Thursday, January 28, 2010


(With updates, below)

From a very young age, I had a sense of 'power relations'. Whether concerned with big public institutions - schools, police, family, or with social microcosms - teacher/pupil, mam/dad, copper/youth, I had an interest in how and why things were the way they were. In common with this, I found any kind of serious debate engaging - as much for the way in which arguments were substantiated, as for which way they were won, lost or left undetermined. Remaining the case, I would go on to read of rhetoric.

At school in the mid-late 1980s, I sat in a year group assembly, with around 150 of my peers, and began to listen to some bloke (not a teacher) talk about 'politics'. I imagine that he was an officer from some ill-thought-through local authority scheme - through which young minds were to become switched on to matters political. Over the course of the man's talk - thirty minutes at most, I found myself becoming more and more engaged. This was countered by a murmur, that became a rumble, that became outright disruption, from at least 100 of my fellow audience members. At the time, I realised that the speaker's task was thankless, and his approach - reasoning with us - ambitious. These were the days before drama and dance and hip-hop were taken to be the way to reach errant youngsters. I also guessed that the man at the front was 'the kind of person who didn't shout at children'. During what was probably a fairly grim half hour for him, he lobbed a few questions at our braying mass. Some fell into no man's land, others didn't get that far. I still don't know why the bystanding teachers left it until after he had departed to berate us - their own kind of theatre, perhaps.

That day, the point at which I noticed the background noise came a moment after I'd answered a question that the visitor had called out. To have answered at all was a bit out there, but to have to repeat myself felt a bit much.

'Tony Blair', I repeated, for he was our MP at the time. Fresh-faced, ambitious, going places.

As irrelevant or as dull as such talk may have been to so many of us back then, I'm minded to wonder about how many of that assembly were later touched, destroyed, or otherwise supported or ground down, by decisions and alliances forged on Tony Blair's watch. I'm also wondering what became of that day's guest speaker - people don't plan to go in for that sort of punishment, surely.

Tomorrow, I'll listen to Blair's evidence to The Iraq Inquiry. And later, I'll listen to the maintream fall-out from it.

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UPDATE (Fri, 11:35am): I found myself recalling being examined for the Ph.D., this morning - something to do with semiotics and seating arrangements. The Inquiry panel seemed to be more visibly nervous as today's session began. Blair also very tense to start with - seems to have relaxed into it. The pre-session Five Live phone-in was predictably grim. I sometimes wonder whether they sift out those callers who might seem to be possessed of balance and articulacy (...regardless of their bottom-line position).

UPDATE (Fri 4:19pm): Getting towards the end of the session, and I'd say that there's little that hasn't been heard before being aired. The nature of the questioning and answering has made me reflect upon contrasting styles of interrogation - the hard-headed, in-your-face journalist versus the stealthy, catch-you-with-defences-down approach, versus something that is a bit more zingy - something purely about fact-finding, rather than generating news, or a peformance, or a political blow. That's about it.

UPDATE (Fri 6:03pm): Early summaries and reactions - 'analysis' would be an overstatement - as broadcast on Five Live, have been fairly narrow in their focus. Despite close to six hours hours of contextual description, and accounting for the political and diplomatic balancing act that led to the second invasion into Iraq, the detail that gets the featured coverage is the lack of an apology from Blair. Predictable, not something that offends or bothers me personally, but it's easy to appreciate how and why others have reacted as they have. There seem to me to be three main sources of anti-Blair sentiment, namely: the Tories (Blair having upset the blue apple-cart, and led government, as the Conservatives navigated dire straits); the grieving (in the absence of a sense of hard, unequivocally clear evidence of attempts to avoid military intervention); and the old left (when Labour got New, others became old/grey/disenfranchised, by default). And so it goes.


Short film on the panart hang (musical instrument), and one of its players (a thoroughly nice chap who I met a couple of months ago).

[Upon first embedding the film, it wrecked the formatting of the blog, hence linky link link.]

Saturday, January 23, 2010


The early part of a new year beckons a bit of a clear-out.

Shane: I got rid of all those black bags.

Emma: Where d' y' take them?

Shane: Samaritans.

Emma: Did they start rifling through them before you'd left?

