Wednesday, February 25, 2009


(All images taken with a not-top-of-the-range phone)

I went up north this past weekend.

On Friday morning, on a whim, I decided to take the M6 route - up to Junction 38 (Tebay Services), then across (A66), then Barnard Castle, Raby Castle, the Aucklands, on and in. The A50 > A38 (skimming Derby) > M1 > A1 > A167 alternative just isn't the same without those big industrial chimneys near Sheffield.

Listening to: The Quiet Curse of Demolition, by Everywhere Looks the Same.

It was somewhere in the low 30s junction numbers that the horizon really began to change, and the simple raw beauty of the Pennines caught me by implausible surprise. I'd driven this route dozens of times, albeit not at all in the last few years.

Approaching the westerly-most reaches of Durham, through fog, there they were - snow-flat-capped hills. Had I been holidaying with a lovebird, then maybe a lay-by, a stretch and chill deep breaths would have been on. Instead, the herbal tablets, the CD changer and I cracked on.

Listening to: Somewhere Bound, by Kirk Merrington for Lunch.

As with Terence Stamp, grey but gorgeous nonetheless.

Not many miles from the family home, I was taken aback in Tindale. Even here, the architectural equivalent of impetigo did its thing.

Amongst family, I forgot about pictures and blogging and all else. I sat back and laughed along to the sweet ferocious banter of the other Wexford offspring.
Prior to Saturday's football trip, sister and her copper girlfriend, their dog and me, went for a walk by the rec' in Kirk Merrington - near to where the last grandparent lives.
Over to the south east - some 30 or so miles away, Roseberry Topping dominated the horizon, just as it had on the Sunday afternoons of my childhood. To my right, a small dog wrestled with a tennis ball at the feet of copper girlfriend.

Though I'm not really a dog person, I did quite like the hound's mindless zest.

The playground, where we would compete to see who could jump furthest from the swings.

And the roundabout, that I always thought seemed a bit dangerous.

Later, there was the football - a nil-nil draw between Middlesbrough and Wigan - not as bad as it might sound. Middlesbrough were light up front, but otherwise fine. Wigan were generally square of shoulder, and blunt in attack.
Before the game, the ladies settled themselves - Teesside spirit.

After a Saturday evening meal out, at the Duke of Wellington pub, we all returned to the parents' house. The dog - the cute one whose name that I've forgotten - appreciated playful attention. But oh my no my - it posed the pose of a truly mentalist dog - what with its big teeth and glaring eyes.

I wondered how much effort would be called for, in order to contrive an image that would be really spooky.

Really not much effort at all.
My family are nice people - honest. Not like those people who have crazy dogs that eat people or anything. Besides, sister and the copper and the dog live in Gateshead - I reckon it's probably a bit rough over there.
On Sunday, I returned south and west for a testing, stretching week.
Faith - the dog was called Faith.
Listening to: His Body, by Man En Route to Bed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I'm going to Middlesbrough on Saturday. It's not punishment or anything. I want to go. It's all part of the broad cultural experience of visiting my family.
Over the Christmas break, I decided to see more of the blood relatives this year. And so I'm wondering, will brother and his partner seem any more well-matched. Will sister and her copper girlfriend (now she would have been ideal for brother) continue with their appallingly modern charm (they actually take walks on the beach with the dog - bitches*). And on Friday, will I dare to 'go out' in Durham - you know, where people from the past lurk.
And when it comes to late Saturday afternoon, I know that I'll fancy going out for food that evening. And so I'll mention it to brother and sister, and they'll likely concur. And we could ask our parents. But then I'll want to nudge them in the direction of somewhere that they've not been before, like say, for a Thai or an Indian or Anything At All That is Just a Tiny Bit Different From What They're Used To. But then I'll anticipate their discomfort, and I'll wonder whether it's wrong to try to confer my tastes onto them - like for the few years before they begged me to stop buying them theatre tickets for birthdays and Christmas presents.
On this occasion, a draw would be welcome,
As welcome as a frustrating home win.

* affectionate.

Friday, February 13, 2009


At 8:10pm, Emma arrived at Alex's school for her parents' evening meeting with his teacher, Mrs Jay. Meanwhile, Alex and I trogged through bath-time, pyjama-time and then we settled into a few games of pre-bed-time chess (he has been teaching me 'castling').

By 8:45pm, Emma was back. She entered Alex's bedroom with a half-suppressed smile on her face.

Emma: Well, would you like to hear what Mrs Jay said?

Shane: Yeah.

Alex: Let's hear the good stuff.

