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September 2012

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“That’s the way I do things when I want to celebrate, I always plant a tree.”

Wangari Maathai


This last weekend saw the final cricket match of my season. It was a very relaxed, festive affair – taken in good heart by both sides and with much jolly banter and gentle joshing. I found myself batting for a while alongside a much younger chap whom I had not met before. This is not unusual as the nature of a wandering side such as ours is that players come and go over the years, playing a few fixtures here and there as and when they can, or when the mood takes them. You might gather that – given my advancing years and general inability to keep up with the keen youngsters who turn out for more ‘serious’ sides – this suits me rather well.

As it turned out this particular batsman had well and truly got his eye in and laid waste to bowling of all complexions, only finally succumbing shortly before our allotted overs were up for a score in the mid 60s. (Note for the uninitiated: I am not even going to try to explain cricket here. Maybe in a future post… or ten!) The chap concerned was delighted. He had been playing for 9 years, and this was the first time he had scored a ‘fifty’!

Whilst congratulating him unreservedly I couldn’t help feeling a small pang of envy. I came back to cricket in my mid 40s – having played in a desultory fashion at school – and I have thus only been playing semi-seriously for about a dozen years. Scoring a ‘fifty’ has been a major ambition of mine throughout this period and – though I have flirted a number of times with the 30s and once almost made 40 – I have never been able to go on to get the ‘big one’. Maybe there is yet time – maybe not. Though I am learning to “treat these two impostors” with equanimity I have to admit that this has been the cause of some small sadness.


No matter – this post is intended to be purely celebratory. I may not have scored a ‘fifty’ at my favourite game – but I have scored a ‘ton’ when it comes to blogging. Yes – in a little over 38 weeks since I took up blogging as a complete novice I am now posting my 100th entry. Hooray!!

Well – I’ll drink to that – and also to the gentle reader for sticking with it…


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Look – I’m sorry to bang on about this – and I really don’t want to bore the gentle reader more than is absolutely unavoidable – but I really must just put in one final word for Tom Stoppard and the BBC’s adaptation of Ford Maddox Ford’s ‘Parade’s End’, which finished on BBC2 on Friday evening.

Achingly beautifully written, acted, directed and shot this (hopefully!) award-winning drama represents all that has ever been best in what really has become a very sorry creative sphere – that of modern television production. Those who know me even marginally will be only too aware of how little I find to admire these days in the televisual and filmic arts. Kickass Canada Girl claims – with some justification – that I have spoiled the cinema going experience for her. It is no fun at all to sit through a film at my side as I sigh, grunt and squirm irritably when faced with clunky dialogue, unbelievable characters and unnecessary yardage of exposition. The trouble is that she herself has now become much more critical and less able to sit through such mediocre offerings. Sorry about that!

The greatest failure to my mind on the part of TV and film producers – and one which is almost certainly a result of there being too many ‘executives’ now involved in the process who mistakenly think they know how to make drama – is that of not trusting the intelligence of the viewing audience. Let’s put that another way – of patronising the viewing audience. There is nothing more eloquent in drama than that fragmentary understated occurrence or reaction that generates in the viewer a small shock of recognition and understanding. This – surely – is how art can have such a great and direct impact on those eager to learn from it. These days in film and on TV it seems that there is a belief that only if signposted in huge letters on enormous billboards will the viewing audience actually get the point. My worry is that this in itself is breeding a new generation who indeed will not be able to ‘read’ creative works without such assistance.

By way of illustration of what can be achieved let me give just the tiniest example from ‘Parade’s End’ – and that not from any of the main plot threads but of just a single small incidental detail – beautifully handled.

In the trenches of the first world war Ford Maddox Ford’s passe protagonist, Tietjens (played exquisitely by Benedict Cumberbatch), finds himself unexpectedly and unwantedly in charge of his battalion. One of the more unexpected duties he is called on to perform is to give permission for a private – whom we have heard unknowingly for some minutes in the background practicing his bugling – to play the following night before the top brass at an event behind the lines.

A while later – during a German artillery barrage – Tietjens is given the news that a shell has burst in the entrance to a slit trench, and that there has been a single fatality. Tietjens hurries to inspect the scene and sees – half buried in the mud thrown up by the blast – the bugle case that we have seen previously. There is no dialogue – no lingering shot – merely the briefest reaction in Cumberbatch’s eyes.

