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PJ Wilkinson

Great Idea
Wednesday 30 January, 2019

This saw print in June 2016. Previously Tina Beloveth Powerful (a real name, I kid you not), a Nigerian living in Milton Keynes, had set up a university called, Havard School in 2013 (note the missing ‘r’) and was sued by American university Harvard who considered her enterprise a little bit cheeky.

She was found guilty of fraud and false advertising in July 2015 after maintaining that her university (operated out of a flat in Oldbrook, Milton Keynes) was real and had accreditations that no one else knew about. During her trial she tried to convince the prosecution that they were wrong and that the money she took in tuition and course fees was for a real thing. Then, when convicted, she left the country before sentencing, claiming that the British legal system had ‘expunged’ the case against her. That was news to the British legal system, the police, and just about anyone who wasn’t a liar, as she had been labelled by the court.

So, with tongue firmly in cheek, I set about seeing if such a fraudulent and daft idea could gain traction. It didn’t. It hasn’t since. And I haven’t bothered to change my name to anything silly.

- o - O - o -

I recently had a great idea. True, I don’t generally get great ideas, but because of that, I have decided to share my great idea with the people of Milton Keynes.

Naturally, I am going to involve everyone who lives in the area and give all the opportunity to engage with, and support my great idea.

And my great idea is... (drum roll, please) ...a university for Milton Keynes!

Yes, yes, yes, I know; we already have the Open University based here, and University Campus Milton Keynes (part of University Bedfordshire). However, I’m thinking of us having our very own university that isn’t part of someone else’s great idea.

Just imagine the facilities and level of outstanding education we could provide. Aspiring astronauts could attend and be taught a degree in spatial awareness through their commute from their student digs to the campus via roundabout after roundabout after roundabout.

As there is a fantastic shopping centre at the heart of Milton Keynes, I see an opportunity to offer a PhD in retail. Researchers could attend centre:mk and write about their experiences. Their findings would become part of their final dissertation. And they would probably own some great clothes!

My great idea would bring those who live in Milton Keynes together in a project to provide an establishment that would have the potential to add to the greatness of our nation. Those who go through the doors of the PJW University of Milton Keynes would come out greatly enlightened, as well as thousands of pounds lighter.

Unfortunately, the name doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue – despite the coolness of the ‘PJW’ at the start. So how about ‘CamBrit University of Milton Keynes’, or ‘OxFit University of Milton Keynes’?

I pledge to all of you who donate money towards this great idea of mine, that I will stick around long enough to see Oxford and/or Cambridge universities have their solicitors write to me demanding a name change. In addition, I will remain in Milton Keynes long enough to be convicted of whatever wrong-doing I might – in my opinion – be falsely accused. After the English law system erroneously determines my guilt, I will go and live somewhere else before anyone can settle on what my punishment ought to be. It goes without saying: If those who were to find me guilty had been educated properly through my great idea, then I wouldn’t be found guilty.

Meanwhile, the people of Milton Keynes would be known the world over for having a renowned (or infamous) educational establishment that is second to none. Naturally if I am tracked down and incarcerated, I will then be able to add a first class library to the list of facilities offered to those paying exorbitant fees. The prison library can be cited as a detailed source of all that is important to fending off the ravages of the world after leaving education.

Milton Keynes will make that list of top universities.

Well, it will make someone’s list...

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PJ Wilkinson

Divide
Saturday 26 January, 2019

Does anyone remember the HS2 argument? Divide was published in Northampton in June 2016.

In 2010 the initial cost projection for HS2 was £32.7bn. By June 2013 government figures placed the projected cost at £42.6bn, and that was the figure this 2016 piece used. I also made mention of the Institute of Economic Affairs' suggestion that it would be £80bn by the time it is completed.

Just after Divide was written in 2016, the budget was again revised – this time to £55bn. By that time it was creeping towards that £80bn figure. In June 2018, a report produced for the government once again revised the budget – to £80bn – and included the news that the project had cost £4.1bn before a sod had been turned.

Depending on the source and one’s definition of the word ‘completion’ – HS2 should be finished by 2030, by which time the cost may well come out at over £126bn, based upon simple maths projecting the cost rising in line with estimates issued between 2010 and 2018.

