I love trains

I’ve always loved trains. Oddly enough, my first experience is with electric trains. I thought the steam things were a bit scary. I’ve only been on a steam train twice. Once was the Snowdon Mountain Railway. It chuff chuffed its way up through the levels of beauty I used to see from walking.

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I miss the walking. The staff were snotty and arrogant but I won’t start harping on about the Welsh speaking Welsh when they hear an English voice. The second one was the Welsh Highland Railway. They were nice people.

Image result for welsh highland railwayIt was awesome. 

In the early days, the Liverpool to London train was a real occasion. To get to the capital in two and a half hours in quiet and comfort was amazing. For economy reasons, I usually endured the endless drone of the National Express coach. Sometimes I actually planned things and took something to drink.

Less attractive were the football specials. A delightful ritual: Shoved on some cattle truck by surly faced guards and policemen. Treated like some wanton delinquent.

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Dirty filthy toilets which had lost the will to flush. Herded like sheep as you were frogmarched to the ground. Corralled into some shitty away end only to face a repeat performance on the way back. Dumped back in Liverpool to wait for the tunnel bus, stone cold sober, hoping your dad had left a can of beer out for you. All because some bell ends couldn’t be trusted. At least on a coach, it was easier to bung a bottle of vodka into a litre bottle of lemonade.

It’s a far cry from the Victoria boat train to Lyon. We took the edge off the gruelling overnight trek to Paris with a few pints at the station and a skinful on the boat. Standing on the top deck at first light, I looked over the sands of Dunkirque.

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It was a big history moment. But there was no time to dwell. Trying to sleep on a train seemed impossible. This old dog rattled its way through Northern France packed with over-excited inter-railers completely clueless about their up-coming adventures; to be treated like savages and ripped off like suckers. Just like the hapless fans on the footy specials really.

For the last half hour of the journey, we sauntered through suburban Paris. It was grey. Even in the fresh sunlight of a new day, it was grey.

I rehearsed my lines: “Deux billets pour la metro s’il vous plait.” 

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At the ticket office in the Gare du Nord, I took out my 50 centimes. I’d never spoken French to a Frenchman before. My French was mumbled. But he gave me my tickets. We were off for the big one.

The TGV to Lyon.

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Oh, that bit about not sleeping on a train paled into oblivion. I slept.

The journey back involved a day in Paris. We had a few trips on the Paris Metro. It was like the tube but without the class. I could have sworn the Paris’ ne’er do wells treated it as a mobile drinking den. On the boat, I stood outside watching the morning sun shed its glorious new light over the white cliffs.

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I thought of second world war pilots returning from overnight raids.

After that crazy week in Lyon, the train was often used to shift me from Liverpool to London. One late Saturday afternoon, my mate Pete and I took that train for a Sunday FA cup tie. We placed our cans of beer on the table and the group opposite changed seats in a huff.

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Coming back from an away match, having consumed a good amount of Youngs Special Bitter, I was on my way to the buffet car when the consequences exploded from my bottom. I looked back into the coach to see genuine trauma. There were multiple accusatory looks flying about the carriage.

How about Liverpool to Exmouth and back in one day? I had an interview which I didn’t get. I was on the 7.30 AM to Birmingham New Street. By the time I was on the local diesel between Exeter and Exmouth the sun was out and the scenery spectacular as I chugged along the Exe estuary towards the mouth.

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At 10 PM, I was a lonely figure at Crewe. I love the whole drama of that final wait on a deserted station. I was glad a nice old man woke me up just before. Lime Street at 11.30 was equally desolate.

The best memory of that day was hearing a West Country man saying “Oohh arrr” to his grandchildren. He wasn’t in a smock, sitting on a rustic gate and chewing a piece of grass but you can’t have everything. 

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One bleak Sunday in July I was emerging drenched from a tent in Anglesey. I was helping out on a school trip but none of the teachers spoke to me. At first light, I packed up and started walking. Modern technology shows me that it was just under ten miles from Holyhead Station. All I know is that it was a long walk with a suitcase and a wet tent on my back. The causeway to Holyhead was like walking over thunder, The train back along the Welsh coast was marvellous.

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All those places I’d seen on day trips and holidays. I’d looked longingly at that train track and now I was on it.

