Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Woo Continuum

Inspired by the marvellous Crispian Jago's Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense I wrote this which will, if I ever get the right opportunity end up as a performance piece. I am sure there will be plenty of gullible people in the audience to be offended by it.

The Woo Continuum

I don't need to be a psychic
to tell you what's to come
if you keep believing things
that are really rather dumb.
Your end may well be sticky
no matter what you do,
if instead of evidence
you put your trust in woo
like crystal power and ley lines
like the ouija board and chi
like possession by the spirit world
clairvoyance, ESP.
You can be off with the fairies
or believe in Nostradamus,
let someone read your tarot cards
or hunt for chupacabres.
You can populate your fantasy
with manticores and bunnyips,
with vampires, ghosts and unicorns
statues with real blood that drips.
And if you're feeling sick and weak
whatever illness ails,
we've quackery both old and new
that's guaranteed to fail
to give any kind of cure at all
but please feel free to try.
I hope you don't come running back
to science if you die.
Try homeopathy or reiki,
acupuncture, shiatsu.
Try cupping, magnet therapy
or pray till you turn blue,
chiropracty or feng shui,
ayurvedic, TCM,
reflexology, trepanation
or massage with a gem.
The truth is very few of them
will cause you much distress,
but, if you're hoping for a cure,
don't count on much success.
Or else flip the coin around
and choose what you deny.
Moon landings? Didn't happen.
And AIDS? It's all a lie.
Vaccination's a conspiracy
dreamed up by pharmachem
and the everlasting lightbulb has
been suppressed by "THEM".
And if you want to know the future
please let me read your palm,
spill the entrails of a goat
or sell you a lucky charm:
four-leaf clover, rabbit's foot,
a lucky sprig of heather,
a dream catcher up above the bed
a shark's tooth hung on leather.
Crop circles were by aliens
when the pyramids were done,
Prince Philip is a reptile
and so was the Queen Mum.
You can sit down by Loch Ness
Just hoping for a sighting
and pass the time with poems
done by automatic writing.
You can speak in many tongues
in a random glossolalia;
and prophesy the end of days
certain of your failure.
You can search the woods for Big Foot
or the mountains for a Yeti.
You can dowse for gold or water
till your palms turn red and sweaty.
You can stick pins in a doll
of the fool who wrote this verse
but unless he's as daft as you
then he won't feel any worse.
You can pick and mix your madness
and be incredibly naive
as for me I'll trust in sanity:
I know what I believe.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Mathematically challenged

In my quest to fill the boring hours between now and when I am working again in July I have taken to doing things like spending two and a half hours walking along the canal bank to make a thirty minute visit to Walsall Museum for an exhibition.
I also considered making a visit to the local zoo, something I haven't done since I was a young child (apart from a couple of trips to a closed off section of the grounds when they used to hold a beer festival there.)
At the moment the price is putting me off, putting off the accountants who work it out too, apparently.

The website contains this information.

Admission Prices

Adult (inc. £1.20 donation) - £12.50

As a Charity we rely upon donations from our visitors to support our animal welfare and conservation work. The Adult price includes a voluntary donation of £1.20 towards our conservation work. If you choose not to support our conservation work the normal Adult admission price is £11.20.

Er... doesn't £11.20 plus £1.20  come to £12.40, not £12.50?

I may go anyway when I get bored enough.

The Things They Think Of

Just noticed in the Argos Catalogue: Automatic Watch Winder (includes mains adapter) £24.99.

While I'll concede it might be useful for someone with, say, arthritic hands, a battery powered watch would do the same job rather more easily - especially as it looks quite a fiddly device in itself. Otherwise I can't see much point in a device that winds my watch for me - a task that takes all of about five seconds.

Time Travel,

I know Doctor Who has a time machine but tonight is the sixth episode of the series and the fourth different transmission time (in the UK). I can't help thinking the constantly shifting time shows something of a lack of network commitment.

Friday, 27 May 2011

A review

Many thanks to Gary Longden for these kind words.

Closing the first half was Bob Hale, teacher, travel writer and poet. Bob is very good at assembling a set thematically. Previously I have seen him do a Travel Set. This time he opted for an autobiographical collection.

He combines easy, accessible language with sharp observation and a dry wit. His Games trilogy was funny, “Bangkok” amusingly accurate. His well known Bears poem about a collection of teddy bears was as popular as ever but “A Secret Place” stood out for me.

