Sport; is there anything more ridiculous?

If there was no sport, what would we see on the back pages of a newspaper? It could be reserved for the stories and columnists that leave you seething with anger. Stories based on half truths that can send you into meltdown. Columnists with extreme views on touchy subjects perhaps? Imagine if the whole back page was dedicated to the opinions of that Hopkinson woman? It would have to come with a government health warning and plastic pages to wipe off all the blood you’d be spitting. We could refer to it as the angry backside.

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Charming

They could also be used for minority interests; not everyone is into every sport remember. Imagine the headlines:

“Another origami company folds.”

“Knitting club gets into a tangle with the VAT man.”

“Mountain biking on the up.”

“French polishers rub each other.” (Kinky)

“Carpet cleaners beating a path to success.”

“Chocolateers go into meltdown over new business rates.”

“Spoon collectors scoop golden award.”

Nah, let’s stick to sport. 

But sport is ridiculous. Players carry out ridiculous rituals for ridiculous money.

Tennis.

tennis_champion_serena_williams_lets_her_prowess_d_52d65b4112Two players slap hairy balls to each other. They run about like idiots. Some of them have their own mating call. It’s in the form of a manly grunt or scream as they thrash away at a serve or return. (Both genders obvs.) In a long rally it could almost become rhythmic. And those overhead smashes? It’s remote control high fiving. Then there’s the sweat. Rivers of it. Yuck!

Golf.

Golf?

Seriously?

“A good walk ruined” according to Mark Twain. Big sticks, tiny balls and little holes. Drives, chips, putts and sandpits. Competitors spend three or four days going round the same course dressed in ludicrous clothing followed by thousands of golf groupies, each wishing for their own little moments of glory and a swing like Rory’s.

Golf-Pants It deals in negative numbers. Who wants to accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive? Imagine at the nineteenth hole when, after a round of -12, our champion orders a half empty glass of bitter?

Rugby:

Oh, aren’t they just awesome?

maxresdefault (1)Men over fifteen stone who can run a sub eleven second hundred meters. Thirty of them; muscle bound with necks as broad as their waists, all fighting to get their hands on a leathery egg.

With their multi coloured gumshields they can do fine impressions of Bond’s Jaws. It’s like sumo meets line dancing. There is no doubt that such extreme manly brutality brings out the beast in its supporters who wince and cringe at the complete bodily carnage played out in front of them. They have my respect.

The problem I have with rugby is attitude. For a sport supposedly played by people of intelligence, they still come out with the same old cliche based rhetoric for which the common footballer is ridiculed for. It is now a well paid professional sport and it’s international players at least have made great financial gains. But there is always an undercurrent of resentment from both players and supporters aimed at footballers and their injury antics. The fans of both are equally tribal. They chant and boo. They drink and piss all over the place. They swear and leave litter.

Horse racing:

This is controversial. Horses die on the race track. The whole concept of selective breeding prodcing animals of vulnerable temperament and the inevitable shorter life span is a walking controversy.

ShireHorseFor centuries we have harnessed the power of this magnificent beast. Horses love to run. This should make horse racing the most natural of sports. Like so many modern sports however, we are privvy to all the shady goings on that accompany it. It is one big money sport. Horses cost a bit more than football boots and a replica Doncaster Rovers kit.

Most people who bet, bet on horses. Sport can be a magnet for corruption and subterfuge. Horse racing has always been publicly criticised for this. What makes horse racing ridiculous? The size of the jockeys.

bb1ecef1f15b68de238dda27417d10e9How very sizeist of me. Then there’s the running round in circles and the shady looking bookies tick tacking by the rails in their pork pie hats and pencil moustaches.

Cricket:

I’m sorry but cricket is not ridiculous.

unjnown-australian-teamsA sea of green and parched cropped grass, two men (or women) with a bat trying to hit a shiny ball, ten men (or women) trying to stop it, a man (or woman) with big gloves and two men (or women)  in white coats sticking their finger up seems normal to me. On the field of play we have silly point, short square leg and deep fine leg. We all love a third man but I’ve never seen a slip fielder in a slip.

“Intikhab was caught having a discreet slash outside the off stump.”

“The bowler’s Holding the batsman’s Willey.”

“Botham hit his wickets trying to get his leg over.”

No,nothing strange about that.

Cricket is not ridiculous by the very nature of its language. It teaches us euphemisms and metaphors. It’s teeming with humour and cake. It’s cuddly and warming.

Just don’t get hit by the ball.

Football:

This doesn’t need any explanation. Feigning injury in the most spectacular way is a true art. The ranting of the touchline managers and the blindness of their prejudice  is laughable. Football has given rise to disproportionate earnings and media dominance.

358317646_9d5ac2eb43_zIt’s a world full of prima donnas and over-elaborate tattoos. Just look at the hair.

The association with gang violence is particularly disturbing.

