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Sunday, 1 August 2021

New Month Old Post: Siemens A55

(Updated from original post of 22nd June 2016)

Nokia 6310 Sir Philip Green

There were gasps of astonishment as billionaire Sir Philip Green, answering MPs’ questions about the BHS department store scandal, checked his texts on a cheap, twelve-year-old Nokia 6310. Surely, you would expect him to be able to afford the latest Diamond Rose iPhone.

All kinds of reasons why he might be using such an obsolete device were suggested: the Nokia was made to last; battery life is outstanding; he does not want constant email interruptions; pre-GPS phones are not easy to track; he is penny-pinchingly mean; he likes playing Snake 2

Siemens A55 mobile phone

Who knows? Maybe all of these. That was in 2016. But I’m still with Sir Philip, especially the penny-pinchingly mean. Here’s mine – even older – a Siemens A55 bought October 2003. It’s a phone. It does texts. It works. And no, I do not play Stack Attack, Balloon Shooter, Move the Box and Wacko.

With O2 Pay As You Go, you have to top up at least once every 999 days so as not to lose your account and credit balance. My diary (paper of course) noted I next needed to top up before 13th July, 2016. £10 would see to it. There is also a usage requirement but a weekly text from the bank meets that. Some weeks I forget to switch it on.


Sir Philip was in the news again with unflattering revelations about his other behaviours and attitudes. I added a note emphasising I did not share them. For example, I do not iron creases in my jeans (for comic effect I wanted to add that my wife does it for me, but actually I iron my own jeans). I still had my ancient phone, though. 


I still have it. I still use it. Will it make twenty years? Or will I have to get a smartphone to go places, buy things and prove my vaccination status? Even King Canute was forced to get one in the end.

I know it’s eccentric and appreciate that smartphones can be useful, but I’d hardly use one. I also fear what I’d be like. It’s something to do with having worked with computers. I like the idea of not being instantly contactable. I’d be constantly fiddling with it while eating, or fact checking during conversations. I like to let thoughts take their course rather than being hijacked first thing in a morning. That’s why I try not to switch on the computer until I’ve done at least a couple of jobs, like ironing jeans. The daft thing is, I could probably program them (phones not jeans, although maybe when we get smartjeans...).

Saturday, 31 July 2021

phoebe's wee blog

miaow everyone,

i'm phoebe. if other cats such as tigger can have their own entire blogs then at least i should be able to have one blog post. even takser wrote a post about some cat called sooty.

i've got chance while takser has gone to the shop and left his computer thing on the table. i don't know why he has a cat's name and i've got a people's name but i'd like to see more about cats and less about nasty dogs.

i'd better get back to work in the garden now before takser comes back. my job is to keep blackbirds off berries and pigeons off peas but takser won't miss one or two. 

i can't work out how to do big letters but i am an expert at playing with mice. i like my picture. it shows my stripey head. sorry if this post is boring. if anyone wants to comment i'll answer if i can.

miaow for now,

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Rags and Bones

I heard shouting in the next street, the same few words repeated about once a minute. I couldn’t make out what they were. 

It reminded me of when I was little, when the rag and bone man came round with his horse and cart. I could never make out what his sing-song voice was shouting, either. It sounded like “You owe me half a crown” but it was probably more like “Have you any rags and bones?” His fierce, rough look terrified me. I would hide until he had gone.

You could hear him going up and down the back lanes (or ‘ten-foots’) between the rows of terraced houses where we lived. Eventually he would come along ours where I played. Housewives went to their back gates to give him old pots and pans, buckets with holes in, pram wheels with broken spokes, threadbare kitchen curtains, and, yes, he really did collect bones. Once, his horse deposited a stinking pile of manure just outside our gate. It kept me in for weeks until it bleached pale, crumbled, and was gradually washed away by the rain.

Steptoe and Son

The life of Rag and Bone men was portrayed pretty well in the very popular B.B.C. comedy Steptoe and Son, in which the son’s, Harold’s, pretentious attempts to better himself are constantly thwarted by Albert, his wily father. 

