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A tale of time and books

I had titled this "A trip down memory lane", but having now written it, I thought the above title was better.

Using the magic of Google, I went to take a look at some of the places where I grew up.

Sorry Scotland! I was born in Glasgow and lived a few months in Dunblane, but my parents found work in the south of England, so that's where I grew up. That's not to say I have no interest in the country, I do. But I don't know it. All of my stories are ones I remember mom telling me, like her - an American - trying to get to grips with Glaswegian, such as "gissaweekeekohdubairn" which means "I'd like to see your baby", as was calmly explained by a bystander who found the whole interaction and mom's reaction to be quite amusing.
I, myself, don't have memories of Scotland. Hell, I spent most of the time peeing, pooping, puking, and waiting just until mom had dropped off to sleep before waaaaaaaah!!!!

Mom got her revenge though. She trained me to calm down to the dulcet sounds of Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell. Many years later I understood the words and was horrified, it was so far beyond cheesy that I wonder if it's some sort of stealth parody. Then I saw the video on YouTube. Oh my God. This is like the country version of saying your favourite early childhood song was The Blobby Song.



This is a little place to the left of Baltimore, which is just up a bit from Washington D.C.. Mom is a Baltimoron (actually I think the term is "Baltimorean", but mom really took to British sarcasm).
Baltimore is pronounced something like "Ballmer" (that sweaty "developers developers developers" guy that used to run Microsoft) or sometimes an extra syllable "Ballamer". "Maryland" is said something like "Merlin", as in the pointy-hat bloke of legend.
Nearby is a place/country/district called "Arundel", which they say like "uh-run-dul", while I went to school near a town called "Arundel" which is said like "A-run-dell".
I'll include some descriptions of how to say place names for those that aren't said like they look, 'cos, well, many place names are designed to mess with your mind. Cases in point - Micheldever, Ely, Launceston, Worchester, Basingstoke, etc etc etc.

I've not bothered to look around Catonsville as I don't remember much except for little bits and pieces of things. One of my most vivid early memories was walking alongside an old guy who had a heart problem so needed to walk a lot. Mom, I think, was asleep as she was working night shift. So he'd take me as company. And we'd walk along a railway surrounded by forest near a river. That was pretty easy to find, it's a railway that runs alongside the Patapsco river.
It's not something that anybody has thought to take photos of. The only one that I found was as the tracks entered a tunnel, and judging by the trees, taken in the winter. In my memories, lush green and bright summer sunshine. Still, thanks to Greg Jensen for this photo of the object of one of my earliest memories.

A railway near Catonsville
A railway near Catonsville.
Photo by Greg Jensen.

Another memory is mom bashing bits of crabs with a little wooden hammer. Catonsville is practically an orbital suburb of Baltimore which is a sea port and well known for it's bay crab. Mom was quite found of these. Me less so, as a child with ADHD (not yet diagnosed!) I found pulling tiny bits of flesh from inside the carapace to be tediously fiddly.
Of course, mom and the people downstairs both freaked out at me using the same methodology (and hammer) to dispatch cockroaches.

My grandmother was not a particularly pleasant person. She conspired with the family doctor to have me admitted to hospital on bogus reasons. I talk about this in a different article.

Finally, I was bused. Google defines this as: North American: transport (a child of one ethnic group) to a school where another group is predominant, in an attempt to promote racial integration.
Remember, if I was four to five, this would be about '77 to '78, merely fourteen years after Martin Luther King's famous speech. Race relations in America is...complicated. Still is, sadly.
For my part, I recall that the walls were painted horrible clashing colours like bright green on one half and bright orange on the other, and it was gloss paint which made everything look so much worse.
Given I was a small, thin, pasty-faced white kid, I'm guessing that most of the others in the school were black. That's what busing was about. But, you know, that didn't make any impression on me at all. I have exactly zero memories like "oh god, they're all black". Because, you know, some kids are nice and some are not and skin colour doesn't determine that.


The Home Counties

The Home Counties are the counties that surround London. In my case, more specifically Hampshire, Surrey, and West Sussex (to the south west of London).

So I spent a lot of my childhood growing up in Yateley (said like "yayt-lee"). A small English town that was notable for not really having a heart. That doesn't mean the people were cruel, it means that the town sort of spread out along the main-ish road that went through it. So there wasn't a town centre so much as a bit here, a bit there, and something else over there.

