31 December 2006


It's a blank canvas. There may be optimism. There may be pessimism in the air but it's still a blank canvas. At a personal level, Shirley and I just went down the pub and then on to Christine's house to count the bells and sing "Auld Lang Syne". It wasn't much of a party. Only a handful of people - but one or two I had never met before - Irish Moira who had never been to Ireland and her nephew John Maloney who also - in spite of his Irish name - has never been to the Emerald Isle. Maybe next New Year we'll have another rip-roaring party at our own gaff. We've had many fine parties here.


2006 ended with the death of the dictator Saddam Hussein but we should perhaps hesitate to recognise and accept that he only grew into the monster he was because the West - America in particular - gave him the rope he needed to hang himself. I watched his unedited death on You Tube. How could the security be so lax as to allow someone to visit the gruesome scene with a camera phone? Crazy! I suppose it is good that he has gone but he took so many secrets to his grave - especially information about financial and political support he received from America in the late seventies and early eighties. How convenient for Dubya!
In 2007 I want to get rich. I want to be thin again. I want to leave teaching. I want to be molested by busloads of nymphomaniacal virgins. I want to hear one of my songs on the radio and have plays and stories published at long last. I want to watch the TV news and relish items about Bush's fall from power, Gordon Brown's shady share dealings, the re-nationalisation of British train services, the prohibition of reality TV shows, Hull City's promotion to the Premiership, the death of Osama bin Laden, drug busts for Take That, The Corrs, Liberty X, Girls Aloud and Cliff Richard. In 2007 I want to be healthy, avoid road accidents and eat well.
Happy 2007 to anyone who reads this post!

28 December 2006


Been "busy doing nothing". And I am not ashamed. We seem to spend so much of our lives rushing around, getting things done, like ants on a great antheap. These last few days I have been in a kind of hibernation. It happens in late December most years. This morning I lifted the duvet and looked at our radio alarm - 8.32. What the hell? Like a Northern Atlantic elephant seal I rolled over and went back to sleep till 9.43, groggily emerging from a jumbled dream.
Down the stairs for a mug of tea and a bowl of hot oat cereal. Turn on the TV to watch "House Doctor" in which an American interior designer advises home sellers how to best prepare their homes for prospective buyers. Out goes all the clutter of life. Instead we step into a magazine world of neutral shades, strategically positioned vases of flowers and scatter cushions. Outside in the garden a young man with the unlikely name of Sven Wombwell lays paving slabs and shovels up dog shit. Then surprise, surprise - the prospective buyers are wowed by the property. "Join us again for the next edition of House Doctor. Goodbye". Time for another mug of tea. Time to let the cat in. Time to scatter the remains of our Xmas turkey on the lawn for my bird friends. Hey it's now past eleven. Time for a shower. Cut my toe nails. Open the mail. Get dressed. Yawwwn! Perhaps I should go back to bed?


Northern Atlantic Elephant Seals basking

This is what Pliny the Younger called "That indolent but agreeable state of doing nothing". Trouble is Shirley's on a half day at work and she'll be back at one asking me what I've been doing. The answer "Nothing" might have gone down well with Mrs Pliny but my missus won't find such a response agreeable. I think she expects me to wash all the clothes, iron them and put them away. As a compromise I spend three minutes emptying the dishwasher. Then I check the turkey soup I made yesterday afternoon. Toss in a little cream and some pearl barley. Mmmmm! Smell good!
And so the day goes idly on. I am now the official Roger Hargreaves Mr Lazy. The biggest activity of the day was taking Shirley's little Nissan Micra down to the petrol station to fill up and now I'm thinking I'll take a lazy stroll to the pub for last orders. Might see some other lazy assholes down there too and we can talk about our different experiences of procrastination. The spice of life!

23 December 2006


A Christmas card landed on our doormat this morning - all the way from Minneapolis, USA. It was from the first American I ever really knew - Richard. We met so long ago on the other side of the planet. He was in his mid twenties and I was nineteen. He was a Peace Corps volunteer teacher and I was sponsored by the UK's equivalent organisation - Voluntary Service Overseas.

When I signed up, I said I wanted to be located in the Caribbean - perhaps Jamaica, Trinidad or the Cayman Islands - not too far from "civilisation".

As it happens, V.S.O. sent me to the distant Pacific island of Rotuma. It was so remote - over three hundred miles north of the main Fiji Islands. By copra boat, it took three days to get there from Suva City and the boats were very infrequent - perhaps six a year. Rotuma appeared first as a smudge on the horizon - was it cloud or land? Then as the "Aoniu" chugged further northwards over the rolling Pacific blue, you could make out volcanic peaks and later the tropical greenery, white sands, coconut palms, Rotuman children playing.

Rotuma coutesy of Google Earth. A green jewel in a deep blue ocean.

The island was a world in itself. The rest of the planet seemed almost irrelevant. Though only ten miles long and two miles wide, it contained so much variety. There were remote beaches, tiny offshore islands, palm groves, beautiful pristine reefs where multicoloured fish hovered or darted, kitchen gardens in the mysterious "bush" where island men wandered daily with their lethal machetes. There were wild pigs and squawking seabirds and yellow bellied spiders as big as your fist and one starry night I watched a fisherman pull in an enormous sea turtle - illuminated by a benzene lantern, it looked like a true monster of the deep.

I recall much of my time there in vivid detail. While other years have utterly disappeared from my memory, that sojourn in Rotuma is etched on my mind like a Polynesian tattoo. The people were so resourceful and often so kind. They didn't have much but then again they didn't need much. They had a fertile island, plentiful seas, friendship, neighbours and of course the ubiquitous palm tree that served so many functions - providing trunks for canoes, leaves for thatching or weaving into intricate mats and fans, copra oil for export, refreshing milk from young coconuts and nutritious white meat for the pigs and chickens.

For me there were many highs and several lows. I had a lot of growing up to do in a short time. I couldn't phone home and the post took so long that it was hardly worth writing. With Richard I was teaching at the Malhaha High School - the only secondary school on the island. Most of the classes contained thirty to forty children and I had to learn about teaching "on the job". I taught English, History, Geography and sometimes Rugby. It was a steep learning curve.

Back at the house I shared with Richard in the village of Motusa, I loved to wander down to the white arc of Mofmanu beach and dive in the sultry Pacific waves at a point where there was a break in the reef. Usually, I was the only swimmer. One of the things that could sometimes get you down was our limited food options - fish and taro, corned beef and taro, breadfruit and taro, taro and taro. Feasts were better with whole pigs roasted on hot rocks, covered with banana leaves and sand for three or four hours and there were feasts every other weekend.

Sometimes, with old men from the village, I drank the narcotic "grog" made from the crushed roots of the yanquona plant. You didn't get drunk - just sort of zonked out - in a state of mind where nothing seemed important any more. The grog hut was a quiet place - no uproarious laughter just zonked out guys crosslegged in the shadows, listening to waves pounding on the edge of the reef.


Richard - cropped from Rotuman school photo.

There's so much I could say about Rotuma. Richard was there much longer than me and almost stayed forever. He was the real "fa fisi" or white man. He got to know the Rotuman language quite fluently and I guess his family in Minnesota thought he would never come home. Since then, his work has taken him around the world and he married a lovely Korean lady called Yong Sun who gave him a son who is now a man - Adrian.

Richard always remembered what I once said about the island of Rotuma - "a funny kind of paradise". He knew what I meant. There's an airstrip there today and the Rotuman people are much more worldly-wise. It's possible to holiday there now but back in the seventies, Richard and I were at first the only white people there - two strangers thrown together so far from home. Incredibly, with the updated version of Google Earth, I can scan the island like a deity, finally uncovering part of the mystery of Rotuma's "bush".
Richard told me in his card that he sometimes peruses this blog. It's funny how you make connections with people. You find youself in a situation and then many years later you're still connected. To regular visitors to this blog and to Richard, Yong Sun and Adrian in Minneapolis, I say
Merry Christmas and all the best for 2007!!

