29 April 2017

Cartoon

There's going to be a General Election in Great Britain in June. Our esteemed leader, Theresa May, has used the expression "strong and stable leadership"  857 times in the past fortnight:-

28 April 2017

Definition

Adrian Henri (1938-2000)
Love is...

Love is feeling cold in the back of vans
Love is a fan club with only two fans
Love is walking holding paint-stained hands
Love is.

Love is fish and chips on winter nights
Love is blankets full of strange delights
Love is when you don't put out the light
Love is

Love is the presents in Christmas shops
Love is when you're feeling Top of the Pops
Love is what happens when the music stops
Love is

Love is white panties lying all forlorn
Love is pink nightdresses still slightly warm
Love is when you have to leave at dawn
Love is

Love is you and love is me
Love is a prison and love is free
Love's what's there when you are away from me
Love is...


by Adrian Henri

27 April 2017

2p


Wouldn't it be nice if we could control the things that we remember? Then our heads would be filled with positive, happy stuff and bad or negative recollections would be resigned to the memory bin, never to be replayed again.

I can't stop myself from remembering slights or injustices. In my memory bank there is an entire wing devoted to such topics. I just went in there and scanned the shelves to find you this memory from my teaching years...

As a form tutor, I had a class of thirty eleven and twelve year old children to look after. I registered them every morning and afternoon, compiled their school reports, addressed general behavioural matters and so on. Once a week we had an hour in the classroom together. It was called tutor time and you had to fill it with social educational activities signposted by The Head of Year.

We were told that each tutor group had to focus on the work of different charities before coming up with ideas that would raise money for particular charities. When the preparatory work was done, a boy in my class suggested that every pupil could donate a sum of money each week to help our chosen charity and the rest of the class agreed to this. Somebody said "How about a pound?" but in the end we came right down to two pence.

Two pence is a tiny amount of money and sensitive to the relative deprivation in the school's neighbourhood, I was much happier to supervise such a collection. In one week we would raise sixty pence and in a month we would raise £2.40. Over an entire school year we would accumulate about £20. When all is said and done - not very much money at all for all the effort involved. Explanatory letters were sent home and parents were told they could opt out if they wanted.

We had to decide which charity to go for and following discussion and a democratic vote, the tutor group chose to raise money for the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Animals). To tell you the truth, I was a bit disappointed about that. I would have preferred it if they had gone for a people charity but hey, it was their choice.

Fast forward to the Year 7 parents' evening the following February. 

It's 9pm and plonking themselves at my table in the school assembly hall are Mr and Mrs Birks. They are older parents and their daughter is called Alison. She sits at the back and does her work as instructed. She has caused no problems whatsoever during her first year in the school but she has a surly, slightly superior demeanour and I just cannot warm to her. She is distant.

I say all the positive things about Alison. Her subject teachers have been happy with her and she has settled in well, coping with the work and the process of moving up to secondary school. Mr and Mrs Birks are not naturally happy looking people. You can see it in their body language and in the expressions on their faces.

Having listened to me they then take it upon themselves to address the charity-based learning and the weekly collection of two pence pieces.

Mr Birks says. "People round here can't afford it. It's not right to be asking them to give money every week."

I defend my corner with the obvious points and as I speak to The Birks couple I remember one of the school cleaners showing me a biscuit tin in which the cleaning staff put coins that kids  left on classroom and corridor floors - either accidentally or deliberately. It was filled to the brim. "We spend it on our Christmas night out," said Gwen.

Mrs Birks chips in with, "And we don't think it's right to make kids raise money for the RSPCA. That's for animals. What about people?"

Of course I pointed out that the decision was taken by the children themselves and I was simply following the school's tutor time plan but inside I was deeply annoyed about having to defend the process. I thought their criticism was both presumptuous and groundless and in fact it emanated from the sourness of their daughter and the self-righteous narrow-mindedness they espoused.

Two other sets of parents that same evening had a wholesome and healthy view of the charity learning and weekly collection calling it "brilliant" but I don't remember the details of those encounters - just Mr and Mrs Birks with arms folded, looking as ugly as sin and seeking to call the shots instead of supporting the work of their daughter's school with positivity and goodwill.

For whatever reason, I have never forgotten this and twenty five years later the details of it remain in my mind like intricate tattoos.
__________________________________________________________
N.B 2p (UK) =  3 cents (US)

26 April 2017

Shirt

I remember my father Philip. When he was sixty three, the age that I am now, he would never have worn a T-shirt. When he dressed in the morning he put on  a formal shirt with a collar, a tie and if the temperature was chilly a V-necked jumper. T-shirts were for young people.

Even when digging the vegetable plot, he would still wear his shirt and tie. The only time he loosened up and donned plain cotton polo shirts was when he was away from home on a warm holiday.

Dad died in 1979, long before internet and mobile phone technology swept The Earth .like a modern plague or a wave of light - depending on how you look at things. He would have been amazed that this month  his sixty three year old son went online to access the website of Medicine Hat Tigers ice hockey team in Alberta, Canada..Once there, I ordered and paid for an XL supporters' T-shirt.