Tyne-Wear-football-violence-in-Newcastle-City-centreThe tarring of all supporters as violent yobs is even more so. And all that spitting and swearing on the pitch. Oh dear, such a poor example to the youth of today.

But I love it.

Is it worth mentioning American sport? No.

Mock me as much as you want but it’s part of me. I pay a lot to watch football. It is ridiculous and I don’t care. Many other sports can be classified as ridiculous:

Going down hills on sticks.

Throwng things and shouting.

Jumping into sand.

Hitting tiny balls against a wall.

Running twenty six miles.

Pedalling on a tiny seat dressed in lycra.

Knocking ten tons of shite out of someone in a rectangular ring.

Driving in noisy cars.

Throwing little pointed missiles into a board.

Air punching and shouting “YESSSSS”

I would miss sport. I would recommend everyone tries it at some stage. Sport has taught me how to deal with disappointment. I’ve witnessed false dawns, had my hopes dashed and been the butt of so many merciless jibes.

It’s good character building stuff. 

Thank you for reading. 

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Truths, half truths and downright ignorance

I have strong words for those who practise the above in relation to my condition. Social media is awash with great platitudes declaring the strength and fortitude of those suffering from such damning conditions. We need it. But we’re not special. It helps us to focus. I’m always trying to explain my illness and feelings in a calm rational way. Then again…………….

“It’s all right for some,” said J, as we stood there admiring my brand new shiny Ford. 

“Yes it is,” I replied. “Some people can walk unaided, some people don’t have crippling fatigue, some people……..”

I calmly sat in my new silver chariot and drove off into the sun set.

“What do you spend all that money on?” I was asked by the person looking at the DLA rates on his laptop. Why a perfectly healthy properly functioning human being was interested in my benefits beats me.

“Whisky and wine,” I said nonchalantly. “It’s the only way I can cope with not being the man I was.”

whisky-1“Have you tried going to the gym?” suggested someone else. All that was worth was the famous withering McChrystal look. Rose has got that look as well. I’m so proud.

Do you know when you’re taking time to explain some of the more hidden aspects of your condition and even though the person nods and hums, they actually believe you are making it up?

Just because they can’t see it. Too many people have created unseen symptoms for their own reasons and the human race is now conditioned to nod and not believe simultaneously?

That’s what makes neuropathic pain such fun. The confused signals of my mixed up brain play voodoo dolls with me every time I move. Yes the pain is real. Yes it feels harmful. Yes you’d better believe me.

s-l1000It’s so clear that so many simply don’t understand the realities of disability yet they still offer their views or ideas. Why let ignorance get in the way of making oneself heard? In this day of information overload why can’t people just take the time to look into the basics?

I have MS. I have scrutinised the general symptoms on the society’s website. So much rings true. Now I know a lot of people believe me and I also know that those suspicious of my claims have made absolutely no effort to simply have a look. Five minutes on the site would give so many straight answers but some people would rather wallow in their own assumptions. I suppose it’s a better weapon for argument if you believe someone is just lazy with a feeble web of excuses rather than actually ill.

“But you don’t look sick.”

“What are you taking for it?”

“What does the doctor say?” 

The second one bugs me the most.

150408holdingpillsmedicine-stockI have chosen not to take medication for my condition because for me, nothing has worked. I’ve talked through and discussed this with many fellow sufferers and I think the side effects of such powerful drugs are not worth the risk. We are all affected differently. (Who the hell believes that? Just another excuse to sit on the sofa like a lemon getting everyone else to do the work.)

Some people, and I do not refer to anyone else who is affected by a long term chronic condition; I mean some of the healthy people, think that every affectation should be accompanied by medication. If it’s prescribed, all the better; it makes them feel a little more special. It’s not a bloody badge of honour. Look at the recent news about antibiotics.

“Have you been to the doctor about that?” 

“No, I’m sick of going to the doctor. I know my injured foot will heal. I don’t need a bundle of anti-inflammataries sitting proudly on the shelf.”

“And I don’t need to take anything for my blocked nose. Paperhankies and patience will do the trick. After all, my immune system is positively rampant.”

This leads me to fatigue.

“Oh I get tired too!”

“Yes that’s why we go to bed.” Unfortunately, our modern day problems, busy lives and children may disrupt our beauty sleep leaving us drained, lethargic and short tempered. That’s life folks.

SHORT-TEMPERBut when one’s body is constantly fighting with itself, our excuse for doing naff-all; sorry our chronic fatigue hits new levels. Healthy people are tired due to lack of sleep.

Even when I’m asleep, that good old immune sytem is playing merry hell with the good guys; the bits of me which keep me healthy. I can sleep for twelve hours and wake up tired.

I’m doing my level best not to turn this into a rant by the way.

And let’s not go into mental health issues. I’ve had enough of those. Suffice to say that a significant proportion of the general populous see it as a weakness.

A term now beginning to circulate amongst general society is “brain fog”.

best-supplements-for-brain-fogI make no exclusive claim to brain fog. Brain fog can happen when one’s mind is overloaded with crucial issues. In fact, it’s a good term. It’s both succinct and descriptive.