It was twee in a way that little English towns do so well.

Yateley's prettier bits.
Photo by the Googlemobile.

I didn't live at the address shown, that's just where I took the photo. I lived a little further down. A place that started off life as a small council estate mostly full of older people. Thatcher's Right to Buy scheme in the early '80s was one of the largest such schemes, allowing some two million people the ability to buy their housing. By 1986, the discounts were something like 60%-70% and based upon some arcane combination of market valuation offset against rates paid or something. I don't know what mom paid, I wasn't even really aware until she talked about selling up to move on. To move here.
However, I walked along this road every day to go to school. Mom didn't drive in those days, so it was a walk of about a mile twice a day. Plenty of exercise for a little one.

When we went into town to go shopping, I'd often stop at the petrol station by the roundabout for sweets. It's also where I bought my first petrol, a can of two star (!) for a little two-stroke mower.

Only in my memories now.
Photo by the Googlemobile.

A little further down the road, the village green where the Maypole dancers did their thing. Actually, there's a big overlap in modern maypole dancing with Morris dancing, which can lead to an experienced group dancing around the pole holding long ribbons and weaving around each other to create intricate patterns on the pole as the ribbons are wound. It is considered impolite to giggle at how ridiculous the costumes are, or all the handkerchief waving. Morris dancers take it really seriously. That probably explains how they can dress like that and keep a straight face.

Yateley Green.
Photo by the Googlemobile.


You know, looking around Yateley, I can't help but get a feeling that the place is... somewhat delapidated. Like the better days are in the past.


By this time, after meeting (and trolling) a shrink in an ugly grey building in Aldershot, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity (these two are so commonly found together that it's just called ADHD these days), dyspraxia (crappy coordination), and dyscalculia (maths sucks).
To my knowledge, I was not tested for autism. Attitudes towards things like that in the early '80s was akin to "that's another word for retard, right?".
I went to junior school in Yateley and really did not get on with one teacher. She would sit me in the corner facing the wall, ignoring me, and telling me to shut up whenever I wanted to say anything. Luckily I had a decent sized bladder, so it wasn't a problem if she ignored me so much that she wasn't even going to respond to me asking to go to the toilet.
On the other hand, some of the other teachers I got on well with. You know, the ones that actually knew their subjects and took difficult questions from a preadolescent as a challenge to find an answer, not as an insult.

In 1983 I spent two weeks in a boarding school in Burseldon ("ber-zel-dun") near Southampton to be assessed to see if I would be able to cope with a change of environment. Looking back at it, I'm guessing that maybe the a-word was considered by the doctor? Anyway, I know it was 1983 because it was traditional for the school to ring up the local radio station (Solent FM, perhaps, given the location) to request a song on Saturday. As the new kid, the honour was mine. The song I picked, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" by Eurythmics, which sort of blew everybody's mind. Not the sort of song you'd expect a nine year old to like, but, well, I guess I had a lot to atone for thanks to Glen Campbell...

After that, 1985, a boarding school in West Sussex. My SIBA stories (link over on the right in desktop mode) is a partially fictionalised account of that period of my life. It was an interesting time. I was an energetic child, but also a very introverted one, and had no problems at all with spending a lot of time by myself enjoying the stuff my imagination came up with.
Well, privacy wasn't really a thing when you're squished into a dormitory with other people. And since most of them were special needs (mostly dyslexia) I wasn't the only oddball. On the other hand I was an unconventional oddball. I wasn't interested in sports, nor was I flamboyantly gay, or a budding thespian. I was, well, me. And the thing that probably saved me being bullied to hell and back is that I was quite happy being a group of one in a Venn diagram that barely intersected with anybody else, and I gave exactly zero effs about fitting in or being different.
That being said, when I started doing things like breaking into the physics lab to borrow the Maplin catalogue for some weekend reading (back in those days it was FULL of useful information), I found some other kids who were interested in the same sorts of things as me.
Myself and a friend who I shaln't name. We bought a washing machine motor. No idea what to do with it, but it was only two quid.
Took it back to the dormitory and wired it to a lead that ended in a plug. Stuck it in a socket. The motor promptly burst into flames, spewing clouds of acrid smoke. Some of the other kids screamed and ran out of the room. My friend? He helped me unplug it, pick it up, and lob it out of the window to burn itself out rather than burn the building down.
"Well, that was unexpected", was my comment.
"Don't think we can tell the head that", was his.
And we waited for the sky to fall. Which it did. It was like the teachers were lining up to give us a bollocking. Of course, being who we were, we were taking bets on who would be next, not taking the shouting at even remotely seriously, which only made them angrier. To the point where we were openly saying things like "if we giggle at your emphatic hand waving, will your head explode like that bloke in Scanners?".
Of course, being boring teachers they hadn't ever watched Scanners. And being BBFC 18, neither should we have... ☺

There were some photos taken by the school itself. Here's one.

