Sunday, 30 May 2010


Here's the scene which I witnessed.

Two mothers enter the coffee shop accompanied by their children. One has three children, the other has two. They take a table. The children are all aged between around 7 and 11 years old. The children do not speak.

The mothers ask the youngsters what they would like and then order for everyone. The children, having stated their food requirements, revert to silence. The mothers are able to chat happily together, without interruption, about the sort of things that two mid 30 year-old women talk about until after 10 minutes or so, their food arrives. Does this sound like your family so far?

I have omitted one important detail. Before I reveal it, can you guess what it is that allows the mothers to converse in such tranquility? Are the children simply well-behaved? Am I describing an event from the past?

Neither of the above.

The fact which I omitted is that having sat down at the table, each mother delved into her handbag and produced a Nintendo DS for each of their combined five offspring which then kept their respective attention until the need to consume their food intervened.

What an incredible sign of the times don't you think?

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


So there I was, mooching along down Las Ramblas, a wonderful pedestrianised street in Barcelona, when I chanced upon an indoor food market. I wandered in and was soon mesmerised by the bewildering colours, smells and sights which filled my senses.

I began with the fruits section and was amazed at the exotic selection available including some types which were completely unfamiliar to me. Next came the salami and cooked meats area which soon set my taste buds tingling.

After that I strayed into the fish and sea food part of the market. I should point out at once that I don't do sea food. Prawns, crabs, squid and the like are inedible sea insects as far as I am concerned. I can manage common types of fish but that's it. However, I am morbidly attracted to displays of fish and sea food which for me, is like going round a sea museum.

My eyes ranged over the strange species of fish and I inhaled the briny air with gusto for whilst I won't eat seafood, I do like the smell of it. Then I spotted the lobsters. Huge creatures the size of cats and all with their claws taped up. I studied one closely and then suddenly, its eye moved. Eeeek! I hadn't realised in my piscine ignorance that they were alive. Then next to them I noticed piles of crabs winking at me like shellfish hookers trying to get me to buy them.

I moved on to the butchery department, a wiser man. The first thing I encountered there were piles of sheep heads. They had their fur and skin removed and so resembled something from an animal post-mortem. The thing was, they still had their eyeballs intact. In fact I am reliably informed, that the eyeballs are the best bit. Eeeek again!

So there I was surveying a sheep head heap who were all staring back at me and I swear to you, that if one of them had blinked, I would have run out of there like a scalded cat!

Sunday, 23 May 2010


I think most people would agree that one of the things for which our lovely country is renowned is it's beautiful countryside. It's what Blake called "England's green and pleasant land". There is a pretty, green area with some mature trees and shrubs to the side of the main road a few minutes walk from my house. However, this particular verdant spot has the misfortune to be next to a major road junction. It has therefore been a target for advertisers and in it's centre, nestling under the green leaves, is a massive mobile advertising hoarding.

During the recent election campaign, rural fields sprouted with green corn shoots, yellow rapeseed or fruit trees which were augmented by campaign posters advertising the local candidates.

Back in the town, railings, lamposts and traffic lights are adorned with fly posters which are dwarfed by the billboard posters which are almost the size of the houses alongside them.

While I was writing this rant piece, a pile of fliers came through my letterbox which all inform me of a choice of restaurants and take-aways in my area. Then I received a text on my phone which turned out to be from one of my credit card companies advising me of their current rates of interest. There were also a flurry of junk emails which mercifully go straight into the junk folder.

I am having to use all my self control to stop from turning into an urban guerrilla. The mobile hoarding up the road will be my first target if I decide to try my hand at being an arsonist. I am thinking of carrying a pair of wire cutters when I go for a walk to snip the nylon ties which secure the fly posters. I have a sneaky desire to post each of the fliers which came through my door back to the food outlet concerned since they have kindly supplied their addresses but I'm afraid that I will forget to stamp them so they will have to pay the postage.

My first act of rebellion however, was to check that I have no balance on the credit card whose suppliers just texted me then to cut it into small pieces. Let me tell you, that felt so good!

Oh and just in case you can't remember the quote in the title, it's from the lyrics of 'Big Yellow Taxi' by Joni Mitchell - a very appropriate song!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


Having recently returned from a short holiday in Spain, I wanted to share with you the three little words which made my stay such a delight.

I arrived there carrying both my luggage and a heavy sleep deficit, so I was thrilled to discover that when I started to flag in the afternoon, I could have a SIESTA. What a wonderful concept. When the shopkeepers were feeling a bit tired after a morning's trading they just closed the shop for lunch and a siesta. Somehow though, I can't see it working here. I have this image of turning up at Marks and Spencer around 2.30p.m. to find the doors locked and peering in through the window, I see the staff all laid out on camp beds having a snooze.

Of course, it's not always possible to sleep when you're tired. I soon discovered that after my wife had led me around like a poodle on a leash as she did her best to solve the Spanish economy problems by visiting what seemed like every fashion shop in Barcelona, my feet started threatening strike action. At this point I discovered that if I sat down at a convenient table and uttered the magic word CERVEZA (sair-vay-tha) a refreshing, cool beer appeared in front of me. I repeated this trick several times so as to perfect the pronunciation though my attempts at the word seemed to get worse as the empty glasses stacked up.

