Thursday, November 29, 2012

Suede and the madness of house parties

Suede are so 1993 and in 1993 they seemed like the greatest band of all time. So funny, then that I should forget about them until on occasions a chord of one of their songs lodges itself in my distracted head and makes me ponder whether Suede were actually a lot more than the greatest band of 1993.

I was living in a bad part of Plymouth. It rained incessantly and the damp seeped into very fabric of the houses. Every day I drove to the newspaper past the council houses listening to Suede in the car's cassette player and the words of Animal Nitrate.

In your council home he broke all your bones
Now you're taking it time after time

Suede were certainly not happy bunnies. Anyhow the past is compressed and whenever I think of the angst-ridden parties I think of Suede, I think of cigarette ends in beer and dubious antics in the garden. The curious nihilistic excitement of parties where anything could happen - but normally not to me. God knows why. I'd even invite around the worst punks in the neighborhood only to see them sip G&Ts politely on the patio as if they were at the Queen's garden party.

Why wasn't I an essential 24 hour dark party person? Because you'd always find me in the kitchen at parties? Yes and no. Or perhaps I was just a dork but still I feel I was cooler than now, for although we didn't talk about Rousseau nor did we come out with classics like: "Go potty and you get chockie."

It doesn't work anymore. Perhaps it never did. But at least I can guzzle chocolates at midnight while the memory of the last party I went to hurtles down a dark tunnel of memory and disappears out of the other side.

The thing about Suede was I never really understood what their lyrics were about, least of all my favorite song Metal Mickey.

And I really thought Heroine was really about heroin, given Brett Anderson's spectral appearance.

The strange snapshots of parties come back to me. Dominick's crestfallen face when the gatecrashers stole his Spandau Ballet collection and scratched his parents' coffee table just hours before they got back to town, Lardy Mark trying to be in the in-crowd with his "Friends" T-shirt, but his party was pathetic and his fish tank stank; the odd and sinister night when a work colleague ended up with another work colleague in the back garden and she left with bruises on her face.

These parties always teetered on the edge of madness like the madness of OCD Dick when he stopped the party mid party after finding his bathroom mirror was broken. One by one Dick interrogated us, the light of a lava lamp glinting off his glasses which made him look obliquely Gestapo-esque us but nobody owned up. The next morning a photographer who had smoked too much weed woke up with glass in his hair.

Then there was the end of term party where four guys identified four girls and held a challenge as to who could score. I felt uneasy. Charlotte was on the list. Or jealous. Or confused. Peter had some modicum of charm; he wooed with his book collection. Something went on in his room. I'm not sure what. I was distracted by the Victoria stuff. Nick feigned an interest in me for the first and last time, although he looked through me to my girlfriend. In Victoria's prissy manner he felt a meeting of souls. Cold beauty is worse than cold ugliness because it masks and warps our perceptions.

and he said "she's not dead, she's gone away gone away."

And Charlotte too the next day when she broke down and her humorless boyfriend took her away in his Austin Maestro. Then I missed our long talks on the sofa in the empty room between classes and wondered, not for the first time, if I had missed the big picture.

There was one letter and nothing more. Just the sodden streets of Plymouth and the women with bad dye jobs pushing babies.

But we're trash, you and me
We're the litter on the breeze
We're the lovers on the streets

Saskia ripped out the cheap carpets of the rental home because wood was more ecologically sound. I'd walk downstairs to find her friends heating up spoons in the kitchen; so Suede drug chic. Already I felt too old for parties. I felt old for parties when I was young.

But in so many ways the madness of house parties had only just started.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Beyond the Help of Armies

It's been a while since I last posted a snapshot of my novel but it has progressed steadily, if not spectacularly. Nights of success in which I have written 3,000 words or more have been followed by days of inaction. But I have calculated it has now reached about 60,000 words and the expedition is embedded deep in the deadly heart of war torn Africa.

After another 10,000 words it will reach viable novel length and I'm guessing it will end up above that. Still there are plenty of reminders of the prosaic world around me that would divert me from my course. My novel, still nameless, is a means of escape to world of the explorers, that was long since vanquished. Even the conquest of the moon was eons ago and the first man to set foot on that lonely satellite is now dead. Without our dreams we are dead also.

They were only half a mile from the dockside but the city was deserting them and the jungle again slithered into the suburbs. There were abandoned houses which had been filled with thick creepers and burrowing ants and wicked looking razor wire fences that rusted into the jungle but could inject their corrosion into anyone unlucky enough to fall into them. 