Me (19) on the school field after Hurricane Bebe hit Rotuma. Photo taken by Richard.

21 December 2006


Well I guess that an accused man is innocent until proven guilty but this is the night when the Suffolk County Police put their cards on the table and declared that the killer is forty eight year old Steven Wright. UK visitors to this blog will know what I'm talking about but my readers from the USA may be baffled. Let me just say that in the last month, the corpses of five young women have been found in south eastern England near the coastal town of Ipswich. Oddly, all five bodies were totally unclothed.
It was here in Sheffield that the famous Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, was arrested in 1981 after another killing spree. He was finally collared in a car park just twenty yards from the old Sheffield Teachers' Centre that I visited very regularly. Like Sutcliffe, it seems that Wright held a particular grudge against young sex workers. He may have killed other women up in Norwich and elsewhere. If it is him, thank God he is in custody now so that other desperate young women can sleep more easily in their beds.


This case makes me contemplate three issues. Firstly, how could any young woman living in a rich country like the UK ever resort to prostitution? There are many impoverished, drug-dabbling women for whom prostitution is totally out of the equation. Secondly, what kind of a man even considers going with prostitutes? Perhaps I am naive, undersexed or something but I would never, ever think of having sex with a total stranger who - apart from anything else -might have an STD or a scam for ripping punters off. Where would be the pleasure in swift copulation in a dark car park with someone you didn't care about, paying them hard earned money for this sordid activity? Thirdly, how could you murder someone who hadn't done you any harm at all? I could almost understand topping somebody who had bullied you or humiliated you or caused you pain but a young lass on a street corner in Ipswich, pathetically trying to live from day to day, how could you end the life of somebody so vulnerable? It's so sad.
When a dog mauls a child, we expect that creature to be put down. If it transpires that Wright is definitely the killer then I would recommend the same response for him. Perhaps there are background reasons for his evil acts - maybe his mother didn't love him, maybe he has some erectile dysfunction - I don't care - I would recommend death. That's real justice - natural justice. To Gemma, Tania, Anneli, Paula and Annette I say - Rest in Peace and sorry that our society couldn't give you another path to walk.

17 December 2006


Roary The Tiger is Hull City's mascot. Like Swansea City's Cyril the Swan, our mascot has attitude. He grabs kids' hats and confronts linesmen, makes sliding tackles and runs off with people's food. On more than one occasion, he has had to be reprimanded by officers of the law. Yesterday afternoon, Roary was as happy as the rest of us as The Tigers thrashed high-flying Cardiff City 4-1. Oh what a sight to behold! The leek-munching taffies were all over the place. They didn't know what had hit them and our lads played like, like... well like Tigers.


Of course we are managerless as I write this post. Rumour has it that the grim disciplinarian, Gary Megson, will fill the vacant post but I'm petitioning for Roary! The previous incumbent, Parkinson, was sacked twelve days ago and yesterday's victory was inspired by assistant manager - Phil Brown - named Championship Manager of The Day in that awful Sunday newspaper - "The News of The World".
I would never buy such a rag myself - I read it at Winnie's house. Winnie is my mother-in-law and she lives out in the sticks of north Nottinghamshire. Ian and Frances came along with us and we all went for Sunday lunch at "The White Swan" in Drakeholes by the Chesterfield Canal. Beautiful carvery lunch where you stagger back to your table with enough food for a couple of Irish Catholic families. And the weather was lovely - bright December sunshine, looking out over the ancient green arable landscape that reaches right down to Lincoln.
Sorry I guess that's all too boring for Anonoman. May I recommend that he visits the News of the World website at www.newsoftheworld.co.uk for seedy sex scandals and suchlike. With a box of Kleenex, this should keep him happy for a while.


One for the ladies - a cuddly Roary - available from Hull City AFC Club Shop.

14 December 2006


Boring - that's not a label anybody has ever attached to me but perhaps in all my years I never encountered such an astute judge of character as Anonoman - this stalker of the blogosphere whose mission seems to be to piss off the creators of any blogs he visits. Well maybe I am boring now, maybe I became boring somewhere along the line - I don't know. Perhaps you, dear reader, could judge for yourself as I describe my day.
I woke at seven as usual but my head was still pounding. I knew I should have left the casino earlier. However, after I had won that £15,000 on the roulette table, Sean Bean, Naseem Hamed, Michael Palin and all my other Sheffield mates decided we should party on and there was champers for everybody. I can't remember when I picked up that model - Natasha I think she was called. Gorgeous ass and she smelled like honeysuckle. Shirley was none too pleased when she woke up to find this Natasha between us - snoring lightly with contentment.
I decided to phone work to tell them I wouldn't be in today. Instead I jumped in my specially imported silver Ford Mustang and zoomed off into the Peak District for a spot of hang-gliding with Colin - an importer I have known for years - we have often chilled out at his ski lodge near Beaver Creek. Jeez it was brilliant to be up there on a bright December morning - up with the birds.
After a spot of ropefree rock climbing in Whinnat's Pass, I said my farewells to Colin and sped over to Chatsworth House for an excellent lunch with long time friend The Duchess of Devonshire. Lovely lady. We ate roast partridge and asparagus followed by these delicious paw-paws flown in specially from Guyana.


I had set up a brainstorming session with my committee in the aternoon. I am making most of the background arrangements for The Concert for Diana to be held in London next July. Elton John was being an utter bitch as usual so I just slapped him down. Honestly, that guy! You'd think he was an effing Princess himself.
After the meeting I had to zoom back home to "supervise" the guys who are installing the pool in our back garden. It looks like they are going to have it finished by Christmas after all! With tradesmen, I find you just have to show them who's boss and they jump into line like little schoolboys. They're doing a superb job. It's amazing what you can get for £85k.
Later on a familiar black Merc pulled up outside and Tony - the private detective I have hired - flipped open the boot and yanked out the weedy little specimen he has been tracking down for a couple of weeks now - this snivelling twerp who has been leaving unpleasant comments on my blog. He calls himself "Anonymous". Well we got him in the ballroom and Tony untied him. You could tell the guy was frightened - shaking and everything but I carried on with my plan. He put on some pink boxing shorts and a pair of gloves and I followed suit - though my shorts were baby blue. Then I gave this creature the biggest hiding of his life. Crunch! Splat! He lost a few teeth and his nose now points west so I guess I was the victor. Kindly, I ordered him a taxi home.
Later, after a meal of larks' tongues in aspic washed down with finest cognac, my family and I waltzed down to The Last Laugh Comedy Club where I have done a regular stand up gig for a few years now. I was surprised to see Jarvis Cocker and Phil Oakey (Human League) in the audience. They really are boring old farts compared with me so I declined Jarvis's offer of a line of coke when I encountered him in the Gents after walking off stage. Honestly - coke! Been there done that, got the T-shirt. Besides, the audience were stomping and chanting for an encore.
So here I am at my keyboard after another day in my life, mug of Horlicks and a mince pie by the monitor. The wife is desperately calling me upstairs - bloody insatiable she is - "I'll be up in a bit darling!" You know, life can be so dull sometimes. Ho-hum!

12 December 2006


Yo ho ho! It's the festive picture quiz! Which two blogs are represented by these pictures? Don't try this if you have an average IQ or you happen to be an anonymous bystander.