What can top those two epics? In 1996, I went to Inverness on the overnight sleeper from Euston. Unlike other years our traditional summer half-term trip to Scotland was not going to involve driving until the next day, waking up refreshed in a jaded hangover sort of way in Inverness. This meant meeting in Euston bar getting our taste buds going with a few drams. On the train, we ensconced ourselves in the bar and hit the cans. There was a stag party on the train going for a weekend of golf at Aviemore.

We picked up our hire car and did that fantastic route up to John O Groats. All the time, we had the sparkling sea to our right as we dipped between the cliff side drives.

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John O Groats was worth a pint before the ferry to Orkney. The journey back took us over the Forth rail bridge. History and spectacle in one hit. From Edinburgh to London I saw the causeway to Lindisfarne.

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And that’s what I love about the train. Every journey oozes with memories. You get another view of places visited and loved.

Long may it continue.

Thank you for reading.       

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Aitch eh peepee why?

Yesterday the solicitor rang to say that contracts have been exchanged and the moving date is June the 29th. Am I happy? Well, the irrepressible outpouring of visceral relief has been somewhat tempered by a number of other factors.

Firstly, the estate agents have told me I can’t have the key until the completion day. And I don’t much like being spoken to as if I know nothing. When I bought my house in T.Wells, I took the keys on exchange. Is this small town mentality? 

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Secondly, the sellers still haven’t cleared the flat of the old junk they just left there. Fortunately, the agent is obstreperous enough to nag them to their bones. As for the buyers; I have never known such a niggling, small-minded petty attitude.

Image result for spoilt bratsThe youth of today buffeted by the nank (I use that word deliberately) of an overly important mum and dad perhaps?

To round things off nicely, I have two, yes two broken wheelchairs. One is off to a local garage today but the other has a broken arm. When transferring yesterday, I sat on the edge of the arm and became caught on it. Then it snapped and I tumbled earthwards like Eric Pickles hang-gliding.

A three-hour wait for the paras certainly gives time for reflection. It took a good deal of determination to bottom shuffle into the living room, open a bottle of wine and watch some episodes of Masterchef.

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It was the third fall in twelve days. I’ll put it down to bad luck and wonder how I’m going to fix my poor broken arm. In this relatively short article, I feel that I must end on a positive. I’m thinking………..erm…………..

Oh yes, I’m getting a new chair soon.

The family home is on the market which could fund a new Segway wheelchair and I can still cook.

England is still in the world cup and the cricket team hammered Oz in an ODI.

The pie-man has left the blues and Rose has lost a herfirst tooth.

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Thank-you for reading.

Walking Wallasey

I’ve waxed lyrical about some of these locations before but I have such vivid memories.

I used to walk.

I used to walk a lot.

Living in Seacombe there were loads of great places to walk to. In the early days, we walked up to New Brighton with my mum. We went to see our Auntie Edie in Egerton Road before going to the outdoor fair. That was always the first great day of the summer holidays. From the town hall steps, the pier looked close enough to touch. It seemed a very long way then. We also followed the police swimming race from the two ferry terminals; Seacombe to New Brighton. How on earth did they do it? For me, it was walking up the prom sucking on pineapple chunks my dad had treated me to at Connor’s shop on the corner of Brougham Road.

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It’s still a very useful shop

From then on, the prom was the best place to walk along. There was always something going on. On windy days, the waves were huge. When we moved to Seacombe, my mum and dad couldn’t really afford a holiday. Instead, we were kept off for the last week of the summer term and had days out. It was brilliant. We walked everywhere.

The first one was Bidston Hill. We went to the bottom of Mossdene Road and followed the footpath to Bidston station.

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It was a real adventure following a brambly narrow walk meandering amongst railway lines and landfill sites until we reached the greenery of Bidston Hill. I’d never been to a windmill before. We’d seen it many times from Beck Road.

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To just touch its ancient wall and look up at the wooden sails was awesome. I don’t use that word lightly. When we were there it was deserted. It was there for us alone.bidstonmill1 

There was also the Breck and New Brighton prom. My dad sprayed cars at Standard triumph in Speke. Walking along the sea wall between New Brighton and Moreton, he would glorify in the sea spray and fresh air, cleansing his lungs of the toxic cellulose paint which paid his wages.