Maybe I have brain fog too. I can stare at the fridge wondering why.

800px_COLOURBOX4887997 I can go into a room and instantly forget my intentions. No! It’s not special.

I have trouble with sequencing. Mentally setting out a list of simple tasks in a soecific order is impossible. Do I wail about it? No, I use a notebook. If I have a weakness I’ll work on it; hence cooking and organising the kitchen. 

“You’re getting old like the rest of us.” 

Give me strength. This is often spouted by those resentful of any such exclusivity attached to a life affecting condition. Why are they resentful?

“Oh, I see, where being given money, we’re being allowed to retire early, blah de flipping blah.”

Do you know what I remember? I remember cycling like a mad man. I remember climbing mountains in horrendous conditions. I remember exploring every in of my locality. I remember swimming a mile a day. I remember getting my grade 8 cello and my LTCL.

What would I give to get it all back?

giveback

No answer needed.

Thank you for reading.

Understanding

When I went into school teaching I had no idea. I knew  I wanted to do it but I wanted to work in a primary school. I had to make do with qualifying as a secondary music teacher. It was an unspectacular first year. The head of music was a dried up old soak and the department was seriously under equipped. I met some great people on the staff and I had the novelty of living in London.

Then I found a proper job in a primary school on a council estate. It was what I wanted. After four years of hard graft, forging teacher/pupil bonds with tough customers, I felt ready to go to the provinces.

I wasn’t expecting a walk in the park but I was rapidly learning the gift of true understanding and the art of giving some latitude to anyone and everyone.

It wasn’t a case of treating pupils as equals; they weren’t. It was a case of using discretion and being fair.

The biggest learning curve for all children is out on the playground away from the ears and eyes of the teachers. That’s where the pecking order is established. And it’s a confusing network of multi-facted relationships.

From the days of teacher training and the tedium of in service development where the only thing of interest was lunch, there have been countless noble statements relating to equality of opportunity and enablement for the fulfillment of potential. I say sausages to all that. Children need careful handling and that involves the appropriate delegation of time and effort to individuals according to their needs.

assess-understanding-history I’m not talking about giving extra time to groups who are struggling. You never found me reiterating in a crescendo of exasperated frustration. If those little compartments of understanding were found to be locked, I’d tunnel or parachute in with a different approach.

This was quite tricky with the buzzards of senior management, school improvers and the pointless institution of OFSTED hovering above. But I’m not here to moan about that.

Let me offer some examples of the understanding I gave and its subsequent outcomes. This is in no particular order. Some children just had to have their five minutes a day. One small girl did it with charm, persuasion  and persistence. I gave it to her. She was bright and independent but needed that little bit of extra.

That’s understanding.

Some others had been seen as absolute pains by other teachers. I was warned about their underhand ways of getting the attention. I made them laugh, gave them praise when it was deserved and smiled at them.

I think I understood that one.

There were two main principles underlying my methods. I had to show them who was boss. I was a mountain of obdurate insistence. The teacher trainers warned of confrontational circumstances. I thrived on it.

The second was humour. A bit of sharp incisive observational wit could light up the dullest of winter mornings. A combination of the two worked wonders.

When I first started teaching, I was concerned about not knowing everyone’s name. In my large sprawling comprehensive, I had eighteen different classes a week. That was over five hundred students. I needed reminding about the quiet ones. Then in primary I noticed that some teachers were vague about their children. These were quiet unassuming little people often left pottering away in the corner in a class dominated by a few troubled souls.

charles-kettering-inventor-quote-knowing-is-not-understanding-thereWell it was not going to happen in my class. Extend the understannding and engage with everyone, especially the quiet ones who never bother anyone. They too have personality and humour. It was very much the case of showing the human side. One boy reported to me that previous teachers “picked on” him. I took the time to explain the ins and outs of the rights and responsibilities involved in the learning community and how sometimes, in the adult world, we have to grind through some of the duller parts of the day.

I always pointed out to the class when some work needed that extra bit of grindedness (new word) to get through it.

The art of teaching lies in spotting learning opportunities. Was sitting at a desk bored out of one’s pants a learning opportunity? It’s up to the teacher to make it one. Once during one of the better training days, I remember our tutor using humour and variety to keep us going. We were learning about teaching writing. We were encouraged to create a bubbling creative classroom with lots of teacher/pupil to pupil interaction. I was hooked. It was laying down the foundations for my future teaching. Then one teacher rather cinically remarked that to get her class to learn like this was going to end in squabbling and riot shields.

“Are you in the right job?” I asked from my usual position at the back of the room.

She looked round with a face of fury. How dare I question her competence?

understand Well I was, and forunately there was a collection of male teachers around me so no-one had any idea who said it. My year six colleague just about held it together. I thought she was going to burst.

