Tag Archives: Bedford

We Know It’s Fake, But…

SmooveAll this kerfuffle about hated publisher Elsevier unleashing the trademark hounds on the amusing FakeElsevier Twitter account, thereby triggering the Streisand Effect, reminded me of an old story from my hometown of Bedford, UK.

In the late 1980’s, the local newspaper had a notice in it, advertising that a Fake Alexander O’Neal was going to be performing at a nightclub in the town. The club was probably Sweetings on Goldington Road, now called Saints and Sinners, or perhaps Riviera Lights, now called New York New York. Oh boy.

The ad clearly showed the word “FAKE”. Unfortunately, the real R’n’B star Alexander O’Neal had recently had a hit with a song called Fake. As a result, the club was swamped with crispy-haired Sharons and Tracys, all expecting to see the real thing. They were not pleased. I prefer not to imagine the screeching and clawing that ensued.

It didn’t occur to them that Mr O’Neal, an international pop star from Mississippi, at that time enjoying the peak of his career, might not actually be playing a one-off date in a small market town in Anglia.

A Hair Cut Is A Hair Enhanced

When I was growing up, I would get my hair cut at Tony’s Italian Barber in Bedford. There was a big Italian community in the town, due to the brickworks I think. Tony the owner would snip away, while his friends would sit around playing with strange cards. While waiting I would take the opportunity to “read” the Sun and the Mirror, and listen to Chiltern FM (“transmitted from the mighty Sandy Heath transmitter“) – not my usual media. It was a spare but efficient place – I remember Tony’s straight razor scraping the back of my neck several times. They had the amusing black-and-white photos of the haircuts you could get, but would never want, and aftershave and cologne in bottles that looked like pinecones. Next to the rattly old cash register was hung a card of styptic pencils, which would stop any bleeding you walked out with. There may have been a topless pinup.

I had long hair for a while.

At college I got a set of electric clippers and would cut my own hair, No. 2 all over. Alternatively I would go to the 3-chair barber inside Afflecks Palace, and watch TV or listen to the latest 808 State while getting a £5 trim.

In London I went to a small local place, and sometimes a place at Euston Station where they vacuumed your head afterward to avoid post-snip neck tickle. When I moved to the US, Cassie insisted I go to her stylist in LA. A very pleasant experience, complete with hair washing, fashionable magazines and comfortable sofas, but it did take up to three hours, especially when she was having her hair done at the same time. In San Francisco I have succumbed to Supercuts a couple of times, through necessity and convenience, but I’ve never been happy with the results.

Finally I tried to find a regular gent’s barber downtown near where I work. There are some very trendy places in SoMa and around the Mission, but even when they’re regular barbers they are so teeth-achingly knowingly “authentic” I don’t enjoy being there. The Original Palace Barber Shop on the corner of Mission and 2nd Street, just a couple of blocks from my office, turned out to be just the place I was looking for. I nearly missed it due to a droopy awning and the fact it’s tiny, but inside are six chairs, no space, and a good basic haircut.

In fact it reminded me of Tony’s – scuffed laminate wall cladding, lino worn through to tile, strange bottles and potions on skewiff shelving. I poked my head in, a lady at the back beckoned me in and sat me down, and she only spoke to ask what I wanted and to state the price. I will be going back.

Trip II The UK (2010 Mix)

This is an updated draft itinerary for Cassie’s and my trip to the UK in 2010.

  • Fly Sunday 27th June – DONE
  • Arrive Monday 28th June – DONE
  • Stay with James & Siobhan at first – DONE, LOVELY
  • Stay in London couple of days – DONE
  • Train to Bedford on Thursday 1st July / picked up by brother – DONE
  • Stay in Bedford Thursday night – DONE
  • Friday 2nd July – do Bedford things, show Cassie my home town, school etc – DONE
  • Friday afternoon – Travel to Reading to see sister – DONE
  • Stay in Reading Friday night – DONE
  • Saturday 3rd July – Matthew travel to London, Cassie travel to Bristol – DONE
  • Stay in a hotel Monday 5th – Thursday 8th
  • Fly back to San Francisco on Thursday July 8th

At some point I need to sort out Tooting flat.

