30 January 2007


It was ten years ago. I was an English examiner on something called The Review Panel - reviewing students' exam scripts in a traditional teaching laboratory in Sheffield University. There were about thirty of us. It was near the end of the week and our team leader was carefully explaining how to claim travel and meal expenses using the exam board's complicated claim forms. Of course with money in sight, everyone was concentrating fully at this point. The atmosphere was hushed.
Suddenly, at the back of the room there was a commotion. I turned around to see a rather large man in a gorilla suit. My fellow examiners and I all looked up, bemused. There were some other examiners at the doorway - I recognised a couple of them from the Literature Review Panel that had been meeting all week in the adjacent lab. Ha! Ha! A man in a gorilla suit. How spiffing!
Well the gorilla man worked down the side of the lab until he came to me. Now I am a substantial man - six feet tall and sixteen stones of pure muscle. The gorilla reached down and grabbed a hold of me. I didn't resist or struggle. What could I say? The gorilla man threw me over his right shoulder fire fighter style and carried me all the way round the lab.


By this time all my fellow examiners were laughing their socks off and as I was carried round I was wondering - why is this happening? Had I won the football pools, was it my birthday, had ERNIE delivered the big one? What the hell was going on?
As we achieved a full circumnavigation of the room, one of the Literature examiners at the doorway yelled to the gorilla , "No! Not him! Him!" pointing to another examiner a the front of the room - a man who was about my size with a similar moustache, wearing a blue shirt like mine. Apparently, it was his birthday and his mate from next door had arranged this jolly wheeze.
The gorilla left and we returned to our expenses forms. It was one of the most bizarre things that have ever happened to me. Since I started this blogging lark I have wondered was the gorilla man Brad the Gorilla from Seattle? He certainly smelled funny. By the way, I am writing this on the eve of "International Wear a Gorilla Suit Day".

26 January 2007


Saturday morning 6a.m. and I couldn't sleep so I did what all secondary school teachers do - I got up and finished off the sixty final year student reports I was working on till ten thirty last night. The pupils are all sixteen years old. Here's four examples:-
The Sublime
Angel Gabriel has given of his best throughout the GCSE course. He listens and concentrates. Because of that positive attitude, he has gradually improved his skills and understanding so that now two C grade passes appears to be an eminently achievable goal.
Dove of Peace has matured in recent weeks and I was very encouraged by her mock exam performances. She is starting to write like an A level student at times – clear, well-supported, with evidence from the text. I have always thought of her as one of the most capable students in her teaching group and now she is really starting to prove that this is so.


Cane Toad: "Okay sir! I'll catch up!"

The Ridiculous
coursework folder remains seriously incomplete and he failed to achieve a grade in the vital drama-based Speaking and Listening assignment. He was absent from the two mock exams. In lessons he is often moody, easily distracted and slow to settle down to work. He rarely has a pen to write with. Often he seems to bitterly resent correction or pressure. He has some natural ability but so far hasn’t made the most of it. However, it is still not too late to make amends though time is obviously beginning to run out now.

Cane Toad has remained a disruptive force in the classroom. He wastes far too much time chattering and often fails to follow simple instructions such as “Copy this down” or “Turn to page 23”. He is always looking for cheap laughs from his classmates instead of knuckling down and trying to make the most of his obvious potential. He rarely has a pen to write with and remains behind with his coursework. He failed to complete the Paper One mock exam and was absent from the Literature mock exam.
Now I have to email these comments to school, download them on Monday and paste them in to the networked spreadsheets on which report grades and comments are now collected. No signatures any more and not even any human checking for spelling errors etc.. Last time the system left some of my comments chopped in half - exactly what I'd love to do to Earthworm and Cane Toad!

24 January 2007


Please leave caption ideas in the comments box. Any reference to Jade Goody is strictly forbidden...but then again weren't rules meant to be broken? ...Tee-hee!


