Saturday, 31 May 2014

Write a short story

Standing in a pub having a terrible time. A series of questionable decisions have brought us this far, to that irretrievable point where you are incapable of having a good time, but where something drives you on to make a success of it. Not to pretend; nothing so contrived. Self-delusion maybe.

We buy more drinks, drown the swell of irritation in a numbing fizz of spirits and make small talk, but it feels stilted and unnatural. The sensible thing to do would be to cut our losses and leave. Convince ourselves and each other that we’ve had a wonderful time, part company with a half-hearted, embarrassed hug and send a reassuring text the following morning about how enjoyable the evening was, how we simply must do it again sometime soon.

But that doesn’t fit the pattern. Surely the obvious answer would be to pump more money into the problem, buy more drinks we guzzle too fast, stand around bobbing awkwardly to the music, and get more and more tired and more and more frustrated. The drink doesn’t work either. Any fool can drink all night and talk nonsense, but it takes a special kind of aggravation to immunise you so completely against the effects of alcohol that you stand resolutely sober amid the thumping of the music and the hum of the crowd.

Sometimes it just doesn’t work. A change of drinks maybe? A dependable measure for greasing the wheels and slipping seamlessly back into sociality. The hard stuff will usually subdue that self-conscious echo in the otherwise crowded room. Usually; but not today. Change to whiskey. Change to gin. Nothing will work when you’re in this mood.

It could have been avoided, of course. Long-standing plans always carry that element of risk. How excited we were when we arranged it! How enjoyable it was going to be! How we were looking forward to it; until tonight at any rate. Then the night arrives and it’s a bit chilly out, and I’m still a bit hungover from yesterday, and television and a bag of kettle chips and a glass of wine seems too tempting. But a plan is a plan, so here we are.

Here I was anyway. Waiting is part of the process, but it never used to be this way. Five minutes either side was standard operating procedure, and everyone turned up more or less on time. Mobile phones have a lot to answer for, and I get the text – you know the one – that text at the time we’re supposed to meet saying that you’re just leaving.

Just leaving? Surely you knew half an hour ago when you should have been leaving that you weren’t ready to walk out of the door. So I wait, and order a drink, and play with my phone. Then I play with my phone a bit more and prop myself up in a corner. Winning a table would be difficult. I could get one, but could I sustain my occupation? Jealously guarding your stake in a table is always a challenge, but guarding it single-handedly against large groups is difficult to justify. And the drink makes you want to go to the toilet just slightly less than the drive to occupy yourself with something to do for three minutes other than play with your phone. So the table doesn’t happen; something else to add later to the mounting list of regrets.

It is not difficult to disguise my annoyance when you arrive, you are full of apologies, naturally, but I deflect them amiably and pretend I have just got here too, whilst making a point of sucking the last, noisy dregs of my melted ice through a straw I’ve been strategically chewing for twenty-five minutes. You don’t appear to notice, which is slightly more annoying than your lateness, but the flicker of annoyance I feel is more directed at myself for letting you get away with it.

The queue for the bar does nothing to recover the situation. It takes about six minutes to elicit a short sparkle of recognition from the ridiculously attractive barman, then a further two minutes to get served once my presence is acknowledged. I pay three pounds sixty-five for a single squirt of vodka that comes from a high-end brand bottle I didn’t ask for, dribbled over a tiny glass full of enormous ice cubes, then topped up with coke from a tap which is clearly running low on syrup. I am not pleased, but who could complain once the attractive man has moved on to other patrons? The moment has already passed, and no-one wants to look cheap in front of  the attractive man.

So here we stand, music I don’t recognise playing in the foreground. Background music is a thing of the past, and our stilted conversation comes a distant second to the indistinct, generic and highly sanitised commercial R’n’B that bleeds out of the speakers and swamps my breezy humour about how alright it is here. It is impossible to talk normally, discourse becomes limited to bland, general statements in simple language; humour, nuance and delivery are lost. Given effective booze or a better disposition, you could crash through this barrier and find comedy therein, but neither is forthcoming. It’s just not happening; you try to make it happen, but it just isn’t going to work.

How much longer can we endure this? Can an early escape be enacted without causing offense? Don’t feel too guilty however, the thirty minute wait absolves you of some of that culpability. Use the hangover card; it’s an easy, convenient and jovial conversation and gives you carte blanche to leave whenever the hell you like. Plus there’s the added bonus that it’s actually true.

Plant the seed, drop the idea in the percolator and let it dissolve for a while. Let it soften the blow when you check out early. It does the trick- after one more drink, one more trip to the toilet, I’ve played the ‘maybe one more’ card and I’m on the home stretch. Ironically, once reaching this point we seem to achieve some kind of synchronicity; the conversation starts to flow and the music improves. We find humour in the general crappiness of our surroundings and relate it to other various disappointing dives we’ve haunted in the past. It doesn’t salvage the evening, but it is nice to part on a high note. We save that last trickle of our drinks for an inordinate length of time, and down them only when we decide it’s time to go.

Our departure is not awkward, and we go our separate ways with a joke and a hug that conveys genuine affection. It’s only as you drift off to the bus stop and I start my long walk home that I realise the last of my tactical errors. Rather than walking home later, in relative peace, I now have to pick my way through the dilapidated town centre besieged by the eleven thirty drinking crowds. It’s that awful time of night when people are thinking of moving on elsewhere, getting out additional cash, getting rejected from cocktail bars and clubs and congregating on the streets rowing and working out what to do next. It is the in-between time.

I navigate my way through several minor swarms, keeping my head down and cursing myself for needless anxiety. They’re just people, after all; out for drinks, having a good time, laughing and joking with their friends. Why does it have to be so intimidating? Why that low, heavy feeling of suppressed fear and self-reproach. It burns away inside me as I scurry past, trying to look busy, or late or trying, against hope, to look like I’m not frightened and on my own.

I get asked if I have a spare cigarette. I unaccountably apologise for not smoking and shrug hopelessly. Does anyone ever have a spare cigarette? Here we go young man, I never planned on smoking this one. Help yourself...

Across the street, outside a questionable fried chicken outlet selling dubious fried chicken, a group stands illuminated in the dazzling glare of fluorescent lights, screaming at one another. A young woman is shouting and swearing at what I can only assume is her boyfriend, calling him a fucking bell-end, and punching his arm. He laughs at her and appeals to his friends with a derisive smile, which enrages her further. Her friend tries to steer her away and reminds her that he’s not worth it. I remember where I am and turn my head away, lest I become involved, and continue to hurry forward. Their altercation continues to echo down the street as the woman fires off a few final salvoes about his size and sexual performance as her friends drag her away. The boys all openly laugh at her as they saunter away in the same direction as me. I quicken my pace.