Capacity is claimed to be 85m passengers a year. At nearly £75 per ticket, the cost can be repaid in 20 years – assuming no interest or operating charges are included...

- o - O - o -

There has been lots of talk surrounding the HS2 project these last few years. Much has been written and said on the subject. However, insightful discussion on the possible impact on Northampton seems rare.

There are aspects to consider with respect to Northampton. One argument of HS2 detractors is that there is no benefit to towns and cities in the north, thereby exacerbating the ‘north-south divide’. With the coming of HS2, Northampton might wish to seriously consider a name change to distance itself from the division issue. The ‘north’ in Northampton may indicate we are taking sides in the matter. Our name may become attached to claims regarding the perceived divide and its increase in magnitude, or otherwise.

It has crossed my mind that Northampton Borough Council should spend vast amounts of money seeking the opinion of all those who live in the area. If there is found to be enough support for a name change, then more money could be spent asking the simple question: what name?

Northampton is one of the largest towns in the UK with a population somewhere over 220,000 souls. There may well be a great number of suggestions made to the council.

To handle the volume of submissions, a special commission could be set up. Yet more financial resources could be given to the cause. I am prepared to head this commission for an obscenely huge remuneration package.

Altogether, I estimate the total cost of the consultation would come to a paltry £25 million. Barely 10% of that would go on paying my fee. A great opportunity for Northampton to avoid having its name dragged into the HS2 debate.

Not bad really, given the likely cost of HS2. The current Government budget estimate is £42.6 BILLION. That £25 million is less than 0.0006% of the official estimated cost of HS2.

Just think, a brand-new catchy name could bring great wealth to Northampton. Naturally, the local sports teams would have to rename as well. That would mean a little spent on trifling things like letterheads and stuff, but no big deal. And definitely small change if one compares it to the £80 billion the Institute of Economic Affairs suggests the total cost HS2 might come to in the end.

All good stuff, really.

If enough are in favour, we might like to look to Milton Keynes. What they did was to name the town after a tiny little village buried within its boundaries. I’m not going to be drawn on which village or area might be considered. My impartiality is paramount if I am to successfully discharge my role as chair of the naming commission. I want to justify my reward for tireless devotion to a very difficult job. It will not be easy getting through what I hope will be a well provided expenses account.

In addition, the proposed route runs far to the south-east of Silverstone. So the sound of the trains won’t disturb the sleep of the citizens of Northampton.

HS2? No worries.

   

Phil Wilkinson

Words are important
Thursday 24 January, 2019

May 2016 saw this appear in my local newspaper. I was finding the comment upon a leading story from the previous week provided easy and obvious topics.

- o - O - o -

Ah, what a difference a word can make. A ‘thanks’ might generate happiness, while a ‘so?’ could reduce the recipient to a weeping wreck.

It all depends on context and definition, according to the user of said word or words.

The wind turbine at Double Arches quarry near Heath and Reach has been fixed after being out of operation due to either generator issues or the proportions of the turbine having a detrimental effect upon movement and vibration.

Whatever the reason, something was up with the thing.

I see a second turbine is in the wind (groan) and that the proposer of the plan stated, ‘Following the successful commissioning of the first turbine, the company wish to complete its original vision and develop the second, final wind turbine.’

Can anyone see where the missing word ought to be in that statement? No doubt if it had been issued by one of the young children being subjected to the popular SATs throughout the country, then it would have included the word ‘ultimately’ just before the word ‘successful.’

Of course, that now opens the debate on the definition of ‘successful’ as used in the statement. For instance, who considers its usage correct? Those who claim that their right to watch Britain’s Got Talent has been negatively affected, might query its meaning, or perhaps suggest that the company’s definition of the word is different to their own.

That said, if one is looking at whether more money need be spent paying people to crawl over, in and around the structure to get the thing up and running as originally envisaged – then I suppose ‘successful’ is the correct word.

What worries me is that no one has considered the plight of the wind turbine. When working, it sits there spinning for all its worth. Come rain or sun, it just does its thing. No one talks to it. No one comes and keeps it company. It is alone.

Not if the people who omitted that word have anything to do with it! It will gain a friend who will keep it company and cheer it up no end.