9 December 2006


Balanced on the top step of our aluminium step ladders, reaching, straining to saw away branches from the tree that overhangs the little block paved path that leads to the top half of our garden. I don't even know what kind of tree it is but I do know that it sends out long spindly branches that reach for the sky and need to be pruned from time to time. I see this tree from our back windows and every day I think - gonnna prune that mother! Well today I did it. The tree has had its long-awaited haircut.
My beloved Hull City lost again. This week we ditched our manager and so the assistant manager is in charge. Supporting this club is a pastime filled with pain and so little sunlight. How could we even dare to dream of the Premiership? It looks like we are sinking back into the abyss again. There can be no other supporters in the Football League so goddam hungry for success - just a little walk in the sunshine - that's all we ask.


At the pub tonight we watched the Bolton boxer Amir Khan strut his stuff - a clear points victory. Irish Joe was there and we swapped pint buying duties. And the Romanian student Rejvan was there again. His dad is a politician back in Romania. Rejvan is only eighteen but he's full of knowledge, curiosity and a zest for life. He's here in Sheffield as an undergraduate, pursuing a degreee in International Relations. Me and Shirley have invited him home for a traditional English Sunday dinner tomorrow evening.
Well, what can you say? These are the dark days of December before the Winter Solstice. You just have to get through it - in the knowledge that round the corner there is light, new growth, a new year. On Sunday, I will be writing Xmas cards as I did twelve short months ago. How come time is speeding by faster and faster? ....Sorry that this is such a mundane little post.

6 December 2006


An escape from everyday life or a time for recharging batteries. Sleep - oh come to me - you are night's daughter - so sang The Incredible String Band. "Sleep perchance to dream" said Shakespeare. And if I spent a few research minutes, I could find lots of other reflections on sleep. It's something all human beings have in common. Sometimes I nestle in to the clean cotton sheets that Shirley has laundered and it feels like easing into the Mediterranean - when warm waters lap over you and beneath the surface you are deafened, made lighter than you are, enveloped by womblike waters. It's like a rehearsal for death.


The night is filled with dreams but for me they rarely wait behind - they're gone like gossamer. I try to grasp them as I wake but they slip away and in any case, I know they are meaningless - just the brain ordering itself - filing and making some kind of sense of the ocean of data it receives each day. Sometimes sleep evades you when you need it most. When your head is filled with anxieties or pain and no matter how you try, those demons won't get lost. They torment and they torture till the morning palely brightens and you feel you've climbed a mountain. You're still exhausted.
We never talk of great sleeps we had in the past. For the majority of us that means we don't talk very much at all about one third of our lives. I remember Athens Airport in 1980. Rucksack checked in and a five hour nightime delay. I left the heaving terminal and under a nearby olive tree placed my passport and wallet under my head and fell asleep. I woke to a pastel Grecian dawn, before the sun rose like an angry eye and wandered back into the terminal where travelling chaos ensued.
Sleep - sweetest friend I ever had - always waiting there to embrace you. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

2 December 2006


Anonymity can be attractive or enormously irritating. Positive anonymity might be when you're lost in a crowd or you're in transit between places - just another human being in the flow of life, leaving the niggles and stresses of the everyday world behind you. When nobody even knows your name. And being an anonymous giver or hero is also attractive. I enjoy news stories about kind strangers who help old ladies to escape from house fires or pull somebody from a car wreck or pay thousands to prevent a hostel for the homeless from closing. Then of course, there are all those anonymous war heroes buried or lost - for example, where the plains of northern France meet Belgium - the unknown soldiers - entirely deserving of our endless honour.
Bad anonymity is different - the nameless morons who smashed my car window on five occasions to get at the CD/radio - the graffiti sprayers who leave their ugly scrawl for the rest of us to notice - the bureaucrats who don't give you their names when you're on the telephone - and in the world wide web there are those maddening but unnamed spammers and cowardly stalkers who leave "anonymous" messages in blogs - sometimes of an offensive nature.


However, maybe I'm being a little hypocritical about this because of course my parents didn't christen me "Yorkshire Pudding"! I have another name that people outside this cyberworld use and perhaps it's time to come clean. This whole blog has been an invention. I have never been to Yorkshire. My real name is Earl Radsinsky. I live in Baltimore, Maryland and I have been commisioned by the CIA to hunt down "anonymous" contributors to wholesome blogs. May I assure everyone out there that I know who these "anonymous" computer users are. I am gradually closing in on them and in the course of time they will each be, well, let's just say - eliminated!

29 November 2006


From time to time, everyone experiences feelings of anger. We are meant to be apologetic about anger - as if it was always a "problem", a beastly trait that civilised people should never allow themselves to fall prey to. Increasingly, in teaching, a message has spread like a quiet whisper that somehow anger is wrong. Instead we should be embracing half-baked philosophies such as "Assertive Discipline".
When kids cross the line we are meant to say in intelligent voices, "Please make a different choice" or "I have to tell you that every action has a consequence and the consequence of your action will be this..." There seems to be little room left for blasts of temper or clear and natural demonstrations of displeasure. Anger is something to be managed - hence "Anger Management" sessions and courses and counselling. It's something to be swept under the carpet, talked away or stifled.


A couple of years ago, one lunchtime, I came across a sixteen year old boy who was at the corridor light switch, switching the lights on and off, on and off, on and off. "Mark", I said nicely, "please don't do that. You might fuse the lights." On and off they went. I became a little more forceful but still Mark ignored me and kept on - on and off. Finally, I came real close to him and bellowed at a thousand decibels, "MARK! GET YOUR HANDS OF THAT LIGHT SWITCH NOW!" Mark was so taken aback that he ran out of the school, all the way home. Later, an office worker told me that Mark had returned with his father who was shouting the odds in the school reception area, saying memorably, "Mark doesn't like people shouting at him!" Crazy world.
Here's what Wikipedia has to say about anger:-

"Anger is an emotional response to a grievance. The grievance may appear to be real or imagined, it may have its roots in a past, present experience or it may be in anticipation of a future event. Anger is invariably based on the perception of threat or a perceived threat due to a conflict, injustice, negligence, humiliation and betrayal among others.
Anger can be an active or a passive emotion. In case of "active" emotion the angry person "lashes out" verbally or physically at an intended target whether justified or not. When anger is a "passive" emotion it is charactererized by silent sulking, passive-aggressive behaviour (hostility) and tension."

What has made you angry over the years I wonder? Personally, I can admit to lots of things. Sometimes I think that anger can show that you still care, that you are still alive, that you still have passion in your soul. In my "Friends Reunited" university alumini entry, I wrote, "still an angry young man after all these years". I'm not ashamed of getting angry. Just as day is the counterbalance to night, so perhaps anger is the counterblance to love or charity. I don't want to live my life in a permanent dusk.
Things that make me angry have included impersonal and inefficient bureaucracy of any kind, schoolchildren who won't listen, bad decisions by football referees, famine and starvation in the Third World, bullshit bandwagons that trundle through the world of education - often costing millions of pounds, Hugh Grant, tradesmen such as plumbers or roofers who let you down, drivers talking on mobile phones, profligate waste of the Earth's precious resources, the extinction of unique creatures, people pushing in front of you to get served in pubs, the war in Iraq, The "Troubles" in Northern Ireland, cars parking on the grass verge outside our house, tailgaters on motorways, lavatories without lavatory paper, ugly graffiti on lovely stone work, any kind of bullying, banks, litter...
What about you?

25 November 2006


It's interesting to note how many new words have entered the English language since computers became widespread. In the early seventies, a "mouse" was a furry little rodent that you tempted into springed traps with lumps of Christmas cake and a "hard drive" was either when your tyres were over-inflated or your journey was over rough, rocky terrain. A "monitor" was a kid in school who sucked up to the teachers and brought in mini milk bottles in a crate.
Another term we are all now familiar with is "spam". Of course, this is all the unwanted crap that appears in your e-mail - usually from unscrupulous money-mad morons who care not one hoot about the irritation they cause to millions. So "spam" has become an odious, negative word which I think should be replaced by "bush". "Have you checked your inbox for bush?" is a question we could soon get used to.
I would further like to protest about the Monty Python team's snobbish assault on the product's integrity with their famous "Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam!" song. This in itself caused sales to plunge, making hundreds of "Spam" workers redundant.


