Friday 26 June 2009

Grumpy's Alternative News June

It's been a right old time for bodies. Not long ago a couple were distributing body parts all over the country in a bid to avoid detection of a murder. Recently a body was discovered in a green wheelie bin. It had apparently been there for three weeks with a foot sticking out of the top. The dustbin men (sorry refuse collectors) said they don't empty bins unless the bin is on the pavement. This one apparently was still on the driveway That's all right then!
And blow me, another leg has turned up on farmland in Hertfordshire. (No, not connected to the other two cases, silly. Unless the first case was Jake the Peg.) The police reported this last leg was thought to be 'from a white or Asian male'. Only one or the other, how strange. As a matter of interest, I wonder how difficult it is to identify a single leg as male or female. It would certainly not have been easy had it belonged to some of my female acquaintances in my younger days!
Our police are on the whole pretty good but even they have their moments. The new Met Police Commissioner joined his men in a pre-dawn, high publicity raid to arrest a gang of burglars. The press were there, eighty police including riot squad officers, taser stun guns, helicopter, the lot. Only when they broke into a house, it was empty. Their suspect was already in custody and no one had informed the Commissioner. Oh well, you can't win them all!
Mind you, our police are often superior to their New York counterparts. A man lay dead inside a van for weeks as parking tickets piled up on the windscreen. So much for tinted windows. Of any case the New York police have a policy of not searching parked vehicles.
A little sideline. The suspect in the 'bin body' was arrested in Malta. Evidently Portsmouth has been dubbed 'the new Malta' in a Southern Rail poster campaign. A bit tongue in cheek, Boris Johnson described Portsmouth as 'one of the most depressing towns in southern England.' Perhaps why our suspect went to the real place instead of Portsmouth.
Luckiest couple of the month were the pair who won £25 million on the EuroMillion lottery. He, the husband says he's going to use part of the money to get professional advice as to how to grow better carrots on his allotment.
Unluckiest was the Israeli women whose children threw away her old mattress and replaced it with a new one. The old mattress contained her life savings, nearly one million US dollars. They are still searching local landfill sites.
Even more unlucky was the tourist killed by a shark in the Red Sea. Bad publicity for the tourist industry. I suspect the environment official had this in mind when he tried to minimise the seriousness of the situation. 'This very rarely happens. It seems the victim aggravated the shark or presented it with food.' Well done, sir, that certainly helps!
Saddest individual of the month was perhaps the arts therapist who swore at patients, smoked cannabis, fell asleep during sessions and suggested that patients take advantage of 'unlimited sex'. Not surprisingly he was struck off as these were only some of his misdemeanours.
Equally foolish was the vicar who sent salacious text messages to a teenage girl. Evidently he was under strain. I wonder if being sacked makes it worse. But the saddest for me was the Mafia boss who burst into tears in front of the parole board saying 'I'm really depressed and I can't take prison any more.' All together now, all say 'aaah'. A Mafia boss, I ask you. He has now been transferred to house arrest.
So there you have it. A mite bit depressing but nothing political. I leave you with two more snippets. A new NHS unit in Ilkeston, Derbyshire is playing Beatles music to help dementia patients. What would be your choice? Finally, it has been revealed one in three organ recipients believe he or she takes on some aspect of the personality of the donor. Some report strong psychological connections. With this in mind whose bits would you like. And please keep it clean!

