28 September 2008


September 27th 2008
Arsenal 1 Hull City 2
Sometimes you don't need any words...

25 September 2008


Lists often do the rounds in the blogosphere - things to do before we die, favourite places visited, songs for life soundtrack, pet hates etc.. This list of five is about things I can see around me as I type at this keyboard - unconscious emblems of life, the flotsam and jetsam of memory.

1. Framed football programme cover. Hull City v Doncaster Rovers 4th May 1949. Many, many years before I was born! No glossy colour photograph here. Instead there's a cartoonish Hull City defender rising to meet the O of the ball that also begins the top line - "OFFICIAL PROGRAMME". There are only three print colours - amber, black and a pale blue. Above the dark shape of a distant grandstand flies the "Hull City AFC" flag. The price of the programme was three old pence and it seems the cover was designed by the great Yorkshire artist - Sid Mercer in 1948. By the way the result of this game was 0-1 in Doncaster's favour - one of only four league games that The Tigers lost that season, becoming champions of the Third Division North. Impressive or what?
2. Karl the Mahogany Elephant. He stands about eleven inches tall. He's smooth and chunky. He has little white tusks and little white toenails and two beady little glass eyes. He stands on the polished black granite hearth, frozen in mid-stride. He is a souvenir of Goa. We bought him from a Kashmiri trader after numerous visits and discussions. On the last day of our Indian holiday we released him from captivity, wrapped him in Hindi newspapers and squeezed him into my hand luggage. Every carved elephant is a little different. Karl is named after a Brummie we met at the Lui Beach Hotel in Candolim. He cost just under twenty quid.

3. List of American Universities - A list within a list. How bizarre! Frances left this list next to the computer. They are universities available to third year American Studies students at Birmingham University. The list seems to have shrunk and when I think of all the great university locations in The States I am disappointed to see how limited this list is - including The University of Wyoming at Laramie and The University of Iowa at Des Moines! No Harvard. No UCLA. No John Hopkins or Ohio State, Penn State or Washington... Still wherever she goes, I am sure she will make the most of the experience.

4. Tan leather box. It's a cube with a lid - twelve inches by twelve - notice how I am incapable of thinking in centimetres.... Bring back imperial measures I say! The box contains the sad remaining documentation of my mother's life. She died a year ago this month after eighty six years of life - a full life with lots of memories and achievements - almost a rags to riches story. I think of her most days just as I still think of my father who died way back in 1979. In the box are more lists - her shopping lists and scribbled accounts. There are also several sympathy cards but mostly it's boring crap from British Gas, Kingston Communications, Lloyds TSB Bank and Scottish Widows. The sorting and closing and communication I have had to perform linked to this leather box doesn't bear thinking about.

5. The Wedding Photo. It's faded now and it came from Shirley's mum's bungalow after her death this summer. Shirley's twenty two and I am twenty eight. I am leaning over her as she sits, in her white wedding gown at a desk in the vestry of St Martin's Church in Owston Ferry, Lincolnshire. We are so young and so happy as we sign the wedding register. Life lies ahead of us and not behind. There are years and years to live, children to bear and raise. On that night, after the reception, we drove down to Lincoln for our one night honeymoon in St Catherine's Hotel. It was October and rather chilly with a thin quilt in a spartan room. The next day I carried her over the threshold of our first house in Crookes, Sheffield. We had only just acquired the keys.

Lincoln: The morning after our wedding we walked up to the cathedral which was once the tallest building in the entire world! The door to the Minster Shop had been unlocked all night. We reported it to a church official and he was so grateful he said we could have anything we wanted. We picked a small framed print of this great church from Braysford Pool.

If you fancy taking up this idea in your own blog - please feel free.... Make it a new "meme" to wander through Blogland.

20 September 2008


In modern times, in the rich western world, when we have children we photograph them - again and again. Photos of our children fill albums and boxes and more latterly the hard drives of our computers. When our kids were little I was always snapping away - like Lord Snowden - almost as if I couldn't believe they were here with us.

