he told me, confessing, “Our squash club's closed, but we could crawl through a gap in the fence to a tennis court. Difficult game,” he acknowledged, shaking his head, “but I enjoyed it – going to make it my new thing!”
I encouraged him with a few veteran tips: watch the ball, move your feet and start your swing before it bounces; keep your head still and down, or up when serving and smashing. There are plenty more, but he'll enjoy learning.
Thankfully, we got out in the sunshine ourselves, now restrictions are being eased. At South Shore Lawn Tennis Club there was also the clunk of croquet balls and it was cheering to see newly mown grass courts proving popular. Our long dry spell has hardened the turf, though it is still springy underfoot, so providing better bounce while still being gentler on aged joints than unforgiving, man-made surfaces.
Usually, at this time of year, we'd be visiting Ilkley, where there's an excellent pro-tournament week in the build-up to Wimbledon. Those events are, of course, sadly lost in 2020 – like so much else – but we were happy to stay local and 'groove' our shots with a gentle practice.
We also took along chairs and drinks, to relax from time to time in the rural Marton Moss setting - while watching others build up a sweat. Soon we'll be doing the same at leafy Lytham, with its many grass and carpet courts – another favourite Fylde-coast amenity.
Why don't you come along? Soon even the club bars may open again!

* * *

ON my birthday last week, while considering breakfast, I was reminded of some bizarre early-morning feasts during an extraordinary holiday tour, almost 40 years ago to the day.
It was through China,which was just opening up following Mao’s death. We Westerners, a mix of tourists, business types and missionaries, were stared at as though from Outer Space.
All Chinese wore blue or green denim 'Mao suits' with rubber shoes. When daring to approach us, they would closely study our leather-ware, clothing and touch our lighter hair.
The most memorable experiences came in Shanghai. In 1980 there was little high-rise redevelopment and the town-centre, or Bund, and Yangtze reminded me of Manchester and the Mersey. The crowds were huge and their friendliness humbling, specially as our Soviet-style hotel was by the city's former British park - once bearing that infamous sign, 'No dogs or Chinese'.
Our hotel, however, didn't know what to give us for breakfast, when Chinese simply ate rice porridge. Imagine our surprise, on the first morning, when silver platters revealed sausage, mash and gravy. Very tasty, even at 8am! Next morning our anticipation for more surprises wasn't disappointed – with a platter of jam and cream cakes to start the day.
But our evening out in Shanghai sticks most in my mind. Our tour bus motored to the opera house along unlit roads packed with night-shift cyclists. Then we were directed through a separate entrance and upstairs to emerge on the dress circle.
The orchestra was warming up for a classical concert but halted as we took our seats. Everyone turned and stared at us. Then the conductor struck up his musicians – to play Roll Out The Barrel, Pack Up Your Troubles and other wartime British hits, which we were encouraged to sing along to loudly, then enthusiastically applauded.
What a hearty welcome! It's uplifting to remember - even in today's changed world.

* * *

IT'S my birthday today but this column was written before then. At the time, I'd been glancing over BBC's internet news on a sunny morning hoping for something uplifting - and there it was!
Old soldier Captain Tom was getting a knighthood. That seemed a trifle sentimental at first. However, the cheerful centenarian raised more than £32million for NHS charity and boosted our nation's spirits.
PM Boris nominated the honour and described honorary colonel and now Captain Sir Thomas Moore as, “A beacon of light in the fog of coronavirus.”
Reading this in our Great Marton lockdown bunker, I brought a cuppa to She Who Knows and said cheerily, “There's some good news at last!”
After hearing what it was, she complained, “Oh, I thought you were going to say, 'Hairdressers are being allowed to open'.”
I praised her home coiffuring and longer hair, to reassure her, then wandered off to think of others be-knighted. Lots of us may consider certain pop singers and relatively young sports stars haven't really earned that high honour, just doing what they get well paid for. Sir Cliff, of course, is an exception - being another 'beacon' and national treasure.
Then I remembered the 1967 news footage of ageing, round-the-world sailor Francis Chichester, staggering up Greenwich harbour steps from tiny Gypsy Moth. He was knighted with a sword there by Her Majesty, before cheering crowds. That made us proud!
Back to my birthday and there's still no news of even modest personal honours for moi, despite these upbeat despatches every week and a shelf-full of inspiring books too! Still, I'm not down-hearted; who knows, in another decade or two?
Meanwhile, I'll remain a beacon for family and friends and, of course, you dear readers.
Let's just hope our meeting places will be safe to re-open soon, so we can all spread some cheer there too!

* * *

THE strange quiet of Covid life reminds me of walking down Fleet Street, years ago, then turning into sheltered cloisters of the Inns of Court; stepping from noise and congestion into landscaped peace and birdsong.
Back then, No.10 Downing Street wasn't the gated fortress where today's Coronavirus briefings are televised. (Notice, too, how their carpet looks like the virus, with clusters of red balls sprouting blue spikes!)
Experts there field questions and repeatedly use today's buzz phrase “going forward”. One adviser used it twice in one sentence of his uncertain assurances. The persistent media questioning and criticism can seem equally trying, when we're all much in the dark, struggling on for the best.
Of course, sadly the consequences have been tragic and ruinous for many - but also unifying. Now we're more hopeful and can see some light ahead.

In some ways, it'll seem a shame for roads to be packed with cars and less wildlife abounding. Even the sky has been clearer at night and bluer during the day while, of course, making the air we breathe healthier. Perhaps we can recover down a Greener route.
Let's hope, too, our over-stretched hospitals, care homes and valiant staff get the best possible support in future – as many of us will need them again.
Going forward, I might impishly suggest reversing recent well-meaning but clearly ageist rules, by limiting gatherings for all aged under 70. Give our restless young an hour's brisk exercise daily or to shop for necessities, other than fashion, electronics or drugs.
After all, those below retirement age should be working longer and harder, to get our poor country – and pension investments – back on track.
Such a healthy regime would be beneficial for both them and their young families so, going forward, they can all reach retirement age themselves . . .
Then do just what they fancy!

* * *

BELIEVE it or not, there have been some extremely exciting times during our long 'Lockdown', here in Great Marton.
I've narrowly evaded ruthless enemy agents, while journeying across Europe from exotic Istanbul; then I escaped from a sex-maniac wife deep in Australia's roasting Outback, while later enjoying the high - and low - life of Hollywood's heyday.
This was all, of course, through reading, both more widely and adventurously (after gardening, spring-cleaning and DIY duties).
The Hollywood scenes came from 'The Ragman's Son', a full-on, bravely revealing but also amusing autobiography by Kirk Douglas.
It was detective-mystery author Peter Robinson (in one of his books) who helped me discover '40s thriller writer Eric Ambler, whom I've just finished two excellent books by. Then She Who Knows put me on to more recent author Douglas Kennedy (Outback odyssey in 'The Dead Heart').
Ambler (who wrote screenplay for 'The Cruel Sea') was a Londoner, while Kennedy is an American but also a well-travelled Anglophile. However, my most regular reads have come from Peter Robinson (DCI Banks series) and, a recent discovery, Roger Silverwood (Yorkshire murder mysteries). They're both based in Yorkshire but, at least, the TV version of DCI Banks is Lytham-born actor Stephen Tompkinson.
I'm trying to redress this Pennines imbalance by my own handsome but dangerous, Fylde-based investigator of murder and mystery Sam Stone (seventh book on the way). Just published though, is another novel of mine on Kindle and in paperback, about a St Annes bookseller ensnared in sensational global affairs – and risky romance.
What's the title, I hear you demand! It's 'The Lost Hero' and could help you find your own hero in these troubled times. In a period when we all look deeper into ourselves than usual, it's beneficial to share fictional drama, romance and adventure, while also 'staying safe' at home.
Happy reading to you all!

* * *

AH, the darling buds of May and my birthday month – although not so merry with our continuing lockdown. But we're still here and okay, so let's not mope!
I'm writing this in my de-cluttered 'study', our over-flow back bedroom. It's the morning of – well, in Covid-times it doesn't matter but at least the sun's shining.
This week is our eighth in lockdown and, as it's not my weekly shop round the corner at Tesco Express, I'll share 'a day in the life of' myself and She Who Knows.
Great thing about working from home is I can write on a laptop upstairs wearing pyjamas and dressing gown then, around 9.30am-ish, nip back into bed with She Who and our breakfast tray of toast (or rolls or hot-cross buns), marmalade (occasionally peanut butter) and tea.
Afterwards I return to writing, broken by mid-morning exercises to uplifting music, and She Who Knows to her hallowed Daily Mail. After elevenses' biscuits, lunch-times edge towards 1.30pm: with a sandwich or 'some-ut on toast', often eggs, then a cake slice “just to change the taste”, as She Who says.
Afternoons are spent sitting in the garden after any remaining spring-cleaning indoors and assuming it's clement. Our spruced-up garden's flowering with bluebells and poppies (plus a few dandelions for further 'colour'), but patio pots and wall-hangers remain empty of annuals - still yet to emerge in-store.
I'm reading the inspiring life story of Kirk Douglas, 'The Ragman's Son'; while She Who Knows is into her fourth Douglas Kennedy novel.
After mid-afternoon iced lollies, my 'beer o'clock' is 4.30, with a pint of canned Speckled Hen. Then She Who Knows takes charge of the kitchen and, also now inside, I pour the first red wine – then it's Talking Pictures on telly.
Well, it gets us by . . . cheers to you all!

* * *

MANY readers will recall mentions here of my mother-in-law Wynne. Sadly she has passed away from pneumonia but, mercifully, while asleep in the care of family.
To me, Wynne Booker was also an interesting older friend who, though 96, remained bright. “How are you?” I'd ask, entering her home for a wide-ranging afternoon chat.
“Awful,” Wynne would confess but add, “Still, I mustn't be a moaning Minnie,” then she'd smile and inquire, “Is it too early, do you think, for a glass of wine?”
If I complimented her appearance, she'd wryly respond, “Thank you, dear, it just takes longer these days.”
Wynne worked in banking then local government; she brought up two lovely daughters and then travelled widely with her late husband, a gifted musician. While Jack tinkled the ivories, Wynne was social hostess for premier cruise ships and hotels round the world.
Her mind remained sharp and she was supportive, with shrewd observations on my books (she wrote an award-winning TV play herself). Above all, she was fun! Even at bridge she injected humour, to the relief of an inexperienced partner (me).
If reminiscing upon her colourful travels, Wynne rarely name-dropped but might recall remote places where she and Jack motored out to and then picnicked. It gave a charming picture of happy years in a quieter world, although she still took an intense interest in today's events.
Wynne always proudly championed her adopted home of Blackpool. She supported its Grand Theatre, nearby Stanley Park and helped conserve the resort's history.
Sadly, under emergency laws and health guidelines, there cannot be the send-off Wynne deserved; no packed funeral nor service, not even condolence cards - please.
(Ironically, Wynne was often anxious about funeral arrangements and pressures they'd place on her daughters, so perhaps might not have minded so much. She even considered leaving her body to medical science, but found that was more complicated than you'd expect.)
Family and friends will celebrate her 'long life well lived' at a later date.
For now, we raise a glass at home, salute Wynne and pray she rests in peace - although, more likely, she's making sweet music with long-missed Jack.

* * *

LOTS of time to ponder these days, while contemplating spring-cleaning, weeding or painting garden furniture in the sunshine, or later while sipping a pint of Speckled Hen.
By then I'm usually sat opposite our little 'shed', once also my wine/beer 'cellar' but currently full of implements and cushions for our now much-used cottage-style garden. (I only tend to drink red wine these days, so that's better kept in our dining-room rack; while She Who Knows likes her rosé fridge-chilled.)
Anyway, there's a small hole in the bottom of my shed door and quite a story to that . . . as you're going nowhere.
Ages ago it was used (and probably gnawed) by a vole, which I enjoyed watching run out for titbits and even climb a bird feeder as tall to it as Blackpool Tower to us.
But then, to my horror, the vole morphed into a rodent of several inches length – quite alarming, specially if seen by She Who!
I learned it was, hopefully, a fully fledged field mouse, then managed to trap it – humanely – and 'rehome' the rascal in neighbouring wasteland, a suitable distance away.
That was months ago. However now, during this long virus-shutdown, I've spotted something else using the hole – bumble bees.
Yes, it seems we may have a nest somewhere in there. Still, I read that this should make us feel lucky rather than anxious. Apparently, bees don't swarm. In fact, most are males without a sting and the nest is abandoned after a few months.
So, She Who reluctantly agreed, it's staying for now. Our first inclination had been to disinfect then block up hole. However, I'm learning to respect the natural world and our place in it, as I now observe, consider and learn.
What's more, if everyone did that, then I doubt we'd be in this fearful mess!

* * *

DURING 'shutdown' in our Blackpool bunker, there's plenty of time to mull over life and our current affair – for there's only one in the news. It's interesting how diverse nations handle this dire dilemma, but their leaders only reflect their history and culture.
It made me think through our prime ministers. I've lived under perhaps a dozen but only a handful made a lasting impression.
The first was Winston Churchill, old warrior seen on black and white telly through the eyes of a child: bald, bent codger in dressing gown on his birthday, smoking a cigar – extraordinary!
Next 'great man' was peaceful Harold Macmillan, dignified and calm. In a crisis he might raise a thick, grey eyebrow but, most likely, be going to the races. What reassuring style and aplomb.
But this isn't party politics, just those I instinctively trusted, admired or, at least, rather liked.
The next coming to mind would be Harold Wilson, canny Yorkshireman smoking pipe (although really preferring cigars). As my Labour-voting father observed, “You can knock him down but he just bounces up again!”
More recently, I'd warm to John Major who seemed more 'ordinary' and intrinsically decent, though probably - being from a circus family - used to turning somersaults and quite different to how he appeared. At least he didn't step from a privileged background or Oxbridge brains trust. We could relate to him.
Of course, events may make a disaster of the best, well-meaning men, or women. Mrs Thatcher appeared soundly sensible at first but that hairstyle and manner warned of unshakeable sternness to come. I'd probably not get along with any of them, even those admired.
Much to my surprise, if pressed to pick one as temporary companion, my vote would be for boisterous Boris. He's got some bounce! May his salvation prove to be our own.

* * *

LAST week I compared our present social 'shutdown' with the far worse war years of our forebears, which reminded me of boyhood days. Although a child of the post-war 1950s, there was still rationing, bomb-sites and a stronger sense of community than now. I'd like to share some vague, very early memories before even school years.
We moved into a new council house, in Valley Road, Flixton, nowadays part of Trafford but then a leafy suburb of Manchester. I can't remember where our family – Mum, Dad, older brother Mike and little me – had been before, but somewhere rented and problematic I think. My mother was excited about the new house's modern conveniences and heating, with gardens front and back.
It was the back garden I remember, since to me it was very long and stretched down to fencing then fields, beyond which was the mighty Manchester Ship Canal no less. Huge ships from all around the world sailed sedately and magnificently along it, towering over our gardens, displaying their different flags. They were so close the diverse crew on deck would wave back to me where I stood staring from the garden.
At night and in the regular fogs we had then, I would hear their funnel hoots from my bedroom, especially at New Year when I was awoken at midnight by their celebratory tooting. It made me feel that all the world was close and friendly. I still do, for the most part.
We were there only a couple of years before taking over grandmother's house in nearby Urmston – which we all loved. But when, many years later, I returned to Valley Road it stunned me that its green where I'd played was so small and the ship canal deserted.
Still, those plaintive hoots and kindly waves stay with me, sustaining hope and faith in our future. 

(All the best to you on this eerily quiet yet poignant Good Friday.)

* * *

WE'RE all going through a historic disaster which has shaken our domestic, social and working lives to the core. Yet, there have been much worse in living memory, so let's not panic or over-dramatise.
Our grandparents and, in many cases, parents faced going to war, not just staying at home; also it was for years rather than, as we fear, months. They, too, queued for food but for far longer in terms of numbers and time, with rationing going beyond war years. No, they didn't have to 'social distance', but they had the nightly blackout we can scarcely imagine. Also, those staying at home were bombed!
Let's hope our shared dilemma creates a similar sense of communal unity, responsibility and awareness. That, certainly, wouldn't do us any harm and goes for nations too.
Even after the war, my own parents didn't get out at night much for almost 20 years. After feeding and clothing us children they didn't have any money. By comparison, we post-war generations have enjoyed charmed lives. There is time on our hands now to ponder that and be grateful.
I also felt historic upon hearing Manchester Central, formerly G-Mex, was to be a coronavirus hospital, remembering it still earlier when a rail station. From Urmston I commuted daily to the city in a packed guard's van. Still earlier, I remember steam trains filling the vaulted, glazed roof with their clouds, the noise, the excitement . . then there was the music.
As a teen I saw greats such as Count Basie, Simon & Garfunkle and Bob Dylan at the neighbouring Free Trade Hall. Afterwards came a pint at Cox's Bar, opposite Central, much used by railway workers and the Hallé Orchestra in work intervals. There was also a mynah bird there which mimicked patrons' calls.
“Keep your peckers up!” I hear it now caw.

* * *

AS the dark cloud of pandemic remains over us all, at least our weather has improved. The sun is shining and British summertime arrives.
Edmonds Towers is getting a gradual (very) spring clean; so is its garden, where we've hoisted our summer parasol like a gallant flag. I even saw our ivy-hedge robin again, always a good omen.
There's been hardship for all with this dramatic, even disastrous change in daily lives. She Who Knows was suffering an arthritis flare-up and so very vulnerable. Fortunately her trusty, old retainer (me) remains in reasonable health, thanks to a homely diet, in-house exercise and drinking less since nearby pubs closed.
Apart from my grocery shopping we've stayed at home, while sending best wishes to indomitable mother-in-law Wynne, recovering from pneumonia in a respite centre.
'Social distancing' needn't mean being out of touch with everyone. Social media helps, plus phone calls and notes, even occasional chats to neighbours over fences. Most importantly, we needn't be distanced spiritually. This is a time to unite us, perhaps rediscovering what's at the heart of our lives.
I've been reading more and enjoyed a poem which advocated remembering all our good things in the day, as we go to sleep at night – so as to hold on to and awaken to them. In my case this would be watching someone loved at last recovering from ill health; but also smaller triumphs, like seeing the garden, or a corner of our home, looking more cared for after a tidy up.
Then there's the joy of reading others' stories, biography or fiction - which isn't just 'made up', by the way. Instead these come from another's experience, thoughts and sentiments, bringing us all closer together – across the world and even through time.
All these good things remind us we're fortunate and never truly alone.

* * *

DON'T despair, it was the first day of spring on Friday (March 20); the season of fresh beginnings. Even our weather now feels like spring!
Yes, these are worrying times; some are panicking, adding to shortages, and most of us have fears or concerns. That's only natural but let's hold on to common sense and keep the faith.
When illness is about, it's sensible to avoid crowds and, as always, keep ourselves clean, while helping others and being good neighbours. For those lucky enough to be retired, it makes sense, too, not to swell crowds. Let those who still must work get around at busy commuting times.
For what better season to be at home, in your garden in spring sunshine? As the poet said, 'We're nearer God's heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.' 
Nature holds the key to our health and happiness; the food we eat; the way we live, how we treat ourselves. Mankind has advanced dramatically, life is easier and better for most, but we must respect that balance with the natural world around us - or pay a terrible price. What we sow we reap, it was said, and that goes for planting too.

I read in a magazine that the 20,000 leaves of a mature oak release enough oxygen into our atmosphere for the needs of half a dozen people. Trees also lessen storm disasters, preventing ground saturation. A large tree can suck up 500 litres of water a day, through roots to leaves, enriching and binding the soil while drying land and offsetting floods.
Reforestation in the Sahara has apparently rehabilitated five million hectares of desert, now producing 500,000 tons of food a year. There's nature at work for you; also offering shelter, shade, sweet fruits and lifting our spirits too! With the end of winter our blossoming trees are a sign of hope.
The good book had another tip for us too, as told to that multitude on the mount: 'Think not of tomorrow, for tomorrow shall bring thoughts for all its own things.' We must be patient.

* * *

AT the weekend we took a short drive to the theatre and a long ride back in time.
We were visiting the Lowther at Lytham. (Please, don't change this cosy theatre, we love it as it is - and the café!)
Again it was packed, with a mostly grey-haired audience but also exuberant younger 'uns. (Must they stand up, wave phones and whoop?) We were happy sitting, after toasted meal and with plastic wine glass in hand, to relive 'The Magic of Motown'.
Standing In The Shadows Of Love, Tears Of A Clown, Dancing In The Street, The Grapevine, Baby Love . . . it was all there from this tribute band.
Those dance rhythms, sexy voices and romantic songs had haunted our teens, with things we knew little about but desperately fancied trying. Drop us in real 1960s down-town Detroit and we'd have run a mile!
Instead we had played those hit singles on record players in suburban-home bedrooms; wearing waisted shirts and flared trousers, while practising dance moves. Come weekend, I'd splash on my Brut body lotion (and still do) then, with an equally spruced-up mate, catch a bus into town.
There we'd join the 'cattle market' of males, standing by a dance-floor trying to look 'cool', watching mini-skirted girls gyrate round their handbags - studiously ignoring us.
When we finally built up courage to ask for a dance they'd politely oblige, shrugging at our shouted jokes and questions drowned by disco music. Then, with a discreet nod to their friend, they'd tell us, “Thank you,” and depart. (Most of us met eventual girlfriends at work, or local youth clubs.)
At the Lowther we relived those wistful days. How thrilling it all seemed! Still, the party's not over yet. Tonight 'Tina Turner' is there. We'll be pushing back the city limits of Nutbush - wherever that was!

* * *

THERE'S a spring in my step, lifted by our emergence from what seems the warmest winter yet. Yes, I know we've had gales, sleet and, for many unfortunates, desperate flooding, but I've barely got to wear my chunkier sweaters, let alone heavy boots.
Being retired, except for this column and occasional books, I was hoping for snow – always delightfully picturesque, when you don't have to work! Oh to sit, warm drink to hand, watching a plucky robin in your Christmas-scene garden.
Still, I'll settle for the bright show of daffodils, tulips and crocuses which now abound. Sunshine also eases geriatric aches which worsen in cold. Summer sports may be a while off, but I keep the fight for fitness with tai-chi stretches and physio routines against arthritis.
One book on the way is a look at life after 70. In dark humour it's entitled 'Borrowed Times'. But, thankfully, we're now pushing back those allotted biblical boundaries of three score years and 10. As I write this I'm in a tracksuit after a brisk walk, while my personal health adviser – She Who Knows – is at her yoga class. Later we're heading out to an afternoon dance . . . yes, it's all go, here at Edmonds Towers!
In my head, you see, I'm barely past 40. It's just those caring comments from others which can surprise and unsettle me.
“Would you like my seat?” offered a polite schoolgirl on a bus the other day. I obliged, simply to encourage her good manners.
Similarly, my dentist always asks nowadays if my medication has changed . (No, I don't take any!) Then they solicitously inquire if it's all right to slowly lower the chair backwards worried, no doubt, I'll get a dizzy spell . . .
They mean well, of course, but don't they know - I'm still a youngster at heart!

* * *

 Meet another colourful personality from Blackpool, jovial barmaid Jess . . .

FANCY a lively night out? Perhaps some city 'gig' appeals, or trendy Lytham wine bars, even a wild revel round Blackpool's clubland?
I asked the barmaid at Blackpool's award-winning micro-pub, the Number 10 Ale House, where she went for an adventurous evening out.
Jess flashed her eyelashes in shock, then said, “Where else, South Shore of course!”
The lively blonde adores its diverse entertainment spots, while also a loyal patron of local beauty and tattoo parlours.
How times change! When I returned to Blackpool in the 80s, the Gazette accommodated me above a Bond Street newsagent's. Unfortunately, it was after the season finished and most of South Shore closed - for the locals' own holidays in Spain. My first night in this then run-down area, I visited a pub in York Street. It was aptly named The Gauntlet, now also closed, but after a tired pie I left immediately - when a fight broke out.
More recently, we've enjoyed restaurants and café bars around Highfield Road, but Jess can't get enough of South Shore's bright lights. She exudes the holiday-coast spirit and believes in having fun.
“Forget 'Dry January',” she encouraged a moping customer last month. “it's too cold and miserable as it is! New year resolutions are better left 'til later.”
Thankfully, her appetite for life shows no sign of flagging. “I enjoyed a bacon barm for lunch” she confessed the other day, “but fancied a cake to finish. Unfortunately, they only had family-sized. Still, I only ate half of it.”
May kindly Jess long enjoy having her cake and eating it. With an all-year tan and matching sunny disposition, ready smile and vivacious style, she's a cheery champion for this holiday coast.
What's more, have you heard which town offers the freshest air in England? Yes, it's official - South Shore, of course.

* * *

This week's column in The Gazette was pulled just before publication to make way for an interesting 'vox pop' of public views on new attractions to our diverse holiday coast. I'd written about a popular barmaid at a local hostelry, here in Great Marton, who always supported her own district of Blackpool and the Fylde, as Lancashire's Irish Sea coast is named. Anyway, that or similar might appear in next week's paper. In the meantime, it inspired me to write about the coast we both love.

