Faces of the past

In those odd moments when your mind meanders into the other world; the world you knew but now seems so far in the past it may well be something you read about, certain faces pop into your head. They could be teachers, friends long gone, ex girlfriends or boyfriends and old bosses.

I’d rather not remember the nasty little people from my first job. Just think of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the snakes were crawling all over each other in that dark tomb.

I think my real working life began at The Gandy. Now let me talk about Bill; Bill Kennedy that is. I only worked under him for two months but at the tender age of seventeen he represented the hard side of life I was trying so desperately to avoid. When I say avoid, I mean it in the sort of permanent no way out stuck with a mortgage and children way. I was quite happy to sample it but I wanted other things.

Bill Kennedy was a hard working honourable man. He was a foreman. From what I can remember he oversaw all stages of the brake shoe part of the factory. From the mixing, pre-form, press, baking, trimming, drilling  bonding and branding, he was your man. He made no bones about my dad on the pre-form:

“Work half as well as Joe and you’ll do well here lad,” he said on my first day.

I would see him flashing round the shop floor pointing and directing his troops. His main principles were cast in stone and broadcast around the great monument of a factory we both loved and feared: “Work hard and you’ll be fine.” Despite a stern front Bill carried a mean sense of humour. He knew what I was doing and he understood me. I was just a passing moment. It was a favour for my mum and dad. They had great respect too.

I can still picture Bill now with his chiselled accent and shiny brylcreemed hair. I often impersonate that accent. People may think I’m putting it on but it’s still so real. After only two months at the factory I left to do A levels. Bill didn’t make a fuss; he understood.

A year later I was back. This time I was over the road in the warehouse. Now the foreman was Bill Stanley. Bill was a proud man. He was ex-navy and very old school. I could hear his brisk approach. It was a quick march with the appropriate swinging arms. I think he imagined himself still on parade on the poop deck of some massive aircraft carrier. (Does an aircraft carrier have a poop deck? What is a poop deck?) Like Kennedy, Mr Stanley had time for me. He was so proud of his young son. Bill knew I was quite good on the piano and he was delighted to tell me about his lad taking his grade four piano. It was touching.

Bill took every single minute of overtime for his family. He also talked long and loud about his home brewing. A very seventies thing I suppose. When the time came for me to move on he was seemed almost humble:

“I hope you go on to better things than here,” he said.

The third face belongs to John Patrick Lynch; possibly the most genuine caring man I have ever met. His manner was sometimes brusque but his heart was stationed, floodlit on his sleeve. We knew him as Father Lynch, the priest at St Josephs in Wheatland Lane.

Father Lynch came to our house once a week to give communion to my nan. He was so gentle with her. It was clear he respected everybody. When I worked at the community centre, he sat on the youth club committee. He always added an extra edge of humour to proceedings.

The most enduring image I have of Father Lynch is of him sitting on the higher level of The Dale’s concert room having his lunch with a pint and a fag. Everyone spoke to him and he chatted happily. As a consequence, Father Lynch’s timekeeping was not a strength. But it didn’t matter. I’ve never known a better man walk the streets of Seacombe.

In 1987, he buried my Nanny Mac. That was the last I saw of him. Two years later I moved on.

Before I finish, let me mention Wilf Foster. I think he used to be a councillor but he was also involved with the community centre in Ferryview Road. Like the others I’ve mentioned, he is synonymous with my formative years.

Now I mention it, Seacombe Community Centre was full of local people, volunteering their time for the local cause.

UntitledWhat stars they were. I remember a quietly spoken, modest lady called Pauline Smith. It was like her second home. She worked tirelessly. Her three children, Jackie, Paula and Daniel were always in tow to provide some light hearted banter. Then there was a feisty lady called Jean Hickson. Someone else determined to make the whole thing work.

History is not just about kings, queens and battles. We all carry history; in our heads and in our hearts. Priceless.

Thank-you for reading.

Slough and back

Road chronicles.

My younger brother went to work in London. He was the manager of Burtons, Hammersmith. It was a fleeting post. We all went down there in a Transit Luton full of second hand furniture and moved him into a flat in Slough; late in 1979. But by  the  summer of the next year it was time to return. Tom was not around so I hired another Luton to go and get him. These were hard times. I could only have the fan for twenty four hours. So it was not going to be a leisurely expedition. I went with a friend called Tommy Samways.