The Ducks And The Slabs

Recently, gaming blog Kotaku had an interesting set of instructions to allow you to adapt videogame classics to be played in the playground. It reminded me of a game we used to play in the playground at my primary, Scott Lower School.

In the playground there were these three large concrete slabs stuck in the playground. They were flat on one side, probably with painted circles and targets for throwing balls at. The other side had a sloped section at 45 degrees, which stuck out about two feet from the bottom. They were known as “The Slabs”, and from what I can see, they’re not there any more.

In the gender-polarized world of the 5-year-old, girls would play on one side of the slabs, and boys on the other, although there may have been some crossover. I doubt it involved me if there was. The girls used to do handstands against the side with the sloped part, and the boys would play something altogether more … sinister.

To the tune of When The Saints Go Marching In they would sing “When the Ducks Go Marching In”, and walk past the slab in a row. A lone kid with a tennis ball or a small toy ball would would throw the ball at the row of kids. If a kid was hit, they would be out, and they would stand with the thrower. If they weren’t hit, they would run around the slab and back for another pass.

Eventually, one person was running past the slab, as a group of children cheered them on and sang, while the thrower desperately tried to hit them with the tennis ball.

I think the ducks thing was referring to those old carnival games where you fired pellets to knock metal ducks over, as simulated in the video arcade classic, Carnival. Hence the Kotaku link.

OK, not so sinister. Anyway, it was either that or Kiss Chase (yuck!) or worse, Knicker Chase! Double yuck! (At least until eight or nine years later…)

Finally I Can Confess

There have been some nasty attacks in Silver Lake, with men walking alone being grabbed, robbed (sometimes) and injured (often). For a while it seemed nothing was being done, then the LAPD announced they had arrested two boys aged 15 and 16, who were gang members. Scary stuff. This prompted me to think about the crimes I have committed in my time. I am reformed now, but there was a time… (wavy screen effect, as we go back, way back, back into time)

I used to work at Woolworths in my home town of Bedford, from 1989 to 1993(ish), on Saturdays, during holidays, when I was back from college and so on. I worked in the Record Department (called the “Record Bar” because of it’s awkward queuing principle: “Who’s next please?”), behind the till, up in the storeroom, and out on the shop floor restocking shelves. Woolworths has now gone out of business, ending a long history of High Street ubiquity. I have many memories of working there, too many to go into detail over, but here are a few.

  • Before Xmas 1989, everybody that bought anything at the record bar also bought a copy of the Phil Collins CD, …But Seriously.
  • Before Xmas 1990, everybody that bought anything at the record bar also bought a VHS copy of Pretty Woman.
  • Every Xmas, everybody that bought anything at the record bar bought a 5-pack of 180-minute Memorex VHS tapes.
  • Every January, everyone that had bought Memorex videotapes brought them back for a refund, because they were shit.
  • Some bright spark at head office thought the crap Eurodance tune by U96, Das Boot, was going to be as big a hit in the UK as it was in Germany. It totally wasn’t, and for weeks we had boxes and boxes of this CD single piled up in the stockroom. Even dropping the price to 49p and dumping them in the bargain didn’t shift them.
  • Some bright spark at head office designated Akira as a kid’s film, “because it was a cartoon” despite it having an 18 rating. Therefore, because head office said so, we had to put it next to the Disney and Thomas The Tank Engine.
  • We had Easter Eggs in the stockroom in January. “Oo, it gets earlier every year, dunnit?”. Shut up.
  • People smoked in the lunchroom. Seems weird now.
  • A customer brought me an open penknife that she had found on a shelf, and told me it was dangerous for staff to leave their boxcutters lying around. I agreed, apologised, and kept the penknife. Nice wood handle, folding 2″ blade.
  • A couple of weeks later, the manager (who was getting on a bit IMHO) saw me using said penknife and said, “Where did you find that? I lost it a couple of weeks ago, after I had been opening boxes with it.”
  • To begin with, I used to sweep the floors at the end of the day. One day I was on the shop floor sweeping when the lights went out. The manager had turned them off, thinking the place was empty. I called out that I was still there, but he’d gone. Eventually the alarms went off and the police turned up to find me standing waving in the window. The manager, who had to be called in from home to open the doors, blamed me. Senile old fool.
  • I think there was quite a lot of naughtiness and thievery that went on, because the Manager (not the senile one – his replacement, an altogether sharper cookie) instigated a random bag search when we were leaving the store to go home.

