21 January 2017


Up here in Yorkshire, the weather has been pretty dismal most of the week. Occasionally, we get winter weeks like this when our world is blanketed by  a thick, unbroken layer of cloud. Above it aeroplanes will no doubt be flying in bright sunshine but down below we exist in a murky half'-light.

When I pulled back the curtains yesterday morning, it was another grey day. That is what the weather forecasters had predicted so the gloominess was no surprise. I had an idea for a poem and once downstairs with this laptop switched on, I began to compose it. Here it is:-
Have you ever heard of  Sod's Law? As I was honing these lines, an unfamiliar  brightness appeared in the January sky and through our bay window I even spotted a small patch of blue. The meteorological people had got it wrong! The grey days were at last giving way to light.and colour.

Standing in the shower, I contemplated a country walk - not too far away from home. Ten minutes later I was on my way to the parish of Bradfield for a sunny walk round Agden Reservoir and it was quite delightful to be out and about once more... walking in the light.
A view of Boot's Folly
St Nicholas's Church, High Bradfield

20 January 2017


An old wooden clock and a red mug. This was the challenge I faced at my second evening class on Thursday night. It wasn't easy. I had to keep looking. The tutor, John, kept floating around the room distributing positive remarks. In the end, I was fairly happy with the final product but these classes are not about the production of masterpieces, they are about learning, honing techniques and simply getting better.

Before next week's class, I plan to do a little homework - using a photograph I have taken as the basis for a new watercolour. A good way to use a spare couple of hours.

19 January 2017


One of the downsides of internet surfing is advertising. Some legitimate sites are framed in advertisements and it is easy to click on them accidentally. They crowd around some pages like traps for the unwary.

Over the last couple of years, I have noticed a cunning new phenomenon. You are tempted to click by a small photo with an enticing invitation or question such as "World's Best Beach" or "Which Hollywood star lost fifty pounds in six months?" Then you find yourself having to click again and again in order to get to the information you were promised. There's always a "Next" button.

You might have to plough through twenty build-up pages to reach what you were after, wasting five or ten minutes of your life. As you move through the pages you notice that there are plenty of ads. on view. This method of drawing internet users in and getting them to tarry, moving through the linked pages, is surely just a cunning means of securing advertising revenue.
For innocent visitors, it is very frustrating. We don't want to tarry. We want to get to the world's best beach or that Hollywood star straight away.  We don't want to be played like gullible fools.

Another thing we notice is the tracking that occurs through hidden "cookies". For example, a couple of nights ago I was looking at accommodation in Southend-on-Sea. Then when I went into my hotmail account I was confronted with holiday apartment and hotel ads for yes, you guessed it, Southend-on-Sea. Clearly, this was not a coincidence.

The internet is a magical phenomenon. Blogging with people from around the world is part of that magic. But where there is ying there is also yang and increasingly cunning methods of advertising are, in my view, a big downside of internet use. These intrusive ads irritate, annoy and threaten to spoil our experience of the worldwide web showing blatant disrespect for internet users. In an ideal world, methods of internet advertising would be monitored and controlled by independent authorities. Instead, the advertisers seem to have free rein to employ whatever methods they wish.

18 January 2017


After leaving university, I started teaching English in South Yorkshire. Thirty two years later I was an assistant headteacher but still head of the  English department. It was at this stage that I opted for early retirement. After all, almost without me noticing, I had become the oldest teacher in the school.

As what they called a "middle manager", there were always so many things to remember. At first, I used a desk diary as an aide memoire. That was okay when I was at my desk but I often found  there were things to jot down when I was away from my classroom. Consequently, for the last nineteen years of my illustrious teaching career I opted for pocket diaries instead. Where ever I was, the diary would be in the inner pocket of my jacket.

Each summer these pocket diaries were filed away in our old bureau desk at home. And there they sat - all in a line and never reopened. I wish that the entries within had been journalistic, recording what had happened each day with associated reflections but they were not that kind of diary.

