Thank you for choosing to read my story. But having friends read these fifteen or so thousand words is not why I have written them. There is something quite different I hope you will be inspired to do. Read the three little stories by all means but that is not what this trilogy is about.

Time travel has always been one of the most popular genre of storytelling. It was way back in 1895 that H G Wells published The Time Machine. Doctor Who made his first time and space journey in the Tardis in 1963 while Marty McFly and Doc Brown used a special DeLorean car for their time machine in 1985.

All of these stories use machines to move through the dimension of time.

I do not in any way profess to understand quantum physics but I do know that within the theory an object or a person can be in more than one place and time simultaneously. While we talk about our universe this is just one of an infinite number of universes existing side by side. Within these multiverses anything and everything is possible. If a person can move from one multivers to another then time travel becomes a reality. How to move across these existences is not something so far offered within current understanding of quantum physics.

A writer is not bound by any laws of physics, within his imagination he can make anything happen. In this trilogy of stories I have played with quantum physics to have some fun.

I have always maintained that a writer writes for his own enjoyment. He does not write for an audience of readers. The fun comes from putting the words in an order to develop a plot and to make the characters within that plot come real. If somebody then comes along and actually reads what has been written that is a bonus. If they enjoy the story that is a double bonus.

I was a teenager in that legendary magical decade of the 1960ís when British pop music ruled the world. From our transistor radio sets we would listen to Radio Luxembourg and the pirate radio station Radio Caroline. When the government put the pirate radio stations out of business and gave us Radio One in their place it was a poor substitute.

My first story in this trilogy is very much based on my dislike of Radio One, I am not a fan of the BBC at all. That opening chapter is a little indulgence for me.

In an infinite number of simultaneously existing universes the demise of Radio One and the return of the pirate stations has to be a possibility.

In the second excursion, I travel to World War I where my paternal grandfather was serving in the South Staffordshire Regiment. I never knew him as he died from tuberculosis when my own father was a small child.

My grandfather was honourably discharged due to his illness, all he had were his campaign medals.

In a much earlier conflict, the Afgan Wars, one of my grandfatherís great-cousins won the Victoria Cross for bravery. I have combined his citation with the character of my grandfather to feature in the centre of my second journey.

My final journey takes me back to the years after I left school, to 1967 when I was part of a management training programme within a giant city centre department store.

The store had invested heavily in me. I was seconded from sales to recruit school leavers. Within the month I resigned and took my career into a totally different direction. My final journey takes me back to Lewisís Limited in Birmingham and plays with what may have happened to me had I not handed in my notice.

These fantasies, for fantasies they are, are my own dreams. By allowing you to read them I hope that you find them of interest BUT THAT IS NOT why I am inviting you to read what I have written. NO NOT AT ALL. If I am honest they are not particularly good stories, I have written far better but they will be brilliant at what I want you to do.

What I am doing is to ask you to look at your own place within this universe of ours and to think of three places, situations and times into which you would like to place yourself. Close your eyes and take yourself to each. When you go to bed tonight lay your head on your pillow and dream yourself into them

H G Wells, Dr Who and Marty McFly all used machines to travel in time.  I am suggesting in my stories a different way to move through the multiverse. When you go to sleep you dream, how do you know that dreams are not your moving through the dimensions of space and time ?  Sometimes when you sleep very deeply are those dreams not very real ? When you wake up are you not certain you have been somewhere else ? How about if your sleep is induced, say by way of an aesthetic to have some teeth removed ?

Within my YouTube Channel I have put together a number of songs which I had running through my head while writing this story. Click below and listen.

So read my story.  I hope you enjoy it.

I want to find people to whom I can dedicate each of my stories to.

For just $1 (60p) a month you can become a story patron and have this dedicated to you.

Simply click the Patreon banner and sign up. Your support would be received with much gratitude and you can enjoy having this book dedicated you




"But isn't what you are proposing illegal ?"

"Watch my lips very carefully," my former boss Bert said as he drew his face close to my own.  "Quite frankly I could not give a fuck !"

I am not a prude but that was not a word I would use myself and is not something I would normally write down in reporting speech of another. Not even in a dream. This was a dream of course.

I scanned through the TV listings for the coming week, marking those I thought I would enjoy watching then programmed them into the recording box. This was my regular Friday task.

Among the twenty or so documentaries, dramas and films I clicked was The Boat That Rocked, a film made in 2009 set in the 1960's world of pirate radio stations.  It had been a commercial disaster, I had seen it before, but it was fun and I'd quite like to see it again. Way before my time of course, not 2009 I mean the Marine Offences Act of 1967.  I would enjoy watching the story of Radio Rock and its crazy crew.

Very different was something on BBC4. I would never have picked it out from the listings if the TV magazine had not includes a full page feature. Everyone has heard of Quantum Mechanics but you could count on the fingers of one hand those who worldwide could claim to understand its theory. Most of them would be exaggerating their grasp of its physics.  The A B C of Quantum Theory on BBC4 could be interesting.  I would record it and may even give it a try by watching the recording.

"But isn't what you are proposing illegal ?"

"Watch my lips very carefully," my former boss Bert said as he drew his face close to my own.  "Quite frankly I could not give a fuck !"

Replying to my former managing director's e-mail and agreeing to meet him I knew was folly but Bert Lancaster, founder and former head of Lancaster Homes, did not understand the meaning of the word NO.  He also had a different concept of time, different to the way you or I use the hours in our day.  If Bert had an idea in the middle of the night he would think nothing of phoning up members of his unfortunate management team to share it.

"Nigel nobody takes early retirement at the age of forty-five for goodness sake, that is ridiculous !  Just because your great granny leaves you some money you give up work and buy a dog. What planet are you on boy ?

"It was three quarters of a million pounds,"   I defended and my dog Jimmy is my best friend."

"Three quarters of a million pounds - lose change ! Your dog, he can come and work as well, he can be our mascot.  I'll even pay him a salary if you like."

"I can not perform all of this procedure in one operation," the dentist explained. "We will need three separate surgeries. You should not have left it so long before coming to see me."

Thirty-eight years, that was how long it had been since I had two teeth removed in my childhood.  That was such a terrible experience I never sought dental advice again until my mouth was in such a mess I was left with no choice.

"This is too involved for local aesthetic, it will have to be a general each time. Then when your gums have hardened we can think about dentures."

The thought of wearing false teeth was repulsive.  "Could I not have implants ?"  I asked.

"No."  That was the extent of the dentist's reply No, no explanation just No. Then he added, "If you had taken better care of your teeth and made regular visits you would not be needing the treatment you do."

"I can pay."

"It is not a case of funding. It is just not possible."

If there really was a multiverse, as the programme had suggested, within which there simultaneously existed an infinite number of universes anything and everything was possible there would be one where I had taken better care of my teeth and this major oral surgery would not be needed.

"The receptionist will arrange the dates for you Mr Jones."

My best friend Jimmy was waiting faithfully in the car. "How come," I said to him on the drive home, "dogs do not have dental issues, I mean you never clean your teeth do you ? You don't need false teeth."

The days to my first appointment ticked down. I watched the BBC 4 documentary and thought I understood the basics then saved it on the hard drive. The Boat That Rocked I watched twice and saved that as well.

"But isn't what you are proposing illegal ?"

"Watch my lips very carefully," by former boss Bert said as he drew his face close to my own.  "Quite frankly I could not give a fuck !"

I had heard him say that before.  I had suggested before that his plan was illegal. No, that was in a dream.

"But isn't what you are proposing illegal ?"

"Watch my lips very carefully," by former boss Bert said as he drew his face close to my own.  "Quite frankly I could not give a fuck ! F-U-C-K Fuck !"

Replying to my former managing director's e-mail and agreeing to meet him I knew was folly but Bert Lancaster, founder and former head of Lancaster Homes, did not understand the meaning of the word NO.  He also had a different concept of time, different to the way you or I use the hours in our day.  If Bert had an idea in the middle of the night he would think nothing of phoning up members of his unfortunate management team to share it.

"Nigel nobody takes early retirement at the age of forty-five for goodness sake, that is ridiculous !  Just because your great granny leaves you some money you give up work and buy a dog. What planet are you on boy ?

"It was three quarters of a million pounds,"   I defended and my dog Jimmy is my best friend."