22 January 2007


For anyone who doesn't know, Jade Goody was booted out of the Big Brother house last Friday. It was heartening. 82% of viewers who dialled in voted to eject Jade. She left the house to an eerie silence. Over the weekend, the UK press have pilloried and derided her as if she were Saddam Hussen's sister or something. Her perfume brand "Shhh!" has been removed from some shop shelves.
The thing about Jade is that she is clearly intellectually challenged. The other day she was asking big brother about Eskimos. She was wondering why their eyes don't freeze up and if there were any Eskimos living in London, she'd like to see one - rather like you might like to spot some endangered bird - an osprey or a red kite perhaps. She is so thick. Because of that, it is not really surprising that she says dumb things like "Shilpa Poppadom" or makes angry retorts at people who are dissimilar to her. In spite of myself, I do feel a little sorry for Jade. Channel 4 are partly to blame for her fall from grace and the private torment she must now be enduring in her Goody world. Their editing and choices about what to screen have probably deliberately shown Jade in a worse light than might have been.


So many things have emerged from this matter. Politicians, including Alan Johnson the Education Secretary have called for our nation's schools to do more to promote respect. They don't want our young people to turn out like Jade or to put her on a pedestal. Even Tony Blair was talking today about what living in a community was like when he was a boy - there just "wasn't the same kind of anti-social behaviour back then". I think politicians could do more to engender respect themselves by sticking to the jobs we elect them to do and not taking on lucrative directorships in business, not swanning off on fact-finding missions abroad, not staying in Bee Gee mansions on their holidays, not coupling with their secretaries, not making a mint from selling their memoirs, not forgetting their youthful ideals, not telling lies.
I don't like Jade Goody. I don't like her ugly fat inability to think or communicate properly. I don't like the shallowness she represents where even dumb people can get rich and famous without possessing an ounce of talent. I don't like her horrible mother or her useless boyfriend but at the end of the day, she was not the inventor of the idiocy - she just went with the flow of it all. Channel 4 made her and perhaps they have broken her too. It will be interesting to see how she fares in the months ahead. Of course that reported £8 million she has "earned" will help to ease any pain I'm sure.

18 January 2007


Which side of the fence are you on? It is the burning question currently sweeping the UK. I am of course referring to the furore surrounding this year’s Channel 4 “Celebrity Big Brother” event in which accusations of bullying and racism have been attached to three of the contestants – the main culprit being Miss Jade Goody who is only famous for being a previous “Big Brother” housemate. Caught in the middle – the alleged victim - is Miss Shilpa Shetty from India – an A list Bollywood star.

As well as being a self-confessed “EastEnders” addict, I am also not averse to looking in on the Big Brother house. I wouldn’t say I was ever addicted to this show but I do find it fascinating to be a fly on the wall, watching other human beings in a laboratory-like situation. It can teach you quite a lot about how people are – adding to your knowledge of social life.


My first impressions of Shilpa were a) She’s absolutely gorgeous eye candy b) She has a very playful and mischievous side to her character c) She has an impressive command of English for somebody who is, I think, a native Urdu speaker. d) She’s a genuinely intelligent person who values knowledge and thinks deeply about life. These first impressions have remained even though Shilpa has been shocked and rather cowed by some of the treatment she has received in the house.

In the red corner there is Jade Goody. I have seen her before and my impressions include the following; a) She is pig ignorant and knows so little about the world we live in. b) She is fat and ugly and could double for Miss Piggy c) Especially when she gets angry or excited, I cannot understand a word she’s saying – everything melds together into estuarine Essex-speak littered with modern buzz words and occasional expletives. She needs subtitles most of the time. d) Deep down she envies people like Shilpa who is so far beyond her that she might as well be in another galaxy.

To me Jade represents a nasty, boorish, shallow seam in British society. It is a seam I have tapped into in everyday life. I sometimes smell it in my own workplace. People like Jade could make one ashamed to be English. Thank heavens that we are not all like that and if there are any Indian visitors to this blog may I please apologise for the way in which Jade Goody has ignorantly upset and bullied the lovely Shilpa.

Tomorrow evening, I hope the country will boot Jade out of the house and save Shilpa. For the very first time, I shall cast a telephone vote to get Miss Piggy out and save the Bollywood Beauty. I wish I had enough faith in my fellow citizens to confidently expect them to do the same.

