All posts by codgers club

The old bike's a bit rusty... and so am I

by The Codgers' Club Monday, July 21 2014

As she released the pressure round my upper arm and consulted the dial, the nurse looked concerned.

I was having one of those health checks your GP offers when you get close to your four-score and 10.

“It’s a bit high,” she said, referring to my blood pressure. Previously she had sucked a finger full of blood out of me for a cholesterol check. That was a bit high too. Not enough to worry about but higher than it should be.

My weight was also up on what the chart said was healthy. But my height seemed to have shrunk. I was only 5ft 7in, instead of the 5ft 8in I had always believed myself to be.

“Well I’m not going on those statins,” I told her.

“Exercise is the best way of dealing with it,” she said. “That and maintaining a healthy diet.”

Well I knew that already, but I thought I was exercising quite a bit already. After all I have allotments to dig, a boat that I am restoring, and until she died recently, a dog to walk.

Then I thought about it a bit. I only do the allotment on two days a week, and it might be a bit of gentle weeding rather than aerobic digging. And working on the boat didn’t always get me puffed out.

So I have dug the old bike out of the garage and pumped up the tyres. I’ve also bought a helmet for the ridiculous price of £30 but I am not going for Lycra. And the yellow jersey can wait.

I hadn’t ridden the old bike for years and both it and I are rusty. It’s a bit scary. Cycle tracks in this country are not worthy of the name and you are not even slightly protected from traffic. I might save myself from a heart attack, only to be knocked into the next world by a passing truck.

Bit by bit though, I am finding the routes where the cars are less likely to go. Sometimes there are pavements that are wide enough for bikes and pedestrians. Occasionally there are even exclusive cycle tracks, though these are few and far between.

When I was a boy I went everywhere on my bike. Everyone did. It never seemed like hard work. Your bike was just an extension of yourself. There were not many cars about in those days of course, so the roads were much safer.

But I have found cycling to be by far the best form of exercise. There is no way you would get me going to a gym, spending huge amounts of dosh to pound a treadmill, heave on a rowing machine or ride a bike that goes nowhere. Besides I hate the smell – all that stale sweat.

Exercise has to be meaningful. I can use my bike to go to the shops or visit people. Even if you just go for a bike ride at least you are seeing the countryside. It’s not just exercise for the sake of exercise.

I also have a rowing boat – a real one that actually floats. It needs a bit of doing up but I can’t wait to get that out on to the water. I know of no better exercise than rowing for tightening the tummy muscles.

The point is, we are constantly being told that increasing numbers of us are getting type-two diabetes caused by obesity from eating too much of the wrong things and not exercising enough.

Other deadly illnesses, such as heart disease, some cancers, and even dementia, are less likely to occur if we eat better and exercise more.

It’s not rocket science. If we eat better and exercise more, we are likely to stay healthier for longer.

No one can make you exercise. You have to do it for yourself. And only you can ensure that there is not too much sugar or fat in your diet.

The government or councils could help by providing more and better cycle tracks and other exercise facilities. But they probably won’t even though there is a good economic case for doing so. Think of all the money that will be saved on healthcare.

So it’s down to us as individuals. All I can say is, that if you want to stay healthy – on yer bike!

Categories: Moans and groans

Mutant world-ending virus is such a strain

by The Codgers' Club Monday, July 14 2014

by David Jones

This may seem an odd question for a summer’s day in July, but have you ever wondered how the world will end?

Will it end not with a bang but with a whimper? Will the ants take over, as H.G. Wells once predicted?.

I’m a bit of a sci-fi fan, so I’ve seen most of the movies about the end of civilisation. After 50 years in a newsroom hearing about people’s troubles every day, I feel the need for a large dose of escapism. I prefer my entertainment light years away!

You can take your pick about the ways in which Armageddon will arrive: there’s an asteroid impact; nuclear war; a giant solar flare; a massive volcano eruption, or a pandemic, a disease of global proportions.

The latter is one of the movie makers’ favourites – we’ve had Outbreak starring Dustin Hoffman, Contagion starring Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow and, of course, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.

The Danny Boyle film is particularly fascinating because it tells the story of a small group of survivors and their struggle to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic world following the accidental release of a deadly virus.

That could never happen, could it? Pure sci-fi hokum. But truth has a nasty habit of being stranger than fiction.

I was horrified to read last week that a virologist in the USA – already controversial through his research in making influenza viruses more infectious – has now gone one step further.

