Wednesday, 24 July 2013

let's welcome in the summer time

Emmy knew the taste of that wine very well,
It all goes down so easily
But the next day is hell. . . 

Today is the first day of the school Summer holiday. Teachers up and down the land will be waking up to massive hangovers. I, of course, feel fine. Several members of our staff however may feel a little delicate this morning. I did have a few glasses of ale to celebrate the end of all the madness. And a few glasses of wine. We ended up at a colleague's house having a Thai takeaway. I had an excellent fish curry and it looks like it'll be a decent alternative for a Friday night takeaway  in the future. Anyway, I'm sure that there were many sensible teachers that went home and maybe shared a glass or two of wine with their loved ones but the feeling of having finally reached the end of a very hard climb was palpable amongst our staff.

I've been sitting in the garden this morning drinking coffee and watching the activity around me. There's a pigeon flapping around in a very agitated manner. I strongly suspect that a fledgling is about to part the nest. Meanwhile he's rushing around the garden like a vicar at a Garden Fete where the Mayor's wife's dress has fallen off (I witnessed something similar once outside Gloucester Cathedral at a wedding). Some sparrows were in a panic for much the same reason and there's a young looking gull flying very low over the garden squawking a lot. Meanwhile an ephemeral ghostly Large White butterfly is fluttering in and out of  gardens.

I've seen the fuchsia
Over recent weeks I've been trying to get a photo of such a butterfly in our garden but so far have failed hilariously. I downloaded this App to help the Earthwatch project. Thinking back to my last post, one thing I could never have done is be a wildlife photographer. Every time I get the camera opened on my phone the damned things have flown off. And butterflies are the most difficult creatures to capture if they won't settle on anything.  The amount of patience it takes to sit and wait for a perfect moment is far beyond my skittish temperament. Anyway, I came in to cool off as it was sweltering in the garden but the clouds have come over and cooled things down a little. Even the bird-life has quietened down for now. There are plenty of swifts on the wing quite high up. I've just failed again to capture
 two Large Whites, meanwhile this fella turned up which is unusual this close to the sea. He seems to like hanging around our place but won't settle.

It's time to start enjoying the summer now without having to go to school each day. I am aware that this is the moment in the year when I accept that there are some perks to the chosen profession. I'm not sure how much longer that will last if the current Education Secretary has anything to do with it. It has not escaped our notice that Lidl today posted a leaflet through the door advertising their "Back to School" section. Meanwhile, the media is in a frenzy at the arrival of Prince Macbeth and I was already fed up with it before it happened. But for now we need to be preparing to go to the Cambridge Folk Festival get on with enjoying whatever type of summer we're given.


God bless Aunt Mary Moses
With all her power and might-o
Send us peace in England
Send us peace by day and night-o

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


I never wanted to fly high: I was too fond of walking
So when you said you'd reach the sky, thought it was a way of talking
But you told me you'd build some wings, you'd found out how it could be done
But I was doubtful of everything, never thought you'd reach the sun.

A student of mine, a young lad of some fourteen summers, asked me if I had always wanted to be a teacher the other day. God no, I told him, I never wanted to be one! He also told me that he thought I was a good teacher which, to my shame, I snorted at. "No, you are, my grades have gone up this year - I've done well. You explain things in an interesting way and you use film more than any of the other teachers." That was actually quite nice to have a young student say something like that. A colleague - a History teacher - was also thanked for being a student's teacher this year. This is quite unusual.

At the Sixth Form Prom the other week I found out that one or two of my Film Students quite enjoyed having me as their teacher. This is all very gratifying and I'm not blowing my own trumpet (it doesn't have strings, so I can't play one anyway*) quite the opposite, in fact. As I possibly face the last year or two of teaching, it is an absolute pleasure to think back and realise that, perhaps, things didn't work out too badly after all.

I was the first person in my family to go to university. The fact that I did it in my late thirties was possibly even more remarkable. Apropos of nothing, the second to go is a PhD working for the Ministry of Truth or whatever they're called now. Germ Warfare or something. Anyway, having never done anything properly in my life, even that was as haphazard as everything else in my life seems to be. After leaving secondary school like Rodney from Only Fools and Horses with two O levels - one of them in, like him, Art - I eventually gave up all pretences of following a career in Graphic Art. There were so many talented people on the course that I just realised in a rare moment of common sense that it was never going to happen. A few years of working in factories beckoned.