Poignant and evocative it told, of the secret place he had as a child to escape the hurly burly of an adult world. It succeeded because it conjured up the desire most of us experienced as a child of wanting a secret retreat and spoke touchingly of a childhood we all lose. We are soon to lose Bob for a year or so, first to Harrow, and then to China – what tales he will have to tell upon his return.

His review of the full set can be found on Behind the Arras , a site which manages to review almost every poetry event running anywhere in the Midlands. Well worth a read even when it isn't reviewing me.

The things people will do to get on TV

Flipping channels the other night I was suddenly confronted with an extreme close-up of someone with genital warts. Apparently, this is a new TV program where people who have medical problems, mostly sexual ones, which they are too embarrassed to see a doctor about (in private), can have their faces and their conditions displayed on a wall sized screen to two complete strangers (and the entire viewing audience) who will give them medical advice about their conditions.

I'm not sure what I find most baffling, the idea that anyone would do this or the idea that anyone would watch it. 

Bilston Voices: My Bit

For those interested, should there actually be any, my complete set from Bilston Voices can be found by following these links in order.

A Safe And Secret Place
The Naughty Chair
Games Lessons
First Love In Flashback
Chaos Theory
The Bangkok Hustle  (not the others on this page, just that one!)
The Teddy Bear House

Bilston Voices

Well, we really are running out of time now, aren't we? I have one more visit to Bilston Voices as an audience member to come (and of course one to City Voices) and then that's it. I'll be gone, on my way to China. That's why I was so pleased to be able to appear last night as a performer. 
I had the slot before the break but before we got to me we had two other poets to listen two and they were quite a treat.
Kurly McGeachie who opened the proceedings had a friendly, bouncy open style and an unusual fondness for peppering his poetry with sound effects - everything from vacuum cleaners to hand grenades. He opened with a short poem about Smiles and followed this with a much longer and more complicated piece called Home. Both were excellent. Whenever I hear poets perform long, complex pieces with this level of skill I am simply awestruck by the talent it takes. I have enough trouble remembering my own relatively straightforward, much shorter pieces. Kurlie rounded out with a love poem - You Are Beautiful and finished with a piece called Words that was more like rhythmic prose and very good indeed.
Kurlie was followed by Maurice Arnold, on older - and very different - performer. His poems were mostly short and quite humourous - ranging from Beer Festivals to being born in Dudley - with a couple of more serious ones included for variety. The poems were very good, especially the final one,  I Was Born In Dudley Town, but there was a slight problem with the delivery. He tended to go rather too fast and to run the ending of one poem into the introduction to the next with neither a pause nor a change of voice tone so that by the time the audience realised the poem was over he was through the introduction and rattling into the next one. He would benefit greatly from slowing down and reducing the number of poems in his set.
Then it was my turn. Since I decided about a year ago to recite rather than read it has become my preferred method of performance. I enjoy it much more because I can connect more with the audience and be more expressive in the delivery. I had decided to do a set of entirely autobiographical material and I had rehearsed a lot to get it down pat. It seemed to go very well indeed. There was laughter where there is supposed to be laughter, sighs where I expected sighs, choruses of appropriate oohs and ahs. I came off feeling really good about it.

After the break we had another change of performance style and material with Mark Reece. He gave us a long extract from an unpublished novel in the form of a rather puzzling extract about a mortgage salesman trying to con a weird old lady. It had its moments but on the whole I found it unconvincing. The situation seemed unlikely and the detail under-researched. Though the dialogue sounded quite authentic the piece was also far to long for the slightness of the material.
The evening was rounded out by Simon Fletcher who announced at the start that he was going to give us "fifteen minutes of flowers, birds, butterflies and stuff like that" and that's precisely what he delivered - a selection of pastoral poems that were very descriptive of the countryside that Simon clearly loves. His measured delivery suits the material perfectly and he writes in a gentle and literate style but his poems always seem to me to be the kind that reward a reader much more than a listener. All the same it was a polished performance to round off another fine evening.

One more to go and that's it. I really am going to miss Bilston Voices.

Monday, 23 May 2011

If even I know

Look, there are lots of things that everyone knows about me. For a start everyone knows that I don't use social networking sites. I once set up a Facebook account and have NEVER logged into it since the day I set it up. I have no interest whatsoever in posting or reading stuff  on Twitter. I simply don't care.

Another thing that I have little interest in - less, if that's even possible, than I have in Twitter - is football. There are probably no more than a handful of footballers I can name, though I'll admit to sometimes recognizing the names when I hear them

So, given all of that, how come, when someone said yesterday that they wanted to know the name of the footballer in the current superinjunction furore, I already know who it allegedly is? If even someone like me has, somewhere, and I don't know where, come across the answer (and assuming that, wherever it was, it was right) then it seems to have been a remarkably ineffective gag. Without knowing, wanting to know, seeking to know or caring in the slightest I have somehow run across the name of this footballer.
Superinjunction? Clearly money well spent.