Henri Rousseau

But although many years had passed since Salida had taken this path, he seemed to instinctively know each kink through the trees. He even found a small wooden bridge. After leaving the city with the small light afforded by flicking strip lights, they plunged into a teeming darkness where webs and creepers brushed their face. They put on the infra red goggles of the kind Moriarty had used years earlier in the Falklands War and the trees were transformed into quivering white mushrooms glowering out of a fuzzy green backdrop.

For two hours they negotiated the vines and thickness of the forest, feeling the sweat gathering on their bodies even in the early hours, brushing off hairy spiders and other nefarious creatures with their gloved hands. Then unexpectedly the trees petered out and they found themselves on a scrubby plain that crunched under foot. 

The early momentum was fading. Fighting through the thickness of the jungle had sapped their energy but the trees had protected them from the realities of a war torn country. Here they were in open ground and exposed with just the darkness to protect them. And a small milky light over the distant eastern mountains shone like a warning of time running out.

After stumbling over roots the party made quick progress across the open ground but stopped abruptly when a huge metal object reared up from the grass.

“Down” hissed Moriarty.

In front of them the gun of a tank had risen up against the sky. They lay embedded in the grasslands but there was no movement. Salida inched around to the right and finally stood up and gave them the all clear to move. The back of the turret had been blasted off and the tank still gave off a sharp tang of seared metal.

“If there’s a tank here we need to be aware of other hazards,” said Moriarty.

“Check the ground carefully,” said Michael.

His advice was cut short by small scream to his left. Moriarty made out Rebecca in his night vision goggles, an arm raised desperately in the air.

“What is it?” he said, moving quickly toward her. He felt something desperate in her manner and thought of the night in the cabin before he reached her.

“Look. I don’t know I stepped on something. There was a click.”

Moriarty breathed deeply.

“OK. You think it’s a landmine.”

“I think it’s a land mine.”

“You’re probably OK. That’s what happens in the movies. They click and when the pressure is removed they explode but that makes no sense. Actually you just step on them and they explode.”

“Right. I’m sure you’re right, but I’m not 100 percent,” she said, Her words were coming at him fast.

“I don’t want you to take the chance. Just stay there.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”


Moriarty got on his hands and knees and crawled toward her.

“Moriarty get back. I’ll take my foot off it. If it’s a mine there’s no point in both of us dying.”
“Don’t do anything,” replied Moriarty, an edge coming into his tone. “I’m coming to you. Don’t argue.”

He could see something metal gleaming under Rebecca’s left foot. Smooth and round. It could be ordinance. Moriarty was almost certain it wasn’t but the small margin for error was making him sweat. He got down under her boot. He could see an edge and something else; possibly writing.

“OK take your foot off it, Rebecca.”

“I shouldn’t jump as far as I can.”

“No. Just take your foot off it.”

There was no explosion or crunch of bone leaving tendon. Rebecca raised her long leg and Moriarty pulled a piece of metal from the ground and waved it in the air.

“You were right to be concerned. It’s diet Coke. Aspartame is a very dangerous additive,” he said.

The party giggled at the landmine scare but it made them think very carefully about their next step.

At 5 a.m. they found a dirt road. Salida paused. “It’s better to go across country but the light will catch us in open country. We should probably take the road but there may be government or rebel forces. If there are just one or two we take them out. If not we think of a Plan B fast,” he said.

By now a grey light was creeping over the land and it would be possible for a sentry to make out the party. Moriarty also knew war bred fatigue and complacency and it was common to see ragged bands of armed men roaming around. 

The low road took a straight path across the plain and disappeared over the ridge of a hill. An indistinctness glazed the hill that worried him slightly. The men could make out the black line of more trees beyond it. Salida said they were heading for the trees and had just a couple of miles to cover down the road, but they could be two dangerous miles out here in the open. 

Everywhere they saw tank tracks as well as other detritus of war such as abandoned carts and boots.

Salida stopped and looked at the tracks. “There was some heavy artillery here very recently,” he said. “And look at this.”

He picked up a dog tag and wiped off the mud. “This is from a soldier in the national army. If he lost his tag, he’s almost certainly dead.”

Half a mile down the road they stopped where a maelstrom of tracks and marks in the mud seemed to indicate a frenzied event that was out of the ordinary. Then they heard a distant muffled noise, a “bop, bop, bop” low against the hulls.

“Gunfire,” said Moriarty. “I would guess there’s a front line of sorts but it’s some distance from here.”

“Moriarty,” said Michael. He was pointing to a dark object by the road side.

