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Lionesses learning how to roar? Events have overtaken my trite blogging!

15 Mar

A few days ago I penned a slight piece about the English women’s soccer team being required, by new coach Phil Neville,  to ‘watch in pain’ as the USA lifted the Shebelieves trophy. The italizised version (see below) appears a silly irrelevance now.

The attempted murders of Sergei Skripal and his daughter have signalled the attendant dangers of a warfare beyond our sight and control. Big power games are being played and we are the powerless majority. The haughty arrogance of the Russian State appears chilling and uncaring of the values to which humans should adhere. Their supremacy – and the unquestioning certainty of it – comes before any other consideration.

The deaths of two household names, Ken Dodd and Stephen Hawking, have provoked eulogising and respect. I never quite ‘got’ Ken Dodd but he’s been around the whole of my life singing Tears and waving a tickling stick. He entertained millions in a classically British fashion. The last of the music hall comedians, they say. Apart from Einstein there is no other scientist whose name trips off the tongue around the world more often than the remarkable Hawking. Compare him with Vladimir Putin. Compare him , for that matter, with anybody. His influence on young and old, his extraordinary spirit, never mind his genius, will live on .. and on. The BBC got it right when they led with the news of his death over and above the shabbiness of Russian dark dealings.

We should turn to the spirit of Hawking at times like this. My daughter and son-in-law have both been seriously ill of late. Now, thankfully in recovery, they owe their health to the skill of doctors and the wonders of science. Compare the consultant who treated my daughter’s  virulent bacterial infection with Vladimir Putin.

The shenanigins  of the superpowers persuade us to hibernate in the warmth of the mundane. The winter Paralympics and the doughty-spirited Brits struggling to justify their funding in sports which are, mostly, alien to our culture; the multi-millionaire Mourinho’s press conferences saying very little about not very much at all; the thrill of Lionel Messi; Six Nations rugby; Dancing on Ice. When I’m down I turn to sport and books. I’m on Martin Amis’s The Rub of Time – a collection of articles and observations on everything from a wonderful observer. Brilliant.

I’m OK with the truth. So many of those to whom the people of the world look up – or are forced to- want to construct their own truth. Stephen Hawking showed us all that the search for truth is everlasting and inexhaustible. That we are all on this planet together and should behave as if we are all part of the same enterprise.

I am not a man of God, nor particularly a member of the St. Paul fan club. However, being the age I am and with my upbringing and career in education, I have read and listened to many a Bible reading  and prayer. One of many texts that comes to mind so easily is Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Often used in prayer – well it used to be – I offer it here.

‘…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.’

I apologise for the bathos of what follows.


The USA women’s soccer team have just won the Shebelieves Cup by beating England in the final game. Well-deserved. Phil Neville, the new Manager-Coach of the Lionesses insisted that his team stayed out on the pitch to watch the cup being presented to the victors. He ‘wanted the team to feel the pain’ ; it would thus make his women more competitive in next year’s World Cup.

Phil didn’t suggest that it was simply good sportsmanship to applaud the USA’s triumph. Good manners, even. The recently accepted common behaviour in soccer and some other male team competitions is for the vanquished to leave the stage to lick wounds; fans of the defeated too. In some cases – recent Ryder Cups for example, the winners have revelled in victory with demeaning relish. Tennis is one of the exceptions  – perhaps the one-on-one gladiatorial nature of it produces a greater respect, an honourable appreciation of the opponent.

Eddie Jones’s dreadful treatment at the hands of inebriated Scottish rugby fans may be a sad sign of the times. Interestingly he pointed out that the intemperate language of partisan media commentators had not helped the cause of commonsense. Gavin Hastings had talked of relishing ‘rubbing English noses’ in defeat. A phrase to excite, indeed but part of the growing hype which surrounds major televised sport. Drama and controversy has to trump playing the game in the right spirit.

