Tag: Buckinghamshire

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.

Sport

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.
Other oddities 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!

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.

Download three free eBooks by clicking here: http://bit.ly/3fbsup
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.

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Blog: Amazon Women on the Moon – Lazlo Ferran

This week: Walking in Buckinghamshire, Reviews, OCD update, Badger culling, Free Offers

Walking in Buckinghamshire
There is no sneak preview this week because the stuff I am working on is very complex and time-consuming. Hence I haven’t actually written that much. If I do sneak previews every week there would be no need to publish. Instead I will tell you about my ramble in the Chiltern Hills of Bucks on Sunday. It was a beautiful day. Originally I had intended to go on Saturday but it clouded over. The forecast said Sunday would be more completely overcast but warmer. In the end, there actually was some sun. The autumn leaves thickly carpet the ground now and bathed these ancient clay woods with a yellow light. I used to spend a lot of time there in my childhood but I don’t remember them looking more bewitching. Most were still in church so the woods were quiet although I had a strange incident. As I parked my car among those of the worshippers at a tiny church, the priest spotted me and said, “Ah! You!”.
He looked Asian which intrigued me; this area of Bucks is true-blue Conservative terrortory (ha! ha! Pun intended). I thought by the way he was talking that he must recognise me from my youth although this seemed very unlikely as I didn’t recognise him and I have a very good memory for faces. When I walked up to him, a crowd gathered around the ‘stranger’ and I asked, “Do you know me?”
He said, “No!”
I wanted to say, “What the fuck did you speak to me like that for then?” but I just said I remembered the place, and the priest, before his time. The onlookers relaxed and nodded with everything I said. I explained I was here to walk and that I had to leave. He mumbled something and seemed to physically reach out for me.
‘Desperate,’ I thought.
I walked away and heard others saying they, “Had to leave.” The crowd scattered and he was left alone.
I know the church is getting desperate – I am a believer but I don’t like the ritualised formality of Church – but why do they have to try desperate tactics like pretending they know you? It’s more like the sort of behaviour I expect from evangelical Born-Again Christians on Tottenham High Road.
Anyway the beauty of the woods soon relaxed me. The sun also came out and while walking along an old track I saw some mushrooms growing on a tree-stump. I had a clean, spare bag with me so I picked them up with this to take home for cooking. Later a woman walking her dog passed and smiled. Even later still she crept up on me and asked me if I was ‘mushrooming’. I had to deny it, explaining I had only picked half a handful. Funny that in this day and age you have to defend picking a few mushrooms. I have head of criminals being caught with 40 tonnes of topsoil containing blue-bells in May. They are the real criminals. But it was all good-natured on Saturday. As the sun began to set I started back towards my car. Imagine my surprise when I saw a dark brown butterfly or moth. I think it was a butterfly actually, but I can’t be sure. Either way to see large lepidoptera on 1 December is very unusual. Perhaps its not so cold an autumn as I thought. I also passed a line of very ancient cherry trees. These are some of the oldest in Britain and nobody is quite sure why they have lived so long or grown so tall. No longer yielding any berries, nevertheless they tower majestically some 80-100 feet above the main path. Normally its unusual for cherry trees to grow taller than a two-storey house. If you know of any similarly tall ones, let me know.
I did notice that the woodland quiet was rent by the squarkings of thousands of birds. Even the pigeons were singing at the top of their lungs. I have no idea why and its the first time I have noticed this.
Then it was back to the car and a nice drive home with a Snickers along the way to fill my hungry stomach.

Update: Despite thoroughly using all the websites I could find to identify the mushrooms, I could not do so. I had to throw them away; there are mushrooms which are so poisonous you have to have a kidney transplant to survive.

OCD update
I am now four weeks into the new course of intensive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I must say doing it once per week instead of every three weeks is helping a lot. My therapist is not wasting time either. He is really encouraging me in getting to the root of the issue and I am even attempting ‘exposures’ myself. ‘Exposure’s are instances of attempting something you usually avoid when you have OCD. In the woods on Sunday I jumped off a fence and although I was wearing gloves, I had to put my hand down during a heavy landing and some mud got on my hands. Normally I would probably get pretty anxious about this but I left it (after checking there were no rabbit droppings on that patch of soil!). Later I cleaned my hand with some clean grass and that was it! When I returned home I didn’t even clean my hands before eating. This could be progress but we will see after I discuss it with my therapist. There was a funnier incident when, in the middle of some dense undergrowth, I found an old abandoned and collapsed shed with some kind of large, heavy bowl outside. It was full of black water and could have once been a tractor hub or something. In any case somebody – probably one of the gypsies who were frequent visitors in the 60s – probably used it as a stove. It was very heavy. I tried turning it over with my foot to see what it was. I couldn’t move it at first but then it moved slightly and spilled all its contents on my foot. Normally I would be horrified; after all there could be anything in that old water. This time I just accepted it as a test. I later thought of the phrase, ‘getting reinfected with reality’ to describe my feelings about it. I will keep you updated, as usual, with my OCD. If you suffer from OCD, or think you do, do not hesitate to seek help. There is plenty out there, even if you just google it on the web. Some websites offer self-help guides but you can get help for free on the NHS although the waiting lists are about 10 weeks at the moment. If you are not sure but think you might have OCD, these are some of my symptoms:
1. Obsessive and repeated washing of hands, accompanied by rituals
2. Fear of dust and germs
3. Anxiety when going outside unless wearing gloves
4. Generally repeating actions a lot to make sure you did them correctly
5. Episodes of Brain-block: this is where your mind gets stuck and you find it hard to start of finish an action. OCD sufferers often have great difficulty moving from ‘inactive’ activities (such as thinking, sleeping) to active activities (such as walking, moving)
6. Using rituals to avoid certain unpleasant thoughts.
This book by David Veale is excellent as a starter but do seek professional help: Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques. I may well do an OCD page in the near future with some useful resources.