They looked and saw what appeared to be a pile of old clothing. They looked more closely and saw teeth.  His eyes were as vacant and as white as the sky above the mountains and his body was kinked and convulsed. He was not much older than 15 but a rifle lay useless next to him in the road. Someone emitted a sharp gasp when they saw the lower half of his legs were blown, mutilated and bled into a sump of blood that had filled a ditch by the side of the road.

Moriarty felt Rebecca’s hand touching his arm lightly. “Moriarty. He’s alive.”

The boy had moved his position. Moriarty remained silent, but Rebecca saw his expression and understood they could do nothing. The boy was far beyond the help of armies now. Moriarty put his water bottle on his mouth. He wasn’t sure but thought he made out a flicker of 
recognition as much of the water flowed away down his chin to join the rivulets of blood.

They walked on in silence after seeing the boy. Half an hour later a pall of dark smoke coiled its way across the path. Moriarty remembered the haziness he had noticed earlier. They  smelled a terrible rottenness like a stench from the core of the earth. On the plain to the north of them a large mound rose from the scorched grass and smoke drifted from its innards. The path wound ever closer to it and although they could see no soldiers around, they dreaded every step forward. 

Finally the details became apparent. They made our forms, now grotesque and scarecrow-like, bloated and mutilated, abject hands and scraps of uniform. Moriarty felt a low clanging inside of him. He had guessed from half a mile away but he knew from the low sob that emanated from Rebecca she had only just realized. 

The bodies of the defeated burned up there high above the path. They didn’t know if they were government troops or rebels or if they died on the field of battle or were rounded up and executed later. Moriarty ignored Rebecca’s instructions back on the boat. He threw his arm around her and turned her face away from the pyre. He felt the sobs wrack through her and she fell slightly and leaned on him. Only when they had rounded a corner and were back in the trees did she move from his grip but it was less defiant than hopeless. He felt they were circling the very heart of the darkness.

It was light by the time they found a concrete house hidden by trees on three sides with a long dirt track that connected it to the outside world on the other. This was the home of Mariba, Andy Salida’s cousin and they place where they would recuperate before setting out on the next leg of their journey.

Mariba was a sad eyed woman who confirmed the war had come very close. Two days ago there had been a battle down on plain. She had hid in the forest with her children while rebel forces ransacked her home. But while the rebels had been firing their guns into the trees and shouting victory songs, they had been ambushed by government soldiers on the plain. Many people had died on both sides but the rebels had been driven back and their bodies littered the battlefields.

“We saw many bodies burning down there,” said Salida. “Were they the rebels?”

“Who knows?” the woman replied with a long sigh. “Just the dead. So many dead. And Marcel went to fight the rebels but never came back.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wildest Moments Blogfest - How I walked the line

In a rather wild moment I entered the Wildest Moments blogfest thingy hosted by Sharon Baylis and promptly forgot about it because I was too busy doing clinically unwild things like shopping for nasal decongestants at Walgreens.

Those harried and semi-delusional bunch of souls who still read my blog (bless ya) may be aware there is nothing wild about Walgreens, although there is a strange Walgreens phenomenon that means you see a Walgreens every 20 seconds when driving, unless you are actually seeking one, in which case it takes hours to find one. Walgreen isn't wild in itself but, at least in my town, RiteAid is rather wild.

Finding a wild experience that I can also write about here is something of a challenge. If we are talking hardcore danger it would probably be the time I asked a cashier at Wal-Mart if she could change $5.

I have done some wild things careerwise, although some would describe them as foolhardy - like giving up my kick ass job in the heart of London to become unemployed in North Carolina (yeah that was a trip).

I did most of my most wild and dangerous things I when I was a teenager, as good as age as any other to be wild. Not that I inhaled. Danger, by its inherent nature carries risk. But without danger there would be no safety. Without danger we would die of boredom just as we would surely not appreciate peace without war, although this leads me to ask myself would we need to appreciate peace then because it wouldn't be peace it would just be like normal, wouldn't it?

I digress. When I was young I was attracted to railways (translated as railroads in the US). For a while this was a relatively safe thing. You can't do much damage by running a train set, although those 47 model diesels in the fetching yellow and blue livery of British Rail, can cut a large hole in the pocket of a teenager.

Soon we moved on to more dangerous things like walking the tracks and dodging trains. If my friends had been better versed in any other subject than where to get cigarettes and which girls had the biggest breasts in our class, they would have christened me Johnny Cash, I walked the line so much.

Trains in Britain weren't like the slow moving beasts in the US. There were fast InterCity services that would appear from nowhere and hurtle by at at least 100 mph.

