Friday, December 31, 2010

Another year done.

It has been, it is fair to say, a long year. I don't mean by that that it has been necessarily a bad one: It's felt like 2010 has stretched out more than usual, that it's been more replete with incident. I'm not too keen on doing retrospective stuff - I find then when I indulge in looking backwards, I tend to over-indulge as it were, and end up feeling depressed. With that in mind, I'll keep this entry fairly short and sweet.
Good Stuff:
-doing a lot more cycling, and completing the Reading-Bath run in a day;
-delivering a third presentation at the English UK Teachers' Conference;
-being caught completely by surprise by the letter than announced I could put letters after my name (MIfL, since you ask). I doubt I'll use it much, if at all, however;
-Sean and Angus and watching them grow;
-Snow. Lots of snow.
Bad Stuff:
-the ongoing ructions at work - this is a running story, and bodes to be an ongoing problem in 2011;
-dad's health in particular, but people getting ill in general, including me;
this is of course, just stuff off the top of my head - were I to give it more thought, I'd probably come up with a more considered list.
And for the future?
Well, that would be dangerously close to a resolution list, so I'm going to leave that for now.
Have a happy New Year, all of you.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I Believe in Father Christmas!

Can't you see him? There he is, thundering across the cold Atlantic wastes as I write, with a jing-jing-jing and a ho-ho-ho, destination Greenland. And of course he has a big tummy and a white beard and a red coat and is on a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Then again, maybe he wears green, and it is the Coca-Cola Corporation's interpretation that put him in red. Or maybe Father Christmas is old One-Eyed Odin, the Trickster God, in disguise, riding his six-legged steed towards Yggdrasil, The One Tree, while wear the inverted flayed hide of a deer.
What do you mean, you don't believe? Shame on you! You'll be telling me next that you don't believe in the Tooth Fairy, or its teenage version, the Zit Gnome. And from there it's only a hop, skip and a jump to not believing in Buddha or Jesus or something.

And after that, you end up not believing in your parents, or teachers, or politicians.
So, if you are one of those hardened souls who are truly non-believers, could you do something? Give me your money. Obviously, it means nothing, as it's just pretty coloured pieces of paper or brightly stamped metal. I'll take any gold you have lying around as well, as that's just another bit of old toot you got. Oh, and any bright-looking stones you possess - you know, those worthless ones called diamonds.

As you can probably tell, my tongue is firmly in cheek, but with a serious point. We live in a world that is based on trust and faith, whether we like it or not. This faith takes many forms: For some, it's about God and Religion; For pretty much everyone, it's a faith that the piece of paper we carry in our pockets is worth five pounds of something. For those of you who say it's trust, not faith, I say look at what happened in the Financial Crisis of 2008: wasn't that a sudden loss of faith?
For some reason, people need faith, they need to believe, they need to trust. Of course, the flip side of this is gullibility and credulity, things that the powerful, knowledgable and ruthless will use to their own profit, but still we need this. God knows why, if you'll forgive the phrase. Even our material world is a testament to faith: look at the maginficence of churches and cathedrals, to the great buildings and monuments of any great city. Built from faith and cash, which is itself another form of faith.
Herein is the trouble: It doesn't matter how rational you consider yourself to be, you are immersed in faith and belief, and you cannot truly escape it. The best that you can hope for is to understand it for what it is, and use it accordingly.
And right now, Father Christmas is landing on a roof, there is a certain ruffle and jingle, and a child somewhere shifts in their sleep and fleetingly catches the comforting sound of laughter.
Happy Christmas, all of you.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

First of all, the Good - actually, two things. I have to start by congratulating my kid sister, Karen, for successfully completing the Challenge Barcelona Triathlon - 4k of swimming, 180k of cycling and 40k of running - in 13hours 30 mins, which is a new family record.

It's a record as a) nobody else in the family has done a triathlon and b) I don't think anyone is mad enough to try to challenge it.
Well done, Karen - I bet your legs are hardly working at the moment.
It just leaves the question of what she'll be planning next.
The other strand of Good is about me - I've been chosen to deliver a paper at the English UK Teachers' conference in November. This time round I'm up against no less than Jeremy Harmer (in the EFL God corner) and Phillida Schellekens (In the ESOL Goddess corner). Two falls, submissions or a knockout to decide. I'll post more about this on my almost-defunct ELT Journal weblog. I'm pretty pleased about this - although this will be the third time I've done this, I think what I have to say (about the possibility of a linguistic hierarchy of needs and the way it affects learner motivations) will be interesting.

OK, now the Bad. And I bet you just skipped over the stuff above, didn't you? Everyone prefers to read Bad/Ugly.
Anyway. It isn't actually that bad, not in the whole scheme of things. I had to give my Xperia X10 Mini Pro to the phone shop as it had suddenly stopped connecting while making calls. I'm really annoyed, as it's a fantastically useful phone - I've only just started to really to get to grips with what it could do, but it won't do the one thing well that it's meant to do - take bloody phone calls. So, off to Sony Ericsson with it. Having used it for the past few months, I love the size of it most of the time, but could easily see myself with the larger version as well for some of the things I do, such as review documents. Oh well, for the time being I'm back to using my trusty old K810i.
OK, the Ugly. Considering I almost put my foot through the television this morning, I will, unlike the BBC, give a warning before I proceed, so that those of a more, er, choleric disposition may choose not to read the following, rather than start beating up your monitor.
I'm about to mention a Senior Tory and a social group who think pinstripe shirts, bouffant hair, a braying voice and two nostrils full of cocaine are good things.

George Bloody Osborne and Bankers.
Honestly, I wanted to punch the bloody screen when George's smug features appeared on BBC Breakfast. He started blethering on about how many cuts were required in public spending, and how much it would change society, as though it were a good thing: He sounded like a particularly vicious, sadistic senior public school boy about to unleash his frustrations with a whip on a dormitory full of trembling year 7s.
Actually, that's probably not too far from the truth. However, it was notable for what he did not say - about how profoundly damaging these expenditure cuts are going to be, who they're going to hurt the most, and who they will not.
Not for the first time, the guilty parties will not only not suffer, they will actually be rewarded. For the bankers, it's more or less business as usual - Salaries up, Bonuses being spent, champagne and caviar being quaffed. and of course, this shoddy bunch of white, incipient-middle-aged, wealthy curs who are the current government will do nothing to upset the dogs of Threadneedle Street, for fear of -well, what? That they'll bugger off abroad and make somewhere else rich?
If what they've done to this country is their idea of wealthy, then somewhere esle can bloody have them.
However, It only seems right to me that the bankers, the economists and businessmen who generated this mess should be punished. If a man takes the bread from my mouth, isn't this theft? So isn't it more so when it is done to an entire nation? The cuts to come will end up killing the weakest, the oldest and the most vulnerable, yet it will not be a shot or a knife in the dark or a sudden unseen blow to the head that slays, but a slow, sadistic breaking that murders them by a thousand degrees.
And the rotten bunch of bastards in Whitehall and The City will not even notice the blood spotting their hands.
So, how to punish them?
Simple: Make them work off their debt. Take one thing from them that will ensure obedience and a focus on what they should do to put things right.
Take away their passports.
It's simple, really, when you think of it - a passport doesn't actually belong to the holder: rather, it is a state document that the holder may be required to relinquish when compelled. The idea is that, by not being allowed to travel abroad, a  banker will be compelled to work in the UK. He won't be a slave as such - there will a decent, but not extravagant, salary, and once the son of a bitch has paid back to the taxpayer that which he has stolen, he can get back his passport. Until that time, the bankers would belong to us, as those who work in the nationalised banks should do. Limiting a person's freedoms for the public benefit may seem a bit extreme, but when you calculate what this self-appointed elite of sneering boys has cost us, it seems suddenly not so bad.
And I, for one, would happily pay money to see the look on of their faces as they're told they can't jet off for a skiing holiday, and that the wage they'll earn won't even keep them in cocaine for a month.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A description of a ride and two of the tribes of cyclist.

