30 December 2005

Gorilla

On the left, I know this will amaze some of you, we have a picture - not of an actual mountain gorilla but of a plastic gorilla moneybox - anatomically accurate in every fine detail - available in large supermarkets right now under the brand name of "Brad the Gorilla". The recommended US retail price is just $4.99 (UK £2.90). One unique feature of this designer money box is the rear slot - not shown in the photograph - into this accommodating slot, owners are invited to insert coins of any size or denomination - activating a typical gorilla alarm cry - "AA - AA - AA - AAAIIIIEEE!"
Buy yours now while stocks last!

Smileys

Having seen interspersed smileys in Friday's Web, I was thinking of making an amusing tale with smileys but it seemed like such hard work so instead I came up with this random display of selected smileys. Wonder how Smiley Central make money? It's all a mystery to me.
Knuckle Head I Promise Way Too Happy Famous 5 Famous 35 Scrooge Captured Bad Breath Fly Swatter Insane Insane Insane Insane

28 December 2005

Joke

One day Jane met Tarzan in the jungle. She was very attracted to him and during her questions about his life she asked him how he managed for sex.
"What's that?" he asked.
She explained to him what sex was and he said "Oh, I use a hole in the trunk of a tree".
Horrified, she said, "Tarzan you have it all wrong but I will show you how to do it properly".
She took off her clothes, laid down on the ground and spread her legs wide. "Here," she said,"You must put it in here".
Tarzan removed his loincloth, stepped closer and then gave her an almighty kick in the crotch. Jane rolled around in agony. Eventually she managed to gasp, "What the hell did you do that for?"
"Just checking for bees" said Tarzan.


I hope that this slightly risqué merriment didn't cause undue offence to readers of this blog. If it did - tough! Do you know any better jokes? Please post one.

23 December 2005

Christmas

It's closing in. Already we have passed the winter solstice. Last night, at midnight, I bought a frozen turkey at the 24hr "Tesco". It's thawing in the workshop I dug out under the ground floor of our house. Wherever you go people wish you a happy Christmas and shake your hand or smile. Tonight at "The Banner" public house there was an extension till eleven thirty so I downed two more pints of beer than I had been expecting and chatted with Craig's new love - a lady from Budapest, Hungary.
I swear this world is getting smaller - shrivelling up like a Christmas orange in February. It used to be that travel was exceptional - now it is so passé. When I was a child in my rural primary school, I was the only and I mean only kid who had ever been out of England. Nowadays, you ask a carpenter where he went for his honeymoon and he says Brazil, Mexico, Mauritius or Hawaii. Back then a pub would go quiet as you related tales of the far Pacific of Grecian Isles - now it's like - so what? - ever been to Antarctica - ever lived with a hilltribe in Borneo - ever met six-fingered hillbillies in Pennsylvania - ever witnessed the Northern Lights in the far north of Norway?
I worry about the diversity of this planet. Once we were all pretty different. Travelling was about genuine discovery. Last June I was in the Czech Republic - Brno to be precise - and as I looked down into the valley beyond the railway station there I saw the unmistakable red neon sign of another "Tesco" invasion. Hey! Thanks for letting us in to the lovely Czech Republic, now give us your money and let us suck the lifeblood out of budding local businesses. Call-centres take us to distant Indian cities and starving Ethiopians dress in Manchester United or New York Yankees shirts.
Christmas. But no Christ and no mass. Just the passing of another year and the solstice marking the start of a new year. What will happen in these next twelve months? Who knows? Tsunamis, earthquakes, terrorist outrages, great films, sporting successes, The World Cup in Germany, personal ups and downs. Who knows? To be alive that's the real bonus - with health, no worries about where the next meal is coming from, the prospect of reaching out to touch your dreams.

