31 May 2006


Remember Cilla Black singing the theme tune to the British sixties film, "Alfie" - starring Michael Caine? She sang, "What's it all about Alfie?" A good question. What is it all about? This is not a matter that I often address. I usually just get on with my life yet sometimes we don't see the wood for the trees.
But tonight, in this post, I thought I might pause to reflect. Perhaps every life needs a philosophy so what is mine? What is it all about? Ten bullet points:-
1. Reproduction. Family. Passing the baton to another generation. As they say, the purpose of marriage is the procreation of children and I agree with this. I pity couples who are fertile and financially solvent but opt out of child bearing. I remember one couple I knew who had made a life choice not to have children - referring to kids as "millstones round your neck" - how sad. I guess I have been lucky to find a woman I could love and grow with. Our two lovely kids were a joy to raise. Problems were few and pleasures were many. They are our key to immortality. They bear our baton. If I achieve nothing else in my life, at least I fathered two wonderful young people.
2. Creativity. Why live in a world where you are surrounded by other people's creations? Make your own. I love every aspect of creation - composing music, painting pictures, taking photographs, rearranging furniture in a home, writing, planting flowers, knitting, carving, planning a holiday. Creative opportunities are endless. Through creation we make our mark, we say "Here I am. This is me and I am alive." Creativity is partly about taking control rather than submissively agreeing to live in a world created by others.
3. Justice. We shouldn't be blinkered. We shouldn't bury our heads in the sand. In life we will often encounter injustice - in the workplace, in the community, in the world at large. What should we do? Walk on by? Not me baby. No way! I put a lot of energy and time into countering injustice. We've got to be prepared to speak out, do our bit. Okay - you might not change anything but at least if you have tried your best you can sleep easier in your bed. I especially believe in social justice. The wealth differentials in the western world make me sick. As Jefferson Airplane sang, "We should be together/ All you people standing round."


4. Friendship. Although I have always been independent, self-sufficient, free-thinking and happy with solitude, I still cherish friendship, connecting with others, helping others, laughing with others, sharing the unspoken realisation that we are here, this is it and the troubles and joys that I encounter in life will be similar to yours. We are all on this ship together. I won't fawn for friendship, barter for it or buy it but if friendship comes I will embrace it, sustain it. To have good friends is a poweful antidote to nastiness and stress.

5. Curiosity. To never stop learning. That' so important to me. To want to know and to feel a continuing hunger for knowledge. When I travel to other places, other countries, I travel like a junkie - looking for a fix. I soak it all up. I look and I listen and I wake up eagerly, anticipating the day ahead. The Internet may have been invented just for me because it answers so many of my questions and takes me both far away from everyday life and deeper into it.

6. Honesty. I can't bear liars or cheats. I believe that if you live an honest life, being straightforward with people and never cheating on others, your conscience will be clear. I have never made a false insurance claim. If I am given too much change in a shop, I will go back and tell them. If I make a mistake my instinct is to admit it, not to blame somebody else or pretend it never happened. Being honest gives you dignity and self-belief and the saying "Honesty is the best policy" is a credo worth adherring to in everyday life.
7. Laughter. Sometimes it's hard to laugh. One can't laugh on demand but the ability to make light of things, to laugh at oneself , to find humour in tragedy - this is a quality worth having. A good belly laugh is like a physical and psychological release. To have tears of laughter running down your cheeks, laughs bursting out of you in involuntary spasms - it's wonderful. And laughter is social. It brings people together. Life can be hard and it can be serious. We all have worries and doubts but laughter helps to lighten our loads.
8. Art. Although I believe that everybody should be creative, I think it is still enormously enriching to immerse oneself in other people's Art. The world of Art is like a vast forest through which we must be brave enough to pick our own paths, to make our own choices. When I speak of Art, I mean all aspects of Art - painting, sculpture, novels, poems, drama, architecture, music, song. The creativity shown by other human beings is quite astonishing. Art isn't like wallpaper - just there in the background, no, real Art grabs you and makes you see things anew. It embellishes life.