Despite the busyness of the high street at night, there is a period of relative calm. Couples and small groups drift past, people walking and texting despite the late hour – I hate to have my phone out in this part of town, especially when walking alone. I am nearly out of the woods, as the takeaways and pubs start to thin out and give way to closed shops and residential buildings. Only one hurdle remains, up ahead. A similar gang of young people walking between one pub and another pub, stopping to piss in someone’s doorway and struggling to light their fags in the breeze. My first flicker of concern surges as I imagine the troupe behind me crossing paths with the mob ahead of me. I imagine all the highbrow fun their exchanges will no doubt entail, and hope I am not caught in the crossfire. So lost in this fantasy am I that I am quite taken aback when, as I draw near, I hear an enthusiastic shout of

“Alright gay boyyyyyy!” in a cheery, self-congratulatory tone.

Fuck.

Here it is, the panic. And the decision; what to do?

Well, obviously, say nothing. Head down, ignore, pretend nothing happened. Then endure as it burns inside you and you curse yourself for your weakness as you shuffle past and silently condone their disdain. But what else is there? A snappy, sassy remark? A clever comeback?

That will take a while to stoke. And will possibly result in a broken nose and three fractured ribs. How do they even know? I’m only wearing jeans, trainers, coat -  I’ve left my rainbow cape at home. How do they tell? What would a straight person do? How would they respond to a mislabelling?

Shout fuck off, probably. Can’t really do that- will probably result in two broken noses and five fractured ribs. Oh shit, I’m drawing level, they’ve moved out from the side of the pavement to directly in front of me. They are laughing and subjecting me to mock affection. It could be worse, then.

“Give us a hug, gayboy. Aww- go on!”

I pretend smile and pretend laugh as if I’m in on the joke, when actually, I’m screaming inside. The forcible hugger has his arms outstretched as I approach and braces himself for the bizarre street cuddle, much to the amusement of his friends. I keep myself calm and still the terrified teenager within, fix my faux amused smile rigidly to my face and step to one side and say with a laugh:

“No, you’re fine. Carry on.” And keep walking. His friends explode in laughter at his rejection and I don’t slow my pace. He shouts out to me as I speed up, something indistinct asking why I don’t fancy him. More laughs, but I have got away with it.

The tension drains out of me, leaving me with the nasty, hot feeling borne of being made a victim. I despise them for being so horrible, for not caring how they make people feel, and for being so in control of the situation, then I experience the hollow, dull ache of despising myself for letting it happen. For not challenging it.

It is impossible to leave alone, and I ruminate endlessly, rehearsing what happened, replaying the events and fantasising clever, quick responses which eluded me at the time. It should be easy to move on, but as soon as one rehearsal draws to a close, I hit replay and relive it afresh. It shouldn’t be like this. I tell myself I handled it well. It could have been worse, and given the situation, I played it sufficiently well to avoid a beating.

I tell myself I was lucky. It could have been worse. It was booze-fuelled jocularity, not aggression, not confrontation, and I was lucky. But deep down I know I shouldn’t consider this lucky. It shouldn’t have to happen at all. I shouldn’t have to feel threatened and I shouldn’t be cast as victim for the entertainment of street drinkers.

I shouldn’t have to avoid a beating.

The walk home is long and slow and cold, but the shame stings in rising cycles as I remind myself to keep thinking about it. I want it out of my head, but can’t leave it alone. I want to tell people what happened, and rid myself of it by talking, but I never want to tell anyone. Telling people makes it real and gives it power.

I hide it away and forget about it. Keep it as a horrible, poisonous secret. Add it to the others. Bury it and pretend it’s not there.


Until next time.




Friday, 30 May 2014

Why is the freezer always full?

A short while ago I wrote about the contents of my fridge, and how my fixation with efficiency prompts the purchase of a very precise amount of food each week which runs out on schedule just before I shop again. No waste, no spoilage, no running out early. I also described the shift from cans and tins and frozen products to proper, sensible, grown up cooking with actual food and real ingredients.

So this will echo some of those sentiments.

The freezer is never full. We don’t eat a lot of frozen food though there is always THE EMERGENCY PIZZA, which is there JUST IN CASE. There is also THE BIG BAG OF ICE for the making of cocktails as well. Beyond that, the freezer sits bare, sometimes for weeks. We usually have some chips knocking around (as back up for THE EMERGENCY PIZZA, probably) but that’s really about it. Our shopping is ridiculously efficient and planned. We buy everything we need for the week, it all gets used accordingly, then we restock and start the merry-go-round again.

This is basically how our freezer looks all the time

The food shopping is conducted with military precision. We have THE LIST. THE LIST is divided into lunch items which we will use to make food for work, and dinners – our main meal each evening.  There is also a small section for drinks and a small section for household. All this relevant information fits onto a small square post-it note and is taken to the supermarket for the world’s fastest speed-shop. We divide our efforts and meet at regular intervals, checking off items and making our way to the bread aisle (always the back of the shop) in amazing time, getting more and more frustrated at the sketchy, gormless and blissfully unaware patrons blocking aisles with their trolleys, stopping to chat on every corner or staring in endless confusion at the choice of different pasta options on offer.

But however painful and unpleasant this frustrating experience might be, we get through it with astonishing speed. We aren’t given to much impulse buying either.  Occasionally, but it’s rare. Then we get to the checkout and pack our bags for life, which we remember every week, with remarkable haste.

And we spend so little.

Compared to our friends who apparently spend 70 to 100 pounds on their food bill every week, we spend more like 40. I don’t know why -  probably because we stick to the list and don’t impulse buy. That could be why – we end up with no additional items and no waste.

Personally, I think it’s because we don’t buy meat.  That saves a fortune.
Well, @superlative has some for his sandwiches, but we don’t buy it to cook for dinners and things, because of THE INCIDENT. But more on that another time.

Consequently, we are not very reliant on the freezer. It’s a bit of a back-up, but nothing sits there languishing within for months on end.

If it’s not part of the plan, it doesn’t get bought. If it IS part of the plan, it gets eaten within a couple of days.

Poor freezer. Like our toaster, he will never be allowed to reach his full potential.


Thursday, 29 May 2014

Why is life so painfully monotonous and dull?

It isn’t.  Not at all. Not remotely.

Granted, there are parts of the day you have to go through the motions; I’ll give you that. There are parts of the day, routine related, which are kind of depressing. Making my lunch for the following day at school is always a bit sad.  A short, repetitive chore that carries the additional benefit that it signals it’s almost time to go to bed and start the merry-go-round of going to work again.

But generally speaking, life is not dull, it’s not monotonous, it’s not repetitive and it certainly isn’t painful. My job, despite the ups and downs and the occasional scariness, is EXCITING.

There is drama every day. Not always a good thing, obviously, but it certainly isn’t dull. And there is inherent comedy in every day because some of the things we do and that they do are JUST SO DAMN FUNNY.

But never monotonous.

Let’s take an example -  I’ve been on half term this week (again, not monotonous and dull. A magnificent cycle of lying in, internet, TV, Playstation, porn and booze) – but on my final working day before this, last Friday, ANYTHING but dull...

A boy, let’s call him Mark, wanted to get into a room he wasn’t allowed in, because he was just being too dangerous. He wanted to get back into a classroom so he could clobber one of the children within.  Obviously we weren’t going to let him.

