The Whitehill Waltz

Is waltz a silly word? Well it does have a z in it. Gazebo; that’s slightly silly but not as silly as hub. No matter how you say hub it’ll always sound silly. And then there’s the word disgruntled. Any word with grunt in it has to be silly. Personally, I have great affection for the waltz. Strauss waltzes helped me into my love of classical music. I imagine most of us associate it with the elegant charm of a past age where dashing young men sweep around with noblewomen dressed in enough frills and petticoats to keep Darcey Bussel locked up for life.

cvEvery new year’s day we can tune in to the traditional concert of Strauss’ finest work, wondering which member of the orchestra has the worst hangover.

new_year_concertWe watch incredulously as the scene shifts from the polite wealthy audience to some bizarre balletic ritual played out by a troupe of fine ladies and men in tights flouncing around some deserted but immaculate stately home.

maxresdefaultThey would never do that down Whitehill.

But the waltz goes further than just a dance. A pertinent appearance in some larger work may invoke a multitude of emotions. My favourite is the waltz from Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony.

Tchaikovsky2Tchaik peppered his scores with a plethora of heartfelt emotions. In the sixth we sense the discomfiture of a man feeling out of place in the glittering palaces of pre-Bolshevic Russia. This waltz does not follow with tradition. It has five beats in the bar. No wonder his sweet yearning melody runs to our ears in a tumbling fit of over and under balance.

Strangely enough, the last time I heard it live, it was played by the Vienna Philharmonic. They didn’t actually play it very well. Was it an off day? Or was it the confusing guidance of that Putin puppet, Valery Gergiev. He was conducting sans baton and could easily have been shooing cattle from what I could see.article-1194624-056F0AB1000005DC-838_468x286

The Whitehill waltz starts in the morning. A chorusof little excited voices chimes with the innocence of childhood. I like being close to a primary school. I love the squeals around lunch time and the mass of cars parking as close as they can.

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It’s not this bad!

Some turn up twenty minutes before the end of school. They play their music and refresh their make up. I laugh at the futility of their fears. Rain does not harm you, walking does not harm you and a strong wind may give you a head of spaghetti but there is always a brush in your glove compartment. It may seem sexist to assume the gender but occasionally the fathers may be around to drop the little ones off in the morning. “Love and kisses Calypso, there’s no need to hold Horatio in that vice like grip whilst kicking him in the particulars. Let him be a horse on his own.”

Then there is always the traffic. My ritornello is the rumbling of the Brighton bus.

Bus-No-29Up the hill, its lazy old engine emits the fart of the air brake while the downhill bus gulps with a change to a lower gear. Is it reassuring? The music of life is a constant cacophony of timbres and rhythms pounding at our delicate ears. Reassuring? No; it’s just bloody noisy.

Throughout the day comes the percusive stacatto of the deliveries. On my main road I live opposite an elctrical shop.

SouthpointI love Southpoint. My flat is bursting with their goods. But that sharp metallic sound of a dropping tailgate and the whine of the motor goes into the realm of Webern. I pretend it’s not there. I turn round and feign sleep  It’s hopeless.

It’s time for my own waltz. I do a wheelie waltz. Every so often I find myself spinning in a cumbersome pirouette as my brain loses the sequence of its performance:

“Milk? Tea? Pear? Nectarine? Cat food? What did I turn round for and why am I circling like a demented Davros?” (I may have used that term before but I rather like it.)

107073a.jpgBy the time I sit down in my sprawling chair, I’m observing an extended rest. The orchestra outside takes over. The music becomes less attractive. The functional spartan passages burble on with the occasional sforzando of the horn section. Car horns of course.

Occasionally a more unusual sound may emerge from the orchestra pit. It’s a tight, fierce sound; always loud, never disguised. I don’t know where they’re from or where they go but the unique sound of the farmer’s tractor with bales in tow, rattles through my castle walls.

7310461-tractor-on-the-roadAmerican composer, Charles Ives wrote a sonata named after his home town of Concord. It’s a seething mess of discord and gutteral nuances. In amongst this visceral turpitude are some tiny germs of genuine sweetness. They are especially tender in comparision to what surrounds them.

My genuine Whitehill sweetness comes from the clip clop of the horse pulling a dear old lady, uttering soothing reassuring words of encouragement from her seat of the trap. It’s fleeting but treasured.