As with all successful comedy series, it quickly moved on from stories based on the situation to stories around the relationships between the characters. I particularly remember one 1972 episode, Men of Letters. It opens with them playing Scrabble. Harold wants it to be “… an erudite game calculated to increase one’s word power” but Albert is well in the lead with words like “pox”, “cock” and “bum”. Harold complains they are nothing but filth. “Yes, but they still count, don’t they,” Albert responds.

The shouting from the next street continued into ours. It was indeed some rag and bone men. I haven’t seen any for years. I don’t suppose they collect either rags or bones any more. Good job I hadn’t left my bike out. They drove slowly past in a small truck. No horse! Although, shouting like that all day must make them a little hoarse.

Friday, 23 July 2021

Walking In Iceland 3: to Sveinstindur

links to: introduction - previous day

Another extract from the notebook. Neville and I are on a guided walking tour in the south of Iceland with ten others. After two nights in the youth hostel at Reykjavik, today is the first day of the tour proper.

South West Iceland
South-West Iceland showing yesterday’s drive to Thingvellir, Geysir
and Gullfoss, and the walking route (east to west) in blue

Friday 26th August

The route consists of ten days walking from mountain hut to mountain hut across an isolated and uninhabited part of southern Iceland, a total distance of about 70 miles (112 km). Huts are roughly 12 miles (20 km) apart, although sometimes we stay at the same hut two nights running. We carry our own clothes and sleeping bags, and a share of the equipment and provisions. We are warned we might have to carry loads of up to 44 lbs (20 kg) although it is normally much less. It would be more but for the advance food depots left along the route by the tour organiser. We are also warned we should be able to walk double the distance in case of difficulties with routes or huts. These problems are only likely to arise earlier in the year, before mid-June, when there is more snow on the ground and the rivers are higher. Our walk, in August, is a soft option.

Dick Phillips in Iceland

The tour is organised by Dick Phillips’ specialist Icelandic travel service which has been operating since 1960.

Dick Phillips is something of a legend and sounds a bit scary. He possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of Icelandic landscape, culture and folklore. 

He first visited the country several times in the nineteen-fifties, initially on a month-long cycling tour, and then on expeditions to the interior, including the first unassisted coast-to-coast crossing of Iceland by bicycle. He worked on a farm and lived in an upland community before converting an old farm house into a hostel. 

The tour brochure shows him with a fearsome beard, wearing one of his distinctive Icelandic jumpers, checking out a glacial river crossing. He looks formidable, not to be messed with. He is also very smart. He appears to have sent the photographer across first.

Icelandic Mountain Bus

Despite being a walking tour, this first day does not involve much walking. It begins with a long cross-country ride of around 150 miles (240km) in a chunky, radio-equipped, four-wheel drive, low gear-ratio, Icelandic mountain bus. It needs all this kit. Soon after Selfoss, the bus turns left off the deteriorating road on to cindery, bull-dozed tracks, and then winds off-road across open country. It picks its way through volcanic wastes, swerving to avoid boulders, rising and falling to cross undulations and splashing through rivers. At one point it crawls diagonally down a steep, unstable hillside, hoping not to start a landslide. Few other vehicles would have been able to pass this point.

Hekla from Icelandic Mountain Bus
The view inside the bus, and out towards the Hekla volcano

We stop to pick up Paul, our tour leader, who is waiting in a Land Rover. We are a little wary, unsure what to expect. Is he going to be another tough mountain guy like Dick Phillips, a commando boot camp bully or a snarling Eiger Sanction assassin? Surprisingly he is a pleasant, young, bespectacled, quietly spoken human being with shorts and suntanned legs.

He asks for help to unload provisions from the Land Rover, and Neville, ever the volunteer, rushes forwards. It doesn’t need all of us, only two or three. Neville returns arms filled with loaves of bread, highly appropriate for someone who works for a Hull bread manufacturer. The provisions are piled on to the overhead racks and vacant seats so as not to be squashed by the rucksacks in the luggage compartment. As the bus bounces over the rough terrain, my views to the south of the dormant Hekla volcano [it would next erupt in 1980], snow-capped and shining in the sunlight, are frequently disturbed by loaves of bread raining down on me.