I discovered the third word when we went out to dinner with our good friends Mandi & David who have the good fortune to live on the Iberian coast. The menu advertised a most delicious three-course meal for only 15 euros per head and we duly made our selections from it. I thought it might be nice to order some bread, olives and mineral water while we waited and discovered that all these items were INCLUIDO at no extra charge! Next I asked for the wine list only to discover that the wine was also INCLUIDO! Having enjoyed a most delicious meal, cooked to perfection, we ordered coffee which was .... you guessed it.... INCLUIDO. Now, since we had just had a wonderful meal for very little cost, I felt we could splash out on liqueurs to go with our coffees. My wife ordered an Amaretto, I went for Rum and our friends chose Cognac. I watched as generous dollops of spirit were poured into our coffees. I asked for the bill and my jaw dropped when we discovered that the liqueurs were also INCLUIDO!

So those were my three favourite words. Our hosts informed me however, that the local Spaniards had added a new word to their language for the benefit of the British tourists. Their new word is 'CHEAPASCHIPS'.

Sunday, 9 May 2010


I've noticed when reading other writers, that sooner or later, they all get around to writing about the difficulty of thinking what to write about.

They complain that the muse has left them. Sometimes the problem is that it's been a slow news week, or month, or year.

Sometimes they have been too busy to write because the nuisance of having to do proper work and lead a normal life has got in the way.

Presumably it is sometimes the case that their lives are so dull that nothing of any interest to man or beast has occurred recently worth putting pen to paper or putting fingers to keys over.

How can anyone not have anything to write about for goodness sake?

Well for those who really do have a problem with writer's block I have found a source of help.

As for myself, I can only say that I am so thankful that this problem doesn't affect me.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


Those of you of a certain age will no doubt remember the A-Team's character B.A. Baracus. He was rough, tough and good-looking. I share one of his qualities but sadly none of those I just mentioned. Like him I have a fear of flying.

When the A-team had to fly on a mission, they secretly drugged B.A. and he was then carried onto the plane unconscious. When he woke he found he had somehow been transported to another country. Sounds like heaven to me!

I managed to avoid flying completely until my late 30's and then the special school I taught in was offered a free trip for 10 students from Gatwick to Shannon in Ireland. The whole staff bar me wanted to go and put their names in a hat to draw the names of the lucky two. I was persuaded to put my name in ("How do you know you hate flying if you've never flown?") and I agreed since the odds were heavily in my favour. Disaster! My name came out second. I still think it was a fix!

With my hero B.A. Baracus in mind, I mustered what courage I could and off we set. The plane (a DC-10) gathered speed and it was obvious to me that it stood no chance of getting off the ground before the end of the runway. I reflected on my pleasant but short life as I prepared for death. Luckily, my thoughts were interrupted by the realisation that we were airborne.

We seemed to keep rising and I wondered for a moment whether I had boarded the space shuttle by mistake but no, we eventually levelled off and I found myself at a height of 30,000 feet strapped into a cigar tube. With my students around me, I knew I mustn't show fear and so I went into a state of early rigor mortis with a fixed, botox-like grin on my face.

As the flight continued, I allowed myself the occasional breath and even managed to look out of the window at the cloud just below us. There was then a tap on my shoulder and I received wonderful news from a stewardess. One of my students had been sick all over the floor and would I come and clean it all up? Too right I will!

I gleefully forgot all my fears as I scrubbed away on my hands and knees, delighted to have something familiar to do. As I was down there, the pilot announced that if we looked out of the port windows, we could see Concorde pass us some 20 miles away. I stuck to my task trying not to worry about us spiralling out of control as everyone went to the left side of the plane.

Somehow we landed without bursting a tyre, spent a lovely time in Shannon and boarded for the flight home. Now that I was an experienced flier, I knew exactly what terror lay ahead, took my seat and settled into my death pose.

Shortly before landing at Gatwick came the worst moment of all. My colleague pointed out of the window next to her and said "Look that's the village where I live!" It was then that I completely lost my presence of mind as I leaned over her to see. The pilot chose that precise moment to bank the plane and as my stomach bailed out of the plane and my vertigo kicked in, I quickly sat back in my seat.

So it was that my fear of flying became a terrifying reality. It was every bit as scary as I expected and then some. Would I ever fly again? That, as they say, is another story.....

Sunday, 2 May 2010


Oh goody it's election time! Why am I so gleeful about what for some must be the most boring occasion imaginable? Well I have to confess that I take an almost perverse pleasure in watching our politicians squirm in their efforts to appear reasonable, good-humoured, affable, pleasant in fact there is a long list of qualities none of which come naturally to politicians.

In the case of this election, there is the added joy of it being a very close race not just between the two 'main' parties but the third party have suddenly given themselves a fighting chance too thanks to winning the first 'leaders' debate on television. It's such fun to watch the main contenders deciding how to handle this. Should they woo the third party or rubbish them?

When the canvassers knock on my door and ask whether they can count on my vote I usually wimp out and tell them that my vote is my business. However, I have a cunning plan to tell anyone who asks in future that they can tick me off as a supporter so that none of them will bother me ever again.

I am what is commonly called a floater and no I'm not using toilet humour here for once. In my 45 years of voting, I have at various times voted for all three main parties. I become totally anal and listen to their views, read their policies and compare how they propose to handle the issues of the economy, education, world affairs, home affairs etc. and then I weigh them up against each other to see who is offering the flavour of ice cream which most satisfies my desires. Oops, I've lapsed into food talk yet again.

But seriously, it is a little like watching street traders vying for our custom. "Who will buy my oranges?" 'Cherries ripe..cherries ripe" don't you think?

I am still undecided although for me it is a choice of two this time around. So I shall continue to watch, listen and read with interest until I have made a thoroughly informed decision about who to vote for.

The only thing which galls me is the suspicion that my vote will be cancelled out by first-time voter Chardonnay, who has decided to vote for the party whose colour matches her new nail varnish!