(There couldn't really be any bad stuff, could there.)

Emma: you're doing well, and she says that you're a pleasure to have in the class.

Alex: Mm. So that's it, then. Good.

Emma: But she also said that she knows that you can do more than you sometimes do.

Alex: What does that mean?

Emma: When you talk to the teacher, she says that you come out with some beautiful words - so she knows that you've got a good vocabulary.

Alex: Mm.

Emma: But sometimes, she says that you seem to just want to write enough to ensure that you don't get into trouble.

Alex: Obviously.

Shane: Whoaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Wait there, young hound. You should be showing her how amazing you can be.

Emma: That's right. She says that today when she asked you to develop some of your sentences, you pointed out that you were already ahead of some of the others -

Shane: Did you really?

Alex: Mm, I was*. [* Such an objection would have seemed way off-the-scale when I was that age]

Shane: Nice one, young bud' (holds out side-on fist for chummy fist bump).

Alex: (Fist bumps) (Smiles)

Emma: The point is that it's not about the others, it's about what you're capable of and what you actually do. So let's see you trying to wow Mrs Jay with your writing from now on, eh. Let's see if you can write as well as you can talk.

Alex: Cheese!** [** A juvenile reaction to anything that's especially good, bad, or worthy of note.]

Emma: Mm. But otherwise, it's good to hear that you're doing well. She also said that you've got more depth than a lot of the other boys (Alex frowns) - that means that you've a lot of interests and aren't just totally focused on one thing, or on one group of people - says that you get on with everyone. Also mentioned that other teachers have asked 'who the little boy with the dark hair and the good manners is' - seems that those pleases and thank yous that Daddy keeps going on at you about have been sinking in.

Alex: Mm.

Altogether, this was a pleasing review. I'd been disappointed at not being able to attend (kith and kin unavailable for child-minding). As I listened to Emma's commentary, I began to wonder - do I overestimate the extent to which I impact on the boy's well-being and upbringing. In a self-aggrandising sort of way, I wanted (more) credit for what good qualities were emerging in the boy.

Final chess score:
Alex 2 - 1 Shane (aggregate 3 - 3)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


In my slow-readerish way, I'm nearing the end of Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost. It's very tense.

Last night, I stayed up late. Locked into the book, resisting the smarter part of me - 'Put it down, you're tired', I learned that there was a historical link between the security guard and the music store duty manager. I learned that the shopping centre has sealed off corridors - this felt like a big detail, a detail to be returned to later. And I've a feeling that there's something about the other security guard - the profoundly dull one - that's, well, not so dull. Maybe he's a red herring. Or maybe I've completely missed what would be blatantly obvious to every other reader - this happens sometimes. I don't know, but soon I'll find out. And when I do find out, then I'll know.

That tension that I mentioned at the beginning, I can feel it in my chest right now.

Maybe it's just a mild heart attack that I'm misattributing.

I don't know what I'll read next. Some Howard Jacobson thing was mentioned by Emma's parents last night. They said they thought that I might like that. Then her Mum said, 'But there's some very rude bits in it... and it's called 'Coming from Behind''. Then Emma and her Mum laughed until her Mum nearly wept a tear. Her Dad and I mirrored slight frowns.

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UPDATE: Okayyyyyyyyyyyyyy, I finished it. That was clever - bringing that one back into it (not as a baddie, though - and therein lies the clever bit). Of course, it all seems obvious now.

Having noted others' interest in this, in the past, I just had a look at the NaNoWriMo website. As per my attitude towards participatory lexicography, 'Interesting, to be encouraged, but not for me'.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Not to be taken too seriously, The Culture Show blog mentions that Alfred Brendel has shared his five essentials. This brings to mind the reverse of Room 101, which Stephen Fry posited as 'Room Lovely' - those things that might easily be overlooked, but that are worth celebrating. After a moment's pondering, I arrive at my Five Essentials:-

1. Good conversation. Hence, sitting amongst friends and family, and listening to lots of spoken word radio programmes and some TV too.

2. Learning (related to the above point). I know that I don't know, a lot.

3. Foul weather. Walking in the rain with loved ones, being braced against a chill wind, huddling up against the cold - it all makes the hot chocolate at the end of the road that little bit better.

4. Reading for relaxation. To have time to do this, regularly (I'm a slow-reader), is a luxury of the highest order.

5. Playing football. On occasions, this can be as artful, as evidence of a particular kind of intelligence, and as good a stress-buster as anything. In the world. Ever. Almost.

Maybe take a moment to consider your own essentials. It'll make you glow inside. Sharing welcome.