Probably wrong to mock but...

...perhaps it's just as well that, in spite of spending millions of dollars advertising it, Harold Camping's "Biblically guaranteed" prediction that the world was ending at six pm on Saturday seems to have been wrong. After all if it had ended on Saturday how would all those earnest young people on Sunday's "The Big Question" have been able to debate the question "Is religion on its way out?"

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Friday, 20 May 2011

Autocaption Fun

Having arrived a little early at the pub last night, while I was waiting for my drinking buddy, Pete, to arrive I found my eye drawn to the TV in the corner which was on but with no sound. The channel showing was a news channel with an auto-captioning system.

I love watching auto-captioning because it doesn't always work properly.
So, in the item about the Strauss-Kahn rape allegations the phrase "in view of the people's objection" was shown on screen as "in view of the purple of ejection" while in the item about Birmingham Council's defeat in the matter of disability benefit cuts a woman with cerebral palsy was described as having "a real bore palsy".

There were probably lots of others but at that point Pete arrived and conversation took over.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Apprenticespeak #2

Last night's Apprentice had the regular task where they all go running around London trying to buy the items on a shopping list provided by Lord Sugar. I found it strange in last nights episode that NOT ONE of the members of the either of two teams (so that's 14 people allegedly from Britain's best and brightest) knew what either "physalis" or "cloche" meant. 
Granted they aren't the highest frequency words in the language and I've probably never had cause to teach either one to any of my students but surely one of them ought to have known them.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Why can't I do that?

One of the endless array of antiques programs on TV has just had someone sell at auction a Royal Worcester Cheshire Cat. It made £620. The seller had bought it for £1 at a car boot sale. Wish I could do that. (Though, of course, once I'd bought it I'd never be able to persuade myself to sell it!)


There were of course both mandatory and optional courses at University. The pure maths course and the applied maths course were compulsory as were a number of others not mentioned in this poem. We also had to choose a course taught outside the maths department from a list provided. I chose, because I'd done it at A-level, a physics course but almost immediately regreted it. Almost anything would have been better.
That's because the one thing that all our courses had in common was that they were all delivered by lecturers who, let's be generous, had their distinctive styles.


The pure maths lecturer
Entered the room barefoot
And wearing a Kaftan
As if it were still nineteen-sixty,
And flower-power and peace and love
Held sway on campus.
But it was nineteen-seventy-seven
And punk was in the ascendant.
He sat cross-legged on the desk
And asked a question,
"Why is the set of all left socks
Poorly defined?"
No one answered him.
He seemed disappointed.

The applied maths lecturer
Entered the room in a tweed jacket
With leather elbow-patches
As if he were a geography teacher,
And we were uniformed schoolchildren
In a secondary class.
But we had left all that behind.
He handed out sheets of notes
And lectured with his back to the room
In a droning mumble.
Thankful for the photocopied sheets,
From that day on,
We took turns to collect them.
He seemed not to notice.

The physics lecturer
Was always there before the start
Impatiently waiting for us to sit
Expecting us to listen attentively,
As we all wished we'd chosen differently
From the optional courses.
And he went on past the end,
Frowning at our impatience,
Expecting us to stay through lunch,
Not once, but always,
As we all packed our bags,
Put on our coats,
Drummed fingers on empty desks.
He seemed to be angry.

I entered every room
With diminishing eagerness
As the terms crept slowly past me
And my knowledge edged upwards
In inverse ratio to my enthusiasm
For my chosen subject.
I slowly narrowed my options
As surely as they slowly narrowed me,
Restricted myself to computer courses
Not one, but all of them
Looking for something
That might be useful
From the from the fairground lucky-dip
Of mathematics.


Well, just as I had passed my eleven plus at primary school, I passed my A-levels at secondary school sufficiently well to progress to University. At the time I was still something of a homebody, reflected in the fact that I applied to the five closest Universities and ended up at the closest  of all - which, in those days before the Government decided to rename half the educational establishments in the country as Universities, was The University of Birmingham.

In the first year I had a room on the eleventh floor of High Hall, in the back corner looking down at the bus stop and along the road. Unlike many I didn't find University an especially marvellous experience and I didn't make many friends. I haven't seen, heard from or spoken to a single person I was there with since the day I walked out of the place. That may be partly due to moving away to work in London but frankly if there had been a will there would have been a way. There just wasn't that much of a will.