9. Environment. This planet is fantastic so why are we spoiling it? We seem to live for today like our short termist politicians. I admire all wildlife, all plant life and the extinction of dodos, elephant birds and Tasmanian tigers makes me shake my head in disbelief at man's arrogance and lack of foresight. I find it hard to kill insects because I appreciate their special characteristics. To me recycling is very important but every government should make the process of recycling mandatory and practically far easier. I hate to see gas-guzzling vehicles in cities and I think public transport should not be left up to profit hungry free enterprise - it's too important for that.
10.Simplicity. Keeping things simple helps to reduce confusion. Harvard's Professor Putnam, an expert in the field of social psychology, claims that television is the number one source of unhappiness and social division. It reduces "social capital" and complicates existence. Far better to live simply. Simple food, simple pleasures, a simple and fairly regular lifestyle. Simple, uncluttered homes, achievable and realistic targets. We should ditch the cult of celebrity which belittles our own lives and we should stop dreaming obsessively of wealth and materialism. Simplicity is partly about being able to relish what is ordinary and to see its special value.
I have found it quite cathartic to state my life philosophy in this way. It's not something I have ever done before. Other zones I could have highlighted might have been the concepts of equality and love, living without religion, the importance of identity and allegiance. So, is this what it's all about Alfie? I really can't say but for me, these ten bullet points seem to capture much of what life means to me and what I value most. And you dear blog trotter - would you agree with these principles or would you have other bullet points to add? Please leave a comment.

30 May 2006


Continuing the focus on swearing, thanks to visitors who clearly hold their own strong views on this subject. From ByGeorge in Texas who is pleased to admit to swearing regularly and even relishes the earthy texture of swear words on her tongue to Ellie Seymour who doesn't swear, cannot stand the habit and is training her sons to avoid swearing.
As I suggested before, every language contains swear words and they are always going to be around. Here's just a few swear words and swearing phrases from different world languages. All very useful to these people - international air travellers passing through passport control, email recipients who are fed up with spammers, partners who don't feel their loved ones are pulling their weight around the house and nuns and monks at a monastery/convent get together:-

Va t'empaler encule = Go fuck yourself
Suce ma bite sal pute! = Suck my dick, you dirty whore.
Tu pues la merde! = You reek of shit!
Mangai chinabu = Mother fucker
Thunga Mordray = You shaven cunt
Muqai ti namu = Go fuck your mum
Ingquza yakho inuka njengo fishi = Your pussy smells like fish
Msuno kanyoku = Your mother's cunt
Ugogo wakho isfebe = Your grandmother is a bitch
Riddu mer = Fuck me
Skítapíka = Shittycunt
Hommaskítur = Gayshit
Oh dear, it's enough to make one blush. And finally, isn't it funny how in communication the prudish will often substitute similar sounding words for swear words so instead of "shit" we might hear "sugar", instead of "fucking" we might get "freaking" or "frigging" - as if these substitutions were somehow the height of politeness. I have thought of a few new swear words:-
To blair = to squirm around like an ingratiating snake - as in "Blair off you sleazeball!"
To bush = to get yourself in so deep you don't know what you're doing - as in "I'm feeling bushed - in fact I'm bushing bushed!"
To osama-bin-laden = to hide away like a coward with festering misguided thoughts about moral and religious justice - as in "Honey, where's my osama-bin-ladening car keys?"