This blog is in danger of becoming intermittent again, although to be fair I've been fairly busy at work and fretting. It's also in danger of becoming a cycling  bore's blog, as that is the main thrust of this entry. Actually, it's a long held back and promised description of some of the various breeds of cyclist you tend to meet on the roads. In one way, it's highly encouraging to see so many more cyclists, as it means increasing numbers of people are staying fit and also keeping the British lycra industry afloat; on the other hand, it's highly discouraging to see so many cyclists behaving so badly on the roads and keeping the British lycra industry afloat.
However, before that, I'll describe the route. My cycling partner, Rob, suggested we do part of the Chiltern cycle route, a 170-mile circuit that encompasses the sublime (Ewelme) to the ridiculous (Luton). He wanted to try out a section of the route, short-cutting it at a point in order to make a single 50-mile loop. He wanted to do this because he is one of those people brave enough to actually write to companies and organisations to complain about things and challenge them to do things right. In this case, he'd written to the organisers behind the Chiltern cycle path to complain about the fact that their guide book is only available in one shop on the outskirts of Henley that opens at weird hours. They apparently apologised, sent him a free copy of the guide (now in my possession) and asked him to write a review of the route.
 I agreed to go along with him. The track starts just outside my door anyway, so that made getting to it nice and easy, and followed NCN route 5, which takes you up to Oxford, affording the spectacular views over Didcot I've mentioned before. Once out of Ipsden, however, you hang a right to Ewelme. I'd never visited the place before, but the only reaction possible to anyone seeing it as they come down the long hill towards it, as it appears through the trees, is a surprised 'wow!' It really is a tiny gem of a place, with possibly the most spectacular primary school, based in a full-scale early Tudor mansion, I've ever seen. It also has an absolutely cracking cricket pitch, positioned in a natural basin with a wide grass bank for spectators.
 Following that, we made the long slog up to Christmas Common, which I believe is just about the highest road point on the Chilterns, then over the M40 to Stokenchurch. After a break there, where I snacked on chocolate-smeared hydrogenated fat bars and Rob ate the greasiest slice of pork pie I've seen for ages, we decided to alter the route slightly. We crossed the M40 again and headed first for Fingest, then Hambledon. I have to say that this route ranks right up there with the best I've ever done: It's more or less downhill all the way, including a spectacular 10% hill. The views, in particular, were fantastic - you could almost see yourself in the Yorkshire Dales from the top, while as anyone who knows the valley in which Hambledon is set, it's almost a little slice of Heaven. Coupled with the weather - a wonderful, refulgent light with clouds scudding across clear blue sky, not too hot, not too cold - it was fantastic. I also largely managed to rein in Rob's innate desire to stop and strip the fruit off any tree or bush he passed - apparently, it's a very Polish thing to do. He did escape from me for a while, as I was struggling up Harpsden Hill, but I found him stuffing blackberries in his face. We finished the ride at the White Horse, Emmer Green, for a well-deserved cider. So, overall, a very satisfying 45-miler.
 Satisfying, that is, except for certain other cyclists.
There was a time when gentlemen of a certain age would buy an open-top sports car and array of polo neck sweaters and try to impress the local au pairs with it while holding onto their wigs.Nowadays, it seems to be de rigeur to buy a top of the range carbon fibre composite bike that weighs about 5 grams, squeeze a bloated gut into improbably coloured and gender-bending lycra and attach a helmet to the wig. These are what are called Gear Wankers: People who buy the best possible gear, and are only ever seen cycling downhill. The annoying thing about super-lighweight bikes is that they are fast. My cross-breed MTB/Roadie looks like a tank next to them, and I use a fairly heavy knobbled wide tyre,all of which means I can't go particularly fast - the best I've managed out of it is 35 mph. Two such gear wankers passed us by on the downhill. One turned to me, smugly, and said 'morning! lovely light ride, isn't it!' and went on ahead. Maybe it's the pack chasing instinct, but it always feels incredibly galling to be overtaken on a bike - I always want to give chase. Anyway, the road bent to the right, then went straight on past a pub - but no sign of the gear wankers. The fact that the road  was not only straight, but uphill, and they couldn't have got out of sight that quickly (it was a long straight) made us speculate what had happened to them. I reckoned that their support team had dragged them off road to administer oxygen, cpr and adrenaline.
 Despite the Gear Wankers, generally the world of the sunday cyclist is a friendly one. As you pass other cyclists going in the opposite direction, you are always sure of a friendly nod and a 'good morning/afternoon'. The pastime unites people of many different persuasions, whether they are relatively normally attired, lycra fetishists or people with a distinctly sideways view of what is appropriate or good to wear on a bicycle; and from all walks of life - Software writers (Rob), Language lecturers (me), Professionals, Animal Molesters, Mass murderers, you name it, they're all out on their bikes with a friendly wave and a nod.
 All apart from the Cycle Nazis.
This group are the Waffen SS of bicycle based activity. They are its shocktroops, hardened, vicious bastards to a man. Many of them have even worked as cycle couriers in Central London. Their bikes may look grimy and battered, but that's only because they're spattered in the blood of a thousand other cyclists. Their tyres are kevlar impregnated with puncture-proof inners. Their clothes are sere and shredded by the thousand winds that blow them. For some reason, they believe that plaited goatee beards are somehow an attractive facial feature. And they are, to a man, total absolute bastards. They're worse than white van drivers. They don't just believe they're better than other cyclists, they believe they've more right to the road than an F1 driver who's just been given a huge dose of amphetamines and crack. Quite possibly they too are on crack and speed. What makes them such total toss bubbles is the fact that they will happily ride other people off the road and will happily endanger other people's lives.
Should you ever come across one of them, you should do the only sensible thing: Shove a stick through their front wheels.
Anyway, that's probably enough for now - I'll deal with other more urban types of cyclist another time.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Bloody hell.

I'm knackered. In part, this is due to this:

View Reading To Winchester in a larger map
A 54 mile cycle ride from Reading to Winchester. Now, 54 miles isn't that bad, but two things militated against it. First was the amount of climbing Rob and me did. Now, perhaps it's because we were heading south, but for some reason I was expecting it to be a relatively flat ride, or even possibly downhill. Far from it: Once we'd left Reading it gradually climbed and climbed, then went down a little bit, but then lots more climbing. In total, over FOUR BLOODY THOUSAND FEET of ascent. That was painful enough, but then reason number two:
We had a constant headwind all the way down, blowing in at between 15-30 mph, plus a few delightful torrential showers just to make us feel really happy. I recorded the journey using My Tracks on my mobile phone, a brilliant little bit of software - just one drawback that I can see, which is that I can't seem to download the speed/climb chart, which is a shame.
Anyway, that explains part of the knackeredness. The other reason is just the fact of being on such a long holiday. As the days have gone by, I've found myself slipping into the kind of torpor induced by not having a tight schedule and the ready availability of daytime TV. Currently, 'Homes under the Hammer' is on and I'm half watching it with a kind of disgusted fascination. The presenters and the people buying knockdown house at auction all seem to have the same kind of glassy-eyed greedy aura about them, rubbing their hands over additions to portfolios, calculating how much money they can squeeze out of their new properties, and happily overlooking the fact that almost every house represents a family thrown out because they defaulted on a mortgage.
Well, at least I'll be back to work next week, which means I'll be liberated from the horrors of the broadcasting schedule. However, it'll mean nose to the grindstone for the new lords and  masters of Reading College. No, I haven't changed workplaces; Instead, my workplace has transferred, a bit like a football player (probably somewhere down in division 1) being sold from one place to another. We were absorbed by Thames Valley University. Now we belong to the Learning and Skills Network and Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, operating under the new (or rather, old) name of Reading College. There's plenty I could say about the former owners, but I think I should be prudent at present and keep that for another time.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Holiday for some, hard work for others.

