Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Words I Never Say

I love reading speeches. The great speeches. Churchill, King, Lincoln. Nothing from Thatcher's mouth. That sort of thing. There are times when I would love to be able to stand there and deliver the resonant line, the reverberating phrase. Much more than a Blairy soundbite.
And where would I use this skill, if I was so possessed?
At work mostly.
I work with a wonderful team of teachers. They are genuinely inspirational and they manage to weave their special magic in two directions. They can inspire students in Sociology, Economics, Business, Mathematics and a long list of other outwardly dry subjects. And they lift my spirit every day I spend with them.
It will never happen, but I dearly wish I had the words and the style, the opportunity and the voice, the platform and the performance to give something back.
But I haven't.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Inside my head I have two jet engines at maximum revs. They scream all day, every day. Sometimes they are so loud that I can hardly hear anything else. At other times they are more distant. On Saturday morning they had gone away. Completely. For the first time in 16 years I could hear clearly and I was free of the maddening screech that pollutes the interior of my head. It was marvellous.
On Saturday night I went to a CIU in Forest Hall to hear a band called Stormy Monday. I don't usually like blues/rock. Some of their stuff was good: "Substitute" (The Who) was excellent. Most was, in fact, good if you liked that kind of thing. I didn't. What I can say about it was that it was uniformly loud. Very loud. Painfully loud. You know where this is going....
On Sunday morning, after the two hours of aural battering I had endured the previous evening, my tinitus was back. Sixteen years with one day off. I'll be coming up to 70 years old when I get my next day off. Most days it is just a fraction below unbearable. Some days it has me suicidal.
At least I have something to look forward to for my 70th birthday year.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Motorbike Season

The Sun has one month until it gets to the equinox but the lengthening evenings and warmer days have already seen that wonderful phenomenon of bikers all over the UK emerging from their winter hibernation.
Donning jackets and pants, or even onesies, that are still a little tight after the excesses of Christmas they are starting to throw their right legs over their metallic mounts. My own steel steed has had its chain lubed, tyres inflated and the Haynes has been smudged with oil on the appropriate places in a frenzy of checklists and admonishments. My bike is a Triumph Bonneville 790. A bike exactly right for old geesers like me. My brother has just bought a Honda Hornet. Much more in keeping with someone his age. Alongside all the others we are ready for spring. Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha from Japan, Ducati from Italy, BMW from Germany, Triumph from England; we are all ready. You will notice that "Harley-Davidson from America" hasn't made that litany above. They come out of hibernation much later. There is much chrome to be polished before they make their appearance. They die if there is even a trace of salt on the roads.
It is good to be alive astride a bike.
Let's keep it that way brothers and sisters.

This piece is dedicated to my good friend Ben who has a yearning to throw a leg over a Gixxer but should really get an SV650 or equally sensible machine. Do it mate. See you on the road.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sorry; What?

"Waders of the Lost Ark". I'm sure that was what she said. Harrison Ford in a movie about extreme fly-fishing, I surmised. Maybe my hearing is going. Not to worry. Lots of other senses. Aristotle reckoned five, Bruce Willis made it six. I think eleven, as do most others: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, nociception, equilibrioception, proprioception, kinesthesia, sense of time, thermoception and a very weak magnetoception. Unlike "a sight for sore eyes", "good taste", "hear no evil" and "left a bad smell", these less commonly noted senses do not have a great wealth of phrase and vocabulary attached to them.
I blame Aristotle for this. The man was a state-sponsored idiot. He quagmired* science for a bloody long time until several people (almost at once) stood up to him and shouted "Rubbish" (mainly in Italian). Aristotle had been dead for a millennium so he couldn't have cared less. The shouty people became the Renaissance and Western Civilisation was off and running. We have never stopped since then. Without Aristotle we would be 1000 years further on in our development as Homo sapiens sapiens.
Such a shame.