28 May 2006


Back in my university days, I read an article by the Russian revolutionary leader and thinker, Leon Trotsky called "Swearing - The Language of the Oppressed". And I think the notion is partly true - when people are downtrodden or pushed into a corner, they will react with the most offensive language they can muster - swearing. There's more swearing on impoverished housing estates and around down-at-heel shopping parades than in leafy suburban homes and posh designer stores.
Reflecting upon swearing without actually citing any swear words is a tall order but I'm going to try. I have noticed that some bloggers utilise swear words without a moment's hesitation. These usages will often make me flinch. Frequently they add nothing to the intended meaning - they look awkward like a Mickey Mouse tattoo on a bride's shoulder but sometimes they add helpful emphasis.
Though some swear words are of course drawn from religion, most swear words are connected with sex and when you pause to think about that, it seems rather odd. In love, within loving relationships, sex acts are pleasurable expressions of affection between people - intimate, joyous, stress relieving physical declarations of our aliveness, of our special bonds with others, so why do we draw terms from this loveliness to use as verbal weapons?
Don't get me wrong, I can swear with the best of them. When strange bouts of anger or frustration well up to the surface of my consciousness, I will often react with almost the whole gamut of sexual swear words. It feels like letting off steam - even though I don't see the logic of it. One sexual word I seldom use at such times is the "c" word that is widely recognised to be the foullest noun in the lexicon of swear words. It is a curious word that I think is often used in swearing to degrade women. It is an earthy word that I contend needs to be released from vulgarity and reclaimed by women as their first choice word when alluding to female sexual parts.
In 1914, on the London stage, the word "bloody" was used - perhaps for the first time causing a national outrage that lasted until the sixties when TV character Alf Garnett in "Till Death Us Do Part" kept using the word "bloody" for comic effect - igniting further vehement debate on this mildest of swear words. And I recall how twenty years ago I had an appointment with my headteacher to discuss my use of the word "bullshit" in a lesson. Some parent had complained. I argued that this term had moved from the unacceptable table of swear words to the acceptable and it had a useful forcefulness when used occasionally for emphasis.
My mother always used to say - why swear when there are so many other words in the English language that you can use to express your meaning - but I think she was wrong. I usually hate to be around people whose linguistic poverty means that almost every other word is a swear word - even when they're not expressing anger or frustration - but sometimes swear words are extremely useful - not just in venting steam but in shaking listeners out of their complacency and driving home strongly held views. From the Eskimos to the South Sea Islanders - all languages have contained swear words and though fashions in swearing may change, swearing is always going to be around. As they say in Balkan Verifica - "Szzjxur fcktirrs ctnssip!" which means.... well I leave that up to you dear reader!

26 May 2006


The British Department of Transport has just issued a special package of warnings regarding poor, stupid and dangerous drivers. From now on, drivers who are deemed to be unsatisfactory must display a small while plastic flag with a red cross in the middle. This must be affixed to a side window with a short white plastic arm. Drivers who are downright dangerous and exceedingly stupid must display two of these flags - one on each side of the car. There are further display categories for other stupid drivers. For example, very dumb parents now have to display "Baby on Board" window stickers while intellectually challenged dog owning rubbish drivers must display yellow window stickers that read "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas".
To non-footballing nations, the flag reference concerns the forthcoming World Cup. Every fifth car in England is now festooned with plastic flags of St George. Doh? Who did we think you'd be supporting in the middle of England - Argentina? Trinidad and Tobago? Get real you idiots!
Any suggestions as to which American
drivers should be obliged to display
their national flag in a similar manner?
Bush supporters? You wouldn't
see many star spangled banners then!

24 May 2006


Recently rediscovered in a remote valley in the Balkan state of Verifica is this strange creature known as the Feliguin - or the Xqjjsqx in Verification. The Feliguin is a throwback to prehistoric times when it is said that the beaches of Albania and Montenegro were carpetted with these miaowing rock-hopping creatures. This particular Feliguin has been christened Cliff. He was found trapped in a reed pen intended for baby goats:-

Goatherd Mr Ffrchk Dqjurt said, "I had just returned from a morning's strenuous goatherding. My wife Bkbtch had been instructed to weave a new pen the day before. I was going to inspect it when I heard a strange miaowing sound and a scrabbling of little flippers and there he was - the first feliguin I have ever seen, his left wing caught in the reeds. I decided to keep him as a family pet and Bkbtch named him Cliff after the English pop star Cliff Richard who passed through Verifica many years ago during the making of the musical film - "Summer Holiday"."
Leading zoologist, Professor Qwrsttij Vuvtyqw at the University of Verifica said, "He's a cute little chap isn't he?"