Spent a somewhat nostalgic week's holiday down in Devon. We stayed in a bungalow in the Welcome Family holiday camp, a place I thoroughly recommend if you've got kids, in Dawlish Warren. When I was a kid, we spent several holidays down there, and I was gratified to se that some things hadn't changed, most notable of all being the banana fritter stall just before the railway bridge - the smell of deep-fried bananas has the same effect on me as madelaines and tea had on Proust, and wafts me back to a 1970's childhood redolent with hot sunshine, flares, cheesecloth shirts, findus crispy pancakes, casual racism and punk music.
The bungalow we stayed in had been recently renovated and given a vaguely Spanish makeover, including a small patio area in the front. It was part of a small open-sided quadrangle of apartments with a patch of grass for the kids to play on. Angus and Sean, the latter especially, made friends quickly, and spent much of the time outside.
 Although there was much to recognise, the Warren has clearly seen plenty of  modernising as well, from the rows of new houses on the site of the old Peppermint park, to the new facilities and sea defenses by the beach. Overall, it is a really good place to take the family. Even the holiday camp, a staple of the British Holiday experience, managed to seem up-to-date. All with one exception: the on-site club and evening entertainment.
The best thing that could be said for the club is that the smoking ban has made it safer to sit in. Apart from that, walking into it for the first time felt as if I'd gone back to 1977. It was an enormous barn of a place, packed with classic pub-style tables, stools and chairs. The carpet was an ancient red patterned job, the type found in old bars up and down the country. The decor on the walls was an eclectic mix of 1930s-style cruise liner posters and art-deco-style bas-reliefs, and vaguely Egyptian-style things, including a rather badly-designed and battered pharoah's head, none of which had seen an attempt to move them in at least 20 years.

 Crammed into the place were the holidaymakers on the camp, and again it felt like little had changed; There were children running everywhere, a few old relatives being pushed around in wheelchairs, a man with a toothless grin, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, seeking some opportunity to relax, people focused on having one drink too many or trying to enjoy the indifferent bar food, the noise level pitched at just under shouting. Oddly, I found it quite comforting, simply because it reminded me so much of the past - it was a mileau I understood.
And then the entertainment began.
To say it was cheesy would be an insult to the dairy produce industry.This wasn't your bog-standard block of supermarket own-brand cheddar: This was a magnificent chunk of Stinking Bishop, this was the Durian fruit in the friuit bowl of family entertainment, this was the Corpse flower in the botanical garden of holiday camp entertainment. It was an utterly, utterly magnificent thing. It had casual, unwitting racism. It had a 1970's style Gay Stereotype, so camp that you could have put Boy Scouts on it and called it a Jamboree. It had tatty sets. It had a surfeit of innuendo.
But what it had, most of all, was an incredible amount of hard work put into it. We only went two or three tiimes, and didn't stay to long, but what really impressed me was the sheer amount of sweat and labour that had been put into producing something so, well, average. The Bluecoats had clearly spent months planning, rehearsing and performing their routines, and clearly believed in what they were doing. None of them were outstanding performers, but they really sought to entertain. The compere knew how to work the room, the singers managed not to mangle any tunes too  badly, the set changes and costume changes were rehearsed and seamless, the comic business and audience participation pretty much faultless. One of the bluecoats had been working there for twenty years.Clearly, he must have both enjoyed the work and got something out of it, otherwise why stay so long?
And this is the point of this entry. As I've got older, I have come to admire more those people who really work at what they do, who strive to be the absolute best they can be at their thing. These chaps were making the most of what they did, and around me in that club I knew there would be people who sweated their backsides off, day in, day out, striving to be the best they could possibly be at what they did. It doesn't mean that they are THE best, just they're filling their own niche. While there will always be the superstars, be it musicians or actors or chefs or top academics, the majority will never attain the peaks. It's the fate of most to be average, and in fact there's absolutely nothing wrong with this, despite the exhortations of lifestyle magazines. The important thing is to do one's best and be content with the knowledge of having done that.
To my undying shame, I have not done that. I have rarely striven to reach as high as I can, and as I get older, I realise that this is not only a disappointment to myself and others, it is a betrayal of myself. Now, I could just curl up in a guilty little ball and feel sorry about the past, but that won't do any good: Nor will beating myself up about the present and excoriate myself for torpor. Instead, it's much more important to try, and try well.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hands up who wants to join Dave's Big Society.

Apologies for not writing sooner - rather a hectic time at work.

I've spent the past few weeks trying to make out what I think of the Con-Dem coalition, and how far they should be rated on the Thatcher Hatred Scale. Today, David Cameron announced his 'Big Society' idea, calling it the 'greatest devolution of power' to the people ever. This largely seems to involve volunteering to run the soup kitchens the soon-to-increase numbers of jobless and homeless will need.

Is it a devolution of power? Of course it isn't. Centralised governments have absolutely no interest in actually giving real, tangible power to Joe Public. Instead, they are far keener on giving people more work for less money. By calling it 'volunteering', they're hoping to appeal to people's better side.

In fact, this sums up the profoundly cosmetic nature of the policies announced by this government so far. On the face of it, they all seem pretty good - seemingly communitarian, seeking to involve people at grass roots level in a variety of activities. However, they all rely on goodwill and require people to assume responsibility without wielding any real authority. The Conservative party is playing a long, careful game, hiding under the face of social concern, while getting on with what it likes doing best - saving the wealthy and not giving a damn for the weak, the poor, the ignorant, the unschooled.

However, it isn't entirely fair to solely blame the Tories. Fault lies also with the Labour party. The problem with the left wing is its desire to totally control and nanny everything. This was shown way back in '97, where every message and every speech by even the lowliest parliamentary activist was ruthlessly controlled. This need to have overarching power backfires spectacularly once things start to go wrong - the party falls apart in recriminations and in-fighting. The current leadership race is somewhat ridiculous, particularly the sight of the Milliband brothers trying to point out idealogical differences between each other, which mainly come down to which comic each one read as a kid (Beano or Dandy?). And once the Labour machine has broken down, it tends to stay broken for quite a while.

The Tories, by contrast, seek to minimise apparent government involvement while focusing power and control on select social groups. As long as they breathe gentle, acceptable polite words, they will stay in control. If you're middle class and slightly, but not too, worried about your income and the future, the siren call of Big Society, and the chance to (forgive the capitals) Control Your Destiny is rather appealing. In fact, it will be a case of I'm alright Jack. People who set up their own schools and schools that becoime academies will divert money away from other schools. This will exacerbate, not alleviate, the problem of failing schools. In other words, whole areas of towns and cities will become more or less educationally arid zones, where any child unfortunate enough to be born in the wring postcode zone will stand little chance of accessing a decent education. And if someone doesn't get an education, how can he or she be expected to understand their choices, rights, powers and responsibilities?