20 December 2005

Bambi

There are so many of these online personality quizzes around and I guess that Retarded Rugrat in British Columbia is the world's authority. So I picked one of her recommended online quizzes only to discover that of all Disney's characters I am most like Bambi! This is pure bull! Nobody who has ever met me would say I was like Bambi! Of all Disney characters I think I am most like Principal Crosby Strickler in the much underrated "Teacher's Pet" or perhaps Gepetto in "Pinnochio". Below, find out which character you are allegedly most like.... and then pick another of your own!
Bambi Result
Bambi
Which DISNEY character are you most like?
brought to you by Quizilla

18 December 2005

Avatar

So here I am in Avatar form, walking down a winding country path with my cat Boris in tow.
Avatar? Here are are a couple of definitions:-
1. "Among people working on virtual reality and cyberspace interfaces, an avatar is an icon or representation of a user in a shared virtual reality."

Yahoo! Avatars

2. "In Hinduism, an avatar is a god made visibly present, especially in a human form. The Buddha is considered an avatar of the god Vishnu."

Until today, I thought an "avatar" might be rather like a fighter pilot "Chocks away! Bandit at six o' clock. Isn't it fine to be an avatar high above the clouds! Oh look, there's Brad the Gorilla down there. Aim! Fire! " Oh what a shame - another silverback bites the dust!

14 December 2005

Yorkshire

Back in 1974, politicians messed about with England's traditional county boundaries, forgetting important matters such as allegiance, identity, history, regional pride. I will never forgive them for dumping most of East Yorkshire into the new county of Humberside. That arrangement has now been scrapped and after years of pressure we have our lovely East Riding back. However, Yorkshire is still not as it was. The map below shows the ancient Yorkshire boundaries superimposed over the new economic-governmental zones that masquerade as counties. We want Barnoldswick back and Middlesborough and all those harshly beautiful Pennine villages that fat London politicians stole from us, like Empire builders drawing straight lines to make new "countries" in Africa - totally disregarding culture, heritage and traditional enmities. They think we have forgotten their crime but we haven't. I have a dream that one day Yorkshire people will rise up from their chains, reclaim their ancient county boundaries and shout from every hilltop - "Freedom! Freedom! Good God Almighty - Free at last!"

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Yorkshire:-

"Yorkshire is the largest ancient county of England, covering some 6,000 square miles with a population of some five million. It is traditionally divided into West, North and East Ridings (from Old Norse þriðing, "third part", a legacy of the area's ninth century Scandinavian settlers). The county town, York, is not part of any riding.
The emblem of Yorkshire is the
White Rose of the House of York, and there is a Yorkshire Day celebrated on August 1. Amongst the celebrations there is a civic gathering of Lord Mayors, Mayors and other Civic Heads from across the county and convened by the Yorkshire Society, in 2004 it was held in Leeds and in 2005 it was held in Bradford. The people of Penistone will be hosting the Civic gathering in 2006. There is also an "anthem" for the county in the form of the folk song "On Ilkla Moor Baht'at
" (- On Ilkley Moor without a Hat).
The Yorkshire
dialect is colloquially known as "Tyke", and this is also the "affectionate" (!) term for a Yorkshireman, though the term is not universally used by all Yorkshiremen and is virtually non-existent on the North Riding coastline. The social stereotype of a Yorkshireman has a tendency to include such accessories as a flat cap and a
whippet. Among Yorkshire's unique traditions is the Long Sword dance, a traditional dance not found elsewhere in England. More recently, Yorkshire has been home to its own genre of techno music, Yorkshire Bleeps and Bass."

11 December 2005

Victory

Well we (Hull City) beat Sheffield Wednesday one-nil yesterday so I have earned "bragging rights" over any Wednesday supporters I encounter this week - including students in the school where I work. Very useful. The game itself left much to be desired. The first half was so dull that half of the crowd of 22,000 fell asleep and others read their programmes. There were no real shots on goal and only one corner conceded. The referee was whistle-happy, regularly pulling up the play instead of giving advantage to the team in possession. At halftime, Fiona fed us some delicious homemade flapjack.