21 May 2006


"Dentophobia" - A morbid fear of dentists.
Some people hate spiders, others are afraid of dark churchyards at night. Some people shiver at the thought of giving a speech to a small crowd of work colleagues while others tremble about small spaces, open spaces, the number thirteen, flying on aircraft etc.. Me? I hate dentists. I always have done and I don't just mean hate them, I react physically to them. I sweat like a pig, my muscles tense rigidly. Even when I need to see a dentist, I will put it off for months until the pain is such that I cannot sleep and then I go - like a condemned man trudging to the gallows.
My current dentist - I'm always moving on - comes from Poland and she doesn't speak much English. I have never seen her mouth because it is always hidden by a surgical mask. What the hell does she think she is going to catch off me? Or perhaps behind that mask there are two bloody Transylvanian fangs. Her favourite word is "okay" which she says in various ways and then every so often she will mutter threateningly in her broken Polish-English, "Don't be afraid my dear..." which of course makes me more afraid than ever. I have had to see her six times in the last two months and once I was in that goddam chair with the light scouring down upon me for two hours. My tensed muscles had by that time turned my body into stiff concrete. Although it's handy, the fact that she sees me on Sundays suggest a pagan heritage.
I wonder if there are any dentists out there who have blog sites. Somehow I doubt it. The activity seems too human for a dentist but if there was a dentist-blogger then the site name would surely be...
"The Tooth Fairy"
because dentists have limited imaginations... and perhaps this would be an entry for May 21st 2006....
" That sweaty sucker came to see me again today. Is he a man or a mouse? He trembles like a weeping willow tree. I kept the freak waiting in the waiting room for twenty minutes - so he could peruse our odious collection of old magazines and tremble some more. Then I called him up to my torture chamber. Again he said "Good morning!" in a cheery English kind of way but I just ignored him and adjusted one of the drills. I made sure to twist the headrest in such a way that his head would be grossly uncomfortable.
As I drilled at the perfectly healthy tooth that I had condemned just for my amusement and financial gain, I made sure that the suction device made its usual gurgling gutter noise, the steel nozzle pressing painfully into the soft pink tissue beneath his tongue and failing to suck up even one millilitre of saliva and water. He gulped like a goldfish, as if drowning and behind my mask I sneered at his pathetic attempt to show manly valour. I had made sure that the novocaine I'd injected directly and deliberately into a nerve was insufficient to numb his tooth and he let out a pathetic whine as I drilled vigorously - tears forming in his little piggy eyes. "Don't be afraid my dear!" I whispered. For my pleasure, I have arranged another appointment for two weeks hence. The worm is too polite to challenge my authority. Next time the drill will accidentally pierce his cheek. Oh being a dentist is so fulfilling!" (Translated from the Polish)

19 May 2006


Flowers for Kayin Prince
A while back, I included a letter in this blog. It was a real letter that I had sent to the parents of a fifteen year old "student" with a long history of unwelcome behaviour - who launched a foul and unjustifiable verbal assault upon me. I referred to him as "Warthog" (see "Letter" in March posts). He was excluded from school for five days and then returned as bad as ever. Last week, two female colleagues called me to a corridor situation where the warthog had ripped some panelling off the wall - an act of mindless vandalism - and was then grinningly denying it. I investigated this incident, interviewed pupil witnesses and then spent half an hour filing a detailed report - the result being zilch! The oaf was back in school the next day being as obnoxious as ever.
Today, in the school's morning briefing, it was announced that arrangements are being crafted to take the warthog out of school for two days each week on a work placement scheme - and there's hope that this may be extended to five days shortly.
Warthog is just one of the horrible, arrogant shits that well-meaning teachers like me have to deal with each day. They are full of themselves, lazy, often "damaged" by marital break-ups, kids who haven't done anything or seen anything but imagine they know everything. To counterbalance this unpleasantness, yesterday I received a bottle of malt whiskey and a card from Stacey who I have taught for five years. This is what she wrote in the card:-
Dear Mr Pudding,
Thank you for all your help over the past five years. It has been much appreciated and it has been a pleasure to be in your class.
Even when I found things difficult or didn't quite understand, you were always there to help me out. I will miss you! Thank you for everything!
Love, Stacey H (Class of 2001 - 2006)
Such responses ought to be worth their weight in gold but you find yourself thinking more about the warthogs than you do about princesses like Stacey. Yesterday, a fifteen year old boy - Kayin Prince - was stabbed to death outside a school in north London. May he rest in peace and may the British government and British society in general start to really address this cancer of youthful disdain and ominous ill-discipline in our midst - instead of making excuses and tinkering with the wrapping paper. We need a sea change.

Kayin Prince (1991 - 2006) - gifted footballer - he was helping to break up a fight.

