Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Finding the source of the Nile.


"You're NOT getting on with THAT!" the bus driver snaps at me.

I blink in surprise, and simultaneously have two thoughts. The first is that my reaction - the blink - is a completely useless defence mechanism. What use, I reflect, would a sudden blink and accompanying head jerk be if, in the Great East African Rift Valley, about two hundred thousand years ago, I was suddenly confronted by a large, voracious predator? A blink is hardly likely to scare the critter. Geary, will have to be consulted, and I will have to immediately disagree with him. My second thought is "What is the driver talking about?". I check my person in case I have inadvertently brought a halberd on my shopping trip, but the driver intercedes,

"No drinks allowed" he nods at my coffee.

I try the Irish approach - attack by infallible, and completely unreasonable logic

"Well I would have drunk it if you had turned up ten minutes later. Then it wouldnt have been a problem". I grin to show I'm joking.

He scowls

"Its a health and safety hazard. And there's signs on the bus. And the mess....."

He then does, what is almost exclusively an English cultural trait. He lets me on the bus with a reluctant nod of the head, then loudly discusses how rude I am with the person who has been patiently queuing behind me - "Cant read some of them. And holding everyone up. They think you're born yesterday." Both the driver and his elderly confidante tut loudly, shake their heads and say, synchronously "Well, never mind then".

This exchange confirms the way today has gone. I have taken a rare trip to town, abandoning the Crosstowner because its rear axle and my right knee have finally succumbed to the injuries sustained in the hit and run of two years ago. I'm after a new rear axle for the bike, and a new doctor for me. For pleasure, I have also added a purchase to my list - a selected item of computer technology.


In the bike store, the first sales assistant I approach looks at me, decides I am not going to buy a £1000 bike and walks away. Specialist bike stores share with exclusive London tailors a breath-taking snobbery. Staff can tell if you are a "serious" cyclist just by looking at you. "Proper" cyclists have bandy legs with thighs that resemble in shape a killer whale's body. They also have slightly hunched backs and very large elbows. Perhaps it is my own large elbows that allows the assistant to interact with me, briefly, after a chase round the store that resembles the final stages of the 1994 Tour De France prologue time trail.

"I'm looking for a rear axle for my bike - the Crosstowner".

"Never heard of it " he says and walks off.

I set off in hot pursuit - a short, but vicious, climb through the hybrids, then a long straight run past the road bikes, draughting another customer through the mountain bike section before summiting the Col de Stairs and taking him on the finish line by the customer service desk.

"Hi" I pant, "it's me again. We were talking about an axle"

With nowhere to run, he realises he finally has to serve someone who, in his mind, might well have a bike, but is hardly a cyclist - where's the shades?

"Bring it in, we'll have look at it" he says and tries to dodge past me.

At this juncture, I decide that tactics, perfected by the males of my family over aeons, should be employed, so I block his escape route and set out to bore him into submission. On this occasion this consists of an incredibly detailed, jovial explanation of why I need the part, starting with a short road tour I took with my younger brother two years ago, a detailed description of my bike, the accident that caused the damage, the problems wih the bike I have had since, a short exposition on societal justice and a few humourous anecdotes about the cats . The trick is to pretend that you dont realise that the sales assistant, after about a minute, develops a growing comprehension that he has stumbled across a raving lunatic and his afternoon would be more enjoyable if he were to pass the time by plunging knitting needles into his eyes. It works a treat. I dont need to invoke the cats, because this guys is nothing if not sharp-witted, and within a few minutes I have my part, at a discount.


The same tactics will not work as I attempt to persuade a new doctor to take me on, and I know it. This desire for change of doctor is driven by a complete failure to get treatment for some damage to the old knees. After a long, acrimonious fight, in which I have now been told that the problem is "not serious enough" to warrant treatment, I am looking for a new doctor, so I attend a new surgery that I have been told is good. I approach the receptionist and tell her that I would like to sign up.

"Why? " she asks me.

Unwisely, I tell the truth. "My current doctor is no good. Complete idiot. He wont treat my knee".

She raises her eyebrows. "Has he examined your knee?" she asks.

"Well, yes" I agree "but he says the problem isnt serious enough"

"And are you medically qualified ?" she asks.

"Well no " I admit, but then add, somewhat reasonably, I think "It is my knee. I know its broken"

"Broken?" she asks.

"Well not broken, but not 'right'" I say "And he wont do anything about it. He said that if I was younger, and played sports, I could probably be higher priority, but with me, its just ageing. I dont accept that."