Having watched and coached young sportspeople for umpteen years, there is little doubt that I have observed better sportsmanship and respect for referees from women. There are exceptions of course. I, Tonya, the film about the bitter rivalry between American ice skaters, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan shows just how female gamesmanship can get out of hand. And how!

Most males have the instinct for honour but they need to be led by captain, coach, teacher, parent. Somehow women, although just as competitive, see a bigger picture when the fat lady sings.

There were plenty of heroes around when I was growing up and, as readers of my pages will know, I idolised the best of them: Bobby Charlton. These days the honourable leaders are thinner on the ground and being gracious in defeat – and generally – is a commodity in short supply. There is a huge amount of psychological point-scoring in the global game of soccer but there are many mangers and players I still admire. Roy Hodgson for one.

I like Phil Neville and he will do a fine job. ‘Feeling the pain’ may well be a good idea but in the precious moments after a great sporting struggle, disappointment should give way, for a few short minutes, to congratulation and commiseration. Equality in all its fair forms is necessary and right but Lionesses might beware of accepting all male sporting mores.

Roar on Lionesses. Have edge, enjoy the cut and thrust of battle but when you hear the final whistle, do the honourable thing.


You cannot be serious – or are you being literal?

4 Jan

We remember John McEnroe’s outburst at Wimbledon in 1981. Long forgotten is the umpire (Edward James), the opponent that day (Tom Gullickson), the winner that day (McEnroe of course).

The media love-in with another ballsy Yank – the Donald –  is well under way in this new year. They (we?) are loving his tweets which have shaken Ford, Mexican car workers, China and most other aspects of Obama’s foreign policy. And that’s just the last few days. The luvvie-networks (BBC being one) are revelling in the twitter-titter-feed from Trump Tower. The latest Wildeian quote to please the masses is: The people take Trump seriously but not literally; the political and media elites take him literally but not seriously. Evan Davis enjoyed pursuing this epigrammatic analysis on Newsnight with a bunch of worthies from both sides of the pond. Worthies might be stretching it but there was an articulate tree-hugger, Tamsin Omond,  who banged on, amongst many other things, about the cataclysmic danger of Trump reneging on the Paris Climate Agreement. A business prof. called Ted Malloch who might become one of Trump’s senior advisers chillingly countered: Trump plays chess two moves ahead of everyone else both home and overseas. He’s wise, no idiot. Take him seriously.

The chatter bounced around for a while before I began to resent Evan Davis’s revelling in the salacious speculation. My mind had to park the Donald for a little while as I worried about education, education, education. The secondary school where I used to teach has recently made several teachers and others redundant. Subjects such as music have been cut from the curriculum. Morale is low. This is not an isolated story. Budget cuts, which have been savage since the financial crisis of nearly a decade ago, along with successive Tory education ministers wanting to squeeze more blood from the stone, have landed most schools in some sort of financial trouble. My knowledge is of secondary education where politicians and their civil servants have long-sought funding models which prove that more can be got for less. With a protracted period of Tory government most social and educational funding will be savaged. The academies programme – a case of pointless rebranding if ever there was one – fell into the more-for-less agenda.

The effects of constant change and poorly prioritised targets have cost the taxpayer vast sums this last decade. Young primary teachers are leaving the profession in droves. Assessments and targets so often seem unrelated to any context other than the Whitehall ruminations of failed teachers and civil servants who went to the barking mad school for the over-privileged. Secondary teachers are just being sacked – ensuring that ill-equipped young teachers gain posts of responsibility well beyond their competence and acceptable stress levels. Education on the cheap. Literally, seriously.

When McEnroe felt hard done-by, he shouted about it. But it was only a game. Wimbledon is important but it’s not Aleppo. Now Mr Trump tells us that we shouldn’t believe his campaigning vitriol but we must take his presidency seriously. This isn’t a game. Nor is the education of 93% of the UK (the others being much-better funded in private schools).