" Three quarters of a million pounds - lose change ! Your dog, he can come and work as well, he can be our mascot.  I'll pay him a salary if you like."

"Ships have cats not dogs.  We don't need money, we have the inheritance."

"That aint going to last for long is it ?

"I'll have the royalties from my writing coming in by then."

"Bollocks Nigel, how many novels have you written ?"


"Six.  How many publishing deals have you got ?"

"None yet but....."

"Take up this job and I'll publish all six for you plus anything else you write.  Can not promise any sales but I can promise publication."

"But what you are proposing is illegal.  Isn't it ?"

"What I am proposing is a declaration of war, a war that is not covered by The Geneva Convention. That does not make it illegal"

I hesitated with my reply, not a wise thing to do when speaking with Bert Lancaster.

"When you worked for Lancaster Homes do you know what everyone called you ?"

Again I hesitated.

"Mr Organiser !  That's what you were of course. You may have been our staff director but when it came to team building you came up with all the ideas and organised all the events.  You took families to Disneyland Paris on company holidays, you founded the angling club, the football team and the Christmas charity appeal.  Now I want you to become our Pirate King and head the boat."

"What about Jimmy, my dog ?"

"He comes as well.  He aint going to jump overboard and we'll not make him walk the plank.  When he shits on the deck you can kick it into the North Sea."

I inherited some money so gave up work to follow my dream of being a writer.  Multi-millionaire Bert Lancster inherited a deep sea trawler from an uncle.  He sold Lancaster Homes and was proposing to set up a pirate radio station with the intention of putting BBC Radio One out of business.

"I know nothing about boats."

"You don't need to.  The captain and first mate from the trawler are staying on.  You'll be in charge of broadcasting, you will be The Pirate King."

"I don't want to end up in prison."

"I donít think much of our profession, but, contrasted with respectability, it is comparatively honest."

"What ?"

"That's a line spoken by the pirate king in Gilbert and Sullivan's opera Pirates of Penzance."

"Oh, but I do not want to go to prison."

"We are going to win this war, the victors in a war are never put on trial."

My former boss slid a file across the desk.  "Take this home, come back at nine o'clock tomorrow morning when you can meet your staff."

"My staff ! I will read it but I doubt I will be back to meet anyone."

"You will," he smiled knowingly.

I turned to leave.

"Hey how about this ?  Brilliant idea !  You write the story of Radio Rock as a novel and I will publish it.  Now that will be a best seller."

"So Jimmy do you want to live on a boat anchored in the North Sea ?"

Jimmy is never far from my company.

"If we go Bert says he will publish all of my novels."

Bert is old enough to remember the launch of BBC Radio One on 30th September 1967.  I was not even born until three years later.

Reading Bert's file:

Radio One is wonderful - Bee - Bee Cee........

Radio One was a pathetic attempt to copy the much loved pirate radio stations.

Radio One is wonderful - like migraine headaches !  That's what people used to chant but the government was determined to smash those independent radio stations so poured unlimited finance into Radio One.

British pop music once ruled the world, America followed in the wake and tried hard to copy. Abba may come from Sweden but they always sang in English.  Radio One destroyed British Pop Music, we will now destroy Radio One and restore this country to its rightful place.

Bert's file was presenting his case well.

Technology has changed the way people listen to music, how it is produced and how it is distributed. 

As the head of the new Rock Organisation, Radio Rock will be our broadcast station which will be anchored in the North Sea.  Music will be played twenty-four seven by a small team of DJ presenters of which you will be the head.

I read on.

We will start off broadcasting a back catalogue from the sixties and seventies, when Britain ruled the pop music world, until new groups and solo singers can be found to fill the studios of the Rock Music Label in Lowestoft.

I was not sure how The Lowestoft Beat would compare with The Mersey Beat.  Did I want  be a part of it all ?  As a writer did I want to become the official biographer ?

On the boat there is planned to be a technician who will enable our programmes to be broadcast at 93.5 on the medium wave.  The signal will be picked up at Lowestoft then sent world-wide through the Internet.  We will carry no advertising but will welcome sponsors.  There will be regular competitions and prizes, expensive prizes well worth having and beyond anything Radio One may offer.  Each DJ presenter will have his own news features but these will be put together in Lowestoft by a team of reporters and grafted into the programmes.  Our news will be about real people doing real things.  There will be no tabloid sensationalism on Radio Rock. We will be positive.

The station, of course, will have its own website.  Our technician is installing webcams on the decks, in the studios and everywhere other than in private quarters.  A subscription of one pound a week will allow the viewing of the cams live from the boat.

Radio One has fifteen million regular listeners, poor fools, Radio Rock will have twenty-five million. We will aim to have 20% watching the webcam service which will bring in five million pounds a week.

A second website will be Rock Tube with videos from back catalogue and all the new material we will produce. We will use listener information from Rock Tube to calculate and publish The Rock Chart, the only pop music chart worth considering.

We will publish a weekly pop music magazine - ROCK ON.  These will be on sale at one pound per copy.  For the first twelve weeks of publication we will provide free copies to every supermarket, corner shop, club, bar, anyone who would like to take them.  For the first twelve weeks the retailers will keep all the sales money, from week thirteen copies will be offered at a wholesale price of fifty pence. We will aim to publish fifteen million magazines every week.

Bert had done his figures and they stood up well.  Only one figure was a negative number, every single person within The Rock Organisation will at every time refer to Radio One as Radio Minus One.

"So what do you think Jimmy, shall we become a part of this adventure ?  Shall we become pirates ? Better than a visit to the dentist"

Jimmy understands English perfectly but has a little difficulty speaking it.  However, his bark confirmed we would indeed be heading down to Lowestoft the next day.

There had never been any doubt in Bert's mind that I would sign up to be his Pirate King and head the boat team of Radio Rock.  He had a display right across one wall of his office showing photographs of those within the different parts of his new empire.

There I was, Nigel Jones, The Pirate King of Radio Rock. Along side me as cabin boy was my ever faithful Jimmy. "Where did you get that picture ?"

Bert smiled.

"Two things,"  Bert explained.  "Everyone has a nick name - need to think up one for the cook, and this is an all male radio station."

"It it to be a," I paused, " you know a gay station ?"  I said the word gay quietly. "I am not married but I am not......"

"Don't be silly !  Those employed on the boat are soldiers in a war, they are there to broadcast so no distractions.  Soldiers do not take their wives and girlfriends with them on deployment. No shagging onboard, shagging happens on shore."

I looked at the photographs - the skipper and his mate.

There was Sparky our technical guy.

How would I get on working with these people ?

Would I be able to establish myself as their boss and yet a friend in such a close and sealed community ?

"There's no name for this team member, it just says COOK,"  I queried.

"I haven't thought of a nick name for him yet and he has no ideas himself."

"When I was a student all the catering staff working in the college refectory were called DORIS.  No matter what their real name they were Doris."

"Get you - college refectory !  Don't you mean dining room ?  But anyway I love it," Bert roared.

I wasn't sure that Doris would !

Then there were the DJ presenters:

There were just not enough members of the team to cover all the broadcasting shifts.  I tried to explain the situation to Bert.  "Assume a presenter can broadcast for six hours in a day, we need four each day.  With days off, time to prepare play lists and so on we are woefully short of people.  We need to hire more.

"Impossible,"  Bert dismissed my thinking.  "We start broadcasting in ten days time and there is just not enough room on the boat for any more.  Everyone has to share a cabin as it is, everyone save yourself - you can bunk up alone."

I thought quickly.  "Sparky..."

"What about him ?"

"May be good if he and I shared a cabin, be good to get to know how the technical side of the operation works.  That would free up two beds."

"What will Jimmy say and you don't fancy sharing with Doris then ?"

"We need more broadcast time."

"Your problem Mr Organiser, you solve it."

An idea was coming to me.  "We could....... If the skipper and mate were to broadcast, if Sparky and Doris were to broadcast we would have enough.  I will be broadcasting myself of course."

"Problem solved then and you won't need to bunk up with Sparky."

"We will have to train them."

"Train them Mr Organiser, you have just over a week and the boat sets sail for its anchorage tomorrow."

"I'll start working on a programme schedule.".

"I want twenty-five million listeners on day one.  I want Radio Minus One to fall to a single million."

"It will be done.  Jimmy and I will get on with it."

