INSET daze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obviously I’d never make the corner.

Yes, I did retire for a very good reason.

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

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

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

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

Thank-you for reading.


Folk singers. An extract from “The Ghost of Hartington Hall.”

My  father  used  to  make  fun  of  folk  singers:

“They  put  on  their  stinking  woolly  jumpers  and  stick  their  fingers  in  their  ears.  They  spend  their  time  in  pubs  drinking  warm  beer  and  picking  the  fleas  out  of  their  overgrown  beards.  No-one  likes  them.”  He  would  then  do  one  of  his  impersonations.  It  often  made  me  laugh,  if  only  just  to  see  Dad  making  a  fool  of  himself  in  front  of  our  relatives. 

Now  I  really  wished  I  had  a  phone  with  me.  I’d  have  filmed  the  performance  of  this  lone  singer  and  shown  it  to  my  father.  This  was  far  too  profound  to  be  made  fun  of.  This  was  powerful  and  moving.  This  was  not  any  sort  of  modern  day  middle  class  old  fogey  in  a  pub  pretending  he  could  sing.  This  was  real.  As  he  came  to  the  end  of  another  verse,  I  was  completely  taken  in.  Then  as  everyone  around  joined  in  his  roaring  jolly  chorus,  I  thought  His  Lordship  was  going  to  scream.  The  chorus  was  loud.  Its  force  shook  the  frame  of  the  carriage.  It  punched  my  ribs.  Now  with  his  hands  over  his  ears  His  Lordship  began  to  shout  directly  at  me:

“They  sing  of  joy  and  gladness  as  though  it  is  their  right.  They  will  get  to  the  city  and  find  nothing  but  misery.”  The  singing  stopped.  His  Lordship  placed  his  hands  back  down  on  his  lap  and  continued  in  a  quieter  voice:

“The  city  teems  with  lost  souls,  displaced  from  their  land  and  left  to  beg  on  the  streets.  There  is  plenty  of  work  here  but  it  is  harsh  work  in  dreadful  stinking  conditions.  Families  will  be  broken  apart  in  their  quest  to  find  employment  and  lodging.  Gangs  of  cruel  men  haunt  the  public  places  offering  them  work  but  it  is  little  more  than  slavery.  Men  may  speak  their  fine  words  about  the  rights  and  wrongs  of  sending  slaves  to  the  new  world,  but  no-one  bears  witness  to  our  own  cruel  practices.  All  generations  work  all  day  and  night  for  nothing  bar  a  roof  over  their  heads  and  a  morsel  of  bread.”  He  paused  to  wipe  his  foaming  mouth.  “Some  will  take  the  king’s  shilling  and  sail  with  the  navy.  They  are  tricked  or  tempted  into  it.  They  may  think  that  life  at  sea  is  exciting  and  full  of  adventure  but  they  will  find  nothing  but  cruelty,  starvation,  disease  and  death.” 

He  closed  his  eyes  briefly  and  took  a  long  swig  from  his  flask.  I  caught  the  whiff  of  its  contents  as  he  put  it  back  into  his  pocket.  The  hard  serious  stare  returned:

The one handed cook slices again

Here are the tools of the trade:

Plus the essential remote control for music

I can’t give this a specific title as it doesn’t follow any specific national cuisine. Is this what we call fusion cooking? Perhaps confusion cooking? Somewhere way out east obviously.

It’s inspired by the discovery of miso paste and late drunken nights gorging at Reggie’s Chinese restaurant in Wallasey; Rake Lane just down from Stanley’s Cask.

Reggie’s, looking mysteriously anonymous.

The amounts are a bit more specific to get a nice blend of hot, sour and sweet.

12oz rump sliced in strips across the grain

small sliced onion

1 medium green pepper sliced in strips

thumb of ginger coarsely sliced

2 cloves of garlic chopped

tbs miso paste

2 tbs tomato puree

juice of one lime

2 tbs sesame oil

2tbs wine vinegar

tbs honey

tbs light soya sauce

2tbs sesame seeds

tsp ground black pepper

Stir into a bowl, cover and leave for an hour. This will give you time to dust down the wok or fret about the lack of fresh vegetables. (Have a starter or a side-dish of fresh salad. You will never EVER find me using the word “side”. The American succinct is evil and should be avoided 24/7. Oh no, it may have me already!)

Heat a big pan, add 2tbs of tasteless oil and stir fry for three to four minutes on a high heat.

Turn the heat down, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the meat is tender. Test for seasoning. It might need a little salt. The miso and soya sauce was enough for me.

If you want to be really poncey, use a wok and chopsticks.

surprised-chef-holding-wok-16852136Serve with plain rice. It should serve two but if you’re like me, ditch the rice and eat it all yourself. It also works very well with sliced field mushrooms instead of the meat.