Anyway, this is a poem called Eleventh Floor Solitary Blues. It's a new(ish) poem but I've tried to put myself into the frame of mind I was in while I was there to give an accurate flavour of the experience. It also reflects the fact that I had by then had the "wintertime" and the "party in another town" mentioned in a previous poem in this sequence but never managed, in three years to find anyone else.

Eleventh Floor Solitary Blues

There is music playing softly in another room
A wailing blues guitar
I'm staring through my window at a gibbous moon
And wishing on a star
I wonder where you are
I wonder who you are

I can hear the sound of laughter that's down in the street
Eleven floors below
I've got nowhere to go and I've got no one to meet
And I'm feeling rather low
I really ought to go
But there is nowhere to go

There is a poster of a pyramid hanging on the wall
From an album by Pink Floyd
I make a cup of coffee and I wonder why it all
Gets me so annoyed
That it all seems such a void
A bleak and endless void

And waiting on my desk's a lot of work I ought to do
But I just don't have the will
I take a walk out in the dark and I try to think it through
The lake looks black and chill
As I stroll on down the hill
Just once more down the hill

And in the student houses there are parties going strong
It's what I thought this time would be
But no matter what I thought it seems that I was wrong
I guess that's only me
It's everything I see
It's all the things I see

It's getting rather late and the night is turning cold
So I turn myself around
As I head back to my room I'm feeling much too old
And much too tightly wound
And on unstable ground
On ever-shifting ground

I lie down on my bed and keep on listening to the night
And wonder why I'm here
By the time I fall asleep again it's already getting light
And now that dreams are near
All my troubles disappear
See my worries disappear

Supplementary question for more advanced geeks

The extended versions of the movies have ten characters in common. Who is the tenth one?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A belter of a quiz question

Here's a belter of a quiz question from today's edition of Pointless. See if you know the answer without looking it up.

Nine characters are credited in all three of the original Star Wars movies. Who are they?

You'll probably get eight in ten seconds. Will you get the ninth? I didn't.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

I'll bet they have trouble in class on Monday...

Yesterday I was watching the quiz show Pointless.

The question was "Name a US state with a coastline."

One pair gave the answers Mexico and Orlando.

OK. People sometimes have unexpected and unexplained gaps in their knowledge but isn't that a bit extreme? Especially as they were both supposed to be teachers.

(Another contestant suggested Detroit but he wasn't claiming to be a teacher.)


The Apprentice returned to our screens this week. Call me cynical if you wish but I found this assertion from one of the candidates a little hard to believe.

"I was once trained by Al Gore and then I was personally tutored by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama."

Must have been a private school.

(Another good one, from a candidate commenting on the fact that they were making soup from the cheapest possible ingredients, "They might not buy it again but they're not gonna be sick.")

Small Stones: Extended Remixes #14

Another one that's more of a variation on the original than an extension.

Sometimes People Clap

I always try to warn them
that this may not entertain.
It's a remnant from the days
when I hid my work from view;
Before I came out as a poet
and admitted to my shame.
I always tell them they won't like it
but sometimes some of them do.
It's still a source of wonder,
it still feels very strange,
to be standing up reciting
what sounds to me like crap.
So I always try to warn them
that I may not entertain
and it comes as some surprise
that sometimes people clap.

Small Stones: Extended Remixes #13

Some of the originals are just fine as they are. This is one of them. So I'll just repeat it here rather than trying to rewrite it.

After the eye-drops

On the way home from the hospital
Traffic lights become technicolour suns;
Shop names dissolve into alien languages;
Faces melt into indistinguishable blurs;
The numbers vanish from my watch;
The lines vanish from my hands;
And the whole world becomes a bad photograph.

Small Stones: Extended Remixes #12

I'm not sure if this poem benefits from being longer than the original version or not, though I do like the new phrase "A bright square of gloom, Powerpoint pessimism." which may in itself be enough to justify the "remix"

Nevertheless here it is.

The empty staff room
is filled with the hum
of the air conditioning.
Bright angular stripes
on scattered papers
and open books
cover the desks.

The auditorium
is filled with the hum
of the college-wide meeting.
A bright square of gloom,
covers the screen.

My solitary mind
is filled with the hum
of a future unfolding.
Bright tracks of change,
paths to a new world
and another life
cover my world.

Friday, 13 May 2011

They should crash this thing more often

While Blogger has been out of action my hit rate, according to Google Analytics has gone UP  by almost 400%.
They should crash it more often.

