Thursday, 28 July 2011

"But you make me cry, where's my kiss goodbye? I think I love you"

I know what you're thinking, and it could be one of two things.

No.1 - "Why is he writing about her? He didn't know her! What a fraud!"


No.2 - "Oh no, not another somebody/nobody yapping on about Amy Winehouse! Get off the bandwagon, you un-original bore!"

Well, you'd be right, I didn't know Amy Winehouse and no, I appreciate it's not the most original post, certainly in light of the ever-so-slightly staggering figure of 20% of ALL Twitter users were discussing her death.

But it's not the first time I've written about the passing of someone I never knew personally, but as I try to just write from the heart when I sit here staring at my monitor, this post is going to happen, whether it's original or not!

What I certainly don't need to do, is give you dates, song titles, her brassy attitude, struggle with this, that or the other - you already know all that, right?

No, I just wanted to say that in my lifetime, there have been lots and lots of singers / bands / groups that I've really liked, songs that I've instantly recognised on the radio, songs to have on in the background, at work, perhaps, or while you're preparing dinner.

However, on far rarer occasions, a singer / band / group has floated out of my various sets of speakers - be they car speakers, portable radio, hi-fi system, whatever - and the sound or voice has made me stop dead in my tracks, forcing me to put down whatever it is that I happened to be doing, and carefully listen to the music or the lyrics, turning the volume up, breathing quietly, so as not to miss the name of whoever the voice or sound belongs to.

Amy Winehouse had this effect on me.

I remember hearing a track from Frank on the radio at work and rushing out to Oxford Street at lunchtime to buy it, asking the guy who served me what other albums were available.

With a very unimpressed look on his unhelpful face, I can remember him replying, "that's her first album mate. She ain't released anyfing else yet".

And so began my fascination with Amy and her amazing voice. This was closely followed by watching her, transfixed, on Jools Holland's Hootenanny, one New Years Eve.

I remember thinking that three years was ages to have to wait for her next, brilliant album to be released, and how long was it going to take before that next one would be available but, I guess we all know the answer to that one.

She's been compared to lots of singers who died "tragically young" - Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain - but I never really knew their music and, as such, haven't experienced the weird sense of loss (of someone I don't know) that I've been experiencing this time around.

I just thought she was superb.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

"All the teachers in the pub, passin' round the ready rubbed ..."

You know, back at the start of the year when I was having my identity crisis with blog names, I was thinking of a blog name based on JAM – it was an acronym, what it stood for isn’t that important now – but when I ran it past the lovely M (who always speaketh sense), she said that people might not show any interest in a blog that was about jam. I countered with “of course, people are gonna be really excited about a lovable dentist then??!?”, not to mention that it wasn’t actually going to be about jam and anyway, what did she know about blog names and I’m off upstairs to blog!!!!!!

I didn’t really sulk btw – just trying to lighten the mood from previous post – told you it was gloomy!!

The real reason I opted not to go for the jam name, was for the same reason I ditched the Dad on a Bike name. Yes, I would write about being a Dad, but it’s not the only thing I write about – I also write nonsense!!!

If I had a Jam name, people would undoubtedly (!) flock to me, expecting to read about Jam, food, eating etc. I wouldn’t want to upset them now, would I?

Having said that, of the half dozen or so blogs I check more or less daily for updates, I’d say that 90% of them are food related – I do have an interest in food – but no matter. As the Walker Brothers sang, no regrets, onwards and upwards.

Blog names and identity crisis aside, this week has been very different from last; lighter in mood, in outlook, in lots of ways, not to mention the fact that school is out for summer and my list of “things to do” is not inconsiderable.

Yes, that’s right people, I have had this week off, and I also have the next 5 weeks off (tee hee), but it ain’t all plain sailing or sitting in the garden on a deckchair sipping a non-alcoholic lager top you know! With mes enfants at their beloved summer dance club this week and next, I was supposed to be tackling the big, messy jobs such as decorating Joseph’s bedroom, and ‘treating’ the recently pointed brickwork around the house (bor-iiiing).

And have I spent this week doing that?

No, I have not, because I have been spoiling myself and doing some fun stuff. Ok, apart from some much needed spring cleaning, I have been making ….. oh ... hang on ..…. jam.

Righty ho.

Yeah, strawberry jam with fruit picked from a farm in Esher (8 quids worth, not a total bargain, I grant you) and blackberries picked from our local common (totally free, gratis and for nothing – bargain of the year).

Once again, for the third year in a row, even though I have been reading up on my pectin levels thanks to Pam Corbin (of River Cottage fame), it has still come out a wee bit runny (dammit man).

Not to worry though, hah – I merely labelled it as “Jam Coulis" for drizzling over desserts; result! Very tasty, and no-one pointing out it should be a bit thicker set.

My blackberries, on the other hand, have come out very very nicely indeed, thank you very much, in only my first attempt. Throw into the mix a banana loaf I made thanks to two very ripe bananas and I’m enjoying my summer very much so far, thank you for asking.

Crumbs, did I forget to mention that Annabel was also busy in the kitchen? Yep, she made some very tasty gingerbread men, and even allowed her brother to share the decorating.