When Radio One, oops I mean Radio Minus One, Tony Blackburn launched the station  by playing Flowers In The Rain by The Move.  I wondered if Tony Blackburn or any members of The Move were still about. If they were  then perhaps we could get them along to our first programme and the launch of Radio Rock.

NO - not a good idea !

I then wondered if we could knock up our own version of that original Radio One jingle complete with the migraine headache. Now that would be a good idea.

I needed to come up with a play list for the launch show.  Immediately Abba and Thank You For The Music came to mind.  I would include every member of the boat in the show with each playing their all-time favourite.  I called everyone together to discuss the idea

Better make it on the bridge," Captain Flint said. "I am preparing to get under way.  I guess my song will have to be Sailing by Rod Stewart.

"Mine would be Yellow Submarine," Billy Bones smiled.

"I'll chose something a bit kinky," Big Al smiled.  "I'll go for The Legend Of Xanado by Dave Dee, Dozey, Beaky, Mick and Titch."

"What's kinky about that ?"  Sparky asked.

"Have you seen the video with the guy and the whip ?"

"Like a bit of kink do you Big Al ?"

"Sparky are you ever going to lose your virginity." Al made the gesture of cracking a whip.

"Since you have given me the name of a woman, and that IS kinky," Doris sneered, "My choice has to be Queen and I Want To Break Free."

If only we could find another Freddie Mercury. Could The Rock Organisation do that ?

"What about you Sparky."

"Madonna Like a Virgin,"  Big Al giggled.

"I'll ignore that."

Sparky took out his phone and clicked to play something.

"What was that ?"

"It's Sparky in morse code. I'm going to make it into my own jingle.". 

"Clever.  What about your music choice ?"

"Dawn Trader ?"

"Here Comes The Sun, goes with my name."

"Night Hawk ?"

"The greatest single ever released, John Lennon's Imagine."

"And Simon, what's your choice ?"

He laughed.  "Can't you guess. Simon Says, 1910 Fruitgum Company."

"Excellent,"  I said, "Thank you all.  We'll include all of them in our opening show and we'll kick off with Flowers In The Rain."

"You've forgotten  someone," Sparky said.

I looked round and counted everyone in my mind.  "No I haven't."

"Isn't Jimmy a member of the team ? What's his choice ?"

"How much is that doggie in the window," Big Al suggested.

"Patti Page re-released the single as a campaign anthem for animal shelters."

"OK we'll let Jimmy play it but that gives us eleven songs and it messes up an idea I have."

"What ?"

"Ultra top secret, as soon as the show has been broadcast we put all on to Rock Tube to produce our first chart.  Our first Top Ten but now we have eleven."

"Turn it up to number eleven," Sparky smiled.

I was  beginning to like Sparky. We would work well together.

"Brilliant ! Radio Minus One can have its top ten, we'll have our Top Eleven."

"Yeh,"  Big Al agreed. "Sparky you know what ? Once you get your first shag and lose your cherry you'll become dangerous."

I went back to my room, or should that be cabin, and worked on the  broadcast schedules. Sparky came in.  "Brilliant idea mate, thank you,"  I said. "Any preferences for your shore leave ?"

"Any time King, I'm not fussed at all."

"Shagging takes place on shore, "I smiled, "not on the boat.  Sounds like you need a shag to shut Al up."

Sparky winked an eye.  "Got to go King."

"You've only just come in."

"I'm setting up a test for the webcams.  When I have finished I'd like you to check them across the website."

"Well Jimmy there is something our genius boss did not factor in."

Bert is very good at making money, it is like an instinct for him but there is a careful thinking in any operational policy he puts into place.  No shagging on the boat, all shagging ashore has importance. Radio Rock's audience will include teenagers and children so who is bonking who can not be a part of what we do. 

"Jimmy what am I going to do ?"

As I pondered Sparky came back into the cabin and started to apologise. "King, or may I call you Nigel ? Can you forget what I just said ? I was being silly, making a joke that was not funny."

"Of course." I didn't know what he was talking about.  He hadn't talked, he's just grinned enigmatically.

"Thank you."

"Is Al's teasing upsetting you ?"

"A bit but nothing I can not handle.  I have worked with Al before. Can we chat about the webcams for a moment."

And so the topic of conversation was brought to an end.   Temporarily.

I put into place a series of rehearsals for the opening show and made the webcams free until we moved to a time of regular programme scheduling.  I set a series of audience targets.  Declaring war on Radio Minus One was going to be fun.

I started to learn how Bert had put the team together, how he recruited each individual.  Bert must have used his instinct to the full and I also knew he would have checked his instinct by planting a spy in the team to keep an eye on me.  But who ?  It was not Sparky, I was sure of that, but it could be any of the others. Any of them at all.

Sparky had the webcam system operating right across the boat, everywhere with the exception of the cabins. He had cameras looking out to sea and drones which could fly up and look down on the boat.  From an incredibly well designed web page resembling a studio control gallery the viewer could pick out the cameras he wanted to watch and then edit footage.

Doris suggested he bake a giant celebration cake to commemorate our fist programme.  We could cut it up into small portions, pack them into individual boxes and auction them for charity.

Flowers In The Rain would blast the airwaves of Radio Rock at six o'clock in the morning on Sunday 25th October.  The cake auction and all other money we raise on launch day was going to support Lowestoft RNLI.

The news gathering team at Lowestoft was organised with reporters touring up and down the country interviewing real people gathering their opinions on our launch.

Bert had distributed five million car stickers declaring love for Radio Rock.  There were spotters who would take the numbers of cars showing off our stickers.  Every day when we were on air we would announce ten winners. Each would win a prize of one thousand pounds in cash with another thousand to be donated to a charity of the winner's choice.  In the war of public relations it was:

Radio Rock - 1

Radio Minus One - 0

And we had not yet played a note of music on the air.

Long term success and ultimate victory needed our organisation to find new singers and song writers.  We needed characters like Freddie Mercury and writing talents of Lennon and McCartney. Victory meant putting the balls back into music.  Modern technology has removed all the bass leaving a tinny, shallow sound.  The task was to put back the boom. We had to find technology to place in smart phones, tablets and so on which could bring back the balls.

I lay in the bottom bunk, Jimmy was wandering about the boat somewhere. Sparky was already aware of my compelling desire to bring back the boom but even the wealth of Bert could not finance the research needed to find an answer.

"To the music industry today it does not matter,"  Sparky explained.  "Today's songs are written round the systems used to reproduce them.  Call up Queen on YouTube, play Flash or We Are The Champions and it does not work as it should. Play the CD on a full stereo system and the effect fills the room."

"What's the answer ?"

"Don't have a clue but we do need to find one."

If Sparky could find the answer, patent it then licence it to selected broadcasters the others, including Radio Minus One, would just give up.

As each day went by excitement grew in anticipation of our first broadcast. That excitement doubled day on day.  I kept wondering what was being said in the offices of BBC Radio Minus One.  This could be a war that was over as soon as it started. Also with each day I found my team developing way beyond my expectations.  Everyone on the boat was now a firm friend but Sparky was my special friend.

"It's live, it's real, it's here - this is The Pirate King launching Radio Rock at ninety-seven point two on the medium band and what better way to declare war on Radio Minus One than to start our new, exciting station with the same music that started the decline of British Popular Music all those years ago BUT this time the song heralds not a decline but a revival."

I tapped the computer screen and the migraine headache jingle hit millions of our new listeners. By the end of our first programme we had our fist chart live on Rock Tube. Twelve hours later we could publish the Top Eleven.

1.     How Much Is That Doggie In The Shelter

2.    I want to Break Free

3.    Sailing

4.    Yellow Submarine

5.    Imagine

6.    Thank You For The Music

7.    Legend of Xanado

8.    Excerpt From A Teenage Opera

9.    Here Comes The Sun

10. Simon Says

11.  Flowers In The Rain

Bert loved the chart and was delighted Radio Minus One's entry came in at the bottom.  We all smiled at Jimmy the Dog picking number one. "For every person who donates one pound via Radio Rock I will match it," Bert announced, "and we will give the money to The Dogs Trust." A brilliant idea  but I doubt our CEO expected seven hundred and ninety-nine thousand people chipping in a pound. Cost him a fortune but every tabloid newspaper told the story and Radio Minus One did not cover it on any of its news bulletins.