And so on to the Big Society. The main problem is that David Cameron seems to think that the whole of the UK is comprised of genteel villagers all eager to lend a hand at the village fete, erecting marquees, selling jam, running the tombola and whatnot. Running libraries, education services, housing services and so forth requires expertise, no matter how willing and eager the help. It comes down to power, basically. Now, don't get me wrong - volunteering is a good thing, and has a clear and valuable place. Unfortunately, this volunteering looks like it will be at the expense of people who be being paid for it. And what will happen to those areas where no-one wants to volunteer? What will happen to those areas of towns where people who have not had a good education or access to decent services decline to participate in the Big Society? Are we facing a situation where there are islands of happy participation floating in an ocean of no-go zones where people are left to drift helpless, bereft of direction and assistance?

If David Cameron (or the next Labour leader, or Nick Clegg, if he has the courage to break free from what is slowly proving to be a toxic coalition) is sincere about devolving power, then it should be genuinely so, not some cosmetic, patronising handing-down of a few paltry gobbets of central authority control. That would be a genuinely brave and almost unprecedented action in British politics. The problem is that real, local democracy is a long, tortuous and difficult process, but one that ends up yielding genuinely democratic decisions. Central government doesn't like this, simply because it's on a tight five-year timetable. All goverments have a vested interest in keeping people at least slightly anxious, if not downright afraid, in order to control the electorate and pursue their own agendas with little interruption. British democracy is, in reality, probably better described as an elective dictatorship, in that we willingly abrogate our own democratic voices in the cause of the speedy and convenient expidition of political decisions. So, if we do not engage locally in politics, if we do not raise our voices to question, if we do not involve ourselves with our schools, our communities, our councils, our neighbours, how then can we say that we are particularly democratic or even social?

In the end, if we do not seek to create our own Big Society, we will have some mellow-faced man with a shark's hunger impose his Big Society on us.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Reading to Bath peleton...

Job done! 90 miles and time for cider....


70+ miles of road crap. This is what happens if you cycle without a front mudguard, on dusty towpaths in 30 deg.C heat. This is on the way to Bradford-on-Avon


 The bag Julie is holding is actually her pannier bag. She cycled the entire 90-mile distance with it tied to her handlebar.


This is a roadside ditch somewhere north of Pewsey. There were sheep behind us, but I guess Rob freaked them out.


Rob waves his doughnut at Great Bedwyn. The reason for his triumphant baked confectionary gesture is that the baker's shop was actually open at midday. Apparently, it tends to close at exactly the times you would most expect a baker's to be busy. That's small town English shops for you.



10.00 am - not a bad time on a towpath that was so-so. I seem to have my 'camp pose photo' dial stuck at about 3-4 these days.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Angus and Harry.

A.A.M.G. Wylie (b. 1910, d. 1992) and H.M.Gallantry (b. 1922, d. 2004) were my grandfathers. Angus Alastair (or possibly Alastair Angus) McGregor Grey was born in Fort William, lived in Perth, and came south just after the second world war. Harold Montague, or Harry, was born in Southampton and moved north. Both of them ended up in Reading. Both of them served in the R.A.F.; The former as a weather observer at an airfield in Scotland, the latter as a fitness instructor, having been a carpenter (a retained trade, and vital for the construction of aircraft parts) prior to that. Following the war, Angus worked in the Post Office, while Harry went on to work in his own carpet shop. Angus had seven children, two of whom died in infancy, and Harry had four, and thence numerous grandchildren.
What a bald, dull summary of two lives. Two lives that I knew, two real people who lived, breathed, loved, did the right thing and made mistakes, who filled an unmistakable space, who were missed when they went - indeed, still are. Grandpa Angus, to me, was a strange mix of warmth and distance. He smoked pipes, played golf, and talked in a loud, warm Perth accent that could rise into sudden storms of power - a voice not to be crossed. Once he took me on a visit to the Science museum, and, on a stop in a cafe, grimly showed me the variety of pills he was forced to take for various ailments, the most grievous of which was the arthritis that cut short his sporting prowess - as a young man, he had been a champion rower, amongst other things. Later, indeed, the last time I saw him, when he had lost all sense of time and space just before he died, he sent my mother out of the room after she'd fussed over getting him a cup of tea ('You and your damn cups of tea!'), then asked me to help him get his socks on. I helped move him round so that he could sit on his bed, then, bending down, I pulled socks over feet and calves that seemed to have been withered by time and fire. The skin from knee to toe was a bruised, tired brown. As I pulled up the socks up, our eyes locked, and he gave me the look of a man who has suddenly understood the joke after a long, long, time. We smiled; we both knew that this would be the last time we would see each other, but strangely this was suddenly alright and nothing to fret about, nothing at all. There was no need to say a thing. My mother and my aunt then came in, and the moment was lost. Grandpa died two days later.
While both my grandfathers seemed old to me, Grandad Harry was, in my young eyes, younger, despite having less hair. He was a warm, booming presence, with a truly distinct Hampshire dialect that years of living in Reading never leavened. He always seemed much more approachable than Grandpa. Whenever I saw him, he seemed to have a smile like a split melon and would always say 'Hello!' with a heavily aspirated H, as though he were genuinely greeting you with a breath taken from the deepest parts of his soul. I loved rooting around in his shed and greenhouse, or among his books, or, when he still had the carpet shop, going into the basement. He'd also take me and my sister upwards; He told us that the shop had once been a police station and that they'd used to execute people there, pointing to what I can now recall as a rather frail looking pulley anchor point.

I never got to say goodbye to him. Before I could go to the hospital, he'd died, several hours after my birthday.

There is still too much to say about both of them, but perhaps for now I should explain why I'm writing about them. Apart from both being my grandparents, apart from both having served in the RAF, apart from both having ended up in Reading, one other thing connected them. They both had prostate cancer. In Grandpa's case, it was an illness he died with; In Grandad's case, it was a disease he died of.
In both their names, I'm doing this cycle ride to Bath on saturday. If you can sponsor me, please do - the link is in the right sidebar, or just click on this -

Monday, June 14, 2010

More cycling and the joy of views

Just a brief one, because it's already late and I've a heavy day tomorrow. Went for another ride on sunday, again up to Oxford with Rob - a good steady rate of just under 15mph all the way. The one difference was our route. Last time, we took a more direct road to Ipsden, involving a spectacular downhill. This time, we took the official NCN route 5 road from Stoke Row to Ipsden. All that can be said is
the view! I would put a photo up, but it simply would not, could not, do it justice. It just has to be seen. From our vantage point, we could see the whole of the Thames Valley up to Oxford and beyond, a magnificent, marvellous view taking in Wallingford, Abingdon, the Wittenham Clumps, and, of course, Didcot. Didcot, with its bloody huge power station cooling towers slap bang in the middle of everything.
But there it was - the view of the whole rolling green place, with ample evidence of human industry protruding like a strangely graceful lump in the middle of all. It was a view that said 'This is England!' as much as any view there is to be had here. Looking over it, I started hearing Vaughan Williams playing in my ears.
Then I told the annoying idiot in the car behind me to turn down Classic FM.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Stretch Limousines - What goes on within?