At the front people are asking Paul about the tour, other tours, the elusive Dick Phillips and “what happens if …?” sort of things. Paul speaks slowly, emphasising each word as if painstakingly chosen, with long pauses at full stops and commas. He has a nice line in irony and understatement. He would like to be able to promise us a fortnight’s weather like today but he can’t of course. “Has it ever rained for two whole weeks?” “Yes,” replies Paul, “but I can’t guarantee it.” Someone else asks about crossing glacial rivers. “Sometimes, you can even get the bottom of your shorts wet,” says Paul, as if it is a pleasure. 

Dick Phillips Walking Tour in Iceland

Eventually the bus drops us in the middle of nowhere, at the side of a small lake in a cindery, rock-strewn desert. We could be up a Knottingley slag heap: the Black Hills of West Yorkshire. Despite the evening sun, it is surprising how cold it is. There is a bitter wind. The provisions are divided up for us to carry, although Paul took the most. After about an hour’s walk across a stream (wet foot but not wet shorts) and a gap between gravel hills, we arrive at the Sveinstindur hut where we are to stay for two nights.

I can now put names to half the faces, but conversation remains guarded, formal and polite. It won’t last. We are about to be holed up together for a week and a half like Icelandic sheep herders.

Sveinstindur Hut, Iceland 1977
Arriving at the Sveinstindur hut. Paul the leader, with his massive carrying frame, is on the right.

Next part soon
Some names and personal details have been changed. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who was there.

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Walking In Iceland 2: Road Trip

back to: introduction - previous day

Thursday 25th August

Neville and I arrived in Iceland yesterday for a walking tour which does not begin properly until tomorrow. We have therefore hired a car for a trip to Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss.

Two others from the party have joined us: Gavin from Aberdeen who is a factory inspector, and Steve, a nuclear chemist from London. Steve is the one we spotted with his rucksack at the airport, who looks remarkably like our friend Gavin. But this other chap is also called Gavin. This is very confusing. I keep calling Steve, Gavin, and Gavin, Steve.

Thingvellir 1977

At Thingvellir, you see a cliff face. As you begin to ascend you suddenly come to a gorge running parallel with the face. A river runs along the bottom of the gorge from a waterfall on the upper cliff. It runs for some way before breaking through the lower cliff into the lowland. The strange topography marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasion tectonic plates. It was also the site of the Althing, the ancient Icelandic parliament, which met there for nearly nine hundred years until 1798.

Even in the sun it is cold, and there are intermittent showers.

Geysir, Iceland 1977 Geysir, Iceland 1977

Geysir, of course, has the geothermal hot water geysers. Out of holes in the ground that resemble the craquelure an avant-garde oil painting, they eject pillars of hot water and steam high into the air with a terrifying roar, subsiding into witches’ cauldrons of angry boiling water which gurgle ominously. It demands nerves of steel to stand close as they threaten to erupt and dissolve you.

Geysir, Iceland 1977

Photographing them requires split-second reflexes which Steve, apparently, does not have. He uses half a film and still misses it. If the famous but almost inactive, eighty-foot Great Geysir erupted, he would probably click the shutter just too late have to wait with his camera for the next thirty-five years until it went off again. He would then, almost certainly, still miss it.  

The sulphurous fumes, the noise, the hell on earth – I decided there and then it was best to be good and go to heaven. Film does not really do it justice. 

The same is true of Gullfoss. All that rushing water takes me back to the canning factory where I have been working, cleaning the machinery with a hose pipe. Channel that lot through and it would be spotlessly clean in an instant, assuming there was any machinery left, or indeed any building. I wonder what it would be like to jump in.

Gullfoss, Iceland 1977
Gullfoss, Iceland 1977

We end the trip with a short ride north towards the Langjökull ice cap, the second largest in Iceland and source of the Gullfoss waters, but we turn back at the first river crossing. We are in a Volkswagen, not a Land Rover.