She looks sceptically at me."Do you wish to complain about your doctor?" she asks. I tell her no.

"Well if you dont want to complain about him, why do you want to leave his practise?" she asks. I curse infallible, but unreasonable logic. She's probably of Irish descent. But she is also a doctor's receptionist. I am facing an unclimable wall and none of my tactics are working. One fact in the complex of relationships that govern life in the UK is that one cannot adopt the same mien in the doctors that one can in a bike shop. Its a class thing - doctors and their staff are immensely more important than practically everyone else. And they know it. With that natural superiority, I am overwhelmed and stumbling. I have one last argument, so I say, rather meekly

"Well, I though, er Charter.. and all I could choose a, er, my own doctor..." I tail off.

She looks at me as if I have just said "There's a gathering of Elves in Rivendell, I've heard" and says

"Well, there's more to it than just turning up. This isnt a shop you know. Its up to you, but probably the best thing to do is to go back to your doctor and talk your problem over with him."

It definitely isnt "up to me", so I slink off, a little deflated. As I am leaving, I catch a glance of the receptionist miming an exchange of "tut"s with a colleague. The ability to silently "tut" is not only culturally unique to England, but is also only truly mastered by a few select groups including doctors receptionists and French Teachers. If you are a clinical psychologist, dont even try it because it doesnt work if your head is slightly tilted sympathetically to the left, and the results could be disastrous.


THe computer store is my third, and final stop. It's advertising tag is "For all things computer". In this store, there is another different experience awaiting, one that reminds me of trips to Canadian Tire, a building and automotive supplies retail chain in Canada. The Canadian Tire experience was mainly characterised by interactions with store assistants whose breadth and depth of ignorance about hardware was utterly comprehensive. There was nothing that they didnt know anything about, from plumbing to carpentry, from electrical to paint. Many Canadian houses, although well built initially, transition gradually via a series of Canadian Tire-inspired renovations into active killing zones, held together only by Duct tape and drywall.

In the computer store, I ask for a Midi interface, something I have been informed is not sold in music shops. It is, however, with the growing trend for home recording, a very common piece of equipment. The manager is called after some initial confusion. I explain what I require. I even bring a badly photocopied page from a magazine, as an example. The manager studies it.

"So its like a modem then?" he asks.

"Well, not really..." I say and point to the bit on the page he has just read where it says 'a device to connect your MIDI keyboard to a computer's USB port'. "Its actually a device to connect my MIDI keyboard to a computer's USB port".

"Cant you get one on-line?" he says.

I explain that I can, but I am trying to support local stores. He still looks puzzled, but flicks randomly through his store catalogue, quickly flicking pages. This seems to be anervous affliction of certain professions - particularly automotive parts dealers and computer parts specialists.

He blows out his cheeks. "I dont know mate, thats a pretty uncommon bit of kit, that is" he says, his finger running down a list of SAT NAV products.

"Erm, that's the Sat Nav section you're looking at" I inform him, "Perhaps if we looked at 'computers'? ..."

He quickly checks the index of his catalogue and closes the book.

"The thing is, mate" he tells me "there's so many different types of software out there, you're better off going to the original manufacturer if its broken" he tells me. I have no idea what he's talking about, but before I can interject, he carries on - "We more specialize in the hardware side of things. Games that kind of thing. Have you thought about just getting a new computer? It can be cheaper to just to get a new one than trying to patch something together. Most of the new ones come with this type of stuff built in".

In answer, I could have said 'Its not, it isnt, no and they dont' but I just give up.
I abandon all hope of either understanding anything he's saying, or of supporting my local computer store, and set off for the bus. I have, as mentioned a distinctly Canadian Tire feeling, so in celebration I buy a coffee and a doughnut on my way to the bus.


At home, I review my mission. Definitely not an overwhelming success.But not a catastrophe either. And, in a sort of 'make do' way, a lot of fun as well. "Life in Hull" I think and settle down for a cup of tea. There is a strange lemony smell in the kitchen, not unpleasant, but the cats dont look disturbed, and are not sitting near a scene of disaster trying to look nonchalant, so its probably not a repeat of the time Tosh tried to attack a small bubble emerging from the top of the dish washing detergent (just after i had used it), pounced enthusiastically and spread a jet of lemon fresh right across the kitchen. But the scent is very reminiscent of cleaning materials, and is getting stronger. I am drawn to the washing machine, and sitting on top of it is a bottle of floor cleaner. I only hope I didnt include any of RHB's clothes in the wash that I started that morning.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

They think its all is now

AT 11.35am, its all over. Six weeks of close confinement, punctuated only by a liquid Christmas week has ended. This morning's exam marked the exact halfway point of my degree, an event that, I felt, demanded full and uninhibited celebration. With that in mind, I resolved to call on RHB in her lab after the exam to discuss my plans for celebration.