I just saw one of those white stretch limousines pass by the college where I work, and, it being the idle stretch just before the evening classes start, I began to speculate about the inner workings of the thing. You can see these limos most friday and saturday evenings in and around Reading, usually booked for someone's birthday or a hen night or something. Once, one of these would have been seen as glamourous, a whiff of Hollywood on a rainy street; However, once they became more available to hire, they went instantly from Cool to Chav. Alongside the white vehicle, they are available in lurid shades of pink. You can also get a pink stretch Humvee, taking tacky excess to new extremes.
 But what goes on within? Here are a few bits of speculation:
1) the inside is covered in easy-to-clean pink satin and pink leatherette seats
2) there are little twinkly lights and a very small disco glitter ball. Possibly there is also a tiny tiny dancefloor.
3) there is a loud sound system, playing stuff like 'all the single ladies' on an unremitting loop.
4) there is a fridge containing 'quality' drinks like bacardi breezer and lambrini
5) there are at least 6 women in various costumes, one of which involves wings. They are screeching with laughter.
6) there is some kind of floor show. I speculated it might involve Shetland Pony Horsejumping, but that's ridiculous. No,
7) They have midget strippers doing a reprise of the ending to 'The Full Monty'.
8) After 2 am, a little man (possibly one of the dwarf burlesque artists of earlier on)pops up at the back, ladling out doner kebabs with extra chili sauce to anyone still standing.
Sheer class.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Oh my God - You haven't changed a bit! (apart from the grey bits and the saggy bits) - and by that, I mean me.

No cycling this week, which was a bit bad of me, considering that there are now only 20 days to go till the Reading to Bath run. If you'd like to sponsor, please go to the link on the right. However, I had a perfectly good reason not to. Yesterday saw me go up to meet an old university mate of mine, Jo Halstead, though I suspect she'll object to the 'old' bit of that description. She'd come down to Oxford to stay with her sister (who's a Research Fellow at Christchurch) for a few days, and we arranged to meet for the first time in twenty years.
 You might ask why so long; well, it's a combination of work, life, happenstance and fortune - in other words, just normal everyday thingys. I couldn't quite believe how much time had passed since we'd go together for the UCNW Drama department reunion, an event recorded in my old diary, and I'm sure there may be some of you out there thinking, how is that possible?, but there it is. What seems like the work of moments is a thing of years - and, sometimes, vice versa.
Anyway, Jo and I met up and had what is best described as a Very Pleasant Time Indeed. I have to say, in reference to the title, that I mean me - it seemed to me that she really hadn't changed at all. Actually, this was one of the things we chatted about, along with what had happened to old university friends, who had died, old gossip, reminding each other of who said or did what and possibly with whom, families, and an awful lot about our respective teaching jobs and respective grumbles about said jobs.
In all, a really good day, and one that I hope to repeat sooner rather than later - and certainly sooner that another twenty years!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

if in doubt, shoot.

As you might imagine, there has been some not inconsiderable anger in our house regarding the botched Israeli raid on the aid flotilla yesterday, and the subsequent fudging and flummery that Israel has stammered out since then. It's like watching a kid holding a bloodied hammer behind his back while standing next to the battered corpse of a kitten, yelping, 'I didn't do it! And anyway, it scratched me!'
There's a dramatic enough image. Honestly, why does the Israeli state do this kind of crap? It's hardly winning friends and influencing people. They could have waited till dawn and until the ships had entered territorial waters, after which they could have boarded entirely legitimately and with maximum visibility, thereby minimising risk for all. By abseiling from bloody helicopters in the middle of the night, they were clearly steaming for a fight. Imagine someone bursts into your house in the darkness - what would your reaction be? The Israeli authorities claim that the people on the ship beat the soldiers with poles, clubs and knives, and admittedly in the video released by them, it is clear that some people are waving and hitting with poles of some kind, but nothing else is evident. What hasn't been released is the moment when the soldiers opened fire and killed.
Now Israel has lost its one Muslim ally in the region, and the one that it really does not want to piss off - Turkey. Turkey, a country with over a million men under arms. Turkey, an important trade partner with Israel. Turkey, a NATO member and thereby a country that can call upon all other NATO members in times of crisis. Turkey, a country with a military hierarchy, gradually having its political influence and ability to interfere with the democratic system removed by the ruling AKP, that is absolutely gagging for a fight.
The best thing that could happen now is that the absolute idiot who was in charge of this operation is arrested and tried, along with a full inquiry. Better for cool heads to calm angry hearts. It would be better if the blockade of Gaza was lifted, but this being Israel, that's probably wishing for too much.When will these bloody-handed politicos realise that people only bite back when they've been pushed into a corner and have got nothing left but anger to keep them alive?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

short circuit.

No, I have't blown a fuse - I'm just referring to today's cycle trip, a very pleasant, but hilly twenty-mile ride. I started off from home, then headed towards Stoke Row, down to Highcliff, then Rotherfield Greys and Henley, followed by Harpsden and up to Binfield Heath, Emmer Green and back home - an hour and a half all told.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bleary eyed

I'm feeling knackered. It's been a fraught week, and things, work-wise at least, are going to get fraughter. Yes, I know it should be 'more fraught', but if Lewis bloody Carroll can get away with 'Curiouser and curiouser', then I'll bloody do as I like. The trouble with this season is the exams: I'm responsible for organising the things for my department, and it all gets on top of me somewhat at this time of year. It is not helped by having to do two twelve and a half hour days. And, just to add to that, there is also the small matter of training for a 90-mile cycle ride to Bath at the end of June, hence the reason for the last post.
Last sunday saw me and my cycling partners (Rob Podolski and Julie Shepherd, plus her boyfriend) ride to Guildford via the Thames Path, route 4 and the Wey towpath route, all on the hottest day of the year so far - up to 29c. It started well, going along the Thames to Sonning, then turning off towards Charvil and the Wargrave, followed by a truly spectacular piece of riding through fields of bright yellow rapeseed overlooking where the Thames Valley descends towards Windsor, then a trip through the suburbs of Maidenhead and into Bray, past the Fat Duck and then deep into Becoming Lost. After recourse to a couple of maps, we got under way again, just in time to get lost once more. Finally we got to Windsor and into the Great Park, where we had a lunch of bananas and shortbread, before descending through Bishopsgate towards Egham and Shepperton, where we took an exorbitantly expensive ferry towards Weybridge, and thence onto the Wey Navigation Towpath, which also included an oportunity to get lost one more time, just before what I can only describe as a mostly HELLISH 20-mile ride over rutted, dusty, hard, knurled and knuckled and tree-root-twisted towpath, cycling against the flow of some kind of cross-country run and old people walking unfeasible numbers of small dogs that seemed to be fatally attracted to fast-moving cycle wheels.
 Overall, I covered just about 100 kilometres, so I'm pretty pleased with that.
But the real reason I'm feeling bleary eyed is twofold: being woken up by birdsong at 4.30 and my bloody hayfever, which has reduced me to a red-eyed mess despite medication over the last week. bluh.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bloody Elections... and cycling

I've avoided posting anything for the past week simply because so many other would be posting on the subject of the General Election results. By and large, it's been rather depressing - actually, seeing David Cameron's posho smug face outside no.10 tonight, very depressing. As an aside, will it be a requirement of all future PMs to have a sprog born in the Prime Ministerial residence from now on? First Blair, then Brown, now Cameron; it's like the British version of porphyrogenita.
 I don't know about you, but there is something utterly maddening about the current batch of Tories. The fact that three of them - Cameron, George Osborne (the newly-incumbent Chancellor), and Boris Johnson (Mayor of London)- were all in the Bullingdon Club at the same time seems suspect, but more irritatingly is their smug belief in their innate, almost god-given, right to govern others. Says bloody who? Cameron had only one or two short-term jobs prior to becoming a politician, selling advertising, and George has never held down a proper job in his whole life. What the hell makes them think they're bloody qualified to do a damn thing?
As for Nick Clegg - well, I think he was given a terrible choice, and he (and the Lib Dem leadership) chose terribly. Once the spending cuts and tax hikes that are inevitable are announced, they are hardly going to be popular. However, trying to be positive, if they are seen as full coalition members of goverment, they may provide a decent check on Tory policies.