On the occasions when I venture out on the scooter, I hear a new style of music. It comes from restless vehicles behind me. It bursts into a rapid crescendo as they fly past as though their life depended on it. Very few actually pootle past. I make a point of saying good morning to everyone I pass. I’m usually met with an equally polite greeting. Only the ignorant and anally retentive blank me.

two-types-of-ignoranceLike the parents scared of the rain, I must put the fear of God into these people. It’s their loss.

The last movement of Tchaikovsky’s sixth ends quietly. So does my masterpiece. The thumping of the car music fades and turns into an occasional flourish. The final passage is delivered in darkness. The squeaks and rattles of  little human voices return once more. But these are not children. They are the sounds of intoxication. Couples and gangs shriek their drunken delights. I used to do that.

Thank you for reading.

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Chipotle sauce

The gastronomic learning curve is an endless variety of undulations. If I buy anything in a bottle or a tin, I’ll make an effort to recreate it from scratch. During these processes i can either become very excited or lose the will to live. It depends on two main factors; complexity and mess in the kitchen. In my case, the kitchen mess is often transported around the flat via my wheels of steel. However, certain items are a definite no-no. Worcestershire sauce cannot be successfully replicated without industrial plant. Brown sauce on the other hand is a winner.

When I wanted to make my South Mediterranean sauce the other day, I noticed a hole where the chipotle sauce should have been. The instant substitution would have been mixing smoked paprika, chilli powder and tomato puree.

345736011_0_640x640It works very well but fired by the power of adventure that only a can of Adnam’s Ghost Ship pale bitter can provide, I set about going for the full ticket. Here goes:

Ingredients

Small chopped onion

Chopped garlic (as much as you like)

100ml cider vinegar

85g brown sugar

2 tsp mustard powder

2 tsp smoked paprika

As much hot chilli powder as you can take (for real men use 2 tsp)

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1 tbs Wuzzy

A long squeeze of tomato puree

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

3 tbs black treacle

Soften the onions and garlic, bung in the rest and simmer for ages adding water if necessary.

Whizz it up with a hand blender and insert into a sterilised jar. Store in the fridge.

I used it in a pan of braised pork meatballs with more tomato, onion, garlic, ras el hanout and pomegranate molasses. The molasses is simply reduced pommy juice with honey and balsamic vinegar. It also goes really well as a sauce to accompany falafels in a wrap or pitta bread. If you want to brave the cooling weather and darkening evenings, it would be super-duper as a barbecue sauce.

Thank you for reading.

Good cop bad cop

This title is a cliche. It reminds me of cheap American dramas. In 1998, I declared that there will never be American accents on my TV. That means I rejected such classics as Friends or ER. I even ignored Frasier. Thankfully I’d seen all the episodes of MASH before my ludicrous decision.

aR9zr-1443540122-28-show-940X370_0024_MASHAt the same time, I never bothered with the majority of British TV either. (I still don’t). I cannot bear it when drama eats itself through its own perceived seriousness. So what do I watch? Sport and satire? Errr….no. Most of the satire on TV is a bunch of smug foot lighters assuming to be funny by dint of their own brilliance.

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una folla di scontri sovrapposti soddisfatti e soddisfatti

And why on earth would I want to watch golf? My only secret vice is cookery. But I’ll not bore you with that. (Again) Oh, I do like a bit of traffic police and the sheriffs as well. Don’t ever accuse me of watching bargain hunt. As you see, I do not even deem that title worthy of capital letters. Why am I going on about TV habits? What’s it got to do with the title? I have no idea. But it does lead me to a bit of bad cop. To cop is to see and take in: “Cop that ” is to look at and digest.

One of my bad cops is a tendency for tangential cruising. It takes less than a nano second to distract me from the task in hand and send me bouncing around the room on a wave of vaguely connected disjointed frippery. I’m talking about putting a tea bag in the cup, placing the caddy in the fridge and wondering where the milk is. Every time I turn round in my chair I have to think hard about what I’m meant to be doing. It’s such a bad cop.

shutterstock_93317689-280x300I can spend a whole day in a circle of dysfunctional activities which have no necessary form of connection other than being jobs I do around the house. The simple act of making a cup of tea may well involve putting some washing on, checking the post, refilling the pepper mill, ignoring the cat baying for his food and deciding to get the Dyson out before I defrost the chicken thighs. I try not to swear too much as I boil the kettle once more. Yes, it’s definitely the bad cop side of things.