Thank-you for reading.

Daze days

Now that’s a snappy funky title isn’t it? Enough to make you swallow your mouthful of morning muffin the wrong way?

That brief moment of blind panic; the realisation that in half a second you will be choking uncontrollably in the heightened prestissimo of a frantic tarantella. In a desperate attempt at discretion and control your arms will flail as try not to launch the hybrid semi solid mess of partly masticated cake and frothing saliva at the beautiful pair of hipsters on the next table.

Captain, the engines will never take it.

You know, the ones you smiled at as you sat down with your Sunday paper, assuming some level of equality with people fifteen years your junior. stock-photo-couple-drinking-coffee-in-a-coffee-shop-570815602

Well of course it didn’t. A Sunday morning coffee and cake can be a delight. And what are you doing switching on your phone to read this when you have a newspaper in front of you? Mind you, if you were to look around at the clientele of your chosen establishment you’d see plenty of noses buried in phones. But that’s the way it is these days. Is it just these days? I’m old enough to remember commuting on a train being confronted with the expanse of a daily broadsheet. It was so tempting to ask someone not to change page as I was still reading the headline story.197o1okyuiv27jpg

This is the danger of time on my hands. Today is Sunday. It’s already mapped out for me. I woke up late with a tune buzzing round my head. I think buzzing may be rather inappropriate for the subject of the song. Floating would be better. Either way it set me up for a creative slow burn of bloggery. I’m not expecting much to happen today. A parcel is due and I don’t want to miss it.

So that’s it! I’ll sit and tap away before watching two football matches and then think about the details of dinner. It’s already in the fridge because I only consumed half of the pork curry created yesterday. I will drift in and out of a daze consisting of sitting still and pressing buttons on a remote control, lost in a pool of languid indifference. It’s a pool of green turgid treacle where only the biggest rocks create a ripple. A swamp

Today, I don’t like those rocks. They are boulders of burden. These are the things I know I should do but I don’t want to do. I need more fruit so I need to charge the scooter. This involves a yedious sequence of opening doors and sitting on my indoor chair whilst guiding out my travel chair with yet another remote control. But while the chair is electric, the remote control isn’t.

Controlling one chair from another

When said chair is awaiting the arrival of my corpulent frame, I must delve into the cupboard of disaster. And there is another boulder of burden. If I bothered to spend an hour or two sorting it out, it would not be a potential avalanche of domestic jetsam, poised, waiting to rain down over the confines of the hallway carpet as I tug away at the charging box and plugs for the scooter.

And yes, I know I misspelt tedious but I rather like the sound of it. It helps me elongate the first syllable for emphasis.

Then the dishwasher ceases its pulsating beat; like an incessant Phillip Glass masterwork. It’s a moment of sweet relief. Outside, the inevitable parade of cars create another backdrop of bland monotones. As the washer revives its constant thrum, the two combine to give me the music of the Avant Garde.

Now I realise that my ramblings are little more than introverted whimsical notions so I will conclude with a flourish of something mildly higher than the stratosphere of cerebral daze.

In Muswell Hill, I was always amused by the sign at the top of Cranley Gardens which said “The Avant Garden Centre.”

Secondly, I have the power to raise my day with the blessings of music. I have an endless choice with which to direct my spirits. Now what was that song gently cascading across my mind this morning?

Thank you for reading.

From “The Ghost of Hartington Hall”

