29 December 2007

Benazir

Benazir Bhutto - born June 1953, killed December 2007. May she rest in peace. Her bravery in the face of bigotry, lies, blind fundamentalism and terror should be a lesson to us all. She had already given so much to Pakistan and didn't have to return. Carping cynics might think of her as a puppet of the U.S. world empire but I see her as a symbol of hope and goodness. If only her legacy could be peace and democracy but I rather think that her passing will be followed by rivers of blood and oceans of tears.
A vision of Pakistan's future?

25 December 2007

Yuletide

As I grow older, I feel increasingly certain that there are more fundamental forces at large than those promoted by organised religions - no matter what the brand names - Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism - they're all the same to me - utter poppycock! Here at "Christmas" in the northern hemisphere, we feast to celebrate the passing of the darkest day and the prospect of a new year dawning. The holly, ivy and mistletoe remind us the Earth's fertility and Santa Claus is but a caricature of the legendary Green Man who - metaphorically speaking - watches over us and annually brings us his precious gifts - the fruit and the grain, the sunshine and the leafy forest, the pastures and the berries, the beasts of earth and water and the birds of the air. We will eat, drink and be merry, glad to be alive as passengers we have known and love disembark from this ship that is the vessel upon which we voyage through time.
To learn more of the pagan view of "Christmas", click on the Victorian Yuletide picture below - it will take you to an old BBC article about pagan Christmases. Happy Yuletide everyone! And let's hope we are all around to celebrate next December, grateful for the gifts of life and health and the precious bounty of our homes, our families and our friends.

21 December 2007

Jonathan

Jonathan left my school today. He was my right hand man. He came into teaching as a mature student, having secured a degree in English in his late twenties. I was his mentor as he undertook his teacher training and then he joined us as a fulltime teacher in September 2005.
At that time, he was still with a woman he had lived with since the age of nineteen - but it wasn't love - it was simply convenience. They had a dog called Brandy. He left her two years ago - both the woman and the dog.

He knew Denise before he bedded her. She is from Birmingham where she also teaches English. Their relationship was never meant to happen but sometimes life gives you little bits of magic and so it was with Jonathan and Denise. Most weekends he has been down in Birmingham with his new lady. They are very much in love and as he departed our school for the last time today he confided in me that I might be receiving an "invite" before too long.

Leaving schools is a weird phenomenon as the annual educational cycle is unlike most work processes which are simply continuous. Jonathan asked me to both draw his caricature and to write him a fun poem to be read out at his departure buffet party - and here it is, based on Edward Kamau Brathwaite's famous poem about Afro-Caribbean emigration - "Limbo":-

Grumble

Well it make you sick
When he grumble in front of you

Grumble grumble like Booth
(Sing) Grumble grumble grumble like Booth
Grumble grumble like Booth

Booth is tall and his suits are all made of wool
But he come down to earth
When the Owls are whupped by Hull

Grumble grumble like Booth

Listen for de echo of Booth as he shouts
Discipline for de yobs and de louts
Come in kid hope you got a pen
If you ain’t got one then count to ten

Grumble grumble like Booth
Grumble grumble like Booth

Kicking balls in de staff football team
Smoking dem fags – the habit’s obscene
Scoffing meat pies in de builders’ hut
Interrupting meetings with “Yes but…”

Grumble grumble like Booth
(Sing) Grumble grumble grumble like Booth
Crumble crumble like Booth

We’d send him to Coventry
But Birmingham will do!
So long Jon!
It’s been
Nice
Knowing
You!

18 December 2007

Capello

Fabio Capello - the mercenary, literature consuming, opera loving, Mercedes driving, arrogant git! Am I the only English football supporter who doesn't want him here? Particularly sickening is his appointment of an entourage of Eye-ties to form his trusted backroom staff - Baldini, Galbiati, Neri and Tancredi - all sound like biscuit varieties to me. I don't want this Capello and mark my words - it will all end in tears! He is not the man for the job. The only foreign johnnies I would have entertained would have been Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho - both honorary Englishmen who know our game inside out. However, before them I would have still made it top priority to make an Englishman our manager. For heaven's sake, this is a country of fifty million (The other ten million live in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) - surely to God, from all those people one man fit to be our manager should have emerged. And poor old Steve McLaren - he was a whisker away from success - especially if you think about the away game in Russia. It might have all turned out so different for him. My nomination would have been Alan Shearer. He has a good footballing brain and was an outstanding international player. I think he would have risen to the challenge, supported by an all-English back room staff. I think the first new English phrase that Capello should learn is "Where do I catch a plane back to my Swiss tax haven?"

14 December 2007

Frost

For the last three mornings, caring little for the environmental impact, I have gone out to my car and started it so that the windscreens are clear and the vehicle cosy and warm - while I step back inside for a cup of tea and a slice of toast. It can be damned dangerous setting out on frosty mornings as the windscreens refreeze and you can't see a thing.

On Wednesday morning I had to be at work early because I had a key role to play in the whole day interview process for an AST (Advanced Skills Teacher) in Language Development. So there I was approaching the fourth set of traffic lights on Penistone Road when I saw an ambulance zooming towards me - lights flashing, sirens wailing. Although my light went green, I slowed to a halt to let the ambulance through and then - yeah - you guessed it - thud/crunch - some pillock drove into me from behind! We advanced to the bus lay-by just ahead and exchanged details. Fortunately, both cars remained operable and he sort of admitted his fault. Years back I might have raged at the guy but on Wednesday I found myself saying, "Oh it's just one of those things mate".

