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The rise of the bargain mentality

THE FESTIVE season is still in full swing for many of us. The turkey has not yet fully digested but already we’re braving the chilly conditions and heading out to bag a bargain. Boxing Day sales are not just for one day – a quick glance at an app on my iPhone indicates a Boxing Day sale ending on 31st December (maybe renaming to ‘the end of year sale’ may be more appropriate?). Anyway we are a nation seduced by bargains all year round. We head online and into shops looking for stuff on deals. We have developed a sharp eye for spotting the different coloured shelf edge labels in supermarkets that tell us a deal is on. It’s actually getting to a point where we’re starting to feel ripped-off when we purchase items at normal price!




The bargain mentality

Our liking for a bargain has been around for ages. Recently whilst going through some of my retro archives, I dug up a few adverts from the 70s – one of them for a furniture shop boasting about their New Year sale and the other a convenient shore boasting of low prices. I’m a great example of an eagle-eyed bargain hunter. I spent last Christmas in Spain and totally missed the Boxing Day sales. This Christmas I’ve been away again but this time in the East of England. I returned home on Wednesday (27th) evening about 7pm. Once home and before unpacking the car, I went to the local supermarket. I didn’t need anything urgently from the supermarket, I went for one simple reason … to try and bag an after Christmas bargain. My trip proved to be quite unsuccessful as other bargain hunters were quick off the mark and left the shelves bare. I wasn’t going to give up. Next morning I was out of bed pretty sharpish and back down to the supermarket. My thought process was that maybe the nightshift crew had replenished the bargain stocks. Sadly again I was left disappointed as I ran into more bare shelves. I did spot a half-moon shaped blue cheese that was originally reduced from £3.50 to £1.75. A few days earlier my wife had bought this for £3. I took a photo of the price reduction, showed it to my wife and suggested that maybe we should celebrate Christmas Day on the 27th or 28th in future. The logic is that we could buy Christmas presents and food on the 26th and save a fortune. So there you have it, an example of bargain mentality.




Is a bargain really a bargain?

Sometimes. During my unsuccessful bargain hunting venture, I did see a DAB radio reduced from £35 to £25. The radio looked familiar … it was the same one sitting in the kitchen at home – I bought it 2 years earlier in the same shop for £15! (No surprise I remembered the exact price I paid 2 years earlier). So what’s cracking on here? Sounds like a case of excessive stock syndrome whilst trying to drive monetary value.

Also that half moon of blue cheese had a use by date of 2nd January. As much as we like blue cheese in our household, we’d struggle to get through even a quarter of this by the 2nd. There were other bargains in the supermarket but the thought of buying something of no use to us is poor use of money.


The future of bargains

The future is bright for the hard-core bargain hunters. The bargains can be scooped up from almost anywhere on the high street. We’ll continue to be enticed by knock down prices. We’ll continue to pack your trolleys with deals and offers. The various sales throughout the year show no signs of disappearing. The late night trips to the supermarket to grab a basketful of items with yellow stickers still have mileage.

As a seasoned bargain hunter, I managed to turn my disappointment into success in the last 48 hours. I managed to bag a plug-in doorbell for £6.99 (originally £16.99) – a perfect purchase as visitors have had to pound on the front door with their fists for the last 4 years. I also managed to buy all the Christmas cards needed for 2018 at half price. The future is bright – BOGOF’s, yellow stickers, deals and discounts – the bargain train continues to speed down the track with headlamps blazing.



The Great British Blog Book for Nostalgic Geeks is available on amazon or retrohen


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Butlinland, Gold Blend and a bowl of turkey soup

THE CHRISTMAS 1976 edition of the Radio Times is still holding up. It’s still in pretty good nick considering there were signs that maybe it was heading in the waste paper bin (a previous blog on retrohen – Radio Times: Aerials, Cassettes and lashings of booze!).

Apart from listings for the BBC, I’ve been intrigued by the advertising in this edition. Take Christmas out of the equation, and the month of December would be bleak. It’s a month that contains the day with the shortest amount of daylight hours (much to the appreciation of Sir Count Dracula). The weather conditions are not suitable for lightweight clothes and thoughts of the 7 days of summer in October come rolling back. We begin thinking about holiday destinations for 2018.