And the flowers?

I just included them in my pics because;

a) they’re from a colleague and

b) I just thought they would add to the summery mood of this post.

I thank you.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Sign of the Times

Note: I typed this up soon after the following events occurred. I resisted posting it because, scanning it over made for gloomy reading. But I’ve decided to post it after all – ‘cos life is like that.

Yesterday was a Friday like any other. Well, at least it started out like any other. My children and I walked to school, we passed through the office to say good morning to the ladies who work there, we stopped for a brief chat – nothing unusual.

But then two of the Year 6 boys in my class came in, slightly out of breath, red in the face, obviously they’d been running pretty hard. ”Some boys tried to take our stuff”, they panted.

A colleague and I took a short run/walk to see what we could see, but nothing, no-one in sight. We came back, the boys seemed ok and, coupled with the fact that we live in London (which can sometimes be an ugly place to live), thought nothing more of it.

Until the secretary came to see me. “The police are downstairs. Can you go out in a squad car with them to try and find these other lads?”

Without going into every detail, I spent the next 20 minutes slowly trawling the streets of our slightly grubby part of town, up, down, into this estate, out of that one, left, right, up, down before, over the radio came, “we’ve got them, they’re outside TK Maxx”.

At a guess, I’d say we were about three quarters of a mile away from “TK”, but, with blue lights flashing and sirens wailing – coupled with driving very very quickly on the wrong side of the road – it took less than two minutes to arrive at “the scene”, the drive was bloody terrifying, seriously.

Yes, they'd got all four of them (four against two – bullies, nothing else), yes they carted them off, yes, “our” two boys were shaken and yes, off to the station we went for them to make a statement with the very casually dressed detective. I sat with one of them while he did so (got to have an adult present, don’ cha know?) and, just behind the interviewing detective’s chair, was a basket of toys, all a bit grubby, I guess through heavy use.

The thing that made me think though (getting to the point of all this), was that the toys were suitable for toddlers and very young children. I drifted off, thinking how unfair it is.

My own children go to a nice state school with caring and dedicated staff, in freshly cleaned and pressed clothes, with their water bottles in their school bags, labelled with their names and it’s all ……. nice.

Some kids don’t have nice clothes, or a nice school. Some kids don’t have bottles and bags with their names on. Some kids sit and play in police stations while their parents / uncles / aunts / relatives / guardians sit giving statements to casually dressed detectives. Perhaps some of them are the children of victims but we were told that the room we were in, was usually used for those accused of crime but, due to them being particularly busy, it was being used for our purpose, the victim.

Sat there in that small office listening to the finer details, I was thinking about the ones who are the children of perpetrators of crime. I know it’s easy to judge, sat here typing in our spare room that doubles as an office and a study, but I couldn’t help but picture a 2 or 3 or 4 year old toddler, playing happily on the floor of an interview room, while Mum / Dad / whoever, sits three feet away, denying having stabbed someone, denies stealing that car, denies having broken that person’s house, looking for their jewellery stash.

As is usually the case, we all know that crime happens all day, every day, but until it happens on your own doorstep, it’s easy to think that everything’s rosy.

Addendum: over the next few days, I spoke with the mothers of the two boys involved. One of them, a confident speaker and person in general, had, according to Mum, become a bit withdrawn, a bit quiet, and apparently nervous when seeing other groups of boys near where they live. The withdrawn bit was noticeable in the classroom too. The other lad, who had been walking to school by himself in preparation for secondary school, had requested Dad start walking with him again, not wanting to leave the house by himself.

What a rotten shame.

Set back years by the actions of a few others who, for whatever reason, felt it ok to rough up and demand personal items from the two of them. I know we’re supposed to feel pity for those who commit crime, but it ain’t always easy.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

I Am David

Well, I’m not David! I mean, my name’s not David – I’m Dad for goodness sake. Ok, my name isn’t Dad either, but you all know me as Dad, of course I’m not called Dad in real life … well, apart from when my children call me, then I’m Dad …. otherwise, people tend to call me by my real name … well, not always .. sometimes I get called other names, not printable here because ………….

Look, you see? It’s getting late, I’m tired and I’m getting in a muddle! I thought this would be such a straightforward post but I’m making a right pig’s ear of it, and all because I’m having trouble explaining that my name isn’t David.

The person who is David however, is the name of the main character in a beautiful book I read a short while back – no surname, just David – and, as always, thanks to the goodness of my heart, I feel the need to share it with you.

The book, described as “one of the most important children’s books written since the Second World War”, is the story of a boy, David, who escapes from a concentration camp in search of something or someone (well I don’t want to spoil it now, do I??).

Now, I don’t know if it’s because I’m just a big softy at heart (no, I am, honest), but this book gave me goose bumps throughout, and the last few pages? Well, I thought about this book for days after, weeks even. The recommended age for this read is 9+ but, like the Coram Boy I reviewed in my previous guise (here), I personally think it more suitable for a slightly older reader, perhaps 11, maybe even 12 years old.

