Funny Stuff

The Importance of Being Burnished

I’m taking a break from the When I Were a Lad theme this week to potentially amuse and entertain you, dear readers, with a few unusual but true stories from my family’s past. Many of you will notice some of these stories have a running theme – that of my Mother-in-Law.

Scan, as her husband used to call her for some reason no one could ever figure out, was one of those ladies whose influence was wide and far reaching. One of the original residents of the Swalecliffe council estate, Shirley was a force of nature. What one would class as a larger lady she had a zest for life and a mad sense of humour.

She was also a jinx!

Guaranteed if you went anywhere with her in tow, it would rain. If there was no rain, you’d get lost and end up asking the guys at Twickenham rugby club how to get to Legoland (true story)

So here goes with a little section I’m calling…

Cavalier Attitude

In the late 90’s and noughties,  we were the proud owners of a pair of Vauxhall Cavaliers. One was a dark blue and fairly nice, the other was the same powder blue colour as a comedy tuxedo in some sad sit-com and a rotting pile.

The dark blue one eventually died in spectacular fashion. For some time the wife had been telling me the temperature gauge was making ever more frequent trips into the red. As one of the millions of red-blooded, technically-minded British men that abound in the world, I promptly flipped open the bonnet and proceeded to touch things in a random fashion.

This is also known as mechanics by faith healing.

It’s not particularly effective.


With little income, we wisely chose to leave the problem and see if it worsened. Which it promptly did, causing the maximum disruption and distress possible.

Somehow around nine years ago, I managed to get my wife pregnant – possibly through faith healing techniques. Several months into her term, she set off to collect her mother (the jinx) from a visit to her lifelong friend in Cambridgeshire.

The phone call I received a few hours later went along the lines of “The car’s on fire! The car’s on fire!” While I was sympathetic to the plight of my gestating wife, I was approximately sixty miles to the East of her and unable to assist with the conflagration she was experiencing.

When she finally returned, I received the full tale. The dark blue Cav decided to smoke like an old stick on the approach to the Dartford Tunnel! My wife pulled in, as you would, to be told by a helpful chap standing around doing nothing, “No parking here! You have to move!” Unmoved by my wife’s declaration her car was about to explode he added, “Go, go. No parking here.”

Finally managing to convince the gentleman a fire was imminent and entering the confines of the Dartford Tunnel would be unwise, he relented and allowed her to stop there.

Meanwhile dark blue Cav had stopped churning out black smoke and calmed itself down so the wife decided to call the AA. When the grizzled, scarred, apparent baby-eating man from that association arrived – complete with teardrop tattoos beneath his eye, a definite reference to the number of people he’d shanked in prison – he promptly decided the Cav was too dangerous to drive and jacked it onto his towing dolly.

Illegally towing her through the Dartford Tunnel, performing a U-turn at Thurrock and then dragging her back over the bridge, the driver decided it would then be possible for her to drive back home.

Which she did. In ten minute intervals to stop and let the engine cool to sub-molten temperatures.

The upshot of this spectacular death of the dark blue Cav was that the Jinx had to spend another week in Cambridgeshire until I could collect her the following weekend in my chugging, diesel Nissan D21, featuring the same suspension as seen in traction engines.

Plus we ‘retired’ the Cav.


The light blue Cav was a different matter. This one served us well until its final demise a year after we bought it as the MOT tester said it was a ‘deathtrap’ and ‘shouldn’t never be driven by no one.’ Of this Cav there is one amusing tale.

My wife was driving, my two children were in the back seat and I in the passenger seat with a newly purchased 2.5l bottle of Coke sitting at my feet. We were on the approach to the traffic lights where Herne Bay High Street meets Canterbury Road when the bottle fell over. I thought nothing of this happening until the bottle rolled back with the movement of the car and hit the seat rail, piercing a small hole.

With the added pressure involved with this popular carbonated drink, a three foot high fountain of the sticky brown liquid jetted forth and soaked the dashboard, inside of the windscreen, gearstick, me and the passenger door/widow in a liberal coating of sugary goodness.