   

Darwin Beagle

Darwin and Numbers
Tuesday 22 January, 2019

This appeared in a local newspaper during May 2016 as; I am not just a number!

- o - O - o -

It was my birthday the weekend before last. I told all my friends that I was six years old.

I was wrong. My owner sat me down to a gravy bone treat, and told me that I am actually five years old.

From my perspective, I saw no difference. All I could see was the treat he held in his hand. In fact, I can see it now in my mind’s eye. And a jolly nice treat it was. Yummy!

To me, age is just a number. While I might be a smart beagle, I’m not a mathematician. I can roll over, sit, lie down and all that sort of thing upon command, but numbers are not something I really bother over.

For instance, I understand that the population of Leighton Buzzard is somewhere between 36,000 and 39,000. The exact number seems to depend on boundaries, hat sizes, or something else involving numbers that I don’t understand. However, whatever the number, I do know that it only takes one person to offer me a treat.

During the weekend of my recent birthday, the temperature reached 25 degrees Celsius in my garden. Or, I am told, it was the high 70s Fahrenheit. More numbers for me to ignore. Regardless of what reached where, and how many; I lay beside my kennel in the sunshine.

Was I stretched out for an hour? Could it have been two or three? Maybe it was more? Do I care? Not really, all I know is that it was long enough for me to rest and prepare myself for my evening meal.

Does my owner give me 50, 100, or 150 grams of feed at mealtimes? No idea, but whatever it is, it is not enough! Apparently the recent PCC election turnout was 23.1% – up more than 5% on last time. I’m not sure what that means, but it didn’t result in my getting any extra food.

Ah, but numbers ARE important when it comes to treats. However, said numbers are best kept simple. I propose that humans adopt my counting system. It consists of two numbers called, ‘enough’ and ‘not enough.’

For instance: counting doggie biscuits, using my system, reveals if there are ‘enough’ or ‘not enough’ – and in my experience, there is never enough.

   

PJ Wilkinson

It Could Have Been the
Start of Something
Sunday 20 January, 2019

I am a member of a writer’s group. One evening we produced written work up to 150 words long with the title, It Could Have Been the Start of Something.

The idea was that we could share our results and issue and receive critique based upon all having started from the same point.

It was a fun evening. Maybe not a great literary piece, but at least I hit the 150 limit exactly...

- o - O - o -

Sweating as I strain using my wrong hand to access the screw head, I hear some music start downstairs.

I stop for a second and listen. Nothing.

Returning to the screw I again catch a note or two, but can't be sure it isn't out the back.

Again, I break off from trying to turn a somewhat inaccessible screw in order to make out what is playing.

And once again there is nothing.

Back to avoiding cramp in my hand while tightly gripping a screwdriver.

There! I definitely heard something!

I sit up perfectly still as I try to identify the piece of music. It seemed to come out front this time.

Nothing. But I wonder what it was as it seemed familiar.

I go downstairs for some water and a break. I walk into the kitchen and I see the washing machine cycle has ended, as has the beeping...

Addition:
You can make contact with the group via Contact me

   

Phil J Wilkinson

Sport
Friday 18 January, 2019

Sport was published in a Northampton magazine, May 2016.

What I know about sport I can write on the back of a stamp – a very small stamp.

Still, I can spell the word, so that’s a start...

- o - O - o -

Northampton and sport. The two seem to go together like peanut butter and jam: sometimes brilliant but sometimes not in the minds of many.

Sport brings to mind rugby, cricket and football – all played at national levels as well as local leagues. Additionally, golf, canoeing, swimming and many other sports are catered for at a high level.

Des O’Connor once played for Northampton Town FC, but not the first team. However, without speaking to the great man himself, the dates and precise details seem destined to become forever fogged by the passage of time.

However, the word ‘sport’ in the context of Northampton also brings to mind Australians.

The greeting, ‘G’day, sport!’ can be heard in the town centre every day I walk by the old railway station that closed down along with the line that runs through the town in 1957.

When I see that the Grand Junction mine closed down in 1938, it makes me question what it means to Northampton as the Grand Junction run no closer than about four miles from the town centre.

