Friday 4 December 2009

It's a man's world

I'm concerned that in an all-male household, the boy is failing to grasp some of the important things in life. The things that make a man a man. Take last night, he grumbled he had a sore throat, "It's like I've got a tennis ball shoved down there" he said. He had some Benilyn and at precisely eight minutes past nine took himself to bed. Not a moan or a groan to be heard from him. Naturally I had been alll sympathy and understanding, "Oh dear" was my response. This morning he woke up and got up (before me as usual), managed to shower and fix breakfast before I could utter, "So how are you tthis morning" "Better than last night" he said.

So from this I have deduced that he has failed to grasp the concept of Man Flu. That horribly repelent illness that inflicts us men so badly. Swine Flu is as nothing by comparison. The aches, the pains, the nausea, the prospect of imminent death are all symptons,with only a long-suffering female to tend to your every need (whim) able to alleviate this marauding sickness.

I feel that the issue needs to be addressed in some way. But which way, or when I'm just not sure. After all I have no intention of taking over the role of Florence. But if he doesn't understand the rules, how on earth will he be able to grow up, marry and make someone's life entirely miserable....or at least a life of servitude and inequality?

Whilst the boy was suffering his own misery, I managed to avoid mine. Last night was ironing night. It was ironing night because the airing cupboard is full to overflowing with shirts, socks and man pants. Only the former get ironed. It is a task I loathe and despise above all others in my life. I do it as infrequently as possible, and then always under protest. Last night I incentivised myself by having a tumbler of red wine, known in our house as Vino Collapso. As it turned out that didn't motivate me. Nor did the big tub of Ben and Jerry's Pfish Food that followed. In fact I was tipsy and full, and went to bed with the entire pile left in the airing cupboard. Any volunteers?

Thursday 3 December 2009

There was a powerful smell of eau de cologne when we walked through the doors

Yes we must have been dining out in Chigwell. At a pub restaurant that was quite close in character to a Harvester. The difference being that the people were ever so smart and the car park was full of Porsches and Range Rovers. There were plenty of perma tanned blondes (with their wives), some shirts open to their waist (almost) and even the odd gold chain. This is the land where the local clothes shop has been known to receive an order by text from Rio the value of £31,000. Mind you with jeans a thousand pounds a pop, that's not too many items is it?

The food was.....well just about the same as you get in a Harvester. That's not fair. It was slightly better. My pork kebabs were fine. The wine was a Montepulciano. Although it didn't actually say that on the label. It did on the wine list. I'm not sure if that's quite right?

The strange thing about LaLa Land is that there's so much money sploshing about that you are border line poor if you only have one Porsche and one Range Rover on your drive. By comparison we live well below the poverty line. I was once pulled over by PC Plod on London Bridge for a 'routine check'. When he saw my address, his comment was that 'Even the poor people are rich there." I'm not sure if it helped or hindered my cause.

There is no appreciation of fine food around here at all. I find that bizarre. Plenty of tacky night clubs, and chain cafes. But not a decent gastro-pub or a not-quite Michelin starred restaurant. Not even the pub at the beauty spot of High Beech serves anything better than a dried up bacon butty or sausage and eggs.

The boy was abandoned at home to play with matches and sharp knives. He had a Waitrose steak and ale pie and oodles of mash. He may well have had the better meal.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Butcher, baker and candlestick maker

I'm sitting here with a sore head. Not a bear with a sore head. But one of those fuggy, thumpy heads that sits on top of a weary, sluggish body. It's not my fault. Last night I met up for the annual reunion with my old school chums. And we had a good turn out - there was eight of us. We religiously go to the Anchor & Hope which is a fine gastro pub on The Cut by Waterloo. We consumed beer and wine.

We're a mixed bunch these days, and I remember the first time we did it, sitting there thinking "What on earth am I doing with these conservative, middle aged men?". It took a couple of goes before I got it...even though I had been the one that had encouraged the get together. Of the eight of us 4 were divorced and four still married. My guess is that of the latter four only two haven't strayed.

