28 July 2005


<-Cats Protection League
Boris is our cat. He came to our garden five years ago. Back then he was a stray - so thin and scraggy that my darling wife took pity on him, fed him and so of course he kept coming back. It wasn't long before he got his little black and white paws over the threshold. All I could think of was the twenty years of commitment, the fleas, the vet's fees, the cattery fees, the cost of catfood, the little "accidents" that cats will tend to have on your best carpet. He decided to join us just after we'd had expensive PVC doors installed - so no cat flaps. At night, Boris sleeps in his kennel - unless it's antarctically cold outside. In spite of myself, I have grown to love this furry animal. He miaows at me then walks away with his feline earholes pinned back, expecting me to follow. When he turns left he wants out but when he turns right he wants feeding.
Late one evening, I once saw him crossing a major road two hundred yards from our house. Why? Where was he going? I wonder if they make little video cameras that can be strapped to cats' heads so that one of the great mysteries of the universe might be untangled - What exactly do cats do at night?

22 July 2005


Made it through yet another year of secondary school teaching. Funny how people are always eager to pigeonhole you at a first meeting. .."And what do you do?" Why should work matter so much to us? I have made it a point never to ask anyone what they do to earn money. If it comes out then fair enough but whenever I hear that question... "And what do you do?" I want to say, "Well I lie on my back watching swallows dance in the air and I make up songs, take photographs, travel to new places with eager delight, stay up too late almost every night, cook mean stir frys which I eat with my family and I try to make sense of this life I'm living, hanging on to happiness and all the things that are important to me, like tomorrow..." And you know sometimes I do say things like that, not bothering if I'm breaking the usual social code where people are characterised via notions of the jobs they do. So what if I am a teacher?
Besides, many people think they know all there is to know about teaching because they once sat in classrooms. They don't know the half of it. Great, it's my holiday! Teacher's rest! But next week I will be back at work all week, making lists, ordering books, tidying up, turfing out old folders, salvaging worksheets, labelling boxes of exam papers, making policies and action plans etc.. How many other British workers go to work in their holidays?
Click on postage stamp for Beanotown.com

17 July 2005


She was born in May 1921. Holding her little brother's hand, she made an apocryphal journey through grimy South Yorkshire streets to live at her grandmother's house because her own parents were, rather unusually for those days, breaking up. She married in India during the second World War then bore four healthy sons, living the life of a rural headmaster's wife. She is my mother and today she made another apocryphal journey - from the cottage hospital to the old folks home but this time I don't think she will be coming out. It's the start of the last chapter. She's eighty four with two strokes behind her, a broken hip, a broken collar bone, several unrecorded falls, several bottles of cheap whisky and brandy, lots of tales retold... And when they asked me at the home what her hobbies are, I thought of all the hobbies she once had - reading avidly, basket weaving, glove-making, lampshade making, caravanning, crosswords, knitting, singing, baking - a human dynamo.... but now there are just shadows of the woman she once was, sitting in her high chair like an old cowboy on his verandah - looking out across the plains.

12 July 2005


<- Click image for EastEnders website.
Finally, I have decided to come out of the closet to admit that I am a huge fan of the BBC soap EastEnders which explores life, love and tragedy in the fictional London borough of Walford. I have hardly missed a single episode since the show was first launched in February 1985. Smatarse critics who never watch the soap will often claim that it is "dour", "grim" or "morbid" - "No one ever laughs or smiles". This is all utter balderdash! Long ago, Shakespeare discovered that the best theatrical drama will emerge from life's trials and tribulations and not from those times when everything goes along quite swimmingly. I think the writers are generally good at mixing things up with Jim and Dot often seeming like Albert Square's answer to Andy Capp and Flo while The Millers echo Roald Dahl's "The Twits". This is a truly brilliant soap but you have to live with it week by week to really appreciate it as it moves between dramatic highpoints and bread and butter lows - necessary to meld the soap's ongoing major themes and issues together. I say - Stuff the Critics! Come on Walford! And thanks to the brilliant EastEnders team who have given me so much armchair pleasure these last twenty years!

4 July 2005


Collective nouns are fascinating. Who knows where some of their origins lie? For birds, the vocabulary is particularly groovy. Here are just a few choice collective nouns. Next time you are in the English countryside, watch out for murmurations of starlings or a bouquet of pheasants! And you never know – you might witness a mutation of thrushes:-

Choughs - chattering
Coots - commotion
Crows - murder
Eagles - convocation
Finches - charm
Geese - chevron (when flying in V-formation), flock (when on the ground), gaggle (when on water), skein (when flying), string, wedge (when flying)
Guillemot - loomery
Gulls - colony, skein (when flying high over long distances)
Magpies - mischief
Oystercatchers - parcel
Owls - parliament
Pheasants - bouquet
Ravens - unkindness
Redwing - crowd
Sparrows - host, tribe
Starlings - murmuration
Stork - mustering
Thrushes - mutation
Turkeys - rafter
Turtle doves - pitying
Woodpeckers - descent
Wrens - herd, chime

1 July 2005


It's happened again. Fell asleep in front of the TV, woke up at 3am, went to bed, tossed and turned for forty minutes and then got up for a mug of tea and biscuits and a bit of Internet surfing. Today's the day of the Live8 concerts around the world. I'd like to be down in Hyde Park, London for the music and the sense of being in a huge band of people - united against big business and pompous governments, united for the poor and the disdavantaged - our brothers and our sisters. I admire Bob Geldof greatly for his bloodymindedness, for having the audacity to rediscover People Power. It was there in 1985 at the Live Aid concerts. I cuddled my baby son and felt a shiver of hope as I realised what Geldof and his followers had done. That beautiful innocence, that harnessing of revolutionary tactics, turning smug and self-obsessed musical heroes into proponents of social and political change. What a trick to pull! Cynically, I don't think we will ever make poverty history but that does not mean we should not try. We owe it to our planet. We owe it to our children and their children. We owe it to Africa and to all those other places where need and want cry out like sirens in the night.