When I was old enough, I walked alone. Central Park was close. The weekends were for football and cricket on the main field but in weekdays on school holidays, it was a solo sojourn. I’d head for the gardens in spring. Nobody else seemed to be there. All that gardening, just for me. I’d sit at the side of the art school wishing that I could go there.58b6f3122b4c9465415d35f508119011--central-park-liverpool

Then I’d cover every inch of the park. The central lake shimmered in the early sunshine. On grey days it provided a dark bottomless hole. Every so often there were huddled groups of children with nets and buckets, trying to catch the lake’s little tiddlers. Occasionally, I’d catch sight of a big fellow. I don’t know what they were called. 

The lonely island fluttered with the sporadic breaths of a chilly breeze reminding us of winter’s diminishing dominance. The bright little snaps of the ducks’ ludicrous quacks added a touch of farce.

Ducks are funny.

Then a couple of swans would glide elegantly past. They were haughty and arrogant.

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Years before, one of them wrecked my uncle’s model boat. I wondered which one it was. It was always a delicious moment of silent confrontation. We laughed at each other but I would always yield to the purity of their beauty before strolling down to the other lake.

The path from the tennis courts was a place of legend. There were stories of ghosts and strange goings-on. They were schoolboy’s tales but they always fired my imagination. I often went that way in the dark. I never saw anything.

Adjacent to Liscard Road was a darker wooded area. Over the wall, the busy cars were in another world. Skirting the embankment behind St John’s was the final route. I’d leave the park at peace with the world.

My brothers called me weird. I think my parents thought it too.

The prom was always the first place to head for. Windy days gave rise to great waves and tousled hair. Then it was a noisy angry place with a foaming torrid river waging war against the thickly crusted railings.

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Egremont housed the infamous Davy Jones’ Locker. It had a reputation which I never had the pleasure of sampling. I don’t think I missed out. The Tavern made up for it.

Up by New Brighton pier, its dark bulbous legs stood beneath the cracked shrunken boards. I screamed with pathos as the once busy jolly resort was turning into an ageing rock chick, their black manes revealing a grey line along their crowns. The make-up was liberally applied but the lines, the crows feet and the bulging body squeezed into their size ten jeans show their real age. That was New Brighton. It was crying for a lick of paint and a revival.

One sad summer, I saw the remains of the pier. It lay fragmented, devoid of all life as if it had been abandoned to the river.

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Looming above was the space where the tower and ballroom once stood. The icons had turned into memories. Only a walk along the sea wall would give me the reassurance of this wonderful old place.

I’d studied the history of Wallasey. It was diverse and romantic. I wanted to be there, climbing up Egremont pier or taking the lift up New Brighton Tower.

Some days I would do a mega walk. That would be the whole day dedicated to walking. Moreton Cross would be common. But there were days when I had to walk. I remember waking up in Hoylake on a Monday morning. I needed to be at work by eight. I had to charge to the cross with that air of determination only a Monday could give. It confused my mum. At the time she expected me drooping down the stairs, I was knocking at the front door.

Sometime in June 1980, I embarked upon by biggest walk. It was a tour of North Wirral. I skipped the docks by taking the bus to Charing Cross. Then I walked to Storeton Road and down Levers Causeway. I followed a tiny lane to Brimstage before emerging at the Devon Doorway.

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Then it was down to Wirral Way through West Kirby to Hoylake. Just before Moreton Cross, I gave up and waited for a bus. Was I tired? No. I just didn’t want to be late for Sunday night at the King’s Arms.

Another great fascination was the docks between Seacombe and Woodside. They were mostly deserted but offered that fantastic sense of local history. I’d follow railway lines until they were lost in the road. I used to gaze at the crumbling structure of the railway terminal.

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I watched visiting ships gliding cautiously through the bridges. Crew members from far off places would be dangling buffers over the side in case they hit the dock wall.

It’s ironic that now I struggle to take a couple of steps. MS has robbed me of my walks.

All those paths and roads.

All those mountains in Wales. (There’s another blog in the making.)

All that shoe leather.

Thank-you for reading.         

Let all the children……….

Did Sir David get it right? 

“There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me”:

Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie”

The chorus is gloriously vague except for one thing:

“Let the children”. And the word boogie? We can set off on a whole roller-coaster of inferences and associations by this word alone.

Who is the Starman?

A superior being or entity with wisdom and hindsight?

Between 1991 and 1995, I spent four fantastic years “boogieing” (I checked it on the spell-checker) with children in Michael Faraday School in Walworth. There was learning going on and there was discipline going on but we were surrounded by so much fun, it didn’t seem like work.

I like to think I took a bit of this with me into Southborough. It was more subtle but still an essential part of my philosophy. In between all of this sparkling galaxy of creative learning was a growing respect for all of the small humans that I met. I met some exceptional ones.