Then I realise I am confusing the Grand Junction canal (part of the Grand Union canal) with the Grand Junction mine from where lead ore was obtained. The problem I now have is that I cannot pin down exactly where the mine was located. Nor am I aware of Northampton, or Northamptonshire, as being known for lead production. So I dig deeper (cue the groans) and look for a Northampton where lead ore was mined.

And I find it. There is a delightful little town in the Mid West region of Western Australia with a population of 868 souls, as reported by the Australian 2011 census. Their Northampton is one of the oldest towns in Western Australia, having been declared a townsite in 1864. Our Northampton was granted its town charter by King Richard I in 1189 with its first mayor being appointed by King John in 1215. So ours can claim seniority, although the weather isn’t so barbeque-friendly.

My confusion brings me back to the word ‘sport’ other than in the sense used by our antipodean friends. If we take it to mean something likely to involve a league table of some sort then we can look at the Top 50 Areas with the Best Quality of Life in the UK, as published by the Daily Mail in 2014. It tells me that South Northamptonshire is 7th. As Northampton is in the southern half of the county, I think it qualifies.

Trawling through the school and college performance tables from the Department of Education, I see Northampton is home to the 96th best performing school in the country regarding A-level results.

I’m still looking for a Number One.

Northampton Town FC is at the top of League Two, and very comfortably so. If they gain promotion to League One, I’m going to suppose their average attendance is going to rocket to well over six times the population of Northampton in Australia...

   
  Seriously, Lloyds?
Wednesday 16 January, 2019

It has to be said that my experience inside a branch of Lloyds Bank wasn’t very fruitful this morning. I had recently discovered that a joint savings account with my ex-wife still existed and had my name attached to it.

Given her grasp on reality and the lies she told a social worker (in writing), along with her threat to the effect that she would make sure I regretted divorcing her; I really do not want any contact with the woman.

Lloyds advised that her signature was required to close the account. That wasn’t going to happen. Being in the position of having an ex who cannot be reasoned with, cannot be trusted, and who will take the opportunity to stick a knife in again, twisting for all they are worth, cannot be something that the banks never encountered. My ex-wife can’t be the only bitter and twisted person out there. However, they insisted it was the only way.

My feared scenario is her refusal to sign documents, claiming that when we parted I took thousands of Pounds from the account, thereby stealing it from her. As it happens, that is precisely what occurred – but the other way around. I was working in IT at the time as a consultant and storing my very handsome remuneration in that account. When we parted, it vanished. Without irrefutable proof indicating which of us withdrew it, it never formed part of the divorce settlement. It was around £18k-£24k, but without raising a civil case, there was no real way to chase it down – so I cut my losses.

And now I am here in 2019 and with access to that account I had forgotten about, with its balance of one single, solitary penny. I am guessing that she is unaware of the account’s existence. However, if she is reminded of it, there is no knowing how she will seek to turn the situation to her perceived advantage.

Instead I switched request to just the removal of my name from the account. I was happy to give that penny to her. No, Lloyds Bank required her to sign a form to have my name taken off the account.

When it became clear that Lloyds Bank seemed unable to deal with a situation that surely mustn’t be a one-off, I informed them that if I couldn’t escape that account, then I would close my current and savings accounts with them. Sure, it would still leave that joint account, but at least I would have left a ‘paper trail’ indicating my intention to not engage in anything that she might later claim to me attempting to masquerade as her.

That might sound like a crazy charge, but it is nothing compared to what she has already claimed.

Still Lloyds said there was nothing they could do, so I set about closing my accounts. Then Lloyds refused to close my accounts without my providing ID! They had made phone calls and examined accounts as part of dealing with a customer (me) sat in their branch, but when it came to taking the instruction to close my accounts they miraculously dragged up a reason to not do so.

Back in the 1990s a Continuous Authority was erroneously attached to my debit card (not account – that would have been easy to sort). Lloyds then refused to cancel it. The company deducting money from me refused to stop on the grounds that I wasn’t the person who set up the debit. Er . . .

My solution was to take my account elsewhere and the bank I engaged cancelled that Continuous Authority upon receipt of a written instruction from me – something Lloyds Bank said wasn’t possible.

I should have realised that Lloyds Bank haven’t changed since then and still are as awkward as possible. Unfortunately for Lloyds Bank, I will ensure this fiasco costs them far more than it will ever cost me . . .