I knocked timidly on the door of the Boffin's lair, stepped back and waited. Sooner than usual, the green light above the door signals the all clear,the airlock hisses and the mutant cyberguard, (who had been also making himself useful while on guard duty shredding e-mails), lowers his rifle, so I enter. As with all psychology labs, the air crackles with static as huge aerial conductors diverts millions of kilowatts of electricity, caught from lightning, into banks of rusty transfomers. Massive switches, capable of diverting billions of ampules of electricity into the brains of experimental subjects, are in the "on" position, indicating that the scientist is, yet again, using some of the zillions of pounds of grants that Governments (involved, like the Illuminati in a global conspiracy) have poured into her research, and doing nothing more than discovering really obvious, useless things, such as the exact location of the cognitive centres of the brain.

[I have to admit that I agree with Brian (a retired bus driver) from the pub, who constantly makes the point that most of what academics do in their Ivory Towers is just either commonsense that anyone could do (like the General Theory of Relativity), or utterly useless (like all that stuff about fruit flies) but RHB seems to enjoy her job, and it pays for the internet, so I generally turn a blind eye. At times I do wish they (the scientists) would put their minds to some of the deeper mysteries, like discovering the Mysterious Fourth Learning Style, or finding out which aliens not only built the Bosnian pyramids, but then disguised them as ordinary limestone geological features before returning to space, or why they all speak Gaelic in Cape Breton with a Canadian accent.]

Anyway, I reach the rear of RHB's lab where they carry out most of their human experimentation. As usual, a victim is strapped to the gurney, thousands of electrodes penetrating deep into his brain. RHB is atop her podium, and cackling fiendishly, eyes wide and staring, throwing switches and screaming at Igor, her colleague for more power. She sees me, gave one more maniacal laugh, and descends.

"Hi Mart, How did the exam go?" she asks.

I explain the exam went well and describe my plans for celebration.

"Sounds good. See you later gator. Give the cats a little tickle. Sorry, I've got to get back to work" she said. She turns, fluffs up her hair and screams "Igor ! PREPARE THE OSCILLATOR!".

At home, I ready for celebration, as I imagine all my fellow students are doing. I eat a small something, change into appropriate clothing and look forward to an afternoon of self-indugent revelry. In truth, I am very excited. My plans are long formed, and not to everyone's taste. There's a cultish feel to what I am getting ready to do. We have our own language. It can be uncomfortable, although satisfying, and the places were it happens are often jealously guarded, secretive. And, although, for me, no other human is involved, I know that my passions are shared. I am happy with my own justifications. I take a deep breath, consider the plans I have made that not even RHB knows about, exit, and prepare to garden.

Or, as the cats think of it "Making us new places to poo". Weeks of pent-up energy are expended in minutes,and not just by me. The cats, defying all descriptions of felines as independent, non-social creatures, have also shut down over the last few weeks, entering almost an catatonic state. They have been thrown outside, bodily, on a dail y basis, but have refused, point blank to interact with anything unless a human is also on all fours making a total idiot of himself. As I have not had time to do this, they have built up an enormous amount of pent up energy, so they join me as I transfer large mounds of soil from there to here. Toshack, is beside himself, frantically digging in each new pile, pooing as if he has never pooed before. Calli runs round like an "eejet", miaowing joyfully, chasing her tail and eating earthworms. I increase the pace, trying to keep ahead of both cats as they piss, poo and dig in tandem, double teaming me until I have to rest. By the end of the afternoon, I have, almost pointelessly, successfully transferred a big pile of soil from one side of the garden to another. Tosh and I survey the wreckage, then he rubs his head against my knee, apparently happy.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Nearly there.......