Just as I got married the factory I worked in decided that I was to be made redundant. My circumstances necessitated a quick fix. And so I entered the World of Insurance. It kept us fed and housed along with Mrs Dave's far better income from teaching. We moved from our chosen home of Bedfordshire (A1, near Stevenage, cheaper housing, Jordan's Mill and a pub with no bar) down here to the East Coast about twenty five years ago.

I absolutely detested working in the Insurance industry and I managed to do it for some ten years. I apologise to anyone I ever sold a pension, mortgage or any policy at all to. I don't apologise to any of the crooks and cowboys I had the absolute misfortune to have to work for. Being a fairly honest person, I couldn't bear it. The day I was told I was to be made redundant (early nineties) I was actually relieved. Although we suffered hard times again, I applied to Essex Uni and got in - not only that, I'd blagged my way in to completing my degree in two years instead of three. Whilst studying there we had our third child putting even more financial strain on us. at one point during this time, I had three part time jobs as well. Interestingly, one of which was where I had worked with the father of the student I mentioned at the start of this post. Even my teacher training was unusual. I won't go into detail but I trained at one of the schools that I now work at (two have become one under the Academy) and actually managed to get paid to do it as an instructor.

Things began to change.

I'm not writing my full autobiography here so will cut this a bit short. As usual, I'm going off the point. As I said, perhaps things haven't worked out as badly as they could have.

I never flew high, I never really wanted to. I would like to have been successful as a songwriter or as a musician but massive stage fright seemed to have always helped to keep those back (amongst other psychological hangups). However, many friends and fellow travellers have climbed their chosen trees very high indeed. Some have flown high, some like Icarus, have crashed and burned. Amongst the successful public figures, photographers, artists, musicians and, yes one millionaire, success has been accepted on whatever terms that were offered. Friends are still making a living in whatever capacity as musicians and artists. It's not easy and I don't think it's going to get any easier. 

We are saying goodbye to a lot of colleagues of a similar age to ourselves this week. No matter what anyone thinks, teaching is a tough career choice. It certainly is nowadays. Many who are going have decided that for their own personal health reasons that now is a good time to go. Good luck to them all. Whatever your own pathway, I hope that it worked out well.

To refer back to my student's question, I would be very interested to know what any of you wanted to be when you were at school.

I can't help about the shape I'm in
I can't sing, I ain't pretty and my legs are thin
But don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to

Oh well

Now, when I talked to God I knew he'd understand
He said, "Stick by me and I'll be your guiding hand
But don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to"

Oh well

* yes, yes, I know, I can't play things with strings very well, either!
By the way, if the Bruegel painting above is not familiar to you, check the lower right hand corner.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

keep the home fires burning

chop me some broken wood
we'll start a fire
white warm light the dawn
and help me see
old satan's tree

The sun sets quite late at this time of year, of course. As Mrs Dave and I sat in the garden watching the family of swifts screech overhead enjoying the plethora of flying insects that none of us can name, feeling the last vestiges of heat from the sun and our tiny chiminea and supping the last of the wine, we pondered something that even Mrs Dave accepted as "a good question". More of that later.

The day started well with the sun suggesting that it might bother to poke its head out from under its coverings and offer us more than a glimpse of what could be. I wandered about - not too difficult as our garden is so small an Action Man couldn't get lost in it. We've never had any luck growing strawberries but this year Mrs Dave decided that actually, although she said we wouldn't, we would anyway. And they've managed to produce something. A small bowl like this won't (most likely) excite many but this is a first for us! With a couple more added ten minutes later - we have a small
crop of strawberries. Despite not having any need to buy salad for nearly three weeks, we have mostly managed to grow Nasturtiums. It's a good thing they're edible. We've lived in this house for something like a quarter of a Century. We're used to the vagaries of this tiny town house garden and the salt from living two hundred yards from the sea. It's just great that stuff grows. This year we've also managed to keep all sorts of things growing. Although it's like a bonsai approach, I'm getting a lot of pleasure out of the little daily pleasures afforded to us: strawberries, nasturtiums, mint, salad and small peppers.