Most of us give ourselves a licence to don our rose-tinted spectacles and dwell on the wonders of our childhood. We look back longingly at our carefree fun-filled days when everything seemed magical. We knew there were baddies around but they were given fairy-tale villain status.

Not every child I’ve taught can claim this, however. For some, the circumstances were tipped against them. I can sort of put this into a number of categories. Like Bowie’s lyrics, they are ambiguous and questionable but to use a dreadful teaching phrase, they are formed on a “best fit” basis:

Physical impairment and disability.

Neglect.

Mental issues.

Learning difficulties.

I want to give my tribute to these remarkable people because of their courage and determination. Every child wants to play, every child wants to learn and every child wants to learn through play and experience.

Physical impairment:

Child A was a young boy of 10 with spina bifida. From the waist down there was nothing; no strength or feeling. In school, his legs were supported by braces and special shoes so he could walk with crutches. A was bloody good at it too. He played sports and went out every break time. His limitations were never an excuse. In fact, they were hardly limitations. The determination was there, his spirit was admirable. One day we were at the local police station on a mini-trip. To get in the back way we had to climb five steps:

“There’s nothing for it A, I’ll have to carry you in.” My word, he was not from delicate stock. But I did it. I have taught others with varying degrees of disability. Some have had other issues as well. They may have driven me mad but I still admired them. Growing up is a hard full-time occupation. I’m still doing it. 

Neglect:

There are reasons for neglect.

Those who consider ourselves as normal find such reasons unforgivable. In my experience, neglect has stemmed from an addiction of some sort, be it alcohol or drugs. Their circumstances have been fundamentally affected by this. The child who comes into school starving with dirty and tired sad eyes may often be mocked by their peers. Their concentration is poor while they see a widening gap between themselves and the rest of the class.

Child B was the son of a drug addict. His mother was honest about her predicament but like so many, she thought herself a victim. B was seriously disturbed. His behaviour was inappropriate in an intimate and social way. No real school work and learning ever took place.

Naturally, I tried everything but he wouldn’t even do anything on his own terms. It was hard to like him. B was never going to get the special, specific education he needed. He was destined to become one of society’s outcasts. I worried for his safety and sanity. He was shunned by the rest of the class who were quite nasty about it when they thought I was out of earshot. For these reasons, B was exceptional. He could still manage to pass himself off as a reasonable, thinking young person. But inside, I knew he was tortured. B showed uncommon bravery for someone so young. He knew he was going to be different and he was afraid of himself. I hope beyond hope that now, at the age of 33 he is ok. Experience detects a difficult life and I wonder about his mum.I’m not sure if he’ll ever boogie.

There have been other children who have been neglected. Most of them have appreciated my support-you can’t refuse, can you? I’d have organised a whole breakfast club for these poor little souls but I’d have met with too much negative sneering. “We’re not made of money you know. if we do this for some, we have to offer it to everyone.”

My reply:

“And?”

Mental issues:

It’s not just children with issues. Many parents have intimated their own problems and their concerns about how it’s affected their children. There’s no specific child here, I want to highlight some of the ways mental issues manifest themselves in the classroom. Firstly, the refusers. Why wouldn’t children want to come to school? It goes back to the parents. Some just didn’t care, some were too soft and some were more paranoid about school than their children. The fact that I actually saw the children is a tribute to their character.

One little girl made it quite clear that she wanted to be elsewhere. Her mother was equally emphatic. She questioned the point of holding 30 children at their desks and forcing them into doing things they resented. She was wrong. The little girl had good attendance however. But the mother insisted that we were not offering the right environment. I’m sorry but I was offering the right environment and I wonder what your problem is? An inkling of an answer came five years later after a night in the acute stroke ward in some hospital or other.

The mother appeared in the morning on the day shift. She could not refuse my request to tie my shoelaces. It shouldn’t have been personal but she made it obvious that she resented doing that simple task. I still admire the young girl for responding to my encouragement and humour but indignant about the mother. She claimed teachers were only in it for the money. That was her parting shot as the nice young man appeared to wheel me out. Many years before, another school refuser had most of a term absent from the class. It was a nice class. They were nice to each other. There may have been a couple of potential first class bitches in there but I had the parents on my side. The problem was the girl’s mother. “She’s always layin’ in bed,” she would say while the poor girl had to get herself ready. I had no ideas about the mother’s own problems; depression perhaps? What brought her back was another mum. “I told her that if she comes back, she can come with us to the Bristol carnival.” What a kind gesture from a single mum already struggling with her own circumstances. She was soon back looking very nervous. As she saw me approach, she flinched, expecting the wrath of Khan. I smiled and welcomed her, saying how nice it was to have her own brand of sunshine back in the classroom.