And although it is a powerful book, quite why the front cover has a quote from the Evening Standard on it is quite beyond me!! With the Sunday Times quote on the back??!?

Apparently the Danish author, Anne Holm, wrote poetry for the first half of her life, and was quite successful. This book made her quite a bit better known.

I generally only get to read at bedtime, and a book can take me quite some time to get through. However, I can remember a few very late nights and even a few ‘small hours of the morning’ reads to get to the end of this one as fast as I could.

It’s a stunning story, simply written, with a lip-wobbling ending. Get yourself a copy and if you don’t enjoy it as much as I did, get in touch – I’ll refund you. *

* - but I might not, really.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

“Well, lucky, lucky us. Lucky lucky lark lark lark …..”

One can always find a reason or an excuse not to do something, wouldn’t you agree? I myself am no stranger to either procrastinating generally, or ignoring the situation entirely, justifying it one way or another to myself along the way.

Take for example the fact that I need to start doing some exercising, like, desperately. To look at me, you’d probably think, “hasn’t an ounce of fat on ‘im! It’s not exercise he needs, it’s several hearty meals inside ‘im, that’s what!”

Aside from the fact that I find myself getting the beginnings of a slight paunch (horror of horrors), exercise is not just about losing weight, as you well know. It’s about inner well being, it’s about getting out of the house and onto a bicycle, it’s about balancing out all that luvverly food and squashed grape juice with getting one’s heart pumping good an’ proper!

Never is my procrastinating operating at a higher level than when I am stood looking at my slightly ancient bicycle through the TV room window, propped against the fence, rain water dripping off handlebars, gear levers and the saddle.

On a less energetic note, I am also more than a little adept at sidestepping requests from people - friends, family and work colleagues alike. Don’t get me wrong, if I can help, I will. It’s just sometimes easier to not do whatever was asked of me in the first place.

Take, for example, my Boss last year. She asked me to accompany my year group to the Isle of Wight for their end of primary school trip. I said I’d think about it, but in the back of my mind I was thinking that I probably wouldn’t be going. Generally, I found the year group to be a nice bunch, for the most part, anyway.

After several weeks, I explained that, due to the ages of my own children and the nature of M’s very busy and demanding job, it would be very tricky to make the trip. As a result, I didn’t go. To be completely honest, I had some regrets about not going.

Not BIG regrets, but some niggles all the same.

Fast forward 1 year.

The year group I’ve worked with this year have been absolutely fan-tastic! I feel proud and lucky to have worked with every single one of this years Class of 2010-2011. Don’t get me wrong, there are several slippery customers, each with their own behavioural issues, but nothing that made me feel I don’t have the best job in the world (albeit with crap pay!).

Funnily enough, when I was asked this year if I would accompany the class to the Isle of Wight, I still said I’d think about it, even though I knew I’d regret it good and proper if I passed up this chance.

The bottom line is, I went on the trip (which is mostly where I’ve been during the past couple of weeks) and I couldn’t be happier that I went. Knowing what I now know, I would have regretted not going for a long time to come. The smashing kids in the classroom turned out to be even more smashing away from home and school.

There were a few homesick kids, not used to being away from home for the first time, some tears (mostly boys), but all pulled through. Although I wouldn’t use the word homesick to describe myself, it was the longest time I’d ever been away from my own children;

Five long days.

You may or may not know, from my previous ramblings, that I am a massive fan of the Isle of Wight. I love how green it is, I love that some of it is new-ish but most of it is stuck in a time warp, I love the pace of life there, I love that it is so friendly.

Going with 35 eleven year olds from various backgrounds however, opened my eyes to even more magic.

I doubt I’ll ever forget walking through Blackgang Chine amusement park towards the water slide, being told by one of the boys, that he’d never been to an amusement park before. “What, never?” I stupidly asked. “No”, was his excited reply. He probably yelled the loudest going down the slide that day.

"This is the best roller coaster I’ve ever been on”, gasped one of the girls in my group. “Yeah, that’s because it’s the only one you’ve ever been on”, said her friends. “Oh yeah”, she replied, making everyone laugh hysterically.

Another of the boys had never paddled at the seaside before and was stood for ages, only up to his ankles, staring out at the vast expanse of water in front of him, asking where the water ended.

It was another moment where I thought of my own kids – not in a 'missing them' way just then, but how they’ve done so much already, been taken to so many places to help broaden their knowledge and understanding of the world around them. I thought then, that while we were out exploring at the weekend, some of the kids I work with are cooped up indoors watching TV, waiting for parents to come home from work (their words, not mine).

Before we left for the trip, a letter was sent home telling parents to send a letter, addressed to their child, to the hotel in which we were staying in. On the morning after we arrived, the letters would be handed out to children to ease them into being away from home. Apart from the fact that lots of children received nothing, I used the idea myself and typed up a letter for Joseph and Annabel and posted it the morning I left for the trip.

Unbeknownst to me, they had done the same thing (you clever thing M) and I was the very proud recipient of a letter, handed out over breakfast on the Tuesday morning.

Thanks guys.

You have no idea how delighted I was to get these!