One summer - 1990 - we borrowed Shirley's parents' car and caravan for an economical but very lovely holiday on the coast of Northumberland. It was a great summer - the sun shone and our children were healthy, happy and beautiful. I brought in lobster pots with two fishermen I had met in Low Newton and later, as a young family, we walked along the beach from Dunstanburgh to Craster where we bought freshly smoked mackerel for dinner.

When we returned to northern Lincolnshire, Shirley's dad was harvesting with his old yellow combine - in a field just across from the family farm. Ian and Frances clambered out of the hot car and we led them into the field where their grandad was cutting the corn. It was then that I snapped this picture. I always think of it as the best picture of their childhood I ever snapped - number one above a thousand others. I just scanned it today:-

Ian was just six and Frances was almost two. He's twenty four now and she'll be twenty next Friday. What I love about this picture is its naturalness. It wasn't posed. He was kneeling in the stubble with a piece of straw in his mouth and she was holding a stalk of corn. I just wheeled away from the photo I had just taken of Charlie on his combine - bringing in the corn - and there they were behind me... young and happy and innocent.

18 September 2008


"You'll be there to defend the innocents from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the deaths of thousands of Americans." - Sarah Palin, linking the Iraq war to the 9/11 attacks while addressing U.S. soldiers departing for Iraq - Fairbanks, Alaska, Sept. 11, 2008.

I scoured the net for some good jokes about Sarah Palin but none really caught my eye. Instead, I give you the hilarious names of her children - Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig. For Christ's sake - if McCain got elected and then died - would we really want the stand-in leader of the free world to be a gun-toting, Bible-bashing, untravelled and bespectacled pseudo-librarian who dared to give her kids such ridiculous names? The woman is scary in her falseness, scary in her pretend old-fashioned values, scary in her pretend morality, scary in her attitude to the natural world, scary in her incredibly limited grasp of world affairs, scary in her practised and insincere use of the English language and scary in her overt exploitation of her femininity. I hope with all my heart that the American people do the right thing and pick Obama. Homing in on Halibut? No way!

16 September 2008


Work is busy so sorry my blogposts have been a bit thin on the ground recently. Nowadays in education, computers and Excel spreadsheets fuel rigorous post mortems about targets and patterns of achievement. Especially in schools which serve deprived catchment areas. The battle is always on to make silk purses out of sows' ears. In the shadows, experts hover - inspectors and advisers, consultants and lead professionals - people who don't teach but form self-important expressions on their faces - passing judgement like priests in confessionals. Long gone are those summers when you would peruse the results lists and think - well they got what they deserved now let's move on. Talk about The Spanish Inquisition - that''s nothing compared with the grilling that schools in challenging areas suffer when results appear to dip. Frankly, I'm sick of it. I want out. Perhaps the end of this academic year. Get a few more pounds in the old retirement warchest. In the meantime here are two snaps from our holidays in Goa and Turkey - to remind me as much as you that there's more to life than work:-

Old man in the market in Anjuna

Shirley in the doorway of the high church in Kayakoy.

11 September 2008


Sheffield is a hilly city with five small rivers flowing through it. The suburban village of Stannington lies on a bluff between two of these river valleys - The Rivelin and The Loxley. Loxley? Now doesn't that ring a bell? Robin of Loxley - Robin Hood! On the northern edge of Stannington, along a narrow country lane is a remote country pub called "The Robin Hood". It was built in 1804 and against the commercial odds continues to provide refreshment to this day.

I had never been there before. Shirley asked me if I wanted to join her and the Tuesday night crew for a meal at "The Robin Hood". We jumped in the car at eight, ready for the twenty minute drive to Stannington. I assumed she knew where we were going and that our friends Steve and Moira would have given instructions. Almost an hour later after a fruitless exploration of Upper Stannington, along with various halts to look at the A to Z, some cursing and a quarter mile demonstration of reversing up Greaves Lane, a couple of mobile phone calls and a discussion with a pedestrian, we finally arrived at the old pub.

