Sunday, November 25, 2007


Having been away in Bournemouth for a couple of days, I returned to find Emma immersed in a local debate about schools and education generally. She explained:

Emma: …So you see, I – we – we’re all for making schools better and improving everyone’s chances, but if the changes that have to be made to make improvement happen means that kids at good schools have to move or be integrated into wholly different mixes of kids and teachers as part of wholesale systemic change, then I’m not sure that change can be such a good thing… if some have got to lose out for others to gain.

I considered this, and replied - something along the lines of that being a great middle class tension – the kind of sentiment that underpins the idea that when there’s a case of haves and have-nots, you have to ensure that the haves become the haves-for-keeps before the have-nots can be raised. Clear enough? Admittedly, a bit wanky, but still, we were understanding one other, or so I thought.

Emma: You see, you make a lot of sense, I’m sure, but y’ know…
Shane: (pause) What?
Emma: Well, I just can’t take you seriously when you’re wearing that sweater.

Shane: It’s my new favourite lounging about the house sweater.
Emma: Yes. And it’s come all the way from America, because your old blogger friend sent it, because he said your’s was one of the better entries in a caption contest, yes, you might have mentioned something about that.
Shane: Mm.
Emma: But you do look ridiculous, you do know that?
Shane: (pause) Jim doesn’t think so.
Emma: Jim is a cat.
Shane: He tried to wear the sweater too.
Emma: No – he tried to use the sweater as bedding as he commandeered the box that the sweater was posted in.

The sweater brought much mirth to the homestead.

Love from a whole household in the English Midlands to the University of Oregon… Ducks (Go Ducks! etc etc), and to all who support them.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


So, as my brief trip to London drew to an end, I had one final mission to complete:

On foot, at 9:08am, I passed the attractive Kew Gardens Hotel.

Soon, I was waiting to move along the District Line; as were others.

Kew Gardens (District Line) – we begin.

South Kensington – I look forward to seeing Emma and Alex later.


Embankment – ‘Change for the Northern Line’.

Embankment (Northern Line) – very busy.

EustonI’ll be back.

Mornington Crescent – I feel a bit nervous.

Tufnell Park – A young man up the carriage puts away the script he was reading. He now opts for a… an A to Z! Excellent! I’m not the only one heading into the unknown.

East Finchley – Get off.

I turn left out of the station, a one mile walk ahead of me. The street is the most spacious that I’ve walked all weekend.

Though there is much to engage with – many more eateries than I’d have imagined, I am focused on my immediate destination.

As I approach, it is further brought to mind.

The cemetery is vast. It is also pleasingly well-kept.

Autumn is stamped across the grounds.

I wonder where bench seat culture - seats as memorials - emerged from.

Mid-morning and the air remains crisp.

After a ten minute walk across the park-like surroundings, I am at the junction of Joint Road and Strawberry Vale Brook. Over to the left, I hear the distant buzz of maintenance machinery combine with the constant whirr of the north circular ring-road:

To the right is the section that I am interested in:

A more modest section for sure, though that’s no surprise.

Here, I am within yards of my destination, as I begin to understand the ordering of the graves. I am not sure what to expect, though it seems that each small stone or cross bears only one name. I presume that this whole section is – was - for the unknown and the poor.

I have a grave number – 25192, though I see no numbers upon the graves.

The section is the size of a large garden. There is a great orderliness about the lay-out of the graves. It would not be impossible to walk amongst the graves and to wait for my uncle’s name to register. So I do. My heart-rate is up.

Two thirds of the way towards the far corner of the section, I turn to take in the space from a different angle. And I notice that upon the back of one of the larger stones is a number – a five-digit number. My task has become much easier. A quick scan of other stones – brushing aside leaves and scraping away occasional moss – indicates that the grave numbers descend right to left, and from back to front.

Confidently, I walk by six or seven columns of stones and recognise a number that is close to that which I seek.

Counting down, I stop by the stone which I believe to be the one. It is obstructed by minor fauna, which I sweep aside. The name does not match, so I check the number. I have over-counted by one. I am seeking the previous stone, and so I return to it and with the in-step of my right foot, I sweep away some obstructive leaves.

But again, the name does not match. This is a little confusing. I check the number. It is one above my target.

And slowly, it dawns.
The unnatural, slightly out-of-sync space between these last two stones is for a reason.

Not only is 25192 ‘a public grave which means there are other unrelated people buried in this grave’, as I had been advised by the Memorial Administration Officer, but it is also unmarked.

I had not imagined this. Unsure of what to feel or to think, I cast my gaze around me. The tree that would shadow this space seems to take on a greater degree of import. Perhaps I try to make acceptable - less distasteful - this unanticipated void, but perhaps I don’t need to.

My return to the gate of the cemetery is a sad one. Befitting the whole journey that I have come on, I have been moved by an absence (as I later had explained to me by a very dear friend). It seems that the absence of a stone is appropriate for a life that, when push came to shovel in 1985, would seem not to have mattered. After all, who would there have been to have cared about a stone or any other memorial.
By the time I re-enter the station at East Finchley, I am over the immediate sadness that I felt.

And so on to Euston, where I immediately board my train.

This is a journey that has come to an end. I return home.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I have known it.

Saturday saw me make an early morning departure from our provincial homestead. At the station, torpor seemed to be the general air amongst those heading for the capital.

On platform number one, I gazed over a constellation of chewing gum.

En route, I worked, I planned and I dreamed.

Alighting at Euston, I headed further south and west.

My host - the professor - and I walked, talked, drank, and later took in a really very good film.

