So and so

The pedants are revolting. They’re up in arms about everything. Nothing is safe from the Constabulary of Pedantry. There is even a column in The Times on Saturday entitled “The Pedant.” Who cannot be irritated by the sentence which starts: “I think you’ll find that…………….”?

But hang on. It if wasn’t for pedantry, I’d find life meaningless. There would be nothing to debate or worse still; there would be no chance to correct people. Oh, how I love it when my inner teacher sallies forth to indicate a misuse of our fine language.

Yes, I’m a practising pedant, specialising in the correct use of the English language. (Should language have a capital L in this context?) But discretion is needed here. I let a lot of things go. For example, I don’t correct all people who use the term “off of”. I just feel glib about not falling into the trap of this common, highly irritating colloquialism.

This morning, from my bedroom, I heard someone outside say:

“It’s one of them roads.” Did I feel the urge to scramble into my literary fatigues and go dashing outside to correct such thoughtless abuse of the queen’s English? Well yes I did but my discretion button came into play and it was raining. I can just imagine his response:

Me: (Half dressed rolling aggressively towards offender.) It’s one of those roads.

Bemused ordinary man: That’s what I just said. A brief look of bemusement precedes his walking back to his van, shaking his head.

Perhaps one of our most respected purveyors of the spoken and written word is Suzy Dent, the regular keeper of Dictionary Corner in Countdown. Countdown is a very soft cuddly celebration of words and their meanings. It’s like a meeting of friends, all agreed about their avid interest in the very bones of our native tongue.

Once I heard the great Suzy declare her dislike for starting a sentence with the word “so”. It’s a very worth notion. We regard words like so as a conjunction or a connective; just like and or but perhaps. But (smug use of a connective opener) have you noticed how many sentences do actually start with and?

In modern literature there will be many examples. Even the first paragraph of Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” breaks all the rules of grammar. It breaks rules for dramatic effect. It works. So why can’t we use such openers for similar purposes? (I think the use of so is perfectly valid here.)

In music we’d call it an upbeat; an anacrusis to be precise. Many well loved pieces start in this way. Beethoven’s fifth, Brahms fourth or Bach’s third  Brandenburg Concerto.

The real abuse of the word so and the reason for it being so irritating is the way it’s used to stall whilst one is thinking of an answer:

“That question is tricky so I’ll start with a long so.” Then the  respondent will continue to open each sentence in the same way. Ten questions later and you want to poke them in the eye. One of my favourite TV programmes is “Pointless.” The ever jolly Alexander will asked each contestant what they do. Fifty percent of the time they will respond with “So”. That’s when I want to shout:

“So is not the way to begin a response you ignoramus who’s only on the show because you waste your time watching crappy American stuff and Strictly.”

Language, like music, needs its effects. It needs to hold the listener or the reader. Repetition, alliteration and abbreviation are great tools for drama. Similarly we can delight in the art of elegant variation as an author begins to describe a scene of tumult or tranquillity. And what about Bill the Bard? Such mastery of language has placed the bars of literary composition as high as the sky. Why say:

“He’s being duped by that old slag” when you can write “Take but good note and you shall see in him the third pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet’s fool.”

Thank you for reading.

Silly Billy

In the seventies there was an impersonator called Mike Yarwood. Every time he did his rather useless impression of Dennis Healy, he made use of the term “silly billy”.


This is the sort of thing that comes around in your head when the night is sleepless. Then I thought of other rhyming pairs now in common use before realising how much I hate them.

If sarcasm is the lowest form of wit then rhyming clichés are the lowest form of phrase. I’m sure we all have a mental list of sayings which make us cringe and thanks to my sleepless night, I’m going to impose some of mine on you.

I was not really aware of their potential to irritate until I heard the term fun run. FUN RUN: There, I’ve shouted it at you.

Running has a variety of uses. In terms of catching a bus or minimising the embarrassment of acute lateness, running can be an expedient response. For those noble souls who run as part of their daily routine; gallantly jogging along with heads impaled by ear plugs and the traditional bright livery which gives you an urge to throw up at the temerity of such vibrant colour combinations-it’s a gesture to the value of fitness, thus deserving of some polite applause.

Is anyone smiling?

