29 September 2007


I try not to write about work very much in this blog but recently it has been invading my innermost thoughts, sometimes keeping me awake at night. I am wrestling with the practical everyday realities of leading a secondary school English department in an area which has plenty of deprivation while being pressured about a relative decline in English exam results this summer. I mean what could they expect? Apart from me, the other five teachers had three years experience between them! I start to wonder - how much longer can I endure this shit? I'm sick of it - the ball-breaking headmistress and the very limited resources, the kids without pens or ambitions or proper family support. I have given so much of myself to the job these last twenty nine and a half years. Weekends, holidays, late nights. At one point it even threatened to destroy my marriage. Maybe if I can get through to next summer... then I'll have done my thirty years and I believe I will have earned full pension rights when I get to the age of sixty. One key dilemma is that I am at last being pretty well paid and I was hoping to maintain that kind of income with a saving habit attached at least until Frances completed her university education. I have always been strong, tough in the world of work... fighting through the days and the weeks and the years... but recent pressures leave me feeling overburdened and vulnerable. And ironically, though I have doled out barrow loads of pastoral care to children in my career, when I have need of some there is of course none to be had. You are just a peg in a hole.

25 September 2007


"Liberty Living" - that is the name of a property group that houses students in several British cities - including Birmingham. Strange how "Liberty Living" couldn't even sort out their door keys properly when we took our lovely Frances down to England's second city to begin her university education! How can your living be free when you can't even unlock your front door?

Actually, the student flat she is in seems perfect and newly refurbished though its location is a little awkward for access to the campus.

We left our little girl there on Sunday and drove home. After the sadness of mum's passing, here was another sadness - the realisation that Frances's adult life proper has now started and she may never live at home again - just holidays and long weekends. New people will know her. Her friends won't be phoning and banging on the door. We won't be yelling at her to get her skates on. Courtesy of "Liberty Living" the fledgling has now flown. It leaves a certain emptiness behind - a void. She is nineteen tomorrow. Nineteen! Wow!

I wonder if "Liberty Living" has plans to weave its magic in the suburbs of Baghdad - a place where liberty seems in such short supply. And if there is "Liberty Living" is there also "Incarcerated Living" or "Slothful Living" or "Empty Living" specially for parents who have deposited their beloved children in universities? There's so much pressure and expectation at work just now - link this with mum's death and Frances's departure - I seem to have discovered a recipe for instant depression. Maybe seeing Hull City whup Chelsea tomorrow night will lift my spirits...

Left: Frances's student accommodation.

21 September 2007


Thanks to fellow bloggers for their support in my time of loss. Much appreciated. Some of those comments spurred me on and helped me to deliver a eulogy that the vicar described as the best he had ever heard. I didn't want that. No personal praise. I was doing it for mum and for the congregation who had come to say goodbye to her - more than two hundred. I held my nerve, there beside the coffin bedecked with beautiful white lilies. My knees shook slightly and at one or two points my voice quavered but I held on to the task and did her proud. Here are two of my farewell paragraphs:-
"As well as being “feisty” mum was also very kind. She would help anybody out and was a soft touch when tramps or gipsies called at our door or when she saw beggars in the street - she couldn’t walk on by. She gave generously to charities and was especially keen on the Salvation Army, the NSPCC and Oxfam. She always looked beyond her own garden gate to the world beyond. 
She loved plants and where ever she travelled she was always taking cuttings and trying to propagate them. She knew the names of hundreds of plants and to tell you the truth it could be a bit irritating when you were in a park or garden centre with her as she reeled off Latin names. It was just one of her passions. She was also an avid reader and solver of crossword puzzles and even became obsessive about collecting those little labels that you get on bananas."
We drove on up to the East Riding Crematorium at Octon, along winding lanes past bulging dykes and ploughed fields where flocks of seagulls were already gathering to see out the winter. We followed the hearse at twenty five miles an hour. I saw a young rabbit recently killed in the road.
The CD gave us "The White Cliffs of Dover" as the curtain closed on mum's marvellous life - a life of love and goodness, of passion and participation, endeavour and energy. The last words of my eulogy back in the village church had been "May we cherish her memory". I felt privileged to deliver that speech so that mum's passing was not only marked by the hollow words of a God-addict vicar but also by the true words of one who really knew her and loved her. It was one of the finest things I have ever done or ever will do again.

East Riding Crematorium high on the Yorkshire Wolds

19 September 2007


I'm making a CD for mum's cremation service following the church service in the village where I was born and where she lived for fifty four years. She will be cremated high on the Yorkshire Wolds and as the coffin enters the crematorium, there'll be the second movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony and then this short Fairport Convention song:-

Farewell, farewell to you who would hear
You lonely travellers all
The cold north wind will blow again
The winding road does call

And will you never return to see
Your bruised and beaten sons?
"Oh, I would, I would, if welcome I were
For they love me, every one"

And will you never cut the cloth
Or drink the light to be?
And can you never swear a year
To anyone of we?