Formal, polite conversation most of the day. It will be more spontaneous when everyone gets to know each other. Tomorrow is the first day of the walking tour, proper. 


(next part)
Some names and personal details have been changed. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who was there.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

Pounds, Shillings and Pence

The new ‘Turing’ £50 note brings yet another change to our U.K. currency. There seem to have been so many in recent years.

They used to be rare. When my grandpa gave me this set of Queen Elizabeth II coins in 1953, their denominations and basic appearance had remained more or less unchanged for decades. In theory, some coins in circulation were over two-hundred years old. Their nicknames – tanner, bob, florin – were part of popular culture.

My dad put the Queen Elizabeth coins safe in his black metal box and took them out now and again to let me look. I liked the lady in armour with her fork and shield (“Britannia,” he told me), the elaborate sailing ship (“The Golden Hind”), the different lions of the English and Scottish shillings, and the young Queen on the ‘heads’ sides. The penny and half-crown were biggest, but my favourite was one of the smallest, the tiny farthing with a “robin” on the back [as pointed out in the comments, it is a wren, and a sixty-eight year old misconception].

They were shiny bronze and silver then, but, like me, they have tarnished. Those whose packaging has also failed to preserve them will tell you there were twelve pennies to the shilling and twenty shillings, 240 pennies, to the pound. We can still, in our heads (Weaver?), do things like add 14s 10d to 11s 8d to get £1  6s 6d (i.e. fourteen shillings and ten pence to eleven shillings and eight pence, often written 14/10 and 11/8). It was a great way to bamboozle foreigners.

The only recent change to the coinage had been the introduction of the twelve-sided yellow threepenny bit in 1937 in place of a smaller, round, silver coin that was discontinued in 1945. The last significant change before that had been almost a century earlier with the introduction of the two-shilling piece in 1849. As one-tenth of a pound, it had been created with decimalisation in mind – a rare example of a government planning well ahead.

Since 1953, the only thing not to have changed is the Queen. Changes were slow at first but since then most coins have changed twice. First to go was the farthing which became so insignificant that none were minted after 1956. They were removed from circulation in 1961. The halfpenny (‘aipny as we called it) followed in 1969, and the half-crown in 1970, although that was to prepare for decimalisation in 1971, fifty years ago.

Decimalisation put paid to most of the rest. Pennies (‘d’) were superseded by New Pence (‘p’). One New Pence was worth roughly two and a half old pennies. Five new coins came in (½p, 1p, 5p, 10p and 50p) and the old ones were gradually withdrawn.  For six and a half months we used the old and the new side-by-side and became adept at switching between. That’s why we’re mentally nimble. One pound six shillings and sixpence? Easy! £1.32½. Some of the old coins had exact decimal equivalents, the lowest common factor being 6d which was worth 2½p, so provided you used the old coins in sixpenny clusters you were fine.

What came next? It’s nigh impossible to remember but I’m one of those sad people who look things up and make lists. 

  • The old sixpence, shilling and two shilling coins remained in use after decimalisation as 2½p, 5p and 10p coins. In fact, the new 5p and 10p coins were identical in size and weight to their older counterparts and had been introduced in 1968 to get us used to the idea. The sixpence lasted until 1980, and the shilling and two shillings until the early 1990s.
  • Also in 1968, a seven-sided 50p coin had replaced the paper ‘ten-bob note’.
  • In 1982, the inscription ‘NEW PENCE’ was changed on all coins to show the denomination, e.g. ‘TEN PENCE’. 
  • A seven-sided 20p coin was introduced 1982 and a round £1 coin in 1983.  
  • The ½p coin was withdrawn in 1984 and the paper £1 note in 1988. 
  • Three of the original decimal coins were replaced by smaller versions: the 5p in 1990, the 10p in 1992, and the 50p in 1997. 
  • A £2 coin was introduced in 1998, the first bi-metallic coin in Britain since the 1692 tin farthing. 
  • The original round £1 coin was replaced by a twelve-sided bi-metallic coin in 2017. It looks like the old threepenny bit and doesn’t seem to buy very much more.
  • There have also been several changes in the physical size and design of banknotes over these years, most recently between 2016 and 2021 when paper banknotes were replaced by polymer ones which slither and slide restlessly in your pocket and refuse to stay folded.