Let me tell you about Tommy Samways. He was a happy life loving scally with a huge heart and a huge stomach. With his girlfriend Jane, he was a common sight in the Nelson pub laughing and joking. Tom had time for everyone; he’s probably still like that today. Anyway, Tom and I set off in a slow lumbering old van trundling towards London. i016666

The journey was tortured. With a top speed of 58mph the old girl fought the a head wind and shimmied like an overweight belly dancer to the blast of passing coaches. It was a bit like a fairground waltzer. Nothing exciting happened until we reached the end of the M1. It was 1980. The M25 did not exist so I had to do battle with the North Circular. “Burton Hammersmith,” my brother said. I looked it up on a map in the local library.

At the end of the M1 turn right, at Hangar Lane turn left. It seemed simple. It wasn’t. I needed my wits about me. Arriving at Hangar Lane at four thirty meant buffeting into the early rush hour.

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I turned right. With eyes screwed onto local signs, I found my way to the Burtons shop. It took over an hour fighting through thick bad tempered traffic.

It was my first time driving in London and I was empowered with a sloppy rice pudding of a Transit. Around me buzzed the irritable traffic of the ever so important non-entities assuming I was there to be abused. Was that my first experience of road rage? No! I decided that the only way was to drive like a nutter.

After six hours of soporific motorway tedium, this may have not have been the best approach. But bollocks to it all; I went for it. The only disappointment was the weak lily-livered plaintive warble that passed for a horn. Here I was, surrounded by the honking of superior two toned tenors with nothing more than the cracked voice of my ageing (blunder)bus.

Tom was yapping away happily about times gone by as I swerved and dodged through a cacophony of aggressive dogged insects, determined to get the next lights in front of me. Somewhere along the line I passed a similar yellow Transit which also said “West Wallasey Van Hire”. The waving was frantic. The poor man seemed beaten by the burden of his journey.

And where could we park? “Just stop outside the shop,” suggested Tom. The thought of a ticket flashed through my mind. But hell no; I’d arrived on time and without a map. I was so money supermarket.

My brother greeted me with an air of expedience. “Can you help us load these suits into the back of the van?” he asked expectantly. I looked confused. “We have to drop these off at Wasps Rugby Club before they go off on their tour of the far east,” was the officious reply.

No quick pint of Young’s Special in the Bricklayers’ Arms for us then. The car park at Wasps was filled with sparkling new sporty things. Beneath us was loose gravel. Oh how I sprayed these little sharp bullets into the air as I finally managed a wheel spin on the way out.

On the way to Slough was Southall High Street. It was heaving with life.

asian-stores-in-southall-broadway-london-b5kbw5Hordes of people marauded along pavements and across the road, scurrying around endless rows of market stalls. It was my first glimpse of a living working ethnic community.

Nowadays I’d think nothing of it but then? I was used to Liscard with its frantic shoppers and shifty half humans, sliding their skinny frames around open tills and loose handbags. I’d never seen a shopping hub were people seemed so happy. I could have been anywhere in the Indian sub-continent. Even the potholes and demented driving seemed to belong.

The first thing I noticed when I moved to London ten years later was the state of the city’s roads. Nothing had been repaired properly. It was a suspension graveyard.

In Slough, on the first floor of some anonymous shop on an equally anonymous high street, we shifted the furniture. Phil seemed slightly giddy. After what he was leaving, Wallasey was going to seem like some form of urban utopia. The loading was hard hot exhausting work. And when it’s all done and nicely secured demonstrating an uncanny awareness of expedient spatial management, what would you like to do? Sip cold beers in some rose-laden beer garden cooling in the twilight? No you’d much rather journey through the night in an even slower old bus, risking total fatigue, falling asleep and waking up in a West Midland hospital bandaged from head to foot. No contest.

It didn’t happen. Spurred on by the steely determination of my obdurate self-sacrifice, we reached the M56 as dawn was breaking. Fuelled by motorway service station coffee and cake of a standard equivalent to the foulest dive in the foulest, most stinking hovel on Quaid’s Mars (Total Recall; belter of a film), we were on the home strait.

I ignored the dancing gargoyles lining our route.

23118194-Empty-highway-lined-with-a-row-of-trees-tree-shadows-thrown-on-the-highway-view-from-above-car-in-th-Stock-PhotoI ignored their writhing shadows creating a hypnotic lattice across the road ahead.