16 May 2006


Following my last post on the tiny Balkan state of Verifica, I have undertaken further research into everyday life in that country. It seems that in many ways, Verificans live in a time warp and in terms of male-female relations, they would find the idea of equal rights quite laughable. Even today, Verifican ladies choose to live like slaves, honouring their men folk, following instructions to the letter. When a Verifican man comes home from a hard day's goat herding (i.e. sitting on a big rock with his mates watching goats graze) his wife will always have a meal prepared (usually goat meat and roasted Balkan parsnips) then after the meal, she will massage his feet with sweet-scented yytxcvl oil - making a point of asking if he wishes to ugghhar (copulate) that evening. Invariably, the man will nod, stating his preferences - to which of course all wives accede with seductive smiles - "xxzzerj rbadub!" ("Whatever you wish my darling"). Even during the recent economic explosion caused by the word verification industry, women have continued to know their place. In the photograph below, we see Mr Ffrchk Dqjurt leading his wife home to weave a traditional reed pen for his baby goats. In Western Europe, North America and the Antipodes, we have much to learn from Verifican society I feel.

"Frsstup bzzirtz!" (Move it bitch!)

13 May 2006


Perhaps you thought that, when registering blog comments, the Word Verification codes were simply jumbled letters produced randomly by some distant computer server. That is not the case. Each Word Verification code is actually a real word from the small Balkan state of Verifica. This is a tiny country of some sixty thousand souls - often omitted from maps. It borders Albania and Serbia-Montenegro and it is the only area of the planet where the ancient Verification language is spoken.

Until blogging came along, the Verificans eked out their peasant lives rearing goats and weaving reed baskets. Verifica’s previous claim to fame was that it was Europe’s number one producer of Balkan parsnips - they were even exported to the USA. Nowadays most Verificans are employed in producing Word Verification codes – not just for Blogger but for online banking and a range of other internet services. Foreign money has poured into the country and the standard of living in Verifica has shot up with most peasants now owning SUVs and pop up toasters.

Hzzeorg Xxrijkm

The greatest poet in the Verification language is also its prime minister Hzzeorg Xxrijkm. Here in this extract from the seven hundred and fifty line epic poem“Verifica, Verifica!”he captures the true spirit of his nation:-

Yxzelhh vuyvypd dsskipl xxrwqyq nnihvgf
Zrtqiop bbgsdrt mkikmnb mlkopio
Dwqmkkp cvxcxzs hhjinji ccdgiui
Sfghjkl dbhnilm ggqqxip Verifica, Verifica!

Roughly translated this means:-

Oh land of goats and reed weavers
Sweet land of liberty
Send us victorious, happy and glorious
Comrades all we will fight for fair Verifica, Verifica!

11 May 2006


How gorgeous is the English language... a language that has unashamedly absorbed words from around the world and continues to grow day by day. This evening, these are my "favourite" words in alphabetical form but on another day different words might well have surfaced. To be truthful, I am slightly amazed that these varied words are just there sitting somewhere in my brain always waiting to be used:-

A is for arabesque and artichokes
B is for bumptious and bibliophile
C is for codswallop and clandestine
D is for dumplings and deliquescence
E is for ease and elongated
F is for fraternal and filigree
G is for grandiose and gargantuan
H is for heinous and harass
I is for indigo and idealism
J is for juxtaposition and jurisprudence
K is for kindling and kindness
L is for luscious and languorous
M is for marshmallow and mellifluous
N is for nincompoop and nerd
O is for ordure and onomatopoeia
P is for propinquity and pyjamas
Q is for quietness and quiver
R is for rambling and rhapsody
S is for sensuality and sarsaparilla
T is for titillation and trinkets
U is for undulation and usurer
V is for vixen and vivacious
W is for wonder and wisteria
X is for xenophobia and Xanadu
Y is for yak and yearning
Z is for zoological and zipcode

"vivacious vixen" after Google Image Search. Wonder what her favourite word is?