WHEN I first came to Blackpool, back in the late 1970s, I thought it all like outsiders see it - a brash, seven-mile stretch of seaside entertainments, some as saucy as those old seaside postcards, all 'close to the knuckle' so to speak and also quick to grab your hard-earned money.
Soon I learned all of its districts and neighbouring towns were very different, although many of these became wealthy off Blackpool's plump, fun-loving back. In those days, there was fishing town Fleetwood; sleepy shrimping port Lytham; sedate St. Annes and in-between suburbs like Ansdell, Fairhaven, Thornton and busy Cleveleys - all with their special charm and market towns and villages in the rolling countryside.
What more could you ask for, with the Lakes on your doorstep too? Many couldn't believe it when I later chose to return, then marry and stay here, after living first in London, then Hong Kong and later Sydney.
I couldn't forget that first surprise drive to work at the Gazette, then sited just in the shadow of Blackpool's famous Tower, and seeing a line of elephants trunk-to-tail crossing the Promenade dual carriageway and tram tracks to go on the beach. You were closer to the wildlife than in Africa! They were from the Tower Circus and if you walked behind the Tower in Bank Hey Street you could have been in Rome, ancient Rome that is. The intensely acrid smell of lion urine came up from the cages below, rather as they must have in the old Coliseum to worried Christians.
Everyone who was anyone came to Blackpool and, even away from the Prom or 'Golden Mile' of seaside entertainment and attractions, there is still the same alluring mix of stardust, sawdust and, of course, sand. It always attracted a great diversity of characters to live here, too. I touched upon all this in my humorous memoir 'Bright Lights & Pig Rustling', then in the popular 'Sam Stone investigates' series of thrillers.
Personally, I enjoy the coast's oldest district of Great Marton, where we have some of the oldest and newest hostelries and, still, a lively village atmosphere. I tried to express that in a Victorian period mystery entitled '50 Shades of Bass', while also capturing some of its characters in my dedication to my 'local' and Blackpool's oldest pub in 'Saddle Up!'.
But at our newest hostelry in Great Marton, the Number 10 Ale House micro-pub, barmaid Jess is a champion of Blackpool's South Shore district. This area has all the old seaside sauciness, just like Jess herself. But with her extravagent eyelashes, all-year-round tan, stunning blonde hair and vivacious personality, she also reflects it latest bright lights too.
And, what's more important, like most of us here on this friendly coast, she's a fun-loving person with as big an appetite for life as she has for cakes. Jess does have her cake - and eats it!
Hopefully, you'll hear more about South Shore's blonde bombshell in next week's Gazette column.

* * *

February might still be very chilly, and stormy here, but Valentine's Day adds a warming touch . . . 

COME on, you romantics, it's Valentine's Day! That's a date all women should enjoy and She Who Knows (“I'm only a girl,” she says) is no exception.
Back on our first Valentine's evening together, many years ago but still fondly remembered, I was impressed by a whole row of cards she had on display. Only later did I learn these had been saved over years - then put out to keep me keen.
Today we still exchange cards and keep them, too, often putting them up on display again to cheer up these grey winter months. There will also be chocolates and roses – from me to her, of course.
Rightly, these days, every effort is made for equal rights to the sexes. However, that doesn't mean we're just the same. Vive la différence, I say.
Busy young mums or any lady (and I use the term deliberately) appreciate being treated, well, like a lady. Also, what warm-blooded male doesn't get a buzz out of showing some chivalry in that direction?
The other day I was just fixing new light-bulbs for my aged mother-in-law and basked in the glow of her heartfelt thanks. What's more, I complimented her on some tartan slacks she was wearing and she simpered like a flattered, young thing.
'Manners makyth man' was my school motto, while some harmless flirting also helps the world go round.
Incidentally, we don't tend to go out for meals now on Valentine's – I take on the job myself. These days my dinner suit is a bit too tight to wear but, then, it is only the two of us dining.
What's the meal? Well, you can't beat that old, winning recipe to cheer the heart: prawn cocktail, fillet steak (with rich sauce) and something darkly delicious and sweet to follow . . . with some bubbly, of course, to add that sparkle!

* * *

WE'VE been reminiscing and might go back to playing squash,” one of two old pals informed me over drinks at the weekend. “We've got the gear, I just need shorts,” he added, “36 inch waist.”
Even lads earwigging on the next table laughed. He might wear that size trousers, under his paunch, but his waist past 36 the same year he had.
Still, they were trying to get fitter. I advised against a slow 'yellow-spot' ball, as they'd get knackered just warming up. A beginners' blue, or a red one were preferable.
I hadn't played since pulling a leg muscle for the umpteenth time in my 30s. “Don't tell me,” my GP said wryly back then, after hearing it was sustained at the squash club (the Breck, Poulton), “they rang last orders and you got off your barstool too quickly!”
He added, “My surgery's full of old squash players.”
Yet it was at that club I witnessed our dynamic coach (Stuart Baron, I think) thrashed in a match by a portly, elderly Indian. Stuart had to lie down afterwards, while his veteran opponent just strolled to the bar.
My favourite ageing squash-man tale comes from the flight to Hong Kong when going there to work in the 80s. A group of players had boarded, storing racquets above their heads. One seemed familiar so, when going to the loo, I halted and asked, “'Scuse me, but aren't you Phil Kenyon?” (An upcoming Blackpool star I'd watched days before.)
“No,” said the grinning chap, though his wife looked daggers at me, “but I know him, how do you know Phil?”
We chatted then, before leaving, I asked, “Sorry, what is your name anyway?”
“Jonah Barrington,” he said.
The six-time world champion (pictured above) saw my embarrassment and kindly added, “Thanks, anyway, Phil's years younger than me.”

* * *

OUR meals and nights out have changed gradually since retirement. It's isn't just being on a fixed income. We have more time for cooking at home and to enjoy different activities during daylight hours.
Neither do we still seek fashionable places but, rather, somewhere relaxing to spend longer over a meal, drinks or just chatting and reading.
January and February are notoriously 'quiet' for pubs and restaurants, as many people are hard up and the weather uninviting. However, I use the word 'quiet' meaning numbers - but not necessarily noise. Now that many dining places are less crowded there's even more room within them to run amok, for rampaging children.
Last weekend I was savouring an afternoon beer or two with pals inside our cricket club, when our ears and nerves were assaulted by a barrage of excited shrieking from tiny but healthy lungs. We couldn't hear ourselves think and stared at the offending family in reproach, as did others until then enjoying a pleasant meal overlooking the surrounding greenery. The parents, however, seemed completely unaware and clearly indifferent to this high-decibel mayhem.
It used to be heavy smokers or drunks we avoided when dining out previously; now it's uncontrolled children. Complain and you are met with disbelief, contempt or even abuse – from those selfish parents.
“Couldn't you possibly put a dummy in their mouth?” we appealed to one such mother, when our special evening at a favourite restaurant was ruined by screaming.
“He's only a baby!” (he wasn't) she protested, looking outraged. But isn't that just the time to start behaviour training?
Of course, the real dummies are these anti-social 'grown-ups'. I'm afraid they deserve all the unruly disruption and chaos they're nurturing, which will blight their family lives for years to come.
However, please, allow the rest of us some peace and consideration!

* * *

It used to hearten me to see savings grow but today we're lucky to have any . . .

I RECEIVED a letter from my bank the other day. No, it wasn't a dire warning. We manage to keep out of penury, thank God.
Not that the banks mind you getting behind these days; they actively encourage us into debt – for the fat fees on overdrafts. My wife was even asked, down at the branch before it closed, if she fancied a mortgage. It had taken a lifetime to get rid of the last one!

No, this note was on friendly, first-name terms - to inform me our humble savings account was to have its interest rate 'reduced'. I didn't think it could get smaller, without disappearing! This was, apparently, in line with what other banks were doing.
When I checked details, our interest was being halved – from a poultry 0.20% to a risible 0.10%. Looking over the ('non-payment') accounts listed, only one approached a full 1% and had to have £50,000 invested.
We're with the NatWest. I'm glad they've dropped the 'caring bank' title after closing their busy, well staffed branches. But they're all the same, it seems. They want us to pay monthly fees for keeping our money and making profits from it.
Older readers and savers might recall those fulfilling days of 5% on such sensible saving; then tax-friendly ISAs. Interest rates even rose once to 15% when, unfortunately, our mortgages were hammered.
I even fondly remember my first account, at our friendly Trustees Savings Bank, when proudly taking in my piggy bank as a child.
Perhaps reliably run community credit unions are the answer, to help struggling families get by safely. Otherwise, the young are encouraged to borrow, borrow, borrow . . .
It sounds like that first big Pools winner, who was going to “spend, spend, spend”. She ended up tragically, as I recall.

* * *

This week found us in Great Marton all of a twitter . . .

THE big fella, with the long hair and beard, looked like he'd just strode out of the Coen Brothers' remake of True Grit. He ambled into the Number 10 Ale House bar on Whitegate Drive and sidled up to me, his glinting eyes never deviating from mine.
“I've been counting the score,” he muttered, with a deadly calculating look as he towered over me, where I rested against a welcome warm radiator beside the bar. “There were at least 20 goldfinches in my garden, on a special fat-ball I've hung up there.”

“Good heavens!” I exclaimed. “We've only had one in mine. Mind you, I reckon it was a bullfinch; beautiful thing, dazzling blue, black and red.”
The others nearby, Colin the barman – always an avid bird fancier; owner genial George and the manager dashing David, as fast moving as his vapour trail, all looked impressed.
“Glad to see my first robins,” said Irish Tom, bristling into the conversation.
Yes, we men were discussing garden birds.
“You know,” I said to Big Mick, the one with those finches, “when I retired from the Gazette, the first thing I did was get a book on birds and another on trees.” (In fact, the first thing really was to enjoy some Draught Bass at the nearby Saddle Inn, Great Marton, Blackpool's oldest inn).
“We put out a smorgasbord of bird treats, but my neighbour gets flocks of starlings,” Mick told us. “He's got Rowan berries they adore.” His eyes narrowed. “My cats just love it!”
Yes, folks, raw nature's still an amazing and exciting thing, even among us macho northern men. It's vital to get the youngsters interested too!
The important thing is keeping the wild in our west, on this beautiful coast of ours.

* * *

We didn't exactly whoop it up at New Year but it was a fine time. Now life returns to more normal it's worth remembering that mood.

THE festive period just past drew me to our C. of E. church. All was warm and friendly and it was good to see hymns included old favourites Hills Of The North Rejoice and Hark The Herald Angels Sing, or so I thought at first.
In fact, Herald Angels turned out to be another, less hearty hymn most people didn't know and only murmured beneath the choir's soaring tones. Even worse, old school favourite Hills of the North seemed slower and less rousing. Had I remembered it wrongly? Then I spotted a note in the new-style hymn book – it had been 'amended'.
On a TV carols service later, Hark The Herald Angels was sung – but slowed, too, and altered to be 'more inclusive'. Strange that, I always thought the church did welcome all!
Was this the same kill-joy revision trying to ban the triumphal singing of Jerusalem and Land Of Hope And Glory on the Last Night Of The Proms? Fortunately, the hearty audiences still insist upon them.
Even the Lord's Prayer is revised, though I still chant the traditional version which has sinners 'trespassing' and 'power and glory for ever and ever'.
The heart of the matter is that, despite all our feasting and celebrating, true joy springs from within; not from amended hymns or new-style prayers either. Let's continue to sing out loudly for that spiritual gleefulness which makes us glad to be alive.
Such fulfilment doesn't depend upon owning more things; nor by being at the top of the pile; not even from such pleasures as eating or drinking; but upon our soul.
I'm not one to preach but, throughout this uncertain New Year, let's remember what really counts and keep our mood bright. Goodwill needn't end with the season, let's share that sentiment right through!

* * *

Tis the season of goodwill . . . let's share those sentiments still!

IT'S the thought that counts, they say. In the case of gifts, however, that isn't true if foolishly leaving on a lowly price tag.
Over past days we've been appreciating what Santa brought last week, while savouring a stay-at-home New Year celebration.
Thankfully, Christmas morning broke happily at Edmonds Towers. She Who Knows and myself unwrapped gifts over breakfast in bed. We also like to open one present each on Christmas Eve – which was when the problem arose . . .
“You bought me a book costing just £2!” she accused me, quite wrongly as it turned out. That price label I'd overlooked, even though on its front cover, actually read, '£2 off'. It cost me a lot more than that.
Still, it took us back to a distant birthday when I procured her a fur-lined, suede jacket – from a charity shop.
I've perked up my act since then so, this year, felt unfairly accused over that book. Still, her other presents from me – fancy (expensive) cream, special (luxury) chocolates and cosy (embroidered) slippers then, ahem, a diamond necklace, left her joyful and, eventually, honest with me too.
“Actually,” she coyly admitted, after I'd opened many thoughtful gifts – books on poetry, cricket and grammar – plus classy wine, along with some manly cosmetics to repair over-indulgence, “that cosy woollen hat I got you, which you like so much, was from Poundstretchers.”
So, never mind a so-called £2 book, she'd spent only half of that on one of my prezzies!
Still, after a slap-up steak meal cooked, for once, by me on New Year's Eve, yesterday we were out and about and able to laugh it all off . . .
Both her £2 discounted book and, sported proudly and widely admired, my even cheaper woolly cap.

* * *

 Boxing Day, as we call the day after Christmas here in UK, brought some touching memories and grateful thoughts . . .

BOXING Day in Victorian times was when toffs 'boxed up' a hamper of festive goodies for servants who'd worked hard to make their employers' Christmas Day jolly.
Nowadays it's more about the family getting out and working off Christmas calories with a walk, or to watch sport in the fresh air (and on big screens at the pub).
Back in the 50s and 60s, when I was growing up, it was a dull, non-event sort of day when nothing happened and everywhere was shut. All you had to look forward to was cold turkey and chips - delicious too!
But then there was my Uncle Fred and Aunty Daisy. They had no kids and lived in rural Glazebrook, where father grew up. So, we went there and doting Daisy hid gifts all over their big house for us boys to find with clues.
It was great, though Fred was rather old-fashioned and disapproved of us lads having festive shandies, as Dad suggested. He also caught me smoking an old cigar I found behind their piano, which made me sick. However, when I trapped my hand in a train door before returning to Manchester, stuffy Fred seemed very concerned.
Then we grew into our teens and our elderly Gran came to stay with us, though we had less space than other relatives. Also, Daisy died - so we didn't visit so much. However, when Fred too passed on he surprised the whole family – who'd gathered for his considerable spoils.
Fred had left the lot to my parents – for kindly taking in Gran when others wouldn't. It was a case of kindness returned and also allowed my hard-working Dad to finally retire.
So, that's what Boxing Day still means to me – a time to be thankful, for kindness and our blessings.

* * *

Here's my Christmas message come column, from Thursday's Gazette.

THANKFULLY, it's all done now, apart from some Christmas gift wrapping and, of course, those last-minute panic buys. At last, the main festive shopping is sorted, cards sent and arrangements complete – we hope!
This year will be the first She Who Knows and myself have celebrated Christmas at Edmonds Towers – after visiting a few nearest and dearest to spread Yuletide cheer. Previously, we've always been rushing elsewhere. Hopefully, it should be a cosy, relaxing affair. I've got the drinks; she's got the food, so let's settle back and see what's on telly!
Families do get separated nowadays and some of ours are as far as one can go, baking in New Zealand's summer. Also, we're none of us getting younger or as inclined to travel. So, as we do finally put up our feet and relax, let's also think of those who aren't at their healthiest or best and wish them well.
The same rather goes for that bad-tempered and rushed General Election just past – and now resolved. Like Christmas festivities, it's a leap of good faith in humanity, welfare and trust. Nothing we do is perfect and none of us know what's best all the time. We're entitled to our opinions and should respect others' rights too.
Let's accept how events have settled; commiserate with those who lost but, also, support those now burdened with honouring pledges and promises; try to forget old differences so keenly felt and fought over.
As with Christmas, let's show tolerance and share goodwill. It's only by pulling together we will progress and share in the plentiful benefits of these times. Let's light up these chilly but warm-hearted seasonal days with hope; keep the faith and do our best – together; then our New Year truly will be better, for all.
Merry Christmas!

* * *

It was all about the UK's General Election on this Thursday and today, of course, we know Boris has won with a national landslide while,  here in Great Marton, Labour has also lost to the Tories too. At least it means someone has a working majority in Parliament and can get on with governing. Now it's over to him to deliver all those promises. We'll see!

SO, it's our big Election Day; the start of a new era, but with whom at the helm? I can't make up my mind but feel a civil duty and debt to those who fought for our freedom and right to vote.
Politicians all sound so convincing. No sooner has some election broadcast impressed, then a campaign leaflet sways me again. She Who Knows is of firmer mind and we often agree on our course but, afterwards, my doubts return. The heart pulls one way, the head the other; then vice versa.
My parents usually voted for opposing parties. Once they agreed not to bother, as it was pouring down, then Mum muttered, “I'll just nip to the shops.” When she'd gone Dad, too, put on his coat. “Bet she's gone to vote!” he explained, then also braved the downpour.
So our views and votes do matter, at least to us. However, as a teenager I joined the Young Socialists to 'save the world' but, also, because their hall had a pool table. Later I regretted it, noticing Young Conservative discos attracted more girls.
Do we still plough on with Brexit? The nation's bitterly divided and we're stuck in a dithering stale-mate. Also, it seems, you can read anything you like into all those immigration, economic and other statistics, depending on how optimistic or pessimistic your mood. I've looked and listened and, frankly, it's anyone's guess how it all adds up.
Then there's the flagging NHS, social priorities, our security and inequality. I've experienced both privilege but also the lack of it – and now despise both. Perhaps, sadly, it comes down to self-interest but, then, will I still be here for those distant promises?
What a dilemma! Still, today, it's a cross we should all bear – and make.

* * *

This week's column had a certain sartorial smugness - or should that really be snugness!

RECENTLY this column achieved more elevated status in our favourite local paper, by being raised to the top of its page (if only to make room for an advert).
Another change in its appearance last week was an unexpected photo of me wearing “the famous green jumper”.
This is what She Who Knows calls my aged garment as, after retiring from full Gazette employment, I was infamously pictured wearing it with the first of my published books.
“Why didn't you put on your suit?” she'd demanded back then, while a female colleague groaned, “You're not still wearing that old thing!”
As I write this I've again got it on. There's frost outside and hardy gardener Joe, renowned from the nearby Saddle Inn, is battling our overgrown hedge in bobble-cap and scarf. He has also just inquired if we've had a power cut, since the kettle isn't yet on!
Next week will see a Yuletide gathering of retired male colleagues at Poulton's cosy Thatched House pub – with many old jumpers on view. I'll be in a colourful one even more ancient than the famous green one, while still wondering to whom it belonged. You see, I found the multi-coloured woolly discarded in a corner of the office years ago, tried it on and, as no one seemed to miss it, kept it. I often wear this at winter reunions but the original owner hasn't yet come forward. (“Too ashamed,” says She Who.)
I have favourite old trousers, too, along with worn-out tartan shirts which I hide from She Who Knows' clear-outs. A man gets attached to such togs and they're also useful for gardening, which reminds me . . .
Joe says he wouldn't mind having the famous green jumper, should I ever tire of wearing it.

* * *

 A heavy frost outside, as I add this week's Gazette column, but we're warm and cosy within . . .

THERE'S a chill in the air but something else, warming the heart upon entering Edmonds Towers – that timeless aroma of home baking.
With mouth-watering Christmas recipes in the glossy magazines, She Who Knows has been inspired back into her kitchen apron - with, of course, my encouragement.
Last weekend her star creation was 'flat bread', baked in self-raising flour with Greek yoghurt and coriander, flash fried into a thick, soft bread. Eaten with tzatziki it was delicious! I came home early from my afternoon at the local, just to relish this appetiser treat.
After both Hunter's Chicken on Saturday, then roast pork Sunday, we enjoyed her filo apple pie, densely rich in fruit with mixed spice beneath the most flaky pastry, sprinkled with icing sugar – yum!
This was where my considerable contribution came in – I pealed the apples. No, don't scoff at my efforts! There were two big cooking apples and a pair of sweet, green ones. Since I'd forgotten we had a peeler and corker in a bottom drawer, it took almost half an hour. There was a time we could all peel efficiently, specially spuds, but today the chips come in frozen packets.
As a child I'd 'help' mother on baking day for, like washing day, every household had one. She let me make small, open-topped tarts riddled with pastry borders around different jams – what a mess! Still, it was fun. Nowadays some retired mates even boast of their cake-baking prowess.
The kitchen truly is the heart of the house on such days and, with Jack Frost breathing down our necks, I'll be encouraging She Who to repeat previous winter triumphs – like seafood and spinach pie or a macaroni,tomato and potato one . . . bring it on, I say!

* * *

Sorry, I'm a day late posting this as we had a busy time yesterday and, come evening, went to see Elton John. (Well, a tribute act where, of course, everyone whooped but, rather romantically, the backing group's drummer came off stage and proposed on one knee to a girl in the row behind us, who accepted him - they did know each other, we presumed!)

EDMONDS Towers is still a whoop-free zone – until, that is, we switch on the telly.
This I rarely do, loving peace and quiet. However, She Who Knows turns it on if only passing through our living room into the kitchen.
If you look up 'whoop' – as in 'to holler' - you'll learn both these came from the States. Whooping was originally used by cowboys to startle cattle into moseying on, which it makes me do – usually to the sanctuary of my upstairs so-called study. 'Red Indians' (sorry, not very P.C. I know) also famously made whooping chants to instil terror into early settlers.
Nowadays you can't get through a public concert or a television show with a live audience without idiot onlookers breaking into whooping. What was wrong with dignified or eager applause? That's what English audiences used to do. One doesn't even mind the odd hearty cheer, or even an appreciative whistle. (Though, sadly, no longer at the ladies.)
The answer is that whooping makes over-excitable, childish and selfish people feel important and, as they desperately want, draws others' attention toward them. It's the call of someone who can't contain themselves, especially in public auditoriums.
Probably these hyped-up whoopers have been over-doing those unhealthy sugary drinks (also mostly American) - or other, less legal substances.
Whatever the cause, as soon as She Who Knows is out of earshot I turn the telly to mute – or, once she goes back upstairs, switch it off.
Last weekend we saw whooping reach new heights as Strictly Come Dancing came to Blackpool Tower Ballroom. TV previously used 'warm-up comics' before variety shows, now they must have whooper-uppers - waving placards to stir up everyone. By contrast, if I murmur any remarks while we await the results, I'm immediately shushed!
Fortunately, I'd already anaesthetised myself with dinner wine.

* * *

This week's column might help you ease the strain of Christmas shopping and electioneering fatigue!

IT'S a typical retirement day as I write this. Although not yet 10am, we've breakfasted (lightly) and I've seen off She Who Knows to her yoga class. That and some other similar stretching exercises at home keep her remarkably supple.
For my own sake, when I finish this I'll be putting on lilting mood music and doing my tai-chi. It's She Who, too, who has got me into that.
Despite jogging around the block and doing vigorous press-ups and sit-ups for years, my knees were shot and neck so stiff I had to turn round inside the car to glance backwards. I should have learned from those surprisingly fit orientals I used to work alongside in the colonies: gently does it for physical and spiritual well-being, especially as you age.
Now instead of knackering myself trying to stay youthful, I enjoy a routine of what used to be called Chinese shadow-boxing but which is much more graceful - even from me. It's all about flowing stretches, steady balance and proper posture. It may not leave me sweating and breathless but all my body seems to benefit and I feel more wholesome too!
Other easy and enjoyable fitness tips, we've found, are dancing (not disco or break-dance) and, of course, some regular walking, cycling or swimming.
As one who savours life's pleasures, I would add the proviso, 'Just don't over do it!' Enjoying your routine is also part of staying well and happy.
Take that ballroom routine, we might not be as exciting as BBC's hit show Strictly, but our afternoon tea dances attract couples aged up to their 90s – who are still free of walking sticks.
Oh, and lastly comes my favourite tip. As a hospital consultant once advised, “Keep drinking Draught Bass (or other cask ale), it's the best medicine for your great bowel.”

* * *

Politics is hard to get passionate about but people used to . . .

THE blackboard sign outside some joker's shop said it all: 'Electile Dysfunction – occurs when none of the parties appeal in a general election'.
Even the most ardent party activist must feel confused, betrayed or worn out by now. Isn't it stressful enough to have Christmas approaching without also dropping a general election upon the weary British public?
Of course, all candidates are putting on their best party hats under the camera lights, while bearing gifts and goodwill to all. How will we ever pay for it all? What's more, how long will that goodwill last once the long winter chill sets in?
If I'm sounding bitter it's because we've been fed a feast of broken promises, while watching the unedifying spectacle of our leaders and members of parliament squabbling and acting like children. They just won't behave, or follow the rules!
I'm not greatly excited about independence from Westminster for the UK's member nations, but note that they would deny it to us from Brussels - despite that poll three years ago.
But if we look instead to leading personalities in the main debate, I must say that Boris and Nigel seem the jollier contenders to be our December 12 Father Christmas. Jeremy just appears so grumpy and dull. On the other hand, are BoJo and Nige really laughing at us, we ever hopeful, conscientious voters?
Are there answers from abroad? Many dismiss Trump as a dangerous clown but we also wrote off Ronald Reagan as a Hollywood cowboy – and he rode off into the sunset as a popular, successful president of eight years. Perhaps, like those tough-talking, go-getting Americans, we should put our own self-interests first . . .
Or ought we to do the Christian thing at this time of year – and save the planet with the Lib-Dems and Greens? Beats me.