I know a lot of us may be exasperated by a tendency to be absent minded but it takes a chronic condition like MS to be blighted by it every minute of the day. Strangely enough, I always return to square one. It’s like a random circle of fifths or a Shostakovitch prelude. Each visits a multitude of keys before returning to the home key; think Pachelbel’s canon or The Streets of London. These two pieces use the circle technique.

Circle-of-fifthsYou’d think I’d be a liability once placed outside the walls of my confused little home. Strangely enough I’m not. Being outside calls for focus and concentration. I can do that; hello good cop.

Recently I completely messed up my prescription renewals. It left me missing my anti-depressants for a few days. The withdrawal symptoms were left me all over the place. The worst thing was the almost instant deterioration of my eye sight. The other bad cops of MS are widely experienced and well documented so I won’t go on about my life with diminishing control punctuated by the occasional moments of epiphany when we may discover something that actually gives us a better hold on the reins of power.

Wheelchairs, wet rooms, chairs in strategic places, grabbers and adult social car are all good cops. Did I mention pads?

We see the adverts for ladies of a certain age regaining their freedom by the discreet use of incontinence pads. maxresdefaultHence, these amazing, slim young at heart grandmothers can tire out their grandchildren and laugh like a drain without the embarrassment of little damp patches forming in certain regions of their hipster trousers. Well let me tell you, Tena men’s products are equally valuable.

I may no longer have the energy to leave children fractious and exhausted as I hand them back to nervous parents but Tena is definitely good cop. Oh how the streets used to be awash with the dampness of my desperate indiscretions:

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When you’ve got to go

“Where’s Steve been? Oh I know put a sniffer dog on the trail.” Once at Lakeside services on the M25 I was returning post pee to my car as a man, obviously in need of relief struggled up the slope to the min entrance:

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It’s long and it’s uphill

“You have to be desperate to stop here,” I shouted. He man remained stern faced but his wife roared with laughter. (Hope she was wearing  Tena ladies.) It’s funny how the good cop can rise from the bad cop.

The best cop of all is friendship. I have friends who just don’t see the chair. They call me a wimp for finding excuses not to do things. You should see some of the places I’ve been lifted into. Favours are given to me without being patronised and I’m not watched like a hawk lest I fall, so unleashing the wailings and lamentations of those who purport to “care”.

Personal-Space-750x750Friends don’t pussyfoot around for fear of offending me. I’m still open to the usual hefty levels of abuse I’ve always received. And long may it continue.

Thank you for reading.

Social mobility

I present some food for thought. There are many well formed, valid and contrasting opinions about this subject. As I’m now retired and in receipt of some benefits, it’s something that will occasionally flash across my mind. Remember, whilst we are not always aware of the whole truth, there are clues to people’s motivations and attitudes.

OWT - NOWT.I was born working class. It has nothing to do with income and it has nothing to do with where I lived. Firstly I lived in a pub. The Sun Inn on Derby Street in Prescot was a modest busy little place with a fantastic cellar and a resident ghost. Then we moved to a council estate in Fazakerley. After the pub my dad worked in a car factory whilst Mum had a variety of jobs. Then we went into home ownership. We moved into a terraced house costing £1250.00.

The working class work. The middle class work but don’t get dirty and the upper class get drunk and have hanky panky with the serving staff. Beer for the working class, wine for the middle class and port, vintage wine, cognac and a bit of experimental bi-sexual activity for the upper class.

11002785384_9522e85f38_oTerrace, semi-detached and mansion with a town house in the city. Shall I go on with such twaddle?

For me, work means work and social standing is a case of perception; how do we see ourselves when compared to others?

Let’s call the working class the grafting class. These are the full timers, dutifully commuting day in day out, doing full days and more. The conditions will vary, job satisfaction will vary and so will income but if you commit to selling your soul for thirty five plus hours a week, you are in the grafting class. I draw the line at one hundred and sixty eight hours a week but we all know about junior doctors and the like with their sixty odd hour weeks. Within all of this we can identify different levels of intensity. Think of the archetypal security guard watching silently, statue like as sedate, chin rubbing intellectuals parade around the floors of the museum or art gallery burbling quietly about aesthetic nuances.