   

Phil J Wilkinson

Busy
Monday 14 January, 2019

Some things never go away. Busy was published in a Milton Keynes magazine in May 2016. The event related within actually took place about nine years earlier. At the time of writing, sometime in 2015, I was living in a small market town nearby and glad to be free of the madness on the roads.

That was then, and here is now. That small market town has grown and is still growing, and it has inherited that madness, but with a twist: because it is still relatively small, much of its traffic issues are dependent upon conditions everywhere except the town itself.

I would time my journeys to avoid the congestion were it not for the fact that it is seemingly random these days . . .

- o - O - o -

I don’t cover each and every mile of road in Milton Keynes. If I were a commercial driver then I might – but I’m not and so I don’t.

So I drive from place to place in order to get from place to place. Er . . .

As a consequence, I live in a bubble that allows me only limited vision of things as go about my business of not driving for a living.

All of the above is just a long-winded way to say that I am not familiar with the traffic patterns throughout the area.

So, when I found myself needing to drive from Bletchley to Bedford the other day, around 5:30 pm, I encountered a great degree of extremely heavy traffic on my way to the motorway, with the stretch to Bedford yet to cover.

I was surprised at just how busy the roads were along the way at the time chosen for me to make the journey. In fact I was flabbergasted. As the late Frankie Howerd once said, ‘My flabber has never been so ghasted! Oo-er, missus!’

By the time I had passed a couple of housing developments I resigned myself to being much later than originally intended.

However, until I reached the area of the motorway I had no real idea just how late I was going to be on this occasion. I’m not sure I have ever seen so many drivers all trying to get some place or other in my life.

It took me nearly as long to get across the motorway and into Bedfordshire as it did to get from Bletchley in the first place. Then there was the long, oh-so-tortuously-slow line of cars, vans and lorries heading out along the A509 and the A422 thereafter.

The incredibly long and never ending line of traffic ahead and behind made me ask myself just how anyone could drive this route every day. Whatever magnificent quality it took, I wasn’t in possession of it. So decided to fall back on my knowledge of the small lanes and roads that ran in the general direction I needed in order to get to my destination.

My lack of familiarity wasn’t limited just to the pattern and density of the traffic. It had been a very long time since I rode a motorcycle for the sake of it, up and down the byways and highways running through village after village in the area. Long story, short: I became lost.

There came a point when I decided to give up with being clever and aimed at rejoining the A422 and trudge along with everyone else; arriving whenever the snake of slow-moving traffic allowed. That was Plan B after the failure of Plan A. Unfortunately; upon meeting a main road I spotted a signpost that told me I had managed to drive closer to Milton Keynes during my attempt to circumvent the slow moving queue. I was back at the A509 after managing to pass Moulsoe in the dark.

I don’t drive for a living. Perhaps there is a reason.

   

Darwin Beagle

Darwin and Writing
Saturday 12 January, 2019

I am a member of a writing group based in Leighton Buzzard. We all have various passions and skills and we love to hear from other writers – or would-be writers – who may wish to be part of what we do.

To that end, the pieces that appear in our local newspaper carry contact details – as referred to in the sample below which was published as You can join my group, Tuesday 26 April 2016.

Although Darwin is older and a little wiser these days, we still can’t stop him eating the chocolate biscuits at meetings, and so we are unable to accommodate him, but everyone else is welcome!

- o - O - o -

Like my owner, I am keen on writing. Unlike my owner, I also like to roll on dead worms and other stuff I find while we are out on a walk.

That said, I suppose I cannot say for sure that he doesn’t do the same, but I haven’t seen him do it. If he does, then perhaps it is when I’m off chasing a ball he has thrown.

Anyway, back to the writing thing.

I see many things on my walkies in and around the Leighton Buzzard area. I get a different view of things than others because I’m so much closer to the ground than them. Having never met another dog that can write, I can safely say I am peerless – unless you count toddlers. It is possible that some of them can group letters into things known as words and put them down on paper into lines that form sentences. I’m not sure.

However, what I am sure of is that the Little People that I meet have thumbs. I know this because whenever my owner and I come across one, he sits me down and lets them play with my ears. As their hands reach for me, I see their thumbs sticking out next to their fingers.