Badger Culling
It seems that the two experimental culls have come up way short of the 70% fatality they were aiming at. For those not following this grim story, the Government led culls need to kill at least 70% of the badgers in any area to effectively wipe them out. Any less than this and the colony will survive. The hope is that even babies safe in the set will not survive if 70% of the whole group is not killed.
Of course the Government is claiming ‘illegal activity’ on behalf of protesters as the cause of the failure. Frankly, I don’t care as long as it stops. Killing innocent animals when an effective vaccine (just requiring a little more time and Government investment) is just around the corner is inhumane. Perhaps David Cameron and George Osborne are just hoping an excuse for a return to hunting is in the air?

Reviews
I have had some great reviews on Amazon lately. Here are two:

Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate
Exciting read
In the genre of The Da Vinci Code, this is a good read. It is well plotted, very well researched & I liked the characters. If you liked the Da Vinci Code, you will like this book.

Attack Hitler’s Bunker!
Great read
Great concept.It really captured the dedication and spirit.Not to mention the bravery it took to stand up to the task of defeating an evil axis.

Free Offers
With the exception of Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate, And Attack Hitler’s Bunker!, all my kindle books will be free for periods between now and Christmas to give you a chance to give one as a present.

Other News
In case you’re wondering this title is from the excellent and very funny 1987 film. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. The title is also a reference to my issues with Amazon this week.
I have become weary of sellers on Amazon offering my paperback books at extortionate prices even up to £40 in one case. There are currently more copies on offer than I have actually sold. This means either sellers are offering them (including used and quoting the condition ) before actually buying them or buying them, tearing them apart, copying them and printing them.
I spoke to Amazon’s support about this and the representative said Amazon allows them to charge whatever they like for products and cannot prove if they like and has no way of checking whether they have actually bought the item or not. It seems they don’t even care if the item is a fake or illegal copy. He said the onus was on me to prove something illegal was going on and than to email copyright@amazon.com.
Consequently I have had to spend quite a bit of time getting a detailed royalty payment history from Createspace – who publish my books. I mentioned that Amazon own Createspace but was told it made no difference. They still couldn’t access the data on my behalf! Now I have emailed Amazon at the above email address with the detailed account history and list of the offenders I have found on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. I have also emailed the sellers directly warning them of my actions (one of them – any_book removed the book immediately, another – gb_book is trying to, so they tell me! Another Pamaxs hasn’t responded). If you see these sellers, avoid them. I have also put up the prices of most of the books (older books and Iron I being the exceptions) to make it not worth while anybody copying one and selling it. If you are selling a paperback at a low price and it’s popular, watch out! Somebody might be copying it and selling it!
I guess for a writer publishing on Amazon, being independent means having no support at all!

Update: I just received Amazon’s reply (although I don’t understand it or their apparent lack of interest)
“Amazon respects a manufacturer’s right to enter into exclusive distribution agreements for its products. However, as the enforcement of these agreements is a matter of contract between the manufacturer and the distributors, it would not be appropriate for Amazon to assist in enforcing these agreements.”

Elsewhere
I was a big fan of Time Team in its early days. In recent years its got a bit too long in the tooth. I was fascinated by their Special programme on the 1066 Battlefield. I would love to see more like this. I only regret that they didn’t have enough time to do more than speculate that the actually centre of the battle was at the centre of Battle (no pun intended). Let’s hope they have another go soon. No evidence of the battle has ever been found but it has to be there somewhere.
I have also found the recent series on the Cold War fascinating. It’s very worth watching if you can get it on catch-up TV if only for the idea that Brent Cross shopping centre won Britain and the US the Cold War! The series has been good material for my current project (hint!). The presenter is a bit too pro-Maggie Thatcher for my liking; I am one of those who narrowly avoided a prison sentence for busking under her ‘iron’ rule. Many people suffered terribly and who can forget the pole-tax?