My grandfather probably thought the 1953 set of Elizabeth II coins would be a good investment. Not so. Even if the packaging had preserved them in mint uncirculated condition, which it hasn’t, despite not being opened in sixty-eight years, you would do well to get back the inflation adjusted equivalent of their face value: £9.50 for 7s 4¾d (seven shillings, four and three farthings).

Anyone would think it just a cynical ploy by the Royal Mint to make money from making money. I hang on to them only because they are things of beauty. They still live in my dad’s black metal box. These too:

1965 set issued on the death of Sir Winston Churchill, including a rarely-used five-shilling coin, the ‘Churchill Crown’. This was the first time an image of anyone other than a monarch had appeared on a British coin, showing the extreme high regard in which Churchill was held.

Another pre-decimalisation Queen Elizabeth II set dated 1966.

Crowns (five-shilling coins) commemorating the 1951 Festival of Britain, the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and the 1981 Royal Wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer.
(Obverse ‘heads’ sides above, reverse ‘tails’ sides below). 

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Walking In Iceland 1: to Reykjavik

(back to introduction)

Dick Phillips Walking Tour, Iceland 1977

I have a lot of pictures like this, of people carrying rucksacks, although mostly in more spectacular surroundings. Actually, this is not as unspectacular as it first seems. The distinctive spire of Hallgrímskirkja, built in the image of the rocks, mountains and glaciers of Iceland’s landscape, reveals it to be Reykjavik. We are trudging from the airport bus to the youth hostel. Neville and I do not know the others yet.  

1977 Iceland notebook

Wednesday 24th August

We underestimate the driving time to Glasgow. It leaves little time to spy on other rucksack wearers in the airport building. There are hardly any to be seen. Like us, they are probably creeping around in plain clothes trying to spot the others and weigh them up. The only one we see bears an uncanny resemblance to our friend Gavin, who was going to come, but couldn’t.

As we assemble at the Air Iceland desk, a trekking company rep. arrives with a letter to Neville giving him responsibility for organising the rendezvous. They choose him because he has been to Iceland before. Good choice. He likes organising things and is good at it. All he has to do is make sure we all get on the plane and don’t get lost when we get off.

Our party is twelve. From the rendezvous responsibility list I see that six are on their own. There is just one girl. I am keeping quiet about the list. It is addressed to me as well.  

As we wait at the departure gate, a choir of American teenagers begins to sing. Their harmonies ring around the large acoustic space, a magnificent sound, but thank goodness they’re not going on the walking tour too.

My first ever air flight. I can’t see out because I am in a gangway seat. Be careful not to let on it is the first time you have been in an aeroplane. Avoid displays of excitement. Do not lean across to take hundred of photographs. Do not gasp as the acceleration thrusts you back into your seat. Seasoned air travellers assume an air of detachment even when the ground appears over their shoulders at an alarming angle. Seasoned air travellers show no fear even when the plane is landing. So why do those American choir kids sound so scared?

Stamped Youth Hostel card, Iceland, 1977
We have to spend two nights in the school annex of the Reykjavik youth hostel before the walk proper begins. We had to join the YHA in preparation.

After an evening wandering around Reykjavik, I can see why Neville has no intention of spending all day tomorrow here as well. You can’t even get a decent beer because of prohibition. He has therefore hired a car for a trip into the interior. It sounds preferable to visiting Hallgrímskirkja. 

Nowadays you might also seek out elves, walk to the stainless steel sculpture of a Viking long boat, and visit the penis museum. No, you wouldn’t. You would still hire a car for a trip to the interior. Tomorrow: Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss.

(next part)