Sorry, I thought I just saw a flying pig there.

OK, enough about politics for now. In other news, I cycled from Reading to Oxford via NCN route 5 (approx 40 miles) on sunday, doing it in three and a half hours. Far more enjoyable than trying to strangle a TV because David Cameron's face is on it. I will be atempting a 90-miler to Bath in June - I'll be whacking the link to a justgiving page on here soon.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

It doesn't matter who you vote for, the government always gets in.

You may be wondering,perhaps, why I haven't commented much on the General Election, considering that politics is a frequent subject of this blog. It's a combination of exhaustion, lethargy, geberally avoiding Doing Things and a degree of puzzlement. By nature, I'm more of a Labour supporter than anything else, but this election has thrown everything up in the air. I have the feeling that whoever gets into government come next thursday will decide the way this country is going for many, many years to come, far beyond the lifetime of a single Parliamentary cycle. Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, may well be right when he says 'whoever is the government this time around will be out of power for a generation after'. He says this because whoever gets in will have to make cuts and tax increases of such severity that they will not exactly be Mr. Popular with the electorate.

 Perhaps it's precisely this issue that is haunting all the three main parties to the extent that not a single one has a Big Idea - a single, defining thought for change. By and large, they come out almost sounding the same, bar one or two bits here and there. Having listened to and watched the Prime Ministerial debates over the last three weeks, I can't say that anyone come out on top - certainly not David Cameron. I really don't understand why opinion polls put him consistently ahead. He didn't say anything of substance, just anecdotes of dubious provenance and the phrase 'We've got to...' repeatedly. It's all very well saying that something has to be done, but how? that's the real question, and Cameron didn;t answer it. Gordon Brown was much better on facts, substance and method, but he has all the charisma of a sock full of thistles. Clegg was a revelation, only because he hadn't made any impression whatsoever beforehand. Some of his ideas were, I felt, on the naieve side, and he would certainly get a shock if he tried to implement them in the febrile, jumpy atmosphere of government.
There's only one idea worth going for that two parties have suggested - electoral reform. Both Labour and the Lib Dems have it in their manifestoes. Whether it would ever be put into law within a parliamentary cycle is debatable, to put it mildly, and it certainlt won't cure the economic woes of the country. What it may do, however, is open governement to a new democratic paradigm within the UK. It would also force the Big Three to alter, in some cases radically, and open them up to new ideas and policies, rather than have the Same Old Politics again and again, and which seem to end up getting all of us into the Same Old Mess eventually.
And as for the person who said to me that they wouldn't vote because it was against their beliefs, I say that making no choice is still a choice and often the worst one. When faced with a decision, avoiding it does not equate to a good thing. Vote, and vote according to what you have read, understood, want and need. Don't vote in a particular way just because you've always voted for this or that party, or your parents have, or someone's told you to. Vote and know you've done it for the right reasons.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

everyone has to start somewhere

Sean's splodges. Good, aren't they? In a blobby, Rorscharch ink blot test kind of way.
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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Above us only sky....

See that? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Just a perfect blue sky. Not a single contrail to be seen, thanks to the Volcanic Ash cloud currently floating over Europe.With the exception of a few small airplanes, the only sound of flying things is that of birdsong.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Death of an Anarchist

Just heard that Malcolm McLaren has died. There's nothing quite like the death of a figure who loomed large in the public eye during your childhood to make you feel old.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

And they're off!

So we have a month to the General Election. I think you can surmise, from previous entries, which way I'm likely to vote, but I still have my doubts. The problem is the manifestos published by each party - they're not all that inspiring. The BBC's web coverage already looks set to be excellent, and well worth checking out. Looking at the key priorities, Labour seem to be edging it in terms of stats to back up their targets. Both the Tories and the Lib Dems offer the scrapping of the ID card scheme, which is commendable, but hardly a key priority right now.
The trouble with the Tory manifesto is that it looks like it was scraped out of a Daily Mail editorial. It reads more like a wishlist than a set of concrete proposals. The most absurd, coming from my own career background, is the idea of Academy schools run by local communities and independent of local authority control. At first glance, it looks quite appealing - after all, it's the notion of communities helping themselves. Unfortunately, whoever dreamt this one up omitted to ask a very simple question: Why aren't local communities already investing themselves in the schools that already exist? Why not invest in them? In fact, I suspect the proposal is probably thoroughly unworkable. For starters, it would involve the diversion of budgets to establish the schools, whatever the Tories may say about private funding; Second, the chances of these academies ending up being run by private businesses or rich institutions with their own agendas is incredibly high. Public accountability would be limited (an opt-out school would not be subject to OFSTED inspections)- and don't we all want to know what happens to our children at school? Finally, I suspect that the whole scheme would eventually crumble - that, or we go back to a model of education that was discredited a long time ago.
Labour's Cancer notification plan is just an attention-grabber, and I suspect impossible to deliver within the time-frame of the next parliament. The same, probably, goes for the adoption of the Alternative voting system - any governement wishing to put through such a change to electoral procedure would need a solid majority.
The Lib Dems 'Identify £15bn of lower-priority spending and cut' is highly suspicious - define 'lower-priority spending'.
And this election is set to be the most personality-driven ever. So, based on what the potential PMs look and sound like, I'd say:
David Cameron: Posho Fake. Tony Blair Lite. Just does that sincere semi-frown thing like he's about to fart out a mini-turd of a policy
Nick Clegg: A man in search of someone who's got a mate who bought a dog off a bloke down the pub who knows where he can lay his hands on a nice bit of gravitas.
Gordon Brown: He's the bear, these are his woods, and damn if he isn't going to crap just where he likes.
And of course, all these politicos have to convince the electorate that they aren't bent, not like those expenses-fiddling lot last ti....oh, sorry, it was them, wasn't it?
If I were doing a campaign, I would start by this:
Each constituency candidate, in their publicity, states what their aims are,  both on a local level and on a party level. They limit this to just a few key items - whatever local issues there may be, and stuff like economy, defence etc.
Next, they state, explicitly, the steps required in order to achieve these aims, and the time frame required. next to this, they state as accurately as possible the amount of money required to complete these aims and each stage. That way, candidates can demonstrate a) value for money, and b) whether they're being fiscally realistic.
After all, good government comes out of good finances.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

demigods and demons!

It was Angus' birthday yesterday - his twelfth! I find it hard to think that he will be gearing up for his first driving lessons in just over five years' time. And possibly moving off to university just another 18 months after that. They say children keep you young: However, it is in the counting of their years that you start to feel old. The fortunate thing is that this sense of impending senescence can be shared quite freely with friends and colleagues.

