29 December 2007


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


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 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":-


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

17 December 2007


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


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


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!


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


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


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:-