The second half was marginally better. We brought on two subs - Price and Elliot and gradually they had an impact. Elliot met a cross from the right brilliantly to send a powerful looping header over Weaver's flailing arms. Goal! Up out of our seats with the orgasmic delight but then whistle - bloody offside! How could that be? We were dead opposite the action - there was no offside! Then three minutes later, Jason Price with his Afro hair powered through the middle to hoof the ball into the net - justice was done! Hull City 1 Sheff Wed 0 - All sing along together:- "We love you City we do! We love you City we do! We love you City we do! Hull City we love you!"
That puts us fifteenth in the Championship with twenty six points. Having had back on back promotions, this season was all about just staying up and fingers crossed, we are edging that way now. Sorry (hee-hee!) to blogger Retarded Rugrat in Vancouver - your Owls just weren't good enough.

9 December 2005

Ramble

Our humble Sheffield hovel:-
"More pudding! We need more pudding. " - recent comment on this site posted by the world famous Seattle-based blogger Brad the Gorilla. Well, when Brad demands pudding it must be delivered.
Usually my blog entries have a specific subject - be it Ireland or God, George Best or Beer. This evening I thought I would just ramble along, see what nonsense emerges from my Hewlett Packard keyboard.
My belly is currently sated after consuming a Chinese takeaway from the New Hing Lung on Abbeydale Road - highly recommended. Fried rice, chicken chow mein, chicken foo yung, sweet and sour chicken and chicken chop suey - a Friday night feast. Last evening I took my brother Paul out with my son Ian for an authentic Kashmiri curry at the imaginativetly titled Kashmir Curry Centre on Spital Hill. I love that place - it's so basic - formica table tops - spoons to eat with - tacky pictures on the walls - and because it is a Muslim-run establishment, they don't serve alcohol so you have to cross the road to the "East House" pub and return with your pints of foaming Wentworth Ale - dodging buses and taxis but never spilling a drop. No "scapa" in the "East House"! The nan bread in the Kashmir is "to die for" (what a dumb expression!) - homemade, light and fluffy with dappled patterns from the gas rings.
Have you ever heard those expressions - "I like my food" or "He/She likes her food" ? I think these remarks are also pretty dumb because 99.5% of the world's population like their food and the other 0.5% who have eating disorders probably also like it but have psychological issues with it. A much better expression is, "You are what you eat" - chemically and biologically this is true - so perhaps tomorrow I will begin to take on the racial characteristics of the offspring of a Kashmiri warrior and a Shanghai maiden. I'm fantasising - more likely, I'll still be the same old Yorkshire pudding - a little bit crusty with plenty of room for gravy in the middle.
World Cup draw tonight. I wonder who England will get. Our team promises so much and our Premier League is surely the most exciting league in the world but we never seem to really crack the code on the international stage. In Wayne Rooney we have someone who could be the best player on the planet and around him there are other superb players like Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and, on his day, David "Golden Balls" Beckham. Talking of football, Shirley and I are off to Hull tomorrow to see The Tigers take on Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship. "Come on you Huuulll!" I hope we stuff them like we did at Hillsborough last year. That was one great night.
Life goes on. One more week at work and then two weeks Christmas vacation. I never want to go away anywhere at Christmas. It's a lovely time. Warm fire. Sleeping late. Aromas from the kitchen. Pigs in blankets. Goodwill in the pub. My wife and kids with me. Boris curling up on my lap. Reading a good book and this year, what could be better than papering the dining room ceiling on rickety stepladders? Ah well that's before I go to fetch my ancient mum from the old people's residential home in Beverley - just two nights back in the bosom of her family. I know she'll like that. She was angling for it last time I saw her. It's the least we can do.
So that was more pudding Sir Brad and Lady Friday, Nonny, Freethinker, George and all the other cyberpeople I have met in the hidden valleys of Blogworld. Finally, a favourite Yorkshire saying of mine - "All the world is queer save thee and me and even thou art a little queer!"
-: Shirley in Rome, October 05


