Archive | January, 2021

My Granddad never…

20 Jan

I wrote this a few years ago and it didn’t see the light of day. Not sure why but as Joe Biden is about to take the oath of office and the maniac is airlifted from the White House, it seems a good time to praise the stoicism of a previous generation.

My Granddad Never..

Wore jeans or shorts – not even when he was playing tennis. I have a photo of him looking like Fred Perry in long whites with a Dunlop Maxpli.

He never knew seatbelts or health and safety or Doombar. These are very important now.

He died in 1972 so he never knew Margaret Thatcher or Monica Lewinsky but he might have caught sight of Sir David Attenborough. He never knew we were in Europe so Brexit wouldn’t have caused him the pain it caused me.

He never looked casual so he would have approved of the headteacher who sent silly boys home for wearing trainers. He wouldn’t have known what a trainer was anyway. He might have liked the head saying zero-tolerance despite it not being invented until Arthur Scargill came along.

He never knew smoking was bad for you so his house was filled with pipe, cigar and cigarette smoke and smell. I rather liked it.

He never knew what it was like to be a teenager at school. In the 1911 Census he is registered as a clerk. He was 13. He never complained about this and he never worked for another company. A Blue Circle Cement man through and through. All his life. Well apart from his stint in the Queen’s Own 7th Hussars. He knew Lawrence of Arabia. He never talked about him.

He never raised his voice. He thought that he was lucky to survive and have food on the table. He wore suspenders to keep his socks up and braces to keep his trousers up and armbands to keep his shirtsleeves tidy. He would never be seen dead without his sartorial aids.

He never thought antimacassars would go out of fashion. Or that Brylcream would be renamed gel when David Beckham came along. He never knew David Beckham. More’s the pity, he never knew Lionel Messi.

We never called him Granddad. Poppa it was. And Nanna. Nanna and Poppa. Always that way round. Never Poppa first.

He never complained. I think Nanna was quite high maintenance but since Poppa didn’t know this phrase, he never used it.

He never listened to weather reports on the wireless, he just tapped the barometer. That told him all he needed to know. That and the seaweed hanging by the front door. He never watched television at home. He was into his 50s before people started owning these strange machines and so he contented himself in watching it at our house on Sundays.

He never knew about political correctness. He was just himself and never ground axes or adopted causes to promote himself.

He never rode a bike that I saw and certainly had no idea about lycra. He never knew what a mid-life crisis was. He thought feeling sorry for yourself was an indulgence. He liked his middle-age spread and never sought to reduce it. He never went to a gym – there were none. He would never have thought of jogging. I only remember him as old. In those days old meant over 50.

He never knew the term Alzheimer’s but that’s what he got, quite early. He never thought of himself as young at 74 when he died. Nanna didn’t cope so well without him. She carried on smoking and set fire to herself. This didn’t kill her because people who are high maintenance live longer.

Poppa was never unkind to us. He gave us pocket money on Saturdays. By 1960 this had climbed to half a crown. That’s 12.5pence. It was a lovely, heavy coin.

He would never have thought that I would write about him and remember him so fondly. Will I do it again? Never say never.

Think the Opposite? 2.

7 Jan

The first version of this was tapped on my little iPhone. Too many errors, finger dexterity poor. Now I have no excuses sitting here at my laptop.

The forces of oppositional madness seemed to be in charge last night in both Hong Kong and Washington. I have written before of the ‘my way or the highway’ approach in totalitarian states and, in the case of Trump, a sociopath. The basis of this approach could be said to be lying. When questioned about any aspect of their regime the Chinese will either say mind your own business – or lie. Uigher muslims really do like ‘retraining’.

As for the Donald, well lying is the political tactic on which he won a presidency and the same could be said for politicians closer to home. Fake news is hardly a new term but the idea that we, the voting public, should scrutinize carefully, what we hear and read, is a more unusual notion. We are used to politicians putting ‘spin’ on figures to prove their points but we are less used to suspecting that what we are being told could be barefaced lies.

In the light of this revelation I have been training myself to test the opposite view of anything that is put in front of me. When my mother used to give the family oxtail stew (yuk!) and tell us is was beef, after a few mouthfuls we knew the awful truth. Sometimes we kept quiet to keep the peace – and we realised that she was economising. When she started to crow that we didn’t taste the difference, we put her straight. I’m not sure what this analogy quite means but I hope you will.

When prioritising vaccination groups, why weren’t teachers, along with NHS staff placed at the top of the list? Someone thought the opposite, clearly, but yet if teachers aren’t front line, who is?Which brings me on to education. What a pickle we are in at the moment. Poor teachers, poor pupils and poor, very poor Gavin Williamson. That the delivery of online lessons would be patchy in delivery and patchy in receipt would seem to be probable. The opposite has actually been the case. Many parents and pupils have spoken of how teachers have gone the extra mile and delivered the very best in a bad situation. The tricky problem has been that technology and childcare at the receiving end is inconsistent. Kit and broadband and harrassed parents. If superfast connectivity and the latest iPad were ubiquitous – no probs. The opposite of high tech is low tech. Anyone heard of textbooks? Maths books with answers in the back; exercise books with weights and measures and all manner of info on the back cover; English tomes (remember Rhodri Jones) with comprehension, essay and language exercises in developing chapters; science, geography, history…the lot. Pencils and biros. Self marking. Only saying.

I’ve been thinking about skills based curriculum v knowledge based. We have veered towards the former because educationists have been fixated with transferable skills (whatever they may be) and google. What we don’t know can be accessed in a trice. Problem here is that lots of people know nothing. Look at Pointless each afternoon. Old people seem to have facts at fingertips, youngsters with degrees in Politics can’t name a prime minister other than Boris. A slight exaggeration but you get it? I listened to Amal Rajan’s radio 4 chat t’other day and some fine people were talking up the advantages of automaticity – i.e. knowing something by heart so well that you can bypass several steps in processing and understanding problems. The numbers 9 and 6 should automatically suggest 54 if times tables have been drilled in. Perhaps reinvention of the wheel but you only have to witness the extraordinary ability of the young mind to retain information when repeated ad infinitum to realise that education has devalued its greatest resource. Ask any woke 18 year old to recall lyrics of any popular song from the last 20 years (and often beyond) and you will see that repetition and automaticity could be an educational lifesaver – and an aide memoire for life. Just saying.

Even bloody, bloody Brexit. I have read and heard James O’Brien, Owen Jones et al endlessly and, of course, I have been on their side versus the Farage, Rees-Mogg, Boris bandwaggoners. But I learn things when I listen to all arguments and I do see that the magastatism of Europe and the unwieldiness of 27 countries’ decision-making and the problems of unfettered immigration..and so on. I simply prefer to be part of the European project which seemed so worthwhile philosophically and economically. But entrenched opposition has got us nowhere. The UK is set to split, perhaps, and ‘better together’ may soon be an outmoded slogan. If we had all been prepared to see the opposite view and, therefore, moderate our own, we might have found a better way forward.

Just saying.

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