By eight o’clock the load was dropped and I was having some decent tea at home. It’s only at times like this, when you’ve stretched the limits of human endurance, one’s logic steps into the realms of Billy Bonkers and his nutters from the edge of Uranus.

The van was due back in half an hour but the fuel gauge wasn’t empty. So I had a burn-up on the King’s Parade trying to empty it. Then I walked the two miles home enjoying the fresh soft light of the morning air. Did I go to bed to get some much-needed sleep? Well no.

With the wild wide eyes of the demented soul that I am, I started to reassemble the worm and wriggler steering mechanism of my elder brother’s Colt Lancer. Why such a modern car did not have rack and pinion is still a complete mystery. But a bit needed replacing because my usually careful elder brother had rammed the front end of a Morris Minor belonging to the nice chap who used to give my nan a lift to mass every Sunday.

Sometime in the afternoon I finished only to pick up the phone to learn that I had a piano pupil waiting for me at the studio. I calmly cleaned up, tidied away my tools and jumped on my bike for a power ride up the hills to Oxton. Panic was pointless. I simply charged along emitting the sweet sanitary stink of Swarfega.

“Sorry I’m late,” I blurted. “It was that red light in Watford.”

Thank-you for reading.

Benefits

I watched an episode of Benefits Britain the other day. I was rendered speechless by the blatant greed of two of the subjects. They expected support and reward for merely existing. They had screwed themselves into a mind set of rights without responsibility. With their constant cigarettes and missing teeth (dentists cost money), they were playing the system. They alluded to mental frailties and minor physical ailments as their excuse to sit back and just expect.

It was shameless. I know a scrounger when I see one. I’m not talking about the sensationalised cases we see on programmes like this. We’ve no idea about any added extras for a heightened sense of drama. I’m talking about people I have met. Now this is where it gets tricky. Some have genuine mental and physical health issues and some need a kick up the Londonderry Air. Some need to take responsibility and some need to be guided into responsibility.

I have since watched part of another episode about ex prisoners. It really dragged me through a myriad of visceral reactions. This is an unimaginable existence. Experience and knowledge is forcing me to avoid any sort of unqualified condemnation. But there is an air of expectation and exploitation on the part of the people featured and those actually making the programme.

They live in areas we tend to avoid. They live in conditions we may deem unfit for animals. And they all smoke.

f5295d3db2d01604f9722f312643ed03Can’t you just feel the rising heckles of outrage?

The royal we learnt the value of working for what we want; day in day out, going to work and managing our lives within the dignity of being employed.

Have a look at some of these programmes. They’re on Channel five demand. You don’t need to watch the whole thing. You may even be touched by someone’s generosity. I’ve seen real life parallels in the past. I haven’t really expressed an opinion; just a passing whiff of contempt. I don’t know any answers. All I know is extreme gratitude for the help I have for being disabled.

Thank you for reading.

Can I come out now?

Almost a week on and it takes a dreadful tragedy to deflect from the constant reportage of political bickering between the toffs, the lefties and all the other nutters jumping onto the bandwagon of public name calling and snook cocking. Brenda from Bristol voiced her surprise and distaste at the prospect of the big guns squaring up to each other and the constant barrage of desperate personal slights being thrown down our faces. All in the name of electioneering.

The fourth plinth in Trafalgar square could easily have been utilised for any forms of muck raking and s**t chucking between any two public figures.

07bcae81ab1214325a1f30f6e7fda0f6I’d have happily refereed any such contest. The only condition would be that  contestants had to dress as a sumo wrestler.

Although the emphasis would have been on verbal sparring a contest could be swiftly brought to an end by a decisive move where the winner would barge their opponent off the plinth. There would be no soft landing but I’d have a hotline to 999 so an ambulance could be called and the victim could experience first hand a lengthy wait due to government cut backs.

This would open up the contest to all manner of sneaky malicious moves. We could even do it on a winner stays on basis. Who would be the champion? Eric Pickles? Bo Jo? Would Jeremy be able to practise a clever manoeuvre with his bicycle clips? How about Rudd versus Abbott? Green against O’Donnel?

I’d start with Farage and Reckless.

Farage-788780These two former UKIP colleagues fell out when dear little Mark found the stain of his new party a little too squalid, thus putting the chance of his fruitful political career in real jeopardy. Even if the appropriately named former tory won, he would then have to face stage two of a dignified return to the comforting arms of the strong and stable Conservative family.