2 December 2005

Blogworld

It's almost ten years since I first discovered the Internet. How this baby has grown! And every time I log in I'm still thrilled. This evening, I have been looking at old pictures of Bakersfield, California, checking out hotels in Madrid - Spain and reading reports about England's most successful primary schools. It's like a window on the world. I often say to others that science fiction never foresaw anything quite as amazing as the Internet we now know so well.
Early Internet adventures included forrays into chatrooms from which I was frequently expelled by moralistic moderators. In 1998, I remember counselling a suicidal woman in New York - trying to get her to see that it is possible to emerge from the darkest shadows that life casts upon us. Every new day can be a new beginning. I don't know what happened to her - I lost her somewhere in the tangled worldwide web.
Now there's blogging. Sometimes I tell friends and acquaintances that I am into blogging and some of them have absolutely no idea what I mean. Blog? What's that? To me easy blogging is another wonderful extension of the Internet. I guess I have always been a frustrated writer and blogging allows me to write things and get them published in a professional-looking form without cost or very much trouble. It's so easy.
You could spend hours checking out other blogs from around the world. Every blog is different and they all reveal interesting things about how other people live and how they see life. Of course, the Internet and computerisation have always been led by America so it is no surprise that Blogworld has a high American population.
I have enjoyed reading "Friday's Web" (North Carolina) and "Free Thought By A Free Thinker" (San Francisco), "Brad The Gorilla" (Seattle) and "Hanging Hope on A Head's Up 1973 Penny" (Georgia) along with dozens of other blogs - "Blog by George", "Zandrea", "Retarded Rugrat", "And I'm Reading This Because..." (Sacramento Ca). As I say every blog is different. They have made me laugh, think, rage and occasionally, even though I am a tough old Yorkshire Pudding, shed a couple of tears. We are the citizens of Blogworld. We want to be noticed. We want to connect with others. We want to be participants rather than voyeurs. Thanks to all my fellow bloggers out there for showing me bits of your lives and educating me in ways our parents and grandparents could never have travelled.
They say that the internet was conceived and nourished by the American military machine but now it's in the public domain and we are exploiting it, subverting it, stretching its horizons. This is no longer Planet Earth, this is Blogworld!

27 November 2005

Waggy

My adopted pet tiger is called Waggy in honour of Hull City footballing legend Ken Wagstaff. Not quite George Best standard in looks or talent but click your mouse upon him and listen to him purr!


25 November 2005

Best

In the United Kingdom, this will always be remembered as the day on which George Best died. He was perhaps the most naturally gifted and exciting footballer that these islands have ever produced. Back in the late sixties/early seventies he was a Beatlelike playboy - partying, boozing and womanising as if there was no tomorrow. He said that he used to go missing a lot - "Miss UK, Miss World, Miss America..." and he also said that he spent all of his money on booze, women and fast cars - "the rest I just squandered"!
On the international stage, George was of course handicapped by the fact that he was only entitled to represent little Northern Ireland though at club level he became a living legend and European Cup winner with Manchester United. When George was on the ball, running at defenders, it was pure poetry.
Essentially Best was a shy Irish lad, good at football but ill-prepared for the trappings of stardom. I feel sorry that booze destroyed his liver and eventually killed him but glad that as a young man he often lived life with devil-may-care relish, bedding beautiful women, partying till dawn and drinking like a fish. I am sure he had many laughs. Who wants to live the safe life - the "clean and in between the sheets life" - dying at eighty in an old folks home, memory fading, body failing. He only had fifty nine years but he made his mark. There really was only one George Best and may he rest in peace now that the game is truly over.