The library?
The library?
Wait, is that the library? Damn! The library was never open or accessible to us in my entire time there. I think some prefects had access, but it was dusty tomes of ancient books that few people would have chosen to read. So, yeah, the tweenager me could see me spending a good few weekends here making my way through that lot.


Speaking of libraries, here's Fleet library, a picture of the inside by Ken Mailosi taken three years ago. This is the first library that I ever held a library card for, with my single digit age in those days.
I'm really pleased to see that it's a library that contains lots of books.

Fleet library
Fleet library.
Photo by the Ken Mailosi.
Now, it might sound weird to talk about books in a library, but as I was leaving the UK in 2002, Woking ("whoa-king") library (one of my favourites) was in the process of selling off a lot of their stock in order to make space for computers, as the internet and many words beginning with "cyber" was the in thing at that time, and libraries often had access to better connectivity than mere mortals.
Hell, the tiny little library in a tiny little rural town in France had a dual ISDN connection (paid for by our taxes) to get 64-128Kbit, while the rest of us had to do with dialup that probably (given the lengths of overhead cable) wasn't so hot over about 28k8.
In the UK in an urban area near Aldershot in 2002, my 56k modem never managed to connect to anything faster than 33k6.
Anyway, they were in the process of wrecking Woking library to provide their public service of access to information in a trendy modern way. I hope that's something that has been undone. Because books are important.

Yes, I can find out anything on Google (Michael Portillo was born in Bushey to a Scottish mother and Spanish father...), and I guess it's cool that I can get a thousand pages of ARM instruction set and architecture information directly from ARM themselves in about forty seconds, but PDFs aren't really suitable for reading. How I wish there was a printed ARM ARM more recent than the ones I have.

Books on my bookshelf.
The two ARM reference manuals, the thin issue 1 and the thick issue 2 are easily available as PDFs. The DDE books are available as PDFs. I found a copy of a PDF (or was it an epub?) of the PHP Cookbook and liked it enough that I got the actual book from Amazon. Because, dammit, you just can't read a PDF.

Speaking of Fleet, it seems like a big section of The Hart Centre (shopping mall) is a fitness centre. Surprisingly, there are few photos of the inside so I can't see what else is there. But, at least, I can see the Waitrose is still there.
Speaking of Waitrose, the new one in Yateley wasn't particularly big but it was okay. Still there.
And it looks like the nice one in Farnham ("far-num") is still around. I'd have to avoid the place if I ever come back to the UK, as I could see me dropping a lot of cash and busting the axles of my car...
Yeah, I know, so middle class. <shrug> I've never paid much attention to the whole class thing myself, I just know that the quality of food at Waitrose was better than... lesser places. So Waitrose and M&S were where I did most of my grocery shopping. And if that (and loads of books) makes me middle class, well, whatever. Don't think I'm going to start reading the Daily Mail and screaming about the French. ☺

Waitrose, Farnham
Waitrose, Farnham.
Photo by the Googlemobile.


Now, if I thought Yateley looked a bit delapidated, I was not disappointed by Aldershot. The first place I randomly dropped peg-guy totally lived up to my expectations.

Aldershot's prettier bits.
Photo by the Googlemobile.

Now, the paved main walkway (bottom of the hill with the shopping centre on the left) looks like this. That boarded up building used to be a Woolworths (complete with the obligatory Pick-and-Mix). I think it tried to be a small M&S for a while, but, well, the Wellington Centre (shopping centre) was made a lot larger at quite some expense, and they struggled to fill it. Looking at the photos on Google, it looks like it also has a massive fitness centre there. What it is with turning failing shopping malls into fitness centres?

The pedestrian area in Aldershot.
Photo by the Googlemobile.