*To quagmire (vt): I quagmire, you quagmire, he/she/it quagmires etc.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Liverpool: No longer funny

I spent some time on oxymorons recently. No sooner had the cyber-ink dried, as it were, than I came across another: "a comedy by Carla Lane". You will have to excuse me here. It is not that I don't like Liverpool (although the song "The Leaving of Liverpool" gets it about right). It is a very interesting city. Lots of history. People as good as you'd find anywhere in the UK, including Middlesbrough. But funny? I think not. Especially Carla Lane. "Liver Birds" and "Bread": gut-wrenchingly awful. "Butterflies": a little better but only because of Wendy Craig (born in Sacriston, County Durham; so not Liverpool then).
We went through years of Liverpool thinking it was the most comedic spot on the planet. Like every other city in northern England it has taken a battering through the years and that does breed a certain urban gallows humour but no more in Liverpool than anywhere else. In recent times its lack of a GSOH was revealed by Boris Johnson who was nearly lynched for suggesting that Liverpool had developed a "victim culture".
My worry is that, by writing this, the whole of Liverpool will revert to his stereotype and I'll have to "do a Boris" and go there to apologise.
That wouldn't be funny either.

James May: National Treasure

We have only a few people in the UK that would make it on to any list headed "National Treasures". Ian Botham and Patrick Moore are obvious. Ralph McTell from the world of music and Stephen Fry from the world of everything else would complete my list.
Until now.
I would strongly advocate that James May should be added to this litany of demi-gods.
Why? Well, he doesn't come from London. He is interesting and engaging. He has a degree in Music from a non-Oxbridge university and is a keen flautist (viz. he plays the flaut) and pianist (viz.... no, I'm not going there). He writes for the Telegraph and still has a ridiculous hair "style" even though it has not been fashionable to look like that for decades. He walks around looking like an unmade bed but has a tendency to be charming, forthright, polite and intelligent. He likes beer, doesn't understand the "terroir" thing with French wine and adores Airfix kits. He is, in short, my kind of bloke.
That's why he's on my "National Treasure" list.
James. Advice. Ditch Clarkson. He'll never be on my list.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Isn't Britain filthy?! It is becoming more like urban France every day. And that can't be good. Look outside. Our green and pleasant land is like a part-emptied bin. The irony is that it is getting harder to get rid of household rubbish.
I guess that part of the problem is a distinct lack of ownership of "our" Britain. We don't feel that we own the railway stations and we certainly don't own the verges of our roads. There is always a quango somewhere, an agency, responsible for such. We over-hype (if that isn't tautologous) those that clean up the rubbish. "Binman" used to be a perfectly respectable job. The "man" bit is now un-PC and the full title is now something like "Environmental Health Refuse Collection Operative". Whatever they are called, there are not enough of them and they don't empty the bins often enough. Yet here we are installing microchips in our bins at home to make sure we don't chuck out anything recyclable. Madness.
I will return to this anon.
Well, got to go, this litter won't drop itself you know.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Next Blockbusting Novel

Do you remember how you felt when Bambi's mother was shot?
I'm trying to get the same feeling into a paragraph of my next blockbuster novel "Through Smoke". Next? Well, yes. And first, if you want to be pedantic.
Anyway, my young hero, Beorn, and his swordsmith father have just rescued the beautiful maiden, Engel, from the clutches of the evil Guthric. Swordsmith father (Alden) is nearly clear of danger when an arrow hits him right between the shoulder blades and lances through sinew and flesh to rent a hole in his left ventricle. I won't say it like that of course. The book is being written in ├ćnglish with no Roman or Greek or anybody else's vocabulary for that matter apart from good old Germanic and a bit of Norse.
I know it has all been done before but it really tests your wordken.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Free Speech