As poor Mark lay exhausted but victorious on the hard dusty surface the crowd gave a mocking laugh towards the prostrate Nigel, lighting up after wrapping his Armani kerchief around his bleeding knee. “I’ve survived a plane crash,” he boasted.

article-2519753-09746358000005DC-166_634x402Then the long angled shadow appeared over the shining Reckless face.

“One more thing,” came a low husky voice. Against the fierce sun he recognised the silhouette of the PM, standing there, feet apart in true conference pose.

2D234C7D00000578-3262521-image-a-56_1444164406180A thousand mobile phones went into video mode. The crowed bayed. She began snapping her spindly fingers. “I’ll show you how it’s done.” The tone was threatening.

“Jacob,” she whispered. Just over the edge of the plinth the foppish little head of Rees-Mogg appeared.jacob-rees-mogg

“Yes bunny chum?” he exuded.

“Show him how to please me.” There was a short yelp.

At the back of the crowd was Cameron and Gideon. Bored with proceedings, they began to play strip poker. “This is one way to get noticed,” giggled Osborne, shivering in his underwear.

At prime time, the nation tunes into BBC Parliament. Boris is due to appear. The eager anticipation reaches fever pitch. “BORIS BORIS BORIS,”  chant the heaving crowd. From the loud speakers comes Eye of the Tiger. His blondness emerges clad in a shining pink silk kimono. He rides a chariot pulled by Kezia Dugdale. On the plinth he removes his gown, showing a lime green sumo nappy. The cheering moves up a notch. He casts his kimono over the side of the plinth. The crowd go silent. With hands on hips Boris struts around the perimeter. But where’s his opponent.

“Where’s Donald? He asks before dreaming of his most desired encounter.

Bristol_Getty.jpgIn one corner while his back is turned a little boy is held up by his father. He places a laughing bag on the edge. “HA HA HA,” mocks its tinny little voice.

Johnson jumps. He turns and runs aiming a powerful kick at the jolly box. It fires off into the crowd, laughing defiantly. On the other side the boy places a jack in the box.

cartoon-jack-box-19756504As it pops up, our tory blue hero darts at it with foot recoiled. The boy moves it and he kicks at nothing, falling onto his substantial rump. Around the country, tea cups tumble in joyful surprise. A fire service crane arrives to rescue him. “Get stuffed,” he bellows before tumbling off the end.

Then it’s time for the great Scottish duel. In an instant, Alex Salmond and Michael Gove are on the rostrum, jockeying for position.

untitledAlex is distracted: “Ooh Mikey, when did you do that?” He points to the silver ring pierced through his left nipple. “It was a surprise present from Mrs Blurt,” he answers shyly. The discussion begins. Not a blow is traded. The crowd boo.

“Say what you like about his politics,” yells Alex to the disgruntled mob. “But he has a full set of good manners.” Amid further hissing and cat-calling, they descend before walking off hand in hand.

Miles away in a northern civic hall, Dimbleby was tapping his microphone. He loves an occasion. He can’t wait for his all nighter. But now he has to make do with an hour of question time. He can’t help himself: “And our first guest is the right honourable Andrew Bridgen, MP for Ashby de la Zouche.

_84311938_84311937Andrew emerges from the background clutching a three day old Costa Coffee beaker.

“Oh Dimby, can you just put a little more spice into Zouche?” He takes a sip from his saliva stained mug. It tastes foul. He spits it over Dimbleby’s sleeve. “Do it again you bitch,” sneers David.

Then Angela Eagle comes onto the set doing a sort of “shake and vac” step. “Let’s put the freshness back into political debate,” she teases, licking her lips at David. 39A189CA00000578-0-Len_McCluskey_joked_about_hitting_senior_Labour_MP_Angela_Eagle_-m-42_1477226338016

He cringes. In the background, the rumble of Paul Nutall’s coarse Liverpool brogue can be heard.

“Fu**inell you daft b*****d, didn’t yer know I had two sugars in me skinny latte?” Everyone’s face drops. The director turns his head grinning slyly.

“You sly bugger” snarls Dimby.

Meanwhile, in every normal home in the land, the great British public is practising the art of stoicism. When faced with the brutality of another general election, there is only one way to be. They will secretly giggle and the supposed truths exposed by the chinless protagonists of “Have I got News.” And so it goes on.

Longer than Wimbledon, longer than the open, longer than the world cup and even longer than a proboscis monkey’s nose, our attention, fired by a genuine concern for what is right, is battered about the squash court with heavyweight rackets.