GuardAmerThen compare it to the madness of the primary school classroom and the teacher dealing with restless little beings and their infinite varieties of attention spans. Are the teacher and the security man equals in their level of graftiness?

teacher-crazy-classroom-problems-e1438918223102Now think of the slackers. We all know the art of the work shy. If only the put as much effort into their work as they do avoiding it blah blah blah. And what has all this to do with social mobility?

Yes, I was born into a working class family. My parents were early school leavers with no expectations of higher education other than in the university of life. But they grafted right up until the time when factories closed, industries shut down and thousands were left on the scrap heap. My two brothers also worked full time, eschewing the so called benefits of higher education.

In contrast, I took my academic career to post graduate level. Then I did grade 8 on the cello and diploma level on the piano. From my early teens, I have been involved in music and the arts. I can billy bull in a wide range of intellectual topics and attend exhibitions and classical concerts.

man_file_1065367_Pretentious1Have I moved across social planes? Have I gone up a level? Are the social levels vertical or parallel?

Well mine are certainly different from the rest of the family, except for a blind devotion to the tribal rituals of the impoverished Everton supporter. My two brothers and I have followed different courses in many ways. One plays bowls and the other one likes going to watch TV shows. To me, their appeal is a complete mystery but it doesn’t imply any notion of superiority on my part. Let’s see it as different branches on the same tree.

common-oak-full-treeAny tree left to grow naturally will have far reaching branches going in different directions. Is any one of us festering by the base of the trunk with the toadstools? Not really, unless you want to include any of our brief wanderings into the world of drunken depravity and our consequent outrageous behaviour.

“Wait a minute,” I’ll say. If I work hard I’m allowed to play hard.

15d5fa0925bc26ce330286615decfa85--humor-videos-funny-videosNow that tree is a plethora (not my favourite word) of connective tissue. If you want to get from one branch to the other you can either jump, climb down then up or wait until the wind blows you near to the branch you want to be on. That final choice is the clever one but has a higher risk; you need to be on the thinner flimsier branches. Best of luck there then.

What about the non grafting classes? Do we have a privileged class? Does non grafting necessarily imply no work being done? Oh I can hear the howls of the equality banshees:

“Get rid of the royals, increase inheritance tax, Stop MP’s expenses, bulldoze stately homes.”

We certainly do have a privileged class but they may not be given everything on silver trays. I could argue that a lot of the “privileged” receive things on plastic McDonald trays.

mcdonalds-meal-big-mac-and-cheese-burgers-fries-and-drink-on-plastic-FX6DKFBoth children and adults can be indulged. They have had a course set out before them. But isn’t that down to kindness? You may be presented with the world’s trendiest sportiest bicycle but you still have to pedal it. Then it’s up to the individual to decide their own course.

Of course we have the skiving class. “I know my rights” they say repeatedly. This class avoids responsibility and passes on blame.

Hungry & homeless - Can't be arsed.In one episode of Channel Five’s “Benefits Britain”, I recall one obese teenager bemoaning his inability to find a job.

246C216700000578-2897024-Her_mother_Sharon_right_who_herself_is_20_stone_helps_her_daught-a-12_1420456606091“It’s not my fault,” he claimed. Warning: If you watch this programme, do not eat or hold the remote. Do not hold anything and remove all surrounding delicate and valued objects. Try not to clench your fists and buttocks. Grinding teeth causes oral damage and if you strike the TV with something heavy, it will no longer work.

I am totally exasperated by the veritable panoply of excuses handed out by the workshy, as some way of diverting any feelings of guilt about being one of those amongst the toadstools.

And here is my point: The working classes are the ones who have been brought up with the true work ethic. Whether it be for money, job satisfaction or as a weapon against boredom, the motivation is there and we are prepared to do it.

It’s an enormous commitment to regularly leave the comfort of the home bubble and prostitute your skills for financial and perhaps moral reward. Perhaps it is all to do with our inner existentialism. We want to make that difference to others and ourselves. We want choices.