At the interviews, one of the candidates said she just loved English but seemed to have little idea what an AST might do. The other floundered when I quizzed her about the key things she thought she had achieved in her current literacy co-ordinator's role. In the end, we didn't appoint anyone but I had lost three non-contact periods and a rear bumper. Such is life.

I love the way the frost sparkles on our decking and the way it so delicately coats every blade of grass, every privet leaf. The thermometer reads minus three and I think of all those bugs and slugs and creepy crawlies surrendering to nature's cleansing power.

Christmas cards drop on our mat and we busy ourselves with present-buying expeditions and card writing duty. For me it has always been a happy time of year - at home with the family, mince pies and brussel sprouts, foil wrapping paper, a big fat turkey thawing, shelling chestnuts, sleeping till ten and magical frost patterns appearing opaquely in the corners of our windows.

8 December 2007

Thirteen

I was tagged by Arctic Fox to write a letter that would whisk back through time to the boy I was at thirteen. What advice would I give him?

Dear Mini-Me,

I am writing this to you from the year 2007 via a communication phenomenon called “The Internet” that was first developed by the US military. Although we bear the same name, none of the cells that make up me were ever part of you because the human body constantly replenishes and reforms itself. However, if you could see my face now you would be looking at an older version of yourself – weary, battleworn – something of a nightmare. Certainly not another “Portrait of Dorian Gray”.

I hesitate to give you any advice because it would probably only fall on deaf ears. At thirteen you have to discover things for yourself. You cannot be accelerated to maturity, wisdom or adulthood. You have to find your own path with its twists and turns, inclines and declines. There are no yellow brick roads.

But if any tips just might seep into you, I will try these:-

1) Live and act honestly at all times – be truthful and though it can be easy to deceive others, you will never deceive yourself.
2) Be proud of yourself. Avoid the trap of constantly comparing yourself with others. Be who you are and lift up your head to the world. It really doesn’t matter what others might think of you.
3) Be kind. You are everyone’s equal. Treat people with respect and embroider your days with small acts of kindness to brighten other earthlings’ lives.
4) Never smoke cigarettes. They are the devil’s own invention.
5) Remember that time passes quickly. Soon you will find yourself here in 2007. Try not to squander the years. Pack as much in as you can. Make memories. Make friends. Make love.

So that’s it Mini-Me. I can’t say I have many regrets about my life so, if you cross roads carefully, when you get to walk in my shoes I think you will be happy enough with how it all turned out but finally, I should think more than twice about a career in the teaching profession. Be a rock star instead!

Yours,
Maxi-Me

I hereby tag these five blog-visitors to write their own letter to themselves - or at least to the people they were at thirteen:- JJ (Cobblers), ARTHUR CLEWLEY, JENNYTA, @theMill and BY GEORGE.

5 December 2007

Torture

Tooth number nineteen sitting on my lower jaw has been my private tormentor for around three years. It has been a roller coaster of pain, discomfort, gorgeous painfree periods, visits to dentists, partings with hard-earned cash, phone calls unanswered, sleepless nights, silver packs of "Ibuprofen" and "Paracetamol", throbbing headaches, food masticated on the left - avoiding the right at all costs, a Polish dentist whose English seemed to consist of "Hokay" and "Dunt vorry my dear" and "£225 please!"

The last few days the pain has been unbearable at times so after trying other avenues I again resorted to visiting the Hemper Lane Dental Practice in Sheffield's semi-detached suburbs. It is a private practice led by Mr Bird - a guy who I see up at "The Prince of Wales" most Monday evenings.
There was salacious banter between him and his nurse as he worked on number nineteen - thinly disguised double-entendres. I guess it gets them through the day. On the ceiling was a Simpsons poster showing just about every character who has ever appeared in the cartoon. They looked down yellowly as pus and blood erupted from my aching tooth. I expected - almost wanted to lose the damned thing today but Mr Bird had other ideas - getting right down to the bottom of the dead nerve and disinfecting it - "Clearing out the crap" was the technical terminology employed by said Mr Bird as he gazed down through his gold-rimmed Heinrich Himmler spectacles. I gripped the arm rests as if my hands had been permanently welded there.

He is 90% certain his intervention will do the business and next Tuesday I have to return for a follow-up and the tamping down of a permanent filling. So take that number nineteen - you little sod! Your days of disturbing my equilibrium are fast coming to an end. Teeth - one of our maker's more questionable creations. I wouldn't wish toothache on anyone apart from terrorists, child molestors, joy riders, Euro-MPS, George W. Bush and the entire Preston North End first team squad - oh and of course all contestants in "The X Factor" and "Strictly Come Dancing"! I'm sure I've missed somebody...

2 December 2007

Names

Surely I am not the only one who has had a lifelong fascination with names. I am interested in people's names, nicknames, the names of bands and sports teams, the names of places and their origins. As a bored schoolboy in certain subjects that did not take my fancy - such as Chemistry and French - I would sometimes wile away my time writing poetry or inventing new names for pop or rock groups... Miles of Smiles, Wax, Kolossus Explosion, The Army, Shit'appens, Teeth, The Committee, Fifth Gear... I'd make little cartoons and write these imaginary groups' names on their drum kits. "What are you doing Master Pudding?" the skull-like chemistry teacher would growl. "Just checking the periodic table sir!"... Argon, Lithium, Magnesium - yet more great names for imaginary bands.

