Month: July 2014

A bit of fun: My predictions for the future

This week: My Predictions the Future, Review of 1966 film Grand Prix and Progress on Short Stirling Replica project.

My Predictions the Future

JETs Fusion Reactor 007
JETs Fusion Reactor 007

And now for a bit of fun! Here are my predictions of what will happen (and what what won’t) during my lifetime. I am 51 now so let’s assume I will live another 30 years:

  1. A real Short Stirling wreck will be recovered and restored to museum standard, but I don’t think a real one will fly again. See further down the page for news on a real Stirling replica project.
  2. Fusion power will work but will not significantly affect energy prices yet
  3. Alexander the Great’s tomb will be found
  4. Whoever ordered John F Kennedy’s assassination will not be revealed and proven.
  5. NASA will not have sent a manned-mission to Mars yet

Now, what are yours?

First 5 commenters get a copy of any new eBook I publish in the next 12 months FREE! These are likely to be: a WWII/Aliens thriller, Iron III, Worlds Like Dust (book 1) and a literary fiction work.


Review of 1966 film Grand Prix

Saul Bass-1966 Grand Prix Title Sequence
Saul Bass-1966 Grand Prix Title Sequence

To mark death of James Garner, the 1966 John Frankenheimer film Grand Prix was shown on TV last week. If you love Formula One I am sure you will agree with me; what a film!

I first saw Garner in The Great Escape and The Rockford Files. I always found him likable although not an incredibly deep acting talent. Time has proved his ability to choose great projects to be a talent in itself. The earliest films I have seen him in are Sayonara (1957) with Marlon Brando and The Children’s Hour (1961) with Audrey Hepburn. He always seems to pick the right project and did a stirling job (if you will allow the pun) in The Great Escape. He is almost always the likable rogue with a warm smile. Only in Grand Prix does he play the anti-hero. His thoughtful acting will be missed.

Back to Grand Prix. It opens with a Saul Bass (one of the two best title sequence writers ever) intro that rivals anything else. We hear the roar of the Grand Prix engines, watch the exhausts vibrate and mechanics tightening bolts to the stirring march that accompanies the film.

Then there is a long in-car sequence, interspersed with track-side camera footage of a race at Monaco, in which Garner as the selfish and ambitious American driver, Pete Aron seems to force a BRM driver off the track and they both end up in the sea, losing Aron his drive for the rest of the year.

In fact, he defends his actions and we see that other drivers like and trust him enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, so we do too. Yves Montand is the romantic lead in the film and fights for the love of Eva Maria Saint, winning her but at a huge cost.

There are bad crashes, as there were then, deaths and fights back to drive again but in the end it comes down to the last race of the year and four drivers who can win. It’s nail-biting stuff.

What I love about the film, apart from the beautiful photography and choreography of the driving shots, is that the film doesn’t pull any punches and dips right into the politics of Formula One which we still see today. I must mention here that Grand Prix races existed before there was a Formula One World Championship. In those days, not all races contributed to the World Championship. But the Formula (Formula One being the fuel quality) is the same.

As for the politics, the Ferrari demagogue uses the driver’s wives and girlfriends as levers to put pressure on the drivers and even delivers cars too late for them to be properly prepared for the race. I sometimes wonder if second driver’s cars these days are tampered with in the same way.

Frankenheimer has put together some cinematic poetry here; there is a beautiful sequence with no location sound but only a beautiful, classical arrangement of the theme (with harpsichord if my hears serve me well). The cars are mirrored, multiplied and dance across the screen like ballerinas. It is half way between Swan Lake and the lovely sequence of William Walton in Battle of Britain.

One should note of course, that not all was as it seemed in this film. The drivers all had to drive their own cars and had intensive lessons before shooting began. Formula One cars were felt to be too fast and dangerous so Formula Three cars were dressed up to look like Formula One cars for the in-car sequences. Some of the drivers were too scared to use real Formula Three cars so the director had them towed around the circuits behind a Ford Gt 40. Garner did all his own driving (except perhaps the most difficult scenes) and was so taken with racing that he commenced his own racing career shortly after and did quite well.

