28 April 2008

Thuggery

Sophie Lancaster and Robert Maltby were friends and lovers. One evening last summer these twenty year olds walked through Stubbylee Park in Bacup, Lancashire with their whole lives in front of them. They were attired as "Goths" and this was apparently enough reason for a gang of teenage nobodies to set about them. Robert was kicked and punched to the ground and when Sophie screamed for the mob to cease their mindless assault, they turned on her and as good as killed her with their cruel thuggery before running away.
Hospital staff later tried desperately to save her but the damage had been done. Two of the "boys" were sent down for many years today - accused specifically of Sophie's murder while a further three were imprisoned for the initial vicious assault on Robert. The judge hesitated to liken them to animals because when packs of animals attack and kill they have a survival purpose but what happened in that park was without reason. If there was a God, I would say God Bless to Sophie - may you rest in peace and as Robert tries to rebuild his life in a world he now fears, all I can say is that my heart goes out to you. I was going to display the faces of the thugs below with their empty eyes - none of them more than seventeen - but when I saw them in the intended post I felt unnerved. What made them like this? And how many others are lurking in the dark shadows of our parks, our streets and our nightmares? Instead here's a picture of Sophie, alive, drinking a glass of red wine, searching for herself through the medium of the Goth subculture which enthralled her. Her twenty three year old brother said "Although the sentences seem fitting and appropriate, no sentence is long enough to compensate for the loss of Sophie."

27 April 2008

More

Heavens! My last post re. hate and love lists seems to have engendered more interest than usual. The idea was not original - I discovered it on David's NZ blog - "Arcane Engima" - so thanks David! Since I posted those "hate" and "love" lists, I have kept thinking about other "items" I might have included, so here's a few more for your edification:-
HATE:- "Baby on Board" signs in rear windscreens, Simon Cowell, smokers standing at pub or restaurant entrances, smokers in dressing gowns outside hospital entrances, ice build-up in the freezer compartments of refrigerators, Margaret Thatcher, speed cameras, any items of clothing that are emblazoned with the manufacturer's name or logo, dead and oily seabirds on a beach, drivers who park in disabled-only bays, fly-tipping of rubbish, Monarch Airlines, white fat on bacon or pork, computer spam or virus producers, graffiti on buses, girl bands, boy bands,marking children's books at one in the morning, marking exam papers on a Sunday afternoon, missing or misplaced apostrophes, Scottish racism towards the English, quorn...


LEFT: Thatcher.
Not long now
ye old bat!
RIGHT: Guinness.
They say that sales
are down - Even in
Ireland itself.



LOVE:- My guitar, Spurn Point, sunsets, full English breakfasts, fish and chips with mushy peas, stationery shops, The Sheffield "Star", San Francisco, the Trip Advisor website, anybody who can tell me a joke that really makes me laugh, the smell of the air when fresh rain follows a long dry spell, William Shakespeare, Guinness in western Ireland, the speed dial reaching 100mph on an empty motorway, Oxfam shops, BBC Radio 4, Terry Wogan, yo-yos, writing poetry, writing plays for adolescents, rarely trodden paths in the countryside, Pink Lady apples, the flag of St George, the white cliffs of Flamborough Head, Rolf Harris, Beverley Minster, memories of playing rugby, studying grains of sand while lounging on a summery beach, conkers, weddings, craftsmanship...

22 April 2008

Balance

HATE LIST: mobile phones (cell phones), cigarettes, rap music, personalised number plates, bloggers who just disappear, "A Town Called Alice" by Neville Shute, Noel Edmonds, dark Bournville chocolate, tea without sugar, The Conservative Party, religion, the offside rule in football, Londoners (not Reidski), litter, killing small creatures - including flies, "The Daily Mail", "The Sun", dog dirt on my shoe, cars parked on urban grass verges, tattoos (see below), "My Family"(TV show), assistant referees, Maths teachers, OFSTED, Jackson Pollock, Alexander Pope, those who sexploit Page Three girls, Ringo Starr (arrogant tosser), tailgaters, hospital operations on TV, the extinction of unique creatures, bullying, bragging, bad breath, queue jumpers, chavvy baseball caps and shattered bus stops.