As a teacher, I have seen a long chain of kids' names that will often reflect the times we happen to be living in. Okay there are some parents who will always select solid and timeless biblical or historical names like James, Stephen, Michael or John - Mary, Sarah, Jane or Elizabeth - but many others seem to wish to saddle their children with dumb, fashionable names that will cling to them like ugly tattoos for their entire lives - hence for boys - Duane, Shane, Brandon or Brett - for girls - Demi, Chelsea, Tamara or Kayleigh. There are several variations on that last name including - Kaylee, Keeley, Kylie, Kelsey etc.. Throughout their lives such names are destined to hang like millstones round the kids' necks with devotees of stereotyping often pre-judging them because of their parents' thoughtless naming. The names we choose for our children reveal much about how we see the world and the people in it. I love the incongruous names that South African Zulus will often attach to their children - Innocent, Blossom, Precious, Mighty - followed by unpronounable Zulu surnames.

Previously, I have mentioned some street names in Hull that are rather exotic and hark back to earlier times - The Land of Green Ginger, Whitefriargate, Ferensway. Most world cities have quirky names to report. Please feel free to share some of your observations about names in the comments box...

An academic surname profiling website has recently transferred to The National Trust. Using this site you can see maps which show the concentrations of any given British surname both in the 1880's and in 1998. It is quite fascinating and most instructive. See link below:-
http://www.nationaltrustnames.org.uk/

29 November 2007

Jesus

Meet my teddy bear. I have deliberately called him Jesus in order to insult religion because - let's face it - religion is claptrap and deserves to be insulted. So now I have called him Jesus I am waiting for the thought police to come and get me. They can lock me up with thieves and vagabonds for fifteen days or more or perhaps instead give me forty lashes. Such enlightened notions of justice have recently emerged from that shining beacon of civilisation and fair play that is Sudan. My thoughts tonight are with 54 year old British teacher Gillian Gibbons as she languishes in a Khartoum jail. I am thinking of renaming our cat Mohammad so that I can stand on the back step in dark winter nights yelling "Mohammad!" at the top of my voice. The neighbours would think I was stark raving bonkers. They'd be right.

Jesus - off for his holidays in Sudan.

27 November 2007

Legoman

Using a website suggested by Alkelda in Seattle, I have turned myself into a Legoman in honour of Hull City's recently improved results and prospects. I will be over at the KC Stadium on Saturday to see the match with Cardiff City. To turn yourself into a Lego being, try this:- website:-
http://www.reasonablyclever.com/mizers.html

Waggy = Ken Wagstaff (Hull City's fans' favourite player of all time).

23 November 2007

Eskimos

I don't know much about eskimos. In primary school, I remember a series of books about individual children who lived in other parts of the world and one of them was an eskimo. He wore animal furs and fished with his father. Sometimes he slept in an igloo. Obviously eskimos are experts at living with cold weather. Like many urban dwellers, I was always enamoured by the idea that eskimos have lots of different names for snow. I imagined they had a vocabulary that covered thin powdery snow, fluffy snowflakes, snow that threatens to become hail and snow that drifts against your igloo. It seemed right. To have a language that helps you to better define the intricacies of your environment.I was hoping to create a similar vocabulary for rain. Beforehand, I thought I would surf the net to research those mythical eskimo snow words. It wasn't too long before the bubble burst. Clearly and sadly, the "eskimos" have no more words for snow than you can find in English. The myth is just that - a myth. Disappointment deepens with the discovery that the generic term "eskimo" is a useless catch-all word that in a rather condescending, semi-racist way sought to group together all the disparate peoples of the arctic islands and wastelands of North America. They had many different languages and cultural histories - these so-called "eskimos" were never united as one race. They had as much in common with each other as the Irish have with Slovakians or Danes with the Portugese.

So with the wind slacking in my sails, on to that rain vocabulary... "gossamer" - the finest rain of all that is so light it feels like you're being doused with icing sugar dust.... to "lakedistrict" - rain that you could almost drown in - that descends in bath loads and never seems to cease.... to "eskimo" - rain of mythological proportions.

20 November 2007

Recycling


I believe in recycling. I do it as much as possible. There are compost bins in the garden and near our unnecessarily large wheelie bin, there are extra bins for paper, glass and plastic/aluminium products. I bought two of the extra bins myself because our city council hasn't yet fully got its act together on recycling - even though there are leaflets and regular pronouncements about "the environment" and how cool it is to live in England's "greenest" city.

Every month or so I go to one of the city's recycling facilities to find overflowing skips and nowhere to put throwaway plastic bags. There are very few of these "facilities" around. In fact, I once launched a letter writing campaign against Somerfield supermarkets about the sudden closure of our most local facility. I mean - what is going on when in what is allegedly a more environmentally responsible age - we find recycling facilities actually closing? Crazy!

How do you easily dispose of batteries or washing machines, old computers or old TVs? Okay there are ways and means but half-hearted recyclers are more likely to just throw such items away because it is too much trouble to unearth the hidden secrets of Recycling World! It should be made easy for people - not hard as hell.

This Christmastime, how much packaging will we all dispose of? It is heart-breaking and so wrong. Producers should be forced to become far more frugal about packaging - reducing it to a bare minimum. Two weeks ago, I was in a McDonalds "restaurant" (ha!) and I saw little kids with lunchbox-style kiddies' meals containing crappy plastic "gifts" which would excite a normal child for no more than fifteen seconds. They shouldn't be allowed to produce that plastic crap nor the cardboard boxes - it is such a blatant waste of this planet's precious resources. Why are some human beings so stupid?