A few vain attempts to shove past us and sidle his way between us (he’s a slippery, agile thing) as we stood in front of the door trying to talk him down did not meet with success.  He became more and more frustrated, shouting and swearing and screaming as if being murdered. He slides quite quickly into what I can only call psychosis, flailing around, screaming and rasping, trying to run into or jump over fixtures, fitting and furniture. We prevented him doing himself any serious harm, but in his attempt to jump over a stair well 20ft to the floor below, he banged his knee.

Poor boy. Hah.

He really lost the plot at this point. He lay on the floor and screamed. And I mean really screamed. I will find it hard to articulate in writing -  it would be much easier to do an impression -  but imagine that girl from the exorcist. That screaming, raspy, guttural, wild, savage growling. Like a long, drawn out wildcat roar, but punctuated with word-fragments and odd, out-of-context swear words.

It was sort of terrifying, but actually quite funny too. All the adults made eye contact and it made you want to laugh a bit, because it was frankly so ridiculous.

So there he was, laying on the floor, screaming and growling and swearing in this savage, wild, demonic way, flailing around on the floor, making these horrendous sounds and I thought:

Yes – no wonder people used to believe in possession. That is exactly what this looks like.  A tiny young boy hurting himself, flailing wildly, screaming obscenities you’re surprised he knows, in this frankly terrifying demon-creature voice. It was textbook possession material. No wonder people with special needs were once under the purview of the church.

I didn't get my own way so now I'm going to do THIS! 

But as this rather unnecessary display unfolded, and I remarked to a colleague about possession and how this once would have been perceived, I remember thinking to myself- it IS exciting though, it is dramatic and scary. What was going to happen?  How could we prevent it escalating, how could we prevent him hurting himself seriously? How long would it last?  Were the rest of my class alright in the meantime?


It was more than likely he would simply burn himself out within a couple of minutes. Throwing yourself on the floor and screaming is fairly exhausting and he never usually lasts that long, so it was a fairly safe bet it would happen again.  But it was one of those situations where you walk away, back to your maths group (who haven’t batted an eyelid -  their capacity to accept and ignore complete insanity unfolding just outside never ceases to amaze me) and think – wow, my days are never dull.



Wednesday, 28 May 2014

5 reasons you get out of bed...

I generally get up without too much complaint. It’s hard some days, because my bed is too damn comfy and I am warm and cosy and have a hard-on I need to re-organise.

But I don’t really struggle to get up.  I just leave it to the last possible second before I do.

But in that fuzzy little bit of time where I fantasise unrealistically about phoning in sick, or going back under the covers and hiding – in that strange 10 minutes that feels like 10 seconds, I wonder about what it would be like if I stayed in bed, and then I immediately leap out of bed and get ready for school.

And here are 5 reasons why...

1) THE GUILT
You may have read fairly recently, about what happens when I don’t go to work. I have my class pretty much under the thumb now, though there are always surprises in special needs. But when I’m not there, they turn into animals. They are abusive, they are violent, they are obnoxious. And my staff will have a shocking day, and the children will have a shocking day, and their parents will have a shocking night...  all because I didn’t go to work. I am the glue that holds the class together, and without me it will be a disaster and I really can’t do that to my staff. Also, I will have to pick up the pieces when I return and it’s really just much easier if I go in and make the day work.

I should add, I’m not blowing my own trumpet.  I’m not especially skilled or amazing. It’s just the way it works in my class.  That is the pattern and always has been. I am their consistent, trusted adult, and no-one else will do. They will punish the other staff if I’m not there... as they did last week.

2) THE HASSLE
It’s not just a case of phoning in sick. It’s getting up, calling in sick, then firing up my laptop, then spending probably an hour writing cover plans for my lessons that day, then emailing them. Then contacting my staff to warn them. By the time I’ve done all that I could be at work, at my desk, listening to Radio 4 and doing something useful. It’s not practical to skip school unless you really have to.

3) THE MONEY
I’m pretty well paid these days. Everything you hear about teachers’ pay and teachers’ pensions being poor is a bit of a myth really. My pay goes up all the time, and it’s pretty generous. And the pension is REALLY generous. Don’t get me wrong, I work extremely hard. It is not an easy job most days, and we get ignored, we get abused, we get spat at... we get hurt! Often, in fact. But the pay really is pretty reasonable.  Especially for the hours I do... it’s not like mainstream where the kids are lovely but you lose every weekend and evening. The days in special are hard and scary, but you don’t have the same level paperwork of waiting for you afterwards.

I find money quite motivating. When I’m having a particularly hard day, and they’ve pushed me a little too far, I calculate my hourly rate. Then my half hourly, then how much money I’ve actually earned in the time I’ve been being verbally abused and I think “Ooh, actually, this is a bargain!” and it really helps me endure it professionally.

4) THE MUSIC
When I am struggling to get up in the morning (usually at the end of term when I have cumulative exhaustion) I burn myself a new CD. So excited am I at the prospect of playing my new CD in the car, that I happily leap out of bed and hurry to work so I can hear it. The same can be said for sunny weather and roof-down days. There is no greater pleasure than driving to work on a morning warm enough to have the roof down.

5) THE FUN
I actually kind of love my job.  Yes, when you get right down to it, they’re completely mad, but it is immensely satisfying and I’m GOOD AT IT. The reason the days (usually) go well for me is because I am getting very, very good at steering my charges through their various frustrations and misapprehensions, especially at this point in the year when I know them so well. They’re good fun, they’re endlessly amusing and I manage to build quite a lot of fun into most days. I need them to enjoy it, so on top of the maths and English and science and RE, we always find time to do something fun.


And consequently, I have fun too.




Tuesday, 27 May 2014

What annoys you every day?

Since my new school’s opening, certain things have changed. 

We are lucky enough to have a fresh, state-of-the-art special needs school, with first rate facilities and everything within shiny and brand new.  

We are lucky enough to have beautiful new classrooms, with individual gardens or –in my case – a gorgeous roof terrace.

We are lucky enough to have a new staffing structure, with the odd little promotion and pleasing pay-rise thrown in, for some of us.

But then there is the parking. The new building has been constructed on what was once a school field for the large secondary comprehensive next door, and now lies between said comprehensive and the large primary school on the other side. Slap bang in the middle of a residential area.

Our car park can only accommodate about one third of the staff, the pressure upon residential roads for parking, between the drop-offs and pick-ups for 3 schools in immense, and we have a polite cold-war stand-off over parking with the school next door.

We have a peace treaty with the other, however -  and they have allowed us to have a third of their rather large car park, which they have painted up with green bays for our usage.

Very gratifying.

This means however, that every morning I have to drive to the wrong school, park up, and begin the long walk to my building. Through THE GATES OF HELL.

Welcome to another week in Special Education. 

It is about 4, maybe 5 minutes walk from my car to my school now, which is annoying, but made more aggravating by the sequence of electronic gates that bar entry at regular intervals. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. They have padlocks on them for when the electronic fobs fail, which are even more annoying to access.

If you are carrying anything, you cannot get through the gate.

If you are in a hurry, you cannot get through the gate.

It is always raining. And you cannot get through the gate.

It takes a ridiculously long time, is extremely inconvenient and makes me angry every day.