By the tenth day of Radio Rock we were established as a force to be reckoned with and the lights burned late in the management offices of the BBC.

I had just come off a four hour shift, handing over to Big Al and climbed into bed to relax and think on he success of our operation when an excited Sparky burst in and jumped on to my bed.  "Move over, he said pushing me against the wall, "I've solved it."

"Solved what ?  Sparky I am tired."

Ignoring me he said. We've been coming at this arse about face. Talking of arses, shift yours over a bit and make some room."


"Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells - Virgin Records - Richard Branson, do you remember what they put on the album cover ?"

"A bent bit of tubular steel."

"No, no the words." Sparky thrust a piece of paper in front of me.

This stereo record cannot be played on old tin boxes no matter what they are fitted with. If you are in possession of such equipment please hand it into the nearest police station. 

"A clever bit of marketing by Richard Branson."

"But you could not play Tubular Bells on a mobile device, it could never work, Way back then people would have listened to Tubular Bells on hi-fi systems, they would not have been seen dead trying to reproduce the sound on a tiny loudspeaker."

"People do not have hi-fi systems like that these days."

"The TV is the centre of the home, agreed ?"

"Yeh I suppose so."

"Most homes have several sets and all are capable of playing DVD and CDs.  All at high quality."

"So..... ?"

"People are addicted phones, pads and such like.  Let them find music from any device they want but direct them to music with balls played via their TV sets. What would you say is the best music video ever released ?"

I thought for a moment then said, "Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen, has to be."

"Of course it is. We can market speakers for devices but change the focus of the way people listen to music.  We sell high quality DVD editions with sound at a quality beyond anything people can find on mobile devices, direct them to their TV sets and sell video versions of the songs."

"You may have something."

Sparky excitedly said, "Call the boss man."

"Yeh I'll do that. In the morning."

"Freddie Mercury, we need to find another one like him."

Of course everyone knows the legend but Sparky would have been a child when Freddie Mercury died, I was still quite a youngster myself at the time.

"I wonder what life would have been like if you had been Freddie Mercury."

"That's a strange thing to say. Owch !"  I grabbed the side of my face with a hand.

"What's the matter ?" Sparky asked.

"My jaw. A sudden bolt of pain. God it hurts."

"What have you done ?"

"Toothache. Just come on. No idea why."  Hell, it felt like someone was pulling all my teeth out with a pair of rusty pliers.

"Sparky !" I paused then said. "Big Al is always teasing you, have you ever.............. ?"

"Just once, with.............."

Suddenly the ship's speaker system activated as Big Al's show thundered out.  My toothache was of little importance. It was gone.

"Sparky, you must come quickly," Captain Flint burst in. "You've got to get down to the control room.  Al is saying he is going to make a special announcement, he is up to something. You'd better come as well King"


"And the name of the boat shall be six-six-six.  This is Big Al of Radio Rock, the world's newest and best radio station two tracks away from the biggest announcement in the history of Popular Music.  In years to come people will ask if you were here so go and bang on your neighbour's door and tell him to tune in to Radio Rock.  While you do that here is Ray Stevens and The Streak.

"Oh my god he is going to streak. Turn the webcams off quickly."

"We can't turn anything off, he's locked us out of the control room."

"How many are logged in to the cam site ?"  I demanded.

"No idea, we can't get into the control room.  Perhaps two thousand but he is tweeting like crazy so it could be five thousand."

"Five thousand people will get to see Big Al's private parts on webcam !" Sparky said under his breath but I did not hear what he said.

"That was a load of old rubbish wasn't it ?   Big Al said.  "One more track before Big A's big announcement.   Did you have an er-hum dream last night ?  This guy did."

Turning up the fader he played Max Romeo.

How the hell was I going to explain this to Bert Lancaster ? Mr Organiser he had called me, his beautiful project was descending into disorganised chaos.  I looked to Sparky but he had no answer.

"And the name of the boat shall be six-six-six. This is Big Al with an important announcement that will rock popular music. Tomorrow night at midnight here in the North Sea Radio Rock's webcams will be shutting down for the four hours of my show.  To those of you who subscribe to our premium service I have two words for you - TOUGH and LUCK !  The world takes its time from London so this is happening at midnight London time, if you reside in more obscure bongo bongo land villages......"

"The press will crucify him for saying that," Sparky said.

"All of you in bongo bongo land villages the like of Los Angeles, New York, Paris or Berlin, set your watches to London time."

"What ever is he up to ?"

"All you teenyboppers need to be tucked up in bed by then, this is not for you this is for big boys and girls only.  For the duration of my show I will broadcast naked, stark bollock naked. We are going to have a naked disco. A world-wide naked disco."

"Oh no you will not,"  I said to myself.

"What's more every member of the crew here on Radio Rock will be dancing naked with me. You at home can all join in."


Al could not have heard me from his position inside the studio but no doubt knew what I was saying.

"That's what it's all about - bollocks - unless, of course, you are a lady listener. I want you all to listen to  my show while you are naked. I want you to pledge one pound for your nudity via our website.  That money will then be given to the work of The International Red Cross.  So you boys in the media please report the Pure Naked Radio here at Radio Rock then donate one hundred pounds for every column inch you print.  BBC Radio Minus One, BBC News, ITN, SKY and all the rest you need to donate five hundred pounds for every minute of airtime you give to reporting. Now here's something you can all do 'cos you'll not be needing them for my show tomorrow night."

The speakers blared out Saint Cecila and Leap Up And Down Wave Your Knickers In The Air.

Big Al unlocked the studio door.

"Ten - nine - eight - seven," I counted.

"What are you doing ?"  Sparky asked.

"Six - five - four, counting down to the nuclear explosion in Lowestoft when Bert hears what has just happened."

"Bert ?"  Big Al giggled.  Bert !  Oh how funny you are.  This was his idea not mine."

"You what !"

"Yeh, yeh Bert knew you would suspect he had a spy on the boat. I am a friendly spy and this is just a little joke at your expense."

"So nobody is going to get naked then ?"

"Oh yes we are and we are going to make millions for charity."

"Not including me."

"Come on King,"  Sparky said, "it could be fun."

Big Al had to finish his show, the entire boat was now awake and excitedly talking about the all naked radio broadcast.  The world round people were talking about it, Twitter went into meltdown. Almost immediately rolling news channels picked up on the story. But I, The Pirate King, would not be taking part. I went back to my bed.

I was not cross with Big Al, I wasn't even cross with Bert but I was cross.  The stunt was fine as far as it went but why did it have to include me ?

"Pledges for Al's show are already up to twenty million pounds.  All of the tabloids are backing us.  The world's media is waiting to see how Radio Minus One will react." Sparky poked his head round my cabin door.

"I see."

"You are going to join in aren't you ?"

No way was I joining in and, Bert's idea or not, I would do everything in my power as The Pirate King to stop it happening.

The toothache came back, my whole mouth ached.

"You can start to wake up now," a voice far above me was saying.

"Sparky is that you ? We've got to stop him."

"How do you feel ?"

"Terrible. Where's Sparky ?"

"The nurse will take you to the recovery room then when you are ready we can call a taxi to take you home."

"What ?"

I had no doubt who I was and knew all too well where I was but was far from certain about what had just happened. Yes, of course I had been through a dental operation to have some rotten teeth removed, my mouth was screaming out its testimony to that.  But where had I just been ?

I was, I am Nigel Jones the not very successful author who had been to the dentist. So who was The Pirate King, the head of Radio Rock ?  All that was a dream of course. No it was not. As the anaesthetic cleared I knew it was real, it was not a dream.

My boss, my former boss at Lancaster Homes, my boss - Bert, Sparky, Big Al and all the rest were real.

Big Al !  I had to stop him.  I had to thwart his plan for a naked disco.  If it went ahead the surely I would be forced to take part.  I could never do that. I had awoken from my dream just in time.

"I think you will be ok for a taxi now to take you home," the nurse said. "I'll call one for you."

On the back seat of the taxi was a copy of The Sun newspaper. I picked it up to read on my short journey home. My heart thumped. The headline !

Pirate DJ Plans Naked Disco

There it was reported in graphic detail, everything from my dream. It wasn't a dream was it ?  I had been there.

At home I watched the quantum physics recording again.  It was real !  I had not travelled through time but had slipped momentarily into a parallel universe, one that overlapped with my own.  Radio Rock was real, real if the report in the Sun was to be believed.  I had been a part of it.