Learning difficulties:

Firstly there are the children who generally struggle. They will often see themselves as belonging to some form of underclass. No matter what we say to them, they know they are battling whilst others are flying. I have to admit, that I have sometimes been left floundering with such children. The demands of a whole class have sometimes taken too much of my focus. But the need for a good working environment has always been my first priority. I may well have expected too much of my teaching assistants. I don’t know. All I know is that I could be consumed by the general needs of a whole class. It certainly improved. By the end, I was on top of it, only to discover the villain called apathy. There would be a look of bemusement at the efforts being made:

“Why are you bothering? I’m not going to. I’m going to sit here, away with the fairies.” If only a sense of helping oneself had been encouraged from an early age; even before school. On the other hand, some children made huge efforts and huge strides. They relished in the attentions charging their way from everyone involved. I had a boy called Z. Z was a festering lump, showing no interest in anything apart from a favourite football team. The head admitted that the school had let him down. His mum was making accusations everywhere she found a target. He was with me for two years. At the end of his year 5 the mother threw the report back in my face whilst spitting blood. It was an honest report, highlighting his attitude and how it affected his achievement. I used a football phrase:

“It’s only half-time. If a team have had a poor first half, they get a bollocking from their manager.”

She walked off in search of the head, a common recipient of this mother’s venom. And football is how I did it. The rest of the class liked it too as the maths became linked to many sports and we looked at report writing. Then he began to read; yes, they were football reports from a dreadful scumbag tabloid, but he began to read and form opinions. We came to a complex word (I wish I could remember it). He read it correctly before I showed the same word to one of my high fliers. He struggled with it.

Job done.

Many teachers can point to other areas where children have become heroes. I can also say that all of the pupils I have taught have given me an enhanced raison d’etre. Teaching has always been full on.

If you’re committed, you’ll do the work and take the flak.

I had to admit defeat in the end as my body had failed with my spirit. It was total exhaustion. I’m still fighting the consequences. The marvel of social media allows me further contact with a lot of the exceptional people I taught.

By the way, the oldest pupil I taught would now be 47 while my first piano pipul would be  48.

We boogied.

Thank you for reading.    

The bucket list

How very modern. Even with a disabling chronic illness, it is perfectly feasible to have one. It might not be as adventurous as the daring adventures of the modern generation but it’s there; something to aim for.

Here’s mine:

Highly likely.

To go to the National Art Gallery, view some Titian and eat some quiche. That’s at the nash, seeing some teesh and having quiche.

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Spend some more time in my favourite cities; London, Barcelona, Liverpool.

Go on the Eurostar.

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Do the London eye.

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Go to Berlin and attend a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic.

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Visit Goodison Park one last time. 

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Cruise the Fjords.

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Tour the Baltic States.

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Go whale watching.

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Have one of my books published.

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Less likely:

Visit New York as an independent traveller.

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Sail down the Panama Canal.

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Sail to Fingal’s Cave-Staffa.

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Fire a rifle. (At a target, not an animal.)

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Play an acting role.

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Impossible:

Climb up Snowdon. The train is still a possibility.

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Swim with dolphins. Or even sink with dolphins.

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Do a parachute jump. Imagine me trying to land.

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Lose more weight. Oh, how I’ve tried.

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Other things may occur to me as I trundle through life but I am trying to be reasonable about it.

I would like to be quicker with my rapier-like ripostes to the ignorant, the short-sighted and the nay-sayers.

Thank-you for reading.

Sauce

I remember HP sauce. It was well used at 65 Harrismith Road. There was always a bottle on the table. The table was in the kitchen. That’s the kitchen which was the living room as opposed to the back kitchen where the sink and the cooker stood. It was too tangy and hot for me but my dad loved it so I too was determined to like it.

It started with fried bread. Just a little bit though. I became hooked. In my teenage years, I would turn down my mum’s Sunday roast gravy in favour of HP.

Ahhhh Bisto = artificial beef flavour. I still don’t use ready made stocks from gravy granules disguised as bouillon. As if a French word makes it better.