It was almost empty but we were just in time to order a meal. Our friends were already sitting round a massive pine kitchen table awaiting our regal arrival - "Why the *!?* didn't you tell me you didn't know where we were going?"

Anyway. The meal was brilliant. I had delicious locally sourced pork sausages on a bed of mash surrounded by garden peas and plum wine gravy - washed down by two pints of a Sheffield Ales special - "Tinsley Towers". This was followed by the best brownie dessert I have ever had - warm, laced with hazelnuts and topped with a single scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. Then coffee with a fresh macaroon. Mmmm! On the way home, the arduous challenge of actually getting there was forgotten. I had already forgiven Shirley for her geographical dyslexia and navigational witlessness.

We would both happily visit "The Robin Hood" again but next time we won't be doing a nighttime patrol of Stannington's many streets. The pub is on Greaves Lane by the way but the old track is now closed off half way down. The reversing manoeuvre had begun just a hundred yards up from the old pub which is situated on the lower end of Greaves Lane.

6 September 2008


After the ecoli infection comes blogstipation. Know the feeling? You sit down at the computer wanting to post something but nothing much springs to mind. Maybe it's the time of year. While bloggers in New Zealand witness springtime bursting out all over, those of us who inhabit the northern hemisphere are beginning to look into the dark and oft-times miserable abyss that is winter. In England rain keeps falling after the least sunny August on record.

September. Toadstools sprouting in our lawn. By the old apple trees, the earth is sodden. I pick what brambles I can find to make a pie for dessert after tomorrow's Sunday dinner. Back in the house, I spend half an hour trawling through "You Tube" to find something that's funny - for visitors' titillation but nothing grabs me. I consider the clip showing electronic bollards in a city street. They sink for a service bus and rise immediately after it has passed as dumb car drivers attempt to take shortcuts - only to have their undercarriages wrecked by the rising bollards. I smirk but it's not a belly laugh.

The new school building is just about ready for our students on Monday. It really does have a "wow" factor. There are carpets, sensor-operated lights, sturdy tables without graffiti or lumps of dried chewing gum. There are clean toilets with soap dispensers full of liquid soap and all over the place computers and interactive whiteboards, brightly coloured walls, doubled glazed windows. Compared with what I have known - this is the dream school and my team of enthusiastic, driven English teachers are close by in our suite of modern rooms, ready for the challenges ahead.

Shirley is upstairs stripping the paper from Frances's bedroom walls while England make hard work of beating Andorra in the first World Cup group match. Perhaps we'll saunter down the pub in an hour or so - gotta do something to rid myself of this blogstipation.

1 September 2008


I married a nurse. My best friend is a qualified nurse. I seem to have spent a lot of time with nurses these past thirty years. In receiving heavy duty antibiotics for my ecoli infection I have had occasion to make several visits to an annexe of the local hospital's infectious diseases ward. This is run by senior nurse practitioner Dawn and her sidekick Julie. They have been ever so nice to me.

I turn up at the appointed time. They sit me down, find a vein and begin the intravenous drip which takes around an hour to complete. Next they're asking me what I want to drink and it's always tea with one sugar. Because patients are so grateful for the service they provide, Dawn and Julie receive lots of gifts of biscuits, sweets, cakes and buns so they ply you with their leftovers. They're like a comedy double act - bouncing off each other but also good at their jobs - doing what is necessary while treating patients with respect and good humour. Unlike the brainbox young doctor who oversaw my care - to him I was just a condition to identify and tackle.

If you do an internet image search for "nurse" - it isn't long before you spot soft porn photos which demonstrate that in western cultures nurses are not entirely taken seriously. It is a breed of sexism which diminishes dedicated and very qualified people who play a vital role in health care. In fancy dress shops you can even hire sexy nurse outfits for hen nights. Real nurses like Dawn and Julie, Shirley and my mate Tony do not deserve such ridicule.

By the way, the drip seems to have worked a treat and I am now almost back to full Pudding strength - hopefully leaving the ecoli episode behind me forever...