My next dental appointment was in two weeks time.  Two weeks before I could return. With luck Big Al's naked extravaganza would be over, happening without my having to be a part of it.

"It's not easy," the Major said, "but it is a reality of war."

"When I trained to be a doctor I trained to save lives not to take lives."

"You did not take the poor wretch's life, the firing squad did that, all you did was to certify his death."

"He was so young."

"Cowardice in the face of the enemy is no respecter of age and is a capital offence, he knew that and so was entirely responsible for his own death."

My mouth was strange without the teeth extracted on my first visit to the dentist's surgery.  It would be even stranger when more were taken out. The lower contours of my face had changed, compressed and made me look silly.  Although the prospect of wearing dentures is repulsive I will be pleased to have my normal looks returned.

Every day I looked forward to returning to Radio Rock. The next dental aesthetic would be my passport. I would share a piece of my mind with Big Al, he would not pull another stunt like that.  Big Al would not be big any longer if he did not tow the line, he would be Little Al or plain and simple Alan Richardson

"Squad take aim."

The two or at most three seconds pause was an eternity.


Six rifles cracked their deadly sound and the wretched man, he was hardly a man, was no more. The medical examination was a formality, he was dead. Six bullets accurately fired into his heart showed an explosion where they had simultaneously hit his chest. Yes he was dead.

Thirty minutes earlier he had been alive. My examination of his body declared him fit and well, fit and well enough to face the firing squad, fit and well enough to die.

Paperwork completed and signed  I returned to the field hospital behind the lines. It was not long before the pressure of work stopped my mind circling round that terrible early morning duty.

"How are you feeling Sergeant ?"

"A bit like Long John Silver."

"Medical science has come a long way since the days of pirates and barber surgeons. We will be able to do a lot better for you than a wooden leg."

Pirates ? Pirates ? Why was this conversation striking a nerve somewhere ? Pirates ?

"Thank yee doctor," he mimicked the voice of Long John Silver then tugged his forelock..

It had been a choice of amputating his leg or leaving him to die. When the choice I faced was explained to my patient after the operation the loss of a leg was of no importance to him.

"You'll be on your way home later today, back to Blighty, a spell in a convalescence home and back to work. What did you do before the war ?"

"I worked within a football club, Aston Villa in Birmingham."

"Oh no !"

"Don't worry Doc I wasn't a player. I was chief cashier and looked after the money.  I'm sure they will have me back, I use fingers to count the pounds shillings and pence, not my toes !"

Many of the men I treated came from Birmingham and many of them from the Aston area of the city. The 4th South Staffordshire was fighting at the front line with our field hospital being the nearest to them.

"Doc could you do something for me ?"

"If I can, of course I will try."

"There's a man back up at the front, he's in my squad. I'm no medic but I know he's not well. It's his chest you see, he's really not well but refuses to report sick. Could you check him out ?  He's a good man and a brave one but he is ill."

"Captain Richardson."

I turned on hearing my name.

"Can you take a look at this man ?"

"I'll be back,"  I said to the sergeant, "you can tell me about him and I'll do what I can."

I moved to the patient who I was called to see. "What's wrong ?"

"It's his wound Captain Sir, it doesn't look good and it stinks."

It was not good. That's a bad infection. I'll have to cut it out.

Limbs can be amputated but an abdomen can not be amputated. The man did not stand a lot of chance but I would do what I could.  June 1916 and this terrible war was killing and maiming like no other in history.   More of my patients die than survive, I dare not think how many are being slaughtered every day on the field of battle. Then add to this tally sending a poor boy who lost his never to face a firing squad !

Captain Alan Richardson Royal Army Medical Corps, what is the point of your being here ?

"How's it going ?" The Major stood beside me.

I shook my head.

"You did your best. He may yet pull through."

"I doubt it Sir."

"In a war people die, many people die and doctors, no matter how many there are, can not stop that from happening."

"Doctors don't die though so they ?" I said to myself silently.   When this hell is over I will go home, how many of these patients in my care will go home again ?

In the operating theatre I tried hard to save the life of the man with the infected wound.  He would die with honour and as a hero, unlike the one they shot at dawn earlier for being a coward.  Hero or coward death is the same for all.

As I worked on patient after patient I could not forget the boy I had certified fit enough to be shot.  I have signed many death certificated but never before had my hand trembled the way it did when I signed his.  I did not forget the sergeant and his request for help.  If a member of his squad was indeed too ill for active service, if I could arrange an honourable discharge for him then that would be a life I had saved.

"Where's the sergeant who was in this bed ?"

"He's on transport to Blighty."

"When did he go ?"

"About two hours since Captain. He left a message for you Sir."

The nurse reached into a pocket then handed me a small scrap of folded paper. I opened it to read.

Private William Ashton Number Two Squad A Platoon South Staffordshire Regiment.

I resolved to help him.

"You are a volunteer," Major Barnes said, "I am a volunteer. If either of us were conscripted men or if either of us were regular army I would not give your request a second thought but even so what you are asking me to do is not possible."

"Please, Major, Please."

."How much sleep have you had in the past twenty-four hours ?"

"Not a lot."

"How much ?"

"I could not sleep last night as my mind worried over my duty for the morning.  I left for the firing squad at three and was back by six.  I've been working ever since."

The Major looked at his watch. "Nineteen thirty hours, you need to go off duty. I need you back at ten hundred hours. What you do between now and then is your business but ten hundred hours, not so much as one minute later.  There's a Lieutenant up at the front who was my fag at school, with a bit of luck he'll be on duty when you arrive. Mention my name and he will help you."

I retraced my steps along the supply trench to the area headquarters, the same trench I had followed at the start of the day.  My mission then was clear, now I did not know what it was.  Would I be able to save a life ?

"Hello again doctor," the lieutenant smiled, "we don't have another execution scheduled for tomorrow."

"I know, thank goodness for that."

As a member of the Royal Medical Corps the form of address took on several different forms.  Being addressed by a subordinate it should have been Sir. From a superior officer or one of equal rank protocol said that Captain was right.  Universally Doctor was in general use even Doc. I preferred doctor or doc to captain or sir, it gave my position a better respect and acknowledged the years I had spent in order to qualify. Army rank and promotion were dependant entirely `on survival.

"I am looking for a soldier in the South Staffordshires."

"Who ? There are seven hundred members of the South Staffs on this area of the front line alone."

"Private William Ashton, number two squadron, A platoon."

"A platoon, OK."

"Is there a problem with that Lieutenant ?"

"Not necessarily Doc. It's not a big offensive or anything but A is going over the top at seven thirty hours. If you want to see Private......" he hesitated.

"Private Ashton," I confirmed, "Private William Ashton."

"William Ashton, right - yes.  You'll need to get up there and back before the push."

"Is it far ? Do I have time ?"

"It's not so far Sir but I can't spare anyone to go with you. You'll need a movement order Sir, I can write one for you if you can tell me your business with Private Ashton and I will need the name of your commanding officer."

"There was a sergeant in my hospital and from the symptoms he described to me Private Ashton may be sick, very sick.  He could be contagious or at the least a liability to the platoon.  I need to examine him and if he is indeed unwell he has to be evacuated."

"I see. And who is your commanding officer if I may ask ?"

I told him.

"F-A-G," he yelled making me jump.  "I wondered if it was him. I was his fag at school. F-A-G !"

"I know what a FAG is Lieutenant. I didn't go to an expensive school but I do know what the FAG system is."

"In which case I think the duty lieutenant needs to change the rota and come with you."

"Can you do that ?"

"My former FAG Master would demand it.  I will get the corporal to cover for me. There won't be a lot happening until the push starts."

I had little accurate idea what Private Ashton's medical condition was, I had no information beyond that the sergeant had explained. Claims of a disease, contagious or not, was gross speculation but my intervention could save the private's life.  The lieutenant had said the area of the front where Ashton was serving was not far. It was two miles. The closer we got the more the pathway deteriorated.  I wondered how our men could possibly be properly supplied with access routes the like of that we trudged through.  I vowed that when the war comes to an end I will write a book telling of my experiences.