Then remembering the stern man’s advice, I thought it best to make a swift return to Saint Paul’s. Not wanting to attract any attention, I kept my eyes fixed on the ground in front of me. But it was too late. Three pairs of booted feet stood in my path.
“I pray sir has not upset the lady,” one of them muttered.
“One would not like any manner of impropriety here,” said a second voice using one of those false “posh” accents you might expect in a comedy film. They were mocking me. I looked up and caught the eye of the third one as he spoke:
“Our master needs some education.” He smiled a crooked smile. His teeth had gone completely. Even though I was a good few paces away from him, I detected the foul odour of his festering breath. The stench of body odour increased as they inched towards me, cackling quietly, opening out their arms to block my escape. I had no idea how I was going to get away from this. I knew I could run but there were three of them-and even if I did escape, I was afraid of getting lost. I thought of Miss Elizabeth back at the house and how she was the only link between here and my own time. Now I was really anxious.
But I had to run. Turning to go another way I bumped into a fourth person. Now the smell and terror was all around me. With two thumping bony palms he pushed me back to the others. Then came the whip. I heard its shrill swish.
The person to my left let out a yelp and fell onto his knees holding his face. The two alongside him reeled back in surprise. From behind me I could hear the fourth man running away. The whip thrashed again. The man in front of me shrieked as it caught his raised arm. Then the fat outstretched arm of Mr Kenwood grabbed my shoulder. This was no rescue however. I was going from one nightmare to another. He dragged me away:
“Young sir does not listen,” he shouted breathlessly. “Young sir walked away. Young sir is a fool. Young sir will never be a lord with such a manner as this.” Being so close to him was repulsive. There was no avoiding his slobber and sweat. I felt a complete failure. Nothing was in my favour. I had felt helpless with the beggar girl and now I felt helpless in the clutches of the coachman. My whole situation was hopeless. Peeking out from around a corner was Mr Slug. My heart pounded fiercely. I was beyond speech. There was no way of talking my way out of this! Approaching His Lordship, I could sense the curious gaze of everyone else around us. I saw his hands shaking. His breaths were short. I knew he was livid but I just couldn’t look him in the eye.
“Is there no-one of any trust within my company,” he shouted, waving his arms at all that was around us. “I cannot even trust those I do business with. And I certainly have no trust for those I dine with.” He leaned right into my face. I stared straight ahead. “And now I cannot place trust on my only son and heir.” Mr Slug was now by the cathedral door laughing. So was the stern man and all those who were begging around him.
I was embarrassed and frustrated: Embarrassed because I was being shouted at while people laughed at me and frustrated because I knew I was out of place and no-one seemed to care. No-one would have listened to why I wanted to help. No-one knew that I was genuine and that I’d helped people before. Yet I knew so much more than these people; I was better educated, I knew how to behave, and I knew how to be kind, for no other reason than kindness itself. There was no way I was as short sighted or as ignorant as those who were standing there laughing at me. I wanted to tell them how little they knew. I wanted to tell them about the future and all of its wondrous advancements and inventions. But I was being laughed at. I was just a figure of fun; an impudent young pup getting his just desserts for disobeying his master. There had been times at school when a boy or girl has become frustrated and lost their temper. They stood in the playground shouting and screaming at anyone and everyone. It never did any good. I would always feel sorry for them. I thought about the girl I had tried to help:
“What if she came into the square and started shouting about the injustice of her hardship? Who would listen to her?”
I remained silent. It is rare for me to feel close to tears. I could usually deal with most situations, but here I had to think really hard about keeping my composure. It was not easy. The odious Mr Kenwood continued to grip my upper arm while Mr Slug hovered nearby with his damp, yellowing greasy forehead. I focused on my absolute hatred of both these repulsive characters-it helped! After a brief moment of tense, silent, suspended animation, his Lordship waved me away before taking a long drink from his flask.
“Take the boy home.” His tone was final. “I will stay within the city tonight. Fetch me on the morrow.” He walked off, waving at someone in the distance. “Sir you are most elusive,” he called, swishing his cane above his head. A man turned round waving. It looked like the man who was staring at me in the Corn Exchange. I never had the chance to find out.

Ropes, hands and potholes

You’re on the ropes. You’re feeling a bit ropy. It’s money for old rope. Give him enough rope and………… well you know. What about the rope you are tied to? We all have invisible ropes. They can tie us down in many ways.

What about hands?

hands-05Lend us a hand. Hand me that pencil. Did you have a hand in building that? Left hands, right hands, all hands on deck and healing hands. I’m not going to go into green fingers.

My hands are tied with the ropes of disability. I often think back to the whole journey of my chronic condition. I was chosen by multiple sclerosis; others fall victim to many other ropes of confinement. Mine was a gradual emerging tangle, growing, strangling and occasionally whipping me in the face with the sharp pains of emerging realities.

It messed with the mind:

“Oh no, I appear to be tripping up a lot. What shall I do? I know I’ll embark on a fitter, healthier lifestyle and train harder.”

I actually did this. On the twenty third of December 1989, after a visit to the doctor, I stopped drinking. I did all that jolly sober friend routine watching everyone around me unwind with the great god alcohol, secretly wishing to join in.maxresdefault

Six weeks later I tested myself with a walk. It was a disaster. With cut knees and ruined trousers, I limped into the local and sank six pints of beer. I played pool, darts and joked with friends. I even made light of my ominous symptoms and grim prognosis. The ropes were building and I was opening up about it. Along with the ropes came the misconceptions.

Yes, twenty nine years on they are still irritating, giving me an urge to poke some people in the eye with a sharp pencil. But I have the capacity to cope. I have the wherewithal to see where the rope is and give myself a hand in dealing with it. I can practise various levels of sarcasm and ridicule in the form of witty ripostes to those who are emboldened to offer me some snippets of their own inexperienced wisdom. They often appear in the strangest forms.