The result was surprising. The result was whatever you wanted it to be. Will hard brexit turn into hard labour? The energy of the whole episode will force us lumbering forward into brave and cowardly new worlds. Politicians will cling to face saving scraps.

In the end it dies down. We are humbled by the events of a heart rending tragedy. In Kensington the rich live alongside the not rich. Guess who’s flats were burned down?

In a food bank somewhere in the home counties, David looks at Nick.

“We could have been so good together.” Nick looks back and blows smoke in his face.

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Thank you for reading.

The difference in a week

Last week I waxed lyrical about Liverpool in the sun. It was warm and relaxed. People were smiling. I was smiling. Last Monday I came to the rain. There was to be no gentle parade down to the Pier Head. It was not a time to stop and admire the wonderful old architecture sitting alongside the modern straight utilitarian lines of dark glassed facades baking in the afternoon glow. No, it was taxi, train, taxi, train and taxi. I had to smile at the big fat friendly Liverpool cabby driving a rattling old bus; much used and much loved. Nothing was too much trouble for him. He waited to make sure I was back inside number 28, safe and sound.

But the weather was autumnal. Late autumnal. The journey itself was super normal. Preparation was straightforward and is now a well oiled routine. Half my baggage is for my MS baggage. You know, the just in case stuff, just in case I get caught short. I’ll spare you the details but there are shed loads of precautionary equipment focusing on the need for those extra little visits MS invites you to have. But sometimes there is nowhere to visit.

In the old days when I could walk, there was still an issue of urgency but it was no trouble to just find a little nook for a discreet slash outside the off stump. Now the act of standing up incites macaw-like screeches of neuropathic agony. The standing up in a darkened corner option is now confined to history. I was such an expert.

Even in London, I knew so many sneaky little places. Now I don’t even have the luxury of a car, I can no longer park in the uninhabited end of a DIY centre car park in some anonymous retail complex. So needs must and I’m spoilt for choice. The disabled loos at all the stations I go to have played a blinder as a form of quick change refuges.

When I say quick change, I mean slow change. The use of the word quick affords me the illusion of being super efficient in the art of dignity preservation.

My arrival signalled the need for beer. Then you know those little moments when you think you’ve already had something but you find it nestling in your bag? The little bottle of Malbec I’d bought for the train came out blinking in the dazzling mist of surprised delight.

I’d eschewed my on-board tipple, preferring a cup of tea instead. Then it got better. There was still a healthy amount of Old Pulteney left from the week before. So that was it; sit, relax and enjoy.opnob.12yo

Outside the wind was raging. It was a familiar recital. The gale sings its long plaintive notes down the chimney while angrily shaking the tall miraculous weeds standing firm on the top of the walls. (Kenilworth Road is not known for its lush luxuriant gardens so weeds on a wall are a thing of shock and awe.) It was a long haunting melody sending me back to the early mornings of my younger days when I’d be preparing to face the cruelty of another winter’s day, deprived of light and joy. It always gives me gentle warm smile because now, I just don’t have to go out if I don’t want to. For me it’s a reward for years of hard graft.

The next day my dad was eighty eight. Two fat ladies. A grand age for a grand man. He had the three sons under his roof. IMG_5278

We exchanged anecdotes of our chequered past. Dad likes to hear about the naughty little deeds we dared not tell him about at the time. It was just lad stuff really but sometimes we were really close to the wind.

I managed to have a little more whisky before my friend Jules picked me up. I was cooking. It was going to be a Malaysian fish curry. I’d brought my own spice preparation of turmeric, lemon grass powder and mango powder. We added tamarind, coconut milk, chilli, onions, toasted cashews, cray fish tails and some lovely cod. I made some chapattis too. You can always tell when I’ve been on the bread. The carpet rocks a frosty rime of scattered flour with an arabesque of linear interlocking curves from the dance of the wheelchair.

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A simpler version. It doesn’t have traces of wheelchair dancing.

An evening of good food and superb music sent us back to the old days as we looked to the future. It was a shame Colin, Julie’s partner missed out.

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Happy Jules

I retired in the fresh daylight of early summer. Colin texted at 7 am to see if we were ready to sit down and eat; it never ends early. It was great to meet up with the neighbours as well. Katie and Joey are teachers so suffice to say, we had a few things in common.