With my wife unable to fully see and the children screaming with laughter in the back seat, I in my infinite wisdom decided to hang the bottle out of the open window. I cannot overstate the volatile nature of this beverage when a pinhole is punctured through the side of the PTFE bottle. Even the slightest movement provoked a fresh fountain of sticky brown Coke to erupt from the side.

Picture the scene as we cruise down  Canterbury Road with me hanging out of the side window soaking passers-by with Coke as my wife and daughters howl with laughter inside.















Funny Stuff

When I Were A Lad – Again

Life on the Grimshill estate was grim exactly as the name suggests. We didn’t have much in the way of games consoles and the web hadn’t been thought of yet so we actually had to leave our homes and venture forth into the world using our imaginations to provide us with entertainment that the children of today seem to have to rely on others  to generate.

With limited resources we made forts, camps and bases often using things the everyday folks left behind in the manner of real life Wombles. What could be achieved with a few pieces of rotting wood and some rope was nothing short of miraculous and could be anything from a neolithic cave dwelling to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

This leads us neatly to one of the iconic fixtures of the 80’s landscape –

The Red Phone Box

phone box 2

I expect just about everyone remembers these and some still exist but I remember when the phones inside took 1p and 2p coins! I also remember the outrage by a number of people when these coin denominations were no longer available, meaning a call could only be paid for with 10p or more. This sense of being robbed was repeated a few years later when the announcement of a 20p minimum call charge was introduced.

I can clearly recall the massive phones inside having strips of metal inserted into the slots to block them up. Obviously a much cheaper alternative to replacing the phones.

Whether K2 or K8, cast iron or concrete our history is interwoven with these bright red boxes. Yet despite their intended use, there have always been a few enterprising individuals who’ve adapted them to suit their own agendas.

As a child the red phone box could be a sanctuary from any number of hostile forces including, but not limited to, bad weather and bullies trying to nick your pocket money. The older kids also managed, with just two skipping ropes and very basic knot tying skills, to re-purpose the kiosks as ‘prisons’.

I clearly recall the image of a sobbing child, sealed up in a red phone box while a group of malevolent, evil boys danced gleefully in a circle around the box, hitting the bullet proof glass with sticks to make him jump. Click here to see my earlier post about the abandoned car which could also be used as a prison. I have seen similar things to this done on prank shows like Just for Laughs where the jolly japesters wrap an occupied box in cling-film while the hapless phone user is held inside. These people probably think they invented this type of imprisonment but they’d be wrong. It was nasty-minded, pre-teen kids on council estates across the land.

On hot days this torture had the added fun of the prisoner being slowly cooked as the sun hammered relentlessly down, bringing the internal temperature up to the level of a convection oven.

Other uses were employed by older kids and adults. Many times I recall entering one of these phone boxes to find it had been previously occupied by a gentleman who had been ‘caught short’ and used it as an emergency lavatory. The vile stench of hot urine serving as a natural expedient to your visit made sure you cut your phone call as short as possible.

Another activity some people utilised the red phone box for was as a make out room. Teens and some adults could be found engaged in a number of late night, intimate acts ranging from kissing and groping to full intercourse. Why people chose to enter a phone box which was mostly glass and illuminated at night time, for privacy is beyond me but I assure you it happened. Maybe this is where the more recent invention of dogging has its origins, who can say?


Oddly I always felt there was some kind of etiquette involved in using a phone box. One that was never shared by anyone else. At all, ever.

If I was on the phone, regardless of the fact I had no one to actually speak to, I always felt a certain pressure if someone was waiting outside. This would be infinitely magnified if the weather was unpleasant. I would feel almost obliged to cut my own call short to allow whoever else was waiting to use the phone.

Never seemed to affect anyone else, however. The deep feeling of doom that would hit you if you turned up to make a call and found some bloke chatting to his girlfriend with a roll-up in one hand and a foot high stack of silver coins on that little black metal shelf beside the phone. You knew you had either a long wait or a long walk in store.

phone box

If this post brings back a sense of nostalgia in you or you just like my entertaining and wittily dry sense of humour, feel free to massage my vast ego by commenting, liking or even following this blog for more of the same.