Possibly the best sequence is shot at full speed in the last race of the season at Monza. The director chose to use the old banked curves, even though they had not been used for the real Formula One for a few years. It’s dramatic and documents what racing used to be like. It all adds to the feeling of a documentary and one in which Frankenheimer was trying to capture the true spirit of the old racing before it began to change. I am glad it is a lot safer now but you have to admire the courage of the drivers racing those tiny cars without roll bars, proper helmets or proper fire-proof suits.

Another thing I really like about the film is the lack of special effects. There is a lovely sequence when James Garner is talking to Pat (Jessica Walter), one of the other driver’s wives, in his new Ford Mustang. It must be one of the few such scenes where you can tell that the driver really is driving the car, and flat out at that, while performing a long dialogue in the car. Nice one Jim!

So, I may have rose-tinted glasses about the 1960s but, if you love car racing, give this old classic a go. Here is the title sequence:

Short Stirling Restoration

Short stirling
Short stirling

For those who have been following my updates on the project to build a replica Short Stirling, the first British 4-engined bomber built during World War II and the only major British type to have no survivor, here is a brief update:

Recently, I came across a video on youtube purporting to show a newly discovered Short Stirling wreck near the French coast. I told John who heads the replica construction project and contacted the powers that be to get the ball rolling. Unfortunately, the news isn’t good. Here is John’s reply to recent message from me, asking how things were going:

“Not much I’m afraid, the group were helpful but French law precludes recovery of any parts from the site unfortunately”

You can read and see more about the project progress here.

Profits from eBooks! and: Memories of the 1960s: Issue V – School

This week: Profits from eBooks! and: Memories of the 1960s: Issue V – School

Memories of the 1960s: Issue V – School

Typical 1960s English school buildings
Typical 1960s English school buildings

Prepare to have all the myths of how school was Heaven in the 60s blasted away and for myths that it was Hell to be destroyed. This is what it was like for me.

I spent my school years, until the age of fourteen, in Buckinghamshire. Now, I am not saying the true-blue ultra-conservative Buckinghhamshire is backward but the last time I looked at the council’s website it had chains running down each side! That was back in the 90s. In the 60s, they were just about as blue as you can get and they certainly believed in giving every child’s sanity a run for its money.

The Bucks model of education was simple: your kid had to pass their eleven-plus exam to get a proper education. Anything else was failure and rewarded with being sent to a ‘secondary-modern,’ which in Bucks meant a school for dunces. There you would never get the chance to do O’Levels or A’Levels and you would certainly never go to University. So every day of your school life, you were having the message ‘Success is everything’ rammed down your throat. Unfortunately, the flip-side of this philosophy was the message that ‘humanity is nothing.’ It was only many years later that we would all discover Hans Eysenick’s IQ based formula for the eleven-plus exam was all based on fake research.

My first memory is of the first day. I was five. I somehow managed to annoy the teachers, Mrs Barnes and Mrs Farrow, and was made to stand in the corner. My reputation as a trouble-maker seemed to grow from there. But in general, being made to sit next to girls and getting to play in the sun for hours couldn’t have seemed too bad in 1967. I actually remember many of us dancing to Yellow Submarine in the playground, a year later. We thought the song was a traditional song!

The School Day

Our day would begin with assembly, basically a church meeting complete with prayers and hymns, followed by our first lesson, a break of 15 minutes and another lesson until lunch at 12 noon. At 1 pm, later extended to 1.15 pm, we would have another lesson, then another break at 2 pm, followed by the last lesson and then home at 3 pm.


Sports Day
Sports Day

Once or twice per week, a whole morning or afternoon would be give over to sports. We had to play in any weather and in fact, we had to spend every break-time outside, even in the direst thunderstorm or the worst snow. Nobody questioned this. Undoubtedly the weirdest ‘sports’ experience I had was when we were split into pairs of a boy and girl and told to slap each other’s legs as hard as we could. I was lucky enough to be paired with Shirley, who was to become the love of my life after this! She had dark, curly hair, darting, intelligent eyes and the looks of a Thomas Hardy heroine although she said she had gypsy blood. I learned that she had strong legs too after slapping them for ten minutes. Why the Bucks education system considered this an acceptable game, I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps they thought a bit of S&M would teach women their places. Anyway, Shirley, if you are out there, sorry I was so good at slapping your legs.