* * *

 A salutary tale this week, plumbing the depths . . .

THEY'VE started calling me Golden Balls at my local pub though, unlike David Beckham, it's got nothing to do with soccer skills . . .
Well, I've not been completely honest there. The new moniker, in full, is actually Golden Ballcock.
It amuses builders, who drink there in late afternoon, that I paid almost £100 to have the ballcock valve replaced in our WC at home.
“Must be gold!” they jest. On the internet you can get a replacement floating ball, arm and inlet valve for £10-20, while the plumber in question was barely in our loo half an hour.
“Well at least he came quickly, wiped his feet and got the job done,” commented She Who Knows, who has a different outlook from myself upon such jobs and, in fact, upon spending money in general. It was cash well spent, she seemed to think.
At least it stopped me bending the ballcock arm and flooding our bathroom. It's just as well he didn't add a call-out charge, otherwise I might now be Platinum Balls. Next time I'll ask for OAP rates – not that I'll be phoning him again.
The last ballcock fitted in our Victorian cottage was for a water tank in our roof space and a plumber called Brian, sadly now long gone, scaled the heights then battled with our dusty old pipework for hours.
“What do I owe you?” I asked the cheery ex-Londoner who revelled in rhyming slang.
“Oh, give us a cock and hen,” Brian said reluctantly, when pressed, meaning a tenner.
If I'd offered £100 he would have fallen out the loft.
Ah, those were the days, when trusty tradesmen imbibing at our 'local' would pop round for the price of a few beers.
But, then, the price of today's pint would have stunned Brian too.

 * * *

Not sure I have the right 'nose' for wine anymore . . .

HERE'S the latest report on my snoring. (Sadly, I come from a family of snorters.)
My wife keeps coming up with so-called cures, all increasingly uncomfortable, for this blip in our otherwise marital harmony; particularly after the guilty party – me - has been imbibing red wine.
First came a plastic lump like a boxer's gum shield, which I clumsily fashioned to fit and now force into my mouth nightly. Unfortunately, this occasionally comes out when tossing and turning in sleep. Rather than switch on the light and hunt for it, I lie back then doze off again – snoring.
Next came a nose clip to supplement that plastic lump now irritatingly referred to as 'Roy's teeth'. Thankfully this clip was tiny, so I hardly noticed it. However, I've lost three of them already – can't imagine where they've gone!
Then She Who Knows returned from shopping with a weird-shaped pillow supposed to promise silent nights. I now sleep on this as well as wearing my other snore zappers. However, I'm not convinced it's worth the crick I'm getting in my neck.
Finally, there's the latest suggestion, a battery-powered gadget worn on the forehead which, can you believe, vibrates with increasing intensity if the wearer rolls on to their back? The newspaper article about it also referred worryingly to 'continuous positive airway pressure', which involved wearing a 'face mask'. However, the report added, 'some people give up on this device, as they find it difficult to sleep.'
Other helpful suggestions in the Daily Mail included sewing a tennis ball into the back of nightwear, though again it warned, 'This can also interfere with sleep.'
“No more,” I exclaimed, “a man can only take so much!” However, it's notoriously chilly and lonely in the spare bedroom . . .
Perhaps white wine might be the answer!

* * *

This week's column was a tribute to an old friend, used to harder times. I'll do more on this in next month's Home post, plus a tribute to another great character, a Mossag called Eric.

IN the midst of life we are in death, as the Book of Common Prayer informs us, and I can confirm that after 70 you attend many more funerals than weddings or christenings.
Last week we saluted old pal John Harrison (pictured), who got a fine send-off just as he would have liked and deserved.
The proud former Mancunian was a man to stand his ground and walk tall but, equally, joiner John's greatest pride was his family and workmanship. Also, he would do anything to help others and was a friend to always rely upon.
Despite being told three years ago he only had three months to live, John (pictured with two of his grandchildren) always had a welcoming smile and looked on the bright side of life. The opening music to his Carleton funeral was aptly Bring Me Sunshine, from Morecambe & Wise, later followed by a rousing Jerusalem (John loved his sport too).
In celebrating another's life we often see our own reflected through past years. A curious, abridged poem - or ballad - at the back of his order of service was The Shooting of Dan McGrew. If you don't know it, look it up. It's from the late 1890s and Yukon Gold Rush days in Canada, when desperate men got by as best they could.
It always reminded John of early years working on our first motorway, now the M6, when billeted in rough timber cabins at remote, icy Shap - with only wood burners and Irish navvies for company. One man could recite the entire ballad and John took the trouble to learn it too.
Nowadays such working conditions would be an outrage and those men up in arms protesting. But, today, how many of us could still have raised a smile and simply carried on manfully . . . when given such a harsh death sentence?

* * *

It makes you want to grit your teeth - dentistry! Ah, it's all done now, why did I feel nervous at all?

BY the time you read this, relaxing in comfort somewhere, I shall have endured an hour in the dentist's chair.
Apparently my molars are crumbling away with age and over-use, probably like the rest of me. But I consider myself fortunate; I'm in good hands.
With mouth wide open and conversation silenced by all the instruments in it, the highly professional surgeon and nurse peer down at me intently – leaving ample time to think of past dental nightmares.
Like the haunting scene when, as a boy in short trousers accompanied by his distraught mother, I watched in horror as my older brother had all his teeth pulled out.
Michael must have had gum disease which, nowadays, would have probably been spotted much earlier and suitably treated. Instead, aged only in early teens, he was heading for dentures.
Mike was duly gassed then, while the unconscious patient drooled blood, an ageing dentist propped one knee up on my brother's lap and frantically yanked out teeth before the poor lad came round.
After witnessing that I brushed my own more eagerly! That was back in days of yore, when dentists had belt-driven drills which sounded like angle grinders and pain was only to be expected. Nowadays I don't even feel the needle's soothing pinprick.
Working overseas wasn't much better. In the Far East it was only sensible, if you could afford it, to go private – though they tended to line their pockets by filling any available cavity. Dentists drilled into me with rapacious ruthlessness. It was a wonder I didn't set off metal detectors at the airport.
We're no longer dependent on NHS and a private insurance scheme permits me the latest high-tech UK dentistry at reasonable costs. Hopefully, by the time you finish this newspaper, I'll be sporting two new crowns - and a relieved smile.

* * *

Bit of 'local' history in this week's column. You can get in Saddle mood, too, on our Books page, reading '50 Shades of Bass', 'Bright Lights & Pig Rustling' or 'Saddle Up!'

IT was a boisterous session in the 'bear-pit' of the Commons and even lively, too, in the Lords. No, this wasn't another Brexit debate. We were in my local, Blackpool's oldest, the Saddle Inn.
Many think of this as a man's pub but there was a marquee party for departing assistant manager Bev, leaving for easier hours and less daily woes and drama – working in a hospital!
Bev was a popular lady, as shown by the good-hearted party extending to a beer-garden marquee - all largely organised by other enthusiastic Saddle ladies. In that, things haven't changed so much in our quaint hostelry.
The Blackpool Herald on November 26, 1949, reported: “While talk of limiting the power of the House of Lords is in the air, let's take a look at a House of Lords where they never reach a decision, although in session every day in the year.

“This House of Lords is a room in one of the Fylde's oldest inns, The Saddle, Whitegate-drive, Marton. The inn, which is over 100 years old, possesses also a House of Commons, but the Lords is far superior, because in here no women are allowed.

“That, however, doesn't make it any quieter. There's just as much talk. And if discussions on things like devaluation and atom bombs usually work round to Stanley Mortensen and Stanley Matthews who will blame them?

“Over the doorway of each is a sign - 'House of Lords' on one, 'House of Commons' on the other. The Saddle has the oldest inn tenant in the Fylde, Mrs Eliza Leigh, who has been there for 57 years.”
So, you see, while those 'superior' men drank and 'discussed', the real work and organisation was being done by women. Perhaps that's the answer, too, for our current problems.

* * *

 Remembering some old rough and tumbles . . . amongst the cow pats!

WITH the rugby world cup under way in Japan, this is a good time to remind readers how much it takes to play the historic game so well.
Yes, it's a rough and tumble out there, but what athletic skills its participants need! I know, after playing myself - though without any ability.
My only asset to the Welsh Borders team which took me under its wing was the thickness of my skull, that they utilised as a battering ram in scrums.
“Try to avoid any contact with the ball,” was the anxious advice of Welshpool coach Howard, after watching me enthusiastically training. I'd joined for something to do while in a dead-end job in nearby sleepy Shropshire.
However, my skull-attack potential became clear upon my first visit, after I'd left the first-team captain concussed from a scrum encounter.
The only other place I excelled was in the clubhouse booze-up afterwards. But I still managed to lose weight and get fit, such was the rigour of their grim training nights.
When playing other rural Welsh clubs, usually upon sloping fields made further hazardous by frozen cow pats, the running, side-stepping and passing talents of fellow team-mates was stunningly impressive, particularly witnessed close up.
Most were humble hill farmers but they brought a passion and courage to the game that was matched only by their glorious singing afterwards.
Of course, the big brutes we see on the telly are all professionals and trained to perfection, but the fears, pain and challenges they face are equally awesome.
No doubt medieval battles in those Welsh hills were far more blood-curdling and terrifying than my breezy weekly encounters. But, believe me, those team endeavours took all you could offer and more while, afterwards, I felt 10-feet tall - even though my head was aching!

 * * *

 Celebrating a large piece of civic pride this week, but there may be changes afoot . . .

IT makes you proud! Blackpool's Stanley Park has again been voted UK's best – for the second time.
The Friends of Stanley Park & Salisbury Woodland do a tremendous job, aided by dedicated gardeners. They run a Visitors' Centre by the popular art-deco café and promote and maintain the largest green recreational area outside London.
Chairman Elaine Smith MBE is a Local Hero, as awarded by the Gazette at the Tower this week – along with three worthy park Friends.
Elaine, who made a profound mark, too, chairing the Civic Society, helped start the Friends 17 years ago. However, she is grateful to council staff for enduring support and particularly thanks the public who voted for our park.
Why, then, are councillors considering a scheme to build on the park extension over East Park Drive? This site is half of the only 18-hole municipal golf course on the Fylde, while its sweeping acres alongside Salisbury Woodland are open to all.
The £45m plan is for 250 holiday chalets and 'Adrenalin World', a big games centre, with investors led by entrepreneur David Lloyd. It has outraged many at public meetings, while the golf club along with other sporting organisations wish to take over the lease and continue as present.
Well, I recall exciting plans for a David Lloyd-style tennis centre at South Shore Lawn Tennis Club over a decade ago, followed by similar proposals at Whitehills near the M55 – which, like an indoor ski-run, all floundered.
Our resort needs attractions but most residents also want to protect our scarce greenery and would only countenance building on this land if necessary for the adjoining, even more precious hospital.
Many regret a carving off of parkland further along, for a single hotel development, instead of a race course to boost our airport and coast. Let's not see more treasures slip away, without due deliberation.

* * *

Last week's column dwelt upon the drinks side of life, this week's focussed on the way to a man's heart . . . food - about which I'm becoming increasingly less adventurous.

IT leaves a bad taste in the mouth – having an expensive but disappointing meal in a restaurant. Mind you, it has to be really revolting for me to complain - because of my upbringing.
As a boy in the '50s we rarely dined out and then only at cafés. In post-war years everyone was grateful for what they got and bred upon Spam and sandwich paste. The one time I heard anyone complain – about his steak – my Dad muttered, “Must be a Yank!”
I didn't protest either, the other day, when I had a miserable main at a favourite Italian restaurant. She Who Knows counselled against it but I was being adventurous - trying a pasta dish unknown to me, but promising authentic flavours of exotic sausage with raisins and pine nuts.
Perhaps it was authentic, to a penniless peasant somewhere, but to me it tasted like cardboard in grey paste. There was no discernible sausage, though we did spot one raisin. Still, our dessert - a first taste of cannoli - made up for this pasta disaster and my wife let me finish her lasagne (creamy but, sadly, without enough meat). We'll be giving that place a miss for a while.
It reminded me of other culinary setbacks. The worst European one was in a small Spanish resort where I ordered crayfish paella. It came topped with a crustacean I attacked spiritedly but from which my efforts failed to extract one ounce of flesh.
Then there was the time I mistakenly ordered a 12-person banquet in Hong Kong, when alone.
However, the grimmest experience was in earlier years at an Indian, ordering what seemed a bargain treat – Bombay Duck. It was a sliver of extremely smelly 'lizardfish' a starving cat would have bolted from, later to be EU-banned for bacterial contamination – very fowl indeed!

 * * *

AS the summer sporting season nears its end, last weekend our spirits were lifted by the annual beer festival at Blackpool Cricket Club.
I was delighted upon entering the hallowed marquee to see, in pride of place at the centre of a score of hand-pumps, the familiar red triangle of Draught Bass (incidentally, the first trade mark to be registered in Britain - in 1877).
“We thought you'd like to taste it for us!” invited veteran organiser Alan Cross, grinning broadly alongside his eager sidekick Ray in his habitual red shorts (slightly more faded than the iconic Bass triangle).
This honour fell to me not simply because I drink this king of ales regularly at my local, Blackpool's oldest pub the Saddle Inn at Great Marton, but also as a long-standing member of the Honourable Order of Bass Drinkers. The order meets monthly in Manchester, on the Fylde and, when the mood takes them, elsewhere.
Bass, of course, was once the main brew on this coast and part of our history. I remember Carl Swarbrick, late of the Catterall & Swarbrick brewing family, who when younger helped Bass take over the resort's pubs.
“The bloke from their head office kept drawing up graphs of sales and order projections while taking little notice of me,” Carl recalled. “You should have seen his face when I finally managed to inform him, most of the Promenade pubs closed over winter.”
The 'expert' was probably as stunned as a would-be author I met by chance at a pub in Wimbledon. He was writing a history of Bass and it was at last ready for publication. Sadly, he was woefully ignorant of the Saddle still stocking Bass or even of the existence of the HOBD.
I had to put him right, as I also had to inform the expectant Alan and Ray in their beer tent.
“Yes, lads, the Bass is as grand as ever!”
* * *

 This week's column took a comic turn - but it's never all about laughs . . .

WE went to the pictures the other afternoon, although it wasn't a cinema. Instead it was the Lowther Theatre in Lytham and a really memorable theatrical experience!
The film was Stan & Ollie, about the last theatre tour in Britain of comedy film greats Laurel and Hardy – and also, touchingly, about the end of their bill-topping careers.
Starring Steve Coogan and American actor John C. Reilly, it was inspired casting (as pictured),with excellent performances from the heart, amid superb settings vividly evoking those struggling 1950s.
Their story was deeply moving too. It made us laugh out loud but also cry. I also found myself at times on the edge of my seat, as outstanding drama should make you.
But, then, I've always felt the toughest and loneliest role in entertainment is the stand-up comedian.
Years ago, when the Gazette was in Blackpool town centre at Victoria Street, the Grand Theatre ran live auditions for aspiring comics. Anyone could have a go and, if promising, perform live in front of a matinee audience of holidaymakers.
One of my late colleagues, features editor Peter Baxter, tried it. He was nervous beforehand but devastated when he actually walked out in front of a packed audience. Peter had previously scrawled a few punchlines in chalk on the stage floor as prompts, only to discover cleaners had erased them.
“It was the longest 20 minutes of my life,” he confided afterwards, thoroughly drained and humbled.
You can read still worse traumas in the autobiography of Fylde funnyman Les Dawson, about his early years on the club circuit. It was Les who partly inspired my mystery series of romantic thrillers, Sam Stone investigates, starting with A Cut Above about a comic's death (see front cover image).
Comedy demands profound experience of life's depths. It is the reverse face of tragedy and disaster - but the tears taste just the same.

* * *

Couple of strange events in the past week gave me pause for thought and undermined my usual cheerful confidence. First was a fall, outlined below, then I nearly had a collision while 'running' a red light behind other impatient drivers - except I hadn't even noticed it was on red, my mind being entirely elsewhere . Happily, I can report that - since then - my driving has been as careful and correct as usual and I'm now back to stylish, winning tennis . . . or losing with sporting dignity.

THEY say pride comes before a fall and so it was for me the other day. There I was, strutting my stuff with younger men on a tennis court, closely watched by an encouraging She Who Knows. Then, suddenly, my footing deserted me and I sprawled inelegantly upon the ground.
There was much fuss all around but, apart from grazed knuckles, only my dignity was bruised. However, at the first opportunity, a short while later, I quietly packed my kit.
“Anyway, your last serve – after falling – was an ace!” Ed, my young doubles partner, kindly reminded me as I sloped off court for the bar.
“What were you doing - leaping about like that?” demanded She Who Knows.
“Well,” I explained while still feeling crestfallen, “by jumping forward into a serve you get more power. Frankly, I was struggling to match those lads' bigger hitting.”
“I'm not surprised, they're 40 years younger than you!” she pointed out.
At least I could still hold my pint, even if my fist looked as though I'd been in a bare-knuckle fight. Still, that's sport for you – and life.
Ups and downs over the years are a great leveller and teach you to respect your fellow man's (or woman's) abilities, whatever age. My late experience playing rugby – not until my 20s - taught me so. I couldn't out-shove bigger blokes but neither could I catch those side-stepping smaller ones!
This time my fall from grace did little damage but it could have been so much worse, as She Who Knows warned. The lesson was clear: act your age or, at least, bear it in mind.
When next taking on those young'uns I'll resort to my natural advantages - through a lifetime's experience - and employ craft and stealth.
Hopefully, they'll see me through a few more years!

* * *

This week's column is close to home but may ring a bell for couples everywhere. Thankfully, my wife found it funny, which always brings a warm feeling . . .

ANYONE depressed by the recent unseasonably drab weather should take heart, because I've just put our heating back on at Edmonds Towers.
“It's still 72 degrees!” I reasoned with She Who Knows, indicating the thermometer and humidity measure I bought her at Christmas (for which she seemed surprising ungrateful).
“That may be, but it feels cold,” she insisted, adding, “and put more lights on will you? It brightens everywhere up, when there's no sunshine coming in.”
Our energy bill looks like we're heating and lighting the whole road, not just our cosy cottage. In winter months I'm often reduced to wearing shorts and T-shirts around the home, while She Who remains wrapped up in house coats and rugs complaining of the chill. The room temperatures and humidity are reminiscent of my steamy years in the Oriental colonies, before retiring here to our fresher climes on the Fylde.
I say take heart, you weather watchers, as now our heating is cranked up again the sunshine will probably return. When it does, She Who Knows will be wanting her bedroom fan turning back on. This had to be bought in July, when it was hot at night if you remember.
Personally, I prefer to have windows open rather than using up more energy with a state-of-the-art, 'silent' electric fan but, admittedly, we do then get traffic noise here in popular Great Marton.
Still, I'm a reasonable man (anything for a bit of peace) so don't insist on nailing open windows, or putting locks on our radiators, like some chauvinistic hubbies I've known.
One male used to also like using his exercise bike last thing, to build up a sweat before going to bed, along with a late supper of cheese and pickled onion sandwiches . . .
You'd need a strong fan and windows open with him in your bedroom.

* * *

C'mon sports! Seeing the funnier side of the Ashes . . . and Australia, currently suffering 75mph winds and storm damage from Sydney to Melbourne - but they do call it the Lucky Country.

WITH four tests still remaining in the Ashes series, a skittled England team at least has the elements on its side. School-holiday weather brings rain and wind to mix with our summer sunshine. Such a variety will hopefully confuse our Down-Under opponents, who aren't used to contrasts.
Upon arrival in Sydney, towards the end of summer, I learned they don't really experience seasons. Instead it bucketed down to mark their 'autumn'. Afterwards the ground steamed like an overly hot sauna then those endless blue skies returned.
It stayed like that, while marginally cooler, for the six months I worked there and toured their continent. I ended up longing for a refreshing shower, or a crispy winter's day . . .
Speaking of showers, I soon learned of the Aussie's long-held view that we were both unwashed and penny pinching. This stems from war years, when colonial troops were billeted in British households. Back in the fighting 40s we did only bathe once a week and also sought to conserve what little money we had.
'Where does a Pommy hide his fivers?' the Aussies like to ask, then reply, 'Under his bath mat.' (Or, 'Under his soap,' is another one.)
Living so far from western civilisation, your 'Ocker' Aussie has a confused notion of history, while the only well-balanced one has a chip on each shoulder.
So desperate are they to assume some valued tradition they even claim to have invented the meat pie! But what can you expect when their few national monuments are rarely older than a century, and their only culinary achievement Vegemite?
However, we should never under-estimate the Aussies' sense of rivalry – especially with ourselves. When leaving the airport on that first day, my bus followed a car with a large sticker in its back window.
The sign read, 'Grow your own dope – plant a Pom.'

* * *

This week's Gazette column led some to accuse me of being a 'Nimby'. However, 'issues' which affect our homes make us passionately concerned. Besides, there is more here at stake - as I explained . . .

 SHE Who Knows rightly scoffed at the phrasing of a news item on Radio Smooth, as we cruised in our MPV (multi-purpose vehicle, or more accurately a 1,200cc hatchback - if you're not up with the abbreviations of today's talk).
“A fallen tree has raised issues,” said the traffic reporter. “As though a tree has 'issues'!” she exclaimed, “Why does no one today dare say 'problem'.”
It's like when sales assistants greet customers with, “You all right there, guys?” when they really mean, “Can I help you?”
Ironically, however, trees have now raised issues by our Great Marton home – turning us into 'Nimbys' (Not In My Back Yard).
A resort firm wants to erect houses where its disused warehouse stands along the gated alleyway behind us, at the historic end of Preston Old Road near the Saddle Inn.
Apart from disruption, noise nuisance, drainage worries and more parking problems, we fear mature trees which have sprouted in the little-used alley may be cut down. 
As I look out my window, it strikes me how much wildlife these towering wonders of nature support - and how treasured they've become to us and neighbours.
Did you know Blackpool has fewer trees than any other town of similar size in the country? I read that somewhere, along with plans to plant many more here – though where I don't know, as we see ever fewer, only new homes everywhere.
Nimbys we might be but, at least, we have flowers, birds, butterflies and untold other wildlife in our 'back yard', rather than more tarmacadam for parking cars upon.
What's more we love it that way and, over years, have learned life is more peaceful when getting closer to nature in our surroundings.
It's an 'issue' we should all be campaigning about – before there's only concrete and bricks remaining.

* * *

With this week's column, we can all sleep more easily in our beds . . .

PEOPLE are so easily offended these days, don't you find? What with sexism, racism, ageism and size-ism – and that's just for starters. You have to be wary of verbal slips – even when asleep!
The other week She Who Knows returned from shopping with her sister, bearing a large box which would make any husband's heart sink. No, it wasn't an expensive new dress, nor thankfully a flat-pack I'd have to assemble (sexist that, sorry – but true).
After presenting the mystery package to me she adopted a knowing smirk which was unsettling. The first lettering I saw on its cardboard container said Snooze Control, but it was far too big for an alarm clock. Then I saw its main label beneath – Anti-Snore Pillow – well!
Just to make it more insulting, there was an offensive picture of an unshaven, open-mouthed man sleeping alongside a fed-up looking, goggle-eyed woman. Sexist or what? But such strictures don't apparently apply the other way around.
Admittedly, I come from a long line of notorious snorters. My mother could be heard all over our house and also talked in her sleep while having vivid dreams. Dad told me she once leapt from their bed and looked under the mattress, exclaiming, “Where's that tiger?”
Apparently I snore like a trooper, too, specially after a glass or two of wine on a Sunday night. But I've already taken precautions. Years ago at She Who's suggestion I got an anti-snore device which fits in my mouth like a plastic gum-shield. It makes me look as though I'm grinning stupidly all the time but works – till I spit it out when asleep.
And the new pillow? Well, pretty good actually. I've certainly been sleeping better myself – till she wakes me with her own snoring. However, I'm not allowed to mention that . . .

* * *

Sport not only gets us fitter and offers exciting, shared activity in (mostly) safe surroundings; it also diverts our aggression, creates friendships and teaches us respect for others. In fact sports provide profound lessons for life - if we're willing to learn them!