The original "Spam" can design 1937.

You see this misuse of the word "spam" is an insult to the delicious canned meat product conceived in Austin, Minnesota in December 1936. It first appeared in the UK during World War II and in a time of shortages and strict rationing it proved a god-send. "Spam" is unfairly reviled. I urge you to pop a can in your trolley next time you are in a supermarket. There are so many great recipes for "Spam" and below I give you a recipe for THE SPAMBURGER! Mmmmmm!

Preparation:5 minutes
Cooking:10 minutes
Serves 4
INGREDIENTS1 x 340g Can SPAM® Chopped Pork and Ham, 4 Burger buns split, 4 Cheese slices, Lettuce leaves, Tomatoes, sliced onion rings, Mayonnaise or relish.
1 Slice SPAM® lengthways into 4 equal slices. Grill under a medium heat on both sides until lightly browned.
2 Assemble burger with SPAM®, cheese, lettuce, tomato slices, onion rings and add relishes to taste.


Mmmm! Spamburger!

Confession - I pinched this recipe from the official UK Spam website www.spam-uk.com Well worth a visit!

21 November 2006


7.15 Stumble to the bathroom and once again retune the shower radio to Radio Sheffield. Why do the kids insist on twirling the knob to Galaxy FM or Radio Hallam - pop music pap and inane babble? I need words. News. Perhaps this will be the morning when they announce that an unexploded World War II bomb has blasted my place of work to smithereens.
7.54 In the car and the race is on. If I can make it to Shore Lane before the radio pips at eight then I know I'll be okay - I'll be at work on time. It's a journey I have made so many times but every morning is slightly different. I have invented a new verb - to be "wallied". It means when you're in a hurry and dumb road users hold you up - the old guy who won't turn right unless there's no other car in view, the brewery lorry that's reversing at the speed of drying paint around a busy corner, the taxi that's waiting to make a pick up in the middle of a congested street - that's when you know you've been wallied!
8.19 The car's parked. It's Groundhog Day. I'm jogging through the puddles. Up the library steps to the morning briefing. Made it. There's stuff about excluded kids and teachers failing to make correct entries on the "Lesson Monitor" computer lists. Nobody mentions how long it takes to load up this mother or all the other little glitches and hitches associated with this state-of-the-art facility that we are not allowed to question. Computer gods.
8.35 I'm in the main hall ticking off names. The Student Tracking Co-ordinator (formerly Head of Year!) is berating the youngsters for poor attendance and punctuality, warning them that "Lesson Monitor" is watching them. It sounds like a lizard from the Galapagos Islands - the rare but ferocious lesson monitor - watching with her beady eyes from some arboreal perch. At the end of this truly inspirational assembly, the kids are asked to stack six plastic chairs each but for that to happen there would need to be at least three times as many chairs! I laugh with Dale that he's only picked up four chairs. Doesn't anybody do mental arithmetic any more?
8.55 The Year 8 boys have arrived at my room. Between the nine of them they have about fourteen brain cells. It's like stirring porridge. We made up a story about Jack Prankster - a cartoon kid I had produced on the interactive whiteboard. Jack used superglue to stick his grandma to her rocking chair. The identical twins are the dumbest of the lot. They fiddle with pens, taking them apart while completely forgetting their alphabets. They would make Homer Simpson look like a rocket scientist. Even so, these kids are nice enough and I tell them so. Good manners and cheerfulness count for a lot in my book. Sod their bloody National Curriculum targets! As long as they do as they're told and say "please" and "thank you", I'm happy.


11.00 The last of the Year Eleven's have entered the room - ten minutes late after break. I note this fact on "Lesson Monitor" - certain that my note will be utterly and completely ignored. We're on with Robert Cormier's "Heroes" for the GCSE Literature exam and - wonders will never cease - they actually like it. It's gripped them. Francis has found out where Larry LaSalle is living and he's going there, the gun in his pocket "like a tumour", determined to take the ultimate revenge.

11.45 The result of the Key Stage Three SATs Review has arrived in school and whoopee! -we're four percentage points up. All those hours I spent on the summer papers and the mark scheme and the bloody forms - it's paid off. We are now just a shade beneath our target. When the Spanish Inquisition come to call, they won't be baying for my blood. I phone the headteacher with the good news but of course her phone is permanently engaged - a single monotonous whine - she's away on one of her mysteriously important trips, no doubt bringing back more exciting news that has little to do with the morons I am just going to bollock in one of the Science labs. Bizarrely, they are in groups devising lyrics for anti-bullying songs. It's their PSHE Day. Personal and Social Education. Crap in other words!
12.50 Sandwich box. Shirley kindly filled it this morning. Roast pork and tomato. A mini Melton Mowbray pork pie and an apple. I'm in heaven with my mug of fresh sweet tea. The others have healthy food courtesy of Jamie Oliver on silver coloured plastic trays from the school canteen. Crap in other words!
2.45 I'm signing thirty plus letters home about non-completion of GCSE coursework assignments. Honestly, some of these kids! No pens to write with. No bags. Plenty of lip like "Why can't we talk when we're writing?" They pull at the plastic table edging and steal the pens you have kindly lent them. Mr Booth challenges Danielle about her mobile phone but she won't give it up as demanded so I find myself spending twenty minutes writing a letter home to her mother and filling in the requisite referral forms. What was she perusing on the mini phone screen anyway? Crap no doubt.
5.45 I'm still at the computer manipulating the Year Nine spreadsheet - indicating red, green and amber pupils. Who is on track for the magical Level 5's that are one of the main measures of our department's success or lack of it? Forget the fact that we have about £1.50 a year to spend on text books, novels, poetry books, plays etc for each child. What's yer target? How are ye going to get there? How's it measure up with last year? What about next year? ...While out there on the estate, a scruffy mongrel dog sniffs hopefully at an empty polystyrene chip tray and seagulls settle on the library roof, huddling in preparation for another long, cold night.
6.00 Driving home. More news of traffic jams on the M1 and pointless killings in Iraq. I wait patiently at Manchester Road to get over to Shore Lane and some impatient bastard behind honks me. I'm not dying here for no one matey! You can bloody well wait!

17 November 2006



Wall clock says “Go!”
Last minute chores…grabbing papers…
Switching off…racing home
- That tyrant Work at bay
At least till miserable Monday
Ahead the weekend
Like an unexplored valley
Lush and green,
With hidden delights
Memories to be made
Words to unravel
Places to travel
At the football Fagan racing
Oafish Stoke defender
Just left chasing...
And beer and curry
And what’s the hurry?
Sunday dinner
Roast beef and Yorkshire pud
Oh man, that Friday feeling
Sure feels good!

14 November 2006


My two children have been buiding their own "MySpace" zones and I noticed they'd been using something called "Slide" to display pictures so I thought I would give it a go. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

11 November 2006


Sheffield has two great theatres - the beautifully refurbished late nineteenth century Lyceum and the nineteen sixties blocked monument to concrete modernity and functionalism - The Crucible. It was to the latter theatre that my daughter and I ventured this afternoon to see Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker" - written in 1959. It starred David Bradley as Mac Davis, Con O'Neill as Aston and Nigel Harman - the former EastEnder as Mick.