Sunday 21 June 2009

Fame is But a Fleeting Thing

I suspect deep in us all is the desire for fame of a kind. Perhaps even some of us would relish the fame Judith O'Reilly has achieved, quite rightly with her excellent blog 'Wife in the North.' Is this not part of the reason we blog, to gain attention, to be liked and admired, however tiny our audience when compared to the seasoned professionals. John Dewey, the American philosopher wrote of 'the desire to be important', Sigmund Freud talked of 'the desire to be great'. If I remember right Legs Diamond, the American gangster once said all he wanted from life was to be liked. And surely we wouldn't be blogging, in public if we weren't attention seeking. (I appreciate for some it is therapy, a type of release, which is slightly different.)
It's a funny thing, fame. Andy Warhol is perhaps best known for his statement 'In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.' My fifteen minutes seems to be a long time coming.
Surely there must be things in my longish life that are exceptions to the rather mundane (I hasten to add I enjoy my life) happenings that are the norm in a working class existence.
I've got Len Shackleton's autograph, plus Nat Lofthouse's and Wilf Mannion's. Super heroes of the past. I once saw Wee Georgie Wood on the street in London, albeit fleetingly. Plus Princess Margaret in Lincoln, back view only. William Roach comes from Derbyshire, plus Arthur Lowe and Alan Bates, only I never met any of them. Mike Brearley, ex England cricket captain is a distant cousin, or so I'm told. I've never met him either! We don't shout the odds in Derbyshire, we consider it somewhat vulgar. Our football team Derby County scored the lowest points ever in a season in the Premier League and our county cricket team is probably the worst of them all. (High hopes for both in the future.) So no need for bellicose belligerence there. (The Derbyshire motto is said to be 'Derbyshire born, Derbyshire bred, strong in the arm and weak in the head'.)
I have difficulty in naming three three famous people with Derbyshire connections. Florence Nightingale was a Derbyshire lady. Joseph Wright the painter was Derby born and the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed came from near Derby, my home town. Then I'd start to struggle.
As a schoolteacher of some considerable years fame eluded me in the main. True I was known for my ability to mirror write. (Almost certainly connected with the fact that I am left handed.) Plus I was the only teacher who boomeranged and flew kites with pupils in dinner hours. No mean feat on a playing fields containing awesome electricity pylons. Kites, boomerangs and pylons are poor bed fellows.
The oldest pupils I taught will now be around fifty years of age; a mind boggling thought. But the thing that thrills me most is when ex-pupils still come up to me in the street and say 'Hello sir, how are you?' Absolutely brilliant, a tiny example of 'fame' that fills me with pride even after all these years.
If I am to become really famous it has yet to come. I suspect everyone has had moments or longer when 'fame' has landed on their shoulder. Dare we suggest that some may be 'infamous', perish the thought!
So besides writing the best blog since fried bread have you had your moment of fame. What are you famous for?

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Memories are Made of This. (Dean Martin)

Some of my readers will remember that I have been involved in an autobiographical work for some considerable time. Sixty thousand words later a torrent of words have become a dribble.
Now I honestly believe everything we have ever experienced is stored in our minds, for the human brain is cleverer than any computer. The problem is how to recall a lifetime's 'happenings'.
I have lived for well over twenty five thousand days, perish the thought. But how many of those days can I honestly recall. For someone who can rarely remember what he had for breakfast, quite a thought! In life's journey what do we actually remember.
We usually remember births (our children, not our own), weddings, funerals, serious illnesses, some holidays, and very occasional special days in a lifetime in employment. Schooldays, some at least stay in the mind though actual dates are often gone forever. We often remember 'firsts'. Our first television, new furniture (when poor and first married), and as we prospered, first and subsequent cars, houses and so on.
We remember days from decades; in my case the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties. (Strangely I remember less of the nineties.) We can often recall a day or days at the age of ten, twenty, thirty, forty and so on. (I often suggest to elderly groups who 'hire' me as a speaker that they all write a day in their life and publish it as a fundraiser, the end products often dwarfs my efforts.)
We sometimes remember great moments in history and exactly what we were doing at the time. The assassinations for instance of J F Kennedy and John Lennon. (I remember a school teacher coming into the class room and announcing that a man called Gandhi, of whom I had never heard had been assassinated in a country that I knew not of, called India. I suspect many of our most entrenched memories are the result of trauma.
Both my wife and I are ardent fans of Derby County and seldom miss a home game. (Please, no rude comments though messages of sympathy are acceptable.) Over the years I have probably watched nearly a thousand football matches. That would account for over 90,000 minutes of my life if my maths are right. (I was an English teacher, not maths!) Yet I remember one match in detail, at Wembley Stadium and bits and pieces of a few others. The details of whole seasons I cannot recall.
I have just had a wonderful relaxed, pleasant overnight stay in our motorhome in Castleton, Derbyshire. Weather, perfect, company, perfect, experience, perfect. As I said earlier I am absolutely sure such memories are stored in the mind forever more, but more important, will I be able to recall such a tiny part of my life in five years time. (For the religious amongst you, where do our memories go after we are dead?) Mine hopefully will in part be written down, but, realistically, from a cynical point of view, who else cares.
I kept a diary of sorts for one year as a child. (See blog dated Diary of an Adolescent, 1953 dated 11th April 2009.) I also kept a diary in far more detail for the year 1985. I'm no Samuel Pepys but it is of value to me in that it records unimportant details of my life that year. (It seems to be around 70,000 words long.) It also details for only the second time in my life what I did on given days. (It does not record every single day, even I recognise the sheer mundanity of my life at times.) But it is useful in showing the minuscule nature of daily life.
June 16th 1985
Woken at 5.00 am by children in an adjoining tent! On Saturday evening a family arrived complete with shining Mercedes.The camping field contained only four tents. Our new neighbours promptly pitched tent within feet of our tent! How strange is it that we are conditioned to live in close proximity to our neighbours. Are we therefore almost frightened of the wide open spaces offered! ( In actual fact, when the minor irritation of the close proximity wore off the family proved to be pleasant, outgoing neighbours.)
Skegness is again visited, fish and chips, that most staple of diets again sampled. We return home mid afternoon happy and relaxed. Who needs the Costa-Bravo!
Now, dear readers, what do you remember from your journey through life.
One, a memory from childhood.
Two, a memory that highlights for you a certain decade.
Three, something of world shattering importance.
Four, something of importance to you only.
Finally, a happy event you will remember forever.