Still we'd crawl through a hole in the fence and walk up and down the line at Randwick Park in the twilight. When the lines started to rattle and hum like Bono's leather pants, we'd dive down an embankment as the aluminium wheels swished by above our heads. Train jumping was a big adrenaline rush, particularly as we never knew what kind of bush we would end up in and whether it would be full of thorns. There was the added thrill of knowing we could break a leg.

It all went wrong on one terrifying occasion when three of us where nonchantly walking down the line when we heard a shout. We looked behind us and a small local train had crept up behind us and was just feet away. Andy and I dived down a bank. Steve wasn't so lucky. He fell to the tracks and as we heard the swishing sound we wondered if he'd be electrocuted, although the lines did not appear to be electrified.

The train passed right over his body and we lay there horrified. For what seemed like hours, but was only minutes carriages swish swished over his body. When the train had gone, we clambered up the bank to where Steve's body was on the tracks. We expected a mess of pulpy blood, but we just saw his dark coat. Then miraculously Steve got to his feet. The train had passed directly over his body as he lay between the tracks.

Don't try this at home kids.

After the aforementioned incident we were more cautious about the tracks, although we hung out on the side of the rail bridge where it passed over the high street. One night a man came into the yard of his home close to the tracks and started yelling and shining a flashlight. The excitement of the escape made the incident worthwhile even though we could have been trapped on the bridge by an oncoming train.

Soon after that some kind of sensible gene kicked in and we decided to instead get our kicks from train mooning.

Later that summer we turned our attention to the golden fields of corn and a game that involved digging great burrows in the corn, while the farmer tried to cut us to pieces with his tractor and its vicious blades.

All sorts of smug people in business have since told me I need to be a risk taker to get anywhere. But frankly I can't see how walking down the railroad or burrowing through wheat was really progressive in any way, shape or form.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

From Gary Glitter to Emu - The stars of the Seventies turn out to be perverts

There's a novel I read some time ago that I can't recall too well but it involved a girl with a traumatic upbringing. The narrative gradually unfolds and she realizes piece by piece that she was forced to live in a rabbit hutch as a kid. But she had blanked it the memory until it came back to her.

I'm happy to say nothing quite as traumatic happened to me, but my cosy notions of childhood are slowly unravelling piece by piece with every headline.

The Seventies in England were an austere and joyless era of soup and white bread in which pasta was a luxury. You needed a bit of glitter to get you through; you needed to watch men in platform shoes and big hair. Like Gary Glitter. Except you didn't in any way need Gary Glitter.

Glitter (real name Paul Gadd) was convicted of possession of child pornography in 1999 and later of child molestation in Vietnam. He was recently rearrested as police looked into the activities of the late Sir Jimmy Saville.

I have blogged about Sir Jimmy before. It now seems the zany DJ, who later became an establishment figure, friend of Royalty ad charity fundraiser with access to secure hospital units was one of Britain's worst paedophiles.

Yet by the day more establishment figures from the 1970s are being outed as paedos and perverts. Sir Cyril Smith, a 200 pound plus former Member of Parliament who my parents always joked fondly about, is the subject of numerous allegations claiming he abused boys. The local police had a dossier but conveniently failed to act on it at a time when Smith was pivotal to the balance of power in a new government. It seemed the MP who died in 2010 was an overweight bully who preyed on boys.

The allegations about Leonard Rossiter, although less damning bothered me greatly, because Rossiter was a rare comedic genius who lit up the living room when the crackling television in the corner was often the only bright spot on those cold nights in the 1970s when my parents couldn't afford central heating. Admittedly the influence of the Fall and Rise of Reggie Perrin was not all positive. After watching the comedy I could never meet a mother in law again without the obtrusive mental image of a hippo at the watering hole.

The Daily Mail headline screamed: "Now Screen Legend Leonard Rossiter is accused of performing a sex act while watching three BBC staff try to rape 18-year-old TV extra."

The investigation into BBC linked perversion has also led to the arrests of individuals still living, a more delicate area as they as still alive and can, therefore, sue.

Over on ITV presenter Philip Schofield rather cleverly presented the Prime Minister with a list of alleged paedos he had gleaned from the internet, and unwittingly flashed the names in front of the cameras on live TV.

The Comedian Freddie Strarr - who should be arrested for crimes against comedy if nothing else - is under investigation following allegations from a woman that he abuse her in Saville's dressing room.

And the DJ Dave Lee Travis, whose shows kept Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, upbeat during her detention, was also arrested by detectives. Dave, known back in the day as the "hairy cornflake" gave an interview saying "us guys who are a bit older are tactile."