Then there are the occasional joggers who don their shorts or leggings in the good name of charity. Again, it shows heartfelt genuine worthwhile endeavour. But is it fun? I’ve never seen a runner laughing. There might be a joyous sigh or the enforced grimace of a stitch at the end of a five or ten kilometre stretch of endurance and breathlessness but fun? Satisfaction? Yes. Feel good factor? Yes. Sense of adventure? Yes. The discovery of a new you? Perhaps. Fun? Ermmmmmmmmmmmmmm…

But it’s not catchy is it?

Suffer a case of mild exhaustion whilst trying to chat to your friend run.” Or “slowly realise how unfit you are run.”

So we get fun run in all its euphemistic oxymoronic glory. Then at the end of that sobering yet worthy spell, when you’re standing panting, doubled over in the pain of your efforts, some super fit skinny rake comes up to you and says: “No pain no gain.”untitled

I’ve always said that putting your body through extremes of tolerance gives you excellent tools for dealing with life in general. Whether it’s running or swimming, cycling or mountaineering, the relief of the finish and the sense of achievement through grit and determination plus that little streak of madness, makes you really appreciate and value yourself. It may even offer a level of empathy with those who regularly face such challenges just to get through the day.

Then it gets worse.

Don’t look now but our whole life is being infiltrated by smug rhyming clichés.

Tear and share; I don’t know about you but I associate the word tear with a slight accident or a mad frenzy of destruction. Imagine the eager child and the wrapping paper of his x box shaped birthday present. I believe it relates to a pizza or some form of communal eating.maxresdefault

I wonder if the phrase was used in the loaves and fishes miracle?

“Come on you desperate starving five thousand; tear and share.”

On some sports channels we may well be confronted with the term Fight night. I have the impression of two brutish gangs standing face to face, shouting and taunting Hakka style until the sun dips below the horizon.

Not quite macho!

At the sound of a bell they go at each other hammer and tongs until the last person falls.

I’ve taught a few Lizzies over the years and the one thing I’ve learned is never to use the prefix “busy”. Unless of course you want some sort of cutting painful riposte.

Now I’ve put the idea in your head, I’ll leave you to find your own personal rhyming, scream inducing clichés.

But hey, (How American. We can probably blame the good old boys over there for so many of these verbal needles.) It won’t be a blast from the past and I’m not cruising for a bruising so take a chill pill, it’s the real deal. This short rhyme chime is merely the bastard child of cockney rhyming slang. So go out and shop ’til you drop with ants in your pants because by hook or by crook it’s the real deal. I’m off to get drunk as a skunk.

Thank-you for reading.

Or ta lar, as they say in Liverpool.

Time marches on

It’s now over a week since my great northern expedition. There will be no more until September when the schools are back. I used to love the summer holidays.

celebrate-thumbs-upMy favourite weekend of the year was that first weekend of the big break. School or work was as far away as it could be. The term usually ended in triumph with happy confident eleven year olds being unleashed back onto quaking parents, often unsure about the next six weeks and when the boredom would kick in. For me it was a child free or pupil free break.

I always spent that first weekend with friends. It always ended in beers.


Now, (sorry teachers) I can’t wait for the holidays to end. I cannot possibly fall into the grumpy trap and get all malevolent about children and their various ways of deliberately and inadvertently winding us oldies up. In fact, I have often engaged children in conversation on long train journeys. On reflection, I have quite a bit to say. But it’s that train journey last December just before Christmas.

Those two boys with their poor beleaguered grandma spent the whole two hours arsing about in the toilets. I could have interfered with my strict teacher voice but no. It was two days to Christmas and I think they were a bit excitable. But in the words of Mark Antony from Antony and Cleopatra: “Grates me: The sum”.

hqdefaultIn terms of world events, not a lot has happened over the last nine days. In terms of my world though, some things have happened. Don’t they always? If things didn’t happen, what on earth have I been doing in all that time? Lying stone still on my bed in a darkened room while Seymour, demented with hunger, rouses me from my stupor by chewing off my right ear or something equally effective?

Last Sunday night I front lined the cat. (Serves him right for chewing my ear off.) It’s always a tricky operation. It requires stealth, trickery and a strong drink to take my mind of the pain. Because the old chap loves to sit on my knee it’s fairly easy getting him into a perfect position. But the next stages are crucial. If I stop scratching his neck he looks round to see what my right hand is doing. What could possibly be more important than scratching his neck?