Thursday 11 June 2009

Tweet tweet, Little birdies, Tweet tweet.

Like most people I have an interest in birds (the feathered variety, silly) though, unlike a good friend, I'm no 'twitcher'. My friend is fanatical in the extreme. Rumour has it his wife sits on the end of his bed in a penguin suit when she wishes to arouse him. But my limited interest in our feathered friends was heightened recently by two separate occurrences.
My wife and I (shades of royalty again!) spent a delightful three days in our motorhome recently not far, in a straight line from the Minsmere RSPB Nature Reserve in Suffolk. The surroundings were magical, around half a mile from the road, the only noise the constant sound of birds singing. (Where I live in Derby the birds don't sing, they just make coughing noises!) I recorded some of the birdsong, partly to amuse my friend, partly to test his undoubted identification skills.
In the pub at home a week later I tested his knowledge. Imagine my surprise when the first song I had recorded turned out to be a nightingale. Now in my ignorance I thought nightingales only sang at night. A strange noise, someone described it as akin to a person using a hubble bubble pipe but definitely a first for me. Twitchers eat your heart out! (I reckon I've now seen or heard at least fifty different birds in my longish life. My twitcher friend has seen almost five hundred!)
We visited mother in law this week. She lives in the picturesque village of Ashover twenty or so miles north of Derby. Gardens there attract a better class of bird life than dour old Derby.
We watched the various birds using the feeders thoughtfully provided by mother in law Francoise.The usual type of feeder containing nuts loved by bluetits and the like. We marvelled at their ingenuity as they extracted food from the containers via the wire mesh. Until on closer examination my wife realised one bird was upside down INSIDE the container,well and truly stuck. Evidently the bluetits have mastered the art of entering the container from the top, head downwards, seizing a whole nut, turning one hundred and eighty degrees and exiting the container again from the top, complete with prize. Easy peasy for a tiny agile bluetit, definitely not easy for a growing young starling. With some difficulty we dismantled the feeder and extracted the starling and off he (surely it must have been a male) flew squawking as he went (was that thanks or showing indignation?) The only thing hurt seemed to be his pride.
Now you amateur bird experts 'cum' psychologists out there. How did the starling learn his 'trick'. Did he copy the bluetit. Is it natural behaviour to enter a feeder upside down. Are some birds brighter than others and are starlings particularly stupid. Are they stupid enough to try it again. Finally, is all this the reason that sometimes we say people are 'bird brained'?

Saturday 6 June 2009

There and Back to See how Far it is.

Do you remember the saying' There and back to see how far it is.' I wonder where it came from.

I was on holiday in Southwold recently. There I met a delightful man and his family. We chatted, as holiday makers do and he turned out to be, like myself, a football fan. Now I reckon I'm keen, but he far surpassed my dedication to Derby County. I noticed he had tattooed on his fingers letters that together spelt out the words TRUE BLUE, his love of Chelsea Football Club self evident. Even more remarkable was the large tattoo on his back. He was proud of his tattoo and showed it willingly, there presumably for all eternity. The name Chelsea and their post code for all to see. He was indeed a character, a very affable one and he lived on the Isle of Sheppey.

Many years ago, when lessons came to an end early (lesson plans, what's a lesson plan?) I had a pupil who rescued me many a time. He gave a touching rendering of 'Old Shep' that was far more moving than anything I had offered in the previous fifty minutes. The ending was guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes of even the most street-wise.

'Old Shep he has gone

Where the good doggies go

and no more with old Shep will I roam

But if dogs have a heaven

There's one thing I know

Old Shep has a wonderful home.'

(Evidently you can get the lyrics of Old Shep as a ringtone. As Michael Caine would say 'Not a lot of people know that'!)

All this was in the seventies when Elvis Presley, who recorded Old Shep was particularly popular. (Walter Brennan's version is far more moving and probably influenced Elvis.) The day Elvis died is one of those dates in history that almost everyone can remember where they were when the news broke. (August 16th, 1977. I was at Chapel St Leonards at the time camping with my family.) Who could fail to remember such important moments in history.

Yet they also reckon most people remember where they were when both J F Kennedy and John Lennon were shot. I remember the Kennedy assassination yet have no recollection as to my whereabouts when John Lennon's demise unfolded.

A strange thing, memory. Many amongst us can remember what we were doing at the age of five, in some cases being over sixty years ago. Yet we have difficulty in remembering more than three items 'the wife' sent us to buy at the supermarket less than an hour ago. I once attended a funeral on the wrong day, went to the wrong church to attend a wedding, visited town on my bike and came home on the bus. (Not all on the same day!) Not that a sat nav or a computerised memory aid would have made much difference.