The understanding also extends to parents. It really pays to know what expectations are swimming around in the pedagogic soup. Hovering mothers and unrealistic expectations can lead you into the jungle of pitfalls and vicious snares. And these people ae grown ups. Should they know better? Do theyknow any different? It’s worth a mention but not a discussion.

I don’t have a “finest year” or memorable class” as such because every year had its highs and lows. Some classes had previously been under siege from the dominance of one or two characters. It needed the absolute wall of resistance to open the opportunities of the year out to the rest of the class.

In one such year, it was a pleasure to see everyone thrive. It was strange because there was a sort of inbuilt resilience to the outrageous deviation of one child. I used it. I had a lot of wine given to me in July. But it doesn’t always work.

alberteinstein1-2xWith some children I have just presented myself as an almighty immovable object for the sake of the majority. And it’s not just me.

I’ve been honoured to work with so many talented teachers who have been consumate experts in exercising understanding and giving time. We’ve not always agreed but that doesn’t take away my respect. It’s assuring to know that despite the modern regime, real teachers are still there, pounding at the beat of real learning and can still fight off the hyenas and their obsession with numbers.

It’s not a job for the faint hearted and I have genuine fears about the way the profession has been stained by universal assumptions and the land grabbing opportunism of politicians.

Unlike many politicians, we teachers give.

Thank you for reading.       

Fast food

Fast food is with us. It’s rammed down our throats through slick saturation marketing, promoting itself as cool and convenient. Those warm sweet saturated fats are transformed into something truly wonderful and succulent and satisfying and filling and downright puke inducing.

We see those meaty juicy burgers bubbling from the griddle being dressed with fresh crisp salad and pure squares of colourful clean cheese before being pressed into a bouncing lightly toasted bun and presented with a cute smile to the ebullient customers, delighted at the integrity of their choice.920x920

The truth?

Fifty shades of mush.

It’s not pig flavoured, cow flavoured, scrawny chicken flavoured, cute little battery lamb flavoured or veggie flavoured.

maxresdefault It doesn’t have to be. The advertising has done it all for them. That corporate styling of colours, dress codes and sales speak attracts cutomers like flies to (perm any one from three) big macs, whoppers or the glorious products of Colonel Sanders.

“This is not fair” I hear some say.

“It’s a treat for children of all ages.” 

“It’s part of a day out.”

“They take all the hassle out of birthday parties.”

maxresdefault (1)Indeed.

One of the more recent marketing ploys aims to debunk the idea that many of these fine foods include bulls’ testicles and sheep’s ears. The products obviously undergo a series of rigorous inspections before being fit to be called MacBurger’s finest.

Indeed.

In fact, I could sit here and glibly gloat about the overall shiteness of these popular institutions and the moronity of those who feel compelled to frequent them. My last visit to one of these places was in August 1994. It was not memorable even though I remember it! But that’s just me. I cannot criticise people for following trends and seeking fun. Over ten million idiots can’t be wrong can they?

(Stop this etlitist vaunting right now. There is absolutely no need to go on about the smugness of your own dietary choices whilst deeply admonishing those that deviate from your sanctimonious quest for gastronimic nirvana!)

Sorry, my conscience has just told me off.

The fact is, the industry is here and it’s popular. It’s far too easy to sit back and fire potshots. It is an open target. Like betting shops, fast food joints now dominate our high streets and shopping centres. C’est la vie. Or if you want to take the medical approach, focusing on type two diabetes, chostrol and obesity, C’est la malaise.gordito

I could also go on about that subway place and the deceptive vague language they use. “Freshly prepared” could actually involve week old ingredients. Then there’s the oft used “Traditional.” Does old fashioned mean good? Corporal punishment in schools was considered traditional. Look at the good old fashioned habits and morals of the Vicorians.

Indeed.

Fast food however, does not just belong on the street. Many of our dear luvvy wuvvy TV chefs get that little smug hit from declaring that many of our kitchen staples are a source of fast food.

Take the egg. Of course we all buy free range. Boiled, fried, poached, scrambled etc, the egg is a versatile nutritious protein rich product born out of deleriously happy hens romping around in their fresh green paddock, picking out worms and making that cute gurgling noise.

free-range-hensIndeed.

This is a paragraph from an article in Ethical Survey; an online magazine promoting fairness, compassion and responsibility: 

“In order to qualify as free range, laying hens must have constant daytime access to the outside world, with available outdoor space of 4 square metres per bird. However, with nothing to stipulate how many exits from the barn must be made available, many “free range” facilities end up being nothing more than crowded barns with one or two small flaps available for outside access. With current EU regulations stating that the indoor housing for free range birds need only provide a square metre of space for every 9 hens, many modern barns can house well over ten thousand hens in cramped, multi-tiered facilities that are a world away from the happy free range chickens advertised on egg boxes and in television commercials. In fact, due to the sheer volume of birds living in these cramped conditions with such limited access to practical exits, many of Britain’s apparently free range hens will never spend any time outdoors at all.”

henDo we believe that? Do we want to believe it?  Can that precious term “Free Range” be so slippery?