Then – after some further narrative development – both we and Tietjens hear again the distant refrain of the bugler at practice. Again – no dialogue – no labouring the point – simply the realisation as revealed on Cumberbatch’s face.

This sort of thing requires (under)writing and acting of the highest order, but stirs in the viewers breast an empathy and understanding that no amount of dialogue or elaborate visual symbolism could have effected.

Enough! You have missed ‘Parade’s End’ in its first run (congrats to those who did not!) but it will doubtless be repeated.

…and there is always the boxed set – which would doubtless make a wonderful Christmas present!

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I carry with me at all times what might these days probably be best described as a ‘man’s clutch organiser’.

It might, of course, also be called – usually with a whiff of obtrectation – a ‘man bag’.

This pejorative – with its invidious and somewhat mysogynistic insinuation both that the female of the species is in some way inferior and that a man who carries such an item is, by implication, somehow lacking – might in no small part explain why so few men – even in these enlightened times – actually carry one.

Such opinions trouble me not, as I have carried a bag in one form or another since the early 80s. I started doing so at roughly the same time that I cut my hair! Yes, when I left school in 1972 – having been required to keep my locks “above the ears and ‘orf’ the collar” throughout the fag end of the 1960s – I determined that I would henceforth wear it as long as I wished, and thus did not subsequently get it cut again until 1981 or thereabouts. Having surviving – from the unenlightened – the torrents of ‘humorous’ obloquy on the subject of my appearance throughout that godforsaken decade I am rendered completely immune to any such jibes.

I am frequently asked what I carry in my bag. The short answer is – ‘everything’! The slightly longer answer is – ‘all the things that other chaps stuff in their jacket, shirt and trouser pockets – then have to remember to switch to other clothes when they change – and have to remember to take out before they sit down or they’ll break their mobile phone”. That sort of thing…

The other question that I am asked is – “aren’t you afraid of losing it?”. Well – I never have lost one, but I have suffered several thefts. On one occasion my wallet was stolen from the bag… whilst I was holding it front of me… in a lift… in the Hotel Cosmos in Moscow! When – subsequent to the event itself – I worked out how it had been done, I was almost in awe of the execution of the heist. The setup had featured a little old Russian lady acting as the distraction, whilst the ever-so-helpful young Russian guy ever-so-helped himself to my wallet whilst ever-so-helpfully holding the lift doors open. Sweet!

On the other occasion the bag itself was stolen – in the bar at the National Theatre in London. This was particularly embarrassing as I had gone there to meet someone that I had not met before and did not know – to discuss a creative project. The bag – containing all my worldly possessions – was lifted from the foot of my chair as I sat in the bar having a drink with her. Without keys I had to abandon my car in the service road in front of the theatre, and without money I was forced to borrow from the stranger that I had just met in order that I might catch the train home.

I have replaced the bag at intervals as each has – one by one – fallen apart. As a result I have observed that these things go in and out of fashion, and that it is sometimes virtually impossible to get a bag with a sensible configuration – one that can hold everything without being ridiculously bulky. When I found the present incumbent – five years ago in Paris (don’t we sound cosmopolitan!) – I snapped it up immediately even though it was wickedly expensive, because it was the closest I had ever found to being the perfect bag.

Recently, however, it has started to show its age. One of the main zips has failed rendering it insecure and thus considerably less attractive. I enquired of Tumi – the manufacturers – as to whether or not it could be repaired, given that the leather itself is still in pretty good condition. Tumi hinted that they would need to send the bag away to Germany and wanted to charge me so much for the pleasure that it was really not worth doing.

It crossed my mind that – like me – the bag was ready for retirement and I took the opportunity of meeting friends in London last weekend to try to locate a suitable replacement. I was in for a shock. Tumi had discontinued this, the most useful bag in their range, and had no substitute that was even close. Further investigation revealed that – as far as bag manufacturers are concerned – this sort of thing is now distinctly out of fashion again. After a frustrating afternoon’s search I had to concede that I was not going to find a bag anywhere near as perfect as the one that I was about to retire.