Now, if you look at the satellite view, you'll notice a massive anomaly. All of this stuff on the right has been torn down. Why?
Walk around the road for some more modern imagery and...

You too can live in Aldershot. Lucky you.
Photo by the Googlemobile.
The shops they couldn't fill have been torn down to make a big urban residential place. Lots of flats that I bet will come with eye-watering prices, with easy access to those shops that managed to survive the economic crisis, so we're looking at what? Fast food, charity shops, and betting places?
Yeah, prime place to live.


I didn't live in Aldershot, I lived in Ash, which is like the other side of the Blackwater Valley Route. Mom and I lived with a nasty gaslighting narcissistic arsehole (long story, don't ask), so we'll just gloss over that unfortunate blip in my life.

I used to go to Aldershot on the train quite a lot. Or to Woking the other way. Once in a while to Reading ("redding"). Half the time to get away from that man. It's why I jumped at the chance to be a Care Assistant. Looking after old people certainly wasn't a career choice in my radar, so it's interesting that I was actually quite good at it. Though, I guess the secret is to treat them as people, not as chores to do in order to get paid. I never actually thought about the pay, first and foremost these were dependent people and, my god, "how would you feel if you were treated like you just treated her?" is something that left my lips on more than one occasion.
Anyway, the railway station I knew well... thanks to Daniel McKenzie, here's a photo of it.

Ash railway station
Ash railway station.
Photo by Daniel McKenzie.

You can tell you're in the south east. The trains are a mixture of diesel and electric, and the electricity is provided by a "third rail". You can see that beginning at the bottom of the photo.
I just thought that's how railways were electrified in the UK. It was quite a surprise to go look at stations in the north and see pantographs. Here's Blackpool North, one of many photos of railway stations in the area taken by Vextrix Surveys. Thanks, guys.

Blackpool North railway station
Photo by Vextrix Surveys.

Excepting being born in Scotland, I've never knowingly been further north than Oxford, which is only just up from London.
The furthest East is probably Hastings. Went there on a school trip (Battle of Hastings stuff). It's slightly further east than Tours, which is the most east I've been in France.
West? Done west a lot. Been to Land's End when it really was a cliff with some sea beyond, and not some sort of pricey theme park.
Off-country, the Azores (Ponta Delgada). I think the most east I've ever been might be Frederick? I remember a massive shopping mall with a logo that looked a bit like a line drawing of a clover leaf (as in the clover leaf road systems), but...
Actually, I think I've found it. I wandered around the inside of the mall (this place is massive, gotta hand it to Americans, they do malls like entire little cities) and the fountain in the middle sort of nudged a distant memory. Now, this might be something specific to this mall, or something that they all have... but the mall itself is sort of in the right place (it wasn't that close to Catonsville), and it's enormous, and that fountain does have a weird familiarity to it. It is the Francis Scott Key Mall, which apparently opened in 1978, so it would have been brand new when I was there, and matches up with my age (I'd have four and a bit in 1978 (born in December)).
I'm including this picture because this caption cracks me up. Well done, whoever did that. It's the "humans" that kills me.

Free range humans
Free range humans.
Photo by Google.

Sadly, one of the things I'd most like to see in Baltimore (should I ever go) has closed. It was a massive Barnes & Noble bookstore in the old Power Plant. Google for photos. It was epic, and I don't mean that in the sense of hyperbole. It's a shame that the walk-around imagery has been removed, because... the place looked amazing.

Yeah, I know, I have a thing about books. ☺
I inherited that from mom.


Well, a little wander down memory lane... I hope you enjoyed it. It was interesting to look around the places I used to know. Some things have changed little, some quite a lot. Like... Woking centre - what the actual hell?
Go Google Maps for 3 Victoria Way, Woking. You'll be looking at a little building annotated "Richard Kaye Estate Agent".
Now do a 180.
Da fu....?

And with that, I shall leave you for today. I wasn't overly impressed with the enchiladas (annoyingly fiddly to make), but I can see turning the chicken bits and mildly spicy sauce into a nice pasta sauce, so I'm going to brew up some linguine and do exactly that, right about now...



