31 October 2005


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


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.

19 October 2005


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


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.

7 October 2005


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

1 October 2005


And now for something light and airy. Dear visitors to this egomaniacal site, why not make your own lists? It's amazing what they reveal about us. Interactive feature - I will later add the best extra "pet hates" submitted by visitors.
Top Ten Pet Hates
1. Religion of any hue
2. Mobile Phones (Cellphones)
3. Electric Hand-Dryers
4. Dog crap in the street
5. Cigarette smoke
6. Britney Spears
7. Anything to do with Harry Potter
8. Hospital operations on TV
9. Dentists
10. Chewing gum spattered pavements

Top Ten Likes
1. Nookie
2. Saturday morning
3. Hull City scoring
4. Curry at the Kashmir Curry Centre
5. Visual art that moves you.
6. Tetley’s Bitter
7. Being thrust back in your seat by an
aeroplane’s acceleration
8. Swimming in a warm sea
9. My guitar
10. Watching birds
Top Ten Places in the World
1. St Faith’s Churchyard, Leven,
East Yorkshire
2. The Boathouse, Laugharne, Wales

3. Apalachicola, Florida
4. The top of our garden on
a summer’s evening
5. Boothferry Park, Bunker’s Hill
Terrace (old Hull City ground)
6. Sunset Beach, Ios, Greece
7. Braithwaite, Cumbria
8. Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire
9. Mofmanu Beach, Rotuma, Fiji
10. Our bed
Top Ten Famous people
1. Bob Dylan
2. Jackson Browne
3. Thor Heyerdahl
4. Captain James Cook
5. John Fowles
6. Ken Wagstaff (Hull City legend)
7. Vincent Van Gogh
8. Dylan Thomas
9. Geoff Boycott
10. Janet Street-Porter (token woman)