Holiday destinations in the UK in 1977? Butlinland would be pretty high on the agenda. After reading the advert, I’m seriously tempted to fill in the coupon and receive my free 40-page colour brochure. You can get ‘all in’ for £48 per week in peak season. Entertainment is free (colour TV, live groups and a singalong) so you’d just need to splash out for drinks, ices and late-night snacks. I’m liking it!




Christmas is a special time of year. It’s a time when food consumption and sales of liver salts increase. It’s a time when many are completely turkeyed-out , boozed-out and knackered! Kick start your body back to some kind of normality with a nice cup of Gold Blend. Kick back, relax and enjoy the carefully roasted coffee. As rightly stated in the colour ad – ‘A very special dinner deserves a very special coffee’. Christmas dinners are special and not just scheduled for Christmas Day – think of Christmas dinners at work and other social events leading up to the 25th. Even after the 25th many are still chomping on turkey sarnies, turkey jacket potatoes and turkey stew. However long the turkey lasts, best have a jar of Gold Blend in stock – a classy end to a festive feast.




Some households will demolish a whole turkey half-way through the festive meal on Christmas day. There may well be cravings for more turkey leading to moaning about who dished themselves second and third helpings. Luckily Heinz are at hand to stop the moaning progressing into a full on leftover sprout pelting session across the table. A bowl of turkey soup will satisfy the turkey cravings and prevent a dinner table punch-up.




How much more can I squeeze out of the 41 year old magazine? Lots more! It’s survived this far so I can’t see it suddenly falling to pieces. I really love the advertising – its changed so much over the years. We live in the digital age – sending away for a 40-page colour holiday brochure now seems alien, but a cup of Gold Blend and a bowl of turkey soup (home made with a few sprouts tossed in) are still very much alive and kicking.



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You’re spoiling us!

THE nostalgic journey back to Christmas 1976 continues courtesy of Radio Times. After the mishap of falling off my cluttered desk and landing near the waste paper bin, the 1976 edition sustained no major damage and remains in pretty good nick (see my previous blog ‘Aerials, Cassettes and lashings of booze!’). Hopefully it will survive for another 20 years under watchful supervision.



Christmas viewing has always been a point of discussion – who’d win the war of the ratings? Which James Bond film would be shown after The Queens Speech? Whatever we ended up watching in 1976, we were watching them on a pretty chunky television without the comfort of a remote control. These were the TV’s that really needed two strong people to safely manoeuvre them into our homes. Once plugged and operational, the next step would be to manually tune in the three channels. After tuning in, then it’s a case of getting a decent reception – indoor aerials usually took up a spot on top of the television set. Due to the lack of remote control, we’d be clocking up the steps walking back and forth juggling with channels and adjusting the aerial. One other thing … there were still a lot of black and white televisions knocking around in 1976.


So what sort of stuff was on television this time 41 years ago? Programmes began on BBC1 at 8.50am! That would be considered pretty late these days. If you thought 8.50am was late then BBC2 was a part-time channel … it kicked off at 1.40pm! If you were up by 9am then you’d be able to catch Noel Edmonds on Multi-Coloured Swap Shop. After that you’d be stuck with Grandstand, the BBC’s sporting giant that lasted for almost 5 hours! Racing from Ascot, Boxing and Table Tennis were some of the sports we’d tune into. Not into sport? Part-timer BBC2 came to the rescue with a couple of Hollywood films. Play Away provided a bit of children’s entrainment after the film fest. BBC1 programmes ended at 12.12am and BBC2 at 1.35am.






How times have changed – we now flick TV channels without shifting our bums. We now have so many channels that it causes confusion. The chunky, four-buttoned TV’s have been replaced with sleek, sexy flat screen models. There’s no room inside for aerials so they’ve been banished to the roof. 24 hour television programmes, numerous channels, flat screen TV’s, remote control … we’re being spoilt!



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Radio Times: Aerials, Cassettes and lashings of booze!

CHRISTMAS 1976. Flicking through the faded Christmas edition of Radio Times brings back so many memories. The magazine had been carefully kept in a plastic sleeve to ensure optimum preservation. Owning a precious 41 year old magazine means handling with care – making sure my fingers are free from marmalade and excessive moisturizer. I’ve done a good job so far – the only major damage is on the back page where an advert for After Eight appears (the sticky tape had been in close proximity). In general, the magazine is in pretty good nick.