GOOD to see Blackpool's biggest tennis club serving up a post-Wimbledon mid-summer treat, with an open day this Saturday offering free coaching and games for all.
You don't need to bring a racquet or balls, just a pair of trainers to South Shore Lawn Tennis Club, on Midgeland Road by Progress Way.
It all starts from 1pm with games and free coaching for toddlers, then older ages and adults through the afternoon and other activities – details from the club (tel.767753).
My first experience on a tennis court was on parks as ball boy for relatives, specially two older female cousins I adored. Later I got to play myself but was never lucky enough as a child to get proper coaching. Instead I read a book entitled Tiger Tennis by Buster Mottram and still use its tips today - just call me Tiger!
At senior school I remember watching sixth-form girls playing doubles and thinking how much I'd like to join in, when old enough. Here was a sport we could play together, unlike cricket or soccer in those days. Now gender mixing is almost compulsory. Well so be it, love-all I say!
As adolescents then young men, we showed off our power and prowess by playing singles and healthily using up excess energy.
Only later did I discover the fascination and satisfaction of team play in doubles. You learn to work as a partnership, helping each other to win, joining together at the net in attack, or back on the baseline in defence, never getting too far apart from one another . . .
Reading that, it's rather like a master class in real life, too, don't you think?
Follow the rules, experience and guidance built up over generations and we can all get the most from taking part and, hopefully, even end up winning - game, set and match!

* * *

The column has a highly localised flavour this week, pleasing for me as I can simply stroll around the various attractions outlined. My apologies to others less fortunate . . .

IT'S great to see a neighbourhood coming alive again. That's happening in Great Marton, up Whitegate Drive, Blackpool's earliest district.
It already boasts the coast's oldest public house. The much-loved Saddle Inn has won awards for its fine ales, food and flower displays, as well as being a forerunner with local beer festivals.
Great Marton also attracted Blackpool's first micro pub a year ago. This was the rapidly popular Number 10 Ale House, with its similarly named sister hostelry in St. Annes, and now doing Thai food.
This all seemed to enliven the area, as most shops are now back in busy operation, even if more likely to be ladies' hairdressers, nail or even tattoo parlours rather than greengrocers and butchers.
Happily, I can now report that what was once Blackpool's most popular locals' pub, the Boar's Head up Preston Old Road - a stone's throw from the Saddle - is in apparently safe hands and reviving under encouraging new management.
Landlord and lady Chris and Karen are offering up an interesting selection or real ales at currently unreal prices (£1.95 a pint), with a wholesome selection of traditional food at equally appealing rates. What's more, I can vouch for the quality of the beer, after popping into the comfortable, tastefully decorated lounge a few days ago.
Chris is ex-Army but also an experienced hand behind the bar, with long experience at the redoubtable Victoria pub, of Sam Smith's beer fame, in Cleveleys.
“We're also dog friendly and child friendly,” confirmed a cheerful Karen, as I stepped over their dozing long-haired retriever. “With sports screens then live entertainment at weekends,” added Chris.
From their confident attitude this seems an addition which will benefit the whole of once-proud Great Marton. It may even bring back memories of golden days in the Boar's 'Fylde Lounge', once beloved of Seasider soccer heroes.

* * *

This week's colum took a rather morbid tone but, as in the Bonnie Raitt song ‘Nick of Time’, life grows more precious, the less you have left . . .

SO, at what age would you like to die, or be content to depart this life?”
Thankfully, the question wasn't posed by a doctor, nor a priest or, as sprang to mind, a crazed serial killer addressing his next victim in a crime thriller.
Instead it came while enjoying a cooling beer sat in sunshine, from genial pal and long-term former colleague Tom.
He always liked to put you on the spot, in an entertaining sort of way, even when previously editing this newspaper.
We'd been discussing ailments as retired folk do and then feeling, particularly in his case, lucky to be alive. Tom has won two battles with cancer, although he says the war is never over . . .
I've been reading a memoir by veteran journalist Hunter Davies, about life at 83 after the death of his dearly missed author wife. It's not maudlin but humorously self-mocking and surprisingly practical at times. The title is Happy Old Me and it was a gift from She Who Knows for my recent 70th.
“Well,” I mulled my answer along with a Number 10 Blonde from Blackpool's first micro pub on Whitegate Drive, “I suppose mid-80s would be acceptable, provided you'd been enjoying reasonable health.”
We had both been moaning earlier about intrusive advertising for funeral plans, along with being nagged over cholesterol, diet and lifestyle choices.
“At least,” I added gamely, “if you're a drinker someone can always wheel you out for a pint. At that age I might even start smoking again!”
Tom, now vaping, agreed but sadly announced, “Yes, I thought about 80, too. Trouble is,” he added with good-natured sang-froid, “that only gives me seven years – I'm 73.”
That concentrated our minds.
“Best get another drink in then,” I offered, “let's make the most of it all!”

* * *

A rare journey out of Great Marton found me locked out with nowhere to go . . .

WHILE Andy Murray restored his tennis career at Queen's, I got inspired at Ilkley's grass-court tournament – a sort of poor man's equivalent.
We were staying in a riverside pub minutes walk from the picturesque grounds (pictured below) and, as with Andy, all was going well – easy drive, nice double room and, by Yorkshire standards, fine weather.
We had front-row seats to marvel at the pros just feet away, while on-site food and drink was good and affordable. What could go wrong?
Usually, She Who Knows can laugh over some embarrassing mishap which overtakes me on such breaks. At least she'd given up persuading me to a Michelin two-star restaurant in the town centre. We got as far as its front door last time, when meal prices stopped me in my tracks. Instead I dragged her across the road to a less expensive but, by that time, aptly named Moody Cow steakhouse.
Trouble is, mechanical things sometimes defeat She Who and, in the small hours, she rattled the door handle of our en-suite loo annoyingly. Then still later, when I had to go, I found the bathroom door now firmly locked - from the inside – while She Who Knows slept cosily back in bed.
Giving up, I crept downstairs in pyjamas only to find the bar toilets also locked. What to do?So it was, at 5am, dawn found me standing in the front garden of our hotel, self-consciously finding relief while warily watching for early-morning dog walkers - then grimly realising I was being filmed on CCTV cameras.
At least I'd provide hotel staff with a laugh at their Christmas party.
Still, any further fears over 'spending a penny' were relieved later that day, simply by inserting a coin in a slot of the twisted door handle, then freeing its lock.
Easy when you know how . . . unlike tennis.

* * *

This week's column is posted a day later than usual as we didn't get back from a grand few days at Ilkley Tennis Tournament until yesterday evening . . .

WE'RE no longer keen on adventurous travel but might soon brave once more the border into Yorkshire.
We'll need suitable clothes, of course, as it's always colder there and those bitter, easterly winds carry heavy downpours. The climate accounts for the stone buildings and the similarly granite-like nature of locals.
The last time we took our passports and language guide over the Pennines was to stay in Ilkley, which was picturesque, if expensive, but we acclimatised.
Our stay was at a riverside inn claiming to be the friendliest pub in the county. After our journey I heaved luggage through the lounge, looking for reception, and encountered a group of locals in the bar.
“Good morning!” I called out cheerfully to the men in flat caps watching me warily.
There faces stayed set, neither did I get any answer – friendly indeed!
“The were nicer later, though,” She Who Knows always kindly chimes in whenever I relate this tale. “When they'd got to know us a bit better.”
And when they'd established we'd be spending some money locally. Most had relatives who could happily serve our needs, for the right money. They were soon keen to recommend suitable places to dine out, shop or even take a horse ride, adding, “Just mention my name, 'owd lad.” (Or words to that effect).
Just to show we're not small-minded Lancastrians (is there such a thing?), we're considering returning for a visit if the weather picks up. I'll let you know how we get on.
In fact, I did find the Tykes slightly less depressing company than a Scottish friend, named Paddy oddly enough, who invariably sees the dour side of things.
Paddy's finally found a day-out destination he really enjoys, to Skipton, North Yorkshire.
It just goes to show that, as we say hereabouts, there's nowt so strange as folk!

* * *

I must have been feeling good and full of love for all mankind when penning this week's column (see below), then it started raining again . . .

IT'S good to befriend different people or attempt something new. The other day, during a break in our June rainfall, we were playing tennis – mixed doubles with a freshly retired policeman and his ex-teacher wife.
They'd just got back from their first sailing holiday, round the Greek isles, and were clearly empowered and uplifted by it. Previously they had only sailed a dinghy at Fairhaven Lake, not a three-berth yacht!
My own sailing experience has been mostly restricted to crewing on others' boats and, frankly, at sea I always felt happier when we were becalmed. It was like my brief rugby career, when I only fully enjoyed the team spirit and exertion after the match and in the bar.
Perhaps the most inspiring change or adventure I've undertaken was to travel widely abroad. You see amazing sights and, of course, broaden your horizons. Looking back though, it wasn't the travelling - that I tired of - which stayed with me. Instead, it was the diverse people and unexpected associates of different colours, culture and creeds who helped or befriended me along the way.
Some simply assisted a lonely traveller with his needs, like getting the right bus or service; even, just as importantly, being friendly. Others I shared an office with for some years, to discover working overseas among such different people was a delightful learning curve.
They all helped mature and improve me, just as a new challenge enthused that former policeman. But the abiding lesson left for me was to offer a cheery smile and encouraging word to those among us who are strangers, or in the minority, or alone.
Don't be held back by shyness or a sense of interfering, even fear of rejection or of the unfamiliar. It's always worth that extra effort. Like giving something freely, it can make you feel even better than receiving!

* * *

 Don't feel down if your summer weather isn't all it should ideally be, storms can be uplifting too!

SWEET June's finally here but, on our Fylde holiday coast, the weather's hardly fitting. At least we have plenty of it to enjoy – what with sunshine, rain and winds!
Where we reside, in Great Marton, we're not overlooked at the rear. As a gale blew the other evening, I stood in our back doorway marvelling at its natural power. Three mature trees including a towering poplar were swinging wildly, while that wind blew through what now remains of my hair.
The feeling of exhilaration reminded me of being a child growing up in the Manchester suburbs. Our home back then, a new council house at Valley Road in Davyhulme, Urmston, had a long back garden which ended alongside the still busy Manchester Ship Canal.
Imagine the thrill for me, as an infant, seeing mighty ships from all around the world passing like giant phantoms at the foot of our garden! It wasn't frightening. Any sailors on deck would wave cheerily down to me. I marvelled at their varied flags and exotic countries of origin. Perhaps it instilled in me a wander lust too.
Fast forward to my 30s and, as a worldly newspaperman, I'd taken a year off to write a first novel while staying with my retired parents, by then in Prestatyn, North Wales. On a wild, windy night I was walking back from a village pub – this time with lots of hair blowing and equally high spirits.
My book was finished and both an agent and top publisher interested. It seemed my life was about to change forever.
Well, nothing came of that but, 40 years later, I've had many more published – and they still haven't changed my life!
However, I have no regrets. You see, it's still wonderful to feel those invigorating sea winds and be alive and happy, here on our wonderful Lancashire coast.

* * *

This week's column, in the Gazette on Thursday, reads like a fogey's rant - but why not? We oldies have earned the right - and time's running out for our wise observations . . .

WITH so many elections of late, there's pressure all round for progress and change – as well as growing self-interest for some.
But we should also conserve traditions born of long experience and, not least, our British good humour.
My opinions changed as I aged, becoming less idealistic and more conservative with a small 'c' but also, I hope, tolerant of others. It doesn't do to get too serious either.
The most refreshing current-affairs comment heard lately wasn't in parliament but from a confused woman neighbour listening to political news. She asked her long-suffering husband to get some of that new breakfast cereal everyone was talking about – Brexit!
My public experience is now mainly in the pub or restaurant, at sports events or the theatre. These are all changing, though not always for the better.
Take Lowther Theatre, a little gem doing nicely now as it is relatively cheap, customer-friendly and convenient. So what do they do? They push to redevelop and make it bigger, just as Lytham also changed its pleasant, one-day charity concert on the Green into a money-making festival bringing week-long disruption.
Well, many of us like this little theatre as it is - complete with popular café which would, doubtless, be replaced by a national-chain franchise. Similarly, the cricket and sports ground opposite has ambitious plans - yet many users just want simple improvements and maintenance which preserve existing charm.
It's the same at our Fylde pubs. Beer festivals become rock festivals in an attempt to pull in the young, only to lose older patrons. Many theatre-goers now selfishly stand and 'whoop', while pub patrons swear and shout, thoughtless of others also there.
Bigger and newer isn't always better. Let's pause and consider before recklessly discarding our past.
We should leave something for the young to grow into and then cherish . . . their heritage.

* * *

 When not writing columns I used to edit pages and coming up with headlines could be a funny old game, as this week's Gazette column recalls.

WOMEN'S sports continue to push back boundaries with impressive professionalism. Mind you, She Who Knows bemoans girls' enthusiasm today for rugby and soccer, championing hockey and netball as more feminine.
Having said that, my late mother was captain of Cheadle-Hulme Girls' First-11 cricket team back in the 1930s.
Now, in the traditionally conservative north, lassies are rolling up blouse sleeves for beefy highland games. Scottish organisers want more female competitors to throw the hammer and toss the caber (a tree trunk).
It reminded me of one of the unintentionally funniest headlines I've seen in a newspaper, this paper in fact, when highland games were planned at Stanley Park.
We sub-editors kept a rogues' gallery of double-entendre headings which had been spotted or, even better, had escaped notice and been published.
These often involved serious news stories, court reports or even tragedies when a hard-pushed editor was trying to devise an eye-catching headline to fit an awkward space with deadlines approaching. There were double-checks, of course, but gaffes can slip through.
One court headline with a rather perverse sexual twist, involved a would-be car thief who'd been caught acting suspiciously but who also, according to his defence lawyer, had been behaving out of character following a romantic upset.
It read, 'Man unhappy in love tried card doors'. Well, it paints an odd picture, doesn't it?
More grimly, there was the notorious headline on a suicide/accident story, 'Man hit by train was depressed'.
Ah, but, back to those cabers. Organisers were short of entries for their Scottish Games in Blackpool and a sub-editor, perhaps too innocent (or bravely impish) for the job, devised the news-page main heading, 'Search is on for tartan tosser'.
“Very funny,” commented an observant senior editor passing by, who instructed, “Change it!”
So the young, rather coy sub-editor did so, to, 'Search is on for Scottish tosser'.

* * *

HERE's this week's column published in Thursday's Gazette, so let's rock on!

ELVIS has entered the building . . . at least it looked like him, in close-fitting, tasselled leathers, and sounded like 'the King' too, with rocking 12-man (and women) backing band.
Excited anticipation ran through the audience at Lytham's Lowther Theatre and Elvis, actually tribute act Chris Connor, didn't disappoint. He hammered out classic rock numbers then spine-tingling, slower ballads in that distinctive style and quality which made the poor boy from Mississippi so great.
We've attended other tributes to pop legends, like Roy Orbison or Abba (even better looking than the stars), and not been let down once. Some nostalgia shows were the real thing, like Tony Christie or The Searchers (two of the originals anyway). Their musicianship is even better now and gallows humour flows in winning style.
It's also refreshing to be entertained by pop 'stars' who don't take themselves too seriously, nor cost an arm and a leg to see.
“This reminds me of my favourite cake,” quipped Chris Connor, before singing 'In The Ghetto'.
It reminded me of teddy boys and being allowed up to watch Bill Haley and the Comets sing 'Rock Around The Clock' on our black-and-white TV.
I wasn't into Elvis; my first '45s' being Cliff Richard's 'Living Doll' then Adam Faith's 'What Do You Want?' – before even having a record player (I went to friends). Another frustration, apart from girls, was my hair having a smaller 'quiff' than older brother's – though we both used pots of Brylcreem.
For any too young to remember, or others seeking nostalgia, catch up with the heady days of the 50s and early 60s on Talking Pictures archive film and TV channel.
Nowadays, I've grown into Elvis - so croon again, Chris! In the meantime a Rod Stewart tribute is heading to town . . .
Speaking of ageing, he wears it well too!


* * *

IT was sad to hear of the famous Waterloo crown-green bowling ground (pictured artfully below), in South Shore, being at risk. I hope its supporters win their campaign for more control and funds.
However, this did prompt happy memories from when Blackpool led the way in many sports and recreation – from its enormous Derby Baths, at North Shore, to the world renowned Tower and Empress Ballrooms on the Prom.
I enjoyed them all close-up, as a young reporter on this newspaper. It was my first daily and it came as a shock having to work weekends. Still, this often involved helping the busy sports department.
On summer Saturday afternoons we had a reporter in the score-box at Blackpool Cricket Club and other league matches. There was also the international junior tennis tournament at South Shore. In winter there was the Seasiders' soccer, of course, plus Fylde rugby and many other fixtures including Borough rugby league on Sundays.
It was great to be out the office and watching some good-class sport. Reporters were also often fed for free and, when the bar was open, it was similarly complimentary. Not a bad day out, when you're being paid!
At the Waterloo they were particularly accommodating. A sheltered VIP balcony caught the sun and also offered free bar and buffet for tournament guests, sponsors and Press.
I recall one Blackpool mayor enjoying himself there – then having to be helped back to the civic limousine by a burly town-hall attendant. Back in those genial days, of course, we would never report such an unedifying spectacle.
Finally, we news reporters pitched in on late Saturday afternoons to assemble final reports and phoned in results, all compiled and sent down to our basement Press as vans waited outside - for the popular sporting Green newspaper.
Somehow there's just not the same excitement today . . . simply switching on a smart phone.

* * *

NEWS used to be so important to me. There again, I was a newsman for 40-odd years, odd often being the operative word.
However, with retirement and ageing (this month heralds my three score years and 10), I realise news rarely makes much difference.
Don't get me wrong, I like to hear local news – from neighbours, friends or, of course, this newspaper. But opinions at Westminster, Brussels or even trials and tribulations of unfortunate people further away, wash over me nowadays.
What matters most is enjoying yourself while, hopefully, helping others do the same.
What a relief it was when I finally cancelled my 'heavy' Sunday newspaper. It was a weekly battle to read through before the next hefty tome came through the door.
How refreshing, too, not to hear the diatribe of conflicting politicians, or depressing details of disasters or dire deeds suffered by others then broadcast on TV and radio bulletins. When there are events which affect us, others bring it to our attention soon enough.
These liberating views have not arisen simply from my fast approaching 70th, but because our newsagent can't get any children to deliver his newspapers. The poor man now has to personally bring round ours every morning, along with 120 others.
Often it doesn't arrive until well after breakfast time, so She Who Knows – who loves to read her Daily over toast and marmalade – now keeps them a day late. What's more, us both now being 24 hours behind hasn't mattered at all. In fact, we've come to rather like it.
By the time some warned-of calamity or panic is due to occur, it's already safely passed us by.
The vital news you see, dear reader, is that life is to be enjoyed here and now - while remembering always that, thankfully, hope springs eternal in the human spirit.

* * *

ANYONE for tennis – even in the rain or a gale?
The Fylde's only purpose-built indoor tennis court will have a public airing this Saturday following repainting, when South Shore Lawn Tennis Club holds its annual open day.
The club is one of the coast's oldest and most successful over years, once famed for an international annual junior tournament and for producing Stanley Matthews Junior, who won junior Wimbledon; not to mention discos and barbecue parties on sultry summer evenings!
There are 'hard', shale and grass courts at the spacious club, on lower Midgeland Road at Marton Moss, while the impressive indoor is carpet – these days an increasingly popular surface. There is also a flourishing croquet club on the rural site, as well as recently refurbished clubhouse with bar, changing facilities and function room.
Tennis has always been popular on the coast, despite our windy weather, and now other clubs are pursuing indoor playing facilities. There are plans for a purpose-built court at St. Annes and hopes of a temporary 'bubble' in winter over two outdoor carpet courts at Lytham.
Still, hopefully this weekend the sun will shine and prospects be good for outdoors as our sporting coast comes to life for the summer season.
For those who would like to learn tennis, or refresh their game, there are coaching sessions at most of the popular and friendly clubs.
At South Shore on Saturday's open day, running from 1pm-5pm, there is free coaching, starting with sessions for children: 1-1.30pm, ages four to eight; 1.30-2pm, ages eight to 10; 2-2.45pm, ages 11-16; then adults, from 2.45pm onwards and, as the club (tel. Blackpool 767753) promises, fun for all the family.
There are also membership offers and all equipment is provided, say the organisers. All you have to remember is to bring trainers – and don't forget your children either!

* * *

This week's Thursday column from the Gazette calls for a clean-up on our streets and, as posted here, has a twist of controversy in its tail . . .

LOCAL elections are on the way, so it's time to talk rubbish! What I notice most about our once proud resort neighbourhoods is the litter – and lack of bins to put it in.
Blackpool bin collections are bad enough, with the majority of residents - especially tenants - ignorant about recycling or bin 'presentation' and collection times.
Fortunately, there are still committed locals who do care. The other day I bumped into 'Bag Man', as I'll refer to him here, coming round the corner from his nearby home. The active pensioner was struggling along with a dog, shopping basket and a black bin bag into which he was putting stray litter.
“Got to make some effort!” he explained to me, when I congratulated him on his public spiritedness, “It looks a disgrace otherwise.”
What's more, he knew the reason why – and it wasn't just untrained youngsters and ignorant adults dropping litter without conscience.
“Trouble is,” Bag Man continued, “Blackpool Council introduced those small street sweeping vehicles and got rid of all their former road-sweeping staff. However, those things aren't much use with all the parked cars blocking their way!” Bring back the street sweepers with their carts, was his clarion call.
My own would be bring back our bins, as the few litter bins which were around the area have now mostly gone – to avoid employing people to empty them. The result of all this is plain to see and, as Bag Man commented, “It's very depressing. I go out three times a day with the dog and have never seen any street cleaners.”
Fylde and Wyre fare better, this is Blackpool's shame. So, I say, vote accordingly and let's clear up this rubbish!
The other concern is speeding, along with police on the streets to enforce our laws.

(Personally, I've given up on Brexit and will be voting Green every opportunity. Call it a protest vote, a plea for genuine ideals, or concern for our beautiful world . . . I might even glue myself to a bar stool.)

 * * *

WHAT a wonderful week! Did winter pass us by? It seems like that late cold-snap forgot to hit us this year – fingers crossed!
Here in Great Marton, Blackpool's premier suburban high street of Whitegate Drive is setting out its stall for the welcome sunshine and days of outdoor leisure ahead.
Our resort town may have fewer trees than any comparable town in England (so I'm told), but those mature sycamores and horse-chestnuts are budding along 'the Drive' – just as are services and businesses here.
Blackpool's first micro pub, the Number 10, has a fresh frontage with tables and chairs facing the sun, along with cool ales and other drinks on tap, also tasty tapas and Thai food.
Just nearby, the coast's oldest hostelry, the Saddle Inn, will be offering a new outdoors bar in its popular beer garden, as well as the award-winning range of cask ales and inexpensive food.
But it's not just about indulging ourselves, with Easter approaching our St. Paul's Church will be marking the most important Christian festival and there will also be a fair outside on the holiday weekend.
There's even a brighter look to Devonshire Square with the renovated Number 3 sports pub and wine bar, as well as new restaurants along the Drive. Other high streets, such as South Shore's Highfield Road, are also bucking the downward trend, with lots on offer for residents as well as the changing face of the town-centre and Promenade attractions.
Then, when the bustle gets too much, I'll join others enjoying a stroll across beautiful Stanley Park to its excellent café, perhaps with a cool one later while watching cricket nearby.
Why holiday elsewhere? The only driving we shall be doing this summer is up to friendly Fleetwood, across to picturesque Poulton or down the free-rolling Fylde to leafy Lytham.
How fortunate we are!

* * *

THIS week's column was a bit of a plug for the latest book, but also thoughtful of those among us who suffer from invisible 'demons' which haunt them. We should all try to show more understanding and care.

HE was a sad sight, the haunted looking man wearily carrying a suitcase. It was as though he didn't notice others on his lonely forced march – seemingly going nowhere.
I'd seen him some times before around our area of the Fylde; always well-dressed and clearly cared for, but displaying no pleasure in his apparently aimless perambulations.
This middle-aged chap seemed another of those unfortunate people receiving 'care in the community' or perhaps from relatives; daily absorbed in his own tortuous ritual, driven by his pains or self-imposed worries.
'Not quite all there!' as they used to say, or, 'One sandwich short of a picnic'. But in reality it wasn't funny. Neither was he a danger to anyone else, only to his own well-being – like those other distressed souls adrift or at the coast's new Harbour Hospital for mental sufferers. There, but for the grace of God . . .
Typical scribe that I am, I didn't offer to help or cheer him, but his unknown story intrigued me and inspired my latest novel.
It's the fifth thriller/romance in my Fylde-based 'Sam Stone investigates' series, just published on Kindle and in paperbacks sponsored by the Arts Council. 'The Mystery of Mister Blues' also features scenes from Paris night-life.
The Sam Stone stories, like my other novels or humorous memoir, aim to be entertaining but also, most importantly, uplifting. I hope in that way to spread some joy and, in this case, perhaps make up a little for this disturbed man's suffering.
His plight made me grateful for my own good health and happiness, here on our wonderful Lancashire coast. This unsung hero, who really does tramp its byways, may never know of my fictional tribute to him but others will and, hopefully, find it uplifting too . . .
So thanks, then, from us to him, poor man.