After a sleep on the sofa, the next morning, sorry, the same morning, required a revival of old skills. Yes, I suppose I can claim a number of mediocre talents but my best one was developing techniques of handling hangovers. As your eyes flicker into the rude mid-morning light you have only a few seconds to consider your options.

Does my head hurt?

Do I feel nauseous?

Am I dehydrated?

Have I got a mouth like a buzzard’s crotch?

Do I need tea?

Do I need to throw off the duvet and start dancing with a toilet driven urgency?

Will I just lie back and shout tea with a weak voice of pathos, expecting sympathy for my deliberate indulgence?

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I missed my ear

Well I got the last two. Obviously it wasn’t a dance; more of a flurry of arms in some attempt to raise my leaden body for the first act of my morning ablutions. The tea song was heroically performed with just enough edge of annoyance that would ensure a prompt response.

Jules is a star. I’m not a morning eater but that pack of breakfast biscuits took a hammering. I remained on the sofa feeling the need to recover.

The thing about trips home is the joy of meeting up and drinking. My next appointment was three that afternoon. Andy, Christine, Trevor and George joined me in Wetherspoons. I know some people get a bit sniffy about the spoons. Yes it may be a mish mash of the town’s great unwashed but it doesn’t have music, it’s prices are OK and it has a proper radar loo.

The other thing about meeting with the gang is that it’s rapidly becoming a joyous occasion of happy chat. You realise why you were friends in the first place. Andy may be the world’s leading authority on everything but he’s kind hearted and loyal. so are the others, without the leading authority bit. The chat ranges from work and ailments to domestic bliss. It’s so middle aged. But that’s what we are and I love it.

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Caring Cross, platform 6. Today children, we are looking through the round window.

The journey home was incident free; apart from alighting at the bus stop down the road. My front wheels are free. Only the back wheels steer so I’m governed by the rather severe slope. I have to go down the hill to come back up.

vgThe narrow pavement inclines towards the road. The driver often gets puzzled whilst I sit static waiting for him to move on. One false move and I’d be under his wheels. Then it was a mad dash on the scooter to put my cross in the Labour box. I drank little that evening. I’m looking forward to fruit and veg.

Oh those damned northern pies.

Thank you for reading.

Reports

At this time of year, the main preoccupation of teachers may well be reports. It’s definitely true for primary school teachers who still adhere to the full report on every single subject. Two sides of A4 or more multiplied by at least thirty.

During the last year of my attempts at education and guidance for my year six class,the report was becoming little more than a numbers exercise to be completed three times a year based on test results and formal teacher assessment. Children would be given targets so you were constantly having to refer back to previous reports. This was truly the dullest thing ever. Talk about the dumbing down of the art of pedagogue.

Are teachers who have spent a whole year encouraging and developing children’s skills and social personalities going to live or die by sets of figures and menial targets? Some may argue that new formats release the teacher to teach more. I would argue that the teacher, a generally intelligent individual, will learn to manipulate raw materials of their new assessment models in order to show progress. So the real transparency of their skills as evaluators will once more become clouded in the poisoned gas of statistics.

pexels-photoNo offence to the good people at the ONS but statistics come after lies and damned lies. The teacher will be further denied the opportunity to report on their pupils as people. The classroom is a real hotch potch of personalities.

Most children want to do well and will show genuine progress which is a good thing. The teacher will see it in all aspects of their school life. But what about the deviants? I’m not talking about the children who seem to attract and follow trouble creating mini worlds of merry hell for all the staff. I’m talking about those who demonstrate quiet defiance.

burla[1]_thumbWhat about their figures? Do they do their best in dull repetitive test? That’ll be a loud emphatic no. They just don’t see the point.

But with senior management becoming ever watchful of the figures, these children are often singled out for “booster classes”. That’s a small group of children being given extra “help” in a core subject, usually when the rest of the class are doing art or something else nice. Why don’t all the teachers just say to these children:

“Look, we’re making you do this because your stupid and don’t deserve to do nice things with the rest of the class.” Brutal isn’t it?

bored_boy      Child painting at art school.

Now matter how the teacher dresses it up, the child will think that they are failing; that he or she is genuinely stupid.

Some children will always struggle with primary maths. Oh the hours I’ve spent finding a million and one ways of describing basic formulae and applying it to mathematical processes. A lot of maths is based on deconstruction, calculation and reconstruction. It’s a complex affair because it takes basic concepts and dresses them up in a cloak of cerebral mystery. Concrete foundations of knowledge slip into the ether causing confusion and bewilderment.