20 November 2005

Proclaimers

Have you heard of them - The Proclaimers - the bespectacled twins Craig and Charlie Reid and their band? They have been around now for over twenty years. Their first hit throughout the English speaking world was "Letter From America" - about emigration from Scotland - sung not in a pretend American drawl but in the accent of eastern Scotland. Methil and Irvine - mentioned in the song - are grim coastal communities, grey Scottish places it would be hard to regret leaving.
About five years ago, the soundtrack of the first "Shrek" film included The Proclaimers' "I'm On My Way" which gave the band's fortunes a much needed lift. They're now on an extensive UK tour and tonight I caught them at The Winding Wheel concert hall in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Great little venue and The Proclaimers were so tight, really giving each tune some welly, clearly enjoying themselves. By the time we got to an encore that included Roger Miller's "King of The Road" and the familiar "Five Hundred Miles", the place was rocking, everyone up out of their seats dancing along.
There's no frippery or pussy-footing about with Craig and Charlie - they're right there into the music - like Fife miners at the coalface doing their job - and the understanding they have on stage is perhaps the kind of harmony that only identical twins who have sung and written together for twenty years can convey. We went with Steve and Moira and Pete and Ann and there was unanimous agreement - The Proclaimers - a big thumb's up!

18 November 2005

Earth

This is an unashamed advertisement for "Google Earth". Have you been there? It's easy to load up and use as long as you have enough space on your hard drive. It's also easy to visualise how "Google Earth" will one day cover the entire planet in intricate detail and beyond that perhaps another distant day, people may even be able to watch every inch of our world moving in realtime close-up.
With "Google Earth" I have flown and swooped around the globe, focussing in on every place I have ever been and others besides - darkest Africa, the mysterious coast of Chile. The facility is at its best in certain urban zones such as Manhattan or central London, Rome or Paris. Watch out for the photographic strips that allow for closer inspection. Those Google eggheads - they have have given all computer users opportunities that science fiction of the past wouldn't have dared to anticipate and to me "Google Earth" is an amazing addition to the Google catalogue of wonder.
I have always loved maps. I possess lots of maps and have spent hours studying them. In the past, when others revealed their geographical ignorance, I used to be appalled. I have always been inquisitive about our world - it's like a burning need to know exactly where I am. Yet I have come to realise that not everyone cares about this - perhaps they're too busy living their lives to care about the names of the oceans or what the capital of Tahiti is or where you'll find the island of Spitzbergen. Map hunger possibly reveals something of my inner psychology - as if through geography I'll eventually be able to sort out the mystery of my existence. Of course I will never do that so in the meantime I'll be a rocketman courtesy of "Google Earth", scouring the globe for the hidden hills of my soul and the valleys of my heart, beside the turbulent waters of my memory.

10 November 2005

Son

We called him Ian Philip. He was born twenty one years ago and he's my only son. I remember the joyous day of his birth and how when he emerged pink and slippery into this world, I forgot to notice his gender. What mattered was that this was a new life, a new human being and this stupendous fact blazed so brightly that the baby's sex didn't matter. The medical staff cleaned him up and I heard a nurse say, "You've got a lovely baby boy."
Ian is a very cool dude. People like him. He's his own man and he has lots of principles he has worked out for himself. He is instinctively kind and he has never been in any kind of trouble. Currently, he works in a men's fashion shop in the heart of Sheffield, selling clothing brands that mean nothing to me - "D-Squared" and "Vivienne Westwood" and other names I can't remember. I think in some ways, he is still working out where he wants life to take him. In the meantime, he is a loyal worker - never misses a day - just as in high school when over five years, he never missed a single day. I guess he follows me in that regard. We are very lucky with our health and very pig-headed. Our family motto ought to be - "If you're down, if you meet shit, just soldier on".
When you have children what do you want for them? An American woman I once knew said that her six month old baby would become a doctor. Me and Shirley - we just wanted our kids to grow up to be decent, happy people. Success can be measured in lots of ways. Being a good person matters more than just about anything to us. In my life, many of the rich, over-promoted or degree laden people I have met have turned out to be complete assholes. I'd rather walk with people who are true, who look you in the eye, accept you for what you are. It's like we are all on a cruise ship together - this is our voyage through time - there's no time for hurt or for point-scoring. We are all passengers together. In my mind, the school cleaner is equal to the politician and the bus driver is equal to the egotistical rock star.
Ian Philip is a special guy. I'm blessed to have a son like him and I put this out on the world wide web in public praise of him. Long after I have disembarked, he'll be taking the cruise ship way beyond my dreams.