Well, it's about time...

You may have noticed that blogger has been down for over a day. There's been rather a lot of discussion about it among the users of the system. Well I have enough experience in IT  to know that bad stuff happens and sometimes it takes time to fix it.

That I don't mind.

I was also prepared for the possibility of lost data. In the end I lost one small post and two associated comments. It was nothing very clever anyway so no big deal.*

The one thing that did annoy me was the almost total lack of information coming out of blogger. Their policy when system failures happen appears to be in two parts. Part one: tell you there has been a system failure. Part two: tell you when it's been fixed. In the gap between parts one and two they seem reluctant to tell you anything at all. I worked in IT for long enough to know that you can't always say exactly how long a fix will take but some information, however broad brush, would divert the flood of angry comments that have been floating around.

Blogger Customer Services need to pick up their ideas a bit.

On the plus side, while it was down I sent in the previous post via email. I am pleased to report that not only did it work but it preserved the layout as I'd intended it, something I wasn't certain would happen.

(*The post really wasn't worth reposting - so I haven't.)

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Small Stones: Extended Remixes #10

The next of my small stones was a very slight piece called "The Poetry Evening". This extended version is really a variation on the theme rather than a longer version of the same piece. Because Blogger is down at the moment I am having a go at posting this via gmail and so some, if not all, of the formatting will probably get lost. I'll sort it out later when blogger is back to normal.

The poetry evening

The first poet is
    an adult woman.
    has no papers
    has no books
    performs with style
            and energy.
    poems are witty
    and clever
    and full of life
            and laughter.

The second poet is
    an adult man.
    reads from pages
    kept loose-leaf
    in a folder
            full of dreams.
    poems are subtle
    and personal
    and full of sorrow
            and anger.

The third poet is
    an older woman.
    reads from a book
    a collection
    of her works.
    poems are thoughtful
    and full of rhythm
            and  rhyme.

The last poet is
    a teenage girl.
    reads from an i-pad
    virtual words
    from the ether.
    poems are spikey
    angular things
    full of the preoccupations
            of youth.

Among the things I didn't buy...

I went looking for a couple of things I need for my travels today. Among the things I saw that I decided not to buy was a solar-powered torch.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

City Voices

This month gave us a very different City Voices as a combination of intention and circumstance threw the normal format out and replaced it with no fewer than nine performers, five of whom didn't appear on the printed program.

The first half was taken up completely by the Scribblers writing group, of which I'm a member, launching our latest anthology with a selection of readings from it as well as a few additional pieces from our individual writings. Silvia Millward kicked off the proceedings with two pieces from the anthology and a brand new poem. They are fine poems but her rather quiet delivery was done no favours by the noisy air-conditioning from the bar. She writes and reads very well but still comes over as a little tense and stilted in the links and will be even better when she is able to relax more into the performance. 
She finished by introducing Andy Moreton who read both his pieces from the anthology - a short anti-war poem and a long and amusing story about a dirty old man. Both were very well received with the short story generating frequent laughter from the small but attentive audience.
Andy was followed by Janet Bogle who chose not read her story from the anthology but gave us instead her accompanying poem and a second short poem from her other writings. Both pieces were excellently crafted and very perceptive, characteristics of all of her work.
Jill Tromans was next delivering a dialect poem about buying a new oven that had the audience chuckling and her lengthy and amusing piece documenting a month in the life of a computer. This was not the easiest piece to read, having a rather awkward structure but it had enough about it to please the audience. 
Neil Howard followed in his first public performance. He read his slight short story "Tiger Waits All Night" and a poem reflecting on mortality, "Gone", before introducing my section. 
Years of teaching mean that a noisy environment is no match for my loud voice but, having performed last month and with one member of the group still to come, I kept my offering quite short. My three poems, two about homelessness and begging from the anthology and a third about Alzheimer's from my collection, Chaos Theory, were very well received and drew gratifying compliments in the break from a number of people whose work I respect a lot.
In turn I handed over to Mike Narroway who has a pleasant mannered delivery and gave us his poem, "The Garden" in which an exasperated Eve has a conversation with a rather naive Adam. It was a good end to the first half.

