Archive | May, 2019

Grandparents’ Day. 2.

13 May

I mopped up the coke somewhat self-consciously, having alerted my co-benchers to my spillage with my favourite expletive, ‘Bollocks’. I thought I had muttered this under my breath but the smirking, if sympathetic, smile on my neighbour’s face suggested otherwise. I settled back to watch the world go by amid the peaceful hum of the Embankment Garden’s lunchtime throng and the soporific warmth of the May sunshine.

My reverie was interrupted savagely. A dishevelled, back-packed grubby man was shouting something as he walked along. Shouting at everybody and nobody. He was 50 yards off coming from the Temple area towards Charing Cross. As he neared my bench vision and sound became clearer. A white, mid-twenties or so, shabby and aggressive looking chap in combat fatigues and reversed baseball cap. Glasses. Long matted hair.

He was shouting ‘…Fucking Brexit. You’ve all fucked it up. Farage wouldn’t have fucked it up. Fucking vote for the Brexit Party. Get the fucking scum out of Parliament. Fucking democracy…’ and so on, a continuing stream delivered with venom and eyes flashing, looking for reaction. Naturally the multicultural masses enjoying their picnics in the sun turned their cheeks. Being ignored was not on his agenda. ‘No one fucking cares in this country. Look at you lot. Farage’ll sort you out. Wankers.’ He was just a few yards away. I concentrated heavily on my coke can. Amazing what can grab my attention when I need to get really focused. Those around me seemed equally expert, looking down, up or burying heads in books and papers. I looked up when the loudmouth had passed; he was alternating his shouts with mutters I couldn’t catch. One man, hefty and sweatily suited was emerging from Gordon’s Wine Bar patio. Whether he had heard the kerfuffle I doubt but he was approaching and looked directly at shouty man, who repeated ‘Fucking Brexit.’ Hefty man stopped. ‘I agree with you mate,’ he said, ‘But you’re frightening the children.’ That was all. Hefty man moved on leaving shouty man looking somewhat lost. He looked around then quietly took the path to Gordon’s Wine Bar and we heard no more.

I too looked around. I could see no children. An image of Alf Garnett came to mind. He was the loudmouth bigot of Till Death Us Do Part, the 60s comedy hit crafted by Johnny Speight. If you don’t know it go to YouTube. You won’t believe what was allowed on our screens then.

Time was moving on and Grandparents’ tea was now my priority. Tube, tube and bus took me to the slick streets of Notting Hill. I fantasized about bumping into Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts and scanned the faces in Portobello road for any signs of celebrity but no joy. A friend of mine knows Ed Sheeran’s fiancée from university days and I know they live somewhere close by. Mind you given all the shapes, sizes and colours of the crowded streets it would be easy to miss a short ginger guy. I padded on for my granddad duty.

As I neared the school, a large and imposing Victorian town house, I clocked the queue of pensioners lined up on the steps. I couldn’t be in that club surely? As my lovely partner once said to me, look in the mirror darling. And so I joined the happy group. What a mixture of colour and creed and accent. And then we were in, ushered by an unctuous headmaster and a delightful form mistress with an Irish lilt. And there was little Seb. The Armageddon of the morning’s meltdown was replaced by his pride in grabbing my hand to show me around. I sat on a little chair to scrutinize his various books. My God the poor teachers have to work overtime to ensure that evidence of meaningful work is plentiful. The digital age has made education expand to screw the poor sods who deliver it. No mangy recycled textbooks, no copying from a creaking blackboard, no abacuses, no times tables. The Maths book was full of things I didn’t understand. Hey ho. He is happy and that happiness reverberated around the cramped little classroom. Grannies and Granddads suspended all chatter of ...well in my day we did it like this.. and concentrated solely on praising the little ones. I did catch a glimpse of a lady with a strident voice cornering the head. A Russian accent? Or is that my prejudice coming through?

As for Seb and me, we headed off after tea and scones, for the most important part of the day. A full games lesson in the back garden. With kit. Depending on which sport Seb was David de Gea, Harry Kane, Joe Root, Billy Vunipola and Owen Farrell. After two hours the call came for supper. I sighed with relief. My daughter handed me something chilled and alcoholic.

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Grandparents’ Day…or what I did on the way. 1.

11 May

My little and lovely grandson Seb had invited me to his school, yesterday, for a special Grandparents’ Day. Despite the obvious and sugary PR intention of the exercise, I was all too eager to attend! The prospect of inspecting the work of a darling 5 year old, putative Einstein was delicious, as was the promise of tea with scones and jam.