As a teacher, I had to persist in drumming this in to the poor souls because management were strutting around with Steve shaped baseball bats as they looked over their own shoulders for the even bigger baseball bats of school improvers and OFSTED.

man-holding-baseball-bat-in-tunnelIt was paramount for me to explain to these children that they would get every chance to improve their understanding at secondary school where the pressures of key stage three ease off on the basics.

I’m not surprised. While things might click into place in maths, the pressures of  self image and social status enters into the fray. There is always an element of this in all stages of school life but it certainly becomes more acute for new teenagers.051013eaa4d1b36464514a5b39c92713c1c8e6-wm

As for reports, it’s been close sometimes. I’d have to warn parents about the ink still being wet. For each report you have to consider the audience. It’s no good being all fancy with rhetoric for a family who’ll genuinely struggle to read it. (I won’t go into the reasons.)

On the other hand, some parents like to be entertained by little witticisms and observations. But rest assured, groups of parents will compare reports to see if the teacher is just turning out the same bland generic mumbo-jumbo. What a game this has been. At least the use of IT negates the possibility of having to re-write complete reports because of spelling and grammatical errors. Or in my case, a great big beer stain on the half dozen I was finishing off in The Huntsman at Eridge.

But even IT can leave you stumped. There was one teacher who completely erased the second page of all her class’s reports.

b70523f3e5c93dbbf544be8ea848ac40Tears in the computer room on a Friday afternoon. I couldn’t laugh. The previous year I misplaced one particular boy’s somewhere in the cyberspace of our local area network. I had to sit down and re-write it on a Friday afternoon because they were going out that day. Did I emit my traditional whoop on finishing a classful of reports? In front of my class? Whilst they were working?

Too right I did.

Thank-you for reading.

From “The Ghost of Hartington Hall”

That just cannot be so,” Mr Worthington interrupted. “The rain is given to us for our harvest and our ale.” I was desperately trying to think of something else to say when the first rumble of thunder gave me new impetus.

“Ah did you hear that? Now that’s thunder. That’s caused by increasing pressure and the expansion of air around-” A flash of lightning flickered brightly across their faces. “Lightning.” The timing could not have been better. “Lightning is caused by lots of tiny bits of ice rubbing together to make a charge.” The mumbled disgust of Mrs Abernathy and Mr Kenwood stopped. Now they were definitely listening to me! The thunder rumbled again. Mrs Abernathy’s shoulders and arms tightened.

I am from another time.” I could sense surprise. I wanted to surprise them even more:

I am from around here but not how you know it. I know so many things.” Mr Worthington looked taken aback. He had just declared me useless for not speaking Latin. Another flash of lightning lit up the grey walls. “Lightning is electricity and we will learn to make it and control it. We will make it firstly from coal.” I turned to Mr Worthington. “That’s a fossil fuel you know!” The thunder continued to rumble. Mrs Abernathy whimpered. “It’s something you get from under the ground. Then we will make more electricity from the sun and the wind and even the sea.” Mr Kenwood grunted. “Soon electricity will light up this house, but not in the way we have just seen. You will walk into a dark room and by the door will be a switch. You flick the switch to light up the room. It will be like daylight in the darkness.” I looked at all three of them in turn. They were all in a state of disbelief. Suddenly I felt good. I felt that I had some control back.

Silence silence, you will anger God himself.” Mrs Abernathy’s tone was shaking and fearful. A loud clap of thunder exploded close by. She shrieked. As the rumble faded, the rain burst into a torrent. Outside, the stone began to glisten with its welcome moisture.

Do not make Him angry,” echoed Mr Kenwood. I knew he was rattled. I could hardly contain myself. I was doing my best not to come out with a load of random nonsense. If I wanted to scare these people I had to keep some kind of order.

Electricity will be passed around the country by pylons. They are tall towers of steel bearing massive cables of pure power.” I remembered that description from a poem I’d read. Mr Worthington’s stony face was turning a grey to match his expression. “But!” I held my finger up and checked they were still listening. “We don’t just have electricity.” Kenwood looked ready to explode. “Where I come from, we go round in cars. Cars are carriages without the horses. We don’t need horses. Horses are for racing or jumping over fences or just riding for fun. ”

Cars have engines. They use petrol. We get that from another fossil fuel. It’s called oil. This Fossil fuel also comes from under the ground or even at the bottom of the sea. We have oil platforms which have long legs to stand on the sea bed. And cars go fast. Faster than any horse. Everyone will have a car.”