And the best part? If I am ever running late, I have to run this ludicrous gauntlet, bags, umbrellas, keys and fobs in hand, through a million squawking, screeching, mainstream secondary students, shouting, swearing, making out, laughing, as I pick my way through their immovable crowd.

No, they never get out of the way.

I hate the gate. I hate the walk. I hate the fact it’s just so inefficient and wastes my time every day. I hate the fact I have to put everything down on the wet ground just to get in. I hate the fact that one third of the staff can park at the front in our own car park and avoid this daily aggravation. I hate the fact that I was honest and said I didn’t need a pass for our car park because I only work on the one site, and I hate the fact that half the people who do park there don’t have a pass but just park there anyway, and I’m too honest to do the same.


I hate the car park and I hate the gate.

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Toaster. Discuss

The toaster is a sad little character in my house. He is nice, he is red, he is – naturally –  co-ordinated with my kitchen, he is efficient, he is speedy,  he has a bagel setting but HE IS UNDER-USED.


Which is not to say he is never used, but you see, I am a cheese-on-toast person. Which means that our sad little toaster generally loses out to his bigger, flashier brother, The Grill.

"I can't make cheese on toast!"

In fairness to the sad little toaster, sometimes, he is used to pre-brown the bread before cheese goes on and it goes under the grill for some real heat. But I can’t help feeling a little bad for him, as he always plays second fiddle to The Grill. His efforts are not taken seriously, despite his colour-coordination and his bagel-setting.

But he stands, ready, stalwart, standing-by, should he ever be needed. Should I ever have want for toast without cheese, should I ever have need for a lightly toasted bagel...


...He will be there. He will be waiting.


Sunday, 25 May 2014

Come Dine With Me...

Channel 4 invite you to do Come Dine With Me. Who is invited & what’s your entertainment?

As you may have read, staging a Come Dine With Me is one for my bucket list, though I should clarify that I have no desire to appear on the programme itself. When I say stage, I mean only that I would like to organise a Come Dine With Me circuit with some friends. One day I’ll get round to it...

If I were asked to appear on the real thing, I would decline. I’m not sure I’d make the cut anyway.

I’m too stable and too avoidant of confrontation to make interesting viewing. In fact, I’m too good at defusing confrontation to make interesting viewing. I make a living doing it, and I feel fairly confident that I would be too calm, too polite and too tolerant to warrant televising. Even if I were paired with awful, belligerent, argumentative people.

Essentially, I’m nice and I’m boring and that isn’t what they’re after.

So who would I invite? Some friends -  hosting for strangers selected precisely for their  questionable social skills and bizarre dietary stipulations contingent not upon health needs or tolerance but on their fussiness and need for control?

No thanks.

And celebrities? Whilst in theory, the idea of eating out with Harry Judd, Colton Haynes, Tom Daley and Elliot Tittensor is tremendously exciting and titillating, I have always speculated about meeting your celebrity heroes: What do you actually say?

I recall feeling the same way as an adolescent, about people entering competitions to meet McFly, or go for lunch with Adam Rickitt or whatever. What do you say?

It would be awful!  Mind-numbing!

“HALLO!  I REALLY LIKE YOU!  WE HAVE NOTHING IN COMMON, BUT I LIKE YOU....HURRRRRRRRRHH!”

Just no. 
Adam as I choose to remember him

So I would prefer something competitive and amusing, but that I would actually enjoy.

Just me, good friends, good food and 4 naked men waiting on my every desire.


And entertainment? I’m not sure dinner ever needs entertainment. My best dinner parties have always been those where you end up sitting there drinking wine or cocktails round the table with the final course, chatting away and not noticing you’ve been talking for seven hours.

But if things went wrong, I’d probably reflexively resort to SingStar.  We never got over SingStar.


And what guests don’t want to bang out some ‘I Touch Myself’ after a bottle of wine each?

What can I get you sir?
A Gratuitous Bumshot please.



Saturday, 24 May 2014

Lego or Meccanno? Trains or Planes?

I wrote about Boys and their Toys fairly recently.  We love our toys.  And we’re in the enviable positions where we can continue to play with them...

FOREVER!

But when it comes to these specific options, the answer comes swiftly, easily, and without hesitation.

Lego.  A millions times Lego. I’m quite sure you can make some wonderful things with Meccanno. Realistic, working, scale models of real, tangible things – cranes, trains, planes!

But it’s not a toy, is it.  You can’t play with them. Lego is for play.  Lego is fast and colourful and rewarding. And just as creative.  More so in fact - and the minifigures are the best bit!

There are those that would argue that it has changed too much.  The pieces have become larger and less Lego-like, taking some of the creativity and design out of the premise. And some dislike the franchising... the Harry Potter, Spider-Man and Star Wars sets.

To them I say: LOOK UPON THIS BATCAVE AND TREMBLE!



And it’s fan-built too!  Take a look here!

There is something about Lego I never got over.  I’m not sure any boy ever does.  I go to the Lego shop now and look around longingly. I see lots of dads living vicariously through their wide-eyed children. There really is nothing like Lego.  It’s an expensive hobby, granted – but you get the build, the play and then the rebuild and the replay. It is the perfect toy. I have already vowed that my nephew will get Lego for every birthday once he is of age...

And my Lego?  It now sits in my classroom cupboard, and suffers a little bit from time to time, but is largely still intact. And it still gets played with, which is important to me. And I still get to have a little play now and then too – just modelling appropriate play, obviously.

Lego all the way....

And planes or trains?

WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD CHOOSE A TRAIN?!

Don’t get me wrong, there are bad flights, and definite downsides, but flying?  You’re in a chair IN THE SKY!  I never get bored with it.  I like it when the jet-engines come on! I like having a drink before hand, and a drink during, and you’re generally going somewhere nice too.  Flying is wonderful.  Airports are wonderful. Other passengers I can take or leave, and there are bits that stress me out, granted.  But let’s compare...

Trains? Urgh, noisy, crowded, slow, expensive, stressful, late... There is nothing about train travel I enjoy. 



From buying my overpriced ticket, to the scary walk to the door (irrespective of earliness!) where you panic the door may close and your train pull away, to finding a seat without a nasty stain, to avoiding the weirdo, to noisy phone conversations, to impossibly loud screeching and buckling of walls as other trains pass... the whole enterprise is thoroughly unpleasant.

This is why I drive everywhere...




Friday, 23 May 2014

If you can’t use your job, how would you answer “what do you do?”

Short answer... whatever I want. Life is pretty sweet these days.  I am trouble free, commitment free, worry free.

Of course, we all worry sometimes.  It would be weird not to. But there are no significant problems in my world and I am pretty much free to please myself most of the time. Work is challenging and fairly exhausting, but generally fun. I don't bring it home with me. I have no money worries. My family and friends are all stable, consistent, healthy and reasonably content. I have all the things I need.

Generally, @superlative and I spend most of our time doing whatever we please. Life, beyond our respective jobs (which, if I’m honest, are only a minor part of our days and don’t encroach on our home life or time too much) is serene, pleasant and enjoyable.

