There’s always tomorrow

It has been a strange day today. I should have been sad and upset as I went to the funeral of a mate from school. But the humanist service was full of memories, some spoken and others remembered silently. All of them made me smile and when they played ‘Highway Star’ by his favourite band and one of the first songs we rehearsed together there was a tear or two. But most of my memories of Simon are happy ones. Here are some of the ones that can be repeated.

I met Simon in secondary school in 1976. He was introduced to me as ‘Skinny’ which I assumed was because of his physical appearance. Like me, there wasn’t much of him then. I later found out it was far more complex and involved his surname rhyming with ‘bones’. We were both asthmatic and therefore unable to take part in PE and Games lessons. We got talking and quickly discovered mutual interests in science fiction and, later, music. We both had a similar irreverent sense of humour which developed over the years, as did our friendship.

In later years in school, we started making short cine films with a group of like minded friends and a couple of open minded teachers. It was mainly science fiction and horror. Simon was always up for doing the stunts and we managed to kill him off several times. He was stabbed, strangled, drowned and thrown off a quarry face. No padding for Simon. We once started filming a comedy parody of school life, referencing amongst other things, 2001 A Space Odyssey. For this epic, we borrowed Simon’s sister’s dolls pram and floated it out to sea from Bracelet Bay, after first letting the Coastguards know what we were up to. We retrieved it, dried it off and I don’t know whether his sister ever knew.

Simon followed his artistic interests and after a year in art college he went to Worthing to study Theatre Design. I was in London at the same time and we often visited each other. I used to have a great time in Worthing thanks to Simon and his friends; one of the first times I visited we left the pub and four or five of us carried on in a friend’s flat. When we left, it was morning and we went back to Simon’s flat (where I was staying) and had a breakfast of burger, gravy and chips. It was the first time I experienced Simon’s sandwiches which consisted of a bit of whatever he was cooking at the time between two thickly buttered pieces of bread.

When Simon came back to Swansea, he joined the Swansea Little Theatre as a set designer and we formed a band. Simon was a clever and skilful drummer (in the studio, he would record his drum parts with no guide tracks and it was a rare occasion when he had to do a second take. That is gifted playing). He also played a bit of guitar and keyboards. He had been drumming with the Venture Scouts marching band before I picked up a guitar and by the time I was playing well enough to be in a band, he’d also started on the guitar. We swapped licks and he taught me barre chords and during this time Simon had written about half an album’s worth of songs. I had a little 4 track recorder and we spent several evenings recoding demo versions of our songs. He sang on his songs and I sang on mine. Probably the only musical skill Simon didn’t possess was the ability to sing. I still giggle at the version of a folky song I’d written where, while I try to sing the serious lyrics in the style of Bob Dylan, he is in the background trying to and succeeding in making me laugh.

We started rehearsing in Simon’s bedroom, on the top floor of his parent’s house. At our first gig, using all the settings and volumes that we’d used in rehearsals, the landlord of the pub stopped us and asked us to turn down as we were too loud. I pity Simon’s neighbours. We had to stop practising in the bedroom after Simon’s enthusiastic drumming caused cracks to appear in the ceiling of the room below.

We played in several bands together. Our first was Nightshade, which morphed into Fragile Earth and then Strange Attractor. We made some great friendships with the other guys in the band and it was great to see some of them today, some 25 years later, at the funeral. Niel sang and played bass, Jeff was the guitarist in later incarnations. Paul played bass with many of the versions of the band but it was Simon that was the most prolific writer, coming up with or contributing to many of the bands original songs.

We once played a local social club and we were going through a progressive rock period at the time, Simon had written a long piece, which we had recently recorded in a local studio and which lasted around 15 minutes. Imagine the looks of the elderly club members as we launched into ‘River of Fire’, which Simon had written because he was concerned about the way the planet was being ruined by deforestation. It went on for more than 18 minutes thanks to some extended soloing (this was prog). To be fair, they clapped and had a whip round for us and asked us back the following week. We left the long song off the set list for the second gig.

We became the emergency band for the Coach House in Wind Street – we could play at short notice, and often filled in for bands that cancelled at the last minute. I remember them as being great gigs. Alas, the recordings I have tell a slightly different story. But always solid in the background, keeping things on track was Simon’s drumming. I learned to write and play in odd time signatures thanks to Simon (‘No two bars in the same time signature’ was our war cry. Probably chanted in 13/8 time).

Ramtops came next – a five piece band with the addition of Lloyd on guitar and Steve on vocals and guitar, playing more modern covers and more catchy and upbeat rock originals. We played a gig in front of a thousand or so in Singleton Park, where once again we were asked to turn down as we were drowning out the near by ‘It’s a Knockout’ competition. Mr McHenry, Shine and for a brief moment, Alibi were the last bands we shared.

For the first few years of our band career, Simon was driving a bright blue Bedford CF van. In true musician’s style, it would occasionally deposit vital components on the road. One afternoon we were driving back from getting it fixed somewhere and the exhaust fell off – from the manifold back. The cab filled with fumes and we drove on for a bit with Simon and I hanging our heads out of the windows. Eventually, Simon got a Mini and he would rock up to rehearsals and gigs with it crammed full of drum kit. Only he could load and unload it as attempts by me and others inevitably led to some obscure bit of drummist kit being left on the road. And we could never identify the item either.

It later years we drifted apart a bit as our lives changed direction. But I kept in touch and as our birthday’s were exactly three months apart (with Simon being the older) I would always mark the New Year with a text message which usually went along the lines of ‘happy birthday you old git’, to which he would reply with something equally derogatory, and three months later I would get the same ‘happy birthday you old git’ back. The last time I saw Simon was last year at his mother’s funeral. He’d lost weight but seemed fine and, to my shame, the promised ‘I’ll call around sometime’ never happened.