* * *

WE seem to have a new, all-consuming hobby these days – attending medical appointments. If it's not me with some ailment then it's She Who Knows. I won't go into details, except to say we've had our share, thanks for nothing, of viruses plus unpleasant surprises.
For me the biggest shock was that, according to a nurse doing my annual check, I'd now lost two inches in height – or had I really been deluded for years before?
“Just part of ageing,” she counselled merrily.
Still, there are pluses to it all. “You're almost living here these days,” observed a cheerful caterer in the health-centre café, “Still,” she added wryly, “you've paid in enough, over years.”
There's a gallows humour which triumphs, with occasional treats to keep up spirits – like bacon butties or oozing rounds of cheese on toast with creamy coffees in staff canteens – we know all the right places now.
The health service is our biggest employer and its diverse working staff deserve all our thanks and respect. They're wonderful, despite unrelenting pressure, outrageously long hours and no staff parking. A book I read by a veteran NHS medic, while waiting in A&E, had the right prescription: get rid of management and return control to matrons and doctors.
There's even one lot of pen-pushers now 'dumbing down' NHS leaflet information, as though we're all children. There won't be references to urine, for example, but 'wee' instead. It's rather like those tiresome BBC attempts to be everybody's cosy buddy – with news bulletins always referring to 'Mums and Dads', rather than parents, and needless from-the-scene reporting.
I'm all in favour of a friendly approach and cheerfulness, as well as not standing upon ceremony, but we deserve respect too. So, treat us like adults – those hard-pushed staff always do!

* * *

WE may have been battered by gales and rain recently but there's a freshness of spring in the air on the Fylde these days and Easter, with its uplifting spirit of new life and hope, is now just a few weeks away.
It's also the time of the year when we at Edmonds Towers dig deep into the coffers to renew membership of clubs and social groups which add real depth and shared pleasures into our lives.
In the winter we keep our spirits and health up with afternoon tea dances which, fortunately, abound on our holiday coast, along with a weekly dip in a swimming pool – in my case at the nearby Village Hotel.
We've just paid our subs for South Shore Tennis Club, where we use the coast's best indoor court, and will soon be paying similar to Lytham Sports Club, where we enjoy outdoor carpet and grass courts. There's also Blackpool Cricket Club, with its wonderful facilities and surroundings, then, last nut not least, the Friends of Stanley Park - who do so much for our greatest public attraction away from the Promenade and, incidentally, the biggest green recreational space outside of London.
These places are perfect for families to enjoy outdoor activities and social life together, in a friendly, safe and healthy environment where you can meet friends and make new ones. If you haven't tried such clubs, then you're missing out!
These great facilities, run mainly by volunteers, are residents' true treasures on our diverse coast, away from better-know seafront attractions.
Once paid up, it's time to restore my old strings, so to speak, check out my shorts and T-shirts, then look forward to sunshine bringing a spring to my step.
As for fitness, that's already taken care of for this veteran . . . under the watchful eye of She Who Knows!

* * *

GOOD news for local sports fans and a boost for our popular holiday coast (see pic below) . . . 

IT was good to see thousands of Blackpool Football Club fans back on our streets going to the home game last Saturday. We could hear the Seasiders' cheers and chants from Great Marton, carried to us on a briny breeze. The fans also set tills ringing merrily in hostelries, eating places and many stores around town.
It was a great turnout at a Bloomfield Road stadium now free from the Oyston family's unpopular grip. There was even a last-minute equaliser to add a fairytale finish of sorts.
When I first came here as a reporter for this newspaper, back in the 1970s, I was struck by the local pride of people and their sporting heritage. Their heroes were down-to-earth figures and in Blackpool all seemed possible.
It wasn't just the soccer legends either, I witnessed the Borough rugby team top its league while, down the coast at Ansdell, Bill Beaumont (now Sir Bill) represented union, rugby's other code. Blackpool Cricket Club also topped the Northern League.
What town of similar size could compete with our wonderful sporting facilities; let alone the theatres, restaurants and general entertainment? The place was a winner from all angles and, along its diverse coast, offered everything from fishing port to luxurious gentility.
The contrasts could be staggering. Just a mile or two inland from a buzzing Golden Mile with its razzmatazz, was elegant Stanley Park and homes more like mansions stretching down the verdant Fylde between golf courses. Equally, within a few minutes a train took you from South Shore's cosy cafés to bijou bistros in upmarket Lytham.
We even have our own motorway and international airport, or used to have. If council plans for it ever get off the ground, we're all queueing up to fly from aptly named Squires Gate.
So, let's cheer on our team once more – and revive our pride in this wonderful holiday coast.

* * *

SORRY, readers, a day late posting the column this week when the Cambridges, Kate and William, visited Blackpool. Sadly, it poured down but, as the Gazette proudly said, that didn't dampen high spirits on the day and Kate vowed to return - for a royal family holiday! Pictured below is the Comedy Carpet of comedians' catch phrases from the Promenade which the Duke and Duchess enjoyed.

THE Royal visit to Blackpool yesterday set me thinking about my own regal-style encounters.
Perhaps the most impressive happened without me being aware, not that I can remember; possibly I slept through it.
My parents had taken a ferry to the Isle of Man when the Queen and Prince Philip were also visiting. Douglas was packed, so Dad decided we should wander into nearby countryside and enjoy the sunny day away from crowds. (Not sure Mum agreed but all worked out well.)
Soon we were alone strolling the lanes, except for older brother Mike running ahead and me – in a pram. Then a Rolls-Royce with outriders rounded the corner and the Queen noticed our family and waved to us with a smile. Possibly Philip was cat-napping, like me.
When older I met Princess Alexandria opening a day centre named after her here. It was funny as her hubby Angus Ogilvy was lagging behind, chatting, and got mistaken by a dinner lady for just another hanger-on.
“Hurry up,” she chided the royal, “or all your food will be gone.” He thanked her and did so.
I have also dined and chatted with a couple of governors of Hong Kong, when a colony, but they're not in the same top bracket of course. Still, whatever you think of VIP higher-ups, I always found them refreshingly pleasant and, oddly enough, full of down-to-earth good sense.
Here our royal family are a huge tourist attraction and cause of fascination and envy throughout the world. There's a lot of loyalty and tradition in distant places inspired by them.
What's more I think they're worthy of respect. In our sovereign and her consort's case, they've lived long, met everyone important and been everywhere.
I'd certainly trust their experienced view far above any of our increasingly disloyal MPs, let alone – God forbid – a President Blair instead!

* * *

THE subject of this week's column is still ringing in my ears . . .

BON JOVI – by Jove! It was to be a laid-back evening at Lytham's Lowther Theatre, snacking in the café, enjoying a drink in the bar then relaxing with live musical entertainment.
It didn't matter they were a tribute band; we've seen many and enjoyed them – Elvis, Roy Orbison, even Abba (better looking than the Swedes).
Sometimes they've been the original bands, like Showaddywaddy, and very professional – often being as long-in-the-tooth as their grey-haired audience.
I thought people gave me odd looks when I mentioned going to 'Bon Jovi Forever', but put it down to ignorance. However, it was I who didn't realise they were a hard-rock band – my youthful wife books these things!
On our fateful evening out my ears were burning, from the sheer volume of noise which rocked me back in my seat towards the front of this cosy, little theatre. Even putting in makeshift ear plugs of tissue paper didn't help.
Soon I had my head bowed low with my fingers pressing in my ears, but was still grimacing in decibel discomfort. Also, the seemingly normal audience appeared to have gone crazy too, standing up and waving their arms around like loons.
“It's too much for him - the noise,” She Who Knows shouted to a concerned woman on my other side, who looked fearful that I might be having a heart attack.
I made my excuses and left before the intermission, receiving tutting noises of sympathy from caring female volunteers manning the doors.
I sat in the bar, shaking along with the furniture, until the orgy of noise finished and She Who rejoined me.
“Like sitting next to an old fogey!” she complained. However, she also declined to return for the second half.
No more of the hard stuff for me, thanks. It's The Searchers next time – soothing us with Needles and Pins.

* * *

A SPORTING memory of the Welsh 'dragon' took me back to the mid-1970s and my own mid-20s, partly spent languishing in rural Shropshire on the England/Wales border - as recalled in this week's column.

THE Wales and England 'Six Nations' fixture, this coming Saturday at Cardiff, reminds me of my own gallant days playing Welsh rugby.
Of course, it wasn't for the national squad. For one thing I'm English to the core; for another I was new to the game and lacking any natural flair. But I joined a club in a Welsh market town, while working on newspapers in the Borders, just for something to do at weekends.
Colleague and fellow Lancastrian Big Dave, from Bolton, was the only other English member of Welshpool RUFC, otherwise made up of hill farmers. However, they were good sports and mostly county players.
“Mind you,” an unassuming team-mate explained, “our counties here are tiny, with more sheep than folk.”
Still, they got me fit and used me as a sort of battering ram in scrums against remote village teams. We played on sloping fields with frozen cowpats and had to ask local farmers to make up team numbers. They'd gamely leave their watching families and get changed into our spare kit on the sidelines.
Dave and I even toured with the club, going by coach to London when Wales were at Twickenham, then Cardiff for the return match. However we sat, of course, among Welsh fans, where we'd join in their singing and proudly admire that legendary national side of the 70s.
I wasn't much of a singer either but memorably got applauded at Watford motorway services, when we dozen or so harmonised enthusiastically utilising their gents' toilets' fine acoustics.
Finally, my finest Welsh rugby moment was on the field, playing against Ealing. Amid gasps of disbelief from team-mates, I managed to neatly catch the opening kick then hand it out to the 'backs', just as I'd been taught.
After that, I stuck firmly to our coach's advice to me – carefully avoiding any contact with the ball.

* * *

THIS week's column welcomes the new year . . . you'll see what I mean. Incidentally, outside the sun is shining here - just three weeks after writing our Home page about snow. Still, by March who knows?

I'M married to a rat - which is fortunate, on this Valentine's Day, with me being an ox.
I'm referring, of course, to Chinese astrology, which goes by year and month of birth. We supposedly make a natural pair, though sometimes our serenity is tested.
Rats, like all animals representing Chinese calender characters, are much admired – in their case for creativity, quick intelligence and activeness.
My own lumbering attributes are dependability, strength and endurance, with a dogged independence (or stubbornness).
While She Who Knows impressed teachers by being so bright, quick and agile, my embarrassing school reports spoke of “wallowing in the sloth”. Still, I got to where I wanted in the end.
This year belongs to an even more laid-back animal, the pig. We all rather appreciate porcine particulars. Pigs, apparently, are big-hearted, easily pleased and like to snuffle around then settle comfortably wherever they feel at home.
I think of one 'pig' in particular, an old pal I travelled widely with overseas. Having hated all proper jobs, Howard was a tennis coach. However, he was usually to be seen leaning lazily on a net post, encouraging his students – mostly attractive females who adored him.
We saw a good deal of the Far East together, accepting our respective calender characteristics, relishing banquets and a few beers. He was good, easy company but it was hard getting him out of his bed each day; while 'sleep' would stay encrusted in his eyes until mid-morning, like a child's. He would also be nodding off most evenings by 10pm.
What's your sign? Well, it couldn't be easier to look up these days, on the internet. Descriptions of each animal, or personality, I've checked have been uncannily accurate.
This also brings a welcome reminder at the start of the year – none of us are perfect, nor all wrong. That's consoling for us all!

* * *

MY Gazette column this week offers a personal but heartfelt viewpoint on our biggest political poser of the moment, delivered in a robust, sporting spirit . . .

AGE puts life into perspective. When young I observed the world through rose-tinted glasses and was inspired by idealistic songs like 'Blowing In The Wind' or 'Universal Soldier'.
However, wistful hopes of changing the status quo floundered as working realities got in the way.
I was also a 'townie', eager to see the world and its leading cities. I even campaigned to join the 'Common Market' for peaceful, profitable unity among nations.
Now I wear prescription glasses and see my neighbourhood clearly, while avoiding town centres and travel. Entering my 70th year, I'm aware of the frailties of mankind, doubt political promises and mistrust all grand solutions.
The truth is, we think mostly of ourselves and care about what's closest to us.
Now knowing foreign ways, I'm stirred here by that good-natured patriotism which fills stadiums for the Six Nations rugby tournament, with anthems like 'I Vow To Thee My Country' or 'Jerusalem' lifting our spirits.
I was struck, too, by a couple of other televised events: watching ex-politico Michael Portillo being welcomed across booming Canada; then, here at home, hearing English farmers and industrialists bravely welcoming independence and wider opportunities when we quit a now fractious Europe.
Whatever your view on so-called Brexit, it seems Commonwealth blood has proved thicker than European water - we even have a common language! Also, our politicians while espousing efficiency and profit have, in reality, been asset stripping the UK by auctioning off our industry and utilities.
In local terms on the Fylde, manufacturers and entrepreneurs receive only token support and we have witnessed the sale of our finest agricultural land, at Marton Moss, for new housing dictated by distant policy-makers.
As an oldie, it seems clear to me this isn't joined-up thinking if we are ultimately to feed, clothe and look after ourselves.
Like the England rugby team, it's time to proudly flex our muscles!

* * *

THIS week's newspaper column was a bit of a rant. It also, incidentally, reminded me of some meals I ordered rather hopefully in Hong Kong canteens and restaurants when missing the taste of home. Sadly, I got only what I ordered back then, rather than what I expected: boiled eggs with toast came out as two cold, hard-boiled eggs and a slice of cold, unbuttered toast; roast chicken with vegetables turned out to be a whole roast chicken, with a few diced carrots and peas squeezed around the edge of my plate. Ah, the joys of travel!

A TAKEAWAY meal the other night gave me much food for thought. We'd ordered Chinese, fancying exotic spices, assorted rice and lighter food. I was also indulging She Who Knows' sweet tooth, with sweet and sour main course rather than my preferred curry or peppery Szechuan, along with old favourite of Chinese catering here – banana fritters.
What was delivered was a disgrace: spare ribs with rich sauce but barely any flesh; 'special' rice with little of the promised pork, chicken or prawn; then a sweet and sour which would mystify Chinese anywhere else in the world.
The sauce was stickily sweet but had no tang of 'sour', with a few 'king' prawns deep (rather than shallow) fried in this odd takeaway tradition and, consequently, tasteless. (Originally, perhaps Chinese attempted to copy our traditional battered fish takeaway.)
The dish was full of 'water chestnuts', another tasteless oddity of English-style 'Chinese' food. For only single portions of all, our bill was £20. That would have bought a feast in Hong Kong - I know, after living there years. Their only bad meals were attempts at British cuisine.
We might laugh at foreign mistakes over our traditional fayre; such as 'roast lamp' or 'vile chops' (i.e. lamb or veal) which I've memorably been offered. But Chinese cuisine is the finest and most versatile in the world. The spiciest meals I've enjoyed were in their restaurants, yet also the most subtle and delicate sauces with, for example, seafood.; also the most varied and exciting starters, then innumerable styles for every meat, fish and vegetable under the sun. (Even the tastiest cabbage, savoured on its own in cheesy cream sauce.)
Why won't these expatriate chefs proudly cook us superb, authentic food?
As for fast food, Cantonese shallow frying is the freshest and tastiest you'll find anywhere – while only requiring cheap ingredients. That is, of course, everywhere but here!

* * *

HELLO readers, my apologies yet again - for posting this week's column a day late on Saturday. However, we're still suffering with colds here and I'm busy doing all our shopping, cooking, cleaning - and, of course, the writing. Anyway, here is this week's column - a starry-eyed, local yarn!

I RECALL the proud declaration of a local years ago in our oldest pub, The Saddle Inn. “I'm not from Blackpool,” he insisted, “I'm from Great Marton!”
After 30 years, I share his affectionate loyalty. What's more, this one-time village is becoming more distinctive – and colourful! You might see leading residents sporting outrageous suits – in tangerine or with stars, flamingoes or other garishness. But I should explain.
While our council busily flattens popular, old town-centre haunts, Blackpool's main suburban thoroughfare of Whitegate Drive has quietly redeveloped to current tastes. There are homely restaurants, welcoming cafés, handy takeaways and bright renovations to landmark pubs (thankfully not the period Saddle).
A real-ale renaissance has also brought our resort's first micro pub, the Number 10 Alehouse. Snug cask-ale 'shops' sell other drinks or food and are replacing former post offices, bank branches and corner greengrocers as neighbourhood meeting places.
At the No. 10, which has a sister version in St Annes, I've made many new friends: chatty builders; even more talkative merry widows; many dog owners (pooches welcome); or folk of unusual hobbies, like worldwide crossword fans, or a chap who's sampled every real-ale pub in Lancashire. (He is now revisiting all, to check how many have sadly gone.)
Yes, we're a colourful bunch but none more so than No. 10 owner George White (pictured), whose swashbuckling style brought us this popular new attraction. It was George's 60th last week, celebrated firstly in his St Annes alehouse then here in Great Marton, where he sported his flash novelty suit of stars. I can reveal this startling attire was inspired by retired local teacher Tom, who sensationally wore one ablaze with flamingoes on New Year's Eve.
Fortunately, then, all those depressing downward trends are being reversed here in friendly Great Marton, where neighbourliness and fun are still the stars – like George in his micro empire.

* * *

 MY apologies to readers for posting this a couple of days late on Sunday. I've been struggling with the lurgi (my usual winter heavy cold at this time), which She Who Knows has kindly passed on to me. I hope to be fit for the funeral 'wake' mentioned below and to see other members of the Honourable Order (read on!).

 THE passing of a life is only natural yet it makes a profound mark on us who remain, bringing back special moments, places and shared experiences which shaped ourselves.
It was sad to hear of a veteran local who died last week, but whose spirit lives on in memories which left deep impressions. Richard Brigg, 84, was a strong man; a haulier who thought little of attending one of his heavy goods vehicles for major roadside repairs, even somewhere as grim as Shap on a stormy winter's night.
But he was also a sparkling character, full of life and fun; while deeply respected by those he met socially, or through his work and other businesses he helped run later in life.
It was Richard, when chairman, who introduced me to the Honourable Order of Bass Drinkers, a colourful fore-runner of the Campaign for Real Ale, still flourishing on the Fylde and in Manchester. Here, they met mainly at the Saddle Inn (pictured left), in its coal-lit rooms, safeguarding and relishing Draught Bass - still king of ales today at Blackpool's oldest pub.
He was the straight-backed man in a smart leather overcoat, with a glint in his eye if challenged but who, in an instant, would change that to a twinkle of humour and good fellowship which made him fine company.
Richard and wife Ruth had a well-deserved retirement in Spain but returned recently to Great Marton. “Where else would you rather be?” he asked me, eyes sparkling, on a recent visit to his favourite local.
It was only in his ninth decade that Richard's health faltered. Ruth and sons John and Martin can give thanks for a life full-lived, at his funeral from 12.30 on Tuesday, January 22, at Lytham Crematorium. His spirit will be with us again in a wake afterwards, at the Saddle from 1.30, where all friends are welcome.

* * *

I'M posting this week's column a day early, as we have an early start to our morning tomorrow . . .

I WAS reading of an old chap living alone in a big house who tried not to make friends of wild animals sharing his garden, like birds or a young hare he was tempted to treat like his children.
He hardened himself against them because, nature being harsh, some got killed and that pained him. Yes, love can hurt.
Not only do I talk to garden birds, I even chat to inanimate things too. When rising first thing, as She Who Knows sleeps on, I make a brew and greet her old teddy bear on the rocking chair while drawing our blinds, then the cuckoo clock should it call – which it does now at odd times.
It's not loneliness but a joyful inclination to share my high spirits with whoever is around, even if not alive! True, it's hurtful to find a dead 'pet' or, even, a fallen cuckoo clock (I soon 'mended' it) but, as with real friends or family, we shouldn't build a protective shell about ourselves.
Like most people in friendly Lancashire, I greet anyone who cheerfully does the same – or not. Rebuffs I shrug off, as they're few.
Over festivities last week I greeted other parishioners during a rare church attendance. On a rainy day it cheered us all. The sermon was about trusting the Almighty and being open to all - very inspiring if, like me, you take an optimistic approach to life.
Then I read about that lonely, old man protecting his tender feelings by trying not to care for other living things. That's why it seemed sad, to be hardening oneself and one's life.
How much better to keep the faith, however testing it proves at times, and to trust that, like goodness itself, this brings us its own reward.
In fact, that's seems a fine New Year resolution.

* * *

ONE of the joys of Christmas has been getting together with old friends and former collleagues . . .

“YOU should write a column of memories on working with printers,” suggested Gazette former production chief Dave Earl. We were at our annual reunion for retired newshounds and compositors in Poulton's Thatched House.
No women, I'm afraid, they had more sense. Perhaps they'll join us next year.
To readers who don't appreciate it, I should explain the inside story of producing your local newspaper over the years. When I started in the 70s, the Press men were good enough to show me my first front-page byline coming off their big machine, which shook our Victoria Street building three times a day. Then we retired for refreshment through the back door of what was then The Grapes pub.
Later, when sub-editing, I worked closely with highly skilled compositors who changed our typewritten stories, headlines, photographs and sketchy page designs into a newspaper; first in hot metal on Linotype machines. To edit anything 'on the stone' as their basement workshop was called, we read print upside-down and back-to-front.
You couldn't touch metal-framed pages for the Press, that was their province. But we worked proudly together with – usually - mutual respect, plus many laughs to ease daily deadline pressure. Even during occasional strikes – usually national ones – there was understanding. How could you not warm to a management, in the form of spat and fedora wearing Sir Harold Grime – who sent us out hot soup and 'chairs for the lady pickets' one snowy Christmas?
Dave Earl himself recalled another amiable character – only a lowly messenger girl but with lots of loveable cheekiness. “Hello,” she'd shouted, seeing an 80-year-old Sir Harold at the top of stairs she was about to climb, “come on down Tiger!”
Today the Gazette is still entertaining you, but in ever-changing ways. Here's hoping you enjoy it for many years to come!

* * *

 SORRY, a day late posting this week's column for you - pressure of Christmas parties and giftwrapping!

IS there anyone left in Blackpool, outside of its town hall, who still believes the new tramway works are a good idea? Will our council please remind us again why we are spending all this money while undergoing years of civic misery?
The disruption to provide a tram link from Blackpool North rail station to the Prom has been going on so long most people have forgotten how to get around their once-busy resort.
At the same time, buses have been rerouted and lost their usual stopping points in the town centre, so no one knows where to catch one. Most locals decide it's better to simply stay out of town and leave it to the visitors. Except, of course, those are scarce – since rail travel has been disrupted for electrification, while in a car they face a dizzying maze of diversions.
No, it's all hopeless and chaotic. Last week I huddled across a deserted St. John's Square in a freezing gale, to visit our indoor market and a couple of popular real-ale pubs – all trying to be festive but, for the most part, unseasonably quiet.
These days we don't even like travelling elsewhere. We've only driven once on a motorway in the last three years, then found the congestion and - when we did get moving - speed both terrifying. What's more, everyone drives far too close to each other – as there's not enough space for them all. Just as well we were crawling along.
How much better if we all left our cars at home and used efficient, plentiful and cheap public transport!
But, hang

* * *

BIT of a rant, this week's Gazette column by yours truly. However, at the risk of sounding a fogey, I wanted to give a respectful cheer for that traditional British manner of reasonable reserve . . .

WE'VE been enjoying Strictly Come Dancing on BBC1, but there's an annoying factor which increasingly jars with me. Why is everyone whooping?
It's especially bad on the weekday show, compèred by lively and likeable Zoe Ball. They only have to announce the start of the show, or mention who a guest is and it starts up – wild whooping. Whoever was mentioned hasn't even appeared yet!
Perhaps the floor manager is American and holding up a card instructing our traditionally reserved British audience to, “Holler and whoop!”
Or, possibly, he simply whoops himself. If you listen closely, it sounds like the same man; obviously young, very highly strung and wildly elated - as though high on mind-altering drugs.
Alternatively, this uncontrollable urge to shout above everyone else's enthusiastic but polite applause is some malady akin to Tourette's Syndrome, which should be pitied and medically treated.
Once you've noticed this irritating, anti-social behaviour you start hearing it on other programmes, rather like that annoying and false “canned laughter” they used to play in the background for telly sit-coms, specially American ones. Now it's wild whooping which accompanies most live-chat programmes, such as The One Show or Loose Women. It's even creeping into our theatres, like the Grand or Lowther.
Of course, this unseemly outburst stems from the States. The British, however deeply moved or excited, have traditionally simply clapped, cheered or, among down-to-earth types, perhaps whistled.
According to my online 'urban dictionary', whooping is, “The act of screaming in adoration, generally accompanied by a revolving fist-shake and prevalent in the United States, Australia and other former colonies settled by pioneering herdsmen.' It also supplies a literary reference, quoting, “The buffoons were screaming like idiots!” and finally adds, see also 'Screaming banshees'.
Well quite - and on the Beeb too! Anyway, it's strictly off limits for me.

* * *

THIS week's column saw me wearing my civic awareness hat, supporting our local high streets. However, man doesn't live by bread alone . . .