We paddle through a gentle cycle of cocktails, DVDs, TV shows, eating out, drinks, dancing, beach, shopping, lather, rinse, repeat, without much interruption.  We please ourselves most of the time.

I certainly feel like I have all the things I need around me – we just have fun really, and do what we want.



Perhaps I’m just easy to please. I can’t imagine I am, but maybe it’s true.

Club Tropicana - drinks are free...

Thursday, 22 May 2014

IN MY ABSENCE...

ALL FUCKING HELL BREAKS LOOSE.

I knew it.  I bloody knew it.

THIS is why I can't have time off. Wild, ALL DAY. Abusive to staff, violent to the point where they had to be restrained. And one got so out of control he completely trashed my classroom. Like... turned it upside down.

THIS IS WHY I AM NOT ALLOWED TO BE ILL.

And I feel bad, because my poor staff had to try and hold this mess together all day (to no avail, as it transpires), and the few kids who didn't spend the day running riot had a horrible time at school, and they all went home accordingly and kicked the crap out of their parents.

See?!

It simply would not happen if I was there.

So there we go... Sorry I left you to it, everyone. Sorry I was ill.  I won't be ill again, as I can't afford to be...


APOLOGISE FOR THAT!

Sorry!

I took a day off yesterday. I wasn’t well. I wasn’t well Tuesday either, but I went in anyway. I found myself texting my staff (and my boss) apologising for being ill.

Bad isn’t it? I never have time off, and yet on the rare occasions I fall ill, I feel I have to apologise.

Here’s why...

If I don’t go in, my pupils have a BAD day. I feel guilty even saying it, but it’s true. I have wonderful and very capable support staff, who work really hard and who are great with the children, but when I’m not there the atmosphere changes. It’s partly me, partly just the autism.

“You’re not my teacher... you can fuck off!” sort of thing. But times a million.

They will all behave like animals if I am ever away, or on a course or whatever. They will be rude, spiteful and often violent, but they don’t do it if I’m there. Mainly just because of my presence alone – I don’t have to DO anything.  They just keep it together when I’m around, and if they can’t, they allow me to steer them through and talk them round.  I can calm them down, pretty fast. They don’t let other people get anywhere near that stage, once they’re angry.

But I’m not all “Ooh, get me. Check me out” about it. It’s not a good thing. It means I have THE GUILT if I’m ever off.

They will all have a bad day, my staff will have a horrendous day with all the children kicking off at once, and then they will all go home and take it out on their families. The pupils, this is, not the staff.

Though they might too, I don’t know.

So it gets to a point by which 25 or 30 people all have a horrendous day because I didn’t go in.

So I just go in. Even if I’m not well. And by the time you’ve got up to phone in sick, AND spent an hour writing your cover lessons for the day, you’d be at work anyway. It’s rarely worth it, especially when you add the fall-out to the occasion.

A friend who teaches next door, who has exactly the same with his class, put it this way:

“Me at 10% is better than someone else at 100%” and he hit that nail right on the head.

It’s easier to muddle through and do some slightly crappy, fun, lazy lessons to ensure the day runs smoothly, than to try and hand it over to someone else. Because YOU have to pick up all the pieces and hand out all the consequences and sanctions when you get back. It’s a nightmare.

You feel guilty; you know you’re setting up 30 people for a rough day and you know it will be carnage when you return.

So I rarely take a day off, but my throat hurts so much! Talking all day Tuesday destroyed it, and I couldn’t face it Wednesday. So I sent my cover notes, made my apologies to all concerned and a few people who weren’t but I felt guilty about, and I went back to sleep.

And I felt tons better- I wonder what happened in my absence?  We’re about to find out. I can pretty much guess though – it’s always the same pattern.

So yes – sorry about that, staff, pupils and parents.  Sorry you got kicked and spat at and abused because I didn’t come into work.

But if I got hit by a bus, you’d have to cope, so it’s probably worth practising.



You know the funny thing?  Next year, when these kids move up a class, my presence won’t mean a damn thing to them. And the kids coming up to my class, suddenly *they’ll* start responding only to me instead of their current teacher next door, and they'll start giving everyone else a rough ride.

Did I say funny?


I meant annoying. Sorry.




Wednesday, 21 May 2014

“Striving for perfection is inherently wrong.” Or is it?

I completely disagree. Perfection is a little extreme, perhaps, but there is nothing wrong with looking to improve, and nothing wrong with wanting to be the best.

My only reservation would be, it will probably never make you happy. Probably. You are unlikely to achieve it, and even if you do, someone else will come along soon and achieve it more than you. Or smash your record. But that is no reason not to try. You might be that someone.  You might achieve it – it has to be someone...

It is in our nature to improve over time. Athletes today can perform to an extent that was unimaginable in times past; our technology, our training and our ability to access activities has improved so much that we are far more likely to find people with an area of skill, or for them to encounter and try an activity in which they have potential.

We are getting better at getting better.

And I don’t know if there is an upper limit on physical abilities and records. So far we do seem to simply be getting better, by one means or another. Becoming more perfect. Take the 100 metres:



In 1891 the record was 10.8 seconds. We have, over the last hundred years, been shaving time off of that record with better training, better shoes, better search and access patterns for potential athletes. The record currently stands at 9.58 seconds. And someone will soon come along and smash that record again.

It’s the same for science too. It’s the same for exploration, understanding, technology... Everything.
We keep getting better, faster, smaller, cleverer..and someone has to be the person who finds/achieves/performs/creates/discovers it first.

It’s in our nature to strive to improve. It’s in our nature to seek perfection. And someone has to get there first...



Why shouldn’t it be you?

Striving for perfection never did anyone any harm



Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Your six favourite bits of social media

I’ve been dreading and looking forward to this one in equal measure...

Such a difficult call, with so many amazing yet fleeting phenomena which are gone and forgotten despite their popularity in a matter of weeks. And then there’s the “bits” equation. Are they blogs, twitter accounts, individual tweets, videos, random memes?

There is TOO MUCH CHOICE. But I’ve selected six items across various social media which have amused, amazed or titillated me, and despite the fact their popularity may have peaked and receded some time ago, they have stayed in mind and have been subject to the odd repeat viewing, for one reason or another. Here goes...

Batman slap:


It’s not even funny, but it has me in stitches. Something about the “deeeeaaaaaad” I think. I imagine him wailing in a Neil Stuke / Game On manner, and shaking his fist. It has spawned a million baby-meme parodies, some wonderful, others not so. I know it’s not funny, but even finding them to write this post had me in stitches.

“Deeeaaaaaaaad!!”

 


I’ll Eat A Shit
I don’t know how many times @superlative and I have listened to this, even ages after it rose and faded online, but I love it.  I love the actors, I love the delivery, I love the backing music and the seriousness of the whole enterprise. Especially: “And obviously not a Christian either!”.



Get’s me every time. I really want to know what JilianLovesTheBiebs has to say about it...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxrWuE5qC5c 

Good AfterMornings
I have rhapsodised about this particular blog enough here, so I will not go into detail. I will say just this: I have laughed (and cried) at this particular story, and it is an ongoing saga, so many times. You will most definitely enjoy the story of this frustrated office employee and his unmistakably insane boss, I cannot recommend it enough and I implore you to read it.
Read from the very start here: http://goodaftermornings.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/introductions.html
You will be glad you did...