Shane: Yep.

Emma: (amused) Treasure-hunters, those old ladies - they knows gold when they sees it.

Shane: Mm. They asked if I knew how to open that old jewellery-box-type-box, as I was leaving, but I didn't - didn't seem to be a key with it - must have fallen out in the bag.

Emma: Jewellery box?

Shane: Mm. Like a small shoe box size, kind of off-white, with a small floral motif - pretty ugly really.

Emma: You sure that was from our stuff?

Shane: Yeah. She had the black bag on the counter - it was the first thing she took out of it.

Emma: (confused) (thought lands) (eyes widen) You didn't take all of the black bags, did you?

Shane: Ye-es. All of the black bags that were from the clear-out.

Emma: Oh no. Oh no! (seems horrified) (begins to laugh)

Shane: What?

Emma: Two of those were for the rubbish.

Shane: What?

Emma: To be thrown out. Oh no-

Shane: What?

Emma: That box was... it was in the same bag as that nasty old toilet brush that I'd thrown out.

Shane: I just donated a toilet brush to the Samaritans?

Emma: (laughing) And a knackered vibrator.

Shane: (winces) Oh-, not good. Not good at all.

One did one's best. For a good cause.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I had a really good day last Friday, I mean really good - exhausting, exhilerating, massively affirming, and the kind of day that will stay with me for quite a while. It was also all about work - although it was really about the responsiveness of the people who I was working with, to my work.

Apart from getting a few dozen grown-ups to go on a longish walk in icy woodland conditions (they suffered, but they enjoyed), and to later gad about various eateries and drinkeries (they enjoyed), I got them to take on a seriousish photographic task (they enjoyed), but more interesting to me, I had them tackle a couple of playful but tricky questions - one from the archives, plus a new one (for me). Those questions were:-

Q1. [From the archives] Think of an occasion when you took a risk. What was that risk?

Q2. [New] You may be aware of the TV programme, Come Dine With Me. (If not, someone will explain.) You are to host a most amazing supper, at Le Chateau Imaginaire. Your guests are to be three famous/ish people - all from different walks of life (i.e. no trios of any particular professional or source of notoriety), plus one non-famous person, who is neither an existing friend or relative. So, who are your guests?

The final part to question two (the non-famous person) had the potential to unseat a few of our riders, but no, they played and they played fair.

And after that, I had them return to Q1. But this time, I asked:

Q3. [New] Think of an occasion when you avoided taking a risk. What was that risk?

This was a question that relied on my players to already be working well together, as it would require some teasing out - its meanings and possibilities. But you know what, they were fantastic. I gave them a good time, and they delivered.

So good, so very good.

If you've any thoughts on any of the above questions, feel free to share (I am interested) - whether you're a familiar to the comments box, a one-off wanderer, or someone somewhere in-between.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


'It's a bit of cliche, but children are not brought up properly nowadays', explained some blunt instrument on Radio Five Live.


Alex: I've written another thank you letter for my Christmas presents.

Shane: Good man. Who is it this time?

Alex: Your mum and dad.

Shane: Good. They'll be pleased. What have you written?

Alex: 'Dear ShaneMum and ShaneDad, Thank you for the Transformers DVD for my Christmas present. I've already watched it about five times. Here is a line from Transformers - I really don't like that guy. He's an asssssssssssssssssssss hole. Love from Alex.' (smiles)

Emma: (Laughs)

Shane: Funny. What have you really written?

Alex: That!

Shane: Show me.

Alex: (shows letter)

Shane: So you have. Good man.

Emma: (now weeping with laughter)

We seem to have forged an approach to (not) dealing with sweary language. So long as it's not gratuitous, out of anger, or too casual, there tends not to be any issue. Fact is, there rarely is an swearing (an interesting concept, really). Alex' dad happens to be more of a stickler - mentioning the odd word that he's heard that he doesn't want to hear again - and maybe that's no bad thing. But I do like it when The Boy and I find ourselves having conversations about swear words. It's at such times that he shows his grasp of many social distinctions - public/private, appropriate/inappropriate, literate/illiterate, and so on.