6 November 2005

God

When I was eleven - in my last year of primary school - I had to deliver a prepared assembly talk to the rest of the village school. The only stipulation was that the talk had to be on a religious theme. In my bedroom, I started to scribble down all the reasons why, at that age, I was pretty much convinced that there was no such thing as "God". Though I didn't know it then, one of the key thrusts of my argument had been given a title by philosophers, namely - "The Problem of Evil".

The night before the assembly, I became nervous - I hadn't talked to a soul about my speech plans but something told me that atheist ramblings would not be much appreciated in a Church of England school. I dropped the idea and quickly cobbled together a little presentation about Daniel in the lions' den - bland and safe.

At a younger age, I had had this mental picture of God as an enormous being with long white hair and a long white beard with a kindly face - "Our father which art in heaven..." and he floated in a cloudy white world far above our planet, looking down, always appearing on his side in repose.

Today, as an adult, I am more convinced than ever that there is no God. Though I wouldn't wish to go into details, I have been right down at the bottom, cold and desperate and when I looked into the abyss I realised that there was no one there - no one there to help me. No God. And I think of the Twin Towers and of the recent earthquake in Pakistan and of rape and murder, Waco - Texas and The Reverend Jim Jones in Guyana, Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq and the London bombings and babies that die of AIDS and the crashing of aeroplanes and of man's inhumanity to man and I know for sure that there is no God.

This world we are living in is so beautiful and this is where we have a chance to make heaven. Why should we ever be so presumptuous as to expect more than this? Marx was right - religion really is "the opium of the people". It prevents clear vision and it perpetuates the myth of an afterlife. It is an obstacle to being. Religion seems to be about bigotry and self-interest. In the twentieth century, it was the underlying cause of just about every military and social conflict from Bosnia to Northern Ireland and from Kashmir to Palestine.

I live without God in the certain knowledge that the years I have left on Earth are all that I will ever have. There is no one up there, no one listening. This is it. God is a nice story and if it were true, life would unquestionably be much easier to bear. As it is, we have to look after ourselves and our fellow human beings because nobody else is going to do this for us.

31 October 2005

Roma

Never been to Rome before so last Thursday before winter truly sneaks in, Shirley and I jetted down courtesy of Ryanair from Nottingham East Midlands Airport. We stayed at the Hotel Italia on tiny Via Venezia, just off the Via Nazionale. To the budget-conscious, I would certainly recommend this clean and well-loved typical Italian hotel that amazingly only has a two star rating. Many other hotels in Rome seem grossly overpriced - rather like London.
So what did we do in Roma? Well we walked and we ate, saw famous sights such as the Colosseum, The Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and St Peter's, wandered through the Center Storico, watched a fisherman casting his rod by the side of the Tiber where perhaps Julius Caesar once swam with Marc Antony. While waiting in the Colosseum queue, I threatened a couple of would-be line jumpers with ancient Roman tortures and once inside we watched a cat prowling over the ruins before washing and sunning himself on a ledge, in the very place where lions and other exotic creatures died horribly for Roman amusement. It's reckoned that they killed thousands.
There is no religion in my head - I have no need of it but I am fascinated by religious buildings. St Peter's is a vast lump of a building shouting out - "This is the Catholic church baby and we rule the Earth so watch out!" The sense of space you get from the inner walkway of the dome is really breathtaking. We didn't make the Sistine Chapel because the queues were horrendous and we dropped out after moving twenty yards in two hours.
I admit that I am a mean son-of-a-bitch when it comes to giving alms to beggars but in Piazza Navarro, even I was moved to dip in my pocket for a poor man who walked around on thigh stumps with two deformed hands, one without fingers. I don't care even if he was to later drive away in a Porsche or a Ferrari - poor man, he was welcome to my five euros.