It seems even hand puppets are being outed as perverts. Saturdays simply weren't Saturdays without Rod Hull and Emu, even though they were an annoying duo.

Now in a new biography the ex darts player, Eric Bristow, who is admittedly seeking publicity, told the Sun, Hull was a pervert.

"He used the puppet to feel up women and stick his hand between people's legs. It was out of order," said Bristow, who went on to launch into a diatribe about how he would knock him out cold on live TV if his "f..... silly bird" came anywhere near him.

Hull drew 11 million viewers at the peak of his fame with his show. He died penniless in 1999 after he fell off a roof during a botched repair.

For me the news Emu was a pervert is the last straw. I'm getting nervous to even check out British news sites now because I'm scared I'm going to find out Basil Brush took part in orgies or Dougal and the Magic Roundabout was really about pot smoking, although come to think of it, it was wasn't it?

Don't forget the Wildest Moments bloghop is coming up. All you have to do is write about something really wild - or at least more wild than that time you had two lemonade shandies on an empty stomach.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wordless Wednesday : Fall in Newport News Park

This one's truly wordless because I'm out of time and out of puff...


Pictures David Macaulay

Monday, November 12, 2012

How to get ahead in marketing etc.

I've always despised the corporate world with an intensity of hatred I reserve for people who wear bow ties, so my descent into it is a matter of no great pride. In saying that, you can only do the penniless writer thing for so long and after two decades of being a penniless writer the novelty of hitting up panhandlers for a couple of bucks every afternoon starts to wear off.

I can't say I liked being journalist because it was an ego trip seeing my name on the front page. Byline excitement wears off after a few weeks in the job, unless the story is a massive exclusive.

That's me at the table; that's me in the spotlight losing my religion

But journalism was certainly a way of life rather than just a job. You never turned off. We identified with the hard bitten hacks of years gone by; Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson. Hemingway and Woodward and Bernstein, even if the reality was something less; in fact the reality could be writing weather reports. Indeed I was once told my inane weather reports had something of a cult following in Australia where I guess they dont have much weather; just hot and hot again.

Still one of the things I miss about journalism is the ability to legitimately piss people off. There was nothing more satisfying that that clunking sound on the end of the line when you had caught someone off guard or in a lie or a confession and you heard them shuffle off to get a change of pants.

The wonderful world of legal marketing is less a vocation than something you do. To my knowledge there were no legal marketers grabbing a rifle and going over the top with Hemingway in the Spanish Civil War. The other drawback is marketing makes me think of Richard E. Grant in How to Get Ahead in Advertising, a film in which the marketer's obsession with a boil cream campaign, results in a large talking boil taking over his neck and eventually his whole persona; yeah really - the career people never told you about that did they?

But I suppose one has to keep the cat in cat food in the interim before the great unfinished novel is finally finished, the film makers are vying for rights and I'm facing a dilemma between snapping up a villa in Cabo or the OC.

With my final goal in mind I turned up early on Saturday armed with a table, a couple of bags of marketing materials and a recalcitrant toddler.

I stepped into my marketing persona to the extent that I wore a decent pair of pants (no I still can't write that without thinking underpants), and had found some object that vaguely resembled a comb, although it turned out to be a whisk.

I was directed to my spot and got ready to schmooze when I tried to open up the table and promptly ripped a shed load of skin off my finger. Instead of schmoozing I was hopping around and yelling.

It took me a good 20 minutes more to get my marketing hat on. All the time I was keeping my right hand in my pocket that had filled up with bloody wet wipes.

Still I feigned an air of cheerfulness, as I handed over whizzy flashlights with the law firm's logo on, with my one remaining hand. Unfortunately I pulled out a glossy brochure at one point and accidentally drove it into the wound fixing a couple I was talking to with an expression they won't forget for a couple of millennia.

It was just as well that the event had a Halloween theme, even though it had been rescheduled to November by the hurricane.

I survived the rest of the morning but only just, narrowly avoiding handing over to one guy my wad of bloody wet wipes.

Them I watched the runners come in and thought "This is fun. Maybe my life will begin one day soon."

The good news is I have just spied a rather well paid legal marketing position in New York City which sounds a good deal more city slicker-esque. I'm not sure if the fact it was posted in September, 2007 is a problem here. Maybe I should just keep plugging away at the unfinished novel.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pot in Colarado and a lot of money spent by Obama and Romney

Earlier this week people were calling me on behalf of the President. There were so many I stopped answering 0800 numbers. They they got me by using a local code.

I resorted to brusqueness and confusion tactics, completely flooring one woman by telling her I was going to vote for John McCain.