It’s not that I envy them in any way. No, writing does not require thumbs although fingers are handy (groan). But try opening a laptop cover without fingers or thumbs. It isn’t easy. That is why I consider my writing to be a collaborative effort between me and my owner: he provides the equipment and presents it in a manner I can use, while I supply the words.

Perhaps I should give him more credit. He doesn’t just open the lid – he stops me eating it.

What I wrote at the start was a little misleading through being incomplete: I like to write and eat. In fact, eating is probably my all-time favourite thing. As well as sleeping, then I can dream about eating.

I can’t attend any of the Leighton Buzzard Writers' Group meetings at the library (see details below) because no one wants to spend the evening watching me eating all the biscuits. However, anyone who wants to write and meet like-minded people is welcome to attend – even if I am not there to have my ears stroked.

Addition:
You can make contact with the group via Contact me

   

Phil J Wilkinson

Fire Works
Tuesday 8 January, 2019

I enjoy reading short stories. Seemingly I can’t write them. The piece that follows was something I wrote as a competition entry. Verbally I was given a title of  Fireworks, a 1,000 word limit, and a deadline of the end of January for submissions, with the winner to be announced in April 2016.

January of 2016 was a busy time for me, so I only managed to sit down and write my entry on the night before the deadline. However, I churned out 917 words and formatted and submitted the whole thing as per the competition rules.

Having never seen the title written I decided to be ‘clever’ and think outside the box of normality. Unfortunately more effort went into being ‘clever’ than the writing because in April I was to discover that my effort wasn’t a winner. It wasn’t even placed. Not a mention.

- o - O - o -

The garage alongside the house was well equipped with tools. The walls and ceiling were white and the floor a shiny and easy to clean grey. Tools and equipment were all stowed either on the walls, shelves or obviously allotted homes.

Two men were studying the workbench, or rather something gripped in the jaws of the vice attached to it.

Other than music coming from the radio playing hits of the day, there was nothing but a thoughtful silence.

‘Try getting that wrench on the nut again and let me have a twist,’ said the younger man.

‘Sure, I’ll do that and you can use your young muscles to twist it nice and hard and break the stud good and proper,’ sighed the older man, ‘As a father, I ought to know that no matter what I say, my son will always know better.’

The radio once again resumed its role of being the only noise in the garage.

‘Well, the releasing oil should have worked by now, let’s try again,’ the son said as he moved as if ready to take over and wield the wrench once again.

‘The oil went on last night and if it hasn’t worked by now then it isn’t going to work at all.’

‘But surely the more time it has had, the better it works?’

‘To a degree that is true, but there comes a point when it is obvious to anyone with half a brain that nothing is happening after a while.’

Once again the radio took over the job of filling the garage with sound.

‘Of course you must now realise that if you did what I suggested in the first place then your exhaust stud would have been ready to reinsert in the cylinder head last night,’ said the father as he stood back and folded his arms.

‘No, you don’t realise, this Japanese engineering doesn’t take kindly to being treated roughly. What you wanted to do falls into the category of engineering abuse.’

‘Says the young upstart.’

‘Says the owner of the exhaust stud who wants to avoid having to add to his woes.’

Two mugs stood at the end of the workbench and the father picked one up. As he raised it to his lips his son said, ‘How about if we tap it gently as we try to turn the nut?’

The older man pulled a face and winced, as he took a sip from the mug.

‘Cold?’

‘So you can get some things right, I see,’ came the response as the father replaced the mug next to its twin on the bench.

‘Ha, bloody, ha!’

‘But seriously, we have to give it go, surely?’

‘I told you, I don’t want to damage it.’

‘Look, you were happy to just stick a wrench on it and twist hard enough to break the thing, so why not try it my way? If it fails as you fear then you go out and buy another stud.’

‘That motorcycle went out of production over 40 years ago. That exhaust stud is an odd thread size and it will probably cost me an arm and a leg to get one made up special.’

‘And if you snapped it in two, then that would be different?’

The son stared at his father before a smile appeared on his face.

‘I knew I hadn’t brought a fool into the world,’ said the father, ‘So we try it my way then?’

‘Okay, we’ll give your way a go.’

The father walked across to a shelf unit adorned with various tools and objects; many of which appeared to defy any explanation as to their use.