Class sizes

With the baby-boom in full swing, class sizes rose to 58, in the case of mine. It was a scandal that was reported in the papers and parents protested. But there was nothing to be done. Nothing, that is, except get the children to teach. Yes! I’m not lying. As the best reader in my class, I was given my own remedial reading class which I took under the stairs near the entrance to the main block. It was a challenge because most of my small class of perhaps 8 readers had dyslexia. I can’t remember if I managed to improve their reading. I just knew they had a problem. It was only two years later, that one of those pupils, by this time a friend, was diagnosed with dyslexia.

School Dinners

School Dinners
School Dinners

Time to dish the dirty: school dinners in Bucks were crap! In fact, not only crap, but most of the time, inedible. All would be served in stainless steel containers, even the water, which was our only drink. The steel gave everything a certain ‘tang.’ I particularly hated the pilchards which were pickled in vinegar and tomato sauce. I hate vinegar anyway, it makes me sick, and the tomatoes used were so stewed that you couldn’t tell what they were any more. I used to hide my pilchards under the scoop of Smash (commercial mash potato which tasted like cotton wool). But then, Mrs Parks, the most evil teacher in the school, wised up to my technique and forced me to eat it while she held my spoon-hand firmly. I warned her:
“I will be sick on you if you make me eat this.”
She ignored me and, consequently, I vomited all over her skirt.
Besides the teachers, local women came in for lunchtime to watch over us, while the heads of each table, usually two children from the senior year, would serve the food frim the metal containers. We called them ‘Serving Ladies,’ one being Mrs. Rance.
Other odd dishes were: the strawberry blancmange which tasted of lipstick and stuck to the plate if you turned it upside down; swede; parsnips and jam pudding. All were prepared so badly that they put me off such food forever.
The only dishes I liked were: fried cod; semolina and chocolate sauce; chocolate sponge cake and shortcake biscuits with dollops of strawberry jam on top. In fact, a friend and I tried to eat as many portions of fried cod as we could and made ourselves sick this way!

Here are the 10 school dinner combinations I can remember:

Main Course:

Roast lamb with mint sauce, carrots and peas, boiled potatoes
Roast beef (and Yorkshire pudding – Yum), gravy, roasted potatoes
Toad in the hole (sausages in battered pudding), roasted potatoes, turnips
Battered cod fish (this was ok), chips, peas or carrots
Pilchards in vinegar with turnips, synthetic mashed potatoes (yuch!)
Kippers with swede, rice
Sausages with baked beans, synthetic mashed potatoes
Scrambled egg with baked beans, synthetic mashed potatoes
Liver with boiled potatoes, carrots or peas
Fishcakes or fish fingers with synthetic mashed potato and peas or carrots


Yellow blancmange (lemon)
Pink blancmange (raspberry)
Spotted dick (sponge with currants)
Shortbread biscuits with jam
Jam doughnuts
Semolina with chocolate sauce
Tapioca with jam
Rice pudding with jam
Chocolate sponge pudding (hot) with hot chocolate sauce

Slade - Merry Christmas Everybody
Slade – Merry Christmas Everybody

A special mention has to go out here to Douglas McKelvie, the head teacher, and the best teacher, of the school. I had him in my last year and hated him at first. He had the habit of running across the desk tops or flicking chalk at you, if you talked. He would often sit a boy next to a girl just to see what happened. In fact, even though I was desperate to sit next to Shirley, he put me next to Alison, a pretty blonde. The strange thing was that a few months later, my sister and I were sent to stay at the Alison’s house for the week before Christmas. To the eternal anthem of Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody (video) I tried to puzzle out what was going on. There were many things I didn’t understand about the Buckinghamshire education system; why did they line us all up from time to time and inject us with strange things called ‘typhoid jabs’ or run eye tests that showed us we had deficient vision and then try to force us to wear thick lenses which clearly (pun intended) made things worse? Why did they get boys to slap girls’ legs? But most of all, I wanted to know why the parents and school seemed to be in league, matchmaking, or indeed match-breaking, pupils?