For some reason nobody representing the President has called me since Tuesday, perhaps because he will continue to be the President and I am just some unimportant and rude sort of bloke.

I'm not really complaining. The best guy won and there was no way I was going to vote for a guy whose company did all those bad things in El Salvador. I've seen the movie Salvador a couple of time and there were scary dudes out there in retro sunglasses. At least the photographer gets the killer shot at the end - just before his head is blown off.

The election was fun in it's own way. I derived the most pleasure by flicking over to Fox to see the normally smug expressions pained. It's always good to see Bill O'Reilly looking peturbed but am I alone in finding his comments about the white establishment subliminally racist? Why do whites have a right to be the establishment? And how come O'Reilly never mentions the Native American establishment which was quite well established before the white establishment?

So while election night was worth it just for the expressions over at Fox, I am rather concerned that the election cost about $2 billion. That's a lot of money to spend for no change. If you went to a car dealer and put down $20,000 for a new Cadillac you'd be somewhat miffed if the guy told you, you'd purchased your old Chevvy again.

At least Obama can say he won. Apparently one Republican candidate for Senator out west somewhere spent $3 million but lost.

At the risk of sounding all PC here I do wonder if some of that money would have been better spent digging wells for impoverished kids in Africa or even helping kids in the ghetto with education programs. The scary thing is the only other person who seems to have taken issue with the cost of the US elections is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Incidentally is it just me or does this guy never age? Maybe it's down to what Bruno described as his taxi driver chic. Given Bruno's wide knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs, who can argue with him?

There has been something else that has been bothering me about the election. Oh yeah that will be the X billion fiscal cliff we are about to fall down. If this was such a massive and pressing issue how come neither candidate mentioned it during the election? More to the point how come nobody in the media thought it was worth a question in the three debates? The other big question raised by the election was surely how was it that Colorado backed the legalization of cannabis while Oregon,  a state that surely contains more New Age liberal types, rejected it? There must be some Rocky Mountain high theory.

That's a sort of comedy in itself, but on the issue of comedy I was sad to read this week about the death of Clive Dunn. He was 92 so you can't say it was tragic but Dunn was part of my childhood and always reminded my of my own grandfather who died when I was about 12. I still remember my brother throwing up in the back of the Morris Marina during the funeral procession and an outraged great aunt almost giving herself a hernia by jumping out of the way; I remember slugging back the whisky that nobody else would drink, which is probably not groovy for a 12-year-old.

Dunn played Cpl Jones in the comedy Dad's Army, a character who was famous for his meandering monologues. I checked out a video of the comedy at the time of his death and was amazed at how well it was written and the brilliant characterization. It's not easy to sum it up succinctly but I hope I can do better than Jones. The comedy was about a Home Guard unit from World War Two, typically made up of oldesters and those not fit enough to fight who would be the last line of defence if Jerry came over the White Cliffs of Dover.

It was headed up by an officious and self important bank manager Captain Mainwaring, his effeminate number two Wilson and a troop that conspire to do everything shambolically, to the chagrin of Mainwaring. It struck me that you seldom see comedy like this anymore. And for some reason Godfrey's "Good Evening" is the funniest moment of the scene.

BTW thanks to all of the new followers I gained from Mina's Resurrection blogfest thingy. I used to get a shed load of comments on Brits but it has tailed off in recent months. The Resurrection thingy was a timely reminder that I need to get off my backside and comment on other people's stuff more.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Resurrection Blogfest - The Last Days of School

Oops I became sidetracked by some kind of minor news event and almost forgot the real big news of the day which is Mina Lobo's Resurrection Blogfest, of course. Don't just take my word for it. Check out Some Dark Romantic. This is the kind of blogfest even I don't find myself whining about because all it entails is re-posting a blog from my first year of blogging, that is as dead as the parrot in Monty Python, or, in this case, my short-lived teaching career.

I have a lot of regrets about my pathetically short career as a teacher.

But not parting with $29.95 to buy The First Days of School isn't one of them.

The book by Harry and Rosemary Wong is the bible for new teachers. You see them showing up during the new teachers induction, its perky green font sticking out of their shiny, new tote bags. If they ever forgot it you saw them turn pale and give the kind of look reserved for the first passenger on the Titanic who does a lifeboat count.

For the uninitiated the Wongs write about how being a teacher is the best career in the world. Turn to page 106 and there's Harry dressed for success resplendent in a waistcoat in the door of his classroom, his hand outstretched to connect with those of his students, radiating Oriental efficiency from every pore.