‘Now then, found it, but where are the bloody matches?’ he said out loud to himself, then addressing his son, ‘And turn the radio off. I want to listen to the stud while we work.’

‘You are kidding me, right?’

‘Radio!’ he barked.

The younger man walked across to the radio and switched it off, shaking his head and smiling as he did so.

There was a hiss followed by a ‘whump’ as the light in the garage was supplemented by a flame seeming to come from the older man’s hand.

‘Years ago this would have been a blowlamp needing to be prepared before use. Nowadays, a throwaway can and a box of matches means once the idea takes hold, we can get on.’ He looked at his son and added, ‘Yes, we can crack on before you change your bloody mind.’

He walked to the vice on the bench and played the flame of the gas fired blowtorch over the nut that had caused so much recent grief. After less than a minute he placed the canister down by the mugs and turned a knurled knob at the top and the dagger of heat coming from the nozzle shrank then vanished.

The wrench was fitted to the nut and the older man leant over the vice as if listening to the exhaust stud as he gently applied pressure. There was a small click and a small release of breath from the father.

‘What’s happened?’ asked the son, having heard the same click, ‘Have you broken it?’

The father straightened and held the wrench toward his son. It held the nut in its jaws. The son’s eyes darted to the vice and saw the exhaust stud securely clamped and unharmed.

‘Bloody hell, it worked!’ said the son.

His father smiled and said, ‘I told you, fire works.’

   

Phil J Wilkinson

Salt
Saturday 5 January, 2019

This is all true. I had it published in a Northampton magazine in April 2016. It tells of something that took place around 1983. The stint in London was about 1981.

I feel sure that such things, as I witnessed in London, do not happen these days; the reason being there are no longer enough police officers available to play such games.

- o - O - o -

Many moons ago, there was a road running into Northampton known as London Road. Actually, it is still there, still known as London Road; attracting the label A508.

Back in the day, said road was a wide 40mph tract that took one towards the town centre from the motorway, via the A45. Naturally no one took any heed of the 40mph speed limit and the width promoted speeds somewhat in excess of that proscribed.

The fact that drivers had just come off the A45, and possible the motorway before that, meant that 40mph seemed so slow.

Nowadays it is a 30mph road that has been narrowed by arranging parking down one side. Traffic lights act as breaks, thus stopping the free flow of traffic down the hill into Northampton.

Before the road was remodelled, the only option available was to stick a policeman partway down the road and arm him with a hand-held speed gun, popularly known back then as a hairdryer.

Occasionally I would trundle into Northampton along that road doing no more than 39mph on my 135mph capable motorcycle. As a responsible motorcyclist, I refrained from waving at the nice officer decked out in Northamptonshire’s finest Day-Glo as I whispered past.

One day I was told of a poor chap who had been clocked by a hairdryer-wielding officer of the law. Apparently he ignored the Summons (this was in the days before fixed penalty tickets) and was banned. My friend was outraged as he related the tale of woe. It was said that the fellow motorcyclist was picked out and victimised because there was a stream of other vehicles of which he was the only motorcycle. The gentleman by the roadside targeted him and ignored their presence.

A short while before then, I had done a stint as a motorcycle despatch rider in London. Until then I took stories of police entrapment of road users with a very large pinch of salt. That was until the day I was travelling around the Aldwych and I nearly fell victim to a set up practised by two policemen. One stood with his back to a pedestrian crossing and the other kept watch on approaching vehicles. Upon a signal from the observing officer, the other, previously stood with his back to the crossing, smartly turned and marched out onto the black and white stripes.

My motorcycle of the time had superb brakes and I was hyper-vigilant as I was new to London riding. I stopped cleanly without crossing the line. The look that officer gave me as he walked slowly across the road in front of me caused me to swear off generously proportioned pinches of salt.

So when I listened to the story of the poor fellow who had been booked for speeding and then banned due to being ‘fitted up,’ I became hopping mad and was ready to organise a protest march, or something similar.

Then the figures were spoken: 110mph in a 40 zone.

I went back on the salt.

   

Phil J Wilkinson

Changes
Thursday 3 January, 2019

This piece, Changes, was published in April 2016 in a Milton Keynes publication.