In the autumn of 1974, it all came crashing to a ugly, heartbreaking halt for me. They had wanted to know my IQ for so long that I thought it might be some kind of biological substance inside me. Was I toxic? Every few weeks, we were given these strange tests called ‘mocks’. And then, without warning, I came to school one day and found the classroom desks equipped with a pencil, eraser and a stapled examination paper. It was the eleven-plus exam. There were three papers, the last in February or March. I did well at the first two and I had no reason to worry; I had scored 86% in the last mock exam. But late in the spring, the awful ‘results day’ came.
Buckinghamshire Council didn’t mess about. Douglas McKelvie called out each of our names and we went to the front of the class to collect our white envelope. If it was fat, you had passed but if it was thin, you were going to a secondary modern. Mine was thin.

Whether you liked it or not, within minutes, everyone knew everyone else’s results. Shirley has passed and would go on to Dr. Challoners High School for girls, the best school in the area. But worse than this, my friend, who had passed, and I had a fight. I don’t know for certain what it was about; my memory is that he teased me about failing and I insulted him back, calling him fat. That may be wrong. In any case, we ended up, that very day, on the playground tarmac, fighting it out. It was dirty and no-holds-barred. It was my first fight and I won. That I do remember clearly.

Was that the last time I saw Shirley? Actually, no. I cried for days at my own failure. Never has failure been driven home so absolutely as it was in Buckinghamshire. I lost most of my friends that day and I lost most of my hopes and dreams. Later, I would be saved when my parents moved to a different, more progressive county. Before the end of term, another girl organised a birthday for the summer holidays. I wasn’t invited. But I lobbied hard and managed to get in. It was a ‘Tramps’ party, in which you had to dress up as a – tramp. Who should be there but Shirley. My little autograph book had been all round the class on the last day of term and had every signature, except hers because she had been on holiday with her friends. Now was my chance to steal something! We played spin-the-bottle, a kissing game, and a kiss from Shirley would certainly be something worth stealing. Now, I have to mention here that Shirley had always been nice to me, she had taught me Origami under the stairs, but I had never had the guts to tell her how I felt, so I couldn’t call her my sweetheart. I had certainly never kissed her. But I was hopeful. In the end, the kissing gods were not on my side and I didn’t get the chance to kiss her. I didn’t even have the guts to ask her for a dance. I might well have said to myself:
“Welcome to the real world!”

What are your memories of the 1960s? Leave a comment below.

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Profits from eBooks!

Finally, I have made a profit from a promotional campaign to promote one of my eBooks, Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate. We’re not talking big figures here, in fact, well less than $100. Nevertheless, It has taken me over a year to find something that works. From what other writers are telling me, it’s getting harder and harder to rake in the cash for eBooks. But I managed to beat the odds, at least once. Read on for how I did it:

I have tried marketing using twitter, Facebook paid adverts and google’s AdSense. For free downloads, Facebook’s adverts worked best but you are looking at upwards of $40 to get a couple of thousand downloads if you’re lucky. Of course, there is no money in that!

I have tried for almost a year (since hearing about them) to get on Bookbub and E Reader News Today (ENT) . I am still trying to get accepted for Bookbub, which costs at least $110, depending on genre, but have so far have been unsuccessful. I finally managed to get on ENT about a month ago and, what is more, they scheduled me for 5th July, a day after American Independence Day. I was delighted. But I wasn’t convinced it would draw any sales. Consequently, I signed up for (initially) 1 day of tweets from The Book Tweeting service. This was to be on the 4th July, just to get things going. It wouldn’t help the other sales but it’s always good to coordinate these things to get the highest rank possible. High Rank = More Sales.

By Saturday 5th July, I had seen no sales at all from hundreds of tweet to over 100,000 potential customers. I cancelled the second day of tweets although I must say, the staff were very friendly and helpful and did their best.