He has genetically manipulated the 2009 strain of pandemic flu so that it can escape the control of the immune system’s neutralising antibodies.

No doubt he would say it’s all in the long-term interests of beneficial medical research and that nothing can possibly go wrong as his “new” virus is kept under lock and key in ultra-secure laboratory conditions.

But what we now have, thanks to Prof Yoshiro Kawaoka, is a strain of a flu virus with the capability to cause a deadly pandemic because we have no defence against it.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that Prof Kawaoka is a mad scientist about to cause the end of the world.

No, what worries me is that once these mutant strains of a virus have been created, it’s going to be impossible to get the genie back in the bottle.

Who’s to say what might happen next time if an even more deadly and incurable virus is artificially created, perhaps by someone whose motives are less altruistic than Prof Kawakoa’s and under less secure laboratory conditions?

Then Danny Boyle’s grim vision of our future might not seem so far-fetched after all.


Amid football fever do the war horrors hover

by The Codgers' Club Friday, June 20 2014

by David Jones

In the middle of the World Cup, the photographs of young men being led away to be executed, some wearing T-shirts bearing the names of their Manchester United footballing heroes, was a surreal but horrific sight even by Iraq’s usual yardstick of horrors.

Some observers estimate the number of surrendered Iraqi soldiers murdered by Sunni extremist fighters at around 1,700. It was an appalling massacre of war crime proportions.

The politics of Iraq are too complicated even to begin to explain.

Rival religious factions, tribal loyalties, corruption and poor planning following the US-led 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, are all in the melting pot as Iraq begins to disintegrate.

And so, as we enjoy the summer and contemplate England’s World Cup progress (or lack of it, depending on the result of yesterday’s game), will you be asking yourself: What’s all this got to do with us? Who cares?

The obvious answer is that a total takeover of Iraq by extreme fundamentalists will mean bad news for all Western countries as the horror is exported in our direction.

But there is another question I keep asking myself: How do the parents, wives, girlfriends, sisters of the 136 British soldiers killed in action in Iraq, plus the 315 wounded – some maimed for life – feel about what’s happening over there? Will they be bitter and angry, believing their loved ones died for nothing now that Iraq is falling apart?

Soldiers serving in war zones view things differently from their relatives at home. They have a job to do and they get on with it. The politics of it all don’t concern them.

And, oddly enough, they worry very little, if at all, about the danger. I should know – my son served in Iraq for six months.


“Dad, don’t worry about it,” he would say. “Statistically, the chances of being killed or injured are very small.”

He might not have worried about it, but we certainly did. It was probably the worst six months of our lives and we lived in dread of a knock at the door by someone in an Army uniform. But he came home in one piece and when he walked through the arrivals lounge at Stansted Airport it was as though a dark cloud hovering over us had been suddenly lifted.

If he had been killed, or maimed, how would we feel today? We would have been proud of him, of course, but the inescapable conclusion is that we would be tortured for the rest of our lives in the certainty that his, and so many other, lives had been wasted.

The British Army is now in the last stages of its withdrawal from that other long-running conflict, Afghanistan.

There, the British death toll – 453 – is much higher. The likelihood is that Afghanistan, too, will fall apart when coalition forces leave and 453 sets of relatives will be asking themselves the same questions.

The one overriding lesson to emerge from all the carnage is that attempts to impose Western-style democracy on countries which have no history of democracy will always be doomed to failure.

We have learned that lesson the hard way – in blood.

Categories: Moans and groans

The perfect pint - but only in a proper glass

by The Codgers' Club Monday, June 16 2014

by Alan Watkins

Joy, for most codgers, is supping a pint of ale.

It has to be the real stuff. None of the keggie-flague that killed off a number of breweries because it was so fizzy, tasteless, colourless and riskless. But it also has to be in the right container.

It’s no good having a straight-sided circle of glass, or worse still, a squared pint laden with three dimensional figureheads and multiple logos.

Slurpers of Moon Welcome, Nelson’s Armpit or Virginia Water Pale Ale need to drink from a true pint mug.

That means consuming beer from glasses with dimples. They show us the golden harvest colours, resurrect the image of the earth from which this lifesaver came, and magnify the perfections (or imperfections) of the nectar.

Some years ago, I remember, I had a lively discussion with Jonathan Neame. He’s the chief executive of Shepherd Neame, a Kent brewery that has been around at least since James I introduced whisky to his court.

Jonathan was enthusing about a new drinks container (he called it a glass but it was plastic so how could it be graced with such a title?) he was testing at a number of events.

The bottom of the container was designed to slot on to a tiny hose set in the bar which measured out half a litre of ale and not a drop more – or less.

His concern was the margin of profit that was lost – or the risk of prosecution that followed – the failure of the bar staff to pour precisely 500cc of ale into the glass.

He feared over-measure would lead to financial problems. If it was under-measure, the weights and measures men would materialise from behind the waiting kegs.

I tried a 500cc pint. As pressurised beer goes it was passable, but it was handled like a child’s drink, not a man’s.

These days the chances of being offered a dimpled glass at your local hostelry are rare. This is partly because of the lager glasses that have loutishly consigned the real ale glasses to the recycling bins.

There is also no longer a glassmaker in Britain who produces glasses with dimples and handles that you can grasp.

Personally, I thread my fingers between glass and handle and use my thumb to upend the liquid on a parched summer’s day.

Yet the dimpled pint is making a welcome return. A glassmaker in ... wait for it ... Turkey is producing the traditional British ale glass, complete with grasper, wide brim, aroma-dispensing, solid non-slippability. And all power to him.

Maybe that is why we see so many Turkish lorries on our motorways these days: saving the British pub from perfection-seeking potability.

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Categories: Moans and groans

How the duchess deals with unwanted callers

by The Codgers' Club Friday, June 6 2014

by Peter Cook

Why does everyone think they should have first dibs into that much depleted pool that is our bank account?

Every day we seem to get calls from people telling us how we can save pots of money by handing large wedges over to them.

We can do this by sticking solar panels on our roof apparently, or by investing in a new boiler, or by taking out life insurance – which turns out to be death insurance – or by investing in some private health scheme, or by switching to a new energy supplier, changing our car insurance, home insurance, pet insurance and so on.

The other day I got a phone call on a crackling satellite link from India asking me to take part in a marketing survey. In a moment of weakness I agreed. I could hardly hear a word of what Jasmine – or whatever her name was – was saying and it seemed to go on forever.

Within minutes of putting the phone down I was being called by all sorts of people offering products and services if only we would hand over our bank account details and sign a direct debit form. Now charities are getting in on it. They all want that all important signature that gives them access to our bank account. We are not ungenerous. When Unicef or the Disasters Emergency Committee need money for Syrian refugees or tsunami victims, we are invariably there with our debit cards. We regularly contribute to other causes.

But I want to decide which charities I support, how much I should give them and how it should be paid. I do not want the emotional blackmail of being told that unless we sign a direct debit, millions will die or suffer a plague of frogs.

Apart from anything else, the amount of time these unsolicited callers take up is immense. If we agreed to talk to them all we would do nothing else. And why do they always call when there’s something vitally important you want to watch on the telly – like Celebrity Are You Being Ripped Off?

So we have now decided on a blanket ban on calls from anyone who might conceivably want to save us money by helping themselves to it via a direct debit.

My carer has a wonderful technique for this. She adopts the voice of a Lady Bracknell and tells these blood suckers: “This is the Dowager Duchess of Davington’s private residence. All calls should be forwarded to her London home. You’ll find the number in Debrett’s.”

What they make of that in call centre land I’ll never know.

Categories: Moans and groans

Con fiction of store policy on confectionery

by The Codgers' Club Friday, May 30 2014

by David Jones

As I’ve said before in this blog, it really makes my blood boil when I hear supermarkets trumpet that they’ve done something because “Our customers have told us” or “We’ve listened to their feedback”.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is rubbish. Most customers, unless they’ve got a complaint about the pack of sausages, or some other item they’ve just bought, don’t bother with anything as fruitless as feedback.

Most of the actions taken by supermarkets, except those required by law, are nothing more than a cynical exercise in sucking up to whatever happens to be the moral or politically correct flavour of the month.

This week it emerged that Tesco has decided to remove sweets and chocolates from around the tills at its Metro and Express stores because it wants “to help customers to lead healthier lives”.

The decision results from a fatuous survey in which the supermarket giant’s customers were asked whether removing confectionery from check-outs would help them make healthier choices.

And, surprise, surprise, two thirds said Yes. Loaded questions like this are puerile, a bit like asking customers in an off-licence if they think that drinking three bottles of whisky a day is likely to be harmful to their health.

We are told that larger Tesco stores stopped selling sweets at checkouts 20 years ago. Indeed they have. But this was just another exercise in cynicism.

I had reason to call into my local Tesco superstore over the weekend and while there I checked out the location of the sweets and chocolates. They were in an aisle, in a direct line to the checkouts but far enough away for little Johnny not to pester mum because sweets are at eye level right by the till.

That’s fine, as far as it goes. But just four paces away from the self-service check-outs were two large displays of sweets, chocolates and crisps. If Tesco is really serious about customers making healthier choices it should move sweets and chocolates to the far side of every store, and not just pay lip service to the idea.

I’ve been banging on about Tesco, but they are not the only culprits. Most of the large supermarket chains have sweets in close proximity to the till, but just far enough away for them to be able to claim the moral high ground.

Whatever they tell us, supermarkets are in business for themselves, not their customers. We should never forget that.

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Categories: Moans and groans

A toll for non-Kentish drivers is good start

by The Codgers' Club Monday, May 26 2014

by Alan Watkins

It’s about time the men of Kent (and also the Kentish men) began campaigning for independence. After all, the hairy ones with the skirts north of Hadrian’s Wall look set to go their own way.

The Welsh (from whom it seems possible your scribe may be descended) are gabbling their own language, sliding steadily into financial instability, and have never accepted that after the defeat of Owen Glyndwr’s rebellion in the early 1400s they are subservient to London.

In the last year the Cornish have been given recognition. So why shouldn’t Kent?

Just think of the powers it would give us.

We could lift the tolls on the boundary gates (aka The QEII Bridge).

Instead, all non-Kentish residents would have to pay a toll to offset our taxes.

We would also have our own navy.

It would be charged with responsibility for collecting money from anywhere else we can screw a bit more cash.

Power would be handed over to the biggest city in the new kingdom, namely Medway.

I would insist that all truckers outside Kent bases should pay for the privilege of travelling across the Garden of .... well, of Kent, of course.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is constantly under siege for considering equality for women, getting too close to Rome, not giving sufficient recognition to African bishops and so forth.

He could now form a breakaway religion. It could be known as the Church of Kent, returning to its rightful place as the place where Christianity in the United Kingdom was first established.

After all, the only part of the United Kingdom (did I say ‘united’?) that seems incapable of seeking independence is England.

Kent was a kingdom in its own right long before England came together as one country, and started taking the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish under its protective wing.

So come on, you politicians, forget all this trivia about Europe.

Let’s have independence for Kent.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Has our common sense checked out for good?

by The Codgers' Club Monday, May 12 2014

by David Jones

It’s easy to be dismissive, patronising, even insulting, about supermarket check-out staff.

But they have a sometimes difficult job to do for low pay, and having to deal with the great British public face-to-face all day is an occupational hazard I would not relish.

So I am grateful to the shop workers’ union member who wrote to the Medway Messenger pointing out the error of my ways after I ridiculed the check-out assistant who refused to allow a school teacher to buy cans of beer after he cracked a joke at the checkout.

The teacher was leaving a store when he turned to his 12-year-old daughter and said something along the lines of “That’s your beer sorted for tonight.”

It was so obviously a joke it beggars belief that anyone should have taken it seriously and demanded ID from a 12-year-old girl. To compound the idiocy, a supervisor backed the decision.

In his letter, the shop worker, in classic jobsworth mode, takes me to task for not appreciating the incident in Sussex could have been a trading standards ploy to catch the poorly-paid check-out assistant off-guard, thus putting his job at risk.

The idea that someone from trading standards would carefully rehearse a joke about beer with a schoolgirl so glaringly obviously too young to buy alcohol is just too absurd to contemplate. Things really can’t get much sillier than that, can they? Sadly, they can. And much closer to home.

A friend of mine who wants to remain anonymous (a pity, because I could have made a few bob selling this story to the tabloids) called into a north Kent branch of a national DIY chain and bought a small aerosol canister of paint, for redecoration, not graffiti, purposes, I hasten to add.

At the check-out, he was asked: “Are you over 18?”

He replied: “No, it’s just that I’ve had a hard life so far.”

This, for the benefit of check-out assistants and supervisors everywhere, is what is called a joke.

Whereupon the young man at the till told my friend he could not buy the paint.

It would be bad enough if this was just another case of sense of humour failure, but – wait for it – my friend is 74. Yes, you read that right, 74.

He didn’t know whether to feel flattered or angry, but in the end the matter was resolved when he called over a more mature member of staff, who confirmed that my wrinkly acquaintance did indeed look more than a little over 18.

Given that the young man at the check-out was not suffering from severe vision problems, my friend, who will freely admit that these days no one could mistake him for being anything other than a pensioner, can only produce the following scenario.

The young man at the DIY store felt he had to recite, and follow, the rules in robotic fashion, whatever the circumstances. Having received the reply “No” to his age question, he had to move on to Phase Two and refuse the sale, however ludicrous the decision and despite the evidence of its absurdity right in front of his eyes.

As I said at the beginning, check-out staff have a tough job to do.

But when common sense flies out the window and the decision-making process at the checkout is reduced to the level of a farce it’s time for those who produce the training manuals to go back to the drawing board.


Rude scenes not a case of right and left but right and wrong

by The Codgers' Club Monday, May 5 2014

 by Alan Watkins

The scenes at the last full Medway Council meeting shamed everyone concerned.

Residents were prepared to storm across the chamber and cause so much upset that the meeting had to be suspended.

Their basic moan? The administration does just what it likes, when it chooses, and ignores the wishes of people who elected them.

The councillors were shamed because – frankly – those electors are right. The administration does not listen to objectors.

Medway is (and always has been) right of centre, even well right of centre on occasions. Occasionally it will vote for the left.

It has led to an attitude among some of the elected hierarchy that they are invincible, which they are so long as there is no extreme right-wing choice.

Not so long ago, I saw an example of that in action when out having lunch with my wife.

A lady was protesting about problems on her private estate. She was complaining in a pub to two members of a party.

As I listened (they did not make any secrecy about it), the woman was signed up as a candidate for that party in the local elections of 2015. She was also signed up as a member of the party (something they almost forgot). If there is a wave of right-wing favour in the community then she could be swept to power.

In Medway, meanwhile, the council administration is not as extreme as the party this lady intends to represent. But it has always acted as if it was invincible.

That has led to rudeness to protestors from one or two key councillors – evidenced by the display in the St George’s Centre.

What these councillors forget is being abusive to political opponents in the chamber is part of the rich tapestry of democratic right.

It should not stretch to the electorate, for given the opportunity, they can end careers at the voting box in a year’s time.


Lost the plot with TV allotment show

by The Codgers' Club Friday, April 25 2014

by Peter Cook

You can’t get castor oil these days. They used to spoon it into you years ago to “get things moving”. I wanted some to dose my voles with – and that’s not a sentence you read every day.

The thing is, pesky little voles have been nibbling at my onion tops. They’ve also dug up and devoured my broad bean and pea seeds.

They are damnably cute these rodents, and I could never bring myself to put down poison or traps.

But my good friend Mr Internet tells me that a mixture of castor oil, washing up liquid, and water, with a dash of Tabasco, makes an excellent deterrent. Well it would deter me.

But could I find castor oil in the shops? Not a hope. Even the chemists no longer stock it. One tried to order some for me specially, but their supplier no longer stocks it.

So I went back to Mr Internet and he – or is it she? – is sending me a big bottle sometime next week.

So watch out Mr Vole. I have a trick or two up my sleeve for you – one that is in extremely bad taste.

Speaking of allotments, I cannot imagine that many true allotmenteers will have much time for The Big Allotment Challenge which has cropped up on BBC Two.

The last thing I would want is camera crews, people with obscure titles like “best boy” and “first grip” and eager beaver presenters crawling all over my plot.

Of course they might scare away the voles and the rabbits which would be some compensation. Most people I know who work allotments do so to escape the world of nonsense television. Down to earth means what it says.

And we’re not very good at being told what to grow, how to grow it or whether we have done a good job or not.

Anyone telling me my produce was woody would likely end up understanding the true meaning of the term “stuffed marrow”.

Those of us who have watched that other BBC offering W1A can imagine all too well the brainstorm meetings that preceded the decision to commission this extravaganza. A programme about that I would definitely watch.

The trouble with telly is that it tends to create celebrities. Can you imagine celebrity allotmenteers trudging up the red carpet in their holey trousers, faded cardigans and wellies?

It’s bad enough having to stomach Alan Titchmarsh.

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Categories: Moans and groans

The Codgers' Club

They are the old boys who like nothing more than to moan and groan about life's everyday problems. The Codgers' Club members - Peter Cook, David Jones and Alan Watkins - grumble through life, always viewing the glass as half-empty. Here they share their latest wit and wisdom.

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