16 January 2007


Right "Depression" by Alessandra Martin (High School Collection)

January. Next Monday - January 22nd is calculated to be the most miserable day of this calendar year - at least in the northern hemisphere. This is the trough between Christmas festivities and the brightness of the coming Spring. The mornings are as dark as the evenings. It's cold. Rain lashes down. Dank dead leaves lie slowly rotting in windswept corners. At work, the corners of people's mouthes turn downwards. Some cough. Some speak grimly of post-Christmas diets - punishment for all that happy excess. Ian's friend Ben has just found out he is about to be made redundant with the closure of the "Musiczone" chain of shops. In our street, a water pipe burst - creating a little stream that ran down the hill for three long weeks till Yorkshire Water finally deigned to send their "task force". Now there's a big hole and mud and a "Men at Work" warning sign. Welcome to January.

At New Year many people make resolutions but by the third week of darkest January, many of those resolutions have been broken. The nicotine patches have been abandoned and drinkers "on the wagon" have generally returned to the bottle in moments of weakness or depression. Many people start to feel like failures because they couldn't keep up their resolve. And summer days - picnics, eating out, barbecues, beach holidays, coatless rambles, pub garden gatherings etc. all seem so far away. Everything can seem grey and colourless.
It's a time not to give in to the blues but to fight aginst those grey, gloomy feelings. Be kind to somebody. Help them out. Treat yourself or your family - perhaps to a nice meal out. Go for a vigorous walk because exercise is surely just about the best way of defeating those January blues.

14 January 2007


Continuing with my series of boring animal pictures that send visitors to this blog to sleep -
What is the smallest mammal to be be found wild in the British Isles?
Answer - The Pygmy Shrew
Latin name: Sorex minutus
Size: Approximately 60mms from tip of nose to base of tail. The tail is around 40mms long. The penis of the male pygmy shrew is 2.5mm when fully erect. (Eat yer heart out George W. Bush!)
Distribution: Found throughout the UK.
Months seen: All year round.
Food: Spiders, insects and woodlice.
Habitat: Woods and hedgerows.
Special features: The pygmy shrew is in fact smaller than some of our insects, and can sometimes be found sleeping in the burrows of some beetles. Having such a tiny body, the pygmy shrew needs to consume food at regular intervals in order to maintain its body temperature. In fact it needs to eat every two hours otherwise it may die. For this reason, when you see one they are usually frantically searching for their next meal. A fully grown pygmy shrew is around a quarter of the size of a house mouse. The average weight is around 4 grams - about the same as a penny coin. The breeding season lasts from April through to August. Females usually produce between two and eight young per litter, in an underground nest. Since the gestation period is just over three weeks, they can have up to five litters in one year. In the autumn they put on a thicker coat of fur, but this is no guarantee of surviving the cold winter months. They are often referred to as "annuals" since their life span, at best, is around 15 months.

12 January 2007


In England the curry takeaway is now more popular than our traditional fish and chips. The curry that we know is only loosely related to the curries that families make in India, Bangla Desh and Pakistan. They say that the "balti" was born in Birmigham along with one of our favourite curries - Chicken Tikka Massala.
Well I have just finished scoffing a rather nice curry from Hamid's Balti House. We had lamb methi, vegetable korma, chicken bhuna, egg pilau rice, chapatis, bombay aloo and a couple of nans - all for fifteen pounds ($29) - plenty for a family of four. It's a nice way to end the working week - couple of beers in the pub then pick up the takeaway.


My favourite curry house in Sheffield is the rather basic Kashmir Curry Centre on Spital Hill with its wonderful nan breads - cooked as you watch - so light they would fly away. Here the curries are very authentic - no jarred sauces or shortcuts. The place has no licence so you have to dodge the traffic to visit the East House pub across the way. Then you return with pints or pitchers of beer and you have to ask yourself the question - if a car came speeding up would I drop the beer and run or hold on to my beer? I think I'd take the latter option.
I love the language of the curry house - bhindi bhaji, ghobi aloo, keema pilau, jalfrezi, dhansak, biryani, dupiaza, sag, rogon josh, bemishall, rezala, passanda - it's all so exotic. So many Asian British people are well-established here now and starting to really blend into the fabric of British life. On behalf of curry lovers throughout the land, I would like to thank our Asian brothers and sisters who have brought their wonderful cuisine to these islands and made it part of what it means to be British. But I still wouldn't have curry in a Yorkshire pudding!