This post came about as I read of a chap's homily - brief, but gorgeous - to his deceased step-dad. It set me about wondering quite how I came to find myself effectively Alex' main care-giver, and quite how he'll recall these times in later life. In being highly sensitive to his well-being - a matter that doesn't and shouldn't translate into being all-round protective - there are pros and cons. Each of which, are the stuff of my everyday.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I was at an aunt's funeral, this past week, in the town of Bishop Auckland (County Durham).

It was the first time I saw a coffin lowered into a grave.

It was also the first time in about a decade that I saw my Dad's older brother, and his step-son (whose mum had died).

It wasn't until the pair of them began to really show their grief (a hand to the dipped head, the body shaking to a silent beat), that I began to show any feeling - quietly, discreetly.

They live in a massive house, with a big labrador. They lost the mother and wife who brought their gorgeously uncouth triumvirate together.

The closeness of fathers and sons, and the implications of that - cuts right to the core of my being. 'Cuts' is the right word.

Listening, I learned stuff about my own Dad, and about the Dad that his older brother continues to be - both to a step-son, and to my Dad - however awkward that younger brother might seem to feel about that. [A garbled sentence, but I know what I mean.]

It is late.

Monday, January 11, 2010


In light snow, I drop-off The Boy at his school. He is excited at today's visit to a local theatre, 'We might be there all day' he mentions. I feign jealousy, remind him that I'll be away for a couple of days, and say that I look forward to seeing him on Wednesday. Super-efficient, this morning, I dodge all manner of trendy mums and wholesome dads, as I make a quick get-away for a dart across the city.

A different school:

The reception area, a 9:20am whirlwind of children and their parents (or folk assumed to be their parents):

There is some confusion as to the identities of one or two late-comers. In the office, someone questions whether at least one of the children may have just returned from a lengthy spell overseas. Recognising the challenge and the absence of the regular home-school liaison (translator, to you and I), the headteacher steps up to the hatch, to help out a couple of stretched secretaries:

Headteacher: (pronouncing clearly) Has he been away?

Parent: (frowns, not understanding)

Headteacher: Have you been on holiday? Pakistan?

Parent: (pause for processing) Lost jumper.

I move off to speak with twenty or so of their colleagues, with whom I have business on Friday.

Later, as I depart, one of the secretaries is taking a list of names from a girl, who has just led her three younger siblings into school. Again, there seems to be some confusion as to who and where these children should be.

Secretary: How do you spell that?

'Four-day week' I chime to this secretary.

She smiles, 'See you Friday'.

Driving away, I think ahead to discussions that I'll be having later this term, about tracking pupils' progress - an action not without hurdles, especially where the tracking of names is not to be taken for granted.

The light snow now seems to be mixed with rain.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


Maybe I'm beginning to see what so many others, so long ago, saw in David Tennant's Time Lord.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


Years of culinary poverty mean that I'm not a credible foodie, but I do enjoy extending my repertoire of dishes - for cooking and eating. I've rarely invested time into desserts, but last night, following a noodley, gingery, sea bass stir fry, I finished it off with something sweet - as garnered from Valentine Warner.

Shane: There.

Emma: Let's see.

Shane: (shows his piece)

Emma: Eton Mess! You made an Eton Mess!

Shane: Mm, but not quite. That would be meringue with cream and a strawberry-based puree. This is raspberry-loaded. And besides, I couldn't quite bring myself to offer up anything good that brings David Cameron to mind.

Emma: So what is it, then?

Shane: (ponders the words Eton and Mess) (whispers) It's a Stoke-on-Trent Fuck-Up.

Emma: It's good.

Shane: Good. I've learned much this evening about whipping. Whipping is great. Isn't air fantastic.

Emma: (is ignoring Shane from this point - is back to watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with my young sous chef)

I look out of the window and notice our quiet man cat, dancing about in the snow. I wonder what's got into him.

Monday, January 04, 2010


Into the shop, I headed directly to the fridge for my standard of skimmed. Moving to the queue, the Professor Sprout being served was in much too much of a flighty, circumspect quiver, to look up for polite acknowledgements.

And through my Monday morning daze, I see and I understand.

A purchase to explain the 'ruddy complexion', and to pop the illusion of 'outdoor type'.

First day of term. She'll need it later.