Let’s look at bread. A few minutes in the toaster gives us an instant hit of crisp hot satisfaction. It’s the perfect thing to have first thing in the morning (“Or any time,” says he in that jolly, slightly patronising manner.) oozing with butter and a sweet marmalade. There’s even egg on toast or boiled egg with soldiers. Double delight. You can’t get more natural than that.

Do you know what the Chorleywood Bread Process is? It’s used in all but the rarest of artisan bakeries. The method sort of force feeds the bread in order to cut down the rising time. Even most of the small bakeries on the street corner buy in pre-made dough created in this way. The supermarkets who claim to bake in their very own in-store bakery use this type of dough as well. But isn’t that wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread so tempting?

Yes it is, that’s why I bake my own using the slow coach method. I think the mass media has convinced us that we live such busy lives. We have no time to spend making choices and cooking with time and love. We have phones to stare at, passing cheap jokes between virtual friends or expressing disgust at fake news and half read articles.

That TV chef, you know, the cheeky chappy with the sticky out tongue.

jamieolivercartoon

He dashes around his vast well stocked kitchen flipping pans and banging packets of spaghetti on his granite surface.

“If you think you can’t prepare a balanced nutritious meal in fifteen minutes then think again.”

Indeed.

He then proceeds to slap it on a plate and whack it in the oven to that infuriating Neneh Cherry song.

“Ya know wha ah mean?”

Of course it’s totally untrue. We know that.

He advises judicious preparation but neglects to tell us how much extra time it involves. Most people don’t have a kitchen the size of concert hall and all those fancy machines need digging out of cupboards. No-one ever mentions the carnage he leaves after his tarzan like gastro sprint. Who does the washing up?istock-140217119

I think I’d be easily fed up of his jarred sauces, packets of pasta and heritage multicoloured  dinky little tomatoes cut all rough and ready and drowned in disgustingly expensive olive oil. Salad out of a packet, meat flash fried and those ready made sauces. “Yeah Jamie my son, you’ve dressed all that up good and proper.” Technically he can argue that it’s zesty exciting food but to me it cries out variations on a theme.

Is fruit the most natural fast food?

Well it’s there, sitting in a bowl just waiting to be picked up and eaten. The fresh crunch of an apple, the soft sweet flesh of a ripe pear or the tangy citrus freshness of an orange. And then we get a pip in our mouth before swearing in future to go seedless. Seedless grapes.Tangerines without pips. Obviously they’re choking hazards.

How cruel to produce infertile fruit, denying it the right to have babies. Think of all those childless bananas.

daaOnce more, the fun is being taken out of fruit. It’s not the same on the bus home from school. You’d saved the orange just so you could spit the pips at that bespectacled boy from the “other” school you refer to as “Fatty Arbuckle.”

I blame health and safety. At least you could throw the peel at him. (Small consolation. It hasn’t been in your mouth so it rates lower on the disgusting filthy boy scale.)

Food is a personal matter. We are what we eat.

Except thin people. Thin people should be herded up and given diet food just so they know the agonies we go through. I think a week of empty stomach calorie counting should be sufficient.

Our food can be as fast or slow as we like. I’m just sick of being told that I have a busy life being important and worthy. Of course I’m still important and worthy but at my own pace.

I’m also fed up of the great and the good extolling the values of street food as if it too is superior to the muck produced by the chains.

best-street-food-in-gurgaonIt may be more fun to gorge through a deep fried locust whilst being buffeted by the thronging crowds of a heaving Korean street market but it’s still been saturated in oil ready to dribble down your greasy little chin. Naturallly I’m jealous and teeming with rancour at the restrictions I now have as a traveller.

I’m now going to roast mediterranean vegetables, put them into a pitta and pretend I’m in Marakesh. Then I’ll be putting eggs on my shopping list.

Thank you for reading.

Who did it?

“It’s not the same any more,” said the woman on the train. She continued in her thick throaty accent: “Going to the shops was a big thing. You could make a day out of it. Now there’s nothing, just charity shops and bargin basements.”

She was right. I read that M&S were closing their shop in Birkenhead. They left Wallasey years ago. So did Littlewoods and the Co-op. You can’t deny the slow death of the town centre.

Just in the next town to me, the Royal Victoria Place in Tunbridge Wells is little more than a huge indoor cafe. Marks and sparks is still there but it is Tunbridge Wells.

Liscard in Wallasey says it all. The Cherry Tree Centre with its glass dome and beautiful marble tiled floor is home to  discount driven cheap plastic frippery.

m

In the fresh air outside, I stared at once grand buildings now home to betting shops and chain newsagents. The shop to let signs dominate wallasey Road.

j

The busiest place is Wetherspoons. I use the pub because of its disabled facilities but it’s not exactly a classy establishment. It’s a big old barn that used to be Safeways.

When I was a child, we loved Safeways. It had a delicatessen counter. The word itself oozed class. They sold that delicious russian salad. It was special.