22 October 2005

Slashed

This picture appeared on the front page of Sheffield's evening paper on Wednesday. It's the face of twelve year old Shanni Naylor, a pupil at Myrtle Springs School. Myrtle Springs... it sounds lovely doesn't it, conjuring up images of mountain streams and myrtle growing wild on the fellside. In England, there are many challenging schools that have optimistically taken their names from nature - as if through that naming process, the laws and the beauty of nature will colour those ugly concrete schools with goodness.
Allegedly, Shanni had stood up against a bully the day before to protect a victimised classmate. In revenge, the bully, also a member of the fairer sex, used a pencil sharpener blade to slash Shanni during an English lesson. She needed thirty stitches in her face and will require some plastic surgery but clearly this beautiful child is now scarred for life.
What's going on? So-called "low level classroom disruption" is something I have to battle against every day. I could write a book about the many forms it takes - the surly look from a child who arrives ten minutes late for a lesson without explanation, the sexual graffiti on the exercise book, the blank look when you tick off a child for swearing at a classmate, children without pens to write with, the daily requests to stop chewing gum and to take off coats, the off-task social conversations, the unrequested challenging remarks, the inappropriate body language that speaks volumes. What happened to poor Shanni is simply a horrible extension of that anti-educational culture that infests England's underprivileged urban high schools. It would be easy to vilify the assailant but she too is a victim of something that is quite rotten in our midst.

Teasing out the threads to explain this cancer would be like sorting out the swept hairs on a barbershop floor at the end of a busy workday. However, I would point to a misguided do-gooder approach to schoolchildren's "needs" and "rights", involving mentoring and counselling - "There! There Johnny, we know you didn't mean to burn the school down!" and half-baked theories such as "Assertive Discipline" and parents and business leaders having too much of a say - warped democracy. And I would also point to the media - TV and newspapers that have subtly poked fun at teachers, rule systems and consequences through throwaway drama, sensational editorials and news reports. Then there's the never ending stream of new government sponsored initiatives, unsettling teachers on the shop floor, denying them trust, refusing to listen to them, checking and rechecking them, setting unreasonable targets, sending in highly paid inspectors to kick ass, churning out interminable A4 binders after endless glossy guidelines.
I hope that Shanni Naylor's scars add fuel to what should be a national debate about what is really going on in the most challenging schools in this green and pleasant land. In terms of culture, authority and civilisation, Britain has given so much to the world and yet at times it appears that we are now breeding a generation that knows how to take but not to give, selfish, uncouth, disinterested - Frankenstein's new monster. It's time to draw a line in the sand.

20 October 2005

Comedy

Sheffield is hosting its first comedy festival - "Grin Up North". Now I really do believe in laughter. That old saying - "Laughter is the best medicine" is true common sense. When you laugh you let it all hang out. Stresses are suppressed and your spirit is lifted. I looked at the festival programme and thought - Yeah! Ross Noble at the newly refurbished City Hall - that might be fun.
So I went with Jonathan - a new teacher in my department at school. There was Ross Noble on the stage - a crazy, physical guy with an accent from England's north-east. He performed for over two and a half hours - his "Randomist" show - fluent, intelligent and crazy - echoes and woven threads of humour. He drew titbits from the audience and milked them - always harking back to what had gone before.
He was the Pope and the Mona Lisa, a pig with trotters and Fifty Cent, marionette and shadow, streaming out words without ego, entertaining, looking for laughs not in a forced or contrived way. It was a little journey filled with energy and creative diversions and I laughed. There were peaks and troughs but sometimes I laughed until tears came. If only we could laugh like that every day, the world would be a lovelier place to live in I'm sure.