To maintain the calm, I have to switch hands mid scratch; not easy with the state of my left hand. At the same time I have to quietly pick up the dreaded phial and mutter words of false praise to my brave little soldier in order to drown out the crack of the seal. With nozzle poised, my good hand takes over the scratching as I gently but firmly administer the deadly poison onto the back of his neck. Simultaneously he digs his claws into my legs to use as purchase for a bolted indignant escape. The cat flap crashes and I sip my drink, trying to drown the pain.

But he always comes back for food

Now for the great cooker episode:

After ordering a new light cover for my cooker hood, one of the bulbs decided to blow. Now I hate an imbalance. I can’t help my own imbalance due to the inconvenience of my chronic condition but a lack of symmetry (and I will use this phrase again), “Grates me: The sum.” It was staring at me. Mocking. That infernal hood knew the missing light disturbed me.

So I planned my strategy.

I couldn’t bear to post a “before” picture

If I could take the old one out, I could replace it. It was to involve unscrewing the cover then standing in some form of supported position, twerking with the oven and hob whilst reaching out and unscrewing the offending bulb. It took its time. Then I was ready to give myself a real treat. With object in hand, I rolled across to the electrical shop.

Now spending £3.25 on a new bulb is not exciting but it was a chance to ogle at some appliance porn. Oh those sexy microwaves.

maxresdefaultLook at that darling flat screen TV winking at me. That fridge freezer can just gobble me up whenever it feels like. I needed a slap to break the spell.


Reader, I replaced it. I’m not sure if a small audience gathered outside to watch a repeat of my gyratory, crotch against hob dance, but I hope anyone passing found some form of entertainment. I was so delighted. It got major billing on my Facebook time line.


Then last night the bread machine gave up. It has given me sixteen years of sterling service. When I bought it, I promised never to buy bread again. I didn’t, except for a few artisan breads while on holiday; they were expensive and nothing I couldn’t do myself. And my confidence is down to that machine. In fact I’m so confident, I’m not even replacing it. That space is going to be filled by a retro stand mixer with a dough hook. The machine has mostly been used for just mixing and kneading.

Have you ever tried removing a loaf baked in the machine. Grappling with a hot bread pan trying to shake a loaf out is a sight to behold.

Yeah right!

Just think of shaking a big pair of maracas trying to get a sound out of them. After said lump of bread has finally emerged and you wipe the sweat off your brow, you’ll find that the large paddle has inserted itself up the arse of the bread.

This is impossible to remove delicately. Half the loaf’s internal organs will come out with the paddle. Having said that, it has been a wonderful friend and the timer facility often meant rising to the heady aroma of fresh bread. So farewell my Panasonic friend, I hope they’re nice to you in the great bread basket in the sky.


Finally, let me tell you about Bernie. Like me, Bernie was an original Mewso. After ten and a half years at the Mews, there were just three originals left. Bernie used to have a bungalow up the road where he grew his fruit and vegetables. His house was almost dwarfed by a forest of tall beanpoles. He even managed to grow tomatoes around our block. Rose had her own cherry tomato plant.

He would often sit outside on the bench chewing the fat with all and sundry.

He adored our Rose and along with his sister Beryl, the were very kind to her. He seemed to know everyone and what they were doing.

Unfortunately he was not blessed with good health and on Sunday 2nd of July, passed away from the living world. I’ll miss him sitting on that bench, loaded with dry witticisms and uncompromising observations. IMG_5346

There have been a few other things this week; I removed the hard drive from an old computer, I have a quad stick and some new challenges at physio and I’ve made some really nice bread by hand.

But when I go out on the scooter, I look up to flat four and see closed windows. IMG_5347

So sad.

Thank-you for reading.

Two days in pictures.

It’s all very well having a slick, sometimes sharp line in the written art but sometimes I just like pictures and captions. If anyone knows of a writer with such a gift can they pass them onto me; I could do with some useful tips. Felt tips? No, that was for ideas boards in the classroom. I’d set the class off on some joint writing task and in amongst the hubbub, I’d stick up ideas for vocabulary or subject matter.

Now, where was I?

Into the nebular



Welcome to Liverpool



IMG_5309                                        The destination of our roistering.





The original slide valve



A liability of McChrystals



Enthralled by the duet. I’ve never known Yingtong Iddle eye poe be so moving.



Oops, pissed again



Room with a view. A sea of grey.