If the first half had been different in form by intent, the second was different by accident. One of the billed performers Jonathan Collings had failed to turn up leaving the other one, John Thomas, to carry the bulk of the time. After an introduction that was, perhaps, rather too long, he read three sections from his modern gothic novel "Beyond This Wilderness". The writing was rather stylised and reminiscent of the classic era of gothic writing but the necessity to set the scene and explain the background, combined with the descriptive nature of the chosen extracts made it all seem a little slow and ponderous though he read with confidence and conviction.
To fill in for the absent reader we were treated to a set of poems from Jane Seabourne who is one of the most accomplished of the regulars at City Voices. It was a short but varied set including poems about butterflies, staff training, dogs and a walk in the woods. The one about being expected to sit through training in an aspect of your job that you have done for years, given by someone who has never done it, struck a particular chord with me.

All in all another fine night out.

It hadn't really occurred to me but...

I was having a drink last night with one of the very few people who read this blog. He suggested that the "slip" by Vince Cable that I mentioned a couple of days ago  was no such thing but rather a calculated ploy. Vince Cable is, after all, not the most enthusiastic member of the coalition and has been vocal in some of his disagreements.
If it was, he can certainly add "good actor" to his CV as he fooled me completely.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Curiously Specific

In today's Telegraph, Nick Hewer is quoted as saying that Ed Miliband has the weakest handshake in Western Europe.
Does this strike anyone else as a rather curiously specific thing to say? Just Western Europe? Not the World? Not even Eastern Europe? Is it possible that there is someone in Prague proudly boasting that he has a weaker handshake than Ed Miliband. Or someone in Paris complaining that his handshake is weaker and Nick Hewer has ignored him?

(And of course I know it's the kind of bizarrely random hyperbole that we all engage in and shouldn't be taken at face value, nevertheless it seems curiously specific even for hyperbole.)

No dumbing down here then.

In an item about chess in schools on the BBC breakfast program today the interviewer suggested,

"The image of chess is that it's a bit spoddy."

I haven't heard the word "spod" since I was at school about forty years ago. For those who have never heard it it's roughly the same as "nerd". Someone who is, as the Cambridge Dictionary says, " boring and unfashionable and, as a student, works very hard".

It's a slang word, and nothing especially wrong with that, but surely they could have found a better word in a more appropriate register for a BBC news report.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Freudian Slip

First some background for US readers. (Who will, I'm sure forgive me if I'm telling them things they already know.)

The UK has two levels of Government, national and local. We are currently governed nationally by a coalition of Conservatives (who got the most seats in the last national election but not enough to form a government on their own) and Liberal Democrats (who came third nationally).

One of the most prominent Lib-Dem politicians is Vince Cable.

On Thursday we had local elections in many areas, as well as a vote on changing the way we vote nationally.

The Liberal Democrats took a sound beating, losing seats just about everywhere. Both the Conservatives and the Labour Opposition, by contrast, gained seats.

My theory on why the Lib-Dems got a kicking but the Conservatives didn't is that you don't kick a dog for barking. The conservatives have just done what everyone knew the conservatives would do whereas the Lib-Dem voters, rightly or wrongly, feel betrayed by their party's turn around on just about everything. Again rightly or wrongly it's perceived that the Lib-Dem idea of compromise in coalition is that where they have substantial agreement with the Conservatives on policy they will adopt the Lib-Dem policy and where they have marked disagreements they will adopt the Conservative policy.

This was accidentally confirmed by something I heard ten  minute ago in a BBC interview with Vince Cable who started an answer to a question about the Conservative party with

"We are working for them...we are working with them in coalition, so...".

Hard not to see some truth in that little slip.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Getting Closer

And I now have my Chinese work permit, and my invitation documents. First thing on Monday I will be seeing about arranging my Visa. (They don't work on weekends and I can't go today because I'm spending most of it at the dentist.) 
Things progress.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

That alley, that street, that school.

The introduction to my book, Anyone Can Do It, includes the following passage.

We used to live in quite a large house, or more precisely in half of quite a large house. At some stage in its history it had been split into two dwellings by the simple method of building a wall down the middle. Our half of it opened onto a cul-de-sac that ran along the side of the house and led to a narrow pedestrian path that in turn led to another road. I was about four or five years old when my parents bought me a bicycle. Once I had reached the stage of bravery where I was prepared to leave the confines of my own garden I would ride the bike up to the closed end of the cul-de-sac and along the path where I would dismount and peer out into the other road. I would stay there until I saw anyone coming and then remount and ride back to my home as if the devil himself were an inch behind my wheels.

It was this area that I went for a walk around a couple of days ago and I thought you might like a couple of pictures.

So, first of all, here is that narrow pedestrian path, surprisingly unchanged from the way I remember it more than forty years ago.

And this is the street where our house once stood. Unlike the path it is very different now. The right hand side, with the tree, is similar to the way it was but the left, where the houses are visible, was once a wall topped by a fence with a gate about half way down. Behind that wall was our garden and at the far end of the garden stood our house. Very different.