Before embarking on the somewhat complicated route of car, train, tube, tube, bus, walk, a call came in from my daughter. I braced myself for cancellation but worse news was in store. She revealed that games afternoon had been cancelled to fit the old gits tea party into the schedule. Seb was distraught that his games kit had to stay in the wardrobe so Granddad could come and sip tea and scrutinize his scribblings. Meltdown.

With a slightly heavy heart I boarded the 11.50 from Staplehurst to Charing Cross. Only 4 coaches and rather packed with the grey-hair and blue-rinse brigade on the senior railcard jaunt to Fortnum’s. The tables in my carriage were taken and foiled packages were opened. Half-eaten sandwiches and, indeed, a couple of thermoses caught my eye as I made my way to a vacant two-seater. I settled in. I was looking forward to the last few chapters of A Station on the Path to Somewhere by Ben Wood, a startling account of a dark journey taken by a 12 year old boy, Daniel. In adulthood he attends a therapy group. The avuncular therapist advised the group to …stop viewing the present as a continuation of our past and see it instead as the beginning of our future. As I was mulling on the importance of this soundbite – slogan or profound? relevance to bloody Brexit, Manchester United, me?…a ringtone shattered the silence. Don’t Stop Me Now. Freddie Mercury boomed down the arthritic aisles as we chugged into Paddock Wood station. A woman under 60 behind me, fumbled in her bag. It took her until I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball before she found the thing. Then Yeah I can talk, I’m on the train. As usual we then had the benefit of a loud and self-important conversation about delivery schedules and office gossip. I sighed audibly. This was a time for my 65p i newspaper, not a weighty novel.

As the linguistic space around me continued to be dominated by the thick-skinned Yak behind, I skimmed the rag. Breakthrough in treatment of heart attack victims; Danny Baker; Farage; the queue of chancers lining up for Mother Theresa’s job when she finally falls on her sword; University funding set to slide after Brexit; Beckham banned from driving for using his phone while driving his Bentley. And so on. Only the heart story raised my spirits.

Already regretting that I hadn’t turned to the back page first, I turned over to page 19. David Schneider’s article: How to criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic. Schneider is an actor and comedian. He explains himself clearly and has the advantage of being Jewish which enables an authentic perspective in these tricky days of finger pointing in and at the Labour Party. Schneider basically says be careful and clear about what you say and mean when you talk about stuff. Example: Avoid saying Zionist or Zionism when discussing contemporary Israel/Palestine. The terms are too loaded and broad in their application, often used by anti-Semites to mean simply Jews. Benjamin Netanyahu is a Zionist but so are Israeli lawyers and peace activists fighting to achieve justice for Palestinians.

And so he went on in a clear and measured way. I felt better-informed. I don’t know enough about the middle east and I would be very wary of offering opinions without getting a better grasp of identities, what has gone on and what is going on.

In part what drew me to the piece was my recent readings from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. What an amazing grasp of tribe and culture and identity T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) developed in the time of the Arab revolt during the First World War. Are our politicians and their advisors at all equipped to make life and death decisions for those whose lives and culture they can hardly fathom?

The walking sticks were on the move. Charing Cross. I stuffed my paper into my backpack and head, with the creaking army, for the toilets. Such a joy that they are free, so no fumblings for change required. The many urinals were in heavy demand and there, in the middle of the throng was a spikey-haired woman, mopping the floor. She stepped aside as I shimmied to my bowl. I wondered, idly, if there was a man in the ladies doing the same thing. Doubtful. Looking around I saw no one batting an eyelid. Modern times.

I came out into the sun and, with time to kill, went for a stroll on the Victoria Embankment Gardens. The office workers were bathed in sunshine as they ate their tubs of tuna and sweetcorn salad or delved into goody bags for whatever had taken their fancy in EAT or Pret. I noticed that the park benches had been sectioned into three or four, so that you don’t have to sit next to anyone; you can be perfectly isolated with an armrest to left and right. I settled in one such, spurted diet coke over my trousers and watched the world go by.

Oh Danny Boy…

9 May

I suppose everyone has heard. Danny Baker the wit, the wag of Radio 5 Live has been sacked by the BBC for tweeting a picture of the happy royal couple holding hands with a chimpanzee. Well you can imagine the twitterstorm.

What first occurs to me is why on earth Danny Boy should be bothered enough about Meg, Harry and Archie to tweet in the first place. Putting that aside, Dan the man must be twitter-savvy by now, although he is cast in the role of cheeky chappie  so a little bit of inappropriateness seems to be in his DNA. He tweeted his defence.