17 November 2007

Confession

Confession? If you are expecting me to confess to smoking crack cocaine or to masterminding a series of bank heists or to cross-dressing during shopping trips into Sheffield city centre the forget it! My confession goes back years to when I was a little lad of perhaps seven or eight.

My family were holidaying in Scotland. We had an old caravan (or trailer to Yanks) that appeared to be made from compressed cardboard. Crammed in the old car we managed to haul our mobile pre-war cardboard box on wheels all the way up to Inverness. It really was a Lynton Triumph! (name of caravan). Mind you with my three wrestling brothers in the back it didn't seem too triumphant. "Will you behave yourself!" our parents would yell intermittently.

So we made camp at the Inverness municipal site near to the old Inverness Thistle football ground and the ice rink. One day, dad decided to take us all for a drive down the southern shore of Loch Ness. This is an old military road and much less travelled than the road on the north shore. I guess we kids were excited because we had heard of the famous Loch Ness monster and we wanted to see it.

A third of the way down the lakeside - opposite Castle Urquart - we came through the pine trees to a wide bay and there as if by magic we saw grey humps moving through the water about fifty yards below. Dad stopped the car and we all got out watching the humps for perhaps three or four minutes before they disappeared beneath the surface.

The following day in the Inverness local paper there was a report about a sighting of "Nessie" from the castle ramparts opposite that bay at exactly the time that we came through the pine trees. Afterwards, maybe embarrassed, our parents tried to argue away what we had seen - as if believing in the Loch Ness Monster might shame them but I know what I saw that bright afternoon - forever imprinted in my memory - the mystery that is Nessie moving through the water - and this wasn't something I dreamed. It was there - clear as the apple trees in our garden... Seeing is believing. I haven't seen God but I saw that "monster".



15 November 2007

Disease

Well, not really a disease at all but it seems like one. I had never heard of the damned condition until my wife, Shirley, contracted it in September - at the same time as my mother's death. What is it? It's Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP) - an inflammatory condition of small blood vessels in the skin, bowels and kidneys, called vasculitis.


"When blood vessels become inflamed, they may bleed into the skin, causing the classical bruising or purpuric rash. Bleeding may also occur at other affected sites. HSP occurs when the individual's immune system fails to fight an infection like it should.

The exact cause remains a mystery, but it can be sparked off by infections, medicines, vaccinations, insect bites, cold weather and exposure to certain chemicals. The condition is not contagious. The symptoms include the skin rash mentioned earlier around the elbows, buttocks and upper thighs, joint pains and stomach pain.Fever, vomiting and diarrhoea may also feature and blood may be passed in the stool and urine if bleeding occurs in the bowel or kidneys. The initial symptoms may last for up to six weeks. There is no specific treatment for HSP, which usually gets better spontaneously.

The symptoms of any associated infection have to be treated on their own merits. Anti-inflammatory medicines can be prescribed to ease the joint pains. Treatment with steroids may be required if there is distress particularly due to the abdominal pain. Most sufferers therefore have an uneventful recovery with no long-term problems. Unfortunately, the kidneys may become involved within three months of onset in around 50 per cent of older children and 25 per cent of those under age two. Symptoms such as protein and blood occurring in the urine and a persistence of the rash are indications of the kidneys being involved in the disease process. "


Shirley has been battling the condition since mum's funeral. She was off work for six weeks, put on heavy duty steroids, made numerous hospital visits and is due to have a scan on Sunday with an appointment with a kidney specialist next week. It has been a difficult time, a very trying time but she seems to be well over the worst of it though the little urine sticks in the shower room keep saying that there are still traces of blood and protein in her urine so there may still be kidney issues to contend with. She has been brave throughout it all though one evening I had to hug her through an outburst of sheer distress.

If you had seen her legs at the height of this thing you would have been quite shocked - I know I was and so were some of her work colleagues - all healthcare professionals who had never before seen this condition in an adult. Whoever Henoch and Schonlein were, they should not have invented this sonofabitch disease... judging by the names they were probably mad scientists in Hitler's labs!

9 November 2007

Poetry

Cahersherkin

Along the curlew lane befoxed and badgered
Where thorn bushes bend from the wind
And rain slants greyly under leaden skies
Beyond the hidden surface of the Lickeen Lake
Beyond the tumbledown farm of long ago
And the sharp bend where Paddy turned his Fiat
Up past the old quarry by whispering pines
Behind the rennovated school buildings
That were once alive with the laughter
Of labourers’ children and a bronze bell tolling.

You can see it from afar
Especially on black velvet nights when
Rather like boats riding a rolling sea
Electric beacons mark the scattered homesteads
From Corofin to Spanish Point.
Where a cradled violin wails plaintively
It’s there near that black horizon
Flickering like a distant buoy
Guiding you safely home -
If you could only remember the way…

4 November 2007

Walk

Shhh! Don't tell anybody but there is more parkland within the boundaries of the city of Sheffield than in any other British city apart from London. This morning I needed to get out. I have been sitting on my ass too long recently so just three miles from our house, I park up by the stables on Shotts Lane - still inside the city limits, near the exclusive and well-heeled suburban village of Dore. I take a five mile autumn walk - as I say, mainly for the exercise - get the old heart pumping - and for once, I remembered to take my digital camera along so that I could share these images of southern Sheffield with Blogworld....



