And as a final bonus, I mentioned that my infant school had been demolished. The other half of the school, the junior school is still there, though who knows how long it will remain. Here is a photograph of it - Daisy Bank Junior School.

Forthcoming Attractions

Just a quick reminder.

Next Tuesday members of the Scribblers Writing Group (including me) will be filling the first half of the bill at City Voices in Wolverhampton as we launch our latest anthology of poetry and prose which includes the winners and runners up from our open writing competition as well as our own work.
The event takes place at The City Bar, King Street, Wolverhampton on Tuesday 10th May and usually kicks off at 7:45, finishing at 9:15. Best to be there from 7:30. And, of course it's free! At the moment I don't know who the second half performers will be, but be assured they will be worth seeing. They always are.

A couple of weeks later, I will be doing a full slot at the sister event, Bilston Voices, where I am intending to do a set of mostly autobiographical verse in my swansong Midlands performance. Once again I don't know yet who else is performing.
That one takes place at Metro Cafe, Bilston (opposite the Town Hall) on 26th May and starts at 7:30. There is a £2 charge but it's well worth it. Like City Voices it is usually all done by 9:15.

So, if you can make either event, please come along and enjoy.

Not what I was looking for!

Replying to a comment on the poem that I recently posted, today I mentioned constructing crowns for a nativity play by gluing sweets onto a cardboard circlet. While I was doing it I googled the phrase "midget gems" to check that this was indeed the name of the sweets we used.
The third result on the google list promised me "dwarf, midget and fairytale porn".

I didn't check it out.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

To Put Away Childish Things #28

Following on from my previous post, the autobiographical one, it occurred to me to mention this. I didn't finish my walk in the street where I used to live , I carried on round back to the school and then followed the route that I always took in the second half of my time at Daisy Bank Infants and Juniors, after we had moved to the address where I have lived for most of my life, at the time when our old house was being demolished and all those new houses built.

The walk took me past a small park where I sometimes played as a child. Recently, because I am about to embark on such a huge change, I have been viewing things as if my eyes are open for the first time in many years and I realised how different the park is now to how I remember it. For a start it's about half the size, a new inner fence having been built many years ago.  Part of what was the park is now just a grassy area although there is still a visible oblong of concrete where the slide used to be. There is still a slide - in the new smaller park - but it's small and spiralled so that kids playing on it can't get any speed up. That wasn't true in my day. Our slide was easily twice the height of the current one and steep and straight so that sliding down you had two choices - use your feet at the bottom to slow yourself down or go flying off the end and scrape elbows and knees on the gravel. That's another difference - no gravel now, just wood chippings and grass.
The current park has a couple of other things on it, modern play things that look to my eye like bizarre devices from Doctor Who. None of the things I played on are still there. There were the swings on which we would go as high as possible, to a higher than horizontal position which put us about twelve feet off the ground. I don't know if health and safety is responsible for their absence nowadays but I do know that our game of getting as high as we could, then - at the apex of the swing letting go and flying through the air to land yards away wasn't terribly safe.
I noticed also that there are no roundabouts there now. We had two, The first was a wooden-sided one with metal bars to hang onto dividing it into pizza-like sections, and a six inch wide running board that helped both to get up some speed and to jump on and off in reckless disregard of life and limb. The second was altogether more dangerous. It was a spiders-web-like circular frame about three feet off the ground. It was more dangerous for two reasons. First it could be made to spin a lot faster with a lot less effort and second, and more important, because you could not only fall off it you could fall through it to the ground below where it was spinning. Or you could dangle your legs through ot even hang upside down with your head inches from the ground.
The roundabouts, like the swings, have been gone for many years now. 
There is still a weird U-shaped contraption that may or may not be a modern version of a see-saw but the actual wooden see-saw that used to be there is also absent. It was never my favourite as it always seemed a bit more boring than the others - or possibly as it needed two to play and, as has been mentioned before, I was a very solitary child.
I'm sure the kids who play their now enjoy their safe good fun but it doesn't look the same to me. It doesn't look the same at all.


I pondered whether to put this in "Autobiography" or elsewhere but it is autobiographical so, although it's back at the time of my infant school days again, that's where I've put it.

Today, on a whim, instead of turning left and going to the supermarket I turned right and went down by my old primary school. I had my camera with me and I intended to take a picture of my infant school. Sadly, since last time I went that way, it has been demolished. It was damaged some years ago in an accident and has been closed ever since but I hadn't realised that they had actually demolished it.  I continued down the short walk that I used to have to my home, no more than two or three minutes away. 