WE'RE backing our high-street stores by shopping in them, as this newspaper and council are campaigning. However, I know red tape has made some business plans near us flounder.
The micro-pub round the corner had a struggle with officials to establish itself, but is now highly popular. The owners of a new takeaway sandwich and lunch shop, equally well received by the public, gave up plans for a further business grooming pets because of 'council problems'.
This may be the result of others' rules, of course, but let's try and make it easier, not harder, for local ventures to get going and succeed.
For example, church halls - being public places – face many health and safety or planning constraints and expense. Our local one ended up being sold off, while the private entrepreneur taking it over didn't seem to confront such problems.
I can't help thinking we should be trying to save our churches too. They, like high streets, have to move with the times but do still have an important community role to play.
Can the good, old Church of England really expect working couples with young families to attend 'worship' at 10am on Sundays, as our local church does? For many, it's their one day off work and free of other commitments. What's wrong with opening in the afternoon?
Also, what happened to our church social clubs and afternoon Sunday schools? Their discos and sports events were often youngsters' first chance to socialise and make friends, or even to find future spouses. (My first kiss was at a church disco and I remember it still!)
Dancing and table tennis, yoga and afternoon-tea groups can still be popular, but also supplemented by electronic attractions and wider pursuits, such as team sports, rambling, the arts and music nights.
These grand public buildings were built for our enjoyment and advancement, let's put them back into use at the centre of our lives!

* * *

A DAY late posting this week's column, my apologies - but I've been busy ordering Christmas gifts online. Next, though, I'll look round the high-street stores. We want to support our local shops.

BLIMEY, it's nearly December! Christmas cheer, or stress, is breathing down our necks. I've already had invites – and arguments – over festive party dates.
Nowadays, I'm content to meet up with a few former colleagues and friends for a mid-week afternoon in the pub, a week before the big day.
My idea of an evening 'do' would start at around 5pm and end a couple of hours later, leaving time for a TV dinner and snooze at home before retiring to bed. The notion of meeting at eight and going on till late just makes me shudder – with all those loud, boozy crowds filling the bar!
The first Christmas parties of my 'adult' life came in mid-teens, when working within a big, open-plan office at Manchester Town Hall. These 'do's' were always disastrous but us revellers never learned. However, after widespread staff drunkenness and unseemly liaisons in stock rooms, council chiefs finally banned our annual knees-ups.
Later, when employed on newspapers around the country, I often worked up to the last minute before rushing about stores buying late presents - then heading off to railway stations, or motorways, to reach family festivities. It was the worst time of year to travel and the anxious, over-crowded experience very exhausting.
However, I still enjoy a reunion - preferably somewhere handy, quiet and conducive to conversation, like a fireside room in an old pub.
Such cosy get-togethers put life – both our present and the past – into perspective. They round off our experience of others, while inspiring good fellowship. These are also celebrations of our many blessings, so often taken for granted.
With all the care that is lavished upon Christmas, then the hope and energy invested into New Year, this time brings a warmth we need during the coldest season of the year.
So, let's enjoy it all!

 * * *

 BIRTHDAYS, ah, they're not what they used to be - and come round too quickly!

IT was my venerable mother-in-law's birthday again this week. I say 'again' as these celebrations seem to come round ever more quickly. The years probably pass even faster for her. Tired of fuss over her longevity, Wynne now chooses to age backwards, losing a year annually.
Like Prince Charles, I'm facing my Biblical three score years and 10 (in 2019). Oh, you wouldn't think so? That's very kind! What hurts is when people just nod after you've revealed your age.
Glamorous She Who Knows, on the other hand, looks great and has been mistaken as my daughter. Her sprightly gait and fresh complexion owe much to that clean living she attempts to teach me. I, sadly, courted my well-seasoned looks: enjoying a pint, or savouring wine; always clearing my plate, while never known to rush anywhere.
When I once limped into my doctor's surgery – years ago – sporting an injury from the squash club; he quipped, “What happened? Did they ring last orders and you leaped too quickly off your barstool?” Really!
Anyway, I shall share with you my lifetime's sagacity about the ironies of ageing. (Also see my 'Growing Older Book'.)
We're in such a hurry when young to be older that children telling people their age add, “and a half”, or even “a quarter”. Only later - in my case when I ceased to be a teen - do we anxiously wish to slow down time.
In the end, you only get the opportunity to make the most of life when you're considered past it. Also, just as you do acquire that long-dreamed-of free time to indulge yourself, you're warned to cut back on everything.
Still, as veteran entertainer Maurice Chevalier (of 'Thank Heaven' fame) once wisely observed, “Growing older is not so bad . . . if you consider the alternative.”

 * * *

THIS week's column had a refreshing air of nostalgia but also reflected what's often sadly missing in modern, busy lifestyles - peace and quiet in natural surroundings.

AT home during these dark evenings we're enjoying old films on the Talking Pictures channel.
I like their detective series, being gentler and more down-to-earth than modern equivalents. There's Gideon's Way, saluting Scotland Yard; then Public Eye, featuring down-at-heel private investigator Frank Markham.
Before the start of programmes – some going back to the '30s – there is often a warning they may contain scenes or language which could offend. Yet there is none of the violence or swearing of current dramas and films. They mean, of course, these classics are not – to use today's disinfected parlance – politically correct. We're certainly not offended!
Instead they're a delight: tightly scripted and with no gratuitous gore; acted by theatre-trained professionals and, generally, optimistic and uplifting, while also being full of social history.
We're reminded of how people lived less than a lifetime ago. There's greyness, yes, but also harmless fun and cheeriness; a traditional mix of society (sorry, if that offends) and, above all, very few cars!
The films are a reminder of how towns and suburbs once were (like this old picture of Blackpool Tower and Promenade). How wonderful to see mainly pedestrians, a few cycles, possibly a horse and cart – then the odd car; but no double-parking, motorway congestion or road rage. There are even trees lining avenues; gardens and parks, instead of tarmacadam. Trains, buses and trams are packed and fully staffed; they run regularly and are cheap. Those were the days!
Now many young people, with others old enough to know better, care more about their treasured car and its 'image' than their own appearance or, sadly, behaviour to others. I wonder if, in less than a lifetime from now, viewers might look back and laugh, amazed by our selfish, senseless attachment to cars, with their high pollution and costs.
I fear, however, there might by then only be a 'virtual' world remaining.

* * *

MY recollections in this week's Gazette column were of past local attractions recently restored - always good to see. It's so tragic to witness our past being bulldozed for little gain. 

IT'S good to see a former landmark attraction in our resort again attracting investment and crowds.
I'm talking about the Number Three, known previously as the Crown or the Didsbury, but – to locals - always the No.3. Historically, it was the third coaching stop out of Blackpool; the Clifton Hotel being the first, the former Grosvenor Hotel the second.
When I came to Blackpool in the 70s, the No.3 was Number One with locals and hopping at weekends, with lines of taxis waiting to take revellers on to town-centre clubs. The lounge bar was a great meeting place, though many of the girls preferred the exclusive atmosphere of its wine bar. There was also a cosy vaults.  
(I've been reliably informed, since the article was published yesterday, that Roy Cogdell was the landlord from 1975 to 1980, with wife Barbara, whereupon a Tom Dover took over. The wine bar was called Le Bouchon , with the food bar adjacent, and the long bar was at the back of the
ine bar with an old street lamp as a feature, however - says my contemporary source - the vaults were not really 'cosy'.)   
Later in the 80s, I recall the main landlord as Alan Ball – a Scouser with dashing, dark eyebrows beneath a mane of grey hair. He certainly knew his stuff and wife Barbara was an excellent cook and graceful addition to the scene.
Now the Ma Kelly's group has taken over this historic location and re-opened last weekend. This pub/entertainment company has proved a real boon to the resort, taking over many flagging locations and turning them into popular success stories. Its head man, Paul Kelly, came from a catering family who owned the busy Tower Diner on the Prom. Paul deserves lots of credit. Let's wish him the same good fortune with his race horses.
Whitegate Drive is now looking like a great investment opportunity again, with the No.3 reopened, the Belle Vue pub revamped, Blackpool's latest micro pub the No.10 soon offering tapas and, of course, the traditional Saddle Inn, our resort's oldest hostelry. There's even a new Italian, Sotto, opened to popular acclaim.
We lucky locals are again being spoiled for choice!

* * *

THIS week's column springs from the same warm pool of thought and feeling which inspired our November post on this website's Home page. Here, the celebrations have only just begun . . . we say cheers to you, reader, too!

TODAY is a big day for birthdays and anniversaries at Edmonds Towers, Great Marton. So, although November's chill is setting in outside, there's a cosy glow warming us at home.
Celebrations are more muted these days, although still gratefully savoured: a box of superior chocolates, lovingly wrapped; a beautiful bunch of flowers, along with a thoughtful and attractive or amusing card – we especially like those.
In the past, greetings cards to each other often featured romantic couples in elegant settings, usually dancing; or, perhaps, jokier ones touching other interests like tennis. One had an old chap in whites offering a tray of drinks to his lady partner, with caption, 'Tennis players don't get old, they just mix doubles.' Another cartoon-card pictured a 'mature' courting couple, perched in a tree and sharing a box of chocolates, captioned, 'Another Year of Fun!' Yes, that's the spirit.
Today's card has a fetching portrait on its cover of a cute terrier, which even got sales assistants cooing in delight when I chose it. That should stand the test of time. Those cards we most like remain on display, perhaps around the fireplace or alongside photographs on shelves. They're a reminder of the pleasant things in life to share – and much cheaper than an original painting.
Of course, birthdays and anniversaries come round quicker these days. It's rather like these columns, this weekly 'chat' I enjoy with readers. If they spread a little joy; inspire some local pride, or hope where there was little, then it's a job worth doing. The reward, as with personal presents, is in the giving.
Perhaps there's someone whose mood you could lift today. Go on, give it a go! It'll make you feel better too.

* * *

BIT of a rant from me, this week's Gazette column, but it made me feel better . . .

I'M turning green but not with envy – more like the Incredible Hulk. My shirt-busting fury stems from frustration at faceless council officials ruling our lives.
The other Monday I had an anxious, early-morning appointment at the dentist's – to have a front tooth pulled out. What could be worse to start one's week?
Well, I'll tell you - getting back to the car minutes later and finding a £70 fixed penalty ticket. This was just before parking would be permitted for up to two hours. Some blighter had been skulking, ready to pounce!
Yes, I know it's wrong to use a vacant resident's space, even for a few minutes, but no other parking was available by the surgery, plus it was bucketing down.
Round the corner, by Stanley Park, She Who (usually) Knows was also done. Although only parked the short time it took to collect me from a crowded cricket club, she failed to notice a tiny residents-only sign on the far side of the pavement. The air wasn't green but blue! (From me, of course, not She Who.)
The answer, I've decided, is to walk. It's healthier, you see more and meet interesting people. But, then, my anger sprouted again. The final straw – or privet clipping - was my green bin not being emptied.
I've left it out before, full of hedge cuttings and where you couldn't miss it, but – when ringing to complain - been told it wasn't 'properly presented'. No wonder neighbours don't pay for green recycling.
Still, just as I'd penned this and ranted on the council's website, lo and behold! My bin was finally emptied.
Thanks, in the end, council. But then, when I weigh it up, we've still paid £30 for only one collection – and more than double that in parking fines . . .
I'm off again – walking, of course.

* * *

THIS week's Gazette column carried a similar message to this website's latest Home page post for October - a plug for the latest book.

I ALWAYS thought it grand to be a newspaper columnist, rather than doing proper work – even on a newspaper. Of course, the reality is different.
On local papers, columnists tend to write their stuff in rare free moments and often just before deadline, while having other duties like reporting or editing.
Now semi-retired, I'm typing this in pyjamas after breakfast in my 'study' (really the storage and laundry room). It's second nature now and I would miss these weekly chats with you.
Since then I've written for papers in cities as diverse as Hong Kong and Salt Lake City - yes, for the Mormons who were generous payers!
My first column came in my early 20s on a weekly in London's East End (see picture of me as a keen, young hack - it's a shock to me, too).
Mainly, though, I've written about life on the Fylde for this paper - over four decades.
I tell you all this as my latest book is a collection of columns illustrated with occasional cartoons and updates, entitled 'Wish You Were Here'.
I hoped it might entertain, rather than these shared muses, observations and confessions just being chucked out with the fish-and-chip shop wrappings.
It might even make a healthy gift. According to reports, books are good for mental well-being. They take readers outside their daily problems, offer another view of the world and teach us that we're not all so different after all.
However, I prefer to think of it as a fun stroll in good company down the promenade of life.
It's published at this time, with thanks to the Gazette, as autumn is setting in, temperatures dropping and darker nights approaching. When better, then, to settle down beside a cosy fire and escape our everyday concerns?
What's more, if its blurb reads true, you can dip in and out of this book like a warm Irish Sea – and that's a rare treat indeed!

* * *

THE political conference season has just drawn to a close in Britain but, in the future, there's a move to bring back the big party gatherings to Blackpool, where much investment is being undertaken. That all prompted a few vivid memories of the resort's glory days . . .

I'M obliged to well-informed Lytham pal Nick, for spotting an opinion column from the New Statesman magazine. This called for a return to Blackpool for political conferences.
In it, Patrick Maguire bemoaned the trend for big-city conferences by 'urban-professional' politicians only comfortable 'in posh hotels behind a ring of steel' - keeping the general public at bay.
Mr Maguire applauded quality hotels now being built in the resort and £25m invested in Winter Gardens improvements. He concluded, 'If Corbyn and May are serious about people who voted for Brexit, they should have their 2020 conferences in Blackpool.'
This brought back telling memories of true political heavyweights, who let our sea air blow away their capital cares (Which Way To Turn: see picture of PM David Cameron and wife on the Prom).
Who can forget Margaret Thatcher's visits and our streets lined with police sharpshooters? While, previously, Ted Heath had sojourned leisurely at the gourmet River House hotel, at Skippool Creek.
Labour's James Callaghan appealed privately to striking firemen in our town hall, then mistook me for his minders who were also waiting outside the committee-room door.
“Got the car? Shall we go then?” Big Jim asked me. My surprise was such I gaped wordlessly as detectives escorted the PM away.
I remember another Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, falling downstairs at Carriages restaurant, Talbot Square. What a bumbler the unfortunate man was! Little wonder he became a European commissioner.
Then there was grinning Tony Blair posing on breezy Prom, as John Prescott took a limousine to the conference - because his wife had 'just had her hair done'.
Finally, there was the Gazette photographer's story of Harold Wilson. When about to be pictured dining with his Labour Cabinet at the Winter Gardens, the wily PM had them pose with pints - rather than the cognacs they were really drinking. He also swapped a pipe for his cigar.
Oh for such craftiness now, for sorting out Brexit!

* * *

A MOBILE phone proved handy while away in North Wales (see Home page) but I'm still a texting novice, as admitted in this week's Gazette column.

I HAVE a confession to make. I've only texted once and under close instruction. Our Gazette car park attendant was the only other employee at a seminar on our new phone system who was equally ignorant, so we were taught to text 'Hi!' to each other.
I've tried texting since but failed. However, nowadays many services are provided online and there is pressure to learn.
I tell you this as a new book by author/actor Gyles Brandreth, entitled 'Have You Eaten Grandma?', bemoans 'the use and misuse of English in our time'.
Gyles, writing in The Oldie magazine about his book, throws light upon this sub-culture of the young and how they encrypt it to keep adults in the dark.
It made me LOL, as they say. You no doubt know that acronym – Laugh Out Loud (as opposed to lower case lol – Lots Of Love). But, OMG (Oh My God), I didn't know 'Wig' was an expression of delight for something so exciting it would, if wearing one, blow off your wig.
Closely kept codes of the young really Wigged me, such as: CTN – Can't Talk Now; KPC – Keeping Parents Clueless; POS – Parent Over Shoulder. Other shortened expressions seemed good ideas. For example, B3 – Blah, Blah, Blah; SLAP – Sounds Like A Plan; and, to B3 texters, TLDR – Too Long, Didn't Read.
The good news is there are now acronyms for oldies to use when texting. How about: ATD – At The Doctors; BTW – Bring The Wheelchair; FWIW – Forgot Where I Was; GGPBL – Gotta Go Pacemaker Battery Low; IMHO – Is My Hearing-Aid On? Then, my favourite, since the last stressful dental appointment, LMDO – Laughed My Dentures Out.
So there you are, proper English readers, all that remains is to say in text speak . . .
CU lol.

* * *

NOW the kids have gone back to school, the weather has picked up and it's sunny outside. This is only right and just, since it gives all us adults, especially retired 'oldies', a chance to relax and enjoy outdoors again - without the clamour of children, bless 'em! Here's this week's column:

WE had our flu jabs at the health centre this week, marking another year gone while still, thankfully, remaining fit. It was a reminder, too, of the changing seasons, just as in spring I undergo a blood-sample check – hoping for sunny results!
Of course, the place to really appreciate the seasons is outside and, apparently, those great outdoors are vital to our health. According to doctors, the natural environment plays an important part in our physical and spiritual well-being. The Royal College of Medicine and the NHS Alliance both champion 'outdoor healing' and the 'therapeutic role of a garden'.
Unfortunately, our busy and ever-expanding hospitals rarely have time or space to develop tranquil places of beauty with healing environments. However, some charities now maintain gardens by medical centres to give them a salubrious setting.
On the Fylde we're fortunate to have many parks and public gardens as well as the coastline to walk and cycle, or to simply sit and breathe that fresh air so prized by our forebears.
There's something of a celebration of all this beginning next week at Stanley Park, last year voted the best in the UK. Former Gazette journalist Elizabeth Gomm has an exhibition of pictures and words involving diverse visitors, centred upon her memorial bench by the boating lake to her late partner, former Gazette chief photographer Mike Foster. The exhibition is free and at the Visitor Centre run by The Friends of Stanley Park, beside its welcoming art-deco café Parks.
Of course, there are many memorial benches, as well as dedicated trees, around our park - the largest recreational green space outside London. Each tells a different story but all reflect that deep pleasure and contentment from relaxing in an uplifting natural environment.
Let's wish Elizabeth well – and all others who enjoy a park visit. I'll look out for you there!

* * *

BRRR! Autumn is here, with gales whistling around Edmonds Towers and temperatures plummeting. But are we down at heart? Never! Here's why . . .

MY Panama hat is now hanging on the back of our so-called 'study' door, removed from the kitchen where I'd take it out to sunbathe in Edmonds Towers' garden.
Also, last weekend I watched the last game of the season at Blackpool Cricket Club which, incidentally, topped the Northern Premier League's first and second divisions and the Palace Shield's Sunday one. Well done lads – and lasses! Teams are blossoming in the Lancashire Cricket Board's Women & Girls Cricket League.
This week we shall also be playing our last outdoor tennis – at Lytham Sports Club. Fortunately, there's a refurbished indoor court at South Shore Lawn Tennis Club, on the Moss, so we can play there over winter and autumn (which starts tomorrow).
How lucky we are on the Fylde coast to have so much entertainment and diverse activities for all seasons! We keep hearing of new restaurants, particularly in suburbs and aimed at locals not tourists, as well as cosy micro-pubs and craft beer houses appearing in different neighbourhoods. Here in Great Marton we recently welcomed the No.10 Alehouse, a mouth-watering addition to our existing popular pubs, Blackpool's oldest – The Saddle Inn – and the Boars (sic) Head with its exotic Thai menu.
Only the other day, while dining at Lowther Gardens' café before a rock concert, I spotted another possible winter hobby – the 'Tuneless Choir'. It's 'for those who can't sing but just love doing so anyway'. This choir, at St. Annes Parish Church Hall, follows an earlier one still making a glorious noise in Thornton.
My music master told me never to sing in public but mime (after repeatedly hitting me on the head with his wooden recorder), so it might suit me. However, we also have those afternoon tea dances to attend . . .
See what I mean? We're just spoiled for choice!

See also our Poem page - to inspire some autumn awe!

* * *

ALL that glitters is not gold and that's certainly true today when so much is false. What dazzles us most, it seems, is a mix of celebrity and glamour propped up, of course, by wealth.
These are the ingredients making Strictly Come Dancing such a hit for the BBC. It was always top viewing at Edmonds Towers but, of late, has waned in appeal.
On Saturday we watched the preview for this winter's glitzy series and, well, were sadly disappointed. Who were these 'celebrities' anyway? There were no truly household names, famous politicians, sporting legends or top-billing entertainers – emerging from their comfort zones to tackle ballroom dancing in front of millions.
Then there's the superficial glamour. We don't mind sequins, they're fun, but this lavish show was produced Hollywood-style. Film cameras glossed over any imperfections and air-brushed out all wrinkles, unlike those unforgiving high-definition television lenses usually employed. Whitened teeth dazzled like toothpaste adverts while waxed, spray-tanned torsos flashed in the strobe lighting - as professional dancers met contestants and embraced in over-the-top, theatrical jubilation.
The once inspired show formula all started going downhill when producers began interfering and 'glamming up' the excellent mix of experienced and opinionated judges. Arlene Phillips was axed and we missed her sharper edge; then chief judge Len Goodman retired to “pickle his walnuts” in Cockney-land, probably tiring of everything now going so smoothly. Soon, I fear, judges will be as tame and politically correct as those in the anodyne American version of this worldwide hit.
Besides, what will they now really have to judge? Most contestants were young or, at least, fit and agile, while also obviously taught dance at stage schools. It all seemed as plastic as that tatty Glitterball Trophy.
Let's just hope the Beeb still brings the show up north to Blackpool's Golden-Mile Tower, where real life still shines.

* * *

This week's Gazette column was an echo of my latest Home page post of this website, though with a little different slant to each. It's food for thought, whatever you're taste is for . . .

OUR holiday coast was booming last weekend with the Lights Switch-On and Britney on Blackpool Prom; while St. Annes held its International Kite Festival and Lytham, well, leafy and now trendy Lytham is always full at weekends!
The Illuminations and pier firework displays will continue to draw visitors this month but, with Brexit looming, there's some British customs which could attract cultural tourists from further afield.
The Chinese already know Blackpool from its world ballroom dance championships paired with Shanghai, a more exciting link-up than our old friend and 'twin' Bottrop, in Germany. However, our coast is also rightly renowned for fish and chips – a traditional treat fast becoming a 'must-have experience' on tours from China.
A chippy-come-restaurant outside York (Scotts, at Bilbrough Top on the A64) is attracting more than 100 Chinese diners a week. The influx began after its manager introduced Chinese menus, along with a website and messaging 'app' on one of China's most popular social media platforms.
Chinese tour operators now add the 'fish and chips experience' after their President, Xi Jinping, famously shared such a supper with then prime minister David Cameron on a visit to the UK three years ago.
Staff at the Yorkshire chippy cheerfully pose for pictures with Chinese visitors, whom they report are “very friendly, smiley and happy”.
Of course, our coast's award-winning chippies could offer much more to savour than on sale over the dark, colder side of the Pennines. After trawling nautical history at Fleetwood, there's diverse piscatorial catering along the Fylde or, of course, cultural curiosities like deep-fried haggis – or even Mars bars – thanks to Blackpool's Glaswegian associations.
Sometimes, in our Victorian resorts, we can feel we're living in a museum. Well, we might have missed out on World Heritage status, but the sea's blessings might still bring a fresh tide of seaside attractions.

* * *

JUST time before the summer season ends to squeeze in another tennis tale. Last week I commented on sepia pictures in this paper showing the game played on the Fylde during the last century. How smart everyone looked, fresh and sporting in 'whites'!
Now, apart from at Wimbledon, anything goes as regards sports outfits. However, it seems some notables have gone too far. Serena Williams, a favourite TV performer for us at Edmonds Towers, has been banned from again wearing her black catsuit at the French Open. The tournament is to introduce a stricter dress code.
Serena herself said the outfit gave her confidence so soon after childbirth and made her feel like a 'superhero', particularly easing her worries about blood clots which had troubled her. Mind you, we vividly recall her wearing an even more sensational catsuit years before.
Perhaps it's time that local clubs should rule along similar lines – and, for example, ban leggings. These, no doubt, keep the limbs warm in cold weather (as tracksuits do) but, unless worn with accompanying skirts, are skin-tight and revealing.
We've also seen some younger girl players in shorts so tiny many onlookers wondered if they had forgotten their skirts, being reduced to exposing themselves in underwear. After all, tennis isn't competing with beach volley ball to attract more male spectators!
How would those older ladies, who feel the cold most, react if us veteran men started wearing such leggings too? Anyone remember comedian Max Wall? We shudder at the thought!
Then we could also rule that men should not wear floppy shorts – also unpleasantly revealing when sitting down. Or, indeed, skirts shouldn't be so short as to expose knickers when serving or picking up balls . . .
Well, it would be a brave committee member who proposed such, so I better finish there – at Love All.

* * *

As the tennis season nears its end, the local paper took a trip down Memory Lane with pictures of veteran players from their hey days. What a pity they can't be coloured in, as is possible today, but remain black and white - unlike our rich memories . . .