As Geert Wilders returns to Schipol Airport our Puritan Kakistocracy have effectively binned the entire concept of free speech in this country. Anywhere else they would be hanging their heads in shame. To refuse entry to an elected parlimentarian of a fellow EU state on the grounds that he might upset some easily upset people is ludicrous.
I personally do not agree with one thing that Wilders says. I do not align myself with anything he stands for. His politics are laughable. So laugh! He must realise that the right to free speech does not pre-ordain the right to be taken seriously. Let him speak. Listen to what he says and then walk away disagreeing. Gagging him is a moral victory for all the extreme right-wing nutcases everywhere. Let them speak. If they think what they think then actually voicing their opinions is of secondary importance. If you do not value the right to free spech for those you despise you do not value it at all.
In WW2 the leader of the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Mosely, was a voluble, high-profile anti-semitic apologist for Hitler and Mussolini. He was finally interned seven months after the war started. Even when openly siding with one of the most evil men in history and creating an organisation that was avowedly anti-Jewish, he was allowed to speak his mind. Why? Because we valued free speech. Now we don't. Now we have to watch our words all the time. The Puritans don't want you thinking. So stop. They don't want you deviating one millimetre from the Party line. They know best. They will tell you what to say. They will tell you what to think. They will tell you what to eat, drink, wear, hear, see, smell, touch, feel, love, hate and everything else in between.
Today was a bad day. Not a revolutionary, cataclysmic day. Just another, slightly deeper than most, cut of a thousand other cuts into your liberty.

Inciting Hatred

Geert Wilders and free speech is a big issue to which I will return when my anger cools.
Inciting hatred; that's why he was banned from the UK.
This whole "incitement" thing is quite terrifying. We (you, me, anyone) can be locked up for "inciting hatred". Does this absolve the person so incited from any guilt? In every other crime I can think of there is a felon and a victim. With this one the felon might be a Dutch guy with a bad haircut walking through Heathrow and the victim might be a bomber on a bus in Camden who gets his place with the angels along with 52 bored commuters. I don't get it. Our "inciting" laws make the person who can't control his hatred legally innocent of the crime of hating. Any number of things get me boiling, but I don't take it out on anyone else. Presumably, we can claim "he made me do it Guv" for a vast range of atrocities.
If you look at it a bit closer you might get a bit suspicious. I've heard rappers come out with all kinds of blasphemy, misogyny and hate but they are protected by their "kulcha". I hear Islamic clerics spouting venom at all things British, hiding behind the laws of this land. Can these people not "incite racial hatred"?
It appears not.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bobby & Becks

David Beckham will trot on to the field of dreams tonight to equal Booby Moore's record of 108 caps for England. Hold on; it's not a record. Peter Shilton (125 caps) holds that. Moore's record is for an outfield player.
Anyway. Some are up in arms* that Becks has made a lot of these appearances as a substitute. So? As EASports would say: "It's in the game." Bobby Moore gathered lots of caps in the quasi-internationals we called "Home Internationals" where we regularly stuffed the Welsh and Irish and had quite a tussle with the Scots. Moore's record is not an absolute ceiling. Anyway, Moore remained in the England team far after his best days were over. Sheer sentimentality.
If Becks gets cap no. 108 by coming on for the last 5 minutes, good on him. He has been a tremendous player for England and is worth every one. I can't remember the same furore when Moore passed Billy Wright's record. Perhaps we had more perspective then.
Moore was a great player but not England's greatest.
That would be Wilf Mannion.
*These are the same people who were up in arms when Beckham looked stranded on 99 caps and there was a massive campaign to get him Cap No. 100.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunburnt Country

My favourite poem, by Dorothea Mackellar, is My Country. When Australia occupies that magical part of your life called "growing up", poetry such as hers can only end in tears. So too, when the news is full of dead and dying Australians caught in bushfires.
I remember bushfires well; not so much in Queensland where we lived within a few yards of the beach north of Brisbane, but certainly in the valley of the Nepean River at Penrith, New South Wales. Across that river were the Blue Mountains. And the Blue Mountains were regularly ravaged by fire. From Penrith to Katoomba (one of the most beautiful journeys anyone could make) I saw the ashes from time to time. It makes me ache when I think of that beautiful sunburnt country, where I never rose above the rank of Pommie Bastard, in flames.
Fight the flames Aussies.
This Pommie Bastard, for one, has prayed all week for you.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Random Rantings