In my adopted town of Crowborough, the high street is a parade of charity shops and hoardings. Many small businesses have tried and failed.

Crowborough-High-Street

Why is this? Is it the extra two hundred meters the motorists need to walk to get there? Probably.

bnEven the small independent eateries have gone under because Morrisons and Waitrose have perfectly good cafes; plus that great lumbering bully of a Wetherspoons has the biggest pub in town. Then there’s Costa (natch) and the big garden centre on the way to Rotherfield. They have lots of lovely parking spaces so we don’t have to strain our little legs too much.

Note the word “we”. Yes it is the “we” that is destroying the town centre. We are buying elsewhere. We are buying on line.

My latest trip to Liscard was a confirmation of this decline.

lI got there early with the intention of having lunch and picking up a few bits and pieces. Slap bang in the middle of the centre is a Costa. How vulgar. That dark green monstrosity has no elegance. It sits there shouting greed.

The alternative was a shambles of a place in the old market hall. The market hall was once full of quirky little stalls, worth it for just a look alone. Now, in its dark and dingy recesses are boarded fronts where dreams have foundered in the stark face of recession and corporate dominance.

Could I find what I wanted? Well there was a Wilkos to give me some bits but then, after looking blankly I gave up.

“I’ll get it on line,” I said. That dreaded Amazon can give you anything. Then if we want our high street names, we can do Marks, John Lewis and whatever. We do it and the high street dies.

Let us rue its demise.

Wallasey_Road_1968Let us look back fondly at long Saturday afternoons, marching proudly about with a shirt in a bag and the unmistakable square of the LP, to be played immediately on return whilst caressing its glossy cover.

Last weekend, I completely flouted my quality shirt policy. In a big Sainsburys I spent sixteen pounds on a pink stripey thing. Cheap and good quality.

Sorry Joe Brown. Sorry White Stuff. Will I use Sainos again? Probably; I am on a pension remember. Snobbery ends at the wage packet.

The Liscard I used to know is no more. It is now a collection of low end bargain shops providing nothing but the necessary. There’s nothing wrong with that; we all need basics.

k

But there is no luxury. How about a nice furniture shop where the assistants know what they’re talking about? What about a music shop, bursting with shiny brass and the sound of some callow youth doing the Smoke on the Water riff on a cheap acoustic?

No chance. We may be living in changing times but why can’t we have attractive town centres any more?

Thank you for reading.    

 

The trouble with food

Food is trouble itself. For me, food equals weight. Every McChrystal has a propensity for piling on the pounds if diet is left unchecked.

Let’s go back to the heady days of my twenties. In fact we’ll go before that. As a child I was podgy. I’m sure it was cute for many but people called me “fatty”. I peaked at the age of seventeen. Lunches involved sandwiches and cake, mid morning would be a bacon butty from the factory canteen and tea was usually full on; oh, and I liked a pint. I’d been going to the pub since I was fifteen. I was never asked my age.

Then it stopped. In a bold move to get some form of life direction back on track, work became academic. No more 7.30 starts. What a shame!

The nearest college of further education “The Tech”, was just over a mile away. I walked.

Lunch was a cup of tea. The weight fell off. By the following summer I was lean and mean. But I was still crap at football. And that’s how it stayed. Cycling, tennis and Snowdonia were my passions.

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Any excuse to post a picture from the summit of Snowdon

In 1986, I did the best ever thing and learnt how to swim. I taught myself. Soon it was forty plus lengths a day. Happy splashy days.

But then came the thirties and the onset of the MS beast. The exercise was inversely proportionate to the my rate of decline. I peaked in 2015. Sixteen stone ten and a stomach the size of the 02 arena had taken away all sight of my feet.

That’s the trouble with food. I’m still battling.

Between 1999 and 2003 I’d gone skeletal. Yay! Yay?

No.

Crisps, beer and twenty a day left me thin, weedy and prone to every infection that came along.

Dollarphotoclub_73005406There were days off school; that hurt.

How ironic to then gain six stone.

If you want food advice, don’t listen to thin people. They have no idea. I have many thin friends but if they offer advice, I just smile and nod. Moaning about weight will not help however. I have my guidelines. I can’t be done with faddy half hearted dieting and countless reasons for giving up. If you want to lose weight be prepared to eat the pain of deprivation. (The puns are mounting)

Like the weather, food and its consequences is a popular subject. There are regular reports relating to the war against childhood and adult obesity, staying fit, saturated fats, convenience food and type two diabetes. Then there are also many arguments for and against food types:

Cheese is good for your complexion.

Carrots give you x-ray vision.

Raw sprouts prevent flatulence.

Beetroot makes you blush.

By the way, if you’re preparing beetroot and you need to answer the door, be prepared for your caller to run away screaming in terror. beet-stained-hands

For many of the world’s carnivores, the thought of vegetarian and vegan diets gets them choking on their big mac. So many top TV chefs are quick to denounce the “weirdos” who have chosen to walk away from meat and animal based products.

