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?