Missing Missy
This has been doing the rounds for years, and I’m sure you’ve read it, but it has diminished and gone into the west now, so maybe you’ll enjoy this reminder. A faffy, annoying, attention-hungry woman pesters a designer colleague to make her a poster, and he obliges with the most unhelpful series of passive-aggressive feints ever. Mean, but you’re so on his side.



And “No Reward”?  Sheer joy.
http://www.27bslash6.com/missy.html


The Judd
This one is self-explanatory. I would literally let him do anything he wanted.  He could punch me in the face and I would still love him. So here, gentle reader, is The Judd at his best.




The Fail
Sadly, popularity killed this one. There is still the odd gem, but a quick flick through the blog now shows it is up to 4000 odd pages now.  The quality has dipped accordingly.


But those early days, before it was over-subscribed by millions of keenbeans saturating it with flimsy, ineffective parodies?  It was amazing, and had me in absolute hysterics. There are still some amazing ones, every now and then, but you might have to wade through some poor ones before you hit the jackpot. Same for autocorrect fails too... killed by success.  But for old times sake...






Monday, 19 May 2014

What’s your biggest regret?

I don’t really have many regrets. 

I make most decisions quite carefully, although I’m not especially risk-averse (in the physical, daring sense at least), so between these two factors, there are only rare occasions when I’ve either missed out by avoiding something (regret: inaction) or unwisely chosen to pursue something that turned out badly (regret: action).

I have a sufficiently untroubled life to avoid dwelling on minor historical decisions or indecisions, so my only regrets that come to mind are pretty lame, and possibly likely to have led me – had I pursued them – to somewhere less profitable and enjoyable in my present life. Unsurprisingly, both my regrets fall into the regret: INaction category...

Regret number one: I wish I’d been more of a slut when I was younger.
I am pretty jealous of all the guys I know who went around having sex with loads of guys. I’ve been coupled since seventeen, aside from the odd (sanctioned) recreational assignation, and missed out on slutty teens and slutty twenties.

But I’m aware it generally sounds more fun than it actually is, and half the guys I know who *did* enjoy the penises of others more regularly than I, say they regret it, say it was thoroughly unenjoyable and usually made them miserable afterwards. If not during.

The other half are completely fucked up by the experience and seem incapable of recovering to a point where they can sustain a meaningful relationship again.

So yes, whilst I’m jealous on a superficial level, I think, in retrospect, I’m probably better off as I am.

Regret number two: I wish I’d auditioned for things and given it my all.
I loved theatre as a teen; I loved to act and – to a lesser extent – sing, and I dabbled a little bit. I was reasonably good, within the high school context, but quite fearful about not being the best. (Academically, I was the best, and that made me safe – trying at something and being just okay?  That was an ordeal for me.  Or would have been had I gone through with it.)

I did a couple of auditions, and got parts in a couple of productions, but I look back and realise how much I held back, even once I was in them, even once it got to the performances. I wish I’d auditioned for more things, maybe outside of school, and let myself go a bit. I think I could have been much better and really enjoyed it. My brief forays into theatre were amazing, and I’ve always been a bit cross with myself that I never really went for it.


But... well, they were such time-vampires, and such big commitments. I don’t know -  it couldn’t have hurt, could it...




Sunday, 18 May 2014

Discuss a quote: The problem with parents...

People think I hate children, but it’s not true. They are well annoying, no doubt about it. They are dirty and loud and selfish and expensive and generally unlikeable, but I don’t hate children.

Because I just don’t blame them.

It’s parents I hate, and here’s why...



There was a time, perhaps long, long ago, during which teachers were respected members of their local community. They were trained, qualified and people valued their advice. People looked up to them.

Parents respected them.

Something has gone very wrong in recent years.  Parents now talk about ‘Parents’ Rights’ and see themselves as customers, or clients. They are not.  They are inexperienced amateurs guessing their way through child rearing. They are not qualified to make decisions, they are not experienced, they are not trained.

And there would be nothing wrong with that; that would be fine, were it not for the fact that they seem to believe that the very fact that they have conceived a child makes them an expert on children.

They say things like “He’s my child. I know best!” And sometimes that is no doubt true, but not always.

They say things like “Don’t you tell me how to bring up my child!” and sometimes that is valid. But not always.

And they say things like “If you were a parent, you'd say the same thing" and sometimes that is relevant, but not always.

I should add that this is not all parents.  Only the most moronic and aggressive, usually. But in my line of work, I hear it a lot.  And every time, I have to bite my tongue.

Now, sadly, they very fact of having a child means that you are automatically right about everything to do with that child. That you can do no wrong and that every decision you make is sacrosanct because it is your child and you cannot be questioned.  You cannot be mistaken.

You are beyond reproach and beyond accountability.


YOU ARE A PARENT.


And yet, so many manage to get it so, so wrong.

Most parents are fine. They do their best, and muddle through. You only get two or three goes at it, generally, so you don’t get to hone your art. And that’s okay. Mistakes are expected- you learn as you go.

But don’t go thinking that your every decision is the only one; that other ideas, opinions and suggestions are irrelevant. Don’t go thinking that you know best, in every situation, regardless of prior experience, irrespective of circumstances and contrary to advice. You don’t always have the answer, and being the parent does not always make you right.


Having a child makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.



Saturday, 17 May 2014

Something you’ll never forget

Susie joined my class late.  Far too late.  Whilst you could never credibly argue that mainstream never works for children with special needs, there are countless examples when mainstream placements have caused considerable damage.

In Susie’s case, she had languished in a large mainstream secondary school for almost four years, unable to manage with the bustle and chaos of large classes of thirty-plus children, bells ringing, mass movements of the entire population between lessons, and the noise and confusion of the playground.  Add to this the pace, complexity of language and social interaction inherent to mainstream lessons and it is also apparent that she wasn’t able to meaningfully access any classes or learn anything.

Consequently, she had spent most of her four years not speaking, sat in a room on her own in a learning resource unit, doing one-to-one work with a teaching assistant and steadily becoming more withdrawn and anxious.

She joined me at the age of fifteen, near the end of year 10, integrating into my class of eight autistic pupils who had all been together for four years, and who had been with me for four years as their teacher. When she arrived she barely spoke at all, avoided all interaction and was essentially terrified of everything. She didn’t have any friends and had no confidence in any skills, subjects or abilities.

Honestly, with just over a year before she would leave school, I kind of thought it was too late for Susie. But we never just give up-  so my work began.

I’m not going to take all the credit, as there were many adults involved across the school, but she was so anxious she basically clung to me, and I was her teacher, her ‘trusted adult’, and it fell to me to start her programme. So I was the one driving, I suppose. Equally, beyond the work I and others put in, the situational effects of just being in a calmer, quieter, smaller environment with fewer people, less-complex language and fewer confusing social interactions and expectations flying around without anyone to help unpick them cannot be underestimated. The very fact of placing her in a specialist autistic class was likely half the battle.