Instead they contained swiftly written notes and reminders connected with teaching and department management. Dates of meetings - pastoral, department, heads of department, whole school staff meetings and appointments with parents, advisers, book sales people, the police, educational psychologists and social workers. Names of pupils caught fighting behind the tennis courts. Internal exam dates. External exam dates. Phone numbers. Library visits and planned staff absences. Deadline dates for assessments and work experience visits. And there were notes connected with my own teaching groups - homework issues, absences, merit awards etc..
From April 1991
I guess that someone somewhere, perhaps in an ivory tower, might have valued these diaries as historical evidence of a secondary school teacher's lot in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries but when I spotted them earlier this week I just thought it was time they went. Sometimes you need to be ruthless. You can't hang on to everything so  at last  I have consigned them to the recycling bin.

But before ditching them I took the accompanying photographs to remind me of that other life I lived. At the time, it frequently seemed that there was nothing more important in the world than that last school with its 900 pupils and the things that happened in it but really we were like little fish in a small aquarium. There was of course an infinitely bigger and more significant world beyond that glass tank.

17 January 2017


"La La Land"
directed by Damien Chazelle

You know how it is. You go to watch a film with someone and afterwards when you have negotiated your way past the other cinemagoers, one of you says, "What did you think?" Well I went to see the much-acclaimed "La La Land" on Sunday with Mrs Pudding and it turns out she had been surprisingly underwhelmed by  the spectacle while I thought it was delightful with beautiful imagery and a fluidity both in the storyline and the camera work.

"La La Land" sounds like it might be the place where we are all currently living but up there on the screen it was a beautiful, light-hearted place of song and dance, a place where dreams can come true and where there are many subtle nods to the history of Hollywood and its musicals.

At its centre there's Mia played by Emma Stone and Sebastian played by Ryan Gosling. She is a wannabe film actress and screenwriter while he is a frustrated jazz pianist. Their lives collide and they find love. It's a familiar story.

The Los Angeles background to events is a clean and underpopulated place of happiness and hope. No down and outs pushing trolleys, no smog hanging over the city like  a quilt - but you wouldn't want that. It's not that kind of film. This is a joyous fantasy.

A  musical thread runs through the show, "City of stars, are you shining just for me?". It kept echoing, linking the developing plot as Mia and Sebastian find themselves in a dramatic battle between ambition and the heart.

There were so many lovely images. Our two stars dance amidst the stars and upon stars reflected in water. They visit the famous Griffith Observatory which featured in, amongst other films, "Rebel Without A Cause". They see live jazz and the lights of Los Angeles twinkling in the valley below. Yes, it's quite, quite lovely. A beautiful escape from this other "la la land" of Trump and Brexit and drowning refugees. At least that is what I thought.

16 January 2017


I have blogged about the English poet Philip Larkin before. See here.

He was born in Coventry in 1922 and died in Hull in 1985, having been the head librarian at The University of Hull for thirty years.  His poetry was of the modern age, perceptive and often melancholic. There is humour there if you care to peel away the layers but he is often thought of as glum and depressive. He once said that deprivation was to him what daffodils were to Wordsworth. It was perhaps the aching ordinariness of life beneath all the pretence that inspired him. He was always seeking truth, like a knight of old seeking the holy grail but his private life was suburban and rather dull.

On Saturday morning, before watching my beloved Hull City beat Bournemouth 3-1, I took a special detour to the cemetery in Cottingham in order to see Philip Larkin's grave. It is unremarkable -  a little white gravestone in a regimented row. There's a simple inscription - 
Philip Larkin
1922 - 1985
I wondered who chose that single word - "Writer". Perhaps Larkin himself. I speculated why the word wasn't "Librarian" or "Poet" or even "Man".

It was a sunny day but tall trees and hedging to the south of the cemetery stubbornly prevented sunbeams from illuminating the face of the gravestone as I pointed my camera at it. Later, I found myself inspired to write a poem for Larkin. 

He died at the very age that I have now reached. I have known his poetry since I was fifteen and in the 1980's teaching A level English Literature, I had to cover his collection "Whitsun Weddings". My students found it quite intriguing. He really spoke to them. But then he went away where the rest of us must follow.

15 January 2017


Extracts from the diary of Randall V Grotsky Jr - Camp Counsellor at Hilltop Summer Camp near Binghamptopn NY Summer of 1956.