However, by midnight of the Saturday, I had already seen 8 solid sales from the E Reader News Today service. It works! I was delighted and will try them again, if they will have me.

What was 1st Century Jerusalem really like?

This week; Sneak Preview returns and a brief discussion about getting historical accuracy in novels: What was 1st Century Jerusalem really like?

Sneak Preview

Today, I have a little treat for you, the first sneak preview of Ordo Lupus III:

Ordo Lupus III
Copyright © 2014 by Lazlo Ferran
All Rights Reserved.

As we climbed up the sloping streets, myself wearing a black kudra, few even glanced at us.
“Are there usually this many soldiers?” John asked, glancing at a centurion.
“No. There are more than usual, even for Passover. The City has been tense for days now.”
We walked towards Herod’s Palace in the north-west corner of the City. Every pavement and street corner was crammed full of busy traders, customers and stalls, selling food, wine, beer from Egypt, every type of cloth and garment.
“What’s that?” John asked, pointing to a tower, topped with a four-sided pyramid.
“King David’s tomb.”
John seemed to fall behind and I caught him looking at the faces of poorer citizens. A few streets later, we passed from the squalor of the Lower City into the Upper where the streets were more orderly and less busy.
“And that’s the Temple!” John exclaimed, looking enormous block of a building to the right.
“That’s right. We are near the Upper Market now. Tell me if you smell anything.”
“Smell? Oh, I see. Alright.”
The dust of the unpaved, Lower City streets was absent here. I wiped a crust of it from my mouth, just as we arrived in the Market. Roman, two-storey arcades formed three sides of an open space, which was filled with stalls. The distillers of expensive oils and perfumes; the master tailors and silk merchants; the goldsmiths and silversmiths; the dealers in ivory, incense and precious stones were all here.
While John took in the faces, my eye was caught by a pretty leg with an anklet of bells. The girls offering themselves here were not as fine as those in Athens but they were still more interesting to me than anything else for sale. I am vain, it’s true and I wear jewellery but craftsmanship can be copied while female beauty cannot.
“Where do we exchange the gold?” John whispered. I was just about to ask him why he was whispering when he added, “And I need to buy some weapons. What do you recommend?”
“Let’s get the money first.”
I led him to a goldsmith and John showed him a fine necklace, four bracelets and two rings, one set with a diamond. The goldsmith didn’t reply but announced:
“I can offer you two minas for the lot!”
He dropped the jewellery on the table without a glance and continued to work on an exquisite torque. John pulled me aside to whisper:
“How much is a mina?”
“In 2022 it would be about £50. I don’t know, in your time. I haven’t been there. About the price of a good meal for one person.
“No less than five,” John told the goldsmith, picking up his items. He put them in his pocket and the craftsman glanced up from his work.
“I can’t offer you that. Taxes are extortionate here and my wife is expecting. You are a solder, are you not?” John coughed before turning to me:
“Does it show that much?”
“The way you walk, hold yourself. I can see you have fought.”
“I could tell,” I concurred.
“If you bring me your sword, I will decorate the hilt with gold thread for free,” the goldsmith continued. It will be the finest work you have ever seen!”
“Four minas,” John replied.
“You are joking, my friend. I am the best goldsmith in Jerusalem, perhaps in Judea. I tell you what, since I need to get on with my work, three minas. That is my final offer. If that is no good, go away.”
“Three and three quarters.”
I whispered in John’s ears, “Three minas and thirty-eight shekels.”
I was quite surprised when the goldsmith said, “Three and a half,” grinning about his own currency joke. John handed the goldsmith the jewellery and the craftsman gripped his hand.
“Well done!” I told John. “Maybe he though you are rich.”
“Perhaps. Now for the weapons.”
As I led John to the armourer his gaze shifted to the rooftops.
“What sort of situation are you contemplating?”
“Close combat, some of it outside and some inside.”
“Then I suggest a sword and dagger.”
We found an armourer and he showed us a fine selection of jewelled swords and daggers. John picked up a dagger with a jewelled, gold handle but soon put it down. He selected a plain looking, straight blade and hefted it before placing it in my palm.
“Inexpensive but a serviceable blade,” I told him.
He chose a similar sword and again I approved.
The armourer was disappointed with his 50 shekels.
I followed John back to the goldsmith.
“Can you have it ready by tomorrow?” John asked, handing him the sword.
The craftsman hefted the weapon before replying:
“Come at midday.”