Because ‘there’s always tomorrow’, isn’t there?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Simple Things

There are some simple things in life that really aren’t that hard to get right. This blog is about one of those things – customer service.  The basic premise for me, which holds true for many situations, is that if you promise to do something, then do it, or explain in good time why you can’t do it. The measure of good customer service is not just whether it is 100% perfect first time but how, when things do go wrong, it is dealt with.

Here are two recent examples that illustrate my viewpoint.

We are told that we are living in hard times, and small businesses are struggling. Support your local trader, they say. I used to support my local grocery shop until the first time we had a really bad snow fall, with roads blocked and traffic at a standstill. Then, to support the people he had previously asked to support his business, the owner of the shop raised all his prices. He’d had deliveries because he was on a main road. He just chose to support his profit margins rather than the loyal customers. He went out of business a little while later because we all stopped supporting him.

It sometimes seems, based on the level of customer service, that many traders don’t really need our business. In fact, it seems that they only provide us with a service out of a noble, charitable sense of duty. So when I went looking for someone to replace a gas fire and back boiler, I should have been eternally grateful that anyone was able to offer that service. And I was. He turned up, looked around a bit, muttered some technical stuff and then said he’d get back to me with a quote within a few days. That was four weeks ago. Clearly a more deserving cause came along and mine was relegated to a back burner. Or boiler?

The bigger companies are more financially sound and are able to help more people out of goodwill alone. So when I went to a big company to ask them if they would consider selling me a kitchen and fitting it too, I was a little more hopeful. And to it’s credit, the big company said “yes, we’d love to sell you a kitchen and we can get someone to fit it as well”. They did a good job of designing a kitchen just the way I wanted it. And since I’m not very good at that sort of thing, they also steered me away from the bizarre and unworkable ideas I’d had and gave me a practical solution. But silly me, I went away and decided that I couldn’t afford the quote and needed something a little less expensive. So I rang them up to ask if it was possible to save some money. Well, I tried ringing them up. But the first number I was given turned out to be a local insurance company, who explained that they didn’t offer a kitchen design service. I used the general number for the big company and for two days running, every time I got through someone picked the phone up and put it down immediately.

Not easily deterred, I finally got through on a different number they had forgotten to hide from me and explained to someone that I needed to save some money. I asked if it would be possible to do this when they came to my house to do a final measurement. They said yes and gave me an appointment, 11am today. I even checked that they had my address, to which the person said yes. Imagine my surprise when I had a phone call from the big company this morning to ask what I wanted from our meeting, and found out that the meeting was for midday, not 11am, and that no one was coming out to see me. I would have to go to the big company. Again.

Maybe I’m a fool, But I went. And to it’s credit, the big company managed to retrieve the situation. And that’s the measure. Yes, they shouldn’t have got things wrong in the first place but it was a simple mix up. The measure was that when I turned up a little annoyed at the big company, the gut I dealt with apologised, explained how he was going to make sure that didn’t happen again and provided a swift and pleasant service changing my design. The result – I placed an order with the big company, because they got their customer service right. And an added bonus is that they might be able to get me a gas fitter to do the fire and boiler.

 

 

 

 

 

New Car pt 2:

If you read my earlier post, you might be wondering what car has caught my eye and will, hopefully, scratch the itch. Or you’ve stumbled on this because of the clever keywording and taging I’ve done and you thought it was a blog about deforestation in Bolivia. Or scantily clad women.

No such luck, I’m afraid. I’ve never been to Bolivia and I’ve never seen a scantily clad woman (ahem). My next car will almost certainly be …

… expensive. They always are. I start off with the perfectly logical and emotionless attitude that it’s only a metal box with some wheels and a lot of plastic and it’s only function is to transport me from A to B. Then, there is a period of revelation and enlightnement, usually when I’m thumbing through motoring magazines or jealously gazing at my friend’s car. I begin to realise that it’s more than an inanimate object. All my cars to date have had stories and memories attached to them; good and bad. And they have all called in to various places (C, D, E, F etc) on the way between A and B, as I believe in adventures and exploration.

I spend a lot of time in my car, so it has to be a pleasant place to be. It has to be comfortable, secure and I have to have a really good radio. It has to be a pleasure to drive over long and short distances. ‘m not particularly fussy over colour, as long as it isn’t a silly colour (like the pale pnk muscle car I saw the other day leaving work) or white.

Suddeny the cost starts rising. But I don’t drink or smoke and I usually like the simple things so this is one of my indulgences. I tend to plan in advance for the next car, so the money is saved up over a few years.

So here we are. The money is being gathered into a central pot as we speak. All those copper coins I’ve saved up over the years are being counted and carted off to the bank. My lottery winnings have been deployed.

It merely remains to finalise the choice of vehicle, which will come from a shortlist of two ot three. And you’ll be surprised to learn that they are all…

Olympic Flame

Whatever you think about the Olympics, it’s a great spectacle and it brings people together.

In the greater scheme of things, it isn’t important. Today the news is of a terrible massacre of civilians and children in Syria. Go and read about that, please, after you’ve read this, or I will feel guilty.

But in my little world today, the Olympic flame passed close to my house and I decided I would go and see it. Hundreds of people lined the streets. Traffic was halted but I saw no bad feeling or anger. Families were out together. There was cheering and clapping. The atmosphere was friendly, there were lots of smiles and laughter.

Is there anything wrong with that?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.