In spite of the moon it was dark, dim above the parapet but pitch dark in the trench, I dreaded to think what my feet were stepping into as they sank into the spongy surface. Sometimes they trod on firm ground and others they sank in to the depth of my ankles. I knew there were rats, even without the noise of their scurrying and slopping through the mud I could smell them. I was going to examine Private Ashton who his sergeant believed had a contagious disease. Were there any soldiers in this filth who were not riddled with one illness or another.  How long before there was an outbreak of bubonic plague ?

When we eventually found the platoon it would be impossible to examine my patient in these conditions.  I needed to be able to see and I needed clean conditions.  Our field hospital was primitive but paradise compared to where we were.

Quite amazingly it was not difficult to locate Private Ashton.  He was asleep leaning against the trench wall. Either side of him men were doing the same. Asleep yes but nobody was deep in slumber.

"Private Ashton,"  I gently shook his shoulder.

Instinctively he gripped his Lee-Enfield. In the dark it would have been hard for him to see my features but he could see I was an officer. He moved to attention.

"I am Captain Richardson and this is Lieutenant...."

"Sir," he saluted.

I put my hand  to take down his. "No need for that William."  I deliberately used his Christian name.

"I need to speak with you," I continued. "But not here. The Lieutenant has drawn up movement orders for you to accompany me back to my hospital."

"Why ? What have I done ? What's wrong ? Is there bad news from home ?"

"No, no,"  I tried to assure him. "Nothing at all to worry about.  I just need to speak to you.  You can leave your kit here, you will be back in a few hours time."  That last sentence was a lie, at least I hoped it was.

Within one hundred yards I knew Private Ashton would not be returning to the front. It was dark, I could not see him beyond a shadowy shape and any examination was impossible yet I knew what was wrong with him.

Another few hundred yards and the night flashed with an exploding brightness seen only on a summer day.

"Shells !" William said. "The Bosh are shelling our position, I have to go back."

"No Ashton, you are to come with us and that is an order.  Move quickly."

A second shell, third, fourth and fifth all exploding behind us. The ground shook, the sound was so loud any further conversation was quite impossible. Within seconds the shells were exploding behind us and in front of us. We were in the middle.

"Damn Bosh," Ashton yelled, "can't even aim their guns properly." His voice was faint and only just audible over the noise.

A shell fell close to our right, it's explosion filled my ears. I felt something fly past my face. The Lieutenant fell to the floor and sank into the filth.

"He's been hit." I heard Ashton say that much but another explosion prevented his hearing my reply.

"No Private, if he had we would all be dead."

I reached to pull him up and out of the filth.  He wasn't dead but unconscious.  I felt his pulse, put my head to his face and listened to his breathing. My hand touched something by his side. I pulled it away instinctively and shuddered.

"A rat," Ashton said. "He's been hit by a rat !"

Another explosion prevented my saying anything in response but Ashton was correct. The shell must have sent the vermin up into the air. It had hit the Lieutenant and made him senseless. How long before he regained consciousness ?

"We've got to get out of here." Maybe Ashton heard me, maybe he did not but he knew what I was saying.

I tried slapping the Lieutenant on the cheek but he was not to be aroused.

"We'll have to carry him," Ashton said.  I heard him say that.

Carry him we did with shells exploding round us until we reached the hospital but that was a way off. Eventually the shelling was at our rear. Then it stopped, as quickly as it started it stopped .without notice.

My medical gut feeling was that the lieutenant was not seriously injured, there were times along the way when he started to rouse before slipping back into his stupor.  I needed to examine him as quickly as I could but he would be alright and back at his post within a day or at the most two.  Private Ashton, however, was indeed ill - seriously ill. The way he worked with me to carry, to drag, the lieutenant back to hospital without collapsing showed a strength of courage and endurance beyond his ailing physical abilities. I made a vow as we struggled through the mud to recommend Private William Ashton for the highest medal those who deal with such matters could see fit. I also promised when I wrote my book William Ashton would have a prominent part within it.

"Ah you are back,"  The Major said.

"Still on duty Sir ?"

My boss smiled. "So what happened ?  What have you done to my FAG ?  Were you caught out by that bombardment ?  Idiot Bosh way off target, couldn't hit a barn door at ten paces."

I quickly explained what had happened.

"Attend to the Private, I'll look after my FAG, then you can tell me more."

Private William Ashton was a tall thin man, handsome and smart even though he was covered in trench mud.

"So how old are you William ?"

"Twenty-four Sir."

"No need for the Sir, Doc will do. It's only this war that gives me my military rank. What did you do before the war ?"

"I was a toolmaker.  My father owns a workshop making nails and I made tools for the workers to use."

"He must be missing you. Are you married ?"

"Not yet but I hope to be."

I nodded and invited him to continue his story.

"There are two sisters, munitions workers, billeted with my family.  I rather hope the older sister will......., you know."

I smiled.

"You were very brave,"  I said, "I would never have been able to save the Lieutenant and brought him to safety without you."

"Is he alright ?"

"It's only concussion but things are more serious for you."

"I wasn't hurt, I am fine."

"You are an intelligent man, William. You know you are unwell. You do not need a doctor to tell you that."

He lowered his head and stopped looking at me.

"I am a doctor and I do not need to examine you to know what the matter is."

"It's TB isn't it Doc ?"

"I will examine you of course but I believe it is indeed tuberculosis. It's a Blighty for you. "

"But I could work behind the lines, I do not need to go back to England.  I could be an orderly here."

I shook my head. "Blighty William, only in Blighty can you receive the treatment you need."

"Am I going to die Doc ?"

"If you stay here in France you most certainly will.  If your lungs do not get you a German bullet will."

"If I go back to England what are my chances ?"

"Better than here. With treatment from a sanatorium, and taking care of yourself you will be able to live for a long time to come.  Long enough to make that girl of yours your wife and to have a family."

"You can wake up again now, that all went very well.  Rinse your mouth."

I was back. As the haze cleared I knew who I was again. I also knew who I had been.

William Ashton, did he return to Blighty ?  How was his life ?  How did he cope with his illness ?  Did he receive a medal for his bravery ?

Back home, my mouth numb and strange, I took out my laptop and began a search.

William Ashton VC.  He had his medal.

On the night of 20th June 1916 Private William Ashton, South Staffordshire Regiment, and Captain Alan Richardson, Royal Army Medical Corps, carried an injured and unconscious officer for more than one mile bringing him to safety. Without regard to their own safety they carried Lieutenant Peterson through heavy enemy bombardment.

Captain Richardson was awarded his Victoria Cross posthumously, he was killed in action during The Battle of The Somme.

I checked the date for The Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916 to 18th November 1916. So I presume Captain Alan Richardson did not get to write his book, he did not get to tell his story. Or have I just told at least part of it for him ?

My next dental appointment is still six weeks away. My mouth is a mess.  The idea of wearing dentures is far from appealing but I long for the remaining teeth to be removed, for my gums to harden and the dreaded false teeth to be fitted. I look strange, my face below my nose is sunken in and I am embarrassed for people to see me. I am becoming a bit of a recluse, my laptop now being my primary source of contact with the outside world.

But my looking forward to my next appointment has far more about it than that. Where in space and time will my next adventure take me ?

I would like to return to Radio Rock, preferably after Big Al's disco folly ! I am not sure if I finished telling the story of the pirate radio station or not. Did what I penned help close down Radio One. I am not an amazing fan of Twitter, I know it works but how or why is a mystery, yet it is becoming a force within Great Britain to revoke the BBC's charter and drag this white elephant into the digital age. Oh I am showing a bit of my prejudice here.  Better move on.

In my second excursion I had Big Al's name which I don't quite understand. I don't want to back there, not simply because of the horrors and folly of World War One but Doctor Alan Richardson Royal Army Medical Corps was killed shortly after I left.

So where will quantum mechanics take me ?

The Internet is a wonderful thing, the greatest invention since the wheel. I have been researching the layman explanations of the physics. I know I did not dream Radio Rock and Private William Ashton, I travelled to a parallel universe while unconscious. Quantum Theory allows for an object, a person, anything, simultaneously to be in more than one place and one time. It is also possible to be dead and alive at the same time. There is the universe in which we live but this is just one of an infinite number of similar areas in the multiverse. Quantum Theory explains that travel between these universes exists and within it anything is possible.

So what is going to be possible for me on my next visit to the dentist ?

"Mr Ashton," the sales manager shouted across the shop floor.  "Come here NOW !"