Now that the company is gone, I can reveal a filthy secret that has haunted down through the decades. One day, I was working in the stockroom, unpacking a case of TDK blank cassettes. I used to buy a lot of these, because we used to swap copies all the time, and I would buy vinyl to play at home and then tape it to play in my walkman. It’s called format-shifting, try it sometime. I was short of cash. I needed some tapes. I was alone in the stockroom. The slippery slope beckoned.

I unwrapped a 3-pack of TDK D90’s, with a street value of £1.99 (I think) and put the cellophane in my pocket. Then I removed the cellophane from each of the tapes. I opened each tape case, removed the little sheet of labels, and wrote appropriate band and album names on them, which I then stuck to the tapes. “808 State – Ninety“, “Pop Will Eat Itself – This Is The Day, This Is The Hour, This Is This!“, “Jesus Jones – Liquidizer” and so on. I wound the tapes forward a bit so that it would look like they had been played. I scuffed the cases on the floor so they wouldn’t look too pristine. I went to the locker room and put the tapes in my bag, and kept all the wrapping in my pocket. I then went around the store for the rest of the day, putting bits of cellophane and label backing sheet into the various bins around the place, behind tills, in the stockroom, in the breakroom.

At the end of the day, as we all trooped down from the locker room to the back exit, I was nervous about the highly valuable contraband I was carrying in my duffel bag. It felt like I was carrying the Old Man Of The Sea, but he was made out of burning hot radioactive lead. The manager was standing by the door, the keys in his hand, ready to lock the door behind us all. Would he do a bag check? As I approached him, I said goodnight, then I walked out into the Saturday dusk.

I got about 5 steps, then he called out, “Matthew!”.

I froze, and turned around. Should I run? Brazen it out? What did he want? Why me?

“Good work today, Matthew, thank you.”

I smiled, turned, and went to my bike, chained to the railings across the square. I tried not to fumble the keys as I hurried to unlock it, and escape. I was free. Or so I thought. The guilt would make sure I would never be free.

(The last four paragraphs are not true.)

I guess in some small way I contributed to to the collapse of the company. For this, I apologise. But I won’t apologise for the fact that I can breathe free at last.

The Advent Calendar Follies

Actually “folly” – singular. With the beginning for real of the Xmas season, I thought I’d write down for posterity a little anecdote from my childhood. If you know me you’ve probably heard this many times before, if not, prepare to be non-plussed!

In our house we would have an Advent Calendar hung up, to allow us to count down the days before Xmas. It was usually one of the basic models, with a little card window which opened up to reveal a yuletide object or scene, culminating in a glorious depiction of the Nativity on December 24th, rendered in lifelike 4-colour halftone. The little windows were scattered around the calendar at random, so it was a little game to find the next one. A simple pleasure for a simple child. There was probably cheap glitter randomly glued to the card as well for that opulent touch. At the time of this story, my sister (the oldest sibling) had gone to college, and as my brother was 8 years older than me, I was the the youngest, and the lucky one who got to open the advent calendar window.

One year, my Mum splashed out and bought a Cadbury’s Neapolitan calendar (feel free to say, “Ooo!”). This had the added bonus of having a minature (about an inch long) bar of either Dairy Milk or Bourneville Plain chocolate behind each window. The bars were wrapped in the usual foil and a paper sleeve, just like their regular-sized counterparts. Just what made them Neapolitan is beyond me. You could also buy a dispensing machine for them, but that would have been an unthinkable extravagance.