May 20th  - Training is now over and we are ready for our charges. It's lovely up here in the woods. The air is so pure and clean. There's a guy from my old high school in Albany. I used to date his sister. Oh wait a minute... I just heard something outside. There it goes again. Could be a racoon... maybe a bear. Gee! Anyways I need to turn in now. Can't wait for tomorrow.

May 21st - My boys are called The Wyandottes. We've got a great group day base overlooking the lake. There's fourteen boys altogether but one of them was AWOL today. He'll join us tomorrow. We had lots of fun canoeing in the lake and then we had a cook out with sloppy joes and root beer. It was so cool.Some great little guys. They're mostly from The Big Apple. One kid - Marvin lives right near my folks' place in Yonkers.

May 22nd - The new boy arrived in a black Cadillac from Queens. He's kind of mean looking and quite athletic. Most of the other boys already knew him from last year. They call him Donny. When I tried to introduce myself he said "Who the hell are you punk?" The other boys ,laughed and I wasn't sure what to do. On the softball field Donny refused to walk when he was caught. He said the ball had bounced and refused to budge. He called me "Punk" again and some of the other boys followed his example.

May 25th - The first week is through. Cars came to pick up the campers. Nearly all are heading home to NY City but there's a couple of kids from Syracuse. Donny taunts them, calling them "Saras" or "The Gals from Saracuse".  I spoke to Roman - The Head Counsellor - about this "Punk" label but Roman says I've just got to live with it and win the boys' respect. Yesterday (Thursday) Donny tried to drown Marvin (the kid from Yonkers). He had a panic attack. Donny and his little gang were laughing. "What's your problem Punk?" he asked me when I tried to confront him about what had happened. Anyway, a whole weekend without kids! Whoo-hoo! Tomorrow night with some of the other counsellors I'm heading into Binghmapton to watch a movie - "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers"

May 28th - Canoeing. Archery. Art and Free Camp Time. Donny said he couldn't see the point of art and flicked paint at Mary-Beth, the art counsellor from Kentucky. It spattered all over her spectacles. Donny said it wasn't him. In Archery he disobeyed Bob's safety instruction, firing an arrow at a target when Bob was still checking the scoring. Bob was real mad and grabbed Donny by the arm but Donny yelled "Get off you friggin' queer!" and threatened to tell his father who is a big property developer in Queens.

June 1st - So pleased that the weekend has come round again. Maybe I'm not cut out to be a counsellor. I thought I was good with kids but since Donny appeared in The Wyandottes, I'm not so sure any more. On Wednesday during Camp Free Time, Donny got all the other boys to pile on top of me. He got my wallet out of my pocket and started laughing at the photo of my mom and dad, saying they looked like dumb Polacks. At lunch yesterday (Thursday) he announced that his dad paid a lot of dough to Hilltop and he wanted proper food not sloppy joes or root beer. "Give us steak!" he chanted and of course other boys joined in. I'm starting to hate the brat.

June 7th - I just can't take it any more. I'm gonna quit. Maybe I'll get fired anyway. Donny provoked me so much at the campcraft class that I grabbed his shoulders and pushed him up against a wall. It was like he wanted it. A big beaming grin broke across his face, like he knew I'd lost it. "Yeah! You're such a big guy Punk! I'm ten years old. How old are you Punk?"

June 8th - I just got fired. Donny was in the camp office with his father. He was sobbing fake tears and he layered his accusations on nice and thick, saying I had punched him in the campcraft session and tried to throttle him, that I had repeatedly called him "Flat Top" and that I had "touched" him in the rest room. It was all fake, fake, fake! Ted Lewis, the camp manager begged Donny's father not to involve the police and suggested that firing me would be enough.I don't know what I am gonna do for the rest of the summer. Maybe I'll go and stay with my grandparents on Long Island. Try to get a job at the ice cream parlour like last summer. I don't know how I'll explain all this to my folks.

June 12th - I just discovered the word "PUNK" scratched in the paintwork of my Beetle - probably with a penknife. Now I wonder who could have done that?