LOVE LIST: curry, Bob Dylan, Saturday mornings, The Moon rising, feeding birds, helping others, words, the possibilities of photography, swimming in warm seas, Sunday dinner with my family, our cat Boris, the works of Bill Bryson, Paul Theroux, Dylan Thomas and John Fowles, maps, facts about foreign countries, Google Earth, Van Gogh, Americana, writing songs, old secondhand household objects, driftwood, Victorian bottles, lying on my back watching the first swallows from a summer lawn, Joni Mitchell, "EastEnders", wood carving, bay leaves, neck ties, travel websites, travelling, kissing, baked potatoes, "Tetleys" bitter, Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill, drystone walls, Hull City AFC, St Faith's graveyard in East Yorkshire, laughter, unexpected acts of kindness, airports, empty motorways, silence...

19 April 2008

Misery

So near but yet so far. The promised land of The Premiership - a land of milk and honey, flash cars and media exposure, wages delivered in a fleet of Securitas vans, players who think and perform speedily, a brand of football that has encircled our planet... Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Aston Villa.... A dream world.

Hull City are like Jude Fawley in Hardy's "Jude The Obscure". The spires of Christminster remain so far away though we can see them on the horizon - shining brightly. On Saturday morning, we were second in The Championship. Around Hull the hype had been whipped up to a frenzy. Twelve thousand season tickets for next year had already been sold. And so we went to Sheffield United's Bramall Lane - the only fixture I can sensibly walk to. Quietly and not a little nervously, we sat in the home supporters' Valad stand and watched The Tigers beaten by a better team on the day. No excuses. We were crap. The Blades fans were chanting "Are you Wednesday in disguise?" to the tune of "Bread of Heaven".

Two-nil to the ten-man Blades - Captain Morgan was sent off. Strange how a despondent mood then descends like a North Sea fog, to make the rest of the weekend feel like it should share titles with Stephen King's famous novel. Two games to go - Crystal Palace at home and Ipswich away - hardly a springboard into The Premiership - more like a deathtrap. Oh woe is me!

16 April 2008

OFSTED

Urrrgh! They come every so often - men you have never seen before and will never see again. They come in shiny cars, wearing nice ties and pressed shirts, carrying clipboards. Most of them are bald and have to wear reading glasses. They left teaching long ago and climbed on the gravy train, pontificating about the schools they dip into. It's like me visiting Rome for three days and telling the Romans all about their city. That would definitely not go down well.

I despise OFSTED, what it stands for and the people who lick their lips - happy to be on the OFSTED pay roll. We don't need these pompous turncoats with their fat expenses claims. What schools need is smaller classes, money for books and basic resources, wise advisers who can guide without bringing the weight of some unspoken law down upon the heads of the soldiers at the frontline of education. Office For Standards in EDucation - what a load of bollocks!

The dwarf inspector with his alligator smile will be back in our classrooms in the morning, quizzing me like Pontius Pilate on his high horse about standards and progress since the last OFSTED visit, demanding this "evidence" and that "evidence". For Christ's sake you little twerp - I never committed a crime! I just came to work and did my best and I never missed a single day off work in thirty years. Isn't that good enough for you? And besides - these kids come from one of the most disadvantaged housing complexes in Europe. What do you expect? Miracles?

12 April 2008

Blunder

You cannot be serious! That ball. It was never, ever over the line - never in a month of Sundays. Everybody in the ground could see it - even the Queens Park Rangers forwards and their manager. And yet... and yet... there was the linesman Mr A. Smith waving his little yellow flag to signal that the ball had crossed the line. What does the A stand for anyway? Is it that hole that we always find ourselves sitting on?Hull City 1 QPR1. Two points lost in our promotion campaign. Mr A. Smith's error could not only cost Hull City fifty million pounds, it could also break in half the lifelong dreams of twenty thousand supporters - myself included. I admit that we didn't play well today but if we are going to lose or draw then please let it be with legitimate goals from the opposition. Watch out Mr A. Smith! Vengefully, I am coming for you. The only trouble is I have approximately 127,520 A. Smiths to telephone in order to track you down. In the meantime, why not visit Specsavers you dumbass "assistant referee"!