"I love to stand at the door on the first day with a giant smile on my face, hand stuck out in an invitational pose, waiting for those 'little darlings' to come down the hall," the caption reads.

I don't want to shatter any illusions here, but I tried a similar thing and gave up after the second spurned handshake. The sight of a tsunami of 12th graders rolling my way convinced me I would be crushed into a pulp on the first day of school unless I retreated.

It didn't end as suddenly as that but I was crushed over the next few weeks.

I can't pinpoint exactly how and why I failed but I found it hard to act like a teacher at times.
It takes a few semesters to click into the mindset of a teacher which is similar to that of a prison guard. Always be suspicious and assume the little darlings are lying or on the make unless you have evidence to the contrary in the form of a pass, an email or something else official.

I had some effective teaching moments but I failed to be a classroom cop.

And at the final reckoning I realized two months in I was already beginning to hate the humorless automaton I knew I had to become to keep order. It was hard to switch off at times. I was barking orders at my daughter across the supermarket aisle and middle aged ladies were giving me funny looks.

As Wong correctly points out, the most important factor governing learning is classroom management. On many afternoons the words of the great classroom Confucius would come back to haunt me at the end of another 90 minutes of hell under artificial lighting when I sat in the middle of a maelstrom of paper balls and mangled desks.

My head of department took a dim view and rightly so. Desks out of line and books thrown around were tantamount to an invitation to riot. From then on I was fastidious about lined up desks and paper on the floor, although they didn't always listen.

And my thoughts were out of line with my department head on one key area. I felt the uneven desks and papers thrown around were a symptom of a general lack of respect, rather than the cause of the chaos.

Wong says humans have a success instinct. I'm not sure this was the case with all of my 10th graders. Indeed some seemed to have a failure instinct and told me they saw their future in shoplifting. This leads me to conclude either Wong is wrong or some of them weren't human.

With this in mind I spent 10 minutes of one of my lessons looking to see if any of my students had small antenna pointing out of their heads.

It broke up the lesson and wasn't any more useless than some of the activities suggested in the local authority's curriculum guide; jigsaw activities; fishbone maps; sequential episode maps; thematic maps etc.

I considered doing a sequential episode map with my kids and changed my mind. This was, after all, a class that took 15 minutes to sort themselves into four groups.

But they were good at some group activities. Fighting for one. With no effective prior direction and little preparatory work two of my 10th graders successfully managed to beat each other to a pulp, while I hopefully pressed the red panic button.

"Why didn't you break it up? You played rugby back in Britain," one student asked me afterward.
Those exaggerations always come back to bite you.

So now my teaching career is practically over and although I'll miss the prospect of working without pay next year, it's not all bad. For one thing I have more time to read Wong's tome.

Wong said schools should organize a first day of school celebration where the teachers should stand at the bus stop and welcome them. "Wave and smile like it's aunt Mabel whom you have not seen in 14 years and the airplane has just pulled up to the jetway."

Hmmm. I feel I need to contact Wong or find him on Twitter. I actually had an aunt called Mabel. She was objectionable and flatulent and last cracked a smile the day Prince Albert died.

My family never failed to crack open the champagne at the sight of her oversized backside waddling away to the bus stop.

On the subject of flatulence, Wong doesn't tell you what to do when someone breaks wind and the whole class runs screaming to the door.

I suppose if I'd had the classroom management thing down to pat they would have remained glued to their undersized chairs, their nostrils twitching, fearing my withering gaze more than the odor.

My kids weren't really like that but my fellow teachers told me it took time to get it right. Nobody listened to Lenin and Trotsky much at first. It took a civil war and a lot of upheavals before Stalin came in to impose some heavy duty classroom management.

Nor does Wong devote any lines to insects which, to my mind, is a grave omission in The First Days of Schools.

It only took an oversized fly to reduce my best class to chaos. Just when they were calming down the infernal creature would reappear to torment me. When one student tried to swat it on a girl's head, the victim wanted to see me outside to press charges.

They don't tell you how to deal with that kind of thing on the training course.

My fellow teachers told me there's a lot that you learn on the job. I have nothing but admiration for these heroes of the education system, who go into a war zone every day without complaint.

That's not strictly true. There was a guy I met sometimes at the photocopier who reminded me of Travis Bicker, the De Niro character in Taxi Driver.

He told me the conditions were getting worse, the kids were getting worse; nobody wanted to learn.
"I gotta get out of teaching," he told me in a New York drawl.

He was drawn and on edge. I wondered what he would do next.