I used to tell my pupils that the harder they worked, the more choices they would have; with rights come responsibilities. Does this now render the term social mobility to little more than a political tool? Hmmmm!

On a final note, do we have a home class? That’s for those who have chosen to stay at home for the sake of the family. (Back to choices again.)

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Doesn’t family involve work?

I think I’d call it the noble class. It shows dedication for the family. It has an air of moral selflessness. Most parents would be keen to return to some form of employment when their children reach a certain age. Some won’t. What class are they?

Thank you for reading.

The recipe hour

It was a brilliant few days catching up with old friends. There’s nothing better than sharing food and drink with the company you enjoy, whether or not you’re eating out or creating at home. On Wednesday it was a Middle East feast.

Maneesh:

500g white bread flour

½tsp salt

1tbs sugar

1½ tsp yeast

2 tsp olive oil

360ml water

Sesame seeds, dried thyme, marjoram or whatever dried herbs are sitting unloved on the spice rack or in that little refill box you’d put to the back of the cupboard. Quantities are down to taste. In fact any seeds or spices will do.

Do the usual bread things. After the first prove, create 2 or 3 flattish discs and prove once more. Just before going into an oven at 230°C, mix the seeds and dried herbs with olive oil and paste over the top of the breads. It should take up to 15 minutes. I would have mixed some roast pepper and sun dried tomato in the dough but I forgot amidst the general ambience of the occasion. I don’t know how much wine I’d drunk.

This goes really well with baba ganoush:

Prick and roast two aubergines until squashy. (180°C) Scoop out the flesh and mixed with crushed garlic, lemon juice, tahini paste and seasoning. Sprinkle the top with paprika or chilli powder or both in a flamboyant manner on a serving board. If you want to be really ostentatious, ensure that there is some sort of relevant object adjacent to it and sprinkle over that thus leaving a highly twatty shape on the board. Learn to say “grub is up” in Arabic (ghrwb hu ‘aelaa) and seek out more wine.

Thank you for reading.

More to follow.

Old friends new food

Such is the frequency and familiarity of my northern sojourns, there is not a great deal to report about the journey itself. The train up north was heaving.

_87211432_trainmathurreutersA diminutive scouse matriarch invaded with a department full of luggage and her two children before pouring forth handfuls of generosity and friendship. Imagine the rich accent:

“I don’t know why but I’ve just got loads of it,” she announced.

I was picked up at Lime Street by the lovely Julie and Colin before having an evening of glittering conversation with my dad. He may be eighty eight and restricted by physical issues but he still exudes the love of his family. We can always laugh.

Tuesday afternoon saw the gathering of the ravens. It’s my mate George’s term for the old gang of the early to mid seventies. The collective noun is an unkindness of ravens but this was hardly unkind. It was like leaning back into a comfortable sofa of warmth and familiarity. Andy, Gail, Christine, David, George, Kevin and Ziggy (the dog) were joined by my friends Pete and Jeanie.

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Ziggy

After such a fantastic evening in the Eggy Ferry, you realise why you were friends in the first place.

I needed the help of two not so burly barmen to get in the place. But they got me in (and out) so all was well.

The next morning the relations between my liver and I were a little strained. After tea and toast I offered it an olive branch. By late afternoon we were up for it again. As the years advance the cracks begin to show. I have the face and physique I deserve and the liver needs due care and consideration.

Of course the largest of organs, the skin, turns into a scrapbook of our lives; I have wrinkles because I have laughed a lot. In fact, the wrinkles themselves make me laugh. I think of all those years of exercise and diet trying to preserve the body beautiful in some state of functionality and beauty. I wanted to be the aesthetic attraction of the “fit bloke.” And now?36AB9FA500000578-3712825-image-a-1_1469715827980

The next great event was to be the great cookathon at Castle Waring. This is one of four cottages attached to Poulton Hall. If you didn’t know you wouldn’t know it existed. These lie on a little unmade path leading into a mysterious enclave of rural bliss. The regular chimes of the hall clock send out the joyous airs of a time long gone; a time of ticking as opposed to clicking, and elegance over function. (Please note the subtle use of the Oxford Comma.)

20170906_163103We were joined by her gracious majesty Hedda, queen of the Wirral (and certain parts of Birkenhead).