And shhh! Don't tell anyone in Sheffield about the walks round Blacka Moor as so few Sheffielders seem to realise that this lovely haven of nature is just around the corner. This morning the sun had to try hard to break through a thin cloud cover but when it did, another lovely autumn day was revealed... Next year why not try Sheffield for your holidays?

2 November 2007

Sins

Seven of them to be precise and all deadly:-

Luxuria It’s 1980. I have been to see the Rugby League Cup Final at Wembley. With a couple of hours to go before our train leaves for the northern wastelands, we stumble into a Kings Cross pub which we later always refer to as “the worst pub in the world”. There’s glass on the floor and spilt beer, vomit, sweat and blood and on the little stage is a brazen girl of maybe twenty stripping off for a baying crowd of leering drink-fuelled men. This isn’t exotic titillating striptease. It’s a lasciviously physical back street version. A grinning young man clambers on to the stage and copulates with the willing star as the wolfpack cheers and stomps. Disgusted, I turn away.

Gula It’s 1986. There’s a restaurant on West Street in Sheffield. It’s called “Scoffers”. Pride of place in the menu is The Scoffers Killer. Eat it all and you don’t pay. Too much of a challenge for my brother Paul. It comes. There are lamb chops, a burger, a couple of thick sausages, a piece of chicken, a twelve ounce steak, a pork chop, a slice of gammon, a mountain of chips and a hillock of peas. He starts. Like a marathon runner pacing himself. Thirty minutes later it’s all gone. The waiters are looking for signs of cheating – meat under the table. But he didn’t cheat. He ate the whole thing. The first and last time it was ever done. He is sweating cold beads of perspiration as we walk away.

Avarita It’s perhaps 1962. Each Easter we get one chocolate egg but other kids in the village are given more. I empty my money tin and walk up to the village shop to buy the one I always wanted – the white chocolate Milky Bar egg. Beaming, I walk home with my chocolate gift but mum sees me coming in with it and accuses me of being an “ungrateful, greedy little sod”. Ah well.
Acedia It’s summer 2007. It’s raining. I want to be gardening or extending our stone garden path but for the third day running I am up late. I make a cup of tea and pour myself a bowl of “Crunchie Nut Cornflakes”. There are house programmes on the TV – “Homes Under The Hammer”, “A Place in The Sun”, “Grand Designs”. I watch them all. Mail comes through the letterbox but I don’t get up. After midday, I muster the energy to have a shower. Then I go outside to feed the birds. Returning to the sofa, I fall asleep then watch other daytime drivel like “The Jeremy Kyle Show”. Shirley returns from work moments after I have managed to dress myself. “Been busy love?” “Yeah!”

Ira 1977 and I have returned to Ohio to be with my American sweetheart at the summer camp where we met. Like characters in a romantic film, we exchanged letters and gifts all year. Nobly, I spurned all other love opportunities in the months between. Then she lets me know she has found somebody else and she is dumping me. I pour a pitcher of beer over her head and bellow out my red-hot hurt and overflowing anger. Someone restrains me. It’s probably Chris.

Invidia He’s sitting in the pub. His life is simple. I could call him a “loblollyman” after Philip Larkin. He works when he wants, painting people’s houses for beer money. He never has to advertise. Word of mouth is a better testimony. His dog is called Monty. They go everywhere together. They live simply in his mother’s old house. He doesn’t read or have any interest in politics or travel. Whenever I see him, he always asks me how I am and “How’s the family?” My life and my interests and urges seem so complicated in comparison. But for him – for Derek – the simplicity satisfies him completely.

Superbia Perhaps it was 1992. I am at a schoolteachers’ conference about - of all things – spelling. It is led by the “famous” spelling guru educationist - Professor Charles Cripps. There are some two hundred teachers in the room. Cripps wants us all to feel what children might feel when put on the spot about their spelling so he gives us a fifteen word spelling test including such trickeries as “diarrhoea” and “liaison”. We exchange sheets and then we are asked to feed back our results. “Anyone get fifteen?” grins Charles. The audience are chortling. I put up my hand expecting to see others but I am the only one. These are educated people – teachers. None have fourteen. Half a dozen or more have thirteen. I am a beaming big-headed spelling champ. Others look at me in unbridled admiration….
Footnote: My Yorkshire compatriot, Arctic Fux suggests that my "Seven Deadly Sins" idea might be another "meme" challenge for nominated bloggers, so... drum roll... I hereby nominate Mr Arctic Fux ( and anybody else who fancies the task).

29 October 2007

Clare

Clare. The County Clare. In the far west of Ireland looking out to the Aran Islands and the wild Atlantic. Here tracks weave out over the bogs and the limestone hillocks that form The Burren to hidden farms and cottages where lanterns dot the night under a million silvery stars. And then the rain comes in. Sideways rain. Rain in bucketfuls. Drizzled rain and grey rain that is half mist. It seeps into your bones.

Somewhere between Kilfenora and Ennistymon is where my brother Paul lives with Josephine and the two lads. A brook bubbles by and cows low deeply as morning sheds its pale light over the rolling fields. Vehicles pass at the rate of one an hour on a busy day.

Up in Kilfenora the Guinness flows at night. It sits lined up in pint glasses on the bar like black nectar waiting to be topped up. There's no hurry. You drink it down remembering the old ad slogan - "Guinness is good for you" - but did they mean six of them? By the end of the evening the thick County Clare brogue is like a foreign language but there are no subtitles.