McEnroe went on to win Wimbledon that year. Ronald Reagan had just become President. Seriously.

The Lying Game..

2 Sep

…was a song by Dave Berry back in the 60s. Or was it the Crying Game?  If so it no longer fits my subject matter and I wish I had used one of a vast number of starters such as The Decay of Lying by dear Oscar or Lies, that power-poem by Yevgeny Yevtuschenko. Even that song by Fleetwood Mac. Possibly Disraeli’s Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics. Ah! Now I’m warming to my theme. The Eagles’ Lying Eyes springs to mind. Ricky Gervais’s film The Invention of Lying. The book I am reading  The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle about a conman who has lied his way through life. Lies, lying and liars are woven into the fabric of society – and I have already lied in this paragraph about the title of a pop song.

We bang on about telling the truth to our children but we tell them a fat man in a red suit will wedge himself down a chimney to visit our little darlings on Christmas Day. We differentiate between white lies (justifiable) and black lies (heinous). Kids learn pretty early on that we adult don’t really mean what we say and certainly don’t say what we mean. hey what’s a fib or two between grown ups. There is no institution that I can think of that doesn’t practise the art of lying. And it’s getting worse at very high levels of our bruised society.

These days we expect schools for example, to lie about their results. The choice of the most inappropriate stat. will be banner-headlined to soften the blow that, this year, results were crap. Of course the league-table game means every headteacher is forced down the ‘economical with the truth’ path. OK, no big deal you might say but when soundbite is valued more than sound judgement we get what we deserve. How else do we explain the serial lying of a Trump, a Gove or Farage or a Johnson; a Blatter, a Lance Armstrong; the Russian Olympic association and its government? And that’s mostly just the last two months.

Trump’s lying has a perverse honesty. Bear with me here. He will utter almost any falsehood if the cheers ring long and loud in response. If they don’t he’ll select another lie and try that. He wants reaction, not understanding. Truth is unimportant, there is greater honesty in deception. He knows that his fawning supporters don’t believe him but they prefer an obvious charlatan to the two-faced, conniving, Washington in-crowd of Harvard privilege and moneyed back-scratchers.

Now our triumvirate of lies -Pouty Gove, Farridge and Boris the Spider have come a bit unstuck. They have half-admitted that they were taking the piss. You can’t do that. A really top quality liar follows through, indeed gets worse, as I fully expect the Trumpet Major to do.

I note that Southern rail have posted profits nearing £100million. What lies can their chief exec. (recently granted a gargantuan pay rise) come up with to persuade his workforce and hordes of pissed-off commuters that it is all their fault really? The doctors are on dodgy ground now. Patient Safety is their cry. Hmm. The BMA recommended that they accept the last compromise offer from Jeremy Rhyming Slang but no, they are up for thousands upon thousands of postponed and cancelled ops and appointments. If they told the truth, that it’s all about money, I’d feel a little better. I wouldn’t expect Jeremy RS to tell the truth – after all he’s a politician.



Spitting Images…

10 May

It’s such a pity that the satirical hit-show of the 1980s remains in mothballs. Nicky Morgan’s thyroidic madness, as she leads our schools not so gently into that good night, would be a delicious but apocalyptic joy to behold. As I sipped tea with two jolly roofers in the back garden this morning, I offered them the prepositional conundrum presented to our year 6 kiddies in their English SAT this week. The laughter echoed around suburbia. Two roofers and an English teacher.

Now the dangerous Mrs M took no national test until GCSEs came calling when she was 16. Nor did she attend a state school – ie the schools which 94% of all children throughout the UK attend. Her rise to a degree in Jurisprudence at Oxford was via the leafy comfort of Surbiton High School, fees currently £16,000. Her life as a solicitor, then quickly professional politician, was a glittering race through the corridors of advantage and networking. And now she directs the education of the masses whose access to preferment is a tad shaky.