I was so glad I got off my ass to see this production before it closes tonight. The three actors were all superb - really living their parts and clearly grasping the writer's vision. The set was also superb - a junk shop mess of pointless odds and ends. In fact you might say the whole play is pointless. It shows us a world where people don't really communicate, a world of pregnant pauses and leaking ceilings, a world of aimless comings and goings, unspoken or spoken longings, a sense of peace and yet brooding hints of violence. Here Aston and Davis are trying to connect:-
You said you wanted me to get you up. --- Aston
What for? ---Davis
You said you were thinking of going to Sidcup. ---Aston
Ay, that'd be a good thing, if I got there. ---Davis
Doesn't look like much of a day. ---Aston
Ay, well, that's shot it, en't it? ---Davis
For Davis the idea of Sidcup where his papers are becomes something of a promised land - a place he dreams of going but which inside he knows he will never reach.
It was nice to see the play with my lovely Frances - all grown up at eighteen and taking Theatre Studies at school. Riding home on the Stagecoach bus in the November rain, it was nice to reflect on such an enigmatic play with her and to realise that she had appreciated it as much as I had. Wasn't it just yesterday or the day before when I pushed her down to the park in her Silver Cross pushchair?

9 November 2006


Words and tunes flutter in my sub-conscious, sometimes rising to the surface like fish. I find myself whistling or humming tunes and very often, driving in the car or walking somewhere, I might be heard singing snatches of songs - perhaps from long ago. Maybe I'm teetering on the edge of madness. Surely it isn't normal - whatever that means - to be strolling down the street singing bits and pieces of songs. Here are some recent lines that rose from the depths:-

"Who knows where the time goes? Who knows where the time (pause) goes?"
"Have you seen the old man outside the seaman's mission, memory fading with the medal ribbons that he wears?...."
"Woman I can hardly express, my mixed emotions at my thoughtlessness...."


Pottery from Chile: Singing Man

"Oh I was born with the name Geraldine, with hair cold black as a raven..."
"Sunshine on my shoulder looked so lovely. Sunshine almost always makes me smile..."
"Will ye no come back again? Will ye no come back again?"

"If I listen long enough to you, I'll find a way to believe that it's all true..."
"Earth, stream and tree return to the sea, waves sweep the sand from my island... My sunsets fade, field and glade..."
"Alright now, baby I'm alright now"

And I could go on and on. Do you think it's a kind of madness, like the first throes of senile dementia? Or perhaps a psychiatrist/psychologist would see these rising bits of songs as the outward manifestation of my inner self - urges, values, interests briefly registering their inner presence. So many songs I heard in the past seem long gone and buried - nothing ever surfaces from them but like old wooden stakes in the sand , greeting another high tide some lyrics and tunes have endured...

5 November 2006


Oh how I loved Bonfire Night when I was a kid. It was one of the highlights of the year. For transatlantic readers let me explain that I'm talking about Guy Fawkes Night - an old English tradition which commemorates the Gunpowder Plot of 1601 when Catholic plotters failed in their attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament along with the new Protestant King - James I. Every November 5th we build bonfires and set off fireworks and we eat parkin cake and toffee apples. Usually there's a "guy" on the bonfire - a dummy man made from old clothes etc - he's meant to represent one of the Catholic plotters - Guido Fawkes.
Even from the age of six or seven I would visit the village shop with my pocket money and come home with extra fireworks to add to my proud collection - penny bangers, roman candles, "Vesuvius" volcanoes, "Jack in A Boxes", jumping jacks, Catherine Wheels and of course, the highlight of any Bonfire night - sky rockets. Nowadays only adults may purchase fireworks from licensed retailers and there's even talk of banning them completely.


Near the "Netto" grocery store I visit most Saturdays, I spotted the Wooseats Discount Fireworks Company. I marched in to be greeted with, "Can I help you sir?". "Yes. I want to buy the biggest rocket you've got left!". He produced an enormous beast of a firework. The stick was a metre long and the main body of the Chinese "Starbuster" rocket was a series of connecting tubes no doubt stuffed full with gunpowder. I staggered out of the shop minus twenty quid (I later told Shirley it was twelve - tee hee!)
Then tonight came. We'd finished our Sunday dinner so I went up our garden where I'd already prepared the launch site - a drainpipe rammed two feet into the soil. I lit the long blue fuse and scarpered back to the house in time to see this mother of a rocket surge straight upwards at a million miles an hour, dwarfing all the other neighbourhood rockets that were only vaguely illuminating the night sky. Then my SOB burst like a huge orange chrysanthemum just below the cloud cover briefly bringing the illusion of daylight back and then it rained purple and silver. I watched while the spent but still white hot rocket plunged back to Earth, praying it wouldn't land on my head. It didn't. But a few feet away on the other side of our garden hedge I heard it embed itself with an almighty thump in next door's lawn. Twenty quid well spent and I'm glad I again marked the night even though there was no bonfire party this year....
"Please do remember, the fifth of November.
Light up the sky with Standard fireworks!"

1 November 2006


There we were at tiny Treviso Airport north of Venice. The girl at the check-in desk processed our luggage but never asked if our hefty suitcase might have been packed by someone else or if someone might have interfered with it. We had two hours to spare. Shirley said she'd go through security and read her book on the other side while I walked off from the terminal for a Napoli pizza and a beer at a little roadside pizza restaurant I'd spotted close to the airport. By the way, after checking in at many airports you are simply not allowed to leave the terminal building.
When I returned to make my own way through security, I could have kicked myself. The sign said that in hand luggage there should be no knives, no weapons, no umbrellas and no water! What a silly sod I can be! There were two bottles of water in my little rucksack and a retractable umbrella. The security guy confiscated one bottle of water - missed the other and forgot about the umbrella. Great stuff! That really gives you confidence in international airport security!


Then there was Shannon Airport in western Ireland last Easter. All passengers passing through security had to remove their shoes. Nowhere else - just Shannon. At Jersey Airport I said to them - "Shall I remove my watch and belt?" No - it didn't matter they said. Loose change? "No! That's okay."
We went to Turkey when there was a big international terrorist alert. Passengers from the UK could take next to nothing on board their planes. There were body searches and big hold-ups but returning via Dalaman, there was none of that. It was as if there had never been a red alert as we edged passed the yawning security men who brazenly ignored their X-ray screens.
Back from Schonefeld, Berlin in early September, businessmen had little suitcases as hand luggage, tugging them along as if to say - Terrorism? What terrorism?
I could go on listing many other examples of inconsistent airport security. It seems utterly crazy. The same rules should apply throughout the world when travelling internationally. You should be asked the same questions at every airport from Tokyo to Toronto and Beijing to Beirut. It shouldn't matter. The procedures should always be the same. Islamic terrorists could easily seek out lax airports outside the UK or the USA and exploit these inconsistencies with, of course, disastrous and murderous results.
Got any other examples of inconsistent airport security?

28 October 2006


Above - Bill Bryson born in Iowa,USA in 1951. Whilst in Venice, I finished his latest book, "The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid". Whereas Bryson is known first and foremost as a witty, unassuming and observant travel writer, this book was about growing up in and around Des Moines before America started to question itself, before nuclear nightmares and Vietnam when for many white midwesterners, it seemed as if they were living in a post war paradise of cars and consumer goods, unlocked doors, silver screens and absolute certainties under the star spangled banner. The book mourns the loss of innocence while still managing to make you chuckle, giggle or belly laugh.

I have read almost everything Bryson has ever written. The only book I just couldn't get into was "A Short History of Almost Everything" which has an excitable scientific focus. Not for me. After all, I was the grammar school kid who was asked to drop O level Physics and spent my time at the back of the Physics lab writing poetry for two years. I have loved all of Bryson's travel books and I especially liked "Made In America" which explores American uses of the English language and is both informative and entertaining.

Two real life, as opposed to virtual, Americans I know had both never heard of Bill Bryson till I let them in on his work. It seems he's a bigger literary star over in the UK than he is in his home country. If you like bookshops you surely couldn't have missed Bill Bryson these past ten years. I'm not saying he's a truly great writer but he has a lovely, intimate and self-deprecating style. He finds humour in odd nooks and crannies and through his travel writing allows you to see places in ways that Rough Guides or Lonely Planet Guides cannot mirror. If you're reading this Bill - thanks for so many engrossing hours.