When I got back home I decided to put down the experience as a poem. Here it is.

I close my eyes and overlay the past upon the present
trying to be the child who once stood here;
but he is gone, as is the world whose ghost
paints shadow pictures in my head of how it was.

There is an empty lot, surrounded by boards;
signs that say, "Danger", "Keep Out", "No Trespassing"
and a chain link fence to reinforce the message
that this ground is forbidden now to everyone.

But this was where my first school stood
where in my mind the old brick building's standing yet
where I am letting go of my mother's hand
and entering a world of strangeness and strangers.

This was where I was promoted from bystander to king
in the Christmas nativity, when the king got measles;
and where I was the Knave of Hearts in cardboard chains
with two lines of dialogue I remember to this day.

I shake my head and walk away, cross the old railway bridge
and turn into a cul-de-sac where memory tricks me
and the overlay is scarcely altered from the present
and I pause a moment, startled by the lack of change.

There, at the closed end,  is the entrance to the alley
that led me back home each day from school;
that was the limit of my infant explorations
and the very edge of the world in which I lived.

The alley leads me out into a world of change.
The houses standing here are in the world but not my head
and overlain upon the scene is just one house
that filled the whole ground where now a dozen stand.

In that house, with its gas mantle lights,
with its long thin garden and separate wash house,
with its high walls and fences and its guardian trees;
in that house I breathed my first breath, cried my first tears.

I close my eyes and overlay the past upon the present
trying to be the child who once stood here;
but he is gone, as is the world whose ghost
paints shadow pictures in my head of how it was.

That's a good deal?

I have just received an email notification from the manufacturer that the warranty on my combined scanner/printer is about to expire and an offer to extend it. Naturally there would be a fee. I wonder why they think I would be prepared to pay more for an extended warranty than it would cost to wander into my local Asda and buy a replacement printer of the same make and model.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Sick of convoluted metaphors

We will soon be voting on AV. For any non UK citizens (and any UK citizens who have been hiding in a cave since the last election) this is a change to our voting system.
I am going to do you all a big favour and NOT explain it. This is because unlike just about everybody else pontificating on the subject I am willing to assume that you are at least as intelligent as I am and if I understand it without problems then so can you.

That's actually the point of this post. Just about everybody seems to want to explain something very simple in very convoluted terms. I've  heard metaphors involving sharing a bag of apples, choosing a chocolate bar, running a foot race, going to the pub and having a haircut. They have ranged from moronic and inappropriate analogies to almost inexplicable parables. I for one am sick of being patronised by people on both sides of the argument who seem to assume that I am incapable of counting to three. I understand why the "No" proponents have a vested interest in making it sound complicated but even the "Yes" lobby manage to make it hard work. Tonight's "Yes" broadcast had a bunch of people deciding which pub to go to as the analogy du jour. Once again it made it look a lot more complicated than it actually is, and this from the people telling me it's simple.

And that's the only real difference between the tactics being used to persuade me one way or the other. The "No" group start with "this is really difficult but..." and the "Yes" group start with "this is really easy and..." with what follows being more or less indistinguishable.

I for one am tired of being talked down to by both sides. It's enough to turn me off voting all together.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Small Stones: Extended Remixes #9

The small stone for January 10th was about a bit on an application form that was giving me trouble. Here's the new long version.

Four Hundred Words

An application form               
With the easy bits filled in               
Lay open on my desk while I reflected       
I'd done career history               
I'd done my education               
The details of my life had been selected       
Every job I'd ever had               
And  schooldays before them           
Had been detailed in appropriate degree       
Experience was noted               
And references were written           
I'd put everything they'd need to know of me   
The question on the back page           
Was the one that caused a problem           
Had me chewing at my pencil with a frown
Four hundred words were wanted
About career achievements
But only recent ones could be put down.
Four hundred words I'd thought
That would be a piece of cake
I'd surely done more than enough to tell
But now I came to think of it
I'd done no more than my job
And although I'd have to say I'd done it well
It isn't an achievement
To arrive day after  day
And do only all the things they pay you for
I felt that on the form
The people who'd devised it
Would most certainly expect a little more
I pondered long and hard
And then did what I could
To make something up that sounded  vaguely right
I said I'd trained the trainees
In IT and stuff like that
I hadn't but if they'd asked me to, I might
A dozen drafts were written
And discarded in the bin
I rewrote until my head began to throb
But finally I finished it
And sent the damned thing in.
It came as no surprise to lose the job.