For many politicians born with silver spoons, I get the idea that their brains, desire for service and, hopefully, the ability to see the bigger picture, can overcome the disadvantages of a myopic view born of the playing fields of Eton or, indeed, the slums of Toxteth. But with Education (education, education…) the need for a sensitive, perspicacious leader is vital. We have been plagued by successive encumbents of high office being paralysed by a combination of their own privileged experienced combined with a corporate, profit-toxic view of how education should be organised and evaluated. Pupils and teachers, particularly at key stages 1 and 2, are the losers. Thank goodness a few parents this week stood their ground: enough is enough, they said. Children must be allowed to grow broadly before the examined world takes over;  not moulded from five to regurgitate irrelevancies which their young brains can’t compute anyway.

As I watched my roofing mates, Shaun and Dan, flash through their iPhones, we chatted about the schools they went to. Local lads from Carshalton. Housing estate. Fun growing up. Both failed 11 plus but the teachers at primary and secondary were OK, some brilliant. Quality of teaching was assessed by personality, running the soccer team after hours, engaging an interest – for Dan it was poetry, for Shaun history. Both were sport mad. Neither thought that those on high – Nicky Morgan – understand what education is really about. They admired their bright mates who went to university but it wasn’t for them. They wanted cash-in-hand and were pleased with the choices they had made. Dan calculated the VAT for the bill in a heartbeat.

The more we chatted, the more my glottal stops began to match theirs. Strange how we leafy suburban orators enjoy the chumminess of estuary English. Jack Whitehall tries plenty of innit-speak in his stage show but the Marlborough posh is hard to hide. I was pondering linguistic tics when a young woman wandered past me (by now I’m in London sitting in Victoria Embankment Gardens) hoicked up a substantial globule of phlegm and spit-fired into the rather beautiful tulip garden by which I was sitting, not spitting. Strange, I thought, that in gardens crowded with office workers enjoying the last minutes of a sunny lunch-hour, a rather chic looking filly (excuse, please the non-PC personification of a young thoroughbred. I had thought of revealing that the pretty thing in question was an olive-skinned Asian but, decided not to chance the rabid vitriol of my right-on readership) would choose to mimic the action of press-ganged sailors in 17th century whorehouses. My audible intake of breath resulted in an embarrassed explanation, en-passant, that a fly-dive through the glossed lips was the culprit. Big bloody fly, I smartly retorted.

She hurried on and my attention was drawn to the incongruous sight of a couple of young chaps, jackets off, playing table tennis. I had noticed the appearance of a number of these fun-tables in the various gardens along the embankment from Blackfriars to Whitehall. What a top idea! The two young men, with ties still on, looked a little sad, as if they were convicts getting exercise before returning to condemned cells. The spitting image of the tulip garden gobber and the bulbous-eyed Nicky Morgan faded as I wandered up Whitehall and met some retired teachers in the Harp (what a fine pub!). We didn’t mention education.


The i Caught my Eye.

10 Mar

I read papers at the weekend but the 40p in my pocket was burning a hole. I saw the obit. of George Martin advertised on the front of the i and went for it. Before I got to the warm and fulsome tribute to the great man, I was hi-jacked by a number of curious items.

Firstly a piece on how ‘battlers and bruisers’ are needed as secondary headteachers to sort out standards. “Uniforms”, said Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, “are all over the place. Scrappy worksheets abound as does low level disruption.” Weighing in to the problem was Nick Gibb, ex KPMG accountant specialising in tax, now Schools’ Minister.

The lifelong Tory activist and financier called for young teachers to be fast-tracked. “Able headteachers should be promoted swiftly from the ranks.” Well, I thought, don’t they need to practise their profession for a while before they catapult to stardom? Promotion too soon can be a double disaster. Firstly the superhead has yet to spend enough time doing what he/she is good at – presumably teaching; secondly, the erroneous assumption that the skills required of a headteacher are similar to the classroom teacher and that experience counts for less that confrontational ability. In my experience the quickly-promoted young star confronts more than reflects. Nick Gibb, as with so many politicians, is an amateur observer. I noted from his Wiki info that, of all the schools which he attended, Maidstone Grammar was far and away the best. Second came Bedford Modern, a noted private school. Not too many of the hoi polloi or top buttons undone in either place. I see that he is MP for Bognor Regis. I spent many an unhappy summer holiday there in the 1950s.