Then, sometime in the early nineties, I noticed a change. My beloved HP had gone all mild and sweet. I was devasted. That lovely upright bottle displaying the Houses of Parliament was no longer. How very dare they? HP had been dumbed down to suit the more continental taste.

Along with Colman’s English mustard, it had represented the English tendency for fire-breathing sinus-clearing raw piquancy.

Image result for colemans mustard powderNow it had gone.

For a brief period, I shifted my allegiance to Daddies. I used to go to Tesco’s in Pembury for it. It’s a decent sauce but I wanted more.

Answer? Make my own. Oh, thank-you internet. I googled brown sauce recipe and picked up the basics. A sweet pulp, a dark dried fruit and a mixture of vinegar and sugar all boiled down to a delicious mushy piece of sauce heaven.

The recipe I first followed used apple and prunes with my own favourite mix of vinegar and spices. Then, as usual with the one-handed cook, I decided to get creative. It needn’t stop with apples. in every supermarket, you can buy these 1-kilo bags of root vegetables, namely carrots and sweet potatoes. If you’re like me, the price is attractive but there are too many of them to use before they go all squidgy.

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Don’t use apples.

Ingredients:

450g carrots and sweet potatoes

1 medium onion

120g sultanas

90 ml tamarind tea

90-120g sugar (how sweet are you?)

120ml vinegar (any)

1 tsp allspice

1tsp ground ginger

1tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1/2 tsp salt

squirt of tomato puree

2 tbs pomegranate molasses (optional, I love it)

300ml water  Peel the carrots and sweet potato. I wouldn’t normally do this but I wanted to avoid any scum forming. I have a neat preparation board to help one-handers.

My left hand just watches and admires. I also think it’s worth investing in a really good peeler.

Roughly chop the veg and onion.

Cover with water in a large saucepan, add the sultanas and simmer until soft. (35-45 minutes. Don’t rush it.) 

When this is done, add the rest of the ingredients and continue to simmer.

If you’re bored, remove it from the heat and blend. Put it back and simmer until thickened. It will become slightly thicker as it cools.

Dispense it into sterilised jars and seal well.

Keep them in the fridge.

Whilst the colour is more autumnal than the traditional brown, this is a strong sweet savoury sauce worthy of anything you have in front of you. Any of the ingredients can be varied. Because of the natural sweetness of the vegetables, I kept the sugar content low.

Even though the cooking time is quite long, you can just leave it to simmer away while you do some crochet or weeding or even continue with other chores in the kitchen.

I like to wear a frilly apron and call myself Betty in a west country accent.

Thank-you for reading. 

Crossroads

Which way do you go? Most crossroads are sign-posted. They let you know which goes where. At the top of my town, it’s called the cross. There’s even a pub called The Cross.

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It’s obviously the site of an old coach house. I can imagine the sweat from the horses as they’re taken by the ostler to their overnight stables. There would have been views across the newly formed farms. To turn left would take you to the south coast; Brighton and Eastbourne. Turning right will lead to the spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells while straight on goes into the small villages on the rim of Kent and Sussex.

If we put the crossroads into our life, the sign-posts would be less clear.

Passmores-Business-College-JB4A crossroads in life represents new directions. We are given a choice. Do we change direction? Do we go straight on or do we turn round and scuttle back into the dull comfort of familiarity?

Thirty years ago, I reached the biggest crossroads ever. The year 1988 started with joy. I was in Australia with my good friend George (RIP). It was a great holiday. I returned home to an English winter all tanned and bursting with life.

400417_108266732629373_515001721_n And life was good.

I had loads of piano and cello pupils. These were lovely people and I was quite happy spending seven days a week teaching in Frodsham and Wirral. I’d even changed my car. My beloved Cortina, The Old Queen, had given way to a 1968 Wolseley 1660. It was an elegant but cumbersome bitch which stood out in a world of samey cars morphing into the streamlined characterless tins we see today.

For my day job, my doctor friend Ian; he was a psychiatric registrar, had given me the use of his garage so I was free to play with the old cars I loved.

Ideal?

No.

I missed lazy Sunday mornings, I missed week-day early doors and I missed the security of a salary. The car work was frustrating, I was permanently filthy and my own lovely car needed too much TLC. I had so many piano pupils it was impossible to think straight. I liked the teacher-pupil interaction but I saw them for half an hour once a week. Not enough.