Imagine feast day at Hampton Court: Henry is sitting at his table dribbling with anticipation.

1280px-The_Banquet._Eglinton_Tournament.His wife (choose any one from six but for argument’s sake let’s say it’s Anne of Cleves) is sitting demurely beside him. She speaks no English.

The servants, standing nervously on the periphery of the banqueting hall are ill at ease. The guests sit either side on their lower tables chatting politely. It sounds pleasant enough. The conversation is gentle and muted with many forced smiles and titters of amusement. Of course no-one understands each other. The church dignitaries are struggling to transcribe their fine words from Latin to English, the in laws nod and smile at the jibberish they believe to be King’s English whilst the French pretend not to know English because they think everyone should speak French.

With great ceremony the great oaken doors part to admit the parade of lowly servants walking elegantly with silver trays encased with decorative shining cloches under which lie the grand first course. At the top table, the largest tray is placed before the great man.

In the desperation of hunger, he pushes the simpering assistant aside to reveal the long anticipated sarter. As the  falling cloche bounces on the floor, our king looks bemused. The cook, equally nervous, approaches gingerly.

“Sire, it iseth a first courseth of hand picked fungeth with a tureen of fresheth greens and noble asparagus. I hope your majesty will enjoyeth this light nutritious opening to our humble offerings.” Henry looks back at him with eyes of thunder. The poor man gulps.

“If your majesty pleaseth, it is on the advice of the palace physician who careth much for your health and complexion.”  He moves closer to the steaming monarch. “It is your gout, sire.”

henryviii (2)The huge platter of steaming beautifully presented vegetables resemble the sparkling colours of a roman candle as they fly through the tense air.

One canon is scalded, the in laws duck and the Comte de Chou calmly gathers what lay around him before complemeting the now petrified cook on his choice of dressing. The room is cloaked in a deathly silence save for the gentle little staccato grunts of the comte, made by many people who enjoy their food. Henry looks to his wife and pulls a face of disgust.

Even today, the good King Henry reflects the attitude of some meat eaters. The thought of a meal with no meat is as painful as sitting on a spike. Trying to convince such a person that without meat they will not die through veggie poisoning, is a tall order.

Vegetarians have made a conscious dietary choice. A lot of people I’ve spoken to, cite animal welfare and the horror of the abbatoir as their main reasons.

Morally, what right do we have to condone the use and abuse (when I say abuse, we may treat an animal kindly, only to kill it when we see fit) of living creatures with a nervous system? Then again, how many vegetarians are happy to use animal based products?

Please remember, I’m not criticising, just giving food for thought. (Pun intended!) I could also go into the realms of fish and seafood but I might end up drowning in a whole new flood of controversy. (Oh the punnery.)

Some vegetarians go further and move into veganism. I’m sure the impression of many carnivores is that vegans are plain weird. I learned about the vegan diet in 1984 when a friend decided to “try it out”. Again, I cannot criticise. But the stigma was there.

I had an impression of unshaven hippy types nibbling away at dried nuts and shrivelled up lettuce from communal plates. They lived in tents or on leaky canal barges avoiding all forms of work.

1495962280167-VICE_NZ_MAHANA_18The great veggie staple and source of much mockery was the nut cutlet.

How wrong we were to view the meatless diet as a thing of great dullness. In December 1990, I made my first foray into a vegetarian restaurant. It was a curry house in Stoke Newington.

rasan16I had the most delicious thali. Some of my new colleagues in my first teaching job were delighted to provide me with their own recipes.

About sixteen years ago, I began to try pure vegan food. The approach was to think of all the textures and flavours I like. Then it was onto cooking techniques. Cracking the enigma of tofu and chick peas helped. I love falafels.

In the end it was easy. I’m now eating vegan at least two days a week. The whole diet has turned into a hotch potch of food types and I’ve no reason to panic if I run out of meat. This is a long way from my initial scoffing (pun overdose) at the vegan style.

072517_KM_FredFirestoneOne of the secrets is to avoid food imitating food. Vegan sausages? Veggie bacon? Vegan fish fingers or fishcakes?vbites-making-waves-vegan-fishless-fishcakes-01-500-o-500x500

Forget it, there is enough out there to satisfy all cravings for tast, protein and texture. I like the challenge of it all. And the result? My diet is varied and mixed but with a slight (I lie) preference for middle eastern breads and dips.

You can’t beat a bit of maneesh and baba ganoush.

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Thank you for reading.     

Why Pythagoras? Why maths?

It’s an age old question:

What relevance does Pythagoras’ Theorem have for everyday life? As we may scratch around for an answer we may begin to wonder about maths itself.

I taught a lot of maths to young children; twenty two years in all. I’ve had to deal with such questions many times.

If you were to type either question into a search engine, the results would be totally unsatisfactory. Even specific statements like “Ten important reasons for learning maths” produce lists of vague nonsense barely relating to the heart of the subject.