But it took a while to build up her confidence, to teach her to speak up, to get her to relax and enjoy school, to feel confident in her abilities (she was actually very bright) and to trust other pupils to be her friends.

Within a couple of months, however,  she was talking, laughing and having friends round after school. She added them on Facebook and MSN and talked about it in the day with them. She soared academically, developed a sense of humour, she had arguments and reconciliations, she went out (in so much as they said they were going out – I don’t think they ever actually *went* anywhere) with a boy.

She had a normal teenage school girl experience, if a little immature relative to her chronological age, but it was a real experience.

I only had a year, but I did it.  And then?  When my class finished year 11, and were all leaving school, when we had their leavers’ ceremony with readings and speeches and music and a hall full of two hundred-odd people in the audience...?

She stood up and sang a solo.

And it was pretty good.

I literally sobbed.

It was so moving and amazing and I was so proud. Of her, but also of myself.

I did that.

Yes, she did it too – of course I was proud of that.  But that makes me remember why I do this job.

That’s what I’ll never forget.





Friday, 16 May 2014

What’s your [insert beverage of choice] ritual?

As established, 5pm is cocktail hour.

Though some days we open early and cocktail hour is like... 1.30.  And lasts for about 9 hours.

Cocktails of choice are martinis. Martinis are smooth and sweet and sharp and comforting.  They bite and they kick, but they calm and they soothe. A well-mixed martini excites, even as it relaxes. They dance on your tongue, and give you that warm glow when you swallow and good grief I‘m beginning to sound like an alcoholic.

But it’s true. They are relaxing. They have a proper kick, but then they slide down so sensually and massage you from the inside and all the way down.



AND THERE ARE SO MANY VARIETIES!

Classic vodka and classic gin martinis we save for special occasions- they DESTROY your brain because they’re just so damn boozy. Delicious, but not to be trifled with. You have to want to get a bit wasted to start on those. So on an average cocktail hour we go for softer options with a bit of mixer thrown in. Cranberry martinis, appletinis, strawberry, etc, etc- you get the idea.

And my own creation which has proven amazingly popular with guests – Mango and Honey Martinis.

These are like sex in a glass. People now request them when they turn up, which I kind of like.

But the ritual? My fastest mix is cranberry... because we make them all the time, and because I always end up spending all night making cocktails whenever we have a party; I’ve become insanely fast. Just over one minute for two glasses. So here goes...

Glug of vodka (no time for shot glasses or measures) into each martini glass. 
Glug of vermouth in each.  (No time to watch closely... pour by timbre)
Two glugs of cranberry in each.
Tip the contents of both into a shaker (or a Hawthorn, though that adds precious seconds and your favourite song is *obviously* playing).
Chuck in 4 ice cubes.
Press the top on, then the cap last, otherwise it won’t seal properly.
Shake it in two hands, holding the top on, just in case, until it makes that pleasing noise and the ice is broken down a bit.
Tap the top to clear the strainer so you don’t lose any when you pop it.
Pop the cap.
Pour, splitting evenly between the two glasses.
Crack the top and pour in the foam. The foam is the best bit. Try not to get the ice in.
Drink.

And yes, the shaking IS important. It’s totally obvious when you’ve stirred. It doesn’t blend the same way; you don’t get the foam and it hasn’t got the silky quality.



There you go.  My one-minute martini ritual. 




Thursday, 15 May 2014

What’s in your fridge?

Well, it’s Thursday, so NOT MUCH.

We shop week to week and generally finish up everything.  We NEVER run out of food, and we NEVER throw anything away.  We have mysterious and efficient shopping practices on which there will be MORE LATER.

We buy the exact amount we need, no more no less.  On Thursday there remain sufficient ingredients to make the last two meals. Plus a bit of lunch on Saturday IF THAT WAS THE PLAN.

We used, post-university, to be frozen and jar people.  Lots of stuff in the freezer and lots of stuff in jars. Then sometime in 2004/2005 we remembered that we were middle class and this simply wouldn’t do because it was horrid.

Now we buy actual things and make actual dinners in our actual oven.

So our fridge currently contains:
Butter
Cheese (lots of cheese – we’re big on cheese)
Wraps
Wholemeal bread
Apple Sauce (Don’t ask – he puts it in sandwiches)
Some meat wrapped in foil which I am not going to open because it is nothing to do with me
Lettuce
Cherry tomatoes
Leek
Lime
Coke
Sugar-free lemonade
Sugar-free Red Bull
Black cherry Sidekick
Mango Juice
Cranberry Juice
Milk
BBQ sauce
Crutons
Sandwich pickle
Half a bottle of rosé wine (for about the next 5 minutes)
Miscellaneous food-colouring gels

None of this appears to make sense until you understand that I am having cheese and pickle salad wraps for my lunch this week, and he is having meat/apple sauce sandwiches, and that our final two dinners are pasta based, requiring fewer fridge ingredients. And that we are alcoholics and mainly use our fridge for cooling our mixers.

There you go – an insight into our lives.


And our fridge. 


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

School can’t teach you...

School can’t teach you NOT TO BE AUTISTIC.

Sorry mums and dads, I know it’s my job to cure your child and make them not autistic anymore, so you can have the child you want, but- no hang on...

That’s NOT my job.

My job is to educate your child and help them manage their condition, so they can be part of the world, and achieve everything realistically possible, and participate in and experience as much as they can.  

And for some of them, that isn’t much. Some of them, by the nature and severity of their disability, are going to need care and support with all aspects of their lives for their entire lifetimes. And some of them, with our intervention, will go on to achieve qualifications and have relationships and jobs and children of their own.

But they’re always going to be autistic, even if they overcome some of the difficulties that entails.

They’re always going to have some of those wacky idiosyncrasies, strange obsessions, bizarre speech patterns and odd behaviours, even in adulthood. Some of it they’ll learn to leave behind (or tone down in given situations, given time and help) but some of it is with them for good.  And to be honest, that’s half the fun... It’s part of the charm.

You can’t cure them. You can’t make them not autistic anymore. You can’t.

AND YOU SHOULDN’T WANT TO.  That’s your child, that is! I know they’re a nightmare sometimes, but that’s part of it. We’re not there to cure them. 

We’re there to teach them independence, social skills, as well as the academic stuff,  so they can have a future with some normality, stability and – if they learn to tone it down – hopefully, some company.





This post is dedicated to the vile Mrs Thompson, who I gave up my time to meet with today after school so she could rant aggressively at me about her 13 year old child still having autism.

Sorry, son. You're just not the child I wanted.




Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Day 13: The story of your life in 250 words. Exactly.

The story of my life in 250 words precisely... can be read here.

But whilst I have your attention, and I have 250 entirely fresh words to kill, I thought I might go into a little more detail about some of the early days...


I liked school. I went to Leverton Junior, a fairly crappy primary school in Essex. It was quite rough in many ways; low-aspiration, low-income, low-expectation - but I did fine. My family were always a bit out of place there. In Waltham Abbey, and within school... We always did homework, attended parents’ evenings, read at home and didn’t have a satellite dish. No wonder we were outcasts; I didn’t think about it ‘til now but mummy always said she felt we didn’t fit in, and it’s only now I realise why.