Anyone who knows me these days might find it hard to believe that an intended trip of 30 yards to put my motorcycle away for the night wasn’t unknown to become an 80 mile jaunt across the county.

In modern parlance the price of petrol back then was around 28p per litre.

- o - O - o -

There was a time, long distant, when I knew every road and lane in Milton Keynes.

To avoid confusion: I wasn’t a taxi driver; however I did ride a motorcycle. Otherwise I resorted to pedal power. I enjoyed each so much; I would ride just for the sake of it, and tended to cover many miles as a consequence. If a lane existed, I either cycled or rode my motorcycle along it.

Nowadays, with age having crept up on me and the price of petrol being at a level that precludes engine propelled meandering; I tend to only travel along roads in order for me to get from A to B in an efficient manner. Gone are the days when I would merrily follow a side road merely because it looked interesting.

When I come across heavy or stationary traffic, a detour seems in order. My desire has always been to slip through whatever networks of little used roads present themselves as an alternative to being stuck in a column of vehicles going nowhere particularly quickly. I absolutely cannot abide sitting in a car doing nothing. This is especially true when it is traffic not flowing according to the expectation raised by the much vaunted grid road system of Milton Keynes.

Great changes have taken place in the time during which I have not maintained my intimate familiarity with the roads and byways we enjoy. A clue to just how my own age features in this experience is the fact that David Bowie’s 1971 song, Changes is currently running through my head as I write this.

Bowie first performed at what was then known as the Milton Keynes Bowl in 1983. I had been intending to ride up Watling Street during one of his gigs but spotting the traffic control ahead, decided to nip through a nearby estate to shortcut the square formed by the grid road system. Simple and straightforward to do, and all without it wasting my time trying to work out where I was best headed to find my way.

Fast forward to 2016 and this time I am in a car. Far in the distance I could see congestion at the roundabout to which we were headed. The flashing blue lights suggested an accident. So I directed the driver to turn into the estate prior to the blockage.

What followed was much fruitless driving about as we tried to find our way through and out the other side. Eventually we gave up, heading back to where we had first entered. We decided to bite that particular bullet and crawl up to, and through, the usually fast flowing junction. Except the tailback from the incident now stretched back to the entrance to the housing estate, and guess what? Yes, there was a great deal of fun and joy caused by trying to rejoin the very slowly moving line of vehicles headed towards the promise of onward freedom from vehicular restraint.

Oh for certain, time has wrought changes.

   

Darwin Beagle

Darwin and Roads
Tuesday 1 January, 2019

This appeared in my local newspaper Tuesday 29 March, 2016. Easter Sunday in 2016 was two days earlier, 27 March.

A bit of context helps – as do chicken-flavoured treats for Darwin.

- o - O - o -

I like wide open spaces and undergrowth equally. That's not to say the routes between them, when I am tethered to my owner by a lead, are not of interest to me.

While bushes require me to sniff out possible food or friends; tarmac paths are covered with smells indicating people having walked by in the recent past while eating or carrying food.

In addition, when walking or dragging my owner alongside a busy road, there are so many people about who can admire me, or feed me – I'm easy either way.

What I don't like is when I am led down a busy road during what my owner calls the Rush Hour. That is a time when everyone seems to be in a hurry to get somewhere and ignore me in the process. That really isn't a good thing for them when in the presence of such a magnificent beagle such as myself, but I suppose they don't appreciate just what they are missing by not admiring me.

A few mornings back, I watched a group of school kids trying to cross a road that was full of fast moving vehicles. Each was driven by a human who never gave me a second look. I guess they were watching where they were going.

The children were also ignoring me. They were probably distracted by the flow of traffic stopping them getting across the road to school.

Then it happened. One of the boys stepped out into the road right in front of a van and the driver came to a sudden and ungainly halt with the boy stood frozen in front of it.

No harm done, the boy looked about him and because the lorry coming the other way had also stopped, he and his friends continued across the road.

At first I thought the boy might have been marvelling at me instead of concentrating on where he was going. Then it dawned on me that he had not even glanced in my direction, before, during or after the incident and I thought he maybe had something else on his mind.

Then it struck me – of course! He was obviously looking forward eating his Easter eggs and the thought of such deliciousness had blinded him to the world around him.

Then I understood.