What sort of things whetted our appetite in 1976? Where did we splash the cash?

Aerials – we spent our money on car aerials according to the Halfords advert. ‘Does my car have an aerial attached?’ I’ve seen them on Uber’s but to be absolutely certain I looked out the window at my car. Sure enough my car has an aerial – on the front of the roof standing at a 40-degree angle. Back in the 70s, many cars had the aerials positioned on the front end of the car (close to the bonnet) – they had to be manually pulled up so the radio would operate. I may have dreamt this, but I’m sure I’ve seen some metal clothes hangers used as replacement aerials back in the 70s?

Cassettes – we spent our money on cassettes! I’d call them tapes and I had loads of them. There were so many TV adverts urging us to buy their brand … TDK, BASF, AGFA, Memorex (Is it live or is it Memorex?), Maxell and many more. Tapes were popular. They were essential for recording the top 40 (portable radio on, hitting play & record on the cassette player then complete silence whilst the tunes recorded – hopefully no coughing or sneezing fits would be encountered and playback would be pretty decent). Today I don’t own one single tape. I do have a cassette player hidden in the loft, but I can’t be bothered to stumble over a load of loft insulation to get it.




We loved splashing out on booze back in 1976 and I can confidently say, 41 years on, nothing has changed! Haig whisky, Gordon’s dry gin, Courvoisier cognac, Harveys Bristol Cream, Bell’s whisky and Mackinlay’s whisky all had decent sized advertising in this edition. At Christmas in 1976 our drinks storage area (the cupboard under the stairs, also the home of the 50p gas meter) had 24 bottles of Babycham and 24 bottles of Snowball. Being a mere 6 years old, my limit was a few sips of Babycham. The real, strong, grown up stuff was kept in living room cabinet – Buckfast wine, vodka and dark rum. Christmas 2017 and we’re still splashing out on lashings of booze!






1976 – a time when the only 3 TV channels existed – BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. The Radio times would have listings for only the BBC and radio channels – you’d have to purchase the TV Times to get a glimpse of the festive schedule on ITV. Today I splashed out on the 2017 Christmas edition of Radio Times. Cost comparison – 22p in 1976 – £4.50 in 2017. Adverts for car aerials and cassettes – none! Adverts for booze – none! Our aerials, cassettes and alcohol have been replaced with adverts for Netflix, amazon prime and Olay. There’s a few more ads for furniture too (exit MFI – enter Furniture Village and DFS). The 1976 edition has just slipped off my cluttered desk and landed near the waste paper bin. The 2017 Christmas edition still sits securely on the desk – could it be a sign? Maybe it’s a sign that I need to ditch the booze this Christmas and instead kick back in the sofa, order a amazon fire TV stick and pay more attention to my complexion!





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Re-opening of Grange Hill?





Do not touch!

‘I WAS banned from watching that!’ was her reply – a reply I’ve heard about a dozen times during my lifetime. As for me, Tuesday evenings were when I got my weekly Grange Hill fix.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The fictional school had all sort of characters – funny pupils, the bully, pupils with issues at home, issues with drugs (remember the ‘just say no’ campaign?), violence, horrible teachers, honest teachers – the list could go on. I will summarise by saying that Grange Hill contained  3 categories – the Good, Bad and Ugly.





The cheeky smile of Tucker is fondly remembered. Tucker was such a popular character at GH that the spin-off, Tuckers Luck, was created. Gripper Stebson was the teenage crime-lord who’d hand out regular beatings. Zammo was a likeable guy who got sidetracked by drugs. A right mix of characters but all very real and all probably very relatable


Bad influence?

I can understand why many parents would ensure that BBC1, on Tuesday evenings, between 5 and 6, was out of bounds. Do not touch, do no inhale, do not consume! The GH curse may come upon you and you’ll turn into one of them! A little yeast works it’s way through the entire dough!

I’m happy that I was allowed to watch GH. I was a level-headed, middle of the road type of guy at school. I didn’t want to be like Tucker (even though I thought he was cool). I never considered becoming a carbon copy of Gripper Stebson (boosting the pocket money would have been handy, but I did have a conscience). As for drugs, they were not prominent at the school I attended, but I do remember some guys dosing their shirt-cuffs with Tipp-Ex solvent and inhaling deeply through their mouths, resulting in their eyes rolling like marbles. Luckily GH was enjoyable entertainment for me.