Our group consisted of someone who is VERY VERY SENIOR indeed in Lloyds (insurance not banking). He earns more in a week than I do in a year. Footballers wages. And one day he will be at least a Sir, and probably a Lord, chest decorated with an MBE, CBE or OBE. He was always the sensible clever one who would catch the attention of the teachers. His career choice entirely suits him. He has achieved everything you would expect.

Then we have the banker who stumbled in his career and is now a regulator...but not on the mainland. He was head of house. Three years ago, he dropped me a line to say his marriage of twenty years was over. He didn't seem to know why, which distressed me. He was nonchalant, and asked for advice on where to find 'women'. The only thing I could offer was that after a period of 'chasing tail' he would get bored and want to find someone permanent in his life again. Last night he thanked me for that advice. He has indeed found someone to settle with.

There is the GP from the home counties. Married for all his adult life and very settled where he lives. As a boy, his parents were in the forces and moved regularly. He has treasured the certainty of life as a pillar of local society. A while ago, he and I went clubbing, but the allure of dancing with girls less than half our age soon faded. Even if we thought 'We still have it'

The entrepreneur who sells medical devices. Always has has a glint in his eye, and not even a bald head can diminish that. Now on his second marriage, and to the daughter of our old physics master. But for all his spirit and charm, he's not quite as successful as I would have expected. I'm not sure why - what is it that makes some people fantastically successful, and others not. Perhaps the roving eye applies as much in business as it does at home.

The Sikh who now has to be called by his proper name, rather than Ali which we knew him as at school. That has Muslim connotations. Many a fun hour was had stretching his starched turban fabric so he could wrap it round his head. He is charming, well mannered and restrained and I would trust him with my life. And it's interesting to remember with him all the things we all did as unruly kids, and compare that to the man we see now. I like that he is very much part of the clearly defined Sikh culture, but can still seamlessly join in with us. It is how it should be.

There is a garage door salesman. Never a great academic, but a good sportsman. Even thirty years later, the shortest email from him can take an hour to decipher. And his claim this year was to spend an hour on the Fourth Plinth, promoting the benefits of the Scouting movement. He has a special place in our hearts as it was he that inspired the boy to learn to swim.

And then lastly there was the boy who was rubbish at sports, rubbish at school work but remained a popular boy for his offbeat humour. All the teachers predicted he would go nowhere, and it is good that he has proved them wrong by rising to be a Director of a large insurance business. Happily married with two lovely children. And not only that, he runs, rides and swims triathlons. Which he started doing in his forties. That should be an inspiration to anyone. Good man.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Top of the class

I don't much care for school league tables in the same way I don't much care for hospital league tables, or any other league tables that the government has cobbled together in the last dozen years. Actually I don't like league tables full stop - given that my favourite football team is wallowing somewhere near the bottom of what I always used to know as Division Two. For me the Government's approach has led to box ticking, with a single-minded focus on achieving a good result irrespective of whether it achieves real quality or actually benefits the person going through the system, whether it's as a pupil or a patient. I've been told on more than one occasion by SOMEONE WHO KNOWS that actually the success or failure of a school is more to do with the number of parents who have middle-class attitudes to education and insist their children buckle down to the daily homework. Who knows, perhaps it's an urban myth....

I know at the boy's current school, they are limited in the number of GCSEs they can take because fewer A* grades is better than more subjects at a lower level of achievement...I'm not sure whether that is a good or a bad thing, but I know it meant the boy had to drop one subject he wanted to take further. In this case though, the restriction is nothing to do with government league tables, and more to do with the criteria that universities set for entry. Who knows, perhaps its just Oxford or Cambridge....

I happened to notice on the Beeb today I could check the primary school I did, which is odd given that I have 15 hours work to do in less than eight, and I have no intention whatsoever of ever producing another mini-NB. And I can't help but admit that I was please to see that my primary school was in the Top 5 for Essex. I know you're not supposed to look at it like that. But I did. And I was pleased. This was my first primary school...the village one. The one that is now described as a 'community primary'...I don't know why they need to call it that...surely a village is a community?