The day I realized he was six years younger than me my mind went on a loop and those words kept circulating in my head. "I gotta get out of teaching."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sexy movie moments that now seem weird #6 : Tom and Kelly in Top Gun

I once dated a girl who had a mega crush on Tom Cruise in Top Gun. I forgave her. She was Canadian.

I seem to recall Cruise's character Maverick launched a million teenage crushes when Top Gun was made in 1986 with the clear remit of shoving as many cliches into a single movie - fast planes, powerful motorcycles, arrogant fighter pilots, high altitude tensions etc. In fact there are so many cliches in Top Gun that the movie becomes the source of many cliches. Ask yourself how many times you have seen a fighter pilot referred to as a "Top Gun Pilot?"

What a difference a quarter of a century makes. The motif of Tom Cruise that follows him circa 2012 is that of a vertically challenged control freak whose every utterance is from the mumbo jumbo book of the Church of Scientology.

And his love interest in Top Gun, Kelly McGillis is more likely to be cast in the role of someone's grandmother on Lifetime than as a love interest.

Still the Take my Breath Away soundtrack by Berlin and love scenes from Top Gun are still powerful in their own way a quarter of a century later even though the high power motorbike, testosterone driven fighter pilot stuff borders on the ridiculous. Still they twang at something inside me, the memory of those idealistic and anguished teenage years.

There's also a curious irony in that Top Gun's macho posturing has clear homosexual undertones according to some commentators. It makes me wonder if the writer was having the last laugh in spawning a million crushes in the hearts of teenage girls for pilots in bomber jackets whose only real love interest was for fellow pilots in bomber jackets.

When you see Quentin Tarantino's hilarious take on the issue you have to ask yourself the pertinent questions at the heart of an issue which will surely loom large in the marginal states during Tuesday's election. Those volley ball scenes and Tom in his tighty whities. What the heck do they have to do with the development of the movie's plot unless it's intended to be a gay flick?

Needless to say this never even occurred to me in 1986. Not many things did.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Pondering stale lettuce and mayonnaise

There are some strange imponderables in life. I'm thinking this as I sit in a coffee bar pondering the remains of my BLT with two unopened packets of mayonnaise and wondering if it's possible to ponder the imponderable. I'm really keen to know who in the world eats mayonnaise which has always to me tasted how I would imagine dead cat to taste.

Then again I'm not sure I'd know what dead cat would taste like. I just don't fancy the idea. My dad swears he was once given cat at a Chinese restaurant in Birmingham, poorly disguised as a chicken. He said the bones were unlike those of any chicken he has ever eaten. The whiskers were a give away too. Maybe surviving on a tube of mayonnaise and a loaf of hard Austrian rye bread for a week on a low budget Interailing trip round Europe put me off the stuff.

Today I was absent minded thinking about the meaning of life and blogs in no particular order. There was something about today - a long succession of marketing tasks - that has left me feeling down. I'm not sure why that should be as I have now taken delivery of a kick ass sort of magnetic bottle opener that you can stick on the side of your fridge. Apparently Americans project their lives on the side of their fridges in the way Brits never do - to some extent this is because American fridges are six times bigger.

Those trips to relatives in the house in Charlotte are now fading into the hazy half remembered netherworld where our lives all trot off to but I still recall all the sickly little plaques on the fridge - "My Husband is my best friend," and "It's Not a House - it's a Home."

Until it was flogged off after the family split up.

I wonder if a beer bottle opener on the side of the fridge would have saved their relationship? Probably not but I'm a big believer in the theory "if you have a problem drink as much as you can and you'll probably forget about it altogether." Or your head will hurt too much to remember the disagreement.

My uncle used to advocate the idea of distraction therapy. It works like this. If you stub your toe and are moaning about the pain you should give yourself a worse wound to take your mind off the toe. So next time you stub a toe on your left foot go ahead and cut off your right foot with a chainsaw and you won't complain about the stubbed toe anymore.

"Simple delight," calls the barista as she hands over an overpriced coffee. Surely nothing simple can also be delightful. And that's another thing that is need of serious pondering. Since when did the rather down to earth position of 'person who works in a coffee shop' transform into the grand and exotic sounding barista?

My battery is about to die and I have an unpleasant trip to make to the Treasurers' Office for another default. This time I accidentally wrote a check from an incorrect check book and now have to pay a $50 fine even though I called up the next day and tried to stop the payment. Bastards.

OK now that's out of my system I'm heading to City Hall with a little present. Stale lettuce smeared with mayonnaise is very pleasant on a Friday afternoon I'm told.

On Blog PTSD

Now then. What the heck. It seems I had forgotten about my blog completely rather than just neglecting it this time. To return after so long...