For the first few days of December, I had the pleasure of having my breakfast, then finding the next window and being rewarded with a little slab of chocolate for the cold walk to school. Then one evening, my big brother said that it was unfair that I got all the chocolate, and announced that he would get the next one. I told him no, I would get it first! The game was on!

The next morning, I got up extra early (an achievement even then), crept downstairs, found the next little window in the calendar, took out the little chocolate bar (a Dairy Milk, if I recall correctly) and hid it carefully under the sofa. I went back to bed, then had a normal day of school, with all the misery that entailed.

When we were all at dinner later that evening, with Nationwide playing in the background, my brother looked smug and said he told me he would get the chocolate. I replied,

“But you didn’t.” (I was confused)

“Yes I did.” (So was he)

So with the family watching, I went to the sofa, looked underneath, and found the little chocolate bar right where I had hidden it. I slid off the paper sleeve, then peeled off the intact purple foil to reveal…

…a piece of Lego. A 2×4 red studded plate (element number 302021) topped with two 2×2 red flat plates (element number 306821), to be exact. Wrapped perfectly in the foil, slid back into the paper sleeve. The chocolate had obviously been scoffed long since.

How had my 8-years-older-than-me brother managed to trick me so simply? Simple. He stayed up later than my then-allowed 9:30pm. Sneaky bastard.

And that is how Simon Petty ruined Xmas forever in our family.

The Weeks After

This entry was a draft I never got round to finishing. It was started on August 11 2005, and then sat in the folder on my server, forgotten. I found it just now, while transferring files to WordPress.


So here I am again. The week after Dad died, I had compassionate leave from work, which I spent sitting around at home, and popping up to Bedford to help sort stuff out, including the funeral. I had a weeks holiday booked in Dorset, with Mairi, her parents and her nephews Leo and Max. We drove down to Dorset, then drove back for the funeral the night before, then back to Dorset straight after the funeral.

The service itself was fine. General welling-up throughout. My brother read a tribute, which we’d all contributed to. Then we all went back to my Dad’s house where the ladies had made gallons of tea, and there was sandwiches and cakes and it was all very nice.

Things are weird. It’s manifesting itself in a kind of numbness, and general fragility, rather than complete sadness. Maybe this is a stage. I’m told it is.

I’m having a frenzy of ‘getting stuff done’ – little DIY jobs, filing that paperwork, sending that letter, (sending that CD! It’s burnt, scribbled on in marker, in an addressed padded envelope – all that remains is to mail it. Lunchtime!). I guess it’s a precursor to doing the same for my Dad – going through his stuff, picking out photos, papers, consolidating the family tree that he started (goes back to Thomas Petty b.1607 so far!).

It’s these little victories over procrastination that are making me feel better.


Not much to say about that really. It’s as I remember it. It was a stage.

Bedford Blues

Actually not blues at all. I’m in Bedford for the weekend, visiting various folks. Statying at Mairi’s parents, and having a nice bar-b-q this afternoon. First though we’re popping into town. Mairi, her Mum and I. And what happens is that I wander off on my own, reminiscing, checking out the old haunts, and feeling faintly disappointed that I don’t run into anyone I know. Bizarre. The place has changed so much since ’95, I just wouldn’t know what to do.

I’m typing this on Mairi’s Dad’s PC, while I try and fix a couple of problems they’ve been having. Spybot – Search and Destroy has been helping me. Fantastic freeware!

My brother’s family is away this weekend, in France with my sister’s family. There hasn’t been a call from the French Police yet, so I can assume they’re getting on OK.

So I just went yesterday evening to see my Dad, who’s as well as ever. Another cruise for him coming soon, this time up the Danube. Cuh, ok for some.

But as I was saying, Bedford has changed so much recently that when I go for a drink with my brother, even he’s not sure what’s going on any more. Still, a nice pint, a nice mysanthropic chat between two people who look creepily alike and the evening is complete.