I don't remember too much about it really...I think I left there for private education at about the age of 8. If I remember rightly, the termly fee was £45, and on one occasion I lost the cheque I was supposed to hand in. I think I was in a lot of trouble for that.

But back to my original school. There are only four things that come to mind. Once I left the classroom with a friend thinking it was play time. After hanging around in the playground for what seemed hours (but was probably two minutes), we decided we must be wrong and returned to the classroom, claiming we had gone to the toilet. I can't remember if we were told off for that.

Secondly I remember getting hit full in the face by a football. It stung beyond measure. I'm sure I didn't cry. Perhaps I did. I never enjoyed playing football after that. Nor rugby. Small things can be life-changing.

Thirdly I remember Mrs Newman. Or in fact Mrs Newman's classroom. Perhaps her name was Newcombe. It was a little while ago. The thing about her classroom was that it was a caravan. They call them Portakabins, but we all know that's a fancy name for a caravan. It was clean, modern and light and bright. Unlike the brick classrooms. What on earth I was taught I have no idea.

Lastly I remember during a noisy classroom session, someone put a drawing pin on my chair for me to sit on. A girl snatched it away at the last minute and saved me. I think I still love her for that. If only I could remember her name, what she looked like and her voice it would be perfect. Perhaps.

Monday 30 November 2009

Toy Story

After weeks of procrastination and excuse-making, I finally managed to persuade my weary limbs to climb back on the bike to cycle to work. It had gone through a phase of not being quite right...not changing gear, flat tyres, broken hub, broken front cogs which gave me plenty of reason to stay on two wheels with an engine. Of course when it's a 16 mile journey, the weather has to be right too...not too much wind, or indeed rain (strangely I don't mind the rain too much, it's quite refreshing). Not that I've been entirely without pursuit of the boy's quest for Bronze, Duke of Edinburgh Award, we have been making a weekly pilgrimage to the Redbridge Cycling Centre...but an hour round the circuit is not the same as a 32 mile round trip.

And many things have changed in the last few weeks - notably the Olympic site is going up at a's good to see. But one sad change is that they have started to knock down the old Lesney Industries factory. Lesney was, of course, the owner of Matchbox cars. And many, many a happy childhood hour was spent vroom vroom vrooming across the swirly carpet. Matchbox cars had the benefit of being pocket-money size and price, so whilst Corgi toys were bigger and better, they were reserved for Christmas and Birthdays. Hot Wheels were the great upstart...very fast when pushed hard, but most of their models bore no resemblance to any vehicle I've ever seen. So although the factory has been closed for many years, it feels that this is the passing of an era. Car games are now played on the screen with an X-Box or PlayStation - no doubt better in many ways, but I'm not sure it's quite the same experience. Perhaps it's time to pull up the arm chair and get out my pipe and slippers whilst downing a whiskey and reading The Times.

Down in Brighton, another era is about to pass. The boy's toy-room was emptied for redecoration, and now looks splendid, but rather more minimalist. The one toy that remains is the Playstation. The rest were loaded into boxes and sit forlornly in the dining room (well, there was simply no where else for them) waiting to be sorted into 'keep because it is still played with' (remote control cars, planes, boats, robots, and erm dinosaurs), 'keep because it has real sentimental value' (wooden train track), 'chuck because it's broken' (any expensive plastic must-have toy of the moment - Tracey Island) or 'give away' (everything else that's still working and in OK condition). That will be a challenge...especially not allowing sentimentality to get in the way of common sense - and I certainly don't want to be the victim of accusations when the boy is all grown up of "I can't believe you threw away that...I loved it". For the toys that are to be given away, I need to find the right charity...I already donate on a monthly basis to Save the Children, so am tempted to donate to the children of Palestine, who seem to suffer in an unreasonable and unbearable way. Any other suggestions equally welcomed.