I recieve a welcome e-mail, wishing me luck from a friend in tomorrow's final midterm exam. He suggests (jokingly of course) that I consider cheating. I am way ahead of him, of course, and in case any of you have upcoming exams, here is my e-mail response, which details some excellent ways to cheat:

"Thanks. Actually, I'm planning to manufacture a fall down our stairs later today, hopefully resulting in at least a broken leg, and one arm. The resulting casts might come in handy. I also believe that we are allowed to take "lucky charms" into the exam - cuddly toys that sort of thing, - so I am currently trying to cover my laptop in fake fur. I have also spent the last eight weeks "peeling" a pencil very carefully so that the wood has been removed in a long continuous strip. Then I wrote all the answers in microscopic script (using a very expensive indelible ink I had to get imported)on the resulting parchment. The next bit was tricky - I glued the pencil back together using flour and water, so it looks like a real pencil again, but can easily be unglued with ordinary water. THen I flew to Switzerland and had one of my eyes replaced wih a magnifying lens. In the exam, I plan to unglue the pencil (using the bottle of water) I am allowed to take, and hey presto! there's all the answers. Join my Facebook Group "revision's for suckers"!"

Tuesday, 26 January 2010


A stentorian voice belts out a cheerful "ITS ONLY ME", although I admit that I have constructed the sense of this sentence, and its meaning, only after the fact. Only after, in fact, I emerge from under the bed, a feline-human joint hiding place, resorted to by instinct and accessed reflexively, even when still asleep. I am cautiously accompanied in my emergence by two very wide eyed cats. It is so early that my glance at the clock to ascertain the time yields no meaningful information. It is in fact, so early that I would be unsurprised if a gravelly voice over drifted through my head informing me that '........the time of the elves was ending. The coming years will be the time of was the beginning of history.....' All of this of course, means that B_ has arrived, and has brought doughnuts.

B_, per se, is not actually frightening. At least not intentionally. And she is a close neighbour trusted with a key who, these days, visits us for tea and gossip. I should, I suppose, explain that B_ is a craftsperson of the highest order, and is employed professionally as such. We first met her in the previous residence, Nickson Towers, where she worked, and used her immemse skills occasionally on a "cash" basis until some asshole reported her to a local benefit office. The £16.00 we occasionally paid her was what is known in the UK as "pin money" - unreported and untaxed. Consequently, B_ was prosecuted for benefit fraud. It goes without saying, although I will say it anyway, that if a banker or a businessman or an MP did tthe same as her - ie avoided tax, they would be lauded as "savvy". Tax avoidance is only a crime if you are poor. And in the UK today, make no mistake, these "crimes" are treated by the authorities with a seriousness that is staggering. Offenders are interviewed under caution, and jail sentences (longer than you would recieve for life threatening drunk-driving offences), seizure of goods and removal of subsistence-level beneifts are not only threatened, but regularly acted on.

The other side of this coin is that evidence requirements are minimal. A claimant, if caught, is taken to an interview room, cautioned and then usually presented with an allegation of working while claiming benefits. Government tactics for obtaining information is also based on old Eastern Bloc tactics in that we are encouraged by a torrent of radio and television announcements, hoardings, websites and newspaper adverts to inform on our neighbours. The placement of this publicity is interesting too - not the middle class outlets of Radio Four and newspapers like the Guardian, but local commercial radio and tabloid newspapers. Commercial television mostly runs these adverts during game shows and reality tv shows. There is a presumption of guilt right across the working class.

I cling on to memories of Canada. When I was unemployed there, I used to report my unemployment by phone, never once meeting a benefit officer. If I picked up a day or two's work, I also reported that and all that happened to my claim was that it was I recieved no benefit pay for the days I worked. In the UK, by contrast, picking up the odd day or two of casual work usually has the effect that you have to close your benefit claim completely and report that you have started work. After these two days of casual employment, you then have to re-apply for benefits, (a process which can take four weeks), and the income gained for those two days work is counted as a week's wages. I fail to remember, from Canada, a system so untrustful of its people, and so designed to encourage cheating.

And cheating does go on, in both countries, there is no doubt of that. And it is also probably "wrong". But a sense of proportion is obtained when, and I apologise for repeating these weary statistics, it is realised that while bank bailouts cost £850 Billion pounds last year, the cost of benefit fraud was £900 Million. And while fraud is wrong, the most successful(in terms of net gains) benefit fraudsters were resourceful criminals, with income already behind them - landlords, businessmen and full time criminals.