 He wanted a fairly quiet birthday - no parties, no jelly and ice cream - so we went to the cinema instead. Actually, it was an early introduction to the cinema that probably hastened his birth. Nur and I went to see Face/Off, and the volume on the thing was cranked up so loud (a typical feature of Turkish cinemas) that he started kicking and moving around violently in his mum's belly. He was born a few days later. Anyway, we went to see Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, the first of what bodes to be a long series of films. Angus has read the books, and had really wanted to see this. I wasn't too sure about it, even though I'm a great fan of anything fantastical and mythological, but how could I possibly disappoint my son on his birthday?
 I have to admit, I struggled somewhat through it. For starters, and for various reasons, I'd only had an hour and a half's sleep the night before, so you can imagine how I struggled against the morphean dark and warmth of a cinema. The film itself - hmm. Perfectly decent teen fodder, actually, although at odds with the book, as Angus couldn't help loudly pronouncing at various points throughout. However, I couldn't help but get annoyed by some of the extraordinary liberties taken with Greek mythologies. The worst was the portrayal of the Underworld as a place of burning torment. The ancient Greeks saw it as nothing such - rather, the place, with the exception of the lucky few who made it to the Elysian Fields, seemed to be rather like a particularly dismal office party somewhere in Croydon, except everyone had forgotten why they were there. This is still a step up from the Sumerian view of the Afterlife, however, where the soul was seen a limed bird, scratching futilely at dust forever. And I thought the portrayal of Hades as a dissolute ageing rock star was one of the laziest pieces of stereotyping I've seen in ages - you know, rock is the Devil's music etc. Obviously done with an eye on the pious God Botherer market, just to cater to their perception of what the underworld is.
 Two other things bothered me. Firstly, it was way too much Harry Potter, but with Ancient Greek Bits. It was the Destiny of the Orphan Boy story, where he is revealed to be far more than he thought. Now, this is a great meme - it has universal appeal: After all, who hasn't dreamed that they are some kind of Secret Prince, waiting to be revealed? Apart from Prince William, possibly. Which leads me into the second botherment, if you can survive such an ugly neologism. Why do we need Special? Why do we need Demigods? Why Gods? Why are we so ready to abrogate responsibility? Why do we need to to find the Get Out Clause and say 'I need a Hero?'
As far as I can see, the vast majority of Heroes in mythology are generally impetuous, not prone to introspection, eager to dole out violence, and mostly a bit dumb. But not quite as stupid as those who follow them, or look to them to solve their problems. You see, that's the problem with people - they're perfectly happy to hand over responsibility to some loud shouty fellow who says, 'I'm a leader, I've got the answer', rather than decide things for themselves, simply because they're a) lazy, b)busy with the minutiae of their immediate concerns, and c) stupid. After all, you wouldn't hand your valuables to a theif and expect him to look after them for you, so why hand over something far more valuable to someone who claims to lead - namely, your responsibility and your freedom?
This is precisel why I'm such a cynical bastard. I have no heroes. I never will. That doesn't mean I don't admire and respect people: I'm just aware that they are people, and thus frail. And they more they protest their strength, the more I see their vulnerability. I follow no flag, I follow no leader. I'm on no-one's side per se, since to do so would be to unfailingly accept all that they proclaim to be true, and that I can never do, for the reasons above. You might be on my side - but I will always point out my own doubts and weaknesses, and your own, too, and always this one phrase:
The Buck Stops With YOU. Deal with it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring! Sprung! Racists abound!

The daffodils have finally put their trumpets out, the hazel trees in front of our house have their first tentative show of green budding leaf, there is the busy rat-a-tat-tat of woodpeckers in the stand of woods and the playful quarrelling noise of sparrows, red kites wheel overhead and sound their unearthly shriek, Easter eggs are half price and I've just spotted my first Nazi of the year.
  I went up to our local Tescos this morning to fill up the car with petrol and to buy some croisants. I had some problem getting a pump, as half of them were out of use - probably waiting for a delivery. Anyway, I got a pump, filled the car, then went inside and got the breakfast stuff, then waited on the surpisingly long sunday morning queue. Like most Tesco Expresses in the area, this one was staffed by young Asian men. In this case, Nepalis and Indians, guessing by the names. In the queue was a thick set man of about sixty, with what is most charitably described as a florid complexion, although Alcoholic's Red Face would also do nicely. His hair, though grey, was fairly full, as was his beer gut. He had on a blue Abbey Rugby Club tank top and checked shirt, and was wearing a face full of thunder. His turn came and he lurched towards the cashier. What followed was a load of very nasty invective, that began with 'Why don't you speak English?', to 'Are ye calling me a liar, paki?' (he was, I'd guess, an Ulsterman originally, judging by the accent), to other NF classics such as 'what are ye doing here?', to 'that's the problem with this place is youse lot', before stomping off to his car. The staff remained remarkably calm in the face of this. what was somewhat astonishing was that no-one in the very long queue said anything to stop this really rather nasty tirade. As it happened, it was my turn at the cashier who'd borne the brunt of this, and I said, rather loudly, 'morning. Sorry about the racist idiot', to which the guy smiled and said 'it's OK - he can come to my country and learn the language and see how he likes it', while the woman next to me said 'too right!'. I glanced back at the queue: Sorry to say, I got some hostile glances from two or three people, mostly those of the potato-shaped, shaven-headed variety.
I should also say, much to my own shame, that I only said the 'sorry about the racist idiot' line after the prick had left -I  very much wish I'd said it to his face.
Anyway, if you happen to go to Abbey Rugby club and meet an alcoholic sixty-year-old Ulsterman in a blue ARC tanktop, tell him what I think. Actually, give him a good kick for me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

And if I were to stop right now... would I be seen?
Yes, I know, a very mid-life-crisis-type subject, and one that is born of a general dissatisfaction with myself and what I'm doing at present. Well, let's see: married, two boys, live in a nondescript semi-detached, degree and teaching diploma qualifications, steady job at the local college, moderately successful career, cycle to work, relatively fit, lived abroad for 7 years, speak a foreign language, aaaaannnnd that's it. Rather, that is what it looks like from the outside. And, measured against other people my age who have had successful careers etc etc (and who doesn't do it?), utterly bland.
And yet....photographer and photo editor for a magazine, contributor of poetry to a publication,writer of articles, writer of a novel (completed in 28 days), actor, enabler of others, creating the alchemy that allows people to suddenly function in another language, seeing my students go on to universities around the world, including Harvard, researcher, fluent in another language to the extent that can identify different accents and dialects, and able to understand more or less a family of languages that stretch from Edirne to the Western stetches of China, theorist, often of absurd theories admittedly, insatiably curious, completer of the 3 peaks challenge, teller of corny jokes and deliverer of witty ripostes, analytical, strategic-minded, someone who mostly seeks to do the right thing rather than the easy thing.....
Well, that sounds better.

Even so, there's only me to vouch for most of the above - it's true, honest! Yet what annoys me is that there is so much, much more to do, see, complete, and I feel that there just isn't time enough. And I also can't help but be waylaid by the notion of the general futility of everything. Here we are, little bright sparks thrashing briefly against the huge indifferent darkness, flash of fish scales in green gloom. Oh well, if futile it is, let it be positive futility. However, I'm far too adept at filling my time with nothings - being busy to no good purpose.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kids' TV and applied physics.