Sat navs, who needs them! I reckon we are on auto pilot in life, particularly when driving, for much of the time. (A year or so travelling north from Bath on a filthy black night, my wife and I had sat nav trouble; the darn thing refused to let us find the motorway. After what seemed for ever, the wind blowing a gale we arrived in a dark gloomy town. I wound my window down and shouted to one of the few people daft enough to be on the street. 'Gloucester?' I enquired quizzically. 'Cheltenham' he replied dismissively.)

I know little regarding Cheltenham. It has if I remember rightly an establishment for the education of young ladies, Cheltenham College that is highly regarded. I served as a teacher in a large comprehensive for many years. But it was certainly no Cheltenham. A public school yes, in that anyone could come, but an establishment of refinement, not really.

I have taught both in the secondary age sector and in adult education. In the latter I taught a young man, previously one of my school pupils. He had led a somewhat undisciplined life since leaving school, and had served a spell in prison. He was sentenced, amongst other things for hiding a policeman's helmet in a lively street altercation. I wonder what the charge was.

He once told me that 'he had run over a car.' 'What were you driving, a bulldozer' I asked with typical teaching ignorance. 'No,' he replied, exasperated at his former teachers stupidity. 'You know, ran over a car. Ran over, up onto the bonnet, over the roof and down the boot.' He was in my 'night school' class because he now realised the value of education and wished to 'better himself.'.

He too had a tattoo; plus it was on his back ; a tattoo and picture in large letters. Only he wasn't a Chelsea supporter. He had had this tattoo done when he was barely out of school. Now, some fifteen or twenty years later, with a wife and children, he was less than enamored with his tattoo.

He no longer went in the local swimming baths and certainly not with his children. At seventeen or so it had seemed a fun thing to do. His tattoo too will be there for ever and a day. And why is he less keen nowadays. I don't suppose too many people would like a large coloured butterfly and the words 'Butterflies Eat Shit' across their nether regions. Ah, the foolishness of youth. I wonder if my Chelsea friend will ever rue the day he had inscribed his support of Chelsea.

Monday 1 June 2009

Blast From the Past Number Five.

Perhaps the cheats and liars in Parliament are getting to me. They are the reason I am reminded of the post I did a year ago. There are truths, half truths and downright lies. The post I have resurrected suggests sometimes, just sometimes a lie is justified (though not by the dishonest, moronic, greedy individuals who inhabit the corridors of power in Westminster.) What do you think?
Sunday 29th June 2008
Tell a Lie and Find the Truth Spanish Proverb
George was so pleased with his new hatchet he used it to cut down father's favourite cherry tree. Dad came across the fallen tree and he was not best pleased. He asked George who was responsible and he felt, as any child would that to lie was the best idea. Only George was a well brought up child and his answer is well documented. "I cannot tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet." Well done George, George Washington that is.
I too was, I reckon, a well brought up child. Influenced as a member of the Moravian Church, the one thing impressed on me was the difference between right and wrong. My religious convictions were never set in stone, so to speak, but I have never willingly lied, whatever the consequences. I find it difficult to comprehend how some lie so easily and so often. I was always taught as a child that Moravians are God fearing to the extent that they are exempt from having to swear on a Bible in a British court, though I have never seen this premise actually tested in a court of law. I do many bad things but lying is not one of them.
I passed down a road in the Peak District this weekend, at a place called Owler Bar. A road I vaguely recognised; then my connection to the place slowly dawned on me. Around forty years ago I travelled down this road in a minivan with three other people. A Sprite sports car passed us somewhat erratically, enough to ensure comment, not all favourable. Five minutes later and the sight that met our eyes was desperately unwelcome. The Sprite lay upside down on the road, wheels forlornly spinning, the soft top shredded, steam everywhere, the smell of petrol sinisterly threatening, the driver half in and half out of his pride and joy. Tragedy on a summer's afternoon.
We lifted the car to an upright position, for my companions, though young were fit and strong.
The driver, a young man in his twenties, though conscious, was seriously injured; obviously terminally so even to my inexperienced eyes. I could do little to help as we awaited professional help and Owler Bar is a lonely spot. I held his hand, feeling inadequate in the extreme. His words I had forgotten until this weekend. "I'm dying," he said, looking to me for reassurance.
I've never forgotten that young man or the experience of that afternoon, all those years ago.
Three weeks later I was subpoenaed to attend his inquest. I also bought another vehicle, a Mini Cooper, not my first choice, a sports car with a soft top. And I've never forgotten that young man's simple question. Would your answer have been my answer, I wonder.
Posted by Grumpy Old Ken at 29.6.08
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