9 January 2007


July 1st will be a special day in England as JJ of "All Cobblers" reminded me. This is the day when smoking will cease in pubs and restaurants across the land. Like other non-smokers, I look forward to the day when the air that I breathe in pubs is not polluted by stinking tobacco smoke that clings to your clothes, gets in your hair and stings your eyes. Heaven knows what it has been doing to our lungs.
But once I was a smoker - twenty or more a day for twelve years between the ages of twenty one and thirty three. Having tried unsuccessfully to give up on previous occasions, I decided that I really must give up before our daughter, Frances, was born. Forget nicotine patches, gum or hypnosis, the only thing that can get you away from the smoking habit is will power.


On the chosen day, I got up and instead of smoking my usual cigarette, I went outside to our dustbin and crushed up all of my remaining cancer sticks - my favourite "Benson and Hedges". Then I crushed the gold pack and like a lunatic spoke to the dustbin - "I pledge that I will never smoke again". And you know since that day in 1988, I have never had even one cigarette and I can't say I have ever really had the urge to smoke one. My decision to end was so firm and so strong that there could be no other option. If you want to give up, you must mean it 100%. Like an alcoholic who realises that just one wee drink could by the beginning of a slippery slope back into the abyss, so I think smokers should view the evil weed. One cigarette could be your downfall. You have to cut away all mental and emotional ties with smoking - reminding yourself over and over that you are a non-smoker and you never want to go back to the habit.
I can sympathise with smokers - especially those who are desperate to quit. It's not easy. But everything says you should stop - health, wealth and social acceptability. When you stop, you're lengthening your life, food tastes better, you don't get so breathless, you have more money and your house doesn't stink. Breaking away is also a breaking away from the cynical control of major tobacco companies which, in the name of profit, have tried everything they can think of to keep people hooked - including sports sponsorship and putting addictive chemical additives into cigarette tobacco. Such evil people don't deserve a penny of our hard-earned money.

8 January 2007


Here's another in my series of cute baby animals. Actually, this little fellow's picture was taken around forty years ago in Seattle Zoo. It is of course none other than the infamous beast Brad the Gorilla. Strange isn't it how sweetness and innocence can give way to monstrous adulthood. In the photo Brad had just finished a nutritious meal of mother's milk perhaps explaining his lifelong interest in this part of the female anatomy.


5 January 2007


Awww! How sweet! I stumbled across this rather cute picture of a baby hedgehog. I know that my blogging buddy "By George" once posted lots of pictures of cute little animals so I thought I'd follow suit. Come to Daddy Prickles!

3 January 2007


On Xmas Eve I was led into a garage by John the paramedic to survey his 1.1 litre BMW superbike. I guess I was meant to talk technical and swoon over this shiny beast but all I could think was "Why the hell would anyone want to waste money on a piece of machinery like this when they could be driving around safe and warm in a similarly priced car?" I never was too enamoured with/by technology.
And so we come to Blogger. I have just watched an interview with Eric Case of The Google Empire to try and find out a bit more about Blogger Beta or as Eric says "Baita". The interview left me none the wiser. From Blogger itself here's an invitation to watch the aforementioned video:-
"Our very own Eric Case recently chatted with Jay Dedman and Ryanne Hodson (videobloggers extraordinaire) about the new version of Blogger currently in beta. Relevant bits for developers include:
the new Blogger has a fast, reliable, scalable
it serves content dynamically
it uses Google Accounts, and therefore its API uses ClientLogin and AuthSub."


Eric Case - The Blogger Beta Man

What the hell is a "scalable backend"? I thought this was something belonging to Pamela Anderson! I am afraid that the video clip with Eric left me none the wiser about "Beta" so could any of you bloggers out there who have already switched to "Beta" tell me why and explain an advantage or two. Also as I am always keen on inserting pictures can you tell me if BloggerBeta allows or facilitates this. Somebody who is technically adept may be known as a nerd or a geek but I am the opposite of that so I would like to invent a new word for this condition - I am a "techule" = somebody who views or grasps technological information with all of the self-assurance of a desert mule.