I scanned further items about which I couldn’t have cared less: Sunday trading (SNP taking the piss), Junior Doctors (sorry but both sides are getting it wrong), the Queen and Brexit, the link between obesity and sleeplessness, Chelsea getting PSG -ed and, of course, the EU.

However the news that Ashfield District Council has banned comedian Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown from appearing at the Festival Hall in Kirby had me chuckling. They said that his humour was ‘inappropriate’. Of course it is you stupid dickheads – that’s why he’s popular. And, as far as I am aware, he doesn’t incite terrorism.

There were a number of short items from round the world which kept me abreast of vital matters. The rebels in Columbia and the Polish government ruling that their own courts were unlawful were two items to make me smile and yawn simultaneously. It’s hard to avoid the Trumpmeister and his curious unstoppability. The circus going on over the pond is a joy to behold…from a distance. Did you know that the Kennel Club celebrates its 125th birthday this year and 22,000 tails will be wagging at Crufts today, apparently. Similar events.

I turned back to George Martin. A gentle genius.Go to you tube. All You Need is Love.

Poems of my Life. Flint.

17 Nov

Nursery rhymes and songs were the stuff of my childhood. Nothing unusual there. Listen with Mother and, when we had a TV,  Watch with Mother added more rhyme into the mix. Having a Danish dad meant Hans Christian Andersen and the stories and poetry of Ole Luk-Oye. More of this anon. Rupert Bear’s adventures were told in verse and prose. Now We are Six by A.A. Milne was read to me early because I had the book hand-me-downs from my elder brother.

Rhyme and rhythm should be part of a child’s sing-song day. At Cuddington County Primary School, I’m sure there were rhymes aplenty but one stands out. Flint by Christina Rosetti.

~Christina Rossetti

An emerald is as green as grass,
A ruby red as blood;
A sapphire shines as blue as heaven;
A flint lies in the mud.

A diamond is a brillant stone,
To catch the world’s desire;
An opal holds a fiery spark;
But a flint holds fire.

This is the first poem I remember being ‘taught’. I’m pretty sure that it was in class 3 –  Mrs Thorburn . I was 6. She would have had to explain what sapphires and rubies were, no doubt. We went foraging in the woods looking for flints, about which I had no idea. Mrs T encouraged us to clap stones together and make sparks, then breathe in the ignition aroma.

Then the poem. At 6 I was told what a simile was – and a metaphor but it took me longer to grasp that, I think. I knew about rhyme of course but hadn’t bothered with much else, I’m sure. Mrs T, after extolling the excitements of the gems, teased answers out of us about the monosyllabic fourth and eighth lines. It is these two lines that jump into my head as much as any other that I have ever come across. especially that last, exciting line. I can hear Mrs T now.


Gordon is no moron..

1 Jul

Gordon Strachan bided his time last Thursday. We were watching South Korea play Belgium. Gordy’s co-pundits were lamenting the poor refereeing which allowed a range of physical assaults to go unpunished while the merest hint of a foot up or the sight of a stud incurred  yellow and red cards held aloft in a ritual of sanctimonious officialdom. When a terrified Korean defender with the same name as all his team mates, rugby tackled a Belgian with a Dutch moniker, the pundit-baying intensified. “It was so outrageous he (the ref) couldn’t make a decision,” opined Lee Dixon. “A clear penalty!” The outrage continued.

At half time the level of consternation reached new heights. The chatter had broadened: Suarez biting; ubiquitous shirt pulling; elbows in faces; Quatar bribing any FIFA official they could lay their hands on; diving…or simulation as the boys in black now love to call it. And so it went on until Gordon cut through the crap.