A fellow victim of another chronic condition was telling me about their consultant. There was some difficulty in getting some of her points across. The good doctor appeared to be stuck on one of his own icebergs of misconception.

relationship_communication_breakdownBut, and this is a big but, teaching has blessed me with a host of experience in the analysis of human behaviour. Every working day of my life my eyes were opened to new facets of this.

It’s not exclusive. Everyone can do this. Discussion, interaction and learning to open one’s mind is a useful tool in breaking down these walls of misunderstanding.

I pointed out that some people who have shown both genius and drive to achieve the lofty heights of a consultancy, may not be the best communicators. Years of dedicated lonely study and endless seminars of narrow specialism are admirable but it’s hardly a course in understanding those around us. Again, this is where patience and quiet perseverance is the only feasible way ahead. And when we eventually achieve our goal we are courteous and magnanimous for this is the gift we all possess.

This is how we can deal with the potholes laid out before us.

allendale-pothole1-e1365972686479Potholes in the road are a pain. But the way to tackle them is not to scream along regardless, resulting in an angry tirade when one of our low profile tyres has burst resulting in a spectacular dent on our alloy wheel. Potholes are fairly destructive indiscriminate things but they do need respect. As in life, we are awash with potholes and stumbling blocks.

Now, which is the nastiest rope? I would never dream of one-upmanship in the world of illness and disability but the most pernicious is the most invisible. It is a long wiry twisting rope that attacks from the inside. Then it spreads. It spreads unseen to impair others within its vicious circle. It turns people. It turns against people. It tortures before it eventually breaks years of friendship, love and trust. It’s not even rope any more.


This is the damned rope of dementia. We talk of the invisible illness and the multitude of misconceptions these have generated. No, we don’t look ill, so in many ways we are expected to justify our provision to act as a normally functioning human being. But we have become adept at doing so; we are still in the mix of human reasoning and independent decision making.

Dementia destroys all that. All such reasoning is twisted into a tangled web of an impenetrable illogical cacophony, turning respect into desperation. That parent who bore your very person. That parent who did everything for you; years of selfless sacrifice, believing in your dreams and brining you back to earth when necessary.

The person who dug you out of your holes and never lost faith in you despite the errors of your ways. When that parent or close relative becomes an unrecognisable human mess, you are henceforth gripped by the deadly rope itself. It ties your hands, squeezes your mind and trips you up. Then it strangles your patience. It is the deepest and darkest of

What right has this brutish  ligature to create  such long reaching devastation?

Thank you for reading.

Two sauces

My recent discovery of miso paste has opened up some new culinary doors. Having been a bit ambivalent about sweet and sour sauces, particularly those from take-aways and Chinese restaurants, this delightful paste is a source (sauce) of real depth as opposed to the sticky gloopy MSG infested slush one has come to expect. It’s also inspired me to create a sweet chilli sauce thus extending the McChrystal range further eastwards.

It really all started with an objection to the sweet brown relish HP had morphed into. The bite had gone so it was time to make a sauce with a bit of a kick. Pesto followed soon after and then I started on middle-eastern spices. Sumac is the biz. Obviously Indian sauces have been big in my life.

The quest for delicious condiments continues:

Sweet and sour sauce.

tbs miso paste (salted caramel on steroids)

half a red pepper-diced

small onion-chopped

garlic paste

ginger paste

3tbs sugar

100ml red wine vinegar

Squirt of tomato puree.

Gently fry the onions and peppers until soft, adding water if the heat is too fierce. Mix all the other ingredients and put them in. Try not to keep pinching the odd spoonful. Cook it all through for another fifteen minutes then blend with a hand blender. Add some water until you get the consistency of a runny ketchup. I used pastes for the convenience. Raw materials are equally acceptable. If you want to add more tang throw in some tamarind paste or some “tea” made from soaking kokum berries in boiling water.

Sweet chilli sauce.

bird’s eye chilli (or two)

4 tbs sugar


red pepper

120 ml cider or white wine vinegar 

thumb of ginger

2 cloves garlic

tbs balsamic vinegar

squirt of tomato puree

Finely chop the raw ingredients and gently fry. When the onions and peppers are soft add everything else and reduce until it becomes that nice sticky consistency you see in jars. You can make larger amounts and store them in sterilised jars. I would add more sugar for reasons of storage. As I do my cooking one-handed I’ve invested in this fine piece of kitchen brutality:

You don’t have to be delicate with this hunk

Last night I had the sauces with home made beef patties. I’d have used minced pork but the beef was the first thing I found in the freezer. They would go equally well with king prawns fried in lime juice, ginger and garlic or firm tofu, cubed and coated in breadcrumbs. Of course you can refine them by varying the amount of ingredients.

Thank-you for reading.