Perhaps I should think about this a little more…

Naturally the InterWebNet provided the solution – a firm on Eton High Street called ‘1st Class Leathergoods Repairs’. Those that know Eton will, of course, not be at all surprised that in the end the solution was more or less on my doorstep, or indeed that it should take this form. The firm’s website announces:

“We are repairers to 

  • The Bridge – Il Ponte Pelletteria
  • Jane Shilton
  • Hidesign
  • Louis Vuitton
  • Mulberry
  • Radley
  • Samsonite
  • Tula & S.American Hide leather Holdalls, Land etc
  • Texier
  • new zip from £36
  • ladies purse
  • gents wallet
  • passport holders
  • handbags
  • shoulder bags
  • luggage wheels repair
  • antique trunks, storeage trunks, steamer trunks, wicker trunks
  • vintage car trunks, door retainer straps, bonnet straps
  • masonic cases , bags for freemasons
  • straps and covers, 
  • custom – bespoke hand made leather case, hand made leather 
  • custom made bespoke gunbags, custom hand made guncases
  • leather rip repair, leather scratch repair
  • leather strap, canvas strap, webbing strap, luggage strap
  • gun cases, cartridge bags, gamebags, refurbish , reline , 
  • footwear uppers, ladies sandal straps, riding & polo boots
  • fireside bellows
  • leather Tankards
  • leather grommets & washers
  • fire safety leather straps
  • experienced pilots have old cases
  • pannier bags, picnic cases, pencases
  • musicians have instrument cases – guitar , saxophone , mandolin , violin , cello , trumpet , horn
  • laptop bags, holdalls, cases
  • leather clothing, bike jackets, bike all in ones
  • embossing leather, embossing on sewn on panels
  • leather care products
  • repair estimates for insured travel goods, luggage, suitcases

Customers over the years have been unusual and varied in their requirements, and include historically famous families, celebrities, and business and professional personalities, as well as meeting the every day needs of ladies and men and people on the go.”

I can’t argue with that – and my ‘man bag’ is now safe in their hands.

I did reflect – as I walked away from their shop clutching all my worldly possessions in a plastic carrier bag – if there wasn’t a message in this for my own retirement!

Can’t think what it might be though…

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“It is time I stepped aside for a less experienced and less able man.”

Professor Scott Elledge on his retirement from Cornell


You may have noticed that my posts over the last couple of weeks, whilst covering a variety of topics, have steered clear of further commentary on the progress – or otherwise – of my campaign for Canadian permanent residency and of next year’s proposed move to British Columbia. Truth be told, this latest separation from the Kickass Canada Girl has been particularly tough on us both and I have, subsequently, concentrated on keeping my mind occupied elsewhere rather than brooding on the tortuously slow progress that is currently being made on that front. The start of the academic year at the School – with its concomitant frenzy of work – has in any case not left much time for reverie.

I do feel now, however, that it is time to start thinking positively again – to attempt to make manifest the progress that has been lacking hitherto. To that end I intend re-commencing investigation of a number of the topics that need to be addressed – such as how to ship all our worldly possessions over the ocean to Canada – and whether or not I should put all our belongings into storage, give up my rather splendid rented apartment and find a room somewhere… as a way of saving some monies.

I am going to start, however, with the notion of retirement. I am aware that it is a big step, and that if one fails to plan… yada, yada, yada! I intend, therefore, to do some reading and some thinking and, as ever when I do such, I will then inflict the results thereof on the gentle reader in my usual series of whimsical musings.

Though by no means limited to circumstances such as those in which I find myself, the last year at work before retirement does take on a particular poignancy if one works in education. Because the school year is, in the main, a repeated cycle of events – not just terms (semesters!) and holidays (vacations!), but also plays, concerts, sporting events, founder’s days, benefactors’ lunches, prizegiving and so forth – the final year manifests as a series of mileposts that flash past, counting down to a rapidly approaching destination. As each event passes I am made acutely aware that this was indeed the last time that I shall experience it, and that the next such occasion will take place in my absence. This – naturally – makes one only too aware of one’s insignificance in the great scheme of things. These great schools have survived half a millenium and more. They will certainly survive my departure.

The question is – of course – will I?

…and the answer is – of course I will!

…but it won’t necessarily be easy. Time to get planning…

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Whilst we – the British – as a nation yet bask in the glow of satisfaction engendered by the successful organisation of games Olympic and Paralympic – at having rediscovered ourselves as a race – at having regarded ourselves in the mirror and, to our surprise, having rather liked what we saw…

…comes a shocking revelation of the truth concerning a scandalous incident from our recent history, on the subject of which all of us (with a very few exceptions) should feel deeply and profoundly ashamed.

The independent report into the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 in which 96 Liverