BEFORE working on the Daily Mail in Fleet Street I spent eight years as a sub-editor at its northern HQ in Deansgate, Manchester. Just across the road was the Press Club, open from 10pm to 5am and therefore a magnet for journalists (the Mirror, Express, Star, News of the World, People all published northern editions in the city in those days). It was also a haven for the various print workers (known as inkies) employed in the Mail building, including a bunch of electricians who thanks to their powerful union had the enviable working conditions of half an hour on and half an hour off. This gave them time to nip across to the club for a pint and a frame of snooker on one of the two full-size tables. An adjacent blackboard, on which initials were chalked, established their right to a game and these would be renewed on departure, ensuring they had a virtual monopoly on the tables. Despite all the practice they got, their skills never improved.
One night in the early Eighties, at about 2am, a hush descended as the two most popular and exciting snooker players on the planet, Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins and Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White breezed in together following a night on the town. After ordering drinks at the bar, they sauntered over to the green baize where sundry inkies were clattering the balls about with customary clumsiness. ‘Hi lads,’ said the Hurricane, ‘mind if we have a frame or two?’
The response? ‘Put yer bloody names up like everybody else!’
Somewhat taken aback, the pair chalked AH and JW at the end of a long line of initials, and waited. And waited. And waited. Virtually everyone in the club would have given their eye teeth to watch the Hurricane v the Whirlwind and members pleaded with the electricians to give way but they refused point blank. Eventually Alex and Jimmy slunk off into the night, never to return.
66 and all that
ON June 12, I celebrated my 66th birthday. ‘Nonsense, I hear you cry, you don’t look a day over 65 and three-quarters!’
Be that as it may, this milestone qualifies me for the state pension and as it approached I was already planning how to invest the increased income in the products of the beer, wine and spirits industry. Having heard nothing by late May, I visited the Department of Work and Pensions website which said I should have been invited to apply some two months before my birthday.
I then completed two complex and intrusive questionnaires only to be told at the end that my details were ‘not recognised’ despite my having spent my whole life in this country working, paying tax and abiding by the law. I rang the DWP and was kept on hold for an hour before giving up. I then wrote to the department explaining my position. Having received no response I again phoned and after a mere 45 minutes got through to a person. He promised to send me an application form. This duly arrived, along with another one which was apparently in response to my letter. I filled in them both, for good measure, and sent them off thinking I was getting somewhere at last.
Several weeks later I received a computerised letter stating that I was not yet eligible for state pension as I was not 66 until December. Some DWP goon had keyed in date of birth 6/12/1955 instead of 12/6/1955. Heaven knows what kind of numpties are employed there, no doubt on hefty salaries.
At this point I emailed the Secretary of State, Therese Coffey, receiving an automated reply saying she could deal with my problem only if I lived in her Suffolk constituency. I emailed a general address for DWP ministers, copying it to my own MP Nigel Evans, member for the Ribble Valley. The DWP did not respond but Mr Evans did, quickly promising to take up my case. A week later I received a letter from the DWP inviting me to apply online and giving me an authorisation code. Having completed this I was asked to supply my birth certificate, which I sent off expecting never to see it again. It came back the following week with an acknowledgment.
After a further month I at last received a letter saying my pension was on its way, with backpay going into my bank account on September 15. Hallelujah! Then came the sting in the tail. I have already had a letter from the Inland Revenue saying that the full amount of my state pension is being deducted from my tax code. So the bastards are clawing nearly half of it back!
Incidentally I read at the weekend that I am one of thousands to have suffered state pension delays so I suppose I should think myself lucky.
Joni in the bath
MY piece about seeking Jimmy Adamson’s autograph last week prompted a reader, I’m Old Fashioned, to recall a meeting with Keith Richards at a concert featuring the Rolling Stones and the Hollies. Keef was watching from the wings, intently studying Hollies drummer Bobby Elliott and observing: ‘This guy’s really sharp, isn’t he?’ Indeed he was, and still is at the age of nearly 80.
Elliott was born in the Pendleside village of Roughlee and shares with me the dubious honour of being a Nelson Grammar School old boy. He joined the Hollies in 1963 and is still with them, as is their Nelsonian guitarist Tony Hicks. Bob lost his hair early in life and wore some dubious wigs on stage before wisely opting for a hat.
He has never left the area and, while living in the village of Fence in the 1980s, I would often have a pint and a chat with him at the Sparrowhawk pub. After Graham Nash left the Hollies to team up with David Crosby and Stephen Stills, he remained in contact with Bob and turned up at his home on the outskirts of Colne with his Canadian girlfriend on his arm. One night after several beers, Bob turned to me and said: ‘Do you know, there’s not many a bloke round here who can say he’s seen Joni Mitchell cutting her toenails, naked in his bath.’ Quite so.
FOLLOWING last week’s ambitious recipe for cheese and tomato on toast, may I recommend an ideal gift pack for young persons leaving home to fend for themselves foodwise. A bottle each of Maggi liquid seasoning and Woh Hup mushroom sauce, and a tub of Knorr chicken powder (non-meat eaters substitute Marigold vegetable bouillon). All widely available on Amazon and elsewhere, and guaranteed to add richness and flavour to any savoury dish. Method: In a large saucepan, add a slug of Maggi, Woh Hup and Knorr to a 1kg bag of frozen mixed veg medley (79p at Lidl) bung in a bit of water, some stock cubes and the odd lentil, if available. Bring to the boil, simmer covered for 90 minutes or so and, Bob’s your uncle, enough soup to last you several days. For a smoother texture, a stick blender is recommended. Virtually any other vegetable, fresh or frozen, can be used. It’s cheap, healthy and fat-free. Eat your heart out, Heston Blumenthal.
A PS from PG
‘It isn’t often that Aunt Dahlia lets her angry passions rise, but when she does, strong men climb trees and pull them up after them.’
PG Wodehouse: Right Ho, Jeeves