Yesterday - Sunday - I took Paul and the lads up the coast to Black Head via Fanore. White horses were racing in and the coast felt elemental, the wind and the waves seeming to laugh at the pinprick silhouettes of human beings bending into the weather.

I have been here many times. I have seen it changing over the years. Seen pubs closing and bungalows being built - the influx of tourists who come to stay from Holland or France or Germany and Irish migrants coming home. I have heard the Celtic Tiger roaring and seen the village stores introduce new fangled products like rice and coffee and pasta. But while some things change "The deep heart's core" remains - the peculiarly egalitarian Irish sense of community and the humour that flows, the kindness and the music and the stories and beneath all of it - the land - as ancient as time itself - limestone pavements and caves and settlements where Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age people lived for the days they were living in, oblivious of a future that would contain aeroplanes and electricity and plastic and an arrogant belief that it has dispelled all mystery and magic.

26 October 2007

Music

I was tagged by Alkelda the Gleeful of "Saints and Spinners" and asked to list some favourite albums for all the remembered years of my life. I did what she asked and went to Wikipedia but the truth of the matter is that I can often take music or leave it. Between 1963 when my brothers and I were given a copy of "With the Beatles" to share and 1973 when I returned from my South Pacific adventures, I listened avidly to a lot of music, attended many gigs, took "Melody Maker" and "The New Musical Express" and even made it to a few summer festivals - including The Isle of Wight - but since then a lot of music has passed me by and I haven't cared a hoot. I go through phases of making my own music with a guitar and words that well up from the murky depths of my soul and this music means so much more to me than other people's. Recently I have heard "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T's - what a brilliantly constructed song! For what it is worth, here is a list of some albums I owned and listened to on the ten year long path from childhood into adulthood:-
1963 With the Beatles - The Beatles
1964 Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. - Simon and Garfunkel
1965 Mr. Tambourine Man - The Byrds
1966 Blonde on Blonde - Bob Dylan
1967 Days of Future Passed - Moody Blues
1968 This Was - Jethro Tull
1969 Unhalfbricking - Fairport Convention
1970
Sweet Baby James - James Taylor
1971 Blue - Joni Mitchell
1972 Harvest - Neil Young
1973 For Everyman - Jackson Browne

My very first album.

21 October 2007

Cycle

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness..." Leaving my place of punishment where I am ploughing through uninspiring exercise books and homework projects on a bright October Sunday afternoon, I ventured up our garden to glimpse some of the vividness of another year dying... another cycle almost done... This is what I found:-

Holly berries ripening two months before Christmas.

Apples hanging like nature's baubles from a sky blue ceiling.
My favourite gnarled trunk. The scars run deep.

Leaves aflame like Mediterranean fire fish drying on lines.

19 October 2007

Vanity

So I found this new fangled search engine thingumyjig called "Goggle" or "Dougal" or something like that and I typed in "Yorkshire Pudding" in a moment of vain self-interest, expecting to receive lots of references to my literary accomplishments. Instead I find millions of recipes for the risen golden batter pudding which was named after this blog! The swines!

There was even a reference to a blog called "The New Yorkshire Pudding" by a New Yorker living in London. How dare he take my name in vain! The swine!

And so I continued exploring "Boogle"/ "Gobble" (?) looking at dozens of pictures of the batter pudding mentioned above. Finally I came across this pale French Yorkshire Pudding with a fairly big sausage curling round inside it. That sausage must be a foot long! Only a foot long! The dish is apparently called "Toad in The Hole" - but where is the toad and where is the frigging hole? And trust the French to have a curly wormlike sausage when English sausages are known to be alarmingly rigid as housewives everywhere will testify. I guess it serves me right for allowing vanity to infest my thoughts this chilly autumn evening. Have a nice weekend!

13 October 2007

Dinsdales

In the old town of Hull, not far from The Land of Green Ginger and The Old Bluebell Inn, there is a Victorian shopping arcade called Hepworth's Arcade. When I was a young lad, I loved that arcade because of its Hi-Fi shop, its bookshop, the amazingly cheap workers' cafe that sold substantial meals for next to nothing and above all its joke shop - the world famous Dinsdales! Never heard of it? Well isn't that usually the case with world famous things?

I would press my nose up at the window and marvel at the display - itching powder, fart cushions, rubber masks, rubber dog turds, rubber bacon and fried eggs, eyepatches, vampire teeth, stage blood, luminous paint, fake cigars, exploding cigarettes, plastic flick knives that retracted when you stabbed people with them, indoor fireworks, wigs, false beards and moustaches, lifelike bluebottles and snakes, hands that pulled off and bloody bandages you could put over uninjured digits. Above the door it said "We Sell Laughter".

In this ever-changing world, things have a tendency to disappear - old haunts, old pubs, fields you used to play in, people you used to know - but Dinsdales never seems to change. Perhaps if I win the Lottery I will buy out that joke shop and become the new Mr Dinsdale. What could be better? Running a shop that is all about making people laugh, mischief, silliness. I might even introduce some new joke products - such as:-

The computer that continuously loses its Internet connection - Ha! Ha!

The TV set that shows programmes that are worth watching - No way!

Official letters you can post to your worst enemies telling them they are HIV positive or landing them with enormous utility bills. Hilarious!

The mobile phone that gives you cancer of the inner ear! Haw! Haw! The possibilities are endless for the next Mr Dinsdale!