What was 1st Century Jerusalem really like?


I hope the above excerpt seems reasonably historically accurate. But I must admit, I found difficulties researching this and it raises the subject of historical research in my mind.

For Science Fiction there is really no problem here. There is only the  problem of verisimilitude and I have discussed that in a previous post. Even with my first Ordo Lupus book, Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate,  there was only a section on WWII, which I know a lot about anyway, a short extract from the 15th Century and some details from the 13th Century. The two latter extracts were chosen because they were well researched so I had no difficulty with accuracy there.

I had no difficulty either  with The Devil’s Own Dice because I had spent years researching my family history and spent the largest chunk of time researching events in the 13th Century. I had read a lot about Cistercian monks, Cathars and the lives of Nobility in Burgundy, all during the 13th Century. Indeed, I chose this period because I already knew a lot about it.

Now, as you can see from the extract above, I want to set my book in 1st Century Jerusalem. Set much further back in time than the other books, there is a big problem in establishing facts about this place in this  period. Jerusalem has always, and probably always will be, fought over and claimed by three of the great religions on Earth; Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Almost every bit of  research I come across has been funded by one of these religions. I am not disputing their good intention or their accuracy but in nearly every case, they differ in this findings. What to do?

Basically, I have followed my researcher’s nose. Where I can find  hard scientific facts; secular archaeology and documentary facts (especially Roman since this is the closest I can find to objective opinion in this case – the Romans were quite good at keeping records),  I have used these.  In other cases, I have  tried to stick with what seems logical, sensible or plain practical to my mind. Of course, setting a book in this place and time is going to involve guesswork so I can only hope that the result ‘feels’ right to the reader. Please let me know what you think.

If you write novels and do a lot of historical research, how would you go about doing the research for 1st Century Jerusalem?

is the UK Film Industry becoming puerile?

This week’s post will be brief. I have only just completed a big promo for Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate. Sales were satisfying but now I need time to write. Whisper it: I have just started work on Ordo Lupus III. So:


The Devil’s Own Dice: FREE in Exchange for Review
Today is the last day you can download occult thriller The Devil’s Own Dice for free on (Link no longer available) in exchange for a review. Here is what some people are saying about it: “Amazing tale” “Richly satisfying” “Highly recommended” Make sure you make the most of this unique opportunity and grab a copy NOW!

Just a Brief Rant
A movie of Pudsey? Will they stop at nothing? I sometimes wonder if the puerile at the top of the BBC that oversaw Jimmy Saville’s reign aren’t now in charge of the UK movie industry!
It can’t be long before we get an adult semi-porno version of Captain Pugwash and then, who know, maybe even Andy Pandy, the Movie!
Meanwhile, they will ignore gems like The Aeronauts, UFO, Catweazle, The Crusader, The Flashing Blade and Robinson Crusoe. They will even manage to ignore my personal favourite, Captain Scarlet.

What’s your opinion?

The Jesus Monster entered into competition
I have entered an updated version of The Jesus Monster (one of a collection of short stories in Vampire: Beneficence into the Writers of the Future quarterly competition. Thanks to all who helped me prepare the manuscript and please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Bargain book and Memories of the 1960s: Issue IV – Shopping

There is a permanent page for Memories of the 1960s here.

First of all, a heads up that Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate will be reduced to 99 cents from 4-8 July on Amazon. Please note, this is a Countdown deal so the price will gradually rise back up to $3.08 over a couple of days. Grab your copy while it is cheap!

Memories of the 1960s: Issue IV – Shopping

Shopping was confusing in the 1960s, even if you only had pocket money of one shilling to spend, as I did.