IT'S a shock, though also delightful, when black-and-white archive pictures from this newspaper's Memory Lane section show people you know now – as they were 40-odd years ago.
So it was last Friday for me and other keen players, as The Gazette served up sporting memories from the last century of Fylde's proud tradition of tennis clubs.
The front cover showed half-a-dozen young lady members of Poulton's Moorland club, in 1974, all dressed charmingly in fashionably short, white tennis skirts or shorts, holding wooden Dunlop-Maxply racquets and ready at the net for a fresh season.
Inside was a spread of sepia memories from Thornton, Blackpool, South Shore, St. Annes and Lytham clubs, along with a professional exhibition in the 1950s at Blackpool Cricket Club, featuring world number-one Jack Kramer of the States.
There were a few players (then with long, dark sideburns amongst the men) who are still gracing our courts today; plus shots of clubs now gone, like North Drive, in St. Annes, and Blackpool at Marton Institute – where the once excellent shale courts hold vivid memories for many of us.
I'll be carrying the archive pictures around in my tennis bag for a while, should any veteran players have missed their publication. In my head I also hold memories of many happy years playing tennis here on the coast.
The game brought me together with my wife and also still gives me many friendships and healthy, happy outings. You should try it if you haven't already! Our local sports clubs are still great places to socialise and for families to enjoy together.
I also remember the last time I wielded a wooden racquet – when winning St. Annes' Club's centennial tournament at the Millennium. (It was a handicap event and they'd been generous with me!)
Perhaps there will be pictures of that, too, in another 50 years.

* * *

I must have had a 'senior moment' last Friday, as I forgot entirely to put on that week's column to this page. Happily, I can now, therefore, offer this week's then last week's for your consideration. Both make reference to mother-in-law Wynne, who remains a remarkable conversationalist even as she attains great age.

ONE mellows in older age. It helps us live with life's ups and downs. Even what appeared past disasters have, it seems, become triumphs.
Venerable mother-in-law Wynne pointed this out. “People don't think much of journalists,” she told me frankly, during a chat. “But I always tell them of you and that young sportsman you let off – in Hong Kong.” When I frowned, she added, “He was a football player, who drank a lot.”
Ah, yes, Georgie Best, one of my missed 'exclusives'. George – whom many believe was the best - was on a world tour, telling how he beat the booze.
I worked in Hong Kong and heard him on its breakfast radio. Then, coming home late afternoon from our newspaper office, I dropped into a quiet bar owned by a Scottish ex-soccer player. There was a sad George alone in a corner, supping alcohol.
“It was so kind not to take advantage of that poor man's addiction,” Wynne explained. “It does you great credit, you see.”
Well, perhaps. I never was tough enough for Fleet Street.
My second encounter with a sporting superstar was with snooker player Alex Higgins, another black sheep. After some rumpus he had jumped from a girlfriend's bedroom window to evade the Press, breaking a leg but escaping.
“Where is Alex Higgins?” screamed a Sunday tabloid's front page next morning. Well, as it happened, he hobbled into a pub where I was – in Ramsbottom.
The broken man looked terrible and I felt sorry for him. Although it would be a lucrative scoop, I couldn't betray him. Alex even limped over on crutches and asked to borrow my paper.
“Mum's the word,” I told him, with a wink. His nod of thanks was my only reward – along, of course, with mother-in-law's congratulations.

EVER feel your world is crumbling around you? The other day was like that. I'd been to a reunion, had a hangover and didn't sleep well - so neither had She Who Knows. It all cast a pall over the morning.
This rather messed up our plans for the day but, then, how often do those work out as expected? Even the good book says, 'Don't think of tomorrow'.
What's more, in such a dark cast of mind, you notice all the other things going wrong – rather like spotting more dust around, or worry lines on yourself, when walking about wearing reading spectacles.
There was a crack, I noticed, in the bathroom floor tiles; then many more, once I got down to examine it more carefully. Next I accidentally knocked a wonky shelf in my study (our overflow room) and it collapsed, tearing wallpaper and making a mess.
Everything was going wrong but, ever the optimist, I muttered a silent prayer. Also, I remembered those stern admonishments favoured by mother-in-law Wynne and her generation – 'Pull yourself together and snap out of it!'
Within a short while I'd fixed the cracked floor tile, restored the shelf (still wonky), covered up torn wallpaper and felt better about myself. Also, She Who Knows had indulged in a restorative nap.
Then we went out up the coast; giving ourselves a rest from playing tennis but watching friends instead; even treating ourselves to a late roast dinner at a friendly café - OAP portions please!
Life wasn't so bad after all, you see. It struck me that having a little faith – in yourself, others, life's good side and, dare I suggest, even God Himself – was like lighting a welcoming fire in a chill home; it turns your life aglow.
So much so, I decided to share that good news with you.

 * * *

This week's Gazette column was something of an update on last month's Home page post for this website and of a literary mode . . . with a frustrated dig all round at TV book adaptations!

AROUND mid-day and in mid-week, I felt rather as though on the set of a Midsomer Murders episode – the ITV detective series based on novels by Caroline Graham.
I was, in fact, at a stylish restaurant book-launch in Lytham for top crime writer Peter Robinson (pictured from You-Tube). Thankfully, Peter was a down-to-earth, likeable northerner, both approachable and unassuming.
The event was friendly, too, and smoothly managed by local bookshop Plackitt & Booth. Peter even accepted a copy of my latest novel (Waiting For The Ferryman - see our Books and Chapter/Story pages) though, unlike me, he didn't pay.
There were lots of mainly lady diners – all smartly turned out - and my table companions were 'singles' who, like me, had come without spouses or friends. These were a retired wholesale book dealer from Wrea Green; a charming, retired teacher who'd driven from Bolton, then a lovely New Zealand woman who lived on a cattle and sheep farm when not visiting family in the Fylde.
Fiction reflects life and how enlightening it all was! Peter, we learned, often didn't know himself whom his murderer was until deep into his stories. What we all love, you see, is a bit of a mystery and stepping into others' worlds.
I told them my characters often determined the plots and surprised me, too. Minor ones sometimes proved more interesting and supplanted original heroes. It's stranger than fiction, this writing business!
Peter also revealed a degree of ambivalence about the TV face of his books' hero DCI Banks, the Fylde-reared actor Stephen Tompkinson; as well as having little involvement - or profit - himself in the series. Programmes are apparently put together by “a committee” of executives.
This all confirmed my own suspicions about why telly crime is now – to me - so politically correct, over-dramatised, often confusing and, well, unrealistic . . .
Without the authors, you see, they've lost the plot.

(P.S. Peter used to write a lot of poetry and I've included a lovely line from his latest thriller, Careless Love, just to show his occasional descriptive gems. See our Poem page.)

* * *

This week's column seems a bit grumpy and fogey-like upon reading it again - my arthritis must be playing up!

I FEAR we're becoming a nation of uncouth slobs; taking our plentiful life for granted and, as a school report once reprimanded me, 'wallowing in the sloth'.
My father was a working man; mother a housewife who also did odd jobs. Back in those grey 1950s and early 60s, people were grateful for what little they had and learned to cope. But they still taught children manners, some pride in appearances and inspired a will to improve. Streets were clean, kids obedient and my school motto was Manners Maketh Man.
Now few young people can use a knife and fork. They shovel with fork and fingers, perhaps feet on a handy chair, staring at screens. Even prosperous 'ladies who lunch' pick at food with forks – American style, perhaps inspired by TV cookery programmes where judges often do the same.
As children, we were once shocked by a diner at a seaside café who complained his steak was small, then sliced it up and eat with a fork.
“Must be a Yank!” said Dad. Americans were wealthy but lacked our manners from generations of culture.
Abroad, we admire the dexterity of chopstick users – with their own codes, such as not eating left-handed as it nudges a neighbour's elbow. Many rice-based cultures favour a practical spoon and fork, but no one eats as badly as Brits now do.
We're also usually the worst dressed – either 'grungy' or 'flash', while often hideously obese. Why is it those fattest favour the tightest leggings? We're even lazy in speech, picking up clumsy American expressions and 'like' text-speak.
People eat far in excess of what's needed, wasting much. We're building up medical problems, while losing respect around the world. At our health centres the fittest specimens are the babies.
Hopefully, they'll do better than ourselves . . .
But who will teach them?

* * *

A sporting theme to the column this week . . .

WITH an eventful Wimbledon – and World Cup – just past, it's rewarding to reflect on that sage advice from Rudyard Kipling's 'If', once voted our nation's favourite poem.
Engraved above the players' entrance to Centre Court are his much quoted words: 'Meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors both the same'.
A similar sentiment echoes, too, in former champion Boris Becker's comment after losing on the hallowed turf. “I didn't lose a war,” he told the world's media. “No one died. I lost a tennis match.”
Our family always had tennis racquets about the home, alongside footballs and cricket bats. They were wooden, hand-me-down ones in presses, with strings that were never changed.
I've played tennis for 60-odd years and observed how it is often the worst players who are most fiercely competitive; the least able who impatiently cut short a friendly practice to play a game for points; the most ill-prepared who rush on court late, announcing, 'I don't need a warm-up'.
Odd, indeed, but that's life; which sport merely reflects. Those in a rush to win usually miss the true joys of taking part. Experience, time spent learning, increases the satisfaction. After a good match I often can't immediately recall, and don't particularly care, who finally won.
These days youngsters are coached and have all the gear, which we never did. Sadly, however, those teaching them rarely impart more than how to hit winning shots. They don't explain tactics for doubles, which most clubs play: where to move and why; how to set up your partner, rather than just play for oneself.
Come to think of it, many would benefit from similar lessons about everyday life – on our roads, in the business place, wherever other people are involved.
If only . . . as Kipling said.

Incidentally, if you wish to read more of 'If' by Kipling, currently causing some controversy among British students - presumably as being 'sexist', there is an abridged version at item 28 on our Poem page.

 * * *

This week we're welcoming a cheering development in our nation's high streets . . .

 WITH so many pubs, post office and bank branches closing on our high streets, it's cheering to welcome a new attraction and meeting place.
The No.10 Alehouse Blackpool, on Whitegate Drive, is opening tonight, from 5-7pm by invitation and then onward. In fact, it's actually at property numbers 258/260, once a chiropodist's, but is named after the popular similar operation at 10 Park Road, St. Annes.
Both concerns are headed up by landlord and owner George White, a local man who cares passionately about his project. For George it's not just about real-ale traditions but also this neighbourhood of Great Marton. He hopes his success will encourage others back into our high streets, with cafés, bistros, stores and other communal hubs.
“It's a great 'village' area and I've many friends here. We should do well,” said the genial George. His eager team, including stylish, musical barista Colin, will be a welcome force for local fellowship.
I've also enjoyed visits to the alehouse in St. Annes, or the welcoming Lytham Craft House in Clifton Street. The appeal of 'beer houses' is their cosiness and friendly owner-service. Despite the name, there is more on offer than real cask ales dispensed by hand-pumps. There are usually craft lagers, ciders and the increasingly popular perries; as well as wine and non-alcoholic drinks, including hot beverages and home-made snacks.
But what is specially attractive to most patrons, is the cheerful personal atmosphere. Thankfully, we may still get this in some traditional public houses and even new bistros. However, 'beer houses' tend to be small enough for anyone to join a conversation or, of course, be left in peace with a newspaper or friend.
Let's wish George well and support another promising attraction to our diverse resort coast, so long renowned for its friendly entertainment of visitors and locals alike.

* * *

I AM a bit late putting this week's column on the page, sorry. Still, it is also rather similar to this month's post on our Home page. Forgive the plugs and I shall, of course, report back upon meeting Mister R.

DETECTIVE fiction fans on the Fylde have a red-letter date this month, to meet DCI Alan Banks, the Yorkshire sleuth played on television by locally raised actor Stephen Tompkinson.
Well, it's not DCI Banks himself, of course, but his creator, top-selling author Peter Robinson. On July 25 he's coming to a lunch-time book-signing event, organised by innovative Lytham bookseller Plackitt & Booth.
The day will, as it happens, launch the 25th Banks novel, Careless Love. I'll be there, books in hand, to meet my writing hero Peter.
The Yorkshireman, who splits his time between Richmond and Toronto, has been an academic and taught creative writing. His books, including other novels and many short stories, have entertained, inspired and delighted millions – while also attracting top awards and sales.
However, the books in my hand will not only be a copy of Careless Love, a double-mystery set on the wild, North Yorkshire moors Peter loves to remember when home in Canada.
Rather cheekily, perhaps, I'll be giving him a copy of my latest light thriller, the fourth in my series on Fylde's daring and dashing reporter-come-investigator, Sam Stone.
Waiting For The Ferryman, as it's entitled, also has a wonderful setting close to my heart – Conway near Snowdonia and then County Cork's Sheep's Head Peninsula.
I hope Peter won't be offended by my initiative and enjoys his visit to our friendly coast. There are so many diverse readers who are thrilled and engaged by his writing. I also hope that, perhaps on that long journey back to Canada from this busy book tour, the amiable Northerner might look over my own humble offering and even, later, offer some advice.
It's wonderful and inspiring when our heroes come to life in front of us. On the other hand, what DCI Banks will make of Sam Stone I'm not sure.

* * *

We take our hearing and other senses much for granted - until we lose them, if only temporarily. At the moment I'm still taking ear drops and half-deaf. It truly hinders one's social pleasures. 

“WELL, doctor,” I began, feeling rather unworthy, “I'm fine really. But, every few months, I use drops to clear my ears of wax. I know it doesn't completely clear them and have had them syringed a couple of times in past years.”
The young doctor nodded patiently.
“Well, last week I used some drops and, afterwards, lost my hearing completely for the day. Since then, it's returned almost - except that my ears are still blocked first thing in the morning, while my left one remains less clear than the right.”
“Unfortunately,” I added to my shame, “those drops were three years out of date.” (We really must clear out our cupboards!)
What I didn't tell the doc, whom the surgery receptionist had made an appointment for me with, rather than the nurse, was my frustration, fear and humility while 'deaf'.
Others, apart from my nearest and dearest, tended to laugh off my predicament – or, rather disconcertingly, put it down to advancing years.
What was more, we were booked into a concert the evening following my temporary deafness. Fortunately, I got a reprieve and Tony Christie at the Lowther Theatre was great.
But I can assure you deafness is a lonely, strange and silent world which leaves you unsure of your surroundings and what's happening. It's like walking on cotton wool without a vital sense to guide you. Also, you have to guess what is being said and can offend others by not hearing.
The deaf or 'hard-of hearing' will always have my sympathy from now, rather than causing me occasional irritation as in the past.
As it happened, the doctor simply suggested a week of olive-oil-based drops at night secured with cotton wool.
But he also offered healthy advice: always check medicines before using. Believe me, that's a lesson worth listening to!

* * * 

'ONE is nearer God's heart in a garden than anywhere else of earth', so the popular adage goes. The poem was originally found written in a visitor's book at a stately home.
Our humbler back garden, here in Great Marton, has been a delight of late. This was thanks not only to the 'kiss of the sun', or the mirthful 'song of the birds', but to their bumbling chicks too.
Even our garden arch blowing over in last week's gales, bringing down honeysuckle and roses, hasn't interrupted daily sightings of the blackbird chicks, nor our pair of robins clearly reluctant to disappear as usual for summer.
It was former Gazette country writer and sadly missed friend Jack Benson (pictured) who explained avian behaviour to me. The blackbird's chorus would not be heard into summer, nor my favourite - the robin - sighted again until autumn. This was because the former had established his home, while the other was holidaying in woodland.
Perhaps there's not enough forest around any more, or my garden is getting wilder, but our robins are welcome to stay as long as they wish.
Also, the blackbirds will soon lack any energy for singing, so demanding are those fluffy chicks currently bumbling about our garden wearing worried countenances upon unsure wings.
Thanks to our huge ivy hedge, battled annually by itinerant gardener Joe, we also have darting, dazzling blue-tits nesting with us, chirpy sparrows and reclusive wrens. I shoo away pigeons, wood-cocks and magpies, but not too fiercely – live and let live we say.
While the madding crowds jeer and cheer over soccer's Russian roulette, we're content in a natural haven here on our lovely Fylde coast.
For, after all that feverish sporting clamour is over, it is in a comforting garden where, as poet Dorothy Frances Gurney rightly observed, 'The soul of the world found ease'.

* * *

 Late again putting this week's column on the website - must be another senior moment, though I have been busy tidying up the gardens after a freak gale. As promised, this week I was putting the boot in - to the World Cup. Just joking, of course, for you real fans . . .

EVEN I know today is the start of the World Cup in Russia. I say that as football isn't my thing.
Also, we live between two pubs with big-screen-sport coverage. From fans' cheers, or silence, we know who's winning without turning on our telly – at least when England's playing.
As a lad I practised footy against the invitingly high wall of a neighbour, who would puncture my ball when it went over. I also played soccer and cricket games on the local park, though with soft rubber balls.
At school it was a different story and hard learning curve: facing a bruising 'corkie' at cricket, then a brain-damaging, leather football on water-logged pitches, with goal-mouths a muddy quagmire. It was miserable, specially as I showed no natural talent – except for physically knocking over those flashy, big-headed forwards.
I also hated that terrifying gym equipment and the exhaustion of athletics, though I got by at putting the shot and throwing javelins (which I always aimed at our sadistic games master).
Tennis became my sport, with soft balls, grass courts and, later on, attractive female co-players. Rugby was all right in practice but brutal at adult club-level. Squash, however, was just the thing to work up a sweat during our cold, rainy months.
As for watching football, well, when I first went to see glamorous United at Old Trafford (supported purely in rivalry to my older brother's enthusiasm for Manchester City), all you could see was fog. The next time there I lost a slip-on shoe at the Stretford End then had to hop to the bus stop. Even on telly, the excitable commentators get on my nerves and most players, well, they're grossly over-paid, mostly foreign and cheat, at least by our old-school standards.
Still, I'm not a spoil sport - may the rest of you enjoy it!

* * *

This week's column is appearing here a day late, with my apologies. I was savouring a cup of tea yesterday in the garden. Next week we'll be kicking around the World Cup, not a particularly welcome event at Edmonds Towers!

AT Edmonds Towers we've some grand notions but decidedly aren't royals. We use some so-called 'received pronunciation', saying “thenk-you” - but that's a personal joke prompted by old films where stars all speak very 'properly'.
Like the Queen, we leave some Christmas decorations up until late February. That's to cheer up our little palace during dull winter weeks. We also avoid the word 'toilet', since reading Dame Barbara Cartland on etiquette. It should be 'lavatory' or 'end of the passage', though we prefer 'bathroom' or 'loo'.
However, in other respects we're quite different from Her Majesty and family. I know this from Radio Smooth, which She Who Knows favours in the car. They recently had tips from a former royal butler on making the perfect cup of tea.
They always use a teapot, of course, but then - he claimed - added milk after pouring and never stirred the pot in a circular motion.
This seems all wrong. As She Who Knows points out, if using bone china cups a drop of milk first prevents cracks. Also, it indicates how strong the brew is. As for spooning motion, I suspect he was deliberately stirring up things. No wonder he's an ex-employee. (You can't get decent staff these days!)
Then a Balmoral butler, on a TV programme about how the other half live, discussed serving red wine at the dining table. Apparently, royals never show the bottle but always decant first.
At Edmonds Towers I like to be reminded what I'm drinking, since we may keep a bottle for another day. Only our worst wine goes in a decanter to air (or hide) and, hopefully, encourage mellowness. Anyway, like the late Queen Mother, She Who Knows prefers champagne.
Finally, I keep a bottle or two of beer cool on the Towers' back step. We've yet to learn where Philip keeps his.

* * *

In this week's column we salute a real Lancashireman, proud of the county where 'women die for love' - though that's another story!

EEE, lads and lasses, there's more to our grand county of Lancashire than those Whitehall bureaucrats and soft, southern politicians would have us believe.
A Mancunian myself, I proudly remember our old postal address being in Lancashire, just as it was for Scousers too! Forget that so-called 'God's county', on the cold side of the Pennines; they've all tried to diminish us cheerier people over here, but never will!
One stout chap out to prove as much set off from Blackpool Tower this week to walk round Lancashire's real boundaries – all 400 miles of it. Local historian Philip Walsh is a champion of the 'real' geographical county, as well as my own adopted home district on the Fylde, Great Marton.
Philip's ancestors here go back generations and played a leading part in building our world-famous resort and delightfully varied holiday coast.
Only last Saturday, She Who Knows and myself joined the irrepressible former mounted policeman, operatic singer and church warden on a guided stroll around what had been Marton 'village'. He brought to life its colourful characters and ground-breaking clergy and patrons. In fact, they're still breaking the ground at St Paul's, fronting Whitegate Drive, where ancient but often pristine gravestones are being unearthed, thanks to Philip and volunteers. Why not join them?
Philip's chairman of Friends of Real Lancashire, as well as local history group Marton Past. You can follow their interests and his month-long walk on Facebook or the Gazette.
“We hope to make the media and everyone aware there is more to Lancashire than the 'admin bit' in the middle,” said Philip.
He is also raising money for North West Air Ambulance.The easiest way to donate is via his internet page - Contributions go straight to the NWAA. Also, follow him on Twitter @ FORLancashire and @ Welcome2Lancs.
Otherwise, you could simply leave donations to him at the church.

* * *

TRIALS are under way at Manchester University on a baldness cure, following promising laboratory tests on 40 men. This took me back to being a teenager, working in that city and worried about hair loss.
It was the late '60s and I visited a 'trichology' centre's mobile hair clinic by Piccadilly Gardens. However, I didn't dare enter. The receptionists looked far too pretty to confess my concerns to. Instead, I looked up trichology in Central Library and noted a baldness 'cure' from a dermatology book. In the privacy of my bedroom, this involved sponging yokes on to my hair then massaging the goo into my scalp. It didn't make any difference, except to mum who wondered where all the eggs had gone.
In my 20s, while first working on this newspaper, an older colleague with a full head of grey hair advised, “Rub in onion juice every night, you can't go wrong!”
He must have been pulling my leg, rather than my hair, as the only outcome was a whiffy odour which ruined my romantic life.
Finally, my dad – also follically challenged - offered a sensible observation. “If there really was a cure, son, why wouldn't the royals use it?” He had a point and still has.
In my 40s, as part of a series for The Gazette, I tried the latest 'wonder drug' minoxidil, but that didn't help either. Such treatments aren't available on the NHS and can have side-effects or disappointing results. That's why men undergo expensive transplantation surgery – or just have their heads shaved at the barber's.
For those still hopeful, the Manchester project is led by Dr Nathan Hawkshaw who says it could “make a real difference to people who suffer from hair loss". 
Clinical trials will continue to test effectiveness and safety . . .
Still, in the meantime, eggs and onions are cheap.

* * *

I'M going to write this week about 'Wills' but, don't worry, this has nothing to do with Saturday's royal wedding.
She Who Knows recently went on holiday with her sister to sun-kissed Cyprus. Before she left I alerted them to the dangers – and not just of skin cancer.
“You're travelling into a potential war zone,” I warned. “It's where our jets flew from to bomb neighbouring Syria.”
Then I added, somewhat selfishly, “You'd best make a will.” You see, we mostly share our funds and even the house ownership. What's more, I'm told probate can be long-winded and uncertain when “intestate”.
She agreed and went to the post office for a form, while I planned for afternoons lingering in beer gardens and al fresco meals watching cricket - between brief spells of gardening - while they were away. She Who lashed out £10 on a 'will kit', then arranged for it all to be properly witnessed.
Afterwards, I was putting her will away in our fire-safe document holder when it occurred to me to check it. (During a recent spat over some trifle she'd threatened to leave everything to the dogs' home.)
Moments later I was back, full of outrage. “I don't mind you leaving jewellery to your sister,” I fumed, “but you've left me nothing!”
“You're the joint executor,” she protested. “I thought it all automatically went to you, as the husband.”
Not so, you have to spell it all out in legal terms. Finally, she confirmed in writing to leaving me all her “remaining estate”, apart from that 'modest' jewellery horde.
Thankfully, the ladies returned unscathed, except for a return flight delayed hours and diverted to Birmingham. “Never again!” was her conclusion.
As for my own plans for the week she was away . . .
Needless to say, it rained.

* * *

WHAT a sunny bank-holiday we enjoyed! With the garden at Edmonds Towers tidied, its furniture set up and annuals planted, we've also enjoyed some outdoor events. At least, we did when people stopped rudely getting in our way!
Driving anywhere on the Fylde now involves traffic snarl- ups for road and sewer works. Walking to the cricket club, with a 20-20 local-derby by Stanley Park, seemed a better prospect. But there were still annoying obstacles.
“Would you mind sitting down?” called the old regular sitting near us on the club terrace, for the second time in minutes. Younger men, many with backs turned to the match, were standing and blocking our view.
The lads were obliging enough, even making jokes about their strapping size then settling into seats. However, only minutes later, another would carelessly obstruct the view – usually as a wicket fell. (You miss those TV replays!)
It's the same when we watch a tennis match. Someone will stroll along and thoughtlessly stand in front of us, oblivious to the annoyance caused. When we attend a pop music concert, within minutes of us settling into expensive seats selfish people stand in front taking phone photos, then waving arms inanely. Are they mad, or on drugs?
We're all used to the gentle chatter in a bus, train or restaurant being shattered by those who shout into phones – telling everyone what they're doing. Apparently, it's similarly annoying nowadays for those paid to speak in public.
Weakest-Link star Anne Robinson, writing in The Oldie magazine, said at a recent event where she was chief speaker a woman in the front row began furiously texting within minutes of her opening remarks.
The formidable quiz mistress stopped then announced to the audience, “We'll all wait, shall we, until she stops texting, then carry on?”
That got the phone shut - and everyone's full attention!

* * *

A case of momento mori here, as spring heralds new life - but don't be downhearted . . .