A world away in my nation’s capital:

Sunday saw us a little hung over, but still up for a visit to Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. In particular, Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth – essentially, a much-discussed-elsewhere crack in the floor – was of interest.
En route, we passed cake-sellers.

We took the tube.

Crossing the Millenium Bridge, we approached our destination from north of the river.

Looking back, one of Louise Bourgeois’ spiders neatly framed St Paul’s.

Inside the Tate, we walked the crack, we talked the crack.

It was good to see and hear people putting a lot of themselves into their visits and experiences of the exhibition, or the crack.

As with so many other pieces of art, the official blurb that went with the piece tended to detract from what could be made of the work… it seemed intent on telling us what we were experiencing. Still, spurred with new ideas around buildings and spaces and the non-/invasiveness of art, we were ready to further fuel ourselves, and so took a late lunch in the outdoor chill of the south bank.

Back at the prof’s house, we drank wine and watched a recording of the previous evening’s Strictly Come Dancing. We agreed that if he could marry John Barnes, then I should be allowed – in another life - to marry Nicole Cutler. What riotous lads we were.

Altogether, it had been a very brief trip, but a good one nonetheless.

Next morning, Monday, with a beetroot, orange and carrot combo, I readied myself for the return home.

But before I returned, there was one final, personal, mission that I had to lay to rest…

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Emma is a vegetarian. I am not. Having snacked her way to completing her PhD thesis, Emma is now on the Food Doctor diet. Though I am not, I am enjoying most of the FD’s meal suggestions.

Today, Emma plumped for a healthy lunch. I did not.

As I stood in the kitchen, pouring a drink, a nightingale sang:

Emma: (calling) That is pathetic!
Shane: (calling) What?
Emma: (calling) You have constructed a ham roof for your chips!

Returning, I met Emma’s eye.

Shane: The roof is in your best interests.
Emma: (pause) I suppose you think that’s funny.
Shane: Now, don’t let the ham come between us… my love.
Emma: (a sort of harrumphing snort noise)

See, when Emma said that I had to support her with the diet, I listened.

Go me!

Monday, November 05, 2007


On Friday evening, Alex and I prepared chocolate apples. It was messy, it was a bit disorderly, it was fun. From the kitchen window, we could see our relit pumpkin:

Alex: We can sell these apples for ten pounds each.
Shane: We can try.

Saturday dawned a misty, drizzly dawn, as my parents departed the North East to visit us. Emma set about making the house look habitable, as I took Alex to his football training session.

He enjoyed getting muddy.

Alex: I think I need some football boots – I was slipping over in my trainers.
Shane: Mm, ok.
Alex: Maybe I could get some like Cristiano Ronaldo's.
Shane: Or maybe those black and silver ones that were about eighty pounds cheaper.
Alex: Yeah.
Shane: Good man.

Back at home, we found Jim conducting a review of home security.

Jim’s report featured:

‘…a strong recommendation for increased cat rations, commensurate with the intensive perimeter monitoring that is a necessary response to the severe threat posed to food supplies by neighbouring domestic animals…’

He seemed to know what he was talking about.

At 1pm, my parents arrived. We lunched, then walked and talked. My Mum seemed happy, though Dad occasionally struggled – he was nursing a back injury. We talked about his older brother, who retired recently.

I had already chosen to not share with my Dad what I’d learned of his missing younger brother. My sister was sure that this was the right choice, for now. Given his relative fragility (no pun intended), I had to agree.

We went to a pub for an early evening meal, and were joined by Emma’s parents. Though it was all very pleasant, from where I sit, it always strikes me that Emma’s and my parents live highly dissimilar lives – in ways that make me wish for more for my parents. Emma rebukes me for such thinking.

At 6:30pm, Emma, Alex, and my parents and I headed for a ‘Fireworks Extravaganza’ – the kind that comes with a fairground and a small pop concert.
Alex had a good time as my parents headed for the concert stage to watch QEII (Queen tribute), McFli (McFly), Cher Tribute (Cher) and Ded Hot Chili Peppers (Red Hot Chili Peppers).

As Emma, Alex and I rejoined my parents, they reported having had a very good time watching the concert. I regretted that I’d missed the opportunity to see what Cher would have looked like, outdoors on a cold November evening.

Shane: What did Cher look like?
Dad: (pause) Like Cher.
Mum: She was hardly gonna look like Meatloaf, was she?
Shane: I suppose not.
Emma: (suppressed smile)

Then there was a countdown.
And then 15 minutes of:
There were big ugly fireworks:

But much more prettily:

Back at home, we drank hot chocolate. Alex was revelling in having such a late night. He headed for the fridge, and joined us carrying a plate of chocolate apples.

Mum: Wow! Who made those?
Alex: Me and Shane, last night. Do you want one?
Mum: Ohhh, I shouldn’t, but ok then - just the one.
Alex: (straight) That’s ten pounds please.
Mum: Oh, very funny.
Alex: No, really – they’re ten pounds – Shane and me decided.
Mum: But I don’t have any money on me.
Alex: That’s ok – Shane can pay for you.
Mum: What a good idea. (Takes apple) Thank you.
Alex: You’re welcome. (To Shane) You owe me ten pounds.

It was all very warming to see my Mum and Alex bond over the matter of shaking down Shane for a cool tenner.

My parents returned to the North East on Sunday. Upon their return, my Mum sent me a text:

Thank you for lovely weekend. Have got upset stomach. Had to stop twice on way back. Think it was choc apple. Mam.X

I have referred the matter to Alex. He refuses to respond until he receives payment for the chocolate apple. This will not be happening. Thus, impasse and a black mark to the Customer Relations Department.