"No, I will never cut the cloth
Or drink the light to be
But I'll swear a year to one who lies
Asleep along side of me"

Farewell, farewell to you who would hear
You lonely travellers all
The cold north wind will blow again
The winding road does call

As we say our last goodbye, I hope the CD will bring us Vera Lynn singing "The White Cliffs of Dover". Earlier in the church I am expected to deliver a secular eulogy. I hope I am up to it. I have cried salt tears this week. I want to do it for her. Not to break down. You can do it boy! You can do it!

14 September 2007


There I was at work - gone 6pm - examining data, preparing for a difficult meeting about exam results. I ended up deciding to attach the document I was working on to an email that I could catch up on later. That was when I spotted another email from my daughter marked "URGENT". "Dad phone home NOW. Grandma is seriously ill and they want you to go over." It was timed at17.23. I phoned home but it was too late. My mother was already dead.

She was born on May 24th 1921. She grew up in dire poverty, abandoned by her parents and spent her formative years with her grandparents - even taking their surname - White instead of her registered surname - Jackson. The war came and she signed up, joining the WAAF (Women's Airforce). She was posted to India where she met my father who she married just after the war in Delhi in 1945.

They came home to England where she had four sons and became the wife of a village headmaster. All her life she was an expert craftswoman making lampshades and gloves, baskets and eiderdowns. She even taught "mixed crafts" and I remember so many nights when she was up late beavering away beneath a lamp.

Her name was Doreen. Tomorrow I must drive over to Beverley and arrange her funeral. Pick up the death certificate etc.. She was a woman who lived a full life. In her seventies she travelled back to India after a Round-the-World trip that took her to Vancouver and Sydney, Auckland and Singapore. She's gone and of course I will never forget her. I loved her. I am so pleased that the kids - Ian and Frances came over to see her with Shirley and I (like that Demob Happy?) a week last Sunday. She was eighty six years old and she was a very special lady - far far more special than Diana Spencer of whom Prince Harry said "She was the best mum in the world". He was so wrong.

8 September 2007


Returning from Poland, I was at Robin Hood Airport near Doncaster, waiting to proceed through passport control when I noticed several posters advertising the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. "Have you seen Maddy?" they announced with a number to call and the obligatory website address. I felt like screaming "NO I BLOODY HAVEN'T SEEN MADDY!" After all, at the risk of sounding callous, what is so special about little Maddy that she gets the glaring media spotlight that so many missing children never receive? And how come that in an official airport zone private publications like the Maddy posters can be tacked to the walls?

I am always pissed off when Maddy's disappearance and related matters occupies the number one TV news slot in the UK. Soldiers may have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, a workplace may have laid off hundreds, shares may have plummeted but oh no - let's focus on the soap opera that is now Madeleine McCann Inc..

We had her loving parents - Gerry and Kate, jetting off to Rome and Morocco and Spain - interestingly, ironically and perhaps appallingly leaving their baby twins behind! And now the Portugese authorities have raised the awful possibility that Gerry and/or Kate may in fact be responsible for Maddy's death. It has become one of the main conversational topics on our island this week and I guess there isn't one pub in the land where someone hasn't said in secretive tones - "I always thought there was something a bit fishy about those two!"

Will we ever get to know the truth about what happened at Praia de Luz in May? Do we care? Will Madeleine ever be found - dead or alive? Don't get me wrong - ultimately, my heart really does go out to little Maddy - such a lovely little girl with her whole life in front of her. Could it be that her parents have covered their guilt so very extravagantly in order to deflect the possibility of blame sticking to them? Personally, I find such a scenario impossible to believe... well almost impossible.

4 September 2007


Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow,
Try to remember and if you remember then follow.

Some songs seem to echo in your mind. They are always there beneath the surface like old friends. Those words above for example. I researched them this evening. It seems they were written by a lyricist called Tom Jones to a tune by a composer called Harvey Schmidt (both pictured below). Back in 1960 the song "Try to Remember" featured in a new musical I had previously never heard of - "The Fantasticks".

Maybe it's because I have spent most of my adult life working in education that the month of September has a special aura about it. It's the end of the summer and I'm back at work. There's a long dark tunnel leading to mid-winter. It feels as if something has died as another academic conveyor-belt year begins. Those lyrics are about trying to remember in the full knowledge that your effort will be in vain because the kind of September the writer was thinking of has already slipped away. Besides, what should we "follow"?

Wake up Maggie I think I got something to say to you

It's late September and I really should be back at school

I know I keep you amused but I feel I'm being used

Oh Maggie I couldn't have tried any more

(lyrics by Rod Stewart)

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