When she was 'caught', B_ was taken to a cell, interviewed under caution and spent the next six weeks terrified. She didnt answer her phone, her door or trust any of her friends. She didnt heat her house because her benefits were stopped and she could'nt afford to. She stopped buying milk, going out socially and her only point of contact became the benefit officer who had originally charged her. This person found her a job, which he assured her would make her better off.This would also, he assured her, make her feel better about herself, feel she was making a contribution to society. Besides, if she didnt take the job, she would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If she didnt like this, she could aways hire a lawyer, was one of his parting shots. Naturally, B_ took the job. Unfortunately, she was worse off, by about fifteen percent, after doing so, and so in order to pay a plumber who came to fix a leaking pipe, took a loan out with a money lender, who's 50% interest rates are not illegal. The extent of her original fraud was about £160.00.

Despite all this, when B_ comes, albeit that she comes so early, we have a great laugh. RHB and her sit in the kitchen, eat doughnuts and gossip. They talk about grandkids, cats, trouble with plumbers and expanding waistlines. The compliment eachother on hair and make-up. I get referred to as "him" and laughed at for being clumsy. but then B_ tells RHB she should look after me better, and I get an extra doughnut. The womanising escapades of B_'s former employer get dissected, exagerrated and laughed at. B_ has a key because she feeds the cats when we are away, so we feel like we owe her. But in today's climate, we cant even risk buying her a box of chocolates on a regular basis in case she is still being spyed on.

It has been three years since we came here. 'Back' here is, I suppose the correct term. Mostly, this blog is, intentionally, a light-hearted piece of fluff. There are certainly no pretensions to journalism, and I apologise to readers expecting a bit of a laugh who've had to slog through this post, as laughs have been mostly absent this time. But this thing was started to report on our experiences in coming 'back', and in common with everyone's experiences, at times, reality intrudes. Looking back over three years, I remember the shock that accompanied our return. Now, co-incident with the three year anniversary of our return is the news that a friend (in the type of job which has seldom been vulnerable before) has been made redundant, gas prices have risen 300% in three years, my sister's husband is on "short time" at his factory due to the recession, budgets for Higher Education are being cut by 12%, it rains just about every day, there's still sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, its very difficult to get a dentist, and its still not legal for Catholics to ascend to the monarchy. From the inside, England can appear to be a very unhappy place, but its not the ordinary people of this country who are responsible for this. On a daily basis, across the UK, B_ keeps bringing the doughnuts.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

T'Pthnath T'Kat

As you may or may not know, I am revising for end of term exams at the moment, which explains the silence on the old YWNA front. I have alreadt passed on hurdle - namely the completion of two essays - one about "Inclusion" and the other about "the psychology of learning". . If I am to be frank, while a worthy subject, the inclusion essay, especially in the last few days of its birth, dragged the lifeblood from me. Mostly this was because the essay was not about the exciting liberation politics and philosophy that agendas of inclusion and widening participation can be understood to be based on, but because the set question framed it in the New Labour world of contemporary UK. This is a world of grey doublespeak, a world of compromise and Government reports, watered down ideals and "pragmatism". It is a world of "stakeholders", "standards" and "agencies". There are only so many times that a man can write "action plan" without loosing the will to live. Hence silence from yours truly.

On the bright side, and related to this growing lack of creativity, I began to re-read a lot of science fiction. I wanted a total change from daily life, so I turned to the wildly speculative, and usually absurd, world of aliens, space battle and planet busting weapons. This is a great place to loose yourself. I dove into the world of the 'mri'. These are the Kel'en'th of the sen'path and they live on Kulath. They have great big telepathic bear/wolves as companions who have poisonous claws and bond with you by hunting you nearly to death. The 'mri' live in ancient tribes, fight duels with big swords (the k'thp) and are also expert spacepilots. At one point in The volume I was reading, a 'mri' warrior [nota bene; ALL of the mri are 'warriors'] asks a human who wants to become a 'mri' (passing through the rigourous training programme that,yes you guessed it, nearly kills him but he makes it in the end) :

"Are you, sev'elenka, mri? Do you have elenth'ei?"

At this point I put the book down. "This" I thought to myself, "....this..." I repeated, to myself for emphasis, " very very silly. Why does every alien I read about have such unpronounceable names?"

After this, the books lost their shine. It is clearly the fault o fthe inclusion essay. It has brought me to a point where I am am almost in touch with reality on a daily basis. I consider the prospect that the future could be like this - grounded in the solid reality of the world. It is not a pleasant consideration, so I call the cats for a game of 'pick up sticks' (our new fad). Toshack cheats repeatedly, but I still manage to beat him 3-0. We chat and reflect on this new mundane world we have encountered.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Now Alanis, that's ironic....