I was just nineteen years old and not really a mister but since joining the department store's management training programme two years earlier I had always been called Mr Ashton, my christian name of David was seldom, if ever, used.

"The General Manager wants to see you !" Tom Manning, my department sales manager said. "I don't know what you have been up to but boy I would not want to be in your shoes !"

Lewis's Department Stores employed two thousand members of staff and operated on a strict hierarchical system.  At the top was the General Manager. There were then two Assistant General Managers, one in charge of sales and on in charge of administration.  I was on the sales side of the company although briefly I had been assigned to the Staff Department which was part of administration.  In sales there were five Group or Merchandise Managers who looked after a number of sales departments. At the head of each department there was a Sales Manager. Each department had an Assistant Sales Manager,  Some of the larger departments had two assistant sales managers, ours had three.

Within the day to day running of each department there were sales assistants, a porter and a stock controller. Most had one or two young men, in rare circumstances a woman, who was part of the store's special training group. These were the store's future managers.  I was part of the special training group.

The General Manager never spoke to anyone lower in the hierarchy than a Sales Manager, although he preferred to address a Merchandise Group Manager.  There was no way he would waste any words on someone in such a lowly position as myself.  I knew who the General Manager was, I knew what he looked like but I had never heard his voice, had no idea what it sounded like.

"This is going to be the longest of your treatment sessions." the dental surgeon explained. "Today I am going to remove all of the broken roots then we can start to think about fitting dentures for you."

I hoped it would be very long.  I was eagerly anticipating my journey through the doorway of quantum mechanics to a new and exciting destination.  I wanted to return to Radio Rock but only after Big Al's extravaganza.  I hoped I was not going back to the Somme.

It was just after half past one, the General Manager wanted to see me at two. It was a long wait.

"I will tell them you are here," his secretary said.

I hadn't done anything wrong, there were no customer complaints made against me - there had never been a customer complaint against me. I thought I had done well in the two weeks I had been seconded to the staff department to recruit school leavers for the store's training programme.  I had passed my two year day release course so now had a National Retail Distribution Certificate issued by the City and Guilds of London Institute. Only my age was preventing my joining the assistant sales managers training programme.  I was nineteen, assistant managers usually had to be twenty-one or over.

So why did the General Manager want to see me ?  Why did Victor Hanson, the most senior member of the senior management team, want to see me ?

Lewis's had nine stores up and down the country, giant operations in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Stoke-on-Trent, Blackpool and Bristol with Selfridges as its London and tenth store.  Victor Hanson sat on the board of directors managing the Lewis's Selfridges Department Store Group. Why did he want to see me ?

Our department was on the third floor, I took the escalator to the floor above where the General Manager's office was located. With fear and trepidation coursing through my veins I gently knocked on the General Manager's secretary's office.

"I will tell them you are here."

Them ? Who were THEM ? Oh god !  My brain began to wonder if rival store Rackhams, the Birmingham branch of Harrods, would take me on if I were sacked.  Harrods did not pay as well and their training programme was not so good.

THEM comprised of Mr Hanson - The General Manager, Mr Andrews and Mr Fieldhouse - the two Assistant General managers and Mr Harris - Staff Manager.  This was serious.  It was Harris who came out and took me into the oak panelled office.  He was smiling. Was that a good sign ?  The other three were also smiling.

"This is Mr Ashton,"  Harris said.

"David," Hanson said. That was the first time any manager in the store had used that name. "Come and sit down."

I took a seat at the large boardroom table opposite Harris and Fieldhouse. Hanson sat at the head in the chairman's seat. He pulled some papers together, shuffled then pushed them aside. "You made a good job recruiting school leavers, Mr Harris is very pleased with you."

Harris nodded and continued to smile.

"I am a very busy man David," the General Manager continued, "so I will be quick.  Mr Harris wants you to be a permanent member of his staff and I have agreed."

"My assistant looks after recruiting but he is too busy working with me managing two thousand staff members, I need someone who can do that full time," Harris explained.

"Sales depend on having good people in place. Sales assistants, porters, cleaners, maintenance men, lift operators, display staff and everyone else. Mr Harris will tell you what the store needs and it will be up to you to find them," Fieldhouse said smiling.

"You mean...... ?" I started to say.

"Find them well,"  The General Manager interrupted. "I don't care how you do it just meet Mr Harris's needs."

I could not believe my eras.

"You will have an office within the staff department,"  Harris explained. "You will have your own budget to spend on recruiting and advertising."

"Your title will be Assistant Staff Manager,"  Harris spoke again, "but you will be a full manager so entitled to eat in the management restaurant, have a manager's charge account and be entitled to twenty percent discount on all purchases within the store."

"Thank you,"  I said then added, "When do you want me to start ?"

"Now,"  Harris replied. "Go back to the third floor and tell Tom Manning then come up to me and I will introduce you to your new office."

"Thank you."

It was hard to believe, nineteen years old and promoted to Assistant Staff Manager.

"So when are you leaving ?"  Tom Manning, my department sales manager, asked.

"Straight away.  Now."

"He sacked you ?"

"No,"  I smiled widely. "He promoted me."

"Never.  You've been made a supervisor ?  Congratulations."  Then Manning added, "The General Manager would not normally be involved in such a level of promotion. That's more a job for the Assistant Staff Manager."

"I am the Assistant Staff Manager,"  I laughed. "Well one of them, there are two of us now.  I'm an extra one.  Mr Harris is going to have two assistants."

"How did it go ?" Harris asked. "I would love to have been a fly on the wall when you told Tom Manning. Technically you are now his boss !"

I suppose I was.

The next morning I sat in my new office and tried to take it all in. My secretary brought me a cup of coffee. Secretary ? I did share her with the other assistant staff manager, My office was on the fifth floor, the store had six floors plus the ground floor, basement and sub basement. In all nine vast areas across all of which the jungle drums were beating news of my promotion.

I had a plan, a plan I had conceived overnight but a plan containing a wisdom beyond the slender nineteen years of my age.  Where did this one from ? That morning as I sat drinking coffee in my new office I would finalise the plan, I would take advice over lunch from a mentor then put everything into action before the end of the day.  My mind had, however, something else to consider.

My normal time of arrival at work would be eight-thirty, half an hour ahead of the store's opening time. That day I took a much earlier 'bus into the city centre so walked through the staff entrance at seven forty-five.  The doorman commissionaire saluted, something he had never done when I had been a humble trainee.  The store had nine lifts and two escalators as well as the stairs to move customers up and down its many floors. At such an early hour the escalators were not yet switched on and I was not going to climb way up to the fifth floor. During the day all lifts were manned, no automatic or customer operated technology in place. Many of the lifts were manned by ex-servicemen, all with different limbs missing. That early in the day only one lift was in service. I never before paid much attention to any of the lift attendants but being the only person in the lift with the operator I could not avoid conversation.

"Good morning Sir.  Congratulations on your promotion."

"Thank you. Good morning, I'm afraid I don't know your name."

"Richard Sir, Dickie.  Ex Corporal Dickie Jackson."

I had seen this man countless times but had never before spoken to him. His right hand was missing, he used the stub of his arm to move the lift's control handle.

"Corporal, so you were in the war ?"

"Not the last one Sir, World War One. Corporal in the South Staffordshire Regiment. Lost this," he held up the stub of his arm and the lift paused in its upward journey, "in the Battle of the Somme."

I knew my grandfather had been in the South Staffordshire Regiment so passed time by telling Corporal Jackson.

"Not.....!" He took his arm off the lever again and the lift paused for a second time. "You are Mr Ashton ? Blimey !   Your grandfather wasn't William Ashton was he ?"


"Well I never !  He was a buddy of mine, we were palls. He won the Victoria Cross."

"Yes, I know."

"I was promoted when our sergeant got his blighty.  William got his blighty before the big battle then I got mine when they shot my hand off ! "

"I didn't know my grandfather, he died before I was born."

"I was at his funeral. Great man William Ashton."

We had arrived at the fifth floor.

"What time is your lunch ?" I asked as I left the lift.

"I am on early as I came on duty at seven, eleven o'clock lunch for me."

"Would you have lunch with me ?  I can get central kitchens to serve something in my office."

"I wouldn't mind fish and chips."

"Double fish and chips it is. I want to pick your brains on something.  I want to ask your advice."