24 October 2006


Welcome to Waterworld. A siren bleats from the far distance and then a speedboat ambulance bounces by. Builders unload bricks and cement from miniature barges. The vapporetti ferry boats trundle from stop to stop like underground trains. Market traders unload brightly coloured baskets of fresh fruit and vegetables from bobbing boats as water taxis glide by, cutting the lagoon. The municipal garbage boat collects bags of refuse and gondoliers ply their trade, squeezing sackfuls of euros from gormless Japanese tourists.


The Grand Canal 11.35am Oct 24th 2006
This is Venezia. Venice. Still a rather unique place. Round every corner there's a photo opportunity and round every corner there's a piece of history. It's there in the walls. It's there in the bends of the side canals and little alleyways that weave away from the Grand Canal like a spider's web of human enterprise and memory. Once Venice was home to over 200,000 people, long before the idea of a state called Italy was ever dreamt of. It was the new Byzantium. Where the East met Europe. Protected and threatened by the sea, it drew its wealth from the ships that arrived there from all over the known world. And there was wealth to spare. Riches to build fantastic churches, bell towers, hospitals and palaces and money to pay the finest artists, sculptors, architects and musicians. Venice was filthy commerce but it was also reaching out for something pure, something better.
Me and Shirley have just returned from three days there, partly celebrating twenty five years of marriage. That first night we walked in the back alleys of the Canareggio area and noticed how quiet it was. No cars. No thunderous trucks or motorbikes - not even any bicycles. Intense Italian conversations between neighbours resounded about the ancient walls and then faded away. Somewhere in the maze a dog barked. Strangely we never heard TV sets or loud music disturbing the night. It was so quiet and peaceful.
You can get visually punch drunk on art so we restricted ourselves to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Some amazing pieces of modern art there - Picasso, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock, Dali and Gino Severin's "Sea=Dancer" (much beloved by Steve of "Occupied Country"). So that was a highlight of the trip and so was the visit to Burano, two miles north of Venice. The feel of this other lagoon island was very different.



Burano above and gondolier below

There the houses were less grand but mostly brightly coloured. It seemed like a place where fisherfolk once eked out a simple living.
As we made our way homeward to the P. de Roma bus square at the end of the causeway that connects Venice with the mainland, some of the streets, shops and restaurants were awash as another high tide reached its peak. Stoical Venetians demonstrated why they possess rubber boots - wading through their flood waters and perhaps wondering how many flood tides their incredible little city can take before nature reclaims it - that would be a very sad loss. Venezia is a very special place and in those three days I found myself shaking my head very often and muttering "Amazing!" - not something I am prone to doing at all.
Below - down and out Venetian sleeping in the street


Oh and for British readers of this blog, I'm going to really impress you by boasting that on our first night in Venice we went to a bank cash machine lobby and met (drum roll) no not Posh Spice and David Beckham, not Mick Jagger and his latest hoe but (wait for it!) John Stapleton and his lady Lynn Faulds Wood - long time TV consumers' rights campaigners. As Lynn couldn't get any cash out of the machine with her Allied Irish Bank card, I suggested they make a programme about plastic bank cards abroad - charges, communication problems, conversion rates etc.. Fortunately we had better luck with the cash machine but when John asked to borrow a hundred euros I declined in typically colourful Yorkshire patois. They slunk off into the night as famous people do.

18 October 2006


H.G.Wells, he of the time machines and Martian invasions, wrote this story in 1909. It's called "A Moonlight Fable" but if a fable is a story with a moral message then this one seems to have been disguised so well that you just can't see it. Or am I missing something?


There was once a little man whose mother made him a beautiful suit of clothes. It was green and gold and woven so that I cannot describe how delicate and fine it was, and there was a tie of orange fluffiness that tied up under his chin. And the buttons in their newness shone like stars. He was proud and pleased by his suit beyond measure, and stood before the long looking-glass when first he put it on, so astonished and delighted with it that he could hardly turn himself away.
He wanted to wear it everywhere and show it to all sorts of people. He thought over all the places he had ever visited and all the scenes he had ever heard described, and tried to imagine what the feel of it would be if he were to go now to those scenes and places wearing his shining suit, and he wanted to go out forthwith into the long grass and the hot sunshine of the meadow wearing it. Just to wear it! But his mother told him, "No." She told him he must take great care of his suit, for never would he have another nearly so fine; he must save it and save it and only wear it on rare and great occasions. It was his wedding suit, she said. And she took his buttons and twisted them up with tissue paper for fear their bright newness should be tarnished, and she tacked little guards over the cuffs and elbows and wherever the suit was most likely to come to harm.
He hated and resisted these things, but what could he do? And at last her warnings and persuasions had effect and he consented to take off his beautiful suit and fold it into its proper creases and put it away. It was almost as though he gave it up again. But he was always thinking of wearing it and of the supreme occasion when some day it might be worn without the guards, without the tissue paper on the buttons, utterly and delightfully, never caring, beautiful beyond measure.One night when he was dreaming of it, after his habit, he dreamed he took the tissue paper from one of the buttons and found its brightness a little faded, and that distressed him mightily in his dream. He polished the poor faded button and polished it, and if anything it grew duller.
He woke up and lay awake thinking of the brightness a little dulled and wondering how he would feel if perhaps when the great occasion (whatever it might be) should arrive, one button should chance to be ever so little short of its first glittering freshness, and for days and days that thought remained with him, distressingly. And when next his mother let him wear his suit, he was tempted and nearly gave way to the temptation just to fumble off one little bit of tissue paper and see if indeed the buttons were keeping as bright as ever.He went trimly along on his way to church full of this wild desire.
For you must know his mother did, with repeated and careful warnings, let him wear his suit at times, on Sundays, for example, to and fro from church, when there was no threatening of rain, no dust nor anything to injure it, with its buttons covered and its protections tacked upon it and a sunshade in his hand to shadow it if there seemed too strong a sunlight for its colours. And always, after such occasions, he brushed it over and folded it exquisitely as she had taught him, and put it away again.
Now all these restrictions his mother set to the wearing of his suit he obeyed, always he obeyed them, until one strange night he woke up and saw the moonlight shining outside his window. It seemed to him the moonlight was not common moonlight, nor the night a common night, and for a while he lay quite drowsily with this odd persuasion in his mind. Thought joined on to thought like things that whisper warmly in the shadows. Then he sat up in his little bed suddenly, very alert, with his heart beating very fast and a quiver in his body from top to toe.
He had made up his mind. He knew now that he was going to wear his suit as it should be worn. He had no doubt in the matter. He was afraid, terribly afraid, but glad, glad.He got out of his bed and stood a moment by the window looking at the moonshine-flooded garden and trembling at the thing he meant to do. The air was full of a minute clamor of crickets and murmurings, of the infinitesimal shouting of little living things. He went very gently across the creaking boards, for fear that he might wake the sleeping house, to the big dark clothes-press wherein his beautiful suit lay folded, and he took it out garment by garment and softly and very eagerly tore off its tissue-paper covering and its tacked protections, until there it was, perfect and delightful as he had seen it when first his mother had given it to him--a long time it seemed ago.
Not a button had tarnished, not a thread had faded on this dear suit of his; he was glad enough for weeping as in a noiseless hurry he put it on. And then back he went, soft and quick, to the window and looked out upon the garden and stood there for a minute, shining in the moonlight, with his buttons twinkling like stars, before he got out on the sill and, making as little of a rustling as he could, clambered down to the garden path below.
He stood before his mother's house, and it was white and nearly as plain as by day, with every window-blind but his own shut like an eye that sleeps. The trees cast still shadows like intricate black lace upon the wall.The garden in the moonlight was very different from the garden by day; moonshine was tangled in the hedges and stretched in phantom cobwebs from spray to spray. Every flower was gleaming white or crimson black, and the air was aquiver with the thridding of small crickets and nightingales singing unseen in the depths of the trees.There was no darkness in the world, but only warm, mysterious shadows; and all the leaves and spikes were edged and lined with iridescent jewels of dew.
The night was warmer than any night had ever been, the heavens by some miracle at once vaster and nearer, and spite of the great ivory-tinted moon that ruled the world, the sky was full of stars.The little man did not shout nor sing for all his infinite gladness. He stood for a time like one awe-stricken, and then, with a queer small cry and holding out his arms, he ran out as if he would embrace at once the whole warm round immensity of the world. He did not follow the neat set paths that cut the garden squarely, but thrust across the beds and through the wet, tall, scented herbs, through the night stock and the nicotine and the clusters of phantom white mallow flowers and through the thickets of southern-wood and lavender, and knee-deep across a wide space of mignonette.
He came to the great hedge and he thrust his way through it, and though the thorns of the brambles scored him deeply and tore threads from his wonderful suit, and though burs and goosegrass and havers caught and clung to him, he did not care. He did not care, for he knew it was all part of the wearing for which he had longed. "I am glad I put on my suit," he said; "I am glad I wore my suit."Beyond the hedge he came to the duck-pond, or at least to what was the duck-pond by day. But by night it was a great bowl of silver moonshine all noisy with singing frogs, of wonderful silver moonshine twisted and clotted with strange patternings, and the little man ran down into its waters between the thin black rushes, knee-deep and waist-deep and to his shoulders, smiting the water to black and shining wavelets with either hand, swaying and shivering wavelets, amid which the stars were netted in the tangled reflections of the brooding trees upon the bank.
He waded until he swam, and so he crossed the pond and came out upon the other side, trailing, as it seemed to him, not duckweed, but very silver in long, clinging, dripping masses. And up he went through the transfigured tangles of the willow-herb and the uncut seeding grass of the farther bank. And so he came glad and breathless into the highroad.
"I am glad," he said, "beyond measure, that I had clothes that fitted this occasion."The highroad ran straight as an arrow flies, straight into the deep blue pit of sky beneath the moon, a white and shining road between the singing nightingales, and along it he went, running now and leaping, and now walking and rejoicing, in the clothes his mother had made for him with tireless, loving hands.
The road was deep in dust, but that for him was only soft whiteness, and as he went a great dim moth came fluttering round his wet and shimmering and hastening figure. At first he did not heed the moth, and then he waved his hands at it and made a sort of dance with it as it circled round his head. "Soft moth!" he cried, "dear moth! And wonderful night, wonderful night of the world! Do you think my clothes are beautiful, dear moth? As beautiful as your scales and all this silver vesture of the earth and sky?" And the moth circled closer and closer until at last its velvet wings just brushed his lips . . . . .
And next morning they found him dead with his neck broken in the bottom of the stone pit, with his beautiful clothes a little bloody and foul and stained with the duckweed from the pond. But his face was a face of such happiness that, had you seen it, you would have understood indeed how that he had died happy, never knowing the cool and streaming silver for the duckweed in the pond.