There are, in one's life, events or circumstances that occur again and again. Some might call these events recurring. For me, one of the first occurences of a recurring event I experienced was when, as a young high-jumper, proudly representing my home county of Merseyside in all its resentful glory, I had made it through to the High Jump rounds of the Junior All England Finals (North). No small achievement this, and one for which I later rewarded a body that was trying very hard to be athletic, by pumping it as full of alternative nutrition, and by depriving it as of much sleep, as possible. Nevertheless, at fourteen years of age, such Byronesque tendencies were ahead of me, so it was on an athletic field, somewhere North of Leeds that I met my first Yorkshireman.

High Jump is as much a pschological sport as it is an athletic one. Due to the nature of scoring in high jump for example, it is entirely possible to win by almost total failure in that if you can record fewer failures than your rival, yet still fail to clear the final height, you win. Therefore, a lot of the game is to refuse to jump until the bar approximates the limits of your performance, while allowing your rivals to record a larger number of jumps than you at lower heights. As you languish in the grass, apparently sleeping unperturbed by the ongoing competition, occasionally shouting "pass" at each incremental bar raising, the idea is that rivals begin to glance nervously towards you, impressed by your display of glacial cool. "Wow" they think to themselves, "The bar is at one metre fifty and that chap hasnt even stirred. He must be brilliant." Its a game of nerves, because if you wait too long, you risk failing to clear at all. You then look like a complete idiot. The risk factor was also complicated, when I was a youth, by the fact that the uprights, and the bar were fabricated from the finest, hardest, shiniest Sheffield steel. Due to the nature of the male anatomy,plus the chaotic tendency of nature to deliver "you tube" moments, even before "you tube", it was an inherent feature of high jump competitions that as the bar got higher, and failures to clear increased, there was an increased incidence of connection between the tender, under-developed, (but vital) areas of youthful male anatomy and the bar, uprights and landing mat. Young athletes would limp away from high jump competitions by the score, doubled over in agony, beaten not by height, but maybe by (recent)size.

I met my first Yorkshireman when, at the All Englands, it was just him and me left. We had not exchanged a word all afternoon, but I had the upper hand, as I was still to jump, while he had jumped twice, albeit clearing both times. On the next round, I elected to jump, and fortunately, cleared first time at 1.8metres. Yorky was obvioulsy shaken, so much so that he came over to talk to me. I could see he was sizing me up, and also tell, by his swagger, that he had not had serious competition before. He was, by his demeanour, slightly upset, so he adopted the body posture adopted by all adolescents when upset - one foot far behind the other, hips swinging, head nodding and hands twitching between his chin adn his hips. He looked me square in the eye and said :

"T'ow awle am thee in'nt, fella?"

Frankly, it was not a glacial cool that caused me to delay my reply. After a bit I replied:

"One ninety five. Just over six foot, like".

At the next raise of the bar, Yorky crashed and burnt. I cleared first time,and won, a victory that was the pinnacle of my athletic career. I was still however, puzzled by the exchange that had occurred, so I consulted my father. Dad was wise in the ways of the world, and had even been to London, although he said he didnt like it very much. I phonetically repeated, to the best of my ability the conversation that had passed between me and Yorky. Dad, after a few repetitions, and clarifications , laughed.

"No wonder he seemed a bit shaken. He thought he was up against a nutter" he explained, "When he spoke to you, you told him yuour personal best jump didnt you?". I nodded eagerly - we'd always been told to be polite. Dad continued "Problem is, he was asking you how old you were. Oh, you're a proper daft ha'peth, kid. Never mind though, they can be a bit hard to understand, Yorkshiremen."

Since this, it has not escaped my attention that Yorkies are not the only ones who may be sdifficult to understand. Indeed, on first visiting RHB's parents, I asked her, after the visit, what her Dad thought of me, as all anxious suitors are wont. Her reply was that it didnt matter because a) she didnt care anyway, and would do exactly (she even stamped her foot as she said this) what she wanted,with whoever she wanted, when she wanted, and b) her father probably hadnt understood anything I was saying anyway on account of dialect related issues.

I can also report that I have made friends with at least one Canadian and her American partner without her having the slightest understanding of anything I was (ostensibly) saying (in English), and have experienced communication difficulties with a famous Russian anthropologist, one used to different cultures, who expressed her frustration last summer by declaring that she "had no idea what a Scooby Scouser is". These barriers may seem slight, but when you consider that these difficulties occur when two people are failing to communicate and tthey both think they are speaking English, you may pause to reflect.