9 May 2006


On Sunday morning, I drove Chris over the Pennines to Manchester Airport for his flight home. We took the winding Snake Pass with its excellent views of Ladybower reservoir, the wild moors of The Snake summit and the curvaceous descent into the old milltown of Glossop. Sheep dotted the early morning hills beyond the ancient jigsaw patterns of dry stone walls - like the land's ribs - as a thin mist swirled in slow motion over the tops.

Chris said, "I'm so ashamed. What have we got to offer in America compared with all this?"

He had loved his first visit to the UK. He ate his first pork pie and drank his first pints of English ale. He visited three major castles in Wales, York Minster, Sheffield Cathedral and the palatial Chatsworth House in Derbyshire - home of the Dukes of Devonshire - whose snake symbol - not the bends in the road - explains the name of the Pennine pass between Sheffield and Manchester.
We went down the Blue John mine where the rough and ready guide asked Chris, "Are you one of them thick Americans or are you one of the bright ones? Cos we get a lot of thick ones over here!" He went on to explain how one American visitior had asked how many undiscovered caves there were in the pothole system. "Err five!" the guide had grinned. Chris claimed to be in the "bright" camp.
I thought of calling this post simply "Friendship". It was so good to see Chris again. As I drove back over the hills towards Sheffield, I felt somehow sad and deflated. I connected with Chris all those years back when we were in our early twenties and now three decades later I find that the connection is still very much there. It's so sad to think he won't be in "The Banner" this weekend, won't be laughing with me, won't be bringing up old memories, won't be there conversing with me with words that are underpinned by mutual respect and affection - even though we are quite different in lots of ways.
I feel so sad that his marriage with Teresa is over. Choosing divorce is normally quite fatal and it's only in films and romantic fiction that divorced couples reunite. I hope I'm wrong. I hate to think of his daughters flying the nest and leaving him on his own up Lisbon Road with his pain and self-doubt. If you're reading this Teresa - please give him another try. Get some marriage counselling. Lay your cards on the table. What does Chris have to do to change - to win your heart again? Twenty four years and three lovely children - that's a lot of miles, a lot of water under the bridge. Is this metaphorical car crash what you really want? What's been lost?

5 May 2006


Gulp! Ten thousand hits on this blog! Greetings to all vistors - past, present and future. When I began this blogging journey last June, I had no idea what to expect. It has been a weird but pleasant experience - side-tracking to other people's lives through their blogs - people I will probably never ever get to meet - and I have enjoyed the relative freedom that is associated with blogging. Here you can share stuff, get things off your mind or simply be silly. I'm not bored with blogging yet. It seems to occupy a space in my life that needed to be filled. Will I make it to twenty thousand hits and beyond? I don't know, but thanks to everybody who dropped by - especially those people who bothered to leave comments - much appreciated.

3 May 2006


For overseas visitors' information, a "Wotsit" is a horrid orange coloured cornpuff, allegedly flavoured with cheese. If you have never eaten one you ain't missing a thing! This news item about litter appeared on the BBC News website just today:-
Woman fined for
throwing Wotsit
Littering could cost you a £75 fine in the borough of Luton. A woman has been fined £75 for throwing a crisp out of her car window. Hilary Buckland, of Orchard Way, Luton, threw a Cheesy Wotsit into the road and was spotted by a council official who thought it was a cigarette butt. Mrs Buckland, 46, was issued with the £75 littering fine by Luton Borough Council. She was told that it was the council's policy to issue fines for littering and it made no difference whether she had thrown a crisp or a cigarette butt.
'Hard done by'
Mrs Buckland said one of the children in her car threw the Wotsit into her lap while she was driving in Leagrave High Street, Luton. She then threw the crisp out of the car window. The council's Enforcement Chief Jon Maddox said: "The council has invested significantly in a cleaner Luton and my colleagues work hard to make a visible difference. I don't intend to let a small minority of litter louts take us a step backwards and will take action against anyone I hear of dropping litter."

Mrs Buckland said: "I'm always clearing up litter and always telling my children. I just feel so hard done by."
Well I say, three cheers for Luton Council and a big brown doo-doo for you Mrs Hilary Buckland. They gotcha and if it sends out a message to other litter louts then I say GREAT! I'm not a perfect human being by any stretch of the imagination but I never ever drop litter. It makes my blood boil when I see thoughtless, environmentally unfriendly idiots casting their litter down in the street - no matter how small that piece of litter might be. Hard done by? Bull! Think of all those many other bits of litter you have dropped over the years without getting caught!