I'm going back to an old topic of this blog, children's TV programmes. Currently, I'm watching an awful lot of these, thanks to 3-year-old Sean, who is an avid watcher of CBeebies. Actually, he's a tyrannical watcher, especially at the weekend. God forbid anyone should change channel while 3rd & Bird is on.
 I'm an amused and cynical watcher of kids' TV, but I have to say that British-made kids' stuff is largely better than the well-intentioned mush that emanates from the States - for starters, it's generally more whimsical and anarchic, and the only way to appreciate a majority of it is to either a) be three years old or b) have ingested huge amounts of drugs.Some of the older stuff on CBBC is actually quite good - 'Sorry, Ive got no head' is genuinely funny, especially the Witchfinder General sketches. And Horrible Histories is a truly Reithian piece of broadcasting.
 However, watching one programme today invoked an idle scientific question: What happens when someone shrinks? The programme was 'Grandpa in my Pocket', which is not, as the name might suggest, a child using blackmail in order to keep their grandparent under control, but the adventures of an old bloke, played by the indestructible James Bolam, who shrinks whenever he puts his Shrinking Hat on. Obviously.
Now, I began thinking, what would happen to someone if they did shrink to about a tenth of their height? Anyone more familiar with physics and chemistry than me out there, please tell me if I'm right or wrong, but I suspect the results would probably be somewhat disastrous.
 Imagine: you've got a person of roughly 1 metre 75 cm, weighing perhaps 75-80 kilos, with an average temperature of 37 deg. c. Now, if we say that the act of shrinking leads to a concommitant loss of weight, it still leaves us with a significant problem - where does all the heat go? you have a body pumping out a constant temperature and radiating over a constant surface area of skin. Now, if you reduce the surface area suddenly, wouldn't the result be that Grandpa would either a) be instantly cooked to a crisp or b) due to his blood boiling, explode?
Hmmm. That wouldn't make good kids' telly.
Mind you, I am half fearful sometimes when watching In the Night Garden that Upsy Daisy will stamp on the Pontypines, and have to scrape them off her shoe.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Normal service resumed

A link to the hit counter had been hijacked, so I've removed the offending item..

Not much to write about at the moment, as I am currently in the middle of invigilating an exam, and keeping one eye on this and one on a particular student who I know can cheat in the blink of an eye.
I'm just going to give the thumbs up to Mangal Restaurant in Reading, a Turkish place that opened recently. If you're in town, try it - the food is pretty good, although I'm not too sure of the wisdom of tahini in an aubergine puree. Plus they sell raki, which can only be a good thing

Saturday, March 06, 2010


This blog seems to have been hijacked somehow - apologies. Hopefully, normal service will be resumed ASAP.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A correction.

It has been pointed out to me that it was Dr. Johnson, not Swift, who first uttered the original 'patriotism' quote.
Of course.
It doesn't make Cameron any less of a smooth-faced posho twat, however.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

more on politics.

Apparently, David Cameron feels that he 'can turn this country round'. I bet he does - turn it round so he can screw it up the backside, like the last time the Tories were in. The Conservatives have apparently identified six key areas to campaign on, beginning with the deficit. What they do not have is any clue of a coherent political or economic strategy. And you can tell Cameron is a man out of ideas when he says:
"It is an election we have a patriotic duty to win because this country is in a complete and utter mess, and we have to sort it out."
A patriotic duty?
To paraphrase Swift, 'Patriotism is the last refuge of the politically clueless'.
Cock. Total cock.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Headline of the year?

Even though it's only February? And yes, it is for real:
Butler Handjob gives Wheatley Semi
It's about someone giving away a quarter final by handball, of course. What did you think?

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I feel terrible. I have a rough bloody cough and no energy whatsoever, plus blocked up ears. Just thought I'd give it a mention.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Tory Imagination Isn't Working....

as I said in my last post, devoid of ideas.
Forgive the crappiness of my picture editing skills.

Monday, February 15, 2010

faffing round.

I'm just fiddling round with this at present. How many times do we actually do that - fiddling round? I'd say the vast majority of life, our working/study lives included, is a load of faffing round. Only the rare few actually bother to concentrate and work hard enough, and then for not entirely honest reasons. The latter refers to the majority of politicians and sneery-faced slimeballs who work in the city. What do you think - wouldn't life be better for politicians and financial analysts who were a little more laid back?
Actually, it sounds, on the face of it, a little counter-productive: after all, we elect politicians to dictate our daily lives and trust bankers to guard our wealth, and so we should expect them to be upright, honest and irreproachable - very much like priests, in fact. Or gods or something. And, when they behave like the humans they actually are, we get all spluttered and outraged, when in fact there is collective fault, and a terrible number of errors within the system.
Let's start with politics. Now, a politician should in fact refer to anyone involved in 'politics', i.e. 'the affairs of the city' - in other words, everyone. what we live in is not in fact a democracy - rather, it is an elective dictatorship, where political decisions, for the sake of expedience, are given to a minority of people to make. And of course, a certain type of person understands this, manipulates it to his or her own ends, and gets duly elected. By 'understand this', I mean the fact that the vast majority of people can't be arsed to think for themselves and involve themselves in their own communities. These are often the same people who whine about the politicians they have installed. It's the way that the Blairs and Camerons get elected. However, there is a difference between these two very modern titans of political rectitude - the former just wanted to be loved by the audience, and duly pulled out rabbit after policy rabbit from his magician's hat, while the latter is a bland copy who is seen as a safe face by those who bankroll him.
And talking of bankroll, let us look at the financial market. What this really shares with politics is the atmosphere in which it operates; a febrile, crazed miasma in which each decision must be instant, kneejerk, unconsidered. We somehow expect our bankers and politicians to take calm, measured, and considered decisions, yet when one looks at the bearpits of Westminster and The City, it is absolutely clear that this cannot possibly be the case. And of course, when you put your average, typical person in such a heated atmosphere, how can we expect them to react?
Let's face it - we get the politicos and bankers we deserve.

Monday, February 08, 2010

far too long

..between posts. well, yes, I know, I posted yesterday, but you know what I mean. Sheer Inertia has hindered me - the torpid, leaden weight of Not Doing that stops me from doing a thing. That and watching crap movies on the telly.
There is also the problem I have of wondering what this blog is actually for - after all, it's not as though I have a huge readership - and thinking, is this just another way of distracting myself from all the other things i could profitably be doing?
the main other thing being writing, and that's something I'm not actually doing at present, much to my chagrin. Why, I can't begin to say: there seems to be far too much pointlessness to things at present.
Then again, there are things to bemoan: the government's new rules on student visas, for example, which threaten to put me out of a job. A brilliant example of really poorly thought out legislation, by people who don't even begin to understand what language acquisition and learning mean, and don't care, just as they can keep The Little Brown People out. totally unquestionably racist: if I'd wanted to elect the BNP potato scum into government, I wish I'd been informed of the fact that Labour had gone all Nazi beforehand.
Talking of elections, there's one up and coming, and anoter cause of depression. Who to vote for? there's Brown, the imprisoned beleaguered bear; Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem Homunculus; or David Cameron. The best that can be said for this man is that he's a cut price Tony Blair, sans the 'sincerity' and fake empathy, a man who fell out of the middle pages of a Daily Mail editorial; a man who hasn't had enough time to go morally bankrupt, yet is so utterly hollow that one could, to quote Conrad, poke a hole quite through him and find nothing within save a little dirt. And anyone voting for this fool would be even worse that hollow.
rant over and out for now.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

just trying something with Picasa. Normal service, by which I mean actually writing on this damn blog, to resume soon.
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