14 October 2006


Well, if a technophobe like Sir Arthur Clewley of Clewley Towers, Richmond, North Yorkshire can put "YouTube" videos on his blog then so can I! The random one I have chosen is of a wee kitten's first musical compostion. Everyone say - Awwww! ...Then attempt the quiz below....please!

13 October 2006



How good is your general knowledge or perhaps how good is your ability to search the web for answers? Try my exciting quiz. Answers to be posted to my secretary Mr G.W.Bush, Tosspot Ranch, Crawford, Texas, USA or left in the Comments section. The first visitor to provide ten correct answers will win a special mystery prize.
1. The main Irish Republican party is called Sinn Fein. What does "Sinn Fein" mean?
2. What was the name of the animated film that won Nick Park an oscar in 1995?
3. In the world of cartoons why is Nancy Cartwright well known?
4. Name the capital of Western Samoa.
5. In which year and in which city was the film star Russell Crowe born?
6. Who was the second President of the USA?
7. In a supermarket where would you see these famous old words – “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”?
8. Which English football team has the nickname The Spireites?
9. Where will you find the navicular bone?
10. On which Bob Dylan album will you find these two tracks – “I Threw It All Away” and “Country Pie”?

10 October 2006


Outside our house there's a storm drain. Two or three times a year I have to remember to lift the little grate, and with a plastic bag up to my elbow, scoop out the evil-smelling black gunge that has settled there. It's just nature's debris - rotting leaves and twigs and suchlike. Lord knows why it stinks so much but once or twice I have managed to get this sludge on my hands only to find that the pong remains even when I've washed up thoroughly. Yeuurghh!
If only it was so easy to cure "writer's block" or "blogger's block" - lift a little lid on top of your head and scoop out the blockage, allowing the ideas and the words to flow freely again. Some blogs I have enjoyed reading have occasionally ground to a halt, including some of those listed in my Planet Blog. I'm wondering if Kara, author of "Hanging Hope on a Heads Up 1973 Penny" has been kidnapped by aliens as she hasn't blogged since early July. My fellow atheist Krip ("Aaargh! Stop the World I Want to Get Off!") and even Vlad the Gorilla, Madame Friday and Arthur Clueless have all suffered from blogger's block.
So I came to this keyboard tonight after the latest episode of "EastEnders" - come on Jake! - and I'm ready to tap away at the keyboard but there's nothing to say. It's like there's a big doo-doo in my head and it won't flush away. So I'm left rambling on about blockages.
I had part of a letter printed in the Sheffield "Star" this evening. It was in response to Saturday's front page story about a ten year old boy who "found" a workman's tools in his school. The mother was incensed - not bothering to consider her son's thievery but instead blaming the contractor who had left his tool box in a cordoned off part of the school. Apparently she was so mad that as she drove her sweet little darling home, she threw a knife he'd "found" out of the window.
I can't understand why they edited out my description of this lad as an "Artful Dodger" or why they missed out the bit about the bad example his mother was setting by throwing things out of her car window - especially knives dammit!
Ah well... those last two paragraphs helped to unblock the pipes. Maybe October in the northern hemisphere is to blame for blogger's block. Summer's gone and ahead are dark nights, frosts, clothes on the radiators, the cat miaowing to come in rather than to go out. It could make you feel a little depressed if you let it.

7 October 2006



It's just amazing what you can buy on "e-bay". I just purchased this skeleton of a mountain gorilla from a dealer in Burundi. I think it will make a great garden ornament and an interesting conversation piece. It will be erected under the apple trees where I am sure pigeons and sparrows will love to perch.

5 October 2006


I have always hated that social trick whereby people you have perhaps just met quickly pigeonhole you by finding out what you do for a living. I make a point of never asking anyone what they "do" and if anyone asks me I'll usually retort with - Well I cut the lawn in the summer, I play guitar, cook a mean stirfry, write poems.... You see I don't believe we should ever measure someone's worth or allow ourselves to hang stereotypical traits upon another simply because of what he/she does in the world of work.
That was my preamble. As regular visitors to this blog will know, I'm a secondary school teacher in a tough part of one of England's toughest cities. Most of our kids come from deprived council estates. I try not to touch on this part of my life very often because I'm me before you start sticking work-related labels on me.
You can guess that I meet some rather unpleasant teengagers. A particular sixteen year old girl I teach has been irritating me greatly of late. She isn't getting her GCSE coursework done. She lazes. She chatters. She wears her scruffy baseball cap. When challenged, she swears, lies, tries to place blame for her angry outbursts on others. She isn't stupid and perhaps she is as she is because of her family circumstances - one parent family, father long gone, little money in the home, no real constraints. But I didn't create that background so I don't accept that I should take any flak because of it. I have written home on four occasions this year detailing the girl's misdemeanours, bad language and failure to produce vital coursework.