Two things have recently stuck in my craw and I'm having trouble coughing them out.
Firstly: those guys on strike because of our fellow Europeans taking their jobs. Presumably they are the same blokes who cheer on football teams full of anything but Brits and see no contradiction there at all. The fact that a company employed a load of Portugese and Italians speaks volumes for the indigenous workforce. They might also remember that these workers are here completely legally. Xenophobes: there's a word they may need to look up.
Secondly: Headline in the Torygraph - "Teachers need more grit" and then a massive rant about teachers closing schools and leaving Joe and Josephine Public the problem of looking after their kids. Hold on. 6.4 million stayed off work on Monday. We were virtually ordered to! Londoners relying on their public transport had no option. The point that the Bellylaugh had clearly missed was that teachers don't close schools. Headteachers do. Local authorities do. Teachers don't. Get it?
Leave the teachers alone. Not their fault.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Another Historical Whatnot

The day after Darwin's Birthday, it is the 317th anniversary of the Massacre at Glencoe which gave rise to a joke in very poor taste:

Two Campbells are walking through Glencoe.
One turns to the other and says, "I'm hungry"
The other says, "So am I. I could murder a MacDonald."

Apologies to all concerned.

Happy Birthday Charles

We are coming up to Charles Darwin's 200th Birthday. He was born in Shrewsbury on 12th February 1809. He won't be around for his 200th. He died aged 73. Sadly, he won't be there to blow out the candles (assuming that (a) one could light 200 candles and (b) one could blow them out aged 200).
I am a huge fan of Charles Darwin. His Law of Evolution (it's not a Theory, for God's sake) was beautifully crafted from millions of observations and countless hours of deep thought. It serves as an explanation of our past and a hope for our future.
It cheers me that in the 200 years since he appeared on Earth, the molecules of air that he breathed in and out (the nitrogen only very rarely gets used) will have permeated the entire atmosphere and I have have calculated that, every time I breathe in, a dozen or so molecules that went into Darwin's lungs go into mine. A genuinely inspirational thought.
(Latin: inspiro = I breathe in)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Counties of England

I have just been reading Brewer's "Britain and Ireland" which gives the etymology of thousands of place-names in the UK. I was particularly taken with one of the maps which showed the traditional counties of England. It brought a tear to my sentimental eye (the left one). Names long vanished: Cumberland (only the sausage remains), Westmorland, the Ridings of Yorkshire. Weren't they lovely? They made writing the address on a letter quite, well, English. Now I live in a place called North Tyneside that is the bastard love child of old Northumberland and the rightly despised Tyne & Wear. I really do wish we could go back to those earlier county names. I was born in Middlesbrough ("middle fortified town") and that used to be in the North Riding ("third thing") of Yorkshire. There was never a South Riding (Cnut decreed that) but we now have little counties and unitary authorities all over the place. Even Darlington. Even South Yorks. God above! Given absolute power, I would restore the boundaries of the old Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Kent, Essex, Sussex, East Anglia, Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria. Ah yes. They were the days. Am I reaching too far back? Perhaps.
Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

In Defence of Football Hooligans

Newcastle Utd. and Sunderland met at St. James' Park yesterday. There were 52084 in the ground*, all of whom spilled out onto the cold streets of Newcastle after the game. The police made 20 arrests and the news this morning was full of the usual hand-wringing and hyperbole.
The reports neglected to say that 52064 people were NOT arrested (99.96%). So, out of every thousand at the match, 999 remained out of police custody. I am not so naive as to think that "stayed out of police custody" is the same as "stayed out of trouble" but, nevertheless, it is quite clear that a VERY small percentage created the bother.
Newcastle and Sunderland is somewhere between Bolton v Blackburn and Israel v Gaza in terms of violence. Not quite Celtic v Rangers but getting close. There isn't the religious intensity in the North-East derbies, just tribal, localised passion. Let's not lose that.
I'm the last person who wants to see "hooliganism" back, but come on.
Stop creating a problem that isn't there!

*Thanks to GC for the accurate figures.