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Hed. Clearly defying any notion of ageing

We had a magnificent evening of cooking with dear friends. Naturally we concluded with the term “we must do this again”. And we will.

On the journey back I embarked on the now customary stroll from Euston to Caring Cross.

2967511_55971c8aIt was the usual mish-mash of dodging traffic and tourists but in Monmouth Street, I was rather taken with a wheelchair with a detachable motor on the front:

“That’s cool,” I said as we waited to cross the road.

“It’s great” she replied before whizzing off. It was Tanni Grey Thompson. It’s not every day you get to speak to a legend.

Recipes will follow

Thank you for reading.

INSET daze

I’m using the word daze again. This time it’s for a different type of daze. INSET means in-service training. Training days for teachers. I called them incest days.

I’ve been to a few. I recall four types; in-school days, specialist days, visitor in school days and cluster days. I’ll continue writing after stifling my yawns. Cluster days involved the local schools staff meeting at a set venue to do something. It’s all glazed over in to one mass fog of ego driven, sanctimonious, often patronising blur of self-righteousness. Suffice to say, so called educational experts showing us what and how to teach have been found wanting in the art of delivery and communication.

6a00e55043abd08834012875d10ba0970c-320wiIronic really. Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach and those who can’t teach, teach teachers.

But this is not a rant. I just want to point out some of the exceptional individuals I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. There was the poet, Michael Rosen who led a small group of us in a poetry workshop.

parrot1He was intelligent, articulate and entertaining. The best thing he did came at the end of the session when he asked us about circles and rectangles in the room. “Who wins?” he  asked. It was a brilliant spark for whole class discussion leading to a poetry session with any class from years two to six. After a morning of throwing ideas around, it fired our own creative imagination.

Secondly, there was Pie Corbett. He was a modest quietly spoken man who held the attention of a hall full of teachers for a whole day.

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The art of keeping an audience is no different for year 1 than it is for teachers.

We were looking at writing and the various strategies useful for teaching it. Now thanks to a previous session where another tutor had opened my eyes to some very simple ways of developing proper writing, I was already inspired. Everything Pie Corbett said chimed with what I’d been trying to do.

In the early days of the literacy strategy, many teachers were ruing the growing restrictions on what sort of areas we were covering. That old chestnut used to emerge: “Why can’t we just let the children create?” Well fine. If you say to a class of children “give me a beautiful description of your favourite place” you may well end up with pages of rambling drivel. If you don’t teach and encourage the use of functional methodology of words and sentence styles, you’re neglecting to provide children with the basic tools of writing.

Oh dear, I went off on one then. But this man, like Michael Rosen, opened up those little fires in the brain, previously dampened by the iron bars of the national curriculum and its resultant mutation of teaching principles. Breaking writing down into its simple constituent parts and practising how to use them can just spark a child into a veritable roman candle of vibrancy and excitement.

Oh no, suddenly I have a mad desire to get back into the classroom. Can you imagine me charging through the doorway in my wheelchair in a frenzy of fervent inspiration? No I can’t either. I’d lose the thread after five minutes and drop off on the comfortable cushions in the reading corner.

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Obviously I’d never make the corner.

Yes, I did retire for a very good reason.

For many years I was a maths coordinator and I can honestly say that I have sat through hours and hours of soporific tedium. I had one, yes one good experience in the world of maths training. An enthusiastic and very personable lady called Anne formed a sub group of teachers from the less popular schools and galvanised us into taking great steps to raise the profile of maths as a fun, easy and eminently teachable subject to those feeling less confident in this very slippery area, with the potential to pour cold water onto any notions of improvement and independence.

It culminated in a maths immersion day for such children from our respective schools. Obviously I had to explain to the rest of the class why I was taking the so called less able to a specialist maths day.

The final point to make is that the overuse of euphemism, metaphor and buzz words has done little to render these days into anything of great interest. If anyone refers to empowerment or ownership I will personally attack the with a water pistol full of harmless red dye. If anyone dares speak of boiling and back burners, I will jump out from a dark corner and shout boo.

'Do you get the feeling that, in educational workshops, there are way too many buzzwords thrown around?'And if any of these so called experts commits  a solecism, especially with the words “fewer” and “less” I will put my hand up and draw their attention to any such defect. In fact I’ve done that many times already.

Thank-you for reading.