15 October 2005

Sniffles

Oh dear, the common cold. Bunged up. Head aching like my brain's trying to burst of my skull. Ears aching too. Sneezing at a hundred miles an hour - straining neck muscles and tendons. Eyes turning pink like a white rabbit's - unearthly. I am reduced to mucus and snot production. Our wastebaskets filling up with evil damp tissues. This afternoon I walked out to the local chemists (pharmacy/ drugstore) to buy a bottle of "Benylin". I can't taste my food properly and I'm more tetchy than usual. Sleep that seems essential is disturbed by this miserable condition.
It seems to happen every year. The virus creeps up on you, then before you know it there are invisible thumbs pressing into your eye sockets and your bones ache and you can't concentrate and you have zero energy. I don't know how I got through the last two days at work but like the idiot I am, I went in as usual - Mr Dependable - never miss a day and never get any acknowledgement for that dutiful record - twenty five years without a day off. I must be stark, raving bonkers! There have been many times in the past when I have felt quite poorly only to find that in my free period I'm covering for an absent teacher who's probably less ill than I am.
So now back to the sniffles, coughs, sneezes, aches, rabbit eyes, tissues, mucus and snot that make for a classic common cold - another one of God's practical jokes or perhaps it was Eve, the serpent and that juicy apple.

8 October 2005

Sheffield

Half a million souls. Echoes of steel hammers. The rippling ululations of Pennine streams. Red flag flying on the Victorian town hall. Jarvis Cocker singing, "I want to live like common people" as Joe Cocker sings "Would you believe in a love at first sight?" The roar from Bramall Lane. The roar from Hillsborough. Faraway in the Don Valley a northbound train is heard on the breeze.
This is England's best kept secret. Built on seven hills like Rome. A city of trees and green spaces melding with the heather hills of the Peak District. A divided city. South and West the mansions, university degrees, bulging wallets, boxers, football managers, personalised number plates on Mercs, Range Rovers, Jags, Lexus cars, coffee mornings and "A starred" school students. North and East the ragged council estates, crumbling concrete, teenage mums, cheap cuts of meat, pasty faces and cigarettes, dogs sniffing round bins, chavs in Burberry and bling, old cars and heroin, downtrodden lives.
Here they made knives and forks, invented stainless steel, conceived organised football, stood twenty deep at the funeral of Samuel Holberry the Chartist leader, gave the Labour Party an angry socialist heart, brewed beer, built Europe's biggest nightclub, embraced the idea of workingmen's snooker as a world sport. This was a city of hard work and hard play where toffs had to keep a low profile instead of lording it as they still do in Surrey and Solihull, London and Leeds. Here the common people ruled.
I never meant to live here. It wasn't planned. My first visit was in 1972 to see Buffy St Marie and Loudon Wainwright at the City Hall. Little did I know that in 1978 I'd be back, post university and travel. One thing led to another. Work. Meeting my lovely wife. Buying houses. Welcoming two fantastic children into our lives. We made networks like a couple of spiders spinning webs.
Twenty seven years later I can't believe the time that's passed. So many nights, so many days acted out in these streets, amid these hills. Laughing and crying, stumbling home, lying in the grass to watch summer swallows dancing on the breeze, watching our children grow, walking to Forge Dam, talking, eating, hating work with a passion and loving it with delight. Curries and "Rafters" restaurant, smoky pubs and quizzes, The Jam at The Fiesta and Athol Fugard at The Crucible, Hull City hammering Wednesday, Spike Milligan at The Lyceum, plumbers and builders and Derek with Monty and Glyn with his pipe and an endless chain of schoolchildren like Macbeth's tormenting vision.
This is Sheffield. The Steel City. The real Heart of England.
Photographs > Steelworker brick mural, Sheffield FC - The world's first soccer team, The Peace Gardens - Sheffield city centre