Have a care,” warned Mr Worthington. “You speak the words of sorcerers.” His threat did little to deter me:

But trains can go faster. They can run of steam, diesel or electricity. Trains are like lots of big cars all joined together. They go on rails. We have a train that goes through a tunnel all the way to France. Soon there will be trains travelling underneath London itself. And you will be able to get on a train and go anywhere in the country.” Outside the rain lashed down onto the windows while the lightning flashed in fits and starts. It was a noisy evening.

Stop! You must be silent. These are the devil’s words.” Mrs Abernathy was now sounding terrified. “We’ll all be cursed, we’ll all be doomed!” The next bolt brought a genuine scream from the cowering woman. I was delighted. I had the power and I was going to use it:

Oh we don’t just have a train to go France. We have planes that fly in the sky.” As I paused to catch my breath the following burst of thunder was the loudest yet. I noticed Mr Worthington begin to sink his head into his hands. He began squeaking frantically like a cornered mouse. I was impressed with the impact I was having.

They can get to the other side of the world in just one day.” Mr Kenwood stared back at me. His redness was now off the scale. At that point I was confident that I could both outwit and outrun him.

In everybody’s living room there’s a television. A flat box with moving pictures. You can see what goes on in any country of the world.” A gust of wind threw a flurry of rattling raindrops against the windows. “Then we’ve got other little boxes called phones. If you’ve got a phone you can put in a code and speak to anyone wherever they are.”

You are the devil’s child, the devil’s child.” Mrs Abernathy was now hysterical. “The ground beneath us will open, we’ll all go down.” Mr Worthington’s face was no longer visible. I kept a close watch on Mr Kenwood out of the corner of my eye. His horsewhip was at the far end of the table. If he wanted it, he had to step towards it. That would be the signal to run. Up to now he had remained rooted to the spot. But I wanted more revenge. I really wanted to spook them.

Do you see the moon at night?” I gave a sort of evil laugh-it may have been a bit comical but it was genuine. “I know men have walked upon that moon.” The thunder, lighting, rain and wind were now roaring freely outside. “Men went in a rocket through space and landed on that moon. It was even on the television.” The chaos outside was now happening inside. Mrs Abernathy and Mr Worthington were both playing out individual performances of screaming blind panic. As for Kenwood, I knew I was playing it close. I knew he was ready to explode. I knew that what I said next would set him off:

And I know the earth goes round the sun and there are other planets that do the same. The sun is just one star. And if you were to travel to one of them you would die of old age before you got anywhere near them. In fact there are millions of stars in the solar system, silently gazing, watching over-” Kenwood made his move. Like the storm, he was raging:

This beast will desist. For I shall kill this beast, I will beat it out of your soul until it screams for mercy.” He reached for his horsewhip. I shot through the door. Now I really felt the power. I wanted to tease Mr Kenwood. I wanted him to try and catch me. I would let him think that he could catch me. Then I wanted to stand and laugh as he keeled over in exhaustion. After putting up with all the humiliation and cruelty of this hateful stinking man, this was the bit I was looking forward to.

I had an idea that I could escape the same way as before-along the corridor and out through the main entrance. But for some reason I turned the wrong way. I found myself going outside to face the elements. Immediately I was buffeted by the gusting wind as my cheeks were peppered by bullets of rain. The crashing thunder was accompanied by the roar of dogs. I remembered the barking dog on my first day. Then I heard Kenwood screaming behind me.

Kill the devil, kill the devil,” he chanted. This was more frightening than I had imagined. I was losing control. But I knew I could run. With all previous thoughts of teasing my pursuer banished, I ran at full speed turning a corner to what I thought was the way out. I was wrong-horribly wrong. It led nowhere. There was a door at the end but between me and that door were two baying angry dogs. I could see that they blocked my path.

I turned in panic. Now I was heading straight for Kenwood. I had played rugby-I was good at rugby. I had ran against over-sized monsters before. Horsewhip or not I knew that there was a good chance of side-stepping past him, even if he did manage to lash out at me. But the ground was slippery. In my attempt at a body swerve my boot lost its grip and I went crashing down onto one side. I could feel the stinging of my scraped palms. I could feel the bruise on my hip and the falling rain, now turning to hailstones, pinning me to the ground. Kenwood, teeth bared like the dogs behind me raised his arm. I curled up ready for the first blow.