“You people are talking as if there are rights and wrongs here. Surely it’s obvious that, at this level of soccer, there are no morals.” Wow. He’d said it. And he repeated it. Hallelujah, a sensible, intelligent observation for once amid the clichéd claptrap and time-filling platitudes which I spend hours yawning at. More fool me, you might say. I say that I’m ever hopeful that a Gordon or an Alan or a Clarence or a Robbie will say something truly interesting, thought-provoking. And here it was.

He said more. “It’s the art of what you can get away with. Let’s face it Suarez was a bit (or a bite) unlucky. Or perhaps his value has gone up even more?” This was great stuff. I was on the edge of my seat. Condescending smiles from Chilesey and Lee Dixon- Gordon was being playful, provocative. Not a bit of it. Think about it boys and girls. And I sat at home and thought about it.

Luis Suarez was greeted by thousands of fans and the President of Uruguay on his return to Montevideo. Disgraced? Not a bit of it. Ever more the hero. The greatest ‘foul’of all time, the brilliant head-butt by the genius Zidane, has raised him to cult status. He did what a man had to do. The gamesmanship of players at the highest footballing levels will always exceed the ability of referees, FIFA, UEFA and the FA to keep up. But we don’t want to ‘keep up’ do we? I like waking up to the latest scandal that has hit the soccer world. Today it is the match-fixing by 7 Cameroonians. Well you would wouldn’t you, if a few thousand quid would take you out of a slum and give you running water in a downtown semi in Yaoundé?

And don’t we love the shirt-pulling antics of the penalty area? How dull if the refs started awarding the correct sanction. A penalty each time? You’re kidding – so much fun and punditry outrage to tap into without making the right decision. Isn’t it better to watch overpaid yobbos verbally abuse referees, argue with every single decision – than see them meekly accept the judgement of a (supposedly) unbiased official?

As for technology, what a master-stroke by the Premier League and FIFA to introduce goal-line technology. The least important area of contention is the one-in-a-hundred matches where blind refs and their assistants can’t tell if a sizeable sphere has crossed the rubicon. It’s all Frank Lampard’s fault. If Hawkeye had assisted the hapless officials our glorious boys might not have been put through the German sausage machine four years ago. I don’t think so. But how brilliant of the powers that be to ignore all meaningful forms of technology help (see Rugby, Tennis, Cricket and any other high profile sport with an interest in truth and fairness) and plump for the least helpful, leaving all contentious decisions I the hands of the least able, i.e. on-field officials. It’s a master-stroke of Blatterdom. Sepp’s a canny operator in the world game – his game. It’s Roller-ball and he’s with Gordon. Who dares – or cheats- wins.

Lest my endorsement of Gordon’s wise observations, last Thursday, is taken as too frivolous let’s tackle that lurking moral sticking point. Example. How the top players behave has a trickle down moral effect. Think about this carefully. Think schooldays, schoolteachers, sports coaches, what mums and dads say at mini rugby or on the local tennis courts. Think about the behaviour that is encouraged at grass roots. There may be exceptions but for the most part we’re talking wholesome, happy, respectful  behaviour. Appropriate disapproval of bad language, fouling, gamesmanship. The local park and school match really is, these days, a million miles from the virtual reality of the Suarez bite. The latter is a bubble-wrapped world of media frenzy and gossip-generating scandal. How dull if Suarez didn’t have a Hannibal Lecter fixation. How boring if you couldn’t debag a centre forward in the penalty area and get away with it.

Gordon made me think about the truth of team games. For all the character-building good that school and amateur-level  club matches manage there is an inevitability that, the higher the stakes the greater the cheating. Morality goes out of the window – and we all conspire, in some way, to ensuring that things won’t change too much while the chequebook and Sepp Blatter are Kings of the Castle.

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