2 May 2006


Let's leave football aside for now. I'm going to introduce you to an old friend of mine. He's called Chris and he's the same age as me. I met him in the seventies. Don't know why but as a university student, I thought I'd sign up for the British Universities North America Club and go camp counselling somewhere in the good old US of A. They placed me in Ohio, just outside Cleveland and 'twas there I encountered Chris. He was the specialist art counsellor while I was just a general counsellor with my little group of boys - The Wyandottes.
Chris and I got close (no not that kind of close!). We shared a red cabin together in the woods. There were two beautiful summers and we were mates. He was very kind. He would lend me his car or take me back to his parents' house just outside Youngstown. We drank beer together at "Skip and Ray's" or "Chuck and Janine's". We had lots of laughs. In his yard, I sat on the diving board over the kidney-shaped pool as a bevvy of American beauties in polka dot bikinis listened to me sing "Dream, dream, dream... whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream". For a moment I felt like Elvis.
Chris was good at cooking. He had a wild edginess to him. He found it hard to relax. He loved people and when things went wrong with people he agonised over the issues. Sometimes he would wake up in the morning and complain about how hard he had been dreaming. He would often be the life and soul of the party but then his moods would threaten to plunge into black despair. I remember him on the stage at a wedding reception back home singing "Life is a Cabaret" and damn it, he knew all the words. He took little groups of summer camp kids down to the creek to gather clay and they would return to make primitive pots and figurines with the stuff.
I got to know all of his family. At the heart of it was his mother, Flo. Everybody knew her as Flo - even her own kids. In the morning she would just float around her pool on her back, letting the filtration current gently whisk her around. Like Chris she was very kind, allowing me and other camp counsellors to simply take over her house at weekends.
After leaving university, it took me a long, long time to return to America. It was a place where I had fallen in love with a woman counsellor called Donna who later dumped me and it was a place where I felt I belonged. I had had such happy times there and some of this was down to Chris.
Anyway in 2002 with Shirley and the kids, I returned there. I let Chris know we were flying into Atlanta. We'd be down in Florida for a while and then back up to Savannah, Georgia. With his daughter Abby, he drove eight hundred milles to meet us in Savannah - the first time I had seen him in twenty six years. In so many ways, neither of us had changed.
Then in 2003, we returned to America. This time our trip took in Boston, Niagara Falls, Harrisburg and New York City but arguably the highlight of the trip was staying with Chris and his family on Lisbon Road, near Canfield OH. He married Teresa in the same year I married Shirley. Their wooden home was so beautifully designed - not ostentatious or garish - just a lovely spacious home with a barn and a garage and woods all around. He had placed a Union Jack flag out front to guide us. We had a lovely time there and it was great to see my two getting along with his girls and my Shirley was clearly enamoured by the whole experience. This was the real America - faraway from the ocean, where ordinary people eke out their lives and cherish what is dear to them, pursuing the elusive American dream.
Sadly, Teresa and Chris divorced in 2004 though some hope for reunion still remains. Chris had never been to Europe so out of the blue he decided to take a trip over here. We met up again on Friday. The idea of Britain had often occupied his thoughts and his imagination. He was knocked out by the stone and brick buildings of Sheffield. I took him to his first English pub and we drove up to York where he saw the magnificent York Minster and we had tea in Bettys Tearoom. Part of the reason for his trip was to visit Wales which Flo sees as her ancestral homeland. At Sheffield station, Chris kept saying "Excuse me" to the ticket counter guy who had never even heard of the "Freedom of Wales" ticket that Chris had investigated over the internet.
Yesterday, he set off on his Welsh adventure, informing me and Shirley that he never wears a watch simply because this allows him to strike up conversations with complete strangers. He has bundles of energy and an engaging boyish naivetee. Jokingly, he kept saying, "What happened to you man?" and I said, "I'm sorry Chris, I grew up!" but I know how much teaching school has sucked out of me these years past. We'll see him again at the weekend. I'll take him to Manchester airport and it might be years, if ever, before I see him again - that crazy Yank who dances like a mule!

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