THE Saints came marching in at Carleton, led by a jazz band. It was the funeral of drummer Tony Tolley, who'd played with big names of popular music, particularly The Bachelors back in those 'Swinging 60s'.
Tony, who with wife Alma was a family friend and near neighbour, also helped found the still popular Bill Barrow Band. It was Bill and fellow Blackpool musicians who gave the musical send-off Tony so deserved.
For me, it was the first time hearing a band lead a funeral procession since the early 80s, when in Singapore. I was a travelling journalist back then and, being a poor freelance, was staying in a Chinese guest-house round the corner from famous Raffles Hotel. Still, I would entertain at Raffles over 'Singapore Slings' after tiffin lunches with a palm-court quartet on the lawn.
Later I was roused from my afternoon siesta by a traditional Chinese band, striking up a cacophony while leading a funeral down the market street below. I opened my shutters to watch and a cockatoo, in a cage across the alleyway, also chirped up.
The Chinese would even employ professional mourners, to grieve loudly for days, but it's heartening to also celebrate a loved one's happiness in life. Music helps that process. I know it did at my mother's service, in the same Carleton Crematorium chapel. By chance they played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, which was her favourite.
Our condolences go to Alma, her family and all others who grieve for recently lost loved ones. But let us remember such times should also be a celebration of their lives.
What's more, it's not all sad news. My Oldie magazine reports funerals are becoming cheaper, thanks to the internet offering comparison sites and more choice.
Perhaps we'll even adopt another Chinese tradition - keeping our own coffin in a corner of the bedroom, polished and all prepared.

* * *

Rather late putting this column on this page - I've been waiting for the sunshine to return to our coast!

WITH sunnier weather we've been enjoying meals outdoors, usually in popular people-watching locations.
Just like many new flats now having balconies, café-bistro dining seems a reflection of global warming or a culture shift in the British social make-up. Over recent years the range of food, opening times and service have also generally improved enormously.
What does stick in my throat, however, is the outrageous mark-up on drinks. It's bad enough being charged almost £3 for a cup of tea or a coffee (let alone the cost of a cake slice!), but on beers (mostly water) it's an affront, while with glasses of wine it's daylight robbery!
We suffer already from being the most taxed country in Europe and so, possibly, the world regarding alcoholic drinks. (Although I hear good, old Down-Under has now gone the same way.) However, it makes me splutter in my shiraz to find cafés and restaurants charging the same amount for my 'standard' glass as they've probably paid for their bottle. A six-fold mark-up is sobering.
One recent mid-week, early evening, for example, we dined happily at a bistro pub by Lytham's Green promenade. The food and service were excellent, as were our surroundings, but my beer (£4 a pint) was not, in my considerable experience, up to best cask condition and She Who Knows' 1.75ml glass of rosé cost £5.20. When she was, nonetheless, tempted into a second glass and asked for small (1.25ml) the charge only fell to £5.
The current trend for mixed gins and cocktails costing almost a tenner is also an outrageous profit bandwagon. We all know there are service costs to consider, but I'm reminded of that annoying French ruse of charging more for sitting outdoors, or sitting at all in cafés.
I'll just have to do what I did there – shrug at the bill then mutter, “Non-comprendez!”

* * *

SINCE my April post (see Home page) the weather has at last picked up, along with our spirits . . .

AH, the darling buds of – well - April, but soon May. Spring sunshine is finally smiling upon the Fylde. I've got out my shorts, gardening hat and sun-tan lotion.
The birds are singing by Edmonds Towers and I've been struggling from the shed with garden furniture, compost and flowering seeds.
What a difference good weather brings to our holiday coast! She Who Knows and myself have cheerfully survived our winter hibernation at Great Marton. We're now treading the tennis courts of leafy Lytham, then lounging over drinks and snacks outside cafés, people-watching. We've a favourite place on the high street there, where quality is good and prices right, but I only mention it to you in 'Whispers'.
Meanwhile, at Blackpool, we're making the most of magnificent Stanley Park and its excellent art-deco café, Park's. Instead of wind-muffled, dog-walking figures, we're now surrounded there by strolling couples and playful children. Even the ducks seem happier, despite the end of those seemingly ceaseless April showers.
Should the rain re-appear we'll head as usual up the other end of the coast, to friendly Fleetwood's historic North Euston Hotel and its elegant ballroom tea dances. What a host of facilities we have to enjoy on our diverse coast! Soon we'll even be running trains again – and trams – from Blackpool North.
Come this Saturday I'll hopefully be languishing back in the sunshine, sinking a cold one or two at our resort's nearby cricket club, as this season's sporting fixtures get under way. The facilities there are top notch and, like Lytham, St Annes or our other summer sports clubs, a great place for all the family to relax in safe but uplifting surroundings.
Yes, the tourists have much to enjoy along our Promenades and busy side-streets but, inland, there is even more for we fortunate locals. What's not to enjoy?
I'll see you there!

* * *

IN a recent episode of BBC's Endeavour, DCI Thursby (a much more interesting character than hero 'young Morse') won a tango contest dancing with his wife.
They maintained dramatic posture and impressive manner but, for me, it didn't ring true. There was gaucho menace, yes, but what about hissed complaints from wife to husband, then his gritted responses?
She Who Knows and I attend afternoon tea dances now that, as with Thursby, retirement time has arrived. But it's rare my performance inspires praise, let alone prizes. Of course, it doesn't help that we've both got arthritis, particularly her poor love.
“You're gripping me too tight!” she'll complain, shaking our clasped hands, “and please, keep your left arm lower.”
Then she makes her own arm a dead weight during twirls and my hand accidentally brushes her freshly coiffured hair as she swings underneath. This prompts an exasperated sigh and wifely glare.
“You're making my shoulder ache!” I protest.
However, none of these setbacks occur with other male 'leads' – especially tutors, whom she occasionally partners. “Oh, he supported me so firmly,” she'll enthuse afterwards, adding, “You should feel the muscles on his arms!”
She Who's a natural, also, at that unflinching eye-contact in steamy Latin numbers. But this is not necessarily inspired by passion.
“You've got two hairs sticking out of your left nostril,” she complained recently, adding with dismay, “What's more, they're grey!”
This all helps build an atmosphere of drama and emotion as we join other couples manoeuvring each other around the ballroom to quicksteps and foxtrots.
Perhaps Thursby keeps his lips buttoned until next day, when sharing a pint at the local with young Morse and eating his sandwiches. However, that scene doesn't ring true either.
Try munching on your home-made butties in a pub at lunchtime, you'll soon get your collar felt!

* * *

NOT long ago an old friend asked why I sometimes attended church. His own life is now marred by ill health, but it didn't seem the time or place for religious debate. I just said, "Because I'd rather believe in something rather than nothing." However, afterwards, it occurred to me a more honest answer would be simply, "It makes life happier." Of course, it can also encourage good intentions. Besides, is there an alternative explanation nearly as uplifting?

HOW did your Easter go? Well, of course, dreary weather didn't lift our spirits much but, as always, one did try to be good.
This didn't just extend to not wolfing down Easter eggs. From around Lent, I've attempted to lose a few pounds by cutting back on beer, fry-ups and chips etc. She Who Knows has helped me, by her example of moderation, while also washing my favourite trousers which now, as a reminder, feel too tight.
But I confess that, within only a few days, my best intentions rather floundered. So much so that, as we neared the Easter weekend last week, there was more a sense of failure than triumph. Neither could I even sit through the Easter service on telly from Kings College, let alone make it to my local church (as I managed last year).
However, I was struck by a simple wooden cross they had erected in the graveyard of St. Paul's, here in Great Marton. It was a gnarled, crude thing which, with its vivid and rather ragged red cloak attached, seemed to reflect the agony of crucifixion and saintly sacrifice.
It made me feel more guilty at my personal failures and easy indulgence through the holidays. But then, by Monday, that torn red cloak was replaced by a beautiful golden one of splendid material, no longer hanging forlornly but carefully folded about that cross.
This perked me up surprisingly, along with the cheering colours of crocuses, daffodils and other spring flowers outside the church I so often pass by.
Then the words of a sermon, at a rare Sunday attendance, came back to me – about how saints had been sinners, too, and even apostles being only human.
It dawned on me, at last, that it wasn't all about becoming righteous somehow; it was the day-to-day trying which mattered. That's what spurs us onward!

* * *

This week's column took a mixed view of so-called smart phones and their use . . .

IF you're reading all this, well done! Today not many, I'm told, have the attention span for newspapers. Instead, they get news 'bites' through social media on smart phones and tablets.
Unfortunately, such titbits are often wrong, sometimes deliberately. Fake news is a growing problem and, besides, a short 'bite' can only tell part of the story.
I was also amazed, when working in a newspaper office, how few young people read books.
We're all familiar, too, with the sad spectacle of couples entering restaurants then each talking to someone else on mobile phones. Even babes in high chairs scroll through online pages with electronic games. It keeps them quiet but what about engaging with the real world?
Similarly, families at meals – a precious time to share - are often separately occupied with electronic gadgets while picking absently through food with a fork, American style.
At a recent classical concert I was stunned to see an orchestra percussionist slide a mobile phone from behind her music sheets, then reply to a text. She did it twice, while still drumming, and didn't miss a beat!
Don't get me wrong. I'm writing this at home on a laptop and will email it to the office. How much easier than typewriters and phoning in stories to 'copy-takers'.
Mobile phones are great for personal safety and keeping in touch wherever we may be. The electronic age brings easier lifestyles and better communication. However, as always with progress, it comes at a price.
We shouldn't lose sight of human aspects of everyday life which are essential to our happiness. There may be someone at the end of that phone text, media message or email, but it's that person who matters, not the gadget itself.
Still, I'm told more young people are now reading books - thanks to discovering literature on Kindles. You can even read me online!

* * *

A LOOK back this week to nostalgia days of some landmark, local pubs - and curry houses for afters.

FEW, I suspect, will mourn the passing of The Star pub, recently demolished at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. However, its late landlord Barry Eastwood was a popular resort character.
When he later took over the old Wheatsheaf, also now demolished on Talbot Road near Blackpool North station, I admired his subtle, traditional style of management.
“Don't give old Harry any more, looks about to fall off his stool,” Barry might whisper to a barman, as he emerged late afternoon in a smart suit to start another long evening. Then he'd glance around at regulars, waving cheerily or perhaps adding to the staff, “Oh, and how many has Lenny had? Don't want him fighting again!”
He'd also find some excuse to chat to any newcomers, perhaps building up the log fire near them, to check out any unknowns. There was also an upright 'joanna' on which, as they say, many a good tune was still played.
Sad to see such historic landmarks go. Still, in Lytham we still have the Taps; in St Annes the Victoria was saved and, in Fleetwood, The Mount. Of course, Blackpool also has its oldest pub too, the Saddle Inn.
But times change; people too. It was decades ago that we lads would finish off a night-out in the resort at the basement Galleon Club, then share a taxi to the Everest on Central Drive, or stagger to Church Street's notorious, late-night Shahi Grill.
I wouldn't care to return, instead now appreciating comfortable modern additions to our bistro-bar cultural scene. Traditional boozers have also had a facelift, with stylish refits such as Blackpool's Brew Room (formerly the 'Blue Room' or Stanley Arms). Craft beer and real-ale 'shops', offering cosy, convivial service, are also springing up along our coast.
I'm sure Barry – along with the resort's other colourful past landlords - would have approved. Cheers to all, I say!

* * *

Dining out can be a hit and miss experience, as this week's column indicated - with apologies to all stressed-out, young mums . . .

HOPEFULLY, many of you enjoyed Mother's Day meals out last Sunday – as long as everyone got along.
When I was a lad, a lifetime ago, we couldn't afford restaurants - of which there were few anyway. Even in cafés, which were then places serving 'businessmen's lunches' or afternoon teas, we had to sit up straight and be quiet. What's more, no one dared complain about anything.
Now, for many, anything goes. As a child I would have approved of such a free and easy atmosphere but now frown, look grumpy and even complain about noise and children dodging about the premises.
The best dining places to avoid family disruption and undisciplined behaviour are dearer restaurants. Pubs no longer bar children and may proclaim, 'Kids eat free!' However, some do have adult-only areas offering escape.
At a favourite Italian, our evening meal was disrupted by two young mothers with children and a baby selecting the table beside ours. Once in his high chair, the tot held court - shrieking then screaming while being generally ignored, except by us.
The Italians hardly noticed, but then their chats are as loud as disputes. Hot countries encourage hot-bloodedness, but cooler climes nurture calmer natures.
“Would you mind quietening your baby?” we finally requested, nerves frayed. The nearest mum looked aghast. “But he is a baby!” she protested. “That's what they do!”
We suggested a dummy and one, finally produced, did the job. However, mutterings of discontent rumbled from their table.
Finally, all stood and grimly informed us they were moving – all because of us. “I've just ordered my pizza too!” complained one little lad, being led to a far table.
It all left a bad taste in the mouth but, at least, peace was regained.
I suppose it's just a culture clash. No longer of different races, but of young and old.

* * *

THIS  week's column gave a plug to a couple of local musicians. We all knew rock stars liked a drink, along with sex and drugs, but it was a surprise to learn how boozy proper musicians were - those who wear dinner suits and play in orchestras. I remember a session on Boddingtons with a couple of them one lunchtime in Wilmslow, Cheshire, with a rugby mate. We downed 10 pints each in under two hours, before meeting girlfriends. Also, in infamous Cox's Bar, formerly by Manchester's old Free Trade Hall, you couldn't get served in mid-evening although the place was empty except for its braying mynah bird. Two barmaids were fully occupied pulling pints of ale. Then double doors from a back street connecting with the hall would fly open, as a thirsty Halle Orchestra burst in for their interval refreshment. Here's the column . . .

YOU may sometimes wonder what goes on behind net curtains at roadside cottages, such as Edmonds Towers in Great Marton.
Passers-by on sunnier days, when windows are ajar, try to glance inside after hearing grunts of exertion. I am, of course, just exercising.
Jogging knackers your joints and gyms bore me. I don't like that macho showing off on weights equipment - and that's just the girls!
Instead, I do gentle stretching to suitable music. At present I'm finding tai chi beneficial. Mine is the Sung type, ideal for arthritis sufferers. I'd practise it outside in the open, but tried that in Stanley Park and got pilloried. A passing father with family noticed me skulking around bushes and assumed the worst.
“Hey!” he yelled, making others turn, “What're you up to there?” I was in a clearing, seeking some privacy. When informed I was merely performing tai chi, he frowned and clearly thought it something offensive to public taste and community spirit.
I could, of course, do it in the back garden but neighbours still think me odd from practising ballroom dancing there with a long-handled brush in my arms, as recommended in a text book to improve posture.
So, it's indoors for me, with gentle music from Dav-Gar. These are specially timed instrumentals, aimed at pilates and other exercise sessions, by Blackpool musicians Dave Alty and Gary Wright (the Fylde's answer to Gary Barlow), who drinks at my local and gave me the CDs.
Meanwhile, She Who Knows is upstairs doing her more trendy qigong exercises, to Chinese music played on her laptop. Fortunately, only a window cleaner is likely to spot her.
Any grunting, by the way, is from my physiotherapy exercises for hips, involving rolling around on the floor. These are also demonstrated on the internet – so you can have a go too!
All you need, then, are the net curtains.

* * *

AS I began writing this column earlier in the week there was a late fall of snow, giving everywhere a winter charm. It came as signs of spring were also appearing, with snowdrops and crocuses, bringing two seasons in one!
Life's full of surprises, most of them nice ones as long as we don't take it, or ourselves, too seriously.
Last Sunday we celebrated Mother's Day. Yes, we were early but all felt like it. Besides, the restaurant was less crowded than on the real date and, well, Blackpool was built on celebration and fun – so let's have some!
We can get too set in our ways and kid ourselves we know everything. Well, I was in for a lesson, from an elder.
“You know your books,” said mother-in-law Wynne, “well, they're very good but I think the titles should more reflect their contents, also the places where they're set.”
I was a bit taken aback but later saw her point. Consequently, my latest novel, still under wraps, has a new title.
It's about a man awaiting his final ferry home, from North Wales to Ireland, and how his mysterious demise uncovers a scandal and atrocities at the highest levels. The working title, rather poetic I thought, was 'The Wings To Fly'.
Now it's called 'The Conwy Ferry Man'. Conwy being the Welsh for that beautiful medieval town Conway. See, we've got you interested already!
So it was good that we had celebrated early, as I'd learned a timely lesson - as well as having a good time.
Our chosen restaurant, The White Tower at the Pleasure Beach, also stood the test of time. It goes to show, don't ever underestimate this old town of fun, or its long-term residents.
They're still going strong and, with the civic motto of 'Progress', keeping up with the times – just like Wynne herself.

* * *

 This is a bit of a rant over modern trends which, my friend Harry says, will pass - but I'm not so sure.

ORDERING a coffee used to be simple: you asked for white or black. There was also what we called 'expresso': coffee frothed up with hot milk, usually mixed half and half.
Then we became sophisticated, with filter coffee from freshly ground beans. More recently there were cafetieres. However, tiny grains pressed to the bottom somehow got into your drink.
Now there are cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, flat whites and more – all dispensed by an irritatingly noisy machine. An expresso now is a shot of continental-style strong coffee.
The closest to my preferred coffee (a gold blend taken white at home) is americano. I used to order it with 'cold milk on the side'. However, often it was so strong that, even when pouring in all the milk, it remained the colour of the Mersey while also, by then, being as cold. A better result, I've since found, comes by asking for warm milk, then I can weaken but still not chill it.
“I'd like half coffee, half hot milk,” She Who Knows insists to me, when I'm about to order our drinks.
If I say this to the young person serving, often also a foreigner, they stare, mystified.
“Like a latte, you mean?” some say, “Or a flat white, maybe?” No, we've tried those. She wants a coffee, half full then topped up with hot milk and, preferably, also a bit frothy.
If you ask them to leave it half empty and give us some hot milk, they usually serve it two-thirds full. Then I have to take a mouthful of boiling black coffee for her to get the mix right.
Sometimes we ask for a 'one-shot americano', sounding like a desperate gun-slinger, with uncertain results.
Best solution, though, is simply 'a pot of coffee for two, with jug of warm milk' . . .
We'll mix it quietly ourselves, thank you.

* * *

IN the 'old days' of my younger years, sorting out your bins was easy. You just tipped the stuff in, whatever it was you didn't want and couldn't sell or even give away, then the 'bin men' would come along and empty it. You didn't have to even put them out on the street yourself, though the bin men would also appear at your door close to Christmas and woe betide you if they didn't get a tip. Nowadays we are obliged to recycle our waste and, I suppose, rightly so. However, it can lead to tedious procedures . . .

IT'S time to talk rubbish. By that, I mean our household waste collection and council recycling. Is it working? Look around and see the answer.
Festive times like Christmas or Easter store up problems, or even chilly winter weekends, when we enjoy heartier home meals with more drinks than when out and about in summer.
Surely, an extra, 'properly displayed' bin bag beside our grey bins can be tolerated and safely carried away by our hard-working dustbin men? But no, that's against council policy. Bags are ignored, except by cats, dogs and seagulls, thereafter spreading rubbish and attracting vermin.
The powers that be are determined we learn the lesson of recycling, with one grey wheely bin per home – however crowded. For green bins and garden waste, we now face hefty charges, so that gets hidden amid the 'grey' trash.
Then there is cardboard. Home deliveries come in ever bigger boxes, which will not fit in those canvas bags provided to Blackpool households for newspaper and cardboard. We and neighbours fold up such items and leave them by newspaper bags, but they're still there days later, in bits and pieces blowing about our neighbourhood.
The same fate awaits black bin bags filled with giant, plastic coke bottles that would overflow if added to blue bins loaded with glass, metal and plastic. Those bags, too, are ignored by our fortnightly collection. Not surprisingly, they end up chucked down alleys, filling roadside 'litter bins' or fly-tipped on open land.
Builders, too, fill any handy bins with waste they would be charged for dumping at official sites; leaving a heavyweight problem for householders. We want to encourage people to use council tips, not drive them out to rural lanes or old industrial sites to fly-tip.
Let's have more common sense and fewer rules! Help responsible householders - and put the lid safely on this recurring rubbish rant.

* * *

EVERTYTHING in the garden is rosy and there's a hint of spring in the air.
Before you warn I'm getting ahead of myself, let's remember we're in the last month of winter. What's more, at Edmonds Towers the snowdrops are emerging bringing a promise of new life and sunnier days.
To an untrained eye the Towers' back garden might look bare at present. This is because of local hero Joe, our gardener. He really was a hero once, before retiring as a fireman. Now he crops our great hedge once a year and, just recently, restored our flower bed which had been over-run by ivy.
With the right equipment and at a bargain price, he cleared in two hours what would have taken me two days. Mind you, the bacon and egg barm cake we gave him helped too.
The robin, my favourite of many birds nesting in our ivy hedge, was first out to investigate the freshly revealed soil bed. Now there are signs of my forgotten clump of daffodils sprouting up too, inspiring me to horticultural endeavours.
Despite being named so grandly, the 'Towers' is really a humble artisan's cottage – though of historic age and cosy character. What I thought wise, following Joe's tidy-up, was to replant flowering bushes which have outgrown their patio pots. However, what I'd really like would be a cottage garden.
“Easy,” the confident Joe told me, “just scatter seeds around then put on some top soil.”
Watching the robin hopping about, before being chased away by a touchy female blackbird, I decided on a compromise: replant those bushes, then scatter seeds around them, so we get the best show from both.
Mind you, it is of course still winter - with snowfalls and frost threatening. I'll just have to have another mug of tea and bacon barm . . . while thinking about sunnier days coming.

* * *

(Note: I include below two weeks columns about my amusing dancing acquaitance named Harry, since the earlier one humbles the ego of columnists. Harry, incidentally, is surnamed Crooks and is a retired council bricklayer, who turned his hands to many other things. These were all legal, though it seems a shame there was never a family firm, such as Crooks Ltd. or Crooks & Sons. Curiously, Harry's dad, who also sounded a real character and, as far as I know, was also reasonably law-abiding and a joker, once told Harry when he was approaching adulthood, "I'll tell you something now, son, which could make you rich. You just have to remember three little words and you'll always have money - 'Stick 'em up!'")

“I LOST my shirt playing cards,” confessed Harry, “also my suit - had to borrow clothes to walk home. She wasn't pleased,” he added, glancing at wife Barbara.
We laughed at our friend's recollection of younger days, playing three-card brag.
I wasn't lucky at cards either. “Your face gives you away,” Dad later counselled, when I'd lost my spending money trying out poker.
On my one visit to the races, a Gazette outing to Haydock, I followed a regular punter's advice and only bet what I could afford to lose – which I duly did. My £1 'on the nose' for each race failed to win, except in the last – when my horse romped home first. Then its jockey was disqualified for 'abuse of the whip'. It was an expensive lesson.
Neither did those old betting shops tempt me, except for Grand National days. They looked seedy, with blanked-out exteriors and no advertising allowed.
I found casinos unappealing, too, with desperate gamblers risking more than they could afford to lose, then looking miserable. Their best attraction was the food, often with free drinks.
However, mobile phone gaming now sponsors most televised sport, using the longest, most lavish and cleverly cast adverts. Worldly men hint of shrewd knowledge and a club-like camaraderie, as they bestride exotic destinations while “betting responsibly”. Or glamorous, young couples pop the Prosecco after free and easy phone bets on latest football scores.
It's all a long way from when dads would check their soccer pools and, on Sundays, we'd read of the latest to become millionaires – only for their world to be ruined by it.
No wonder two out of three teenagers now complain of being bombarded by gambling advertising. They should think instead of Harry - and his reception from wife Barbara, after 'losing his shirt'.
In the end, only the bookies win.

* * *

“I DON'T understand all this,” said Harry, reading this column last week in a lull at our Fleetwood tea dance.
Now good-humoured Harry knows his way round the dance-floor of life; always on his toes, so to speak, but otherwise with feet firmly on the ground.
“Perhaps I was rambling,” I admitted, “promoting my latest book.”
“Thought so!” he grinned.
Yes, we columnists get carried away at times, but our public brings us down to earth.
There was that visitor to our cricket club who exclaimed, “I've seen your articles! You do the gardening, don't you?” We went on to discuss his roses.
Then a regular in the pub announced, “Always read your column; get the paper specially - every Tuesday.”
Mind you, a dog owner named Peter once accosted me at a Preston New Road crossing with, “Aren't you that feller from the newspaper?” I confessed to so being and, urging on pet Lucky, Peter graciously added, “It's not bad, some of that stuff you write.”
A former colleague on our sister paper, the Fleetwood Weekly News, was recognised when queueing at a Chinese takeaway. His turn came and the woman serving announced, “I've seen your picture in the paper!”
“Yes, every week,” John told her proudly, aware of others listening.
To general amusement, she concluded, “You much older than picture in paper!”
My proudest accolade was for these shared pieces to be popular in the Fylde's Newspaper for the Blind. However, our vicar also had welcome praise.
“We really enjoy your writing,” she said, as we parted and I thanked her after a Sunday service. “I always read them to father. (Not our Father.) You usually find an uplifting ending too!”
Well we try, so today's lesson must be: Stay humble and be grateful - for whatever you receive.

* * *