I did not drive and I did not own a car, I had no desire to spend endless hours riding on double decker 'buses from one dreary labour exchange to another. There would be occasional exceptions, of course, but we needed better than the unemployed who nobody wanted to give a job to. My plan was for prospective employees to approach us for work, to make Lewis's a dream place to work. I would give Mr Harris a better than good choice from which to select staff for all vacancies.

We had our day release scheme to the local college for management trainees, I had just graduated after two years and held my certificate from The City and Guilds of London Institute.  My plan built on this. Every Monday to Friday, after work, I would bring in teachers to run A Level classes in English Literature, Mathematics, History, Geography and a new up and coming subject area - Sociology. Any employee of any ages, from a young trainee to a grandmother sales lady, could take part. Everything would be free within the Lewis's College.

I would introduce a series of monthly staff awards and competitions: Smile of the Month, Top Salesman, etc,etc,etc.

I would form a staff social committee to organise trips, dances and all manner of events for employees AND their families.

I would form The Lewis's Choir made up of staff from any department where singing talent existed. The choir would give concerts all over the city. We could make recordings and sell a special Choir LP in the record department.

It was my intention to make Lewis's a household name in every home throughout the region so a career as a member of our staff would become an ambition for many. I would run a city-wide schools' general knowledge quiz. I would run a story writing competition for teenagers. Schools could take space within the store to display pupils' work. I would launch the Lewis's Cup where Boys' Brigade, Scouts and youth clubs could enter football teams. I would persuade Villa Park to stage the final.

To spread all of this out to the public, to potential employees and customers I would start a weekly newspaper -. The Lewis's News. This would contain behind the scenes views of the store, special features promoting products and reporting on all my new initiatives. I would pay staff members to distribute copies to the houses in their neighbourhoods.

"So what do you think ?" I asked Dickie. "Would it work ?"

"It's certainly different."

"But do you think it would work ?"

"I think," he smiled, "that your grandfather would be proud of you."

Dickie was amazingly dextrous for a man with one hand. Using his left hand he cut his food with the knife then exchanging it for the fork lifted it up to his mouth. He must have noticed I was watching which embarrassed me.

"I was born right handed but can do everything now with my left, my handwriting is clear and legible, see I can eat as well as you and guess what ?"

"What ?"

"I can even drive a lift up and down in Lewis's." He laughed.

"Do you mind if I say something ?"

"Of course not, you are my boss aren't you."

"I'd jut like to say I think you are very brave."

"Not brave - me ?"

"Forgive me saying this but you must be a long time past your retirement age yet still you are working."

"Your grandfather won the Victoria Cross."

"I never knew him."

"I could tell you a lot about him."

"That would be nice. When are you planning to retire ?"

"When I drop and not before."

"Could I persuade you to stop driving lifts and come and work with me ?  Help me make this plan work ?  I could do with some older advice."

"What will Mr Harris say about that ?"

"This is not what I expected,"  Harris said as he scanned the notes for my plan but before he could reject it Mr Fieldhouse spoke up.

"It's a stroke of genius,"  he said. Fieldhouse was standing in at the meeting for the General Manager who was taking the day off.

"You'll not be able to achieve all of this,"  Harris waved the papers about, "with the budget I have set for you."

"Providing you meet Mr Harris's staffing needs then if this plan of yours actually brings in more customers and sales I think the General Manager will be agreeable to increasing the budget."

Harris was not happy, I could see that.  How would he react to me asking for a lift operator to join me.

"Richard Jackson was a corporal in the South Staffordshire Regiment,"  I explained.

"Never !"  Fieldhouse exclaimed. "I never knew that. I was in the South Staffs in the last war, I was a major."

"My grandfather was in the South Staffs," I started to explain, "he and Richard Jackson were palls."

"Not William Ashton, was he your grandfather ?"


"Mr Harris we are honoured to have this young man working here in Lewis's, his grandfather won the Victoria Cross and is a legend in my old regiment. Give the lad what ever he needs to make his plan work."

And so it happened. It took three months for my plan to be fully implemented. In month four the store's sales were up by 2%, in month five they were up by 5% and by month six 10%. In month six I came to the notice of the company chairman.

The Lewis's Selfridges Department Store Group was a small part of a vast business empire owned and headed on a daily basis by Sir Charles Clore, better known as Charlie Clore.  He strode into my office one morning puffing a giant cigar.

"So you are David Ashton," he said.  "I've come to Birmingham just to see you."

The General Manager, red faced, rushed in behind him. "Sir Charles, I had no idea you were visiting Birmingham today."

Clore turned round to face him. "Sod off, I'll come and see you in a little while. I want to speak with David." He closed the office door leaving General Manager Hanson on the other side.

"Fancy a cigar David ?"

"I don't smoke Sir."

"Pity. Now then to business. You have done well here in Birmingham, I want you to do the same in all stores.  You can keep an office here but you will from now on be Group Recruiting Director.  There's a Mark Ten Jag parked in the goods inward bay, that'll be yours to travel up and down the ten branches."

"But I don't drive Sir."

"Then you'd bloody well better hurry up and learn !"

"Yes Sir."

"The name's Charlie, directors are all on first name terms DAVID."

This was a dream.

"Right I'd better go and say hello to the General Manager before he wets his pants."

And with that one of the richest men in the country was gone.  My office stank of his cigar smoke, if it did not then I would have thought I dreamed the entire encounter up.

There was a knock at the door. It opened and Richard put his head round. "Are you alright David ?  That was Charlie Clore wasn't it ?"

"Yes I am fine and yes it was him."

"What did he want ?"

"He's just promoted me to the board of directors. I'm still only nineteen years old, nearly twenty but still nineteen."

"I bet your granddad is looking down and smiling."

"I need to take a break I've got to get my mind round all of this."

I wandered down to the ground floor and the goods inward area. The General Manager always parked his Rover there but today the delivery trucks were having to manoeuvre round not only this but Sir Charles's Rolls Royce and my powder blue Mark Ten Jaguar. The idea of learning to drive scared me but it was now a necessity. Was I really a director of a department store group employing more than twenty thousand individuals. Dream ?  No I did not think so.

The General Manager's secretary quickly telephoned down to each Merchandise Group Manager who then raced round every department in their control with the panic message Sir Charles is in the store !  Still collecting my thoughts I wandered up to the third floor and on to my old sales department. I arrived just as Sales Manager Tom Manning received the message.  Manning believed the English Language could not be correctly spoken without an average of two swear words in each sentence, on hearing this news he increased his average to four.  When Sir Charles Clore walked through the stairway doors and on to the soft furnishing department sales floor Manning said two words, both of them containing only four letters and both words which would not be acceptable in polite society.

"David !" Clore shouted across the floor. "Where the bloody hell have you been ?"

"Hello Charles," I said, at which point Tom Manning narrowly escaped a heart attack. "Just wandering round the store while I think over what you said to me."

"Well back up to your office," Sir Charles ordered, "I've something else I want to put to you. Something you'd sodding well better agree to !"

Back in the office Charles lit up another cigar and filled the room with a blue haze. "What you are doing boy is great. When you have everything operating the same way in the other nine stores as you do here the company profits will be amazing."

"Thank you."

"Don't interrupt !"

"Sorry Charles."

"Don't bloody well interrupt. The long-term future of big stores like ours is not good. By the turn of the century the London store, Selfridges, will still be trading, all the others will have closed down."

Turn of the century, that was thirty-one years away. I would be fifty years old then !

"I like what you have done with the Lewis's Newspaper, I want you to take that one step further. I have purchased an old fishing trawler, anchored it off Lowestoft and want to turn it into a pirate radio station, Radio Lewis's."

"Better if it was called Radio Rock,"  I said.

"Good idea but bloody stop interrupting will you !"

"Sorry Charles but the Marine Offences Act would make that illegal."

"Do you think that pipe sucking prime minister Harold Wilson is a match for me ?  He wouldn't dare to stop me. Tell me what do you think of Radio One ?"

"Not a lot."

"Our radio station will put it out of business !"

I had heard something like this before, or so I thought.

"To add to your duties, you will be in overall charge of the radio station."

I looked puzzled.

"Do you think you are the only one who ever goes to the dentist," Clore smiled. "Trust me I have been there a lot more times than you have. I only allow my dentist to extract one tooth at a time."


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