The old travellers’ rest. Showing its age through deliberate neglect.



Into the nebula (said with a scouse accent)



IMG_5318 (2)
Still grey



Glorious Grove Road



Lime Street lower level. Obviously the disabled route is tucked away so we don’t embarrass Joe public with our shaking head and dribbling.



The Lime Street clock can still be seen. A step back into Edwardian or Victorian elegance now slightly concealed by the prominence of motorway service station je ne sais quoi.



Gower Street terraces. Value?



I love St Martins



The last leg


The aftermath; this is how I felt.



Thank you for reading

Beethoven’s words

For many lovers and exponents of Classical music, Beethoven stands astride the bridge between Classical and Romantic.

Just picture that stern face, score in hand spanning some colossal abyss, where so many before him failed the great leap across to passion and angst. His work is packed tight with examples of his vision and courage; courage to move away from the bonds of patronage and strike out as a musician in his own right.

This all mirrors the true romantic and heroic notions Beethoven himself was pushing towards. But if we were to take a closer look, we may find this grand image deflated a little by some of his contemporaries and immediate predecessors.

I’m not going to go into details but the great abyss I alluded to was actually little more than a narrow meander twisting across and back between the two genres. The whole business has more subtlety and nuance than you could shake a conductor’s baton at. (Common time, obviously with little bursts of frantic scherzo.) Apart from the obvious signs of Beethoven’s progressive style; five movement symphonies, quasi fantasia sonatas, the reflection and self analysis within the string quartets etc etc, it is the texture of his piano music which really spells it out. Look at the first page of the Sonata Pathetique:

Beethoven-Sonata-Piano-Sonata-No-8-op-13-no-8-Pathetique-page1-51c90ec56dfb1It’s so thick isn’t it? There are great handfuls of chords, it covers over four octaves and the melody is in octaves.

For the piano itself, it is genuinely demanding. The dynamic markings give a licence to push the bounds of an instrument still in its infancy. Yes, Haydn and Mozart’s piano music is full of turbulent passion but they still carry a sense of the style brise, necessitated by the lack of a sustained sound-characteristic of the harpsichord.

This takes us from the idea of the keyboard in its generic sense to the pianoforte as a vehicle capable of orchestral and vocal expression. The rest of the sonata, whilst being as turbulent as its introduction, settles down to a more conventional arpeggiated texture. Here we can make direct comparison to Mozart’s wonderful C minor piano sonata.

But of all of Beethoven’s piano compositions, I’m drawn to a modest late bagatelle. Many times I have languished in the tortures of the late sonatas and marvelled at the genius of harmonic creativity.

By this time, the piano had itself grown in size and strength. Yet it’s this simple little piece which leaves me spellbound. Here is the opening page:HL-349806First_BIG

It’s hardly the Pathetique is it? But look at the left hand. From the start, it’s in thirds below a single melody line; a sure indicator of a piano’s (and performer’s) capability of balancing sounds. At one stage the hands are also quite well apart. There is also a sly key change from G to C.

In fact I could find so many discreet little signals which mirror the many advances of this great composer. But the real reason for showing this piece does not need any great clever tricks of musical analysis.

For me it is the embodiment of the Romantic notion. It has romanticism oozing from every bar. At the time of writing this, Beethoven had spent many years trapped within his own tortured cell of deafness. I have no idea what he heard between his ears but it is not reflected in what he heard in his head. In some respect, the deafness had freed him from the shackles of pleasantries; the melodic harmonious nature of which still attracts many listeners to Classic FM. “Whatever!” I loudly exclaim.

The bagatelle opus 126 in G leaves me with a combination of admiration, sorrow, excitement and pure heartbreak because in amongst the turmoil of his later years, it is a snapshot of genuine love. It is tempting for many people with life affecting conditions to hate the world and to rave against their fortune. But here Beethoven is saying:

“It’s all right, I still know what joy is. Here is a little piece of my heart. I cannot hear it with my ears but you can so I’m happy to share it with you.”

Thank-you for reading.

I can’t think of a glib cryptic title.