For starters, most of the results are American, where they call it math. It’s maths. How can such a massive multi-aspected complex array of information, concepts and formulae be referred to in the singular? It’s not a word like fish.

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What have the Americans done for us?

Sigh!

A lot of the “reasons” do not go past the ideas of sorting and gathering before going on about helping us to get a good job, dealing with finance and earning a good wage.

4-1This is frustrating for someone (through teaching) who has developed a blood relationship with the subject. But it’s difficult. I can feel the relevance of maths. I instinctively know how it helps us in our daily lives but putting it down on paper takes weeks, nay years of focused thought and organisation. (There are two significant factors linking maths and real life for starters.) 

I’m now going to attempt to explain it all in a clear succinct manner without inducing the usual soporific vibes which have haunted far too many corners of learning when the “expert” spouts and the “victims” try to fight off the yawns.

tired-clipart-boring-class-19Such is my arrogance, I assume everyone will read to the end of my posts but this time I will simply say “please read to the end”.

By the time children get to year six, the different areas of maths should be clear:

Number

Measurement

Geometry

Statistics

Within each subtitle lies a multitude of factors designed specifically to stress out pupils, parents and teachers alike.

Confused-FaceAny teacher will know that parents’ questions pertaining to maths and real life can create severe twitching and nausea before spouting a garbled bag of nonsense. In the early days I would blind them with science. My highly specific esoteric references would create that familiar blank smile when you have lost them by the second sentence.

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Of the four above, measurement explains itself. The statistics area has been rebranded from “Handling Data” which again, has obvious links to real life. From experience it’s the other two; number and geometry which can leave many people jibberish, sitting nonsensically in a pool of befuddled  swirling sticky matter. And that’s as technical as I’m going to get. So what use is number?

The bane of so many children and parents is times tables. The chanting, the testing and the whole apparent detachment of them from anything resembling reality gives them a unique air of mystery.

teachers-identifying-in-the-classroom_3Aleady, I can feel myself creeping into a mire of detail which would have us arguing about finicky details, sinking away from the salient points in a vessel of despair and frustration.

I will therefore use the word “modelling”. Number is a tool through which we learn routine methodology and problem solving. Number gives us strategies to make sense of our everyday lives. In every aspect of learning and living we need memory. Hello times tables. I’m tempted to go into great detail of their value but I stop because I’m hearing someone shouting “but we’ve got calculators”. True. So what? Isn’t technology wonderful?

Times tables are a key to opening up the more complex operations which “model” the daily problems we encounter. In relation to the more difficult processes in maths, times tables at the very least show the value of memory. They also show how anything, and I mean anything, can be can be expanded (or exploded) by one other factor. It’s a basic scientific premise. Yes we might learn things instinctively and through experience but number models how to make sense of it.

Sorry, I’m drifting into teacher training text book mode here.

Write it down!

write-things-downIn maths we write things down in a specific order with numbers and signs. That’s a great model for so much.

To do lists, staff rotas, working out cause and affect, expanding ideas etc etc. For me, the most valuable use of number is working out the unknown from what we know. We generally call it detective work. Hercule is a fine example.817f2409971011d081d35c0fe11e19e1

This is where I go back to Pythagoras. If you know the formula, (let’s call it a recipe. That word has more practical significance) you can work out the unknown length of the side of a triangle from the length of the other two sides. Short of finding the height of a tree or a telehraph pole, this does not appear useful. But learning to put things on paper in an organised way is. It can even be related to shape.

The trouble is, Pythagoras Theorem is a complex matter using number and shape in an abstract form and can leave the poor old student in a mess because they are right out of their zone.

There lies another highly significant aspect of maths. Taking yourself to the edge of your knowledge, experience and comfort need not be a cause of anxiety.

689927970Through mathematical processes, we can begin to make sense of these danger areas by applying what we are familiar with and drawing conclusions.

This is very much a whistle stop attempt to make sense of maths and well done if you’re still with me here but I will finish with a reference to geometry; that’s shape and space in junior school talk. 

In geometry we learn about classifying through observation, explanation, accurate (and rough) drawing and number. We learn to use instruments such as protractors, rulers and compasses. Isn’t that such a useful model for so many things we do?

Maths is the mini beast of learning. We learn so much from its processes but because it uses number and vague terminology it’s easy to get lost. This is where the skill of the teacher comes in; sometimes missing unfortunately. If a child “doesn’t get it” for the fifth time, the teacher needs to make subtle changes rather than saying the same thing, only louder.

156089-849x565r1-is-she-angryMathematics uses number and other representative symbolism because like music, it is a universal language. In our modern age however, technology is obscuring our essential learning needs.  All I can say is that the most successful mathematicians learnt their times tables and success in maths sets you up well for life.

My final hint?

If you find a complex problem, try it with easy numbers as a “model” for the more complex numbers. I can never remember how to do percentages on a calculator so I remind myself by doing 25% of 200.

I believe modelling is the real essence of maths.

Thank you for reading.