In September 1986, I was once more rejected by a college for a PGCE course.

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At the same time, two piano teachers left the Frodsham area. I took advantage and cleaned up. I said that when the numbers dipped, I would make another attempt for a PGCE place. Privately, I was hoping it was sooner rather than later. For this reason, I was prepared to teach until I screamed and spend day times skimming my knuckles on the cold irons of ageing stubborn engines.

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My favourite job was sills. For £10, I would hammer in your old rusty sill and weld a new one (£3.25, Partco) over it in half an hour.

While the whole year was awash with parties and celebrations, there were dark clouds billowing slowly in the back of my head. During a fantastic holiday in Corfu, I had time to reflect with my mate Chris. He was also a former pupil of Eva and a deep thinker like myself. One day was spent sitting at the table of our taverna talking of our times past and what we had learned. Chris hinted that I should start to read novels.

He was currently reading Orlando by Virginia Woolf.

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I had a few sneaky reads and found it drawing me into its world so I was open to suggestions. Then one afternoon, he took the book and threw it onto the beach. He thought it overly burlesque to be feasible. He was actually fed up of Woolf’s supercilious rhetoric and fancied being a bit of a drama queen. Oh, how he loved to play the intellectual eccentric.drama-queen

We were both hankering for new times ahead. Privately, we were steeling ourselves for change. The crossroads were emerging. After my Corfu holiday, I was taking an evening stroll along the prom. I bumped into Peter MacLeod with his daughter Kristy. He told me to just go for it. It’s funny how so many people bombard you with “good” advice. They look to the heavens and take a deep breath before spouting their sagacious intelligence. It’s always wrong. It takes a person who’s in tune with you. We’ve had ups and downs and supported each other. Those few words in that fleeting moment fired me into action. 

I’m always grateful for having choices. I had choices because I’d worked for them. Days spent practising and studying had given me qualifications. They were the key to choices.

That autumn, I saw my very first west-end musical. My lovely friend Sara and I saw Chess.

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The musical was a bit bleugh but we had a good night out and went to the Southbank the next day for an afternoon concert by the Philharmonia. Sara had made the decision to move south. It set a seed in my own mind.

At this time, I was on a fitness mission. It was forty lengths every morning followed by a muesli breakfast, fruit for lunch and a frugal tea. No drink in the week! I became as fit as a butcher’s dog.

But the clouds were there.1_8X-M_6aWgg5jH94nLS3w6w

My old car packed up and I was feeling let down by people. My health was becoming……..I don’t know, just weird and unfathomable.

When I saw that Liverpool University was offering a six month part-time EFL course, I went for it and was accepted. After the PGCE interview disappointments, I realised that all I had to do was be myself. It was time to apply again. At least, if I was unsuccessful, I could fall back on the EFL course. But where was I to go?

Leeds!

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I’d worked out that despite me wanting to teach in a primary school, I’d have a better chance with music in secondary. My mate Martin lived near Leeds. I’d found him accommodation for his PGCE in Chester so he was only too glad to return the favour. On the final day of posting in December, I put in my application. Then I partied like there was no tomorrow.

The clouds were still there but I ignored them. One friend noticed. She saw the truth through my jolly super fit vivacious front. She could see the clouds too.

“Steve, remember a lot of people love you.” These were the words of Julie Waring. She is a purveyor of truths, both beautiful and ugly. A true friend. Through her own turmoil, she still cared for me.

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I was interviewed by David Dawson at Leeds. He had no airs or graces. Straight away I knew I was being taken seriously. I am grateful for his faith in me. I wasn’t your conventional graduate. My past was chequered and hardly screamed reliable. But he gave me a chance.

I received the acceptance letter in early February. I opened it in private before entering the living room to make the great announcement. I didn’t get the chance.

“So, you’ve got in then,” said Dad. I looked. “It sounded like thunder,” he continued. Well, I had been jumping up and down with unbridled joy in my bedroom.

The crossroads was there and I was making the most definite emphatic turn. I’d worked it all out. At the weekend I’d return to teach and help my pittance of a grant. I could pick the pupils I wanted to. They were my Frodsham favourites. When I first started there in 1982, a group of motherly friends sent their daughters to be taught by me. I was still teaching them. The lessons were laid back and gentle. They were all fourteen years old and absolutely hilarious.

Happy days. Busy days. Nothing new.

The clouds were still there but I told them to fuck off. They are still here but they will never win.

Thank-you for reading.