Threepenny Bit
Threepenny Bit

The old system of currency could be traced back to the Roman Empire and was based on the penny, symbolised by the letter ‘d’ for denari. Under this system, there were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings, or 240 pence, in a pound. Needless to say, for a kid whose mathematical skills were still developing, I needed one of my parents with me to shop for anything at all!

Of course, things were much cheaper then. Most things for kids, such as singe records (45 rpm), toy cars and dollhouse items were much than one pound, so I could save up for a toy car roughly once every ten weeks.

We lived in a small town of about 20,000 people. We didn’t have a supermarket, so general shopping was a nightmare! The nearest was Sainsbury’s in another town, but my mum only occasionally went there for fresh fish, which was almost all it served. It looked more like a butcher shop or a pie shop, with white, marble slabs for meat and fish, green, decorative tiles near the ceiling and a white, decorative plaster-work ceiling. In our town, there was a huge, central car park, which was always packed, so my mum would often drive around the one-way system several times waiting to get in. From here, it was a systematic shop up and down the High Street, going to the British Gas showroom to pay the gas bill (which, I might add, was often the only warm shop in the Chiltern Hills harsh winters), then to shops for smaller items like magazines, books, shoes, clothes or – if you were lucky – toys. Sometimes you would go back to the car with the bags of shopping before visiting the food shops, because there was just so much to carry!

Food shops were butchers, bakers, delicatessens (for milk and dairy products), green grocers (for fruit, vegetables, spices, cereals and specialities) and, if you were lucky, sweet shops. By the time you had done all this, you were exhausted!

Shoe Fitting Fluoroscope
Shoe Fitting Fluoroscope

Shoe shopping was particularly interesting in the 1960s, which was just as well as I didn’t like getting new shoes; they were always too narrow for my feet and hurt for the first few weeks of wearing. There were these strange machines in the shops that reminded me of the Dr Who Tardis. You stood on a platform and the machine X-Rayed your feet to find exactly the right fitting for you. So basically we were subjecting ourselves to dangerous radiation just for a shoe-fitting, although we didn’t realise the danger at the time! The machines, I only found out recently, were called Shoe Fitting Fluoroscopes.

Although not strictly shopping, visits to the library were frequent, because books were expensive and beyond the budget of most kids. Even for a town of 20,000 people our library was only about the size of an average shop and very poorly stocked. In about 1969 we finally got the library we deserved in a large, modern and airy new building. It took a while for the shelves to be filled, but soon I was able to hunt down speciality books on all sorts of fields within WWII, which was my great interest at the time.

Woolworths in the 1960s
Woolworths in the 1960s

Even the least persuasive child could usually engineer a visit to Woolworths and Co. Woolies, as we affectionately called it, stocked just about everything, but most importantly, it had toys, records and sweets. 7 inch 45 rpm records were for single tracks, an A-side and B-side, the A-side being the hit single for say, the Beatles. A 45 rpm would be 9 shillings and 11 pence, the equivalent of 49p in decimalised currency. A 12 inch Long Playing record (or LP) was usually 19 shillings and six pence, the equivalent of 99p. My first LP was Geoff Love’s Big War Movie themes, which I still have.

If my mum wanted fresh bread, I would have to walk about a mile down an extremely steep hill to Darvell & Sons bakery. There I would wait for a hot, new, white loaf from the oven, which a girl or woman in a white coat would put in a paper bag for me. Unfortunately, the fragrance of fresh bread always proved too much for me, so by the time I had struggled all the way back up the hill, I would have picked a large hole out of the bottom of the loaf, hoping my mum wouldn’t notice!

There was very little frozen food in the 1960s. The only one I can remember was fish fingers. My evening meal was almost always either fish fingers, sausages or cold chicken, mashed potato or chips, and either peas, baked beans or fried eggs, all usually served with a slice of bread and butter and a glass of milk.