It’s true. I can’t produce anything from my heavily lesioned brain. I’m currently in the recovery position where I intend to stay for most of the day. But I have a story to tell so I’ll press on. Late at night sometime last week, I decided to pay a surprise visit to New Brighton for my brother’s sixtieth birthday. “I know,” I thought. “I’ll take National Express.” It would have been a great new experience to jump on a coach in Tunbridge Wells, change at Victoria and sit back, drifting in and out of slumber on the long road up north. “Are you mad?” people asked. “Two days on a coach?” Yes I was coming back the next day! Well, now modern technology has provided a wheelchair lift onto the bus, it seemed entirely feasible. Plus; and I’ve spoken long and loud about this; I usually benefit from a couple of days of doing absolutely nothing. What could possibly go wrong? Then there was an email. “Sorry, the nature of the street furniture at Tunbridge Wells does not allow the use of the lift.”

FJ56YWHSo I got my money back and booked the train. So much for a new adventure. Why couldn’t the driver just move along a bit to where the lift could be deployed? Answers on a postcard addressed to National Express please.

At Charing Cross I was feeling brave. With a fully charged up chair, I was going to stroll up to Euston and enjoy the mad vibes of our great capital.

Stroll is a hybrid term; it really means street roll but I cleverly shortened the word street to the familiar st abbreviation and combined it with what I do best-roll. How very Times crossword.

Now I’m getting confident at driving the chair, my focus is now more on people watching than the size, shape and direction of their bottoms. I love people watching. I still notice outstanding bottoms however; especially the ones which defy gravity by their sheer size. But we come in all shapes and sizes and the human body is an amazing feat of genetic engineering. Going through theatre land is always a pleasure.

I like the posters and the little sound bites they present. Next time I’ll count the number of times the word “stunning” is used.

“My great big stick-the musical” “Left me truly stunned” The theatre weekly.

“Multiplication” “It gets bigger and bigger.” Times magazine.

“Stalactites.” “So many outstanding performances.” Geology rocks monthly.

As these great institutions slumbered gently in the morning sun, awaiting the burst of life we know as the matinee, tourists buzzed about like busy bees with their cameras and selfie sticks. They burbled excitedly in tongues. And I too was very excited on my first tourist visit to London. It was a long time ago.

Yes these people maraud like insects, standing in the way, taking pictures and reading menus but I don’t mind. As I said to the man who sold me a Big Issue, London is cool now I don’t associate it with work and commuting any more. Retirement has given me time. And my chair carries my bags of burden.

Then I hit Euston Road. I’d taken an unintentional diversion but was so pleased to see Kings Cross St Pancras close up. St Pancras is a glorious neo gothic creation of stark pointed towers and thick bulbous counterpoint. I expected it to be cleaner but it still has a look of weary occupation as its dark blank window eyes gaze down on the frantic chaos.

1200px-St_Pancras_Renaissance_London_Hotel_2011-06-19Oh what chaos. At this great convergence of busy transport hubs the sound of thunder filled the pavement. Cases are no longer carried. There is no need to feel the ache of arms, a shining brow beaded with sweat or the bruised shins, barked by the sharpest side of the packed suitcase. Cases have wheels. It gives their owners a new style of street weapon. Whilst the sound of hard plastic wheels creates the roar and intimidation of the storm clouds, they are nothing to my angel chair. For they are merely slings and arrows. I drive a tank.

A wary eye is still necessary however. There are always the foolhardy wrapped in their own blanket of urgency. There are platforms to reach. Euston heaved to the daily throng of hard pressed travellers. The centre of the concourse is laid with petrified statues.

nbvgt.pngThey remain embedded, staring up to the great god Departures Board. The mobile nobility again with thundering cases, weave the little patterns around those transfixed with their platform number. Then when it magically appears there is a great exodus as they now become the weavers whilst the newcomers take up their own anxious stance. I’d love that job. The person who presses the platform number. I’d had to have a large screen focused of the concourse. One mischievous day I’d randomly press a number then hold it for three seconds before entering the correct number.

They’d be like pigeons, traumatised by an imaginary cat.

After exiting my train on the way back, I made the long trek up the platform. On the adjacent platform was another Virgin train, waiting to depart for Birmingham. The platform button had been pressed and they’d raced off without listening to the announcement about boarding the front eight coaches only. For there were twelve coaches on the platform and the first four were unattached. Oh how those little people, held down with a lifetime’s baggage, prodded and pushed those unresponsive door buttons.

“Should I tell them?” I didn’t.

Oh how I love to watch people.

Thank-you for reading.

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.