It arrived yesterday - all the way from Medicine Hat. Another stylish T-shirt to add to my little collection. But isn't it amazing that we can do things like this nowadays? When Dad was my age, it would have been exceedingly difficult to acquire a Medicine Hat Tigers T-shirt. There would have been letters, crackly telephone calls, an international bank transfer and oodles of time. You would have had to be very determined.

You might imagine that I am a fan of Canadian ice hockey but you would be wrong. I have only ever attended one ice hockey match and I found it rather tiresome (Sorry Red!). There was far too much scoring going on for my liking and too many stoppages. So why Medicine Hat Tigers? Simply because of the tiger image and the word "Tigers". It is the same nickname proudly borne by Hull City AFC - the football team I have loyally supported since Dad first took me to see them when I was nine years old.

Think of the new T-shirt  as a fashion statement. If you would like to order some cool Medicine Hat Tigers apparel of your own, go here.

25 April 2017

Brexit

I dislike the word "Brexit". It reminds me of idle word collisions in very unsubtle brand names such as "Weetabix" or "Kwikfit". The word "Brexit" seems to belong in the commercial world of "Toys R Us", "GameStop" and "Supasave". 

I find it rather trite and shallow, turning a process of immense importance and national concern into the kind of word you might find in a cartoon bubble. There's a cruel disconnect in my view.

Peter Wilding
Inventor of the term "Brexit"
The word "Brexit" was first coined on May 12th 2012 by a fellow called Peter Wilding who heads up a pressure group called "British Influence". He was pushing for a "Remain" vote so it's rather ironic that his gift to The Oxford English Dictionary is a word that was embraced by so many "Leave" voters and repeated time and time again in Britain's tabloid press.

And then you had our great leader Mother Theresa, ponderously defining the word in a mystical incantation... "Brexit means Brexit" which was like saying that "Cheese means cheese" or "Bollocks means bollocks". If she had wished to be totally honest with the British public what Mother Theresa should have said was "Brexit means what I think it means".

In my opinion, there should never have been a Brexit referendum in the first place. To reduce the whole complex web of Britain's associations with Europe down to a simple "Leave" or "Remain" vote was like dumbing down the story of someone's life to a verdict of "Good" or "Bad". 

In the confusion that has followed the Brexit vote, it becomes clearer each day that the original question was insufficient. If we were going to have to have a referendum, there should have been other questions resulting in clear choices to guide negotiators beyond the fateful day.

And finally, I just want to mention Russia. I am not someone who readily embraces conspiracy theories but it seems to me that The British establishment have been smothering or playing down reference to Russia's influence on the Brexit referendum. Russia clearly  played its shadowy hand in the US presidential election and several serious journalists and other well-informed  observers firmly believe that Russia also influenced Brexit voting. Go here and here and here.

But regarding that troubling matter, the British public are left to watch the rolling of tumbleweed while listening to the eerie sound of silence..."Brexit means Just Shut Up and Eat It!"

24 April 2017

Art

What is Art? Is it something pretty that catches your eye? Is it something that stops you in your tracks and challenges your thinking? Is it merely an exhibition of technical skills?

Probably there isn't one simple answer. 

The first art gallery I ever visited was The Ferens Art Gallery in Hull. Many years had passed by since I last visited it but I was back there on Saturday morning.

The place was heaving with visitors - rather like a popular London exhibition. Many of them were there to see a new photographic display by Spencer Tunick in which hundreds of naked Hullensians gathered at several city locations. Often their bodies were painted blue to suggest the sea:-
In the gallery's vestibule there was a pile of what appeared to be stones:-
What do you think of it? Is it Art?

I kind of like to observe natural things in gallery situations. A different context can make you see things differently. But that pile of rocks wasn't a pile of rocks at all. It was a pile of pieces of sea-battered polyurethane foam that the artist had gathered from different coastal locations. That makes you think differently about the pile.

The artist-collector is Alexander Duncan and he calls this piece "Cove". He said of it, "Lost in the sea, these hyperobjects have returned to the land reminding us of the waste and pollution we are all responsible for".

Only a century ago, no such material could be found around the British coast but now it's everywhere. Even in the vast Pacific Ocean millions of plastic bags and bottles are floating, washing up on deserted islands or entering the food chains of precious marine life. Without words, Alexander Duncan's "Cove" makes you stop and think - perhaps we don't deserve to be the guardians of this beautiful planet. We continue to ruin it, thoughtlessly, arrogantly, stupidly...

23 April 2017

Carver's

Bob Carver's minus an apostrophe and an ampersand
Condemned prisoners are sometimes asked to select the final meal of their lives before execution takes place. What would you pick if you were in that position?

For me there's no question about it. It would be cod, chips and mushy peas with a slice of bread and butter and a pot of tea. Manna from heaven. Ambrosia of the gods.

Yesterday, before watching ten man Hull City beat Watford by two goals to nil. I went into the centre of Hull to visit The Ferens Art Gallery. Hull is currently Britain's "City of Culture" and The Ferens has some excellent work on show.

Afterwards, I wandered down Whitefriargate towards the fruit market and upon a whim I decided to have an early lunch in Hull's most famous fish and chip restaurant - the legendary Bob Carver's. And this was the beautiful scene that greeted my eyes before I picked up my knife and fork:-