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Clive Semmens, 17th July 2023, 06:37
"On the other hand, some of the other teachers I got on well with. You know, the ones that actually knew their subjects and took difficult questions from a preadolescent as a challenge to find an answer, not as an insult." 
You're Me and I claim my £5.75 (probably more, what with more inflation than I've allowed for) 
On the other hand, much of the story isn't me At All. 
But "I guess the secret is to treat them as people, not as chores to do in order to get paid. I never actually thought about the pay, first and foremost these were dependent people and, my god, "how would you feel if you were treated like you just treated her?" is something that left my lips on more than one occasion." is bang on the button, too! 
And "Yeah, I know, I have a thing about books." of course. I'd give you a link to a pic of the bookshelves in our living room if links were a thing.
David Pilling, 17th July 2023, 13:47
Inspiring stuff - I always find it interesting how people got where they are. I now understand your expertise in electric motors.
Rick, 17th July 2023, 14:39
Well, one does try to learn from their mistakes...
J.G.Harston, 17th July 2023, 15:01
"You can find anything on the internet" 
Ok, show me the 1971 electoral register for Whitby West Cliff ward. You can't. Because *I'm* the one transcribing it in order to put it online, and I've only got halfway through. And you won't find the 1972 or the 1970 register because I'm going through them at ten year intervals. And you won't find Sleights, just outside Whitby, because I'm only doing Whitby. 
Rick, 17th July 2023, 15:10
Sure, there are omissions of things that predate the internet era (like most of the software that was on the popular BBSs), but generally if there's something you want to know, Google (Bing, etc) can rummage and come up with something that might answer the question...
Gavin Wraith, 17th July 2023, 16:12
@J.G.Harston Sleights I take to be a flat smooth (schlicht) place, and Ugglebarnby a place where baby owls are to be found.
C Ferris, 18th July 2023, 10:08
Err - is it wise to publish life's details to any tom dick or harry?
Rick, 18th July 2023, 11:02
Born in Glasgow, grew up in Yateley, went to boarding school, hopped over to America for a brief time, moved to France... 
People that know me know bits of that story. Some might even know most of it. It's not something I'd ever consider "personal" and "secret". Without that, I have no history... 
Clive Semmens, 18th July 2023, 13:05
I've got far more of my life story open to public gaze than that. Most people aren't very interested; those that are interested are mostly my friends and are harmless. I'm not going to spend my life hiding fearfully from anyone with malign intent, who could get at me somehow however fearfully I tried to hide.
David Pilling, 18th July 2023, 13:37
The stuff you can't find on Google, you can get on ChatGPT etc. 
Electrification came to Blackpool recently 2018 - meant closing the railway for a year - much disruption - rebuilding road bridges. Why the South uses a third rail is probably an interesting story.
Gavin Wraith, 18th July 2023, 14:12
I don't go to pubs or theatres, except occasionally with friends, I avoid crowded places and I am not interested in sport. So I have had the luxury of avoiding strangers most of the time. Just walking down a crowded street in London I find stressfull. When I first used the internet the need for privacy was not evident, so I spurned the use of pseudonyms. Now I am not so sure. I would much rather deal with humans face to face than chatbots online, but that is now a privilege restricted to the very wealthy. To be burdened with suspicion all the time is a heavy price to pay for security.
David Pilling, 18th July 2023, 14:43
I have no problems with security, USS the University teachers pension fund handed over my details to the darkweb.
Alan Griffin, 18th July 2023, 19:30
Do you know anyone who can help me mend my BBC micro? 
It works for about 10 minutes, then cuts out with a high pitched tone. 
I've tried tapping everything on the citcuit board, and squirting it with freezer. 
I've replaced the power supply, and the keyboard and it still does it. 
The fault atays for hours, but if I wait 24 hours it works again - for 10 minutes.
Rick, 18th July 2023, 20:34
What David means is that he has yet to encounter any problems. That's probably true for most people who are not interesting enough as leads. For those who are, it can be a nightmare. 
Alan - you'd be better off asking on *. as they're the experts in that sort of thing. 
Something in this report makes me think of the video ULA acting up (and the freezer spray might not have been enough to cool it down inside, whereas an overnight off would be), but I'm no expert...
David Pilling, 18th July 2023, 22:32
Rick, good point - I meant there's not much point me worrying about things I might say online, when USS have handed over quality data direct to the bad guys. As compensation they've given me an account with some Experian service which shows when people access your details. Fascinating to see how many credit checks a search on the Meerkat for car insurance can unleash. 

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