Thank heavens that defender Michael Turner was able to snatch a well-deserved equaliser in injury time. The feeling I experienced high up in The West Stand was something akin to orgasm. I may be experiencing the exact opposite next Saturday when we sit amongst Sheffield United supporters as the Hull City tickets are sold out and the only way we can get in is to pretend to be Blades fans. The Premiership is tantalisingly so close and yet frustratingly so faraway. Come on you Hull!

9 April 2008

Torch

How much aviation fuel? How many hotel beds? How many police officers? How many stewards? And what an utter waste of time! The transcontinental journey of the Olympic flame. What a load of bollocks! What is it supposed to mean? Maybe once the Olympic spirit was about African hill peasants coming down from the mountains to win marathons and about dedicated steelworkers or secretaries filling their spare time with Olympic training regimes - having a dream and going for it.

Now it's all about sponsorship and urban renewal, political profiles and performance enhancing drugs, Nike shoes and Tag Heur timing, logos and TV interviews. It stinks.

It was Nazi Germany that first conceived the idea of a torch relay from Olympia for the Berlin summer games of 1936 with their classical symbolism and Hitler's transparent posturing to present himself to the world as an international statesman. Why are we continuing that cynical tradition?

Regarding the protesters. Yes. It is true that China has enslaved Tibet and abused many of its people but no country that has ever hosted the games could claim to have been politically spotless. The main thing that makes my blood boil about the absurd torch relay is the very unnecessary waste that the scheme has caused - all those air miles, those massive hotel bills etc.. Besides, it is perhaps ironically significant that the flame is regularly being doused. Wasn't the whole idea that it would be the same flame - the flame first lit in Olympia - that would circle the globe. It's all a sick joke.
Konstantinos Kondylis - the first torch runner in 1936

3 April 2008

Books

Under a coconut palm canopy by a golden beach or squeezed like a sardine into a Monarch Airlines plane seat - surely intended for dwarves or amputees, it's nice to read - far from the hurly burly of one's ordinary working life. Good books deserve commitment from the reader - not snatched half hour sessions before you turn off the light at bedtime.

This holiday I read "Pies and Prejudice" by Stuart Maconie, "Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks and "Mister Teacher" by Jack Sheffield.

Maconie's book was a passionate celebration of the oft-maligned North of England. I really enjoyed it even though it had a bias towards Maconie's home county - Lancashire. There was fun and laughter, interesting facts and accounts of particular visits Maconie made while researching the book. The prose style was surprisingly well-crafted, lucid and intelligent without being pompous and over-bearing. Sadly there was little focus on either Hull or Sheffield and there were a few mistakes - such as the claim that Sheffield's southern suburbs are in Derbyshire and that the late black comedian Charlie Williams was a Bradfordian - he actually hailed from Barnsley. How I would love to write a similar book exclusively about Yorkshire but I probably never will.

"Birdsong" was beautiful. It was filled with horror and tenderness as it traversed the last century with a particular focus upon the main protagonist - Stephen Wraysford and his experiences in World War I. Between Goa and Manchester International, I hardly stopped reading this fabulous novel. Every page and indeed every word seemed to count. Thank you Sebastian Faulks! It was infinitely more engaging than the first Faulks novel I read - "Human Traces" which tries but fails to reproduce the artistic and emotional "magic" of "Birdsong".

In contrast, "Mister Teacher" was pure rubbish. Trite and predictable - it hardly made any effort whatsoever to capture a sense of real village life in the north of England or indeed to reflect the reality of a village headmaster's working life in the late nineteen seventies. For heaven's sake - the head called at the village shop every morning to pick up his copy of "The Times" but there was no reference to him ever reading it and besides what busy headteacher would have ever found time to read a morning paper during term time? This was sugar-coated, mind-numbing formulaic pap which taught me a lot about how not to write a novel of worth. So boo to you "Jack Sheffield" which I very much doubt is your real name anyway. Why not change your pen name to Wally Burke or Herbert Longyawn? Much more appropriate.