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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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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!

 

Southgate’s slipstream…

13 Jul

On the rare occasion that I find myself cycling in a group, I try that Bradley Wiggins thing. Not the dubious medication-in-a-bag scam; the tuck in behind the leader ploy and cruise in his slipstream trick. With the cheers of defeat echoing through our beleaguered nation might we not consider harnessing  some of Southgate’s energy.?

Jokingly I have suggested Gareth for PM. It’s not really so far-fetched is it? A recent bout of insomnia led me to listen to several TED talks in the wee small hours. If you hit on some really boring ones your sleeplessness will fade quite quickly. On this occasion I found myself engaged by some chap speculating on the random selection of politicians from a cross-section of society, ie no gravy-train, vestedly-interested, career-politician muppets but a spread of the electorate given a chance to guide and challenge the Sir Humphreys of Whitehall to make sensible choices for us all. We couldn’t do much worse than recent evidence suggests, could we?

Gareth seems to have got us all ‘on message’. His honesty, directness, humility and decisiveness have been admirable. No pushover but a natural diplomat. Plenty of steel but compassion and warmth under his waistcoat. As we have pedalled along in his slipstream the Trumpmeister has hoved into greater view.

Firstly he gives NATO what-for with his pay up or shut up inarticulacy, then on to febrile Britain where he tells Mother Theresa that Boris the Spider would do a better job than her. He was reading directly from his Farage script. He may be making plans with Nigel for a takeover of the bullies at Westminster.

Sir Gareth is far from a bully but there are so many of them in the international playground. Having had some experience of how boys and girls can bully – some insidious and  covert, others brash, gross and brutal – there are many parallels to be drawn from playground to parliaments. Many of our World leaders or eminent (sic) politicians are bullies with agendas which serve themselves and not those whom they purport to represent. The Trumpet Major, some say, would have done so much better than Mother Theresa because he would have bullied the EU into groveling submission. He’s sorted Kim Jong Un, he’s telling the Chinese how to conduct trade and he’s jumped into bed with Macron. What a player!

But bullies get found out. Sometimes teachers don’t realise what is going on right away. The kids in the playground can be seduced into siding with bullies for self-protection. In the end everyone sees – and remembers- the awful truth of the unpleasantness. Sometimes bullies continue into adult life and we can all recognize them in the workplace. Yes, sometimes they are successful in certain terms. But life’s too short to kowtow for too long. I’m amazed that Piers Morgan is still ruffling feathers on primetime TV, not because what he says is idiotic (he occasionally talks sense) but the way he says it brooks no opposition. My way or the highway. The Alan Sugar code of living.

When the behavior that we take note of is predicated on the notion that the world is a better place with guys and gals like them telling us all how it is; kicking ass; sticking it to opponents; single digiting those who disagree, then we are back in the playground where the bully reigns supreme and the rest of the kids keep out of their way and let them wreak havoc.

I’m in Southgate’s slipstream at the moment. We’re kicking a ball about in the park. Jumpers for goalposts. Gareth  captaining my team and we’re playing properly, no need for a ref because we trust eachother. There’s a nasty bloke called Donald who wants to play but he always spoils the game with cynical fouls and bullying of the smaller kids. Ah, I see Gareth has gone across to sort him out. If only…

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.

 

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