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Hindsight and Occupational Choices by Michael Bloor

I think it’s quite common for people to chat to their dead parents/spouse/buddies from time to time. In Andy’s case, he would chat to his dead dad, usually when the car was stuck in traffic. Andy’s dad had been a no-nonsense kinda guy and his contributions to these conversations tended towards telling Andy not to be so bloody daft; which advice Andy usually found helpful.

On this occasion (a late-night hold-up, northbound on the M80, both lanes blocked), Andy had been telling his dad about a job offer in Cardiff. His current Glasgow job was safe as houses, and the Cardiff contract was only for three years, but he really fancied that Cardiff job.

Instead of his usual admonition to ‘not be so bloody daft’, his dad surprised Andy by suggesting that he come along with him – in spirit – to a late-night Deceased Persons Discussion Group: ‘Tonight, it’s about The Jacobite Rebellion and The Battle of Sheriffmuir, 1715. I thought you’d be interested, living in Dunblane [Dunblane is just a mile or so from the Sheriffmuir – ed.]. There are usually some very interesting dead people there. Last week, we discussed Postmodernism…’

‘Eh dad?? What the hell do you know about postmodernism?’

‘Bloody cheek. I contributed…’

‘This, I gotta hear: what did you say?’

‘If you must know, I told em that in 2002, on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs programme, the then Archbishop of Canterbury was the guest and one of the eight discs he chose to take to the desert island was ‘The Hedgehog Song’ by the Incredible String Band. I said that the fact that you could mention ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury’, ‘Desert Island Discs’ and ‘The Incredible String Band’ in the same sentence proved that we are living (and dying) in The Postmodern Era.’ 

[stunned silence]

‘Well son, d’ya wanna come or not? We’re gonna be stuck here for hours: the fire engine’s only just gone past on the hard shoulder…’


‘Guys, this is my boy, Andy. The cottage in Dunblane he lives in once had eighteenth-century musket balls embedded in the front door. You can see the original door in the local museum…’

Andy was introduced to a lot of voices. People like Marie Curie, Neville Chamberlain, Arthur Conan Doyle, Eleanor Roosevelt, Leonard Cohen, the bloke who used to read the news on the BBC, and a number of people who hadn’t been famous at all. His dad said Ingmar Bergman had been there last week, but this time he was a no-show. Rob Roy MacGregor, the eighteenth-century cattle-thief and outlaw, was there as an eye-witness to the battle. But he spoke in Scots Gaelic, which everyone there understood (including Andy’s dad, surprisingly), but not Andy.

Among the crowd of not-so-famous persons, his dad introduced Andy to one he really wanted to talk to. That was his Uncle Raymond, whom he’d never met before, because he’d died before Andy was born. Andy knew the family history. Raymond had been an engineer at the Derby loco works and so he’d joined the REME (Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers) in the Second World War. He was sent to the Western Desert Front to maintain the tanks. It was a helluva job. Never mind the shells, the flies and the heat, to get the spare parts to keep as many tanks operating as possible, the engineers had strip parts from blown-up, disabled tanks on the battlefield: Raymond had to crawl with his toolbox into wrecked tanks that still contained bits and pieces of the previous occupants. He did that day after day.

Raymond had stuck at it. But Andy’s mum had reckoned it must’ve affected him badly. He collapsed in the crowd at a football match, just a year after the war ended. The match was the FA Cup semi-final. In the ambulance, before he passed away, they told him Derby had won. A few weeks later, Andy’s dad had gone to the final – the only time Derby ever won the cup. He’d saved the match programme for the unborn future Andy.

It was football that Andy wanted to talk to Uncle Raymond about: ‘Everybody said that, before the war, you were a talented footballer.’

‘Well Andy, I loved the game, loved playing.’

‘Mum said Derby wanted you to sign as a professional. Is that right?’

‘Uhuh, right enough. But I had an apprenticeship on the railway. The chance of a well-paid job through to retirement. Footballers had a short career and weren’t well-paid back then…’

‘But Uncle Raymond, it could’ve been you playing in the Cup Final at Wembley Stadium!’

Andy thought he might’ve over-stepped the mark, afterall they’d only just met. But Raymond just smiled. Perhaps those who are long dead don’t get angry. ‘Right enough, Andy. I suppose, as well, if I’d been a footballer to trade, then I wouldn’t ‘ve been messin’ about inside red-hot tanks, full of festering body parts. Maybe I took a wrong turning there?’

Michael Bloor

Image: – a screen full of black and white footballs

16 thoughts on “Hindsight and Occupational Choices by Michael Bloor”

  1. Michael

    You excel at combining history and fancy. I like what we Americans call soccer and watch olde uploads on YouTube from time to time, from the UK, fifty years ago. The players looked like average human beings (except all were thin)–one fellow, surname Gilzean (sp) looks exactly like one of the dock workers at my former job. I hope Andy got good job advice!


  2. Thanks Leila! I reckon Andy would’ve listened to his uncle and would’ve chosen the Short-term Cardiff (footballer) option, rather than the long-term engineering-cooking-in-a-derelict-tank option.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ps. Alan Gilzean, what a striker! Maybe he did end up working on the docks over there – they didnt make so much money as footballers in those days. Did he ever mention Tottenham Hotspur FC?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha! No, he didn’t. But one of Alan’s teammates, Mike England, played for the old NASL Seattle team in the late 1970’s. A lot of older players came over to make a few dollars before heading back home. Geoff Hurst, Clyde Best all played in this area of the world when I was very young.


  3. As Yogi Berra said (or something like it) “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”. Somone else mumbled about the road not taken. Anybody half my age probably has roads not taken, but few of the roads are as interesting as the ones mentioned here. Pity those that work with blown up tanks. That may still be a job in some parts of the world. When will they ever learn?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Steven! You wanted to know more: the left flank of each army was shattered and each side thought they’d lost.The highlanders were led by a self-serving idiot;it was a chaotic slaughter; Clan Macrae stood their ground and were all slain. The Battle of Sheriffmuir: knowing less is maybe more!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, you never know what imaginative directions a story will take, let alone the paths of Uncle Raymond and The Archbishop of Canterbury. First time I heard “The Hedgehog Song” mentioned by a writer. It would be very interesting learning experience to be a member of a deceased persons discussion group, except for the pre-requisites.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your depth of knowledge and way you weave history and modern life into such accessible, unpretentious, superlatively written pieces is second to none. I always look forward to reading your work.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Mick,
    I’m glad this was flagged up today as for whatever reason I missed it.
    So sorry!!

    You truly do have an infectious passion for history!!.
    This was such an eclectic mix of ideas, it should never have worked! But as always you simplify the complex.
    There were a few lines in this that were brilliant.
    I loved the line ‘The bloke who used to read the news on the BBC’ – Just shows that the MC knew but didn’t! Maybe Kenneth Kendall? I realise you could have used Dickie Davis but the MC couldn’t be un-knowing about him as most folks of a certain age in Britain would know who he was.
    This was so well put together and a very entertaining read.
    All the very best my fine friend.


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