So we came to today. She arrived late for the lesson with her horrible hat on and reeking of stale cigarette smoke. Crazily, we have to tackle an assignment on pre-1914 prose so we were reading Thomas Hardy's short story, "Tony Kytes - The Arch Deceiver". Actually I was reading it aloud with the kids following, applying my best agricultural Dorset accent to the dialogue - "I love 'ee Milly" etc.. Just as we were getting near the end of the story, there was a sudden "clunk" at the back of the room. The nasty girl who frequently leans back dangerously on her chair, in spite of warnings, had fallen backwards and banged her head on the table behind her. She lay supine on the floor, nursing her bonce like Bluto after Popeye has just hit him with a heavy plank.
I asked Gay Shaun to take her down to the office for medical attention. In a malevolent way, I freely admit that I was chuckling inside. It seemed like poetic justice for all the crap that I have had to endure from this genuinely unpleasant girl. Later, I reminded myself that she didn't finish reading the Hardy story and I can already hear her victorious whining voice next week, "I aven't read it so I can't write about it can I? Doh!" Still for a moment it felt like there might be a God after all.... Clunk! Thank you Lord!

3 October 2006


Charles Carl Roberts IV - yet another mad American gunman, assassinating innocent children - this time from the peace-loving Amish community of Lanacaster County, Pennsylvania. When will it end? As The Police Commisioner for Pennsylvania said, “He came here prepared. It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing. It appears he did a lot of time in planning and intended to harm these kids and intended to harm himself.”

This nutcase had a loving wife and children, parents who loved him, a steady job. Little girls from a harmless religious community didn't deserve this horror. America must, must, must re-examine its gun laws. It seems that any psychotic, grudge-bearing, fantasising mental defective can get hold of a gun and shoot down innocent people without good reason. It has to stop. There's fear about deranged Islamic terrorists but perhaps it's quiet gun-touting nutters like Roberts who should arouse most fear - the real enemy within. Rest in Peace Dear Children.

28 September 2006


Why are so many of my fellow countrymen cynical and apologetic about our nation? That sneering, carping, mud-slinging attitude is most offensive and unjustifiable. Standing here on my soap-box, I wish to declare my undying pride and affection for the country which most fortuitously was the land of my birth - Merry Olde England.
It's so easy to knock. So easy to poke fun and it can appear so chic, so daringly dismissive to argue against our country's might, character, achievements and history. I detest that clever-dick nonsense. One of the reasons I am an Americophile is because most Americans genuinely love their country and are not afraid to give voice to their patriotism. They fly the flag both literally and metaphorically.
Here are ten reasons why I'm proud of England, proud to be English and why I love my country:-
1. It's so beautiful here. Green fields and mountains. Rivers and beaches. Paths that weave by ancient drystone walls to little villages where church bells ring and cities which contain fantastic parks and Victorian structures alongside innovative modern architecture.
2. Music. In the annals of popular music, England's contribution is way out of synch with its size. We gave the world The Beatles and we continue to produce exciting, ground-breaking bands and composers.
3. Our language. The English language is the biggest and best language the world has ever known. Its doors are always open to change and in English you can say things more clearly, more accurately, more expressively, more poetically than in any other language. Shakespeare was of course English.
4. Sport. We gave the world football and rugby, cricket, snooker, tennis and squash. Our current Premier League is the best club league in the world and we attract the best players, playing the quickest and most passionate football you are ever likely to see. Plus of course England is the homeland of the great Hull City A.F.C.!


5. Pubs. No other country in the world can compare! Our pubs are social and they're fun. They provide a home from home and they're mostly different. They welcome you and they serve proper beer not international lagers that are the same the world over - "Rolling Rock" = "Cobra" = "San Miguel" = "Fosters" ( all the same). And our pubs have great names like "The Foaming Quart" or "The Hanged Man", "The Closed Shop" or "Nelly's".
6. History. England's great history is imprinted on the landscape - crumbling castles and huge medieval churches, maritime museums and stately homes, industrial footprints and writers' birthplaces. It's all out there.

7. Multiculturalism. We have opened our hearts to people from other lands and allowed them to stitch new patches into the fabric of our land - Indians and Pakistanis, Africans and Poles, West Indians, Irish, Kurds and Chinese have all helped to enrich our country and in return they have mainly found tolerance, patience and acceptance.
8. Climate. Our temperate climate is never harsh. It's a great climate to work in and its changeability always adds an element of surprise to our daily living - rain or shine. The climate is so important to our greenery and to our wonderful gardens.
9. Innovation. The English have always been pioneers - in industry, invention, medicine, transport and science. Our universities are quite excellent and it is here that steel was invented, the idea of railways was hatched and, with significant input from Scottish cousins, TV and telephones were first conceived. We remain innovators in fashion, software, architecture, health care. The list is endless
10. Character. The English are good at laughing at themselves. They tend to be unassuming and they despise hypocrisy and injustice. They give very generously to charities. They are neighbourly and when put on the spot very kind and good-natured. They queue without complaint and they write letters to newspapers about matters that may appear at first sight to be quite trivial. They care and they're fair.
So that's it. Okay sure, I could easily list ten negatives too but that stuff has had way too much airtime already. I don't believe that patriotism is a dirty word. For overseas visitors, please note that Yorkshire is not a separate country but an ancient county in the jigsaw pattern of England - albeit by far the finest county of all.

23 September 2006


Well, a few days have gone by since I last posted. I have just got back from pints of foaming bitter at the pub on a Saturday night. We got a letter this week and it seemed like a marker. Can it really be twenty five years since me and Shirley signed on the dotted line for our first house? Well it is. And next month we'll have been married for twenty five years too. That first house - 40 Leamington Street - it was a typical Yorkshire terrace. We had a cellar and an attic. The views from the top were sometimes breathtaking - right over the bowl of the city's centre. During occasional winter temperature inversions, we'd see buildings sticking up out of the mist.
The building society and Scottish Provident Assurance tell us the financial punishment is about to stop. In some ways, it feels like the end of a jail sentence. Twenty five years paying interest on the loan and £20 for three hundred months to the assurance company. When we first signed, it seemed as though we were signing up forever. The end was so far away it might as well have been in Antarctica. Now it's almost over. The house we are living in is ours and they're even going to send us the official deeds. Life is so short.
Our daughter, Frances, is eighteen next week. She went to Birmingham on Saturday. She's keen to apply to Birmingham University to do a degree in American and Canadian Studies. She's bright and quite industrious but the grades they are asking for could be a bridge too far. I'm afraid I cannot subscribe to the bullshit


philosophy that says if you really want something badly enough you've just got to go for it. There are so many successful idiots around who imagine that just because they "made it" everyone else can too. It's crap.
Our son, Ian, came back from Barcelona this week. He'd been there with two mates. I was their travel agent. I booked their flights, researched the city and guided them to some great, cheap accommodation. They had a fantastic time. They visited Gaudi's cathedral and the Nou Camp Stadium, drank and ate well and absorbed the city. Brilliant!
To celebrate our twenty five years of marriage, I'm taking Shirley to Venice next month. I'm checking out hotels and getting to know Venice so well through the net that going there may be something of an anticlimax. Twenty five years? How come I feel so young? How come it feels like yesterday that I carried her over the threshold of that house? Life really is so short. Before you know it, I'll be six feet under with so many things I wanted to do left undone. Blame this rambling on the pints I supped before this keyboard called me over. Hic! Night everyone!