7 October 2007

London

London - such an amazing city. This morning I was in St Pancras churchyard near the University College Hospital. St Pancras church stands on a site that can trace its ecclesiastical origins to back before the Norman conquest. There was a track that wove its way from Hampstead towards the once tiny city of London right past this church. Farmers would bring their produce day after day. Now it is swallowed up by the London sprawl.

In the eighteen seventies the authorities had to clear a lot of the graves in order to make way for train tracks leaving the twin stations - Kings Cross and St Pancras. The man charged with their removal was none other than young Thomas Hardy the novelist - before he met with fame and was a journeyman architect. He - or at least his men - stacked many of the old stones round a sapling which has now become a great lime tree known as Hardy's tree. Its roots almost meld in with the gravestones - life and death bound tightly together.

Of course that's not why we were in London. We went to see Hull City at Crystal Palace and then on to see a West End show - "Les Miserables" before a cheap and cheerful Chinese meal on Gerrard Street and then back to our nice little hotel in Pimlico. There are so many ways to look at London. So many different things to see. And it is great to get overground and walk instead of riding the exorbitant Tube system - £4 fora single journey. This morning we also visited Camden Market which our son always raves about but it didn't have quite the same impact on us. Clothing and fashion disinterest me. I would be happy running around in animal skins like a caveman!

3 October 2007

Bushisms

When in need of cheering up, it's always a good idea to seek out some of the bizarre sayings of the leader of the free world - George Walker Bush. With apologies to American visitors. I am of course not "dissing" the USA - just the idiot a minority of your people put in The White House.

I'm conservative, but I'm not a nut about it.

This administration is doing everything we can to end the stalemate in an efficient way. We're making the right decisions to bring the solution to an end.

As Luce reminded me, he said, without data, without facts, without information, the discussions about public education mean that a person is just another opinion. (September 9, 2003)

There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee...that says, fool me once, shame on...shame on you. Fool me...you can't get fooled again. [9/17/2002]

Our nation must come together to unite.

In my sentences I go where no man has gone before.

I have a different vision of leadership. A leadership is someone who brings people together.

A lame duck session, for people who don't know what that means, it means the Senate is coming and the House is coming back between now and Christmas and they've got a few days to get some big things done. [11/7/2002]

He can't have it both ways. He can't take the high horse and then claim the low road.

29 September 2007

Pressure

I try not to write about work very much in this blog but recently it has been invading my innermost thoughts, sometimes keeping me awake at night. I am wrestling with the practical everyday realities of leading a secondary school English department in an area which has plenty of deprivation while being pressured about a relative decline in English exam results this summer. I mean what could they expect? Apart from me, the other five teachers had three years experience between them! I start to wonder - how much longer can I endure this shit? I'm sick of it - the ball-breaking headmistress and the very limited resources, the kids without pens or ambitions or proper family support. I have given so much of myself to the job these last twenty nine and a half years. Weekends, holidays, late nights. At one point it even threatened to destroy my marriage. Maybe if I can get through to next summer... then I'll have done my thirty years and I believe I will have earned full pension rights when I get to the age of sixty. One key dilemma is that I am at last being pretty well paid and I was hoping to maintain that kind of income with a saving habit attached at least until Frances completed her university education. I have always been strong, tough in the world of work... fighting through the days and the weeks and the years... but recent pressures leave me feeling overburdened and vulnerable. And ironically, though I have doled out barrow loads of pastoral care to children in my career, when I have need of some there is of course none to be had. You are just a peg in a hole.

25 September 2007

Liberty

"Liberty Living" - that is the name of a property group that houses students in several British cities - including Birmingham. Strange how "Liberty Living" couldn't even sort out their door keys properly when we took our lovely Frances down to England's second city to begin her university education! How can your living be free when you can't even unlock your front door?

Actually, the student flat she is in seems perfect and newly refurbished though its location is a little awkward for access to the campus.

We left our little girl there on Sunday and drove home. After the sadness of mum's passing, here was another sadness - the realisation that Frances's adult life proper has now started and she may never live at home again - just holidays and long weekends. New people will know her. Her friends won't be phoning and banging on the door. We won't be yelling at her to get her skates on. Courtesy of "Liberty Living" the fledgling has now flown. It leaves a certain emptiness behind - a void. She is nineteen tomorrow. Nineteen! Wow!

I wonder if "Liberty Living" has plans to weave its magic in the suburbs of Baghdad - a place where liberty seems in such short supply. And if there is "Liberty Living" is there also "Incarcerated Living" or "Slothful Living" or "Empty Living" specially for parents who have deposited their beloved children in universities? There's so much pressure and expectation at work just now - link this with mum's death and Frances's departure - I seem to have discovered a recipe for instant depression. Maybe seeing Hull City whup Chelsea tomorrow night will lift my spirits...

Left: Frances's student accommodation.

21 September 2007

Eulogy

Thanks to fellow bloggers for their support in my time of loss. Much appreciated. Some of those comments spurred me on and helped me to deliver a eulogy that the vicar described as the best he had ever heard. I didn't want that. No personal praise. I was doing it for mum and for the congregation who had come to say goodbye to her - more than two hundred. I held my nerve, there beside the coffin bedecked with beautiful white lilies. My knees shook slightly and at one or two points my voice quavered but I held on to the task and did her proud.

Here are two of my farewell paragraphs:-

"As well as being “feisty” mum was also very kind. She would help anybody out and was a soft touch when tramps or gipsies called at our door or when she saw beggars in the street - she couldn’t walk on by. She gave generously to charities and was especially keen on the Salvation Army, the NSPCC and Oxfam. She always looked beyond her own garden gate to the world beyond.