Sorry my gag pic of the little fella in the posh outfit has whipped some up. Never occurred to me because, well, my mind not diseased.

I go along with this. When I think of chimps, I think tea adverts,  PG Tips and the years of chimp-exploitative adverts which gave us a giggle. I’m guessing there is a society for the prevention of chimpism these days. I can understand the opprobrium shooting across the ‘platforms’.

Mate, I love your show but you just can’t do that.

The BBC does not need racists like you.

You’re a disgrace.

…and so on.

However, I liked Chris Nicholls’s tweet.

If admitting a mistake and apologizing isn’t the sort of thing we should be acknowledging/encouraging, it is clear to see why we’re a society of victims too scared to own up to a mistake.

Danny Boy isn’t really a victim. He’s a silly boy who might have known better. But to lose his job? Like Jonathan Ross, he is a phoenix who will rise from these ashes but the wider issues of freedom and the cult of PC and victimhood are becoming stifling. We can’t say it like we see it for fear of the right-on police.

Jokes will be taken the wrong way on occasion but to elevate mistakes and misjudgements to sacking offences is to go nuclear far too quickly. And the BBC should, as all reasonable parents or aunties, sleep on it.

I move on. Suspension from the workplace had become increasingly common in my career as a teacher. The act of suspension was supposedly ‘without prejudice’. Yeah right. Differentiating between cases will always be tricky. The quick fix? Suspend anyone about whom a complaint has been made. Of course there are always extreme cases of misconduct where action should be swift and the innocent protected. Sometimes the accused are the innocent. A dear friend was once the subject of spiteful and false accusations. It took three years to clear his name. The stress took a terrible toll.

Perspective is a tricky thing and in so many ways we are losing it. My eastern European buddies who did work on my house (please don’t go home – we need you!) are far more clear about the state of the world. They offer opinions about race, colour, creed, national identity, men women, LGBTQ, politics, knife crime, Manchester United, Theresa May and everyone and everything under the sun. When I say, naively, You can’t say that! they will argue that they speak from their experience, not from prejudice. I don’t go all the way with them on that one but their honest chatter over a cup of coffee (only a five minute break as there is work to be done) is refreshing, energizing even. They wouldn’t understand the fuss about Danny Boy. I’m afraid, I do.

ps. Two glory nights in a row. Bring it on in Madrid. Spurs v Liverpool!

 

Looking beyond the immediate abyss..

8 May

It’s been some time since I put thoughts on paper. The valley of death into which our politicians have led us has become a ravine. I lost all heart for a while but there are small handholds in the slabs above the abyss which can take my weight. I can only hope that those responsible for the black hole in our democracy lose their grip and plunge into that ravine.

OK. Reasons to be cheerful. Liverpool. I’m not a fan of the scousers but by God what a game. Judd Trump. My God, what a performance. Tiger, Tiger burning bright. A sporting God (and don’t we like the fallen hero resurrected?)Harry and Megan. OMG, the extraordinary production of a child. And now the summer of sporting snapshots – all the usual stuff, Wimbledon, the Open, the Ashes and all that – but also World Cups in Cricket and the Lionesses in France. Netball and Rugby take centre stage too. And there will be lots of photos of little royals to keep us and Hello Magazine happy.

Sporting heroism, royalty and outstanding musical and artistic performance keep us all sane, optimistic and buoyed up. There is a purity in these things which seems a million miles from the whispering corridors of power and snide self-interest. And it is not escapism, indeed the pursuit of the ultimate in performance and the fondness we have for the celebrity leaders of our society, be they Megan or Elton, suggests a purity, an innocence where we mere mortals applaud achievement and excellence in an uncomplicated and generous way.

You may not have heard of Barry Middleton, ex England and GB men’s hockey captain who retired from International hockey after 432 caps. 432!! His skill and dedication has easily matched far more famous and moneyed sports stars but his pre-eminence as a British player of such longevity at the highest level is quite, quite extraordinary. And he has always played with such integrity and sportsmanship.

I mention Barry because in national terms he is an unsung and, outside hockey circles, unknown hero. Let me add James Cracknell’s name to those for whom I have untold admiration. At 47 – and after enough personal trials and tribulations to unhinge most people – he won a Blue for Cambridge in winning the Boat Race. The staggering physical and mental effort to eclipse the age record for the event by a country mile is an achievement almost beyond comprehension.

I salute these two guys and all the girls and boys to whom we will look up this summer. Steph Houghton leading out the Lionesses beats Mother Theresa staggering out of her local church any day. And if only Andy’s hip can come right….

 

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