First born needed to be taken to Colchester train station to start her holiday properly. By that I mean she needed to leave the family home and start catching planes and visiting European cities. So, after four days home, it was time to get off on the real trip. Off to Hyde Park, then. Mrs D.suggested that she could make her some sandwiches. I was immediately put in mind of my first Hyde Park gig. 1970, I believe. She's off to see the Stones but I went to see Pink Floyd. She will see them as they wind down their operation, I went to see the Floyd as their star started to rise. I must have been all of 14 years old. I still can't believe that my mother thought it was okay to let me go. A packet of cheese (possibly jam) sandwiches - which was probably all we could afford as she had to provide my train fare too - in my pocket and off I went. This is where the kindness of strangers comes into play. There were some older lads from my school - I was a very lowly third year (Y9 in new money) - and at least one of them took pity on me. After the incredulous reaction that, yes, my mum HAD let me go - look, she's made me some jam sandwiches for Christ's sake -  they looked after me for the day.  Which is pretty good, really, because a 14 year old kid in 1970 was a much different beast to a 14 year old kid in 2013. But, for now, we'll let that go.

Where were we? Oh yeah, after sitting taking in the last few days, we relaxed and thought of how we've just got a week (and two days) left until we finally get to relax for a few weeks. And then it all starts up again. . . but whilst we chatted idly, a point of order reared its (not ugly) head. Having sat and enjoyed the barbecued food I wondered  when we, in England, first started to eat barbecued food. I can't remember my parents EVER having a barbecue. I do remember that at the start of the 1980s many of us were having them. Who introduced them and when was YOUR first barbie? I seem to think that the Galloping Gourmet may have been our earliest introduction but that could be so wrong . . .

Answers please . . .

Still, we sat by the chiminea until Mrs Dave needed to go and read a book for her Reading Group (ironically enough The Slap which starts at a barbecue) and I thought I should go and write this and then watch A Field in England.

All in all, then, another quiet night in England. I may wander out and sit quietly in the garden drinking the Mescal First Born brought as a present from Mexico and listen to some mellow music. So, we have two projects here: your first barbie and what music would be a good soundtrack for a quiet late night chilling out on a lovely summer evening?

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

ghost riders in the sty

Back before the blues were blue
When the good old songs were new
Songs that may no longer please us
'Bout the d*rkies, about Jesus
Mississippi Minstrels, the colour of molasses
Strummin' on their banjos to entertain their masses
Some said garbage, some said art
You couldn't call it soul
You had to call it heart

By the time we got to Maverick, we were about, well . . . a thousand strong.

There's a limit on the numbers anyway, so by Saturday afternoon they'd reached the two thousand limit. Okay, hardly Woodstock but what a great little festival. Mrs Dave and I spent a couple of hours loading up the van with beer and wine and clothes (like raincoats) just in case the BBC had got it wrong. They hadn't. What wonderful weather.

Home from home, I guess
The Californian bands like I See Hawks in L.A. (more of later*) felt at home. With temperatures soaring somewhere into the thirties we slathered sun cream onto ourselves (okay, I forgot to put any on my neck and chest - hence the glow), drank beer and enjoyed some great music. An Americana festival seems to open itself up for abuse but do those critics really know what they're talking about? No, not really. Any time the words "folk" or "country" are mentioned it seems that the floodgates have been opened for abuse. But . . . but . . .

A weekend being entertained by some of the most talented youngsters around helps to keep you grounded. These aren't singing along to cds of warbly (so called) R&B artists**. These are genuinely talented musicians who have grown up with this music pounding through their veins - one pair of twins I swear must have grown up around a kitchen table with their families sharing songtime and swapping "old time" tunes instead of eating.

We were - as often happens - totally gobsmacked by how great the home-grown talent is. Despite the many Canadians and Californians there, there are so many wonderfully talented young British acts on show. And so many young female bands. I'll leave you to peruse the lists if you're interested but I
I wonder if she owns a pub . . ?
was very taken with the Carrivick Sisters. Dan Raza & the Shrouds and The Vagaband (from Norwich) were bloody great. Despite the (rather immature) humour of Neil Innes and others, young bands like these just blew us away. It's not just the quality of musicianship that amazed us but the quality of song-writing that is beginning to seep through. More on this at a later time . . . but please get out and go to one of the many festivals that are around. There are so many artists in the States that are leading the way in forging ahead with a career and one of my next posts will explore this more (it was going to be this one but after a great weekend away and a day at work, I just need to sleep).

The festival is held at a farm.  Whilst some of the music is played openly on a field, much is played in the barn, a cafe, in a small room for buskers (lots of them) and various other stuff going on. In all, a typical small British festival doing what we do best. That's right, a family festival with great music.

I'll talk more of this next post but we do need to support live music. There were loads of people older than me there this weekend - and many of them may not particularly be into the music whereas I am. And I mean that there are people as both audience AND performer.

There weren't many twangy guitars there this weekend - far too many pedal steels and banjos for me.  However one flashy git managed to twangle all over the place - his performance of Ghost Riders in the Sky left several of us feeling queasy. And not in a good way. Remember, just because you can flash all over the place doesn't mean you have to. When soloing, less is always more.

It wasn't a great advertisement for electric guitars (so many mandolins, pedal steels and banjos this year) but one or two young female bands managed to show us the way forward here. The Good Lovelies particularly.

Anyway, we got home and managed to have the first barbecue of the year - thanks to our so-called British Summer - and all seems well, at last. Now I realise I'm tired and want to write at length at another time about our talented youth. So, another time, then. Here's the food from yesterday:

* much, much later
** do we have to argue about what now passes as "R&B"? Also, so many Assemblies with sing-along-to X-Factor. Is this talent?

Thursday, 4 July 2013

summer daze

There's a different plan
Time's gonna make you a different man.
They say there's a country where the streets are paved with gold,
Where a man can find shelter far away from the cold.
And I'm sailing out to find it before I'm too old, come summer
Come summer.

So here we are being, oh so Middle Class.

still waiting for this moment . . .
We're off to a local festival tomorrow evening after work. We've collected the motor home ("Harvey" to regular readers) and we'll bung a few things in to take with us. The weather looks good and we'll meet up with some like-minded friends. Mrs Dave has stripped our pitifully small garden of spinach to make a feta and spinach pie ("for lunches") and I'm sitting here waiting for the bread to rise so I can bake it. Home-baked bread for lunch at a festival will obviously be "right on" I guess.

There won't be anyone famous on - other than Neil Innes - a local lad - he of the Bonzos and Rutles. It looks like even Rich Hall won't be on this year and he's a regular doing his "Otis T Crenshaw" shtick. Still, there are always surprises. Always. Last time I went (2011) Melanie was the special guest in tribute to Woodstock. They turned away in droves. We couldn't bear one whole song. Sorry, Melanie*.

Still, we can go away, camp (well, in a van) and wander about in a field drinking during what looks like a reasonably hot weekend and drink. Oh, did I mention that? Usually they've run out by Saturday afternoon. There'll be Adnams in the van, of course. And a box of wine. So, obviously it's going to be a quiet weekend away. The weeks are galloping towards the end of term and we're beginning to relax. Unlike the management of course. As they gear up to try to make sure that the last few weeks are as fun-packed and educational as every other week we've joyously sweated over each and every lesson plan to provide . . . blah blah blah  taught zealously. . .  er, where was I? I'll leave the British education system for now but just keep an eye on the news. Gove, eh?

In the meantime, the summer beckons: music, family, a drink or two and maybe - just MAYBE - an opportunity to do something for yourself. Play a bit of guitar? Write a song? Sleep, perhaps?

This is a quick message from the trenches. More to follow. By the way, despite not being too capable of following social notworking sites, I've "joined" (wtf?) Vine which may or may not last very long.

Wherever you are - enjoy the weekend. If you're in England take some sun cream with you.

*Andy - you may remember her "Scratch and Sniff" album cover. I'll leave it at that - everyone else can sit there and use their imaginations about what 14 year old boys thought about that.