Sunday, 30 March 2014

we could leave right now

I still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste
was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test

Sometimes I think I've had a charmed life. I don't mean that in any glib way - there have been plenty of problems and hard time a-plenty, don't worry. Still, to get to this grand old age and feel that I could possibly make some major ch-ch-changes that could make things seem a little better suggests to me that, at least, there must be someone up there smiling down on me occasionally.  Mind you, it's probably the same smile I've witnessed over the years from students that pass me in the corridors. It's the beaky nose, isn't it?

Still, Life changes at certain points in our lives and this month we've reached one of those points.

Earlier this month we paid off our Mortgage and felt that we were able to start thinking about the future as a less frenetic and busy time. Okay, not quite retirement but an easing of responsibilities and less hours spent standing in classrooms wondering why I'd ended up as one of the teachers I used to torture with poor behaviour back in the early seventies. What goes around comes around, I suppose. Mind you, we were much more clever in those days - so much more subtle.

Ah well, this could all be for another time- perhaps when I've hours to spend thinking and writing. Retirement.  Not quite there but decisions have been reached. I'm going to try for three days a week next year and drop English teaching as much as possible. Perhaps there'll be plenty of time to experiment with writing and actually bothering to learn how to play one of those things that hang on my walls properly.


But suddenly, as of today, things are looking up.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

diamonds on the water

when you’re running on empty
and the road has no end
when you’re caught at the border
and no man is your friend
when you reach out for comfort
and there’s nothing but despair
there’ll be diamonds on the water
and music in the air

There was a slight mist that seemingly drifted up from the sea and hung about at the bottom of our road as we loaded up the car ready to drive off up to Snape this morning. The sun soon burned it off I guess but we were bombing along the A14, off onto the A12 and enjoying the countryside whilst all that was going on.

When we got to Snape Maltings dead on the BBC pips for 10 o'clock, we found that we were the first there. Still, after a few frantic phone calls eventually six of us were ambling along the Sailor's Path which connects Saxmundham with Aldeburgh. We were going for a gentle ramble by the river and across the marshes and along the sea front at Aldeburgh to sample the "best fish and chips in Britain".

Along the way we passed The Red House, which is where Benjamin Britten lived and evidently Jimi Hendrix visited as he wrote a song about it. That last bit might not be quite true. Anyway, we came upon it as a bit of a surprise - I'd been reading about it a week or so ago and here it was. The signs around it were written in Greek, German and French. The signs all suggested we should "Beware of the Dog" but it all seemed quite quiet.  And we wandered on. The size of houses in this area reminded me that no matter how much access we have to wander this green and pleasant land, most of it is still in private hands:

From the men of property
The orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers
To wipe out the Diggers' claim
Tear down their cottages
Destroy their corn
They were dispersed
But still the vision lingers on

Anyway, following in the footsteps of greatness, we continued the way Jimi did in his search for the "Best Fish and Chips in Britain©" and we quickly found our way to the beach at Aldeburgh where Fag-Ash Lil Hambling's great masterwork is on show for all. I don't know much about Art but I know what I couldn't care less about. But we had bigger fish to fry and a pint or two in The White Hart whilst waiting for the queue to die down in the next door Fish and Chip shop beckoned. Yes, that's the "Best Fish and Chip Shop in Britain©". And, guess what, the fish and chips were wonderful. I hope Jimi enjoyed them and gave him some comfort after realising that his key no longer fitted the lock at Ben's place.

On the whole, then, a pleasant albeit brief yomp across some of the best of Suffolk's landscape with some great weather. We came across those rare Polish Konik horses that
it seemed necessary to be introduced into Suffolk but nobody knows why. It just seemed like a good idea, I guess. Evidently you're not supposed to go near them but as they were standing idly around in a field next to the path we had to go quite near to them. They seemed to enjoy being stroked and someone tried to force-feed one some grass they'd ripped out of the ground but it's all right, the horses weren't interested - obviously they haven't bothered to learn English whilst in the UK. No comment. Anyway, whilst wandering along there were certainly diamonds on the water and, from an early skylark, music in the air.