But it was fine. I liked being the clever one. 
Then I went to Roding Valley, a large Essex comprehensive. Not a good school according to league tables, but I loved it. I finally found people who were a bit like me, who I could relate to, and who are still my closest friends, 22 years later. Actually, we all ended up in Brighton together. Roding was great – a real mixture of people, and some proper Essex characters.  Half of my form were pregnant by the time we did GCSEs.

The female half, presumably.

But I thrived. Academically, yes -  but more importantly I became confident and sociable; I wasn’t at primary school, though hadn’t realised at the time. Having a real group of friends made a massive difference, and despite the league tables – if you worked hard you were totally able to achieve there. 
Not many people I know remember it with any fondness, but I loved it.

There you go, 250 words precisely.

To be fair, would you socialise with this?








Monday, 12 May 2014

If you had to give a speech, what would you say? BEDM - Day 12.

If I had to make a speech, if I had the opportunity to broadcast a message that would be heard by lots of people, what message would be sufficiently important to best capitalise on this rare circumstance? What could I say that wouldn’t squander this opportunity to be widely heard?

DON’T BE A DICK, would be my keynotes address of choice.

JUST BE NICE.  The three little words by which I try to operate, and the simplest distillation of wisdom I try to instil in my new class each year. I would say this...

When you’re walking along the pavement in a pair or a group, concertina yourselves to take up just a little bit less space, so other people can get by coming the other way. Don’t make us walk in the gutter, and just barrel forward because you want to walk two or three abreast. I’ve noticed this a lot lately.  Often, @superlative and I will adjust formation and walk one behind the other as we pass people, to allow everyone to continue on a narrow pavement. Many other people do the same.  Lots though, and it does seem to be a lot, now crash on, and make you walk in single file, IN THE GUTTER, so they don’t have to move.  Because... because they don’t care.

Don’t be a dick. Just be nice.

If you’re a pedestrian waiting to cross the road, and a car stops to allow you across, by all means walk at a reasonable pace- no-one need run. But don’t walk deliberately slowly because you’re texting. Or for any other reason. That person has stopped out of courtesy, when they really needn’t have- you could do the same and walk at a normal pace, to acknowledge that you don’t want to waste their time.

Don’t be a dick, just be nice.

If you’re parallel parking on a street, at the of a row of bays, try to go all the way to the end. Don’t park your car 6 feet from the end of the bay, leaving a massive amount of space, but insufficient room for anyone to actually fit a car in. This just means that there’s generally less space and someone won’t be able to park tonight. It’s like parking slap in the middle of two spaces and robbing another resident of a space.

Don’t be a dick. Just be nice.

And if you’re leaving a shop, don’t walk through the main door and then stop immediately you find yourself outside. There will likely be people leaving behind you, walking behind you because you are probably also walking very slowly. These people will then come to a complete stop behind you, because you are now blocking the door. They will be trapped and unable to escape and may become frustrated.

Don’t be a dick.  Just be nice.

And if you’re a cyclist, riding to work in the rush hour, and there is a massive empty cycle lane running the entire length of the road out of town, use it. Don’t cycle along in the road, limiting every road user to your 6 mile an hour speed. You have an entire special lane, built specifically for you at great expense to local residents, about 2 feet further to your left. It’s right next to you, and you could use it much more safely, and allow car drivers to then go at a more appropriate speed.

Don’t be a dick. Just be nice.

In short, try to think about other people. Say ‘thanks’ or give the little nod when someone waves you across, or lets your past. Walk as quickly as you realistically can to avoid holding people up needlessly, especially if they’ve stopped to let you past. Pull over to answer your phone when you’re walking through the shops. Don’t just stop dead in your tracks and cause a people-pile-up outside Next. Think about other people and not just yourself.  Try to be nice.

Don’t be a dick.



Thank you all for coming; it’s been an honour to give this address. I hope you have found it useful and thought-provoking, and I wish you all the best on your departure. Thank you.




Sunday, 11 May 2014

Which 3 things have you been meaning to do for ages?

Tricky, tricky, tricky.

See, I’m a doer- I get things done.  Well – most of the time. I’m only human, after all. But I don’t like lingering jobs. Between my enthusiasm for getting up, getting out and getting stuff done and @superlative’s administrative power, we are quite efficient. Nothing gets left for too long.

We may well look ridiculous now, if he says completely the opposite, and there are loads of lingering things to do on his list.

But I doubt there will be.  We are a powerhouse of efficiency and organisation.

Even weird stuff, like my sit-ups and press-ups regimen, which oscillates a bit depending what social engagements require me to get my kit off, never lapses too much.  I’m a bit lazy at the moment, but still doing quite a bit. I’m not in the shape I was last summer, but it’s not radically different. I never leave it too long, or get too sloppy.

And I want to do things like play Resident Evil 2 (PS1!!) again.  Which will take a few hours, and I haven’t yet, but I will.  But it’s not exactly something I’ve been meaning to do for ages and ages though.

So this list is going to look a bit pathetic, and will be populated by things that really aren’t very important (all that shit gets done right away), or aren’t very interesting, or things I can’t do for specific reasons. So here we go...

1) Paint the house.
Actually, I did that.  I need to do Simon’s bathroom, but then we’re done. But it’s made the list because it sat NOT getting done for 3 years.  But I found a free day the other day and caned our fairly massive living room, which took hours and was back-breaking.  But there you go.  I’m efficient. I need one more free day and Mission: HousePaint will be complete. (I told you it wasn’t very exciting.)

2) Hoover my car.
Wow, it’s a thrill-ride on here today!  The excitement is palpable! Yeah – I keep my car looking nice because I am kind of OBSESSED WITH MY CAR.  I don’t have a child.  I don’t WANT a child.  But my car is my baby. But with Brighton being Brighton, and us being right by the seafront, parking is a bit involved. I can’t get the hoover to reach out into the street where I park, even when I’m directly outside. So my poor Thunderbolt has to wait until his annual MOT and service for the nice people at Renault to hoover out his innards.

3) Comics.
This is kind of stupid, but I can draw.  As you know, I love comics, and I used to draw lots of comicy things back in the day.  All the time in fact. And I was alright – pretty good, when it went well, though there are always some ropey productions. I’ve ALWAYS been meaning to draw an actual comic.  I’ve had a vague storyline chopping and changing and being slowly edited away in my head for about 15 years, and I always mean to spend one summer putting pen to paper and making it finally happen.  Nothing too epic, just a one shot intro to a story I’ve thought about. Twenty pages maybe -  just a single book that is self contained but introduces a larger story.


This is my real putter-offer. It may not happen, as it is quite an enterprise, and there are always other things to do in the holidays, like play Resident Evil 2, do sit-ups and paint the house. But I hope one day I actually get it done.  It isn’t important, so it moves down the list, but it would be nice to see it come to fruition one day...


Some old (OLD!) prelim panels of some comicy bits I was thinking about writing...