Raw reality

It was about this time two years ago that a re-run of GH was shown on television. It was the episode that Zammo was found slumped in the loo having overdosed. Looking back, GH certainly tackled real life issues. The more I thought about the characters in GH, they really reflect people in real life – the comedians, the bullies, the ones that keep their heads down and show complete dedication, people that have been derailed etc.


Open those gates!

The gates of GH are now shut. It has disappeared from the television school selection list (Ackely Bridge and Waterloo Road could be suitable alternatives). GH still has a sizable fan base (me included) – there are numerous groups on social media. The theme tune still brings a smile to faces followed by mentions of favourite characters and memories of teenage crushes (I had many but Calley Donnington tops the list). Will the gates of GH ever be opened again? Who knows? If it does I’ll be one of the first legging it through the gates to take ownership of a desk at the back of the classroom. My position at the back will enable me to launch paper bullets using my shatterproof ruler as a launch pad. I think that would put me in the ‘bad’ category – a category where I’d be proud to reside for the entire term.





A Grange Hill story is featured in the new hardback book, Section N Underpass. Release date November 2018.

Section N Underpass Cover

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The Highway Code – learning to drive the Hazel way



IF I were to take a driving test today, I would fail! My knowledge of road signs are sometimes dodgy. I control the steering wheel with one hand (gangster style) and last week I drove an entire 7-mile journey with the passenger wing mirror folded in – I realized that it was folded in when I parked up at home. Also, in the last few months, I’ve had a serious problem parking straight. Sure most car parks have bold white lines to guide us into the spaces but they might as well not exist in my case. I’ve found myself having to climb over the to the passenger seat to get out the car on two occasions in the last couple of weeks. I wonder why this sudden slackness has set in. I’ve been driving for 28 years. I passed my driving test on the mean streets of London. If you can drive in London, then you can drive anywhere, right?




Earlier in the week, whist going through some old books in the home office, I came across the Highway Code from 1989 – the year I passed my driving test! After reminiscing about excitedly dashing home, happy that I had passed first time, the tone of by thoughts dipped as I considered the lead-up to the driving test. The lead-up began early 1989 with lessons that cost £9. I actually began taking lessons in 1988 with Anne (a softly spoken lady from the south of Ireland) but then stopped when by work schedule became manic. At the start of 1989 I contacted Anne to see if she was available so I could pick up where I’d left off. Anne was not available but recommended that her colleague, Hazel, was available – I agreed and booked up with Hazel – that was the start of my painful driving experience.


Hazel was the complete opposite to Anne. She towered over me. When she rang the doorbell, her outline through the glass would send me into a nervous wreck. She made me feel like a wimp and loser even before the lessons. During the lessons she screamed at me if I drove too slow and screamed at me for staying in 2nd gear whilst on the 50mph duel carriageway. There was the day I really thought she was going to chop my head off for almost going through a red light and wiping out an old man crossing the road (thank goodness for duel controls in the car). I endured Hazel until the summer 89 when she told me I’ll soon be ready for my test. My test took place November of that year. I’ll never forget what Hazel said to me as I drove to the test centre. ‘Yikes your driving in the gutter! What are you doing? If you’re gonna drive like this in the test, you might as well just turn round and go back home!’ I arrived at the test centre shaking like I’d been just let out a walk-in freezer. Luckily I didn’t have much time think too much as my name was called almost immediately. After the verbal beating from Hazel, I was sure to fail the test and I really didn’t care. After getting over a few issues of stalling the car, I managed to competently navigate the Volvo around Greenford with no major issues. I completed the test and the examiner calmly told me that I’d passed. Back in the car with Hazel driving I felt relieved. No more lessons – no more being screamed at and I’ll make it to my 20th birthday!





So now, 28 years after passing my test, and with my inability to park and use my mirrors, maybe Hazel is needed to get me back up to scratch. Sometimes non-sugar coated words and barefaced bluntness is needed to get the job done. Hazel if you’re reading this, I need you now. As I look out the living room window at my parked car, I notice there’s a 6-inch gap between the kerb and wheels. Help Hazel … help!