The toy shop was, of course, an Aladdin’s Cave of wonders! Ours, Litten’s Toys, was wonderfully furnished with wood-panelled walls and wooden cabinets. On the right hand side were all the items a girl could want, toy prams, bicycles, dolls, dolls houses etc., while on the left were bicycles for boys, models and a whole load of toy cars, all displayed in glass cases. Behind the serving counter, along the back wall, was a long cabinet, stacked to the roof with Dinky Toys, Corgi, and Matchbox boxes, all brightly coloured and begging to be bought! I remember the proprietor being a jovial guy, who never minded taking time to help you choose your purchase.

A special occasion would be a trip to Trewins in Watford. Trewins was a department store which had an even wider range of toys than Woolworths. My mum bought me a plastic toy friction-drive de Havilland Comet, which you could drag across the floor to wind up the clockwork drive and then release to let it run across the carpet on its own. These must have been the most popular present in Trewins that Christmas, because there was a whole table stacked with them. Later, my mum bought me a cattle truck, made by Budgie and still later, I bought a Corgi Ford Mercury Station Wagon.

A very special occasion, once every year, was a trip on the Underground train to Hamleys in London’s Regent Street. Hamleys proclaims itself the ‘Finest Toy Shop in the World and at about 7 floors over 2 buildings, it was a child’s dream. I reckon the ‘lost kids department’ (I kid you not, it existed) must have been very busy, because kids were always becoming separated from my parents. A Hornby train set ran right around one floor, but my favourite was a radio-controlled North American B-25 Mitchell that hung, motionless, from the ceiling. Every year I would look longingly at this beautiful, silver angel of the air, and wonder how I could get one. I am sure this is what led to my future hobby of first control-line model aircraft and later, radio-control.

Green Shield Stamps
Green Shield Stamps

If you had survived all this shopping, there was the long struggle back to the car – there were no shopping trolleys then – and the drive home. But this wasn’t always the end. There was often the stop at an Esso or Shell garage, where my mum would get Green Shield stamps in return for a certain amount of petrol. My mum would stick them in Green Shield Saver Books (or get me to do it, with a lot of licking) and collect them to exchange for things from the Green Shield Catalogue.

There were also coins and cards you could get with petrol, such as the Shell coins representing vintage cars, a collection I completed, and the Shell holographic World Wildlife cards, a set which I collected but never completed.

Shell Word Wildlife holographic cards
Shell Word Wildlife holographic cards

There is one last memory of pocket money that I want to mention. It may have been around 1970 that I first saw something entirely new in a small toy shop in a nearby town; a Tamiya kit of the Chieftain tank. Until then, model tanks, especially ones which were motorised, were not to scale and mostly pretty crude representations of the real thing. I was lucky in that my granddad was an experienced engineer and expert modeller, so he built me a Centurion tank, which was motorised. It ran for a few years, under constant repair, until either the motor of the drive wore out. I had long since lost it by 1970. But the Chieftain was not only a detailed scale model, but it could be motorised and even radio-controlled! I had to have one! I saved and saved, but it was £7.49, which was a lot of money for a child then. Tamiya was a Japanese company and this was the first of their models I had seen in the UK, so there was no alternative but to seek some kind of part-time work. I was lucky again here; my mother was a magazine editor, so she offered me work collating the magazine by hand. It was hard work but after about 13 weeks, I had enough money. I went to the shop with every last penny I had and guess what? The kit’s price had gone up to £7.99. Well, I was devastated, and exhausted. I must have decided something cheaper would be less work, because I never did buy the Tamiya Chieftain tank.

Decimalisation Day pack (this without 50p coin)
Decimalisation Day pack (this without 50p coin)

In about 1968, decimalisation was announced. This would make life much easier! Now, there would be 100 pennies to the pound and no more shillings. There would be a new 50 pence piece and no ha’penny bits, threepenny bits or farthings (which was worth 1/4 penny in old money). The old ‘d’ would be replaced with the ‘p.’ We were all excited with anticipation of the new world and had daily lessons at school using toy cash registers. On TV there were programmes about decimalisation almost every day, and when the day finally came in 1971, every child in the UK was issued with a small wallet, containing a mint example of each new coin. I think complete ones must be very rare now, because every kid I knew spent the lot within weeks; after all a pound was 2 weeks’ pocket money in those days!

What toys did you have in the 1960s? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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