She loved plants and where ever she travelled she was always taking cuttings and trying to propagate them. She knew the names of hundreds of plants and to tell you the truth it could be a bit irritating when you were in a park or garden centre with her as she reeled off Latin names. It was just one of her passions. She was also an avid reader and solver of crossword puzzles and even became obsessive about collecting those little labels that you get on bananas."


We drove on up to the East Riding Crematorium at Octon, along winding lanes past bulging dykes and ploughed fields where flocks of seagulls were already gathering to see out the winter. We followed the hearse at twenty five miles an hour. I saw a young rabbit recently killed in the road.

The CD gave us "The White Cliffs of Dover" as the curtain closed on mum's marvellous life - a life of love and goodness, of passion and participation, endeavour and energy. The last words of my eulogy back in the village church had been "May we cherish her memory". I felt privileged to deliver that speech so that mum's passing was not only marked by the hollow words of a God-addict vicar but also by the true words of one who really knew her and loved her. It was one of the finest things I have ever done or ever will do again.

East Riding Crematorium high on the Yorkshire Wolds

19 September 2007

CD

I'm making a CD for mum's cremation service following the church service in the village where I was born and where she lived for fifty four years. She will be cremated high on the Yorkshire Wolds and as the coffin enters the crematorium, there'll be the second movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony and then this short Fairport Convention song:-

Farewell, farewell to you who would hear
You lonely travellers all
The cold north wind will blow again
The winding road does call


And will you never return to see
Your bruised and beaten sons?
"Oh, I would, I would, if welcome I were
For they love me, every one"


And will you never cut the cloth
Or drink the light to be?
And can you never swear a year
To anyone of we?


"No, I will never cut the cloth
Or drink the light to be
But I'll swear a year to one who lies
Asleep along side of me"


Farewell, farewell to you who would hear
You lonely travellers all
The cold north wind will blow again
The winding road does call


As we say our last goodbye, I hope the CD will bring us Vera Lynn singing "The White Cliffs of Dover". Earlier in the church I am expected to deliver a secular eulogy. I hope I am up to it. I have cried salt tears this week. I want to do it for her. Not to break down. You can do it boy! You can do it!

14 September 2007

Gone

There I was at work - gone 6pm - examining data, preparing for a difficult meeting about exam results. I ended up deciding to attach the document I was working on to an email that I could catch up on later. That was when I spotted another email from my daughter marked "URGENT". "Dad phone home NOW. Grandma is seriously ill and they want you to go over." It was timed at17.23. I phoned home but it was too late. My mother was already dead.


She was born on May 24th 1921. She grew up in dire poverty, abandoned by her parents and spent her formative years with her grandparents - even taking their surname - White instead of her registered surname - Jackson. The war came and she signed up, joining the WAAF (Women's Airforce). She was posted to India where she met my father who she married just after the war in Delhi in 1945.

They came home to England where she had four sons and became the wife of a village headmaster. All her life she was an expert craftswoman making lampshades and gloves, baskets and eiderdowns. She even taught "mixed crafts" and I remember so many nights when she was up late beavering away beneath a lamp.

Her name was Doreen. Tomorrow I must drive over to Beverley and arrange her funeral. Pick up the death certificate etc.. She was a woman who lived a full life. In her seventies she travelled back to India after a Round-the-World trip that took her to Vancouver and Sydney, Auckland and Singapore. She's gone and of course I will never forget her. I loved her. I am so pleased that the kids - Ian and Frances came over to see her with Shirley and I (like that Demob Happy?) a week last Sunday. She was eighty six years old and she was a very special lady - far far more special than Diana Spencer of whom Prince Harry said "She was the best mum in the world". He was so wrong.

8 September 2007

McCanns

Returning from Poland, I was at Robin Hood Airport near Doncaster, waiting to proceed through passport control when I noticed several posters advertising the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. "Have you seen Maddy?" they announced with a number to call and the obligatory website address. I felt like screaming "NO I BLOODY HAVEN'T SEEN MADDY!" After all, at the risk of sounding callous, what is so special about little Maddy that she gets the glaring media spotlight that so many missing children never receive? And how come that in an official airport zone private publications like the Maddy posters can be tacked to the walls?

I am always pissed off when Maddy's disappearance and related matters occupies the number one TV news slot in the UK. Soldiers may have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, a workplace may have laid off hundreds, shares may have plummeted but oh no - let's focus on the soap opera that is now Madeleine McCann Inc..

We had her loving parents - Gerry and Kate, jetting off to Rome and Morocco and Spain - interestingly, ironically and perhaps appallingly leaving their baby twins behind! And now the Portugese authorities have raised the awful possibility that Gerry and/or Kate may in fact be responsible for Maddy's death. It has become one of the main conversational topics on our island this week and I guess there isn't one pub in the land where someone hasn't said in secretive tones - "I always thought there was something a bit fishy about those two!"

Will we ever get to know the truth about what happened at Praia de Luz in May? Do we care? Will Madeleine ever be found - dead or alive? Don't get me wrong - ultimately, my heart really does go out to little Maddy - such a lovely little girl with her whole life in front of her. Could it be that her parents have covered their guilt so very extravagantly in order to deflect the possibility of blame sticking to them? Personally, I find such a scenario impossible to believe... well almost impossible.

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