It was with a certain reflection therefore, in the Deweyian sense, that I headed home this afternoon after a successful interview. And most of you, with whom I have attempted to conversed in my native brogue, may also be given to reflect on the irony that, (as a result of the same interview), in future when communicating with the principal author of this oracle, you will be addressing Hull's leading (voluntary assistant) junior practitioner in the field of Teaching English as a Second Language. The role, and preferred teaching outcome, is to teach those for whom English is not a first language, how to speak it. THere are a few details that have to be clarified. For example, I am not sure who the "voluntary" bit refers to - me, or my employer. And it is not entirely clear whether I am allowed to encourage whole generations of new immigrants to construct sentences like "Gorra blag a bevvy, I'm spitting feathers". But in truth, I am extremely "chuffed", "made up" as it were.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

All is lost ............

Before anyone asks, I can answer..... I found this item while researching one of my education essays.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Marking Time in case you think I am rather going on about this, I should contextualize the following. It is marking time at Large Mansions and reams of paper spill over every available surface. Marking time is a bi-annual event (that seems to last for decades)characterised by the Red Haired Boffin stumbling round the house mumbling things like "Eh atch!", and tutting, and saying things like "I've just found some very blatant plaigarism, just bloody copy and paste". Lots of gum is chewed. It is also essay time, and self is busy writing for a deadline. I stumble round the house mumbling things like "Eayattch!" and tutting, and saying things like "I've just found a really good website I can plagiarize". THe cats are largely ignored.

One of my essays is on the psychology of learning, and I am desperate to launch another devastating attack on some idiocy or other. A fact you will now be equipped with is that this year's fashion is Brain Gym. I find an interview on the BBC about the topic, and while the stupidity no longer shocks me, what I did not know is that THOUSANDS of English schools use this system. ANd it is endorsed by the country's Department of Education. Which means that millions of pounds is being spent on this. THe attitude of Educational researchers is shocking, sort of "Well we dont care that we dont know what we are doing, we just know it works". THe bad news for RHB is that over the next ten years, I think her marking is going to get more difficult. The good news for me is that there is a clear business opportunity here. As soon as I qualify, I am going to call myself an 'educator' and start a business selling my new concept in Education to schools.

My concept focuses on a device called the "Learnatron", and the effectiveness of my project has been backed up by thousands of years of research. THe crucial element here is that "Learnatronics" draws on the wisdom of the ancients, particularly the Aztecs. In "Learnatronics", the underlying theory is that increasing blood flow stimulates learning, but you also need to stimulate the imagination of the child at all times, so that they are always thinking, even outside of school. This way, they are always learning. The "Learnatron" helps harness this imagination and stimulate blood flow. It is a longish (about one metre) willow cane, selected by a special dowsing process from organic coppices. There is of course a whole series of movements associated with the "Learnatron", but the standard bearer is called "The Stoic", in which the precious child and teacher gather at the front of the class. In the movement called "Tippy Toes Topples", the learner touches their toes, which helps them learn balance, then the teacher beats them severely with the "Learnatron" until blood flow is stimulated. THe child's imagination is of course stimulated because they spend every waking moment living in fear, and the learning does not stop there! oh no, as they relive, for the rest of their lives, their experiences with the "Learnatron". As I can prove that literacy rose significantly when beating children was allowed in UK schools, I even have solid research evidence to back up my invention. It is, quite frankly, brilliant.

Also in the news today is the continuing snowfall across the UK. It is brilliant - the light is fantastic and the cats, well one of them at least, loves it. Here's some pictures of Tosh playing with snowballs:

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Life and Death

Within seconds, the house is silent and its one of the saddest things I have ever experienced. Some would say its just the contrast but as soon as our New Year's guests leave, a deep quiet, an active quiet, floods the house, no contrast this - sometimes an abscence is active. RHB has also left, albeit temporarily, headed into town with an energy I find impossible to muster to hunt a new kettle and a gift for Shazzer who's birthday is tomorrow, so I wander through the house, trying to keep a promise to tidy up. I start at the top, helped by two cats who, as distrustful of "other" as any human racist, have mostly been hidden for the past few days. They are revelling in the abscence of people, and joyfully fight over, through and underneath the duvet covers and laundry as I prepare it for storage or washing. But right here at the top of the house, it is now incredibly quiet. And I find that while feng shui is deeply, deeply rooted in bollocks, I cant get over the feeling that Large Mansions has itself tried really hard, to help what has been a brilliant holiday period. The house, undecorated as it is, empty of pictures, mirrors and still unfinished, should feel thread bare, unfinished and cold, but over the last few days of visitors, it has conducted itself perfectly, creaking in just all the right places. Last night we all watched the special Christmas edition of Doctor Who in our unfinished front room and it was as if the house changed shape to allow everyone enough space to flop all over the couches, cushions and floor. Then back to the kitchen for a meal of pasta and pesto, and the cavernous kitchen became cozy, intimate and rustic. I wander round gathering towels, but very reluctantly.

And while the guys were visiting the house even changed time - a simple meal started at eight somehow finishes at eleven. This, I think, is a great place, the third we've lived in, not just a bunch of rooms but our place. I immediately want to leave so I can have fun remembering. I had been thinking of decorating, finishing the firelace for example, completing the second bathroom, patching a few holes, but now I dont think I should - I should just let the place collect its own impressions - decorating would impose me on the place. I'm indulging this teenage lachrimony, this half baked misunderstoanding of Russian philosophy, when I find a plastic bag containing a copy of a magazine, small bottle of red wine and some travel snacks in the living room where we had watched television - Doctor Who, Bladerunner, Jordan's life story - and a second, different, wave hits me. Suddenly, I feel that everything must go because its not fair that the holidays should ever end, and all the debris of a seven day party is just a reminder of what I'm now missing. I have to obliterate every single sign that they were ever here. I'm in a fury - vaucuuming the whole house, cleaning the bathroom where an hour ago six different toothpastes - Sensitive teeth, whitening, organic apple and sorgum, and 'kids only' lived together happily. On the kitchen table the little brown teapot has the audacity to still be warm so it gets thrown into the sink, thoroughly rinsed, washed, cleaned, stuck in the dishwasher then thrown in the back of a high, high unaccessible cabinet, hopefully to gather dust for ever.

An couple of hours later, the house is clean and empty again. The cats have fully resumed their existence, no longer restricted to sneaking round the house at night sitting next to beds and staring at the strangers sleeping there, and no longer fearful that if they leave a preferred sleeping spot on a couch, a human will have claimed it when they decide to return. I look at the fireplace that's been bugging me ever since, for a laugh, I decided to deliberately leave its shelves 'wonky'. Next week I'm going to fix those shelves.


My kidneys sigh a huge relief as Sue's car drives away. Wine, beer, cheese, champagne, whiskey and tea have aged those internal organs responsible for the removal of toxins from my body to such an extent that I immediately Google "kidney failure" as the car slides off down the road. Google, and wikipedia tell me that I have renal failure, pancreatis, a damaged liver and toxic shock. I decide I will give up the drink for good. Also, my vocal chords hurt from talking and laughing. I resolve not to laugh at anything for at least six weeks, which, given imminent exams, the weather in the UK right now, and Liverpool's current form is an easy ask. I am also glad that I no longer have to attempt a bad pretence at articulacy in the prescence of so many members of RHB's family and relatives, and I am glad not to be confronted by a group of people most of whom's lifeway I wish I had followed. In truth it goes further than this in that I practically wish I was most of the people I like because everyone else just knows so much. At least, as with when all visitors leave, and RHB has gone to work, and its just me and the cats, I can lay valid claim to being the most knowledgeable entity in the house.

The next day is much, much better. Maudlin, that cousin of Puberty, has gone. The holidays were a great success. And almost un-noticed over the last seven days, the light has changed. The evil equinox is almost two weeks in the past. I dont care if Spring doesnt arrive because its getting lighter. I permit an anthropological thought - perhaps this was what it was like in the caves? Perhaps we used to do this - hunker down somewhere warm, kill a few deer and just eat and tell stories till the weather got better. You could even form theories about the origins of human culture around gatherings like this. But a final thought occurs - why bother? I make a note to myself to no longer write about, or even particularly think about, all the stuff that happens, just to enjoy it. That is the real point. "That's it!" I resolve "No more blog. No more theories. Just doing." It is my New Years Resolution. Happy with my decision, I sit in front of the computer for a whole three minutes. Then, a small sigh. "Screw it " I think as the screen comes to life " I may as well finish off the whiskey as well while I'm at it".