Which brings me to a brief point about how easy it is to please one such as I. Last night I went to see the Oysterband at Colchester Arts Theatre promoting their new album, Diamonds On The Water after watching a fabulous sunset (Damn! I'd left my phone at home) and then today we walked across a familiar landscape that was making the first forays into Spring.

And who knows what tomorrow may bring? The first proper - but early - day of spring according to the BBC. Oh yeah, decorating the bathroom . . .

Thursday, 6 March 2014

blowing in the wind


I've just thrown my red pen down in disgust. I feel like breaking it in two just like at the start of Branded. Perhaps that's what I should do next Year 8 English lesson - call the child out and break there/their/they're pen into pieces. Then throw them out of the class, never to darken the classroom again.

What do you do when you're branded?

No matter how many times I try to get pupils to check their work and correct with a green pen (alright, quiet at the back - a green ink pen) which, believe me or not, they are required to do (I'm not a Gove* supporter so don't blame me), they just won't do it.

"Sir, I've finished, what do I do now?""Have you checked your work thoroughly?""Yeah, yeah, of course.""Are you sure? Definitely?""Yeah.""Have you . . ""Yeah.""Okay, have you swapped it with another student and checked each others?""Yeah, yeah, of course."

So how come I end up reading ill-edited, poorly written stories told in dialogue with no indication of who is actually speaking . . . ? Well, truth be told, it's because nobody cares any more. Perhaps they never did. They're just not hungry enough for it.

Recently, I have read books published - usually by independent publishers - and magazines that are sold throughout the English-speaking world (around five quid a head) that contain the most poorly edited script that I despair. I am fully aware that blogging and writing on screens for many of us (me especially) is not conducive to the best grammar - we always need to check our work. But, surely there should continue to be standards. As an English teacher who messes about with guitars, I am aware that there are many kids that are guitar players that are studying English.Surely, it is an important, and easy, point of order to continue the need for good communication? Kids that are switched off from education but play guitar (for instance) may read such magazines? So, if they were spelt correctly etc, etc, surely by basic osmosis, they'd start to read/spell/communicate properly? It seems to have worked the other way - over the twenty years of teaching I've gone from being a pretty good speller into being someone who has to read and re-check everything thoroughly in an almost OCD way before - and after - publishing even simple pieces of writing such as this.

So, here we are: I am now at the grand old age of 58 and beginning to think that the world has moved on so much into some sort of inarticulate, illiterate place that has no need of me that I really need to be moving on.

Retirement beckons. I am now five years younger than my father when he shuffled off this mortal coil. The fact that I never had to go and fight for my country or that I had a fairly good crack at being educated and have had a far more comfortable ride than my parents ever did is neither here nor there. With the constant underlying context of poor (and, by god do I mean poor) management and lack of parental, public and media support I really feel that it is time to think about "quality of life".

For the first time in my life, I now look at older people who retire, leave it all behind and think, "Lucky bastards . . ."

Deep breaths. Pass us that bottle, will you?

*okay, I can't support any of them!


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

have you seen the old man who walks the streets of london

You know London can make your brain stallThe streets get coldand empty on a rainy night, so you duckInto the subway station, you can hear the trains call, they wannaTake you to theEarl's Court Road but it don't seem right

Whenever I find myself in London I tend to be a creature of habit. I'll visit Denmark Street to poke around a few guitar shops, spend some time in Foyles and Fopp and most likely have a pint in the Dog and Duck. So it was rather pleasant to break the habits of a lifetime and do something different.

Having a few days on my own as Mrs Dave had gone to Germany to visit old friends, I found myself wandering the streets of London alone. First stop, the British Library to peruse the Georgian Exhibition. I've always tended to think of the Victorians as being the biggest influence on Modern Britain but it would seem that we owe a lot to the Georgians. It would certainly seem that much that we don't like about the modern world we owe to them. The consumerist culture and economic booms and busts were typical of the era. As much as I enjoyed wandering through the exhibition, I was a day too early for the Beautiful Science exhibition. Ah well, never mind.

I also went to the Natural History Museum to visit the Darwin Centre Cocoon which is well worth going to - try going at a different time to the half term break. There were far too many screaming kids even an hour before closing time. At least I managed to get in to see the large mammals without too much hassle as most people were still queuing up to shuffle past the dinosaurs. The whales and sharks remind me of Kathleen Jamie's essay in Sightlines about the Hvalsalen Natural History Museum in Bergen. I know the blue whale is only a model but it does tend to make you realise how small we are really. I can't say that we're insignificant because, as Jamie points out, most of the creatures there met violent ends at the hands of mankind. In the altruistic need of our forefathers to educate us about the natural wonders of the World, they left a lot of destruction in their wake.

I wandered back to the tiny basement I was staying in at Earl's Court to listen to the underground trains passing and decide what to do next. I couldn't swing a cat in there as it was far too small but I could have gone to the Troubadour to see a blues band I'd never heard of or go to the Half Moon in Putney to see Andy White. Somewhere upstairs in my extensive pile of vinyl albums is his debut album from 1986 (Rave On Andy White) but I was getting hungry and a tenner and a few journeys on the tube meant I would have to stay and I was already feeling shattered. I like the Half Moon and I've had occasion to enjoy the Home Service and Richard Thompson there back in the day. Well, last century to be precise. I decided to Google Middle Eastern restaurants in Earl's Court and it threw up a corker. The Orjowan was just around the corner and had some excellent reviews. No contest, so off I went. The best smokey aubergine dip - Moutabal - I've ever had and I love the type of flatbreads they serve. A glass of genuine Lebanese beer and one of red wine alongside a mixed grill later and I was rather full. I decided to have a little walk through the streets of Earl's Court and came upon a not very wonderful Fuller's pub but, hey, it was Fullers - a pint of the pride of London later and I was back in my basement room with my needle and spoon tv remote and glass of wine.

Before I set off for the city I'd tried to blag a ticket from a friend's relative to go to the Radio 2 Folk Awards at the Albert Hall but to no avail. I ended up watching it all on the red button tv service. It was great to watch but I'm afraid that bloke out of Bellowhead really can't sing very well. Perhaps I should have tried my luck in the clubs after all - Shane MacGowan, bloke from Bellowhead, Bob Dylan and me.

On Thursday, it was supposed to rain all day in London according to my BBC Weather App, which is quite accurate normally. However, in the words of George Formby, it turned out nice again. I went to the cafe at Southwark Cathedral to sit amongst the Christians and have a cup of coffee and then wandered around the Borough Market. By the time I'd walked down to my rendezvous with soem Gothic films at the Mediatheque at the BFI the sun was bright and it didn't seem like Winter at all. A couple of hours researching the Gothic - a great documentary by Christopher Frayling on The Hound of the Baskervilles and some mid-70s kid's programmes - soon made me hungry. So back to the Borough Market. As I passed the Tate Modern I wondered whether or not to go in to the Richard Hamilton exhibition but my stomach was complaining by now. By the time I got back to the market I was starving and the Indian street food on offer looked too good to miss. The Moong Dal Dosa I had was prepared in front of me - it seemed to involve rather a lot of chick peas: spread out and cooked like a flatbread, some mashed ones fried for the filling, all served on a bed of rice, onion and coriander. Gorgeous. I sat in the grounds of the Cathedral and munched my way through it ravenously. I'm sure the gargoyles were salivating above me.

I must admit that I didn't realise how close Southwark is to Liverpool Street Station. I crossed the London Bridge as I felt a little thirsty by now and I fancied a pint of London's finest and found myself five minutes from the station. As I was originally planning to go home after the peak hour and this was just before the peak hour, I decided I might as well get on a train. After a pint, of course.

So, a few days wandering about London hardly talking to a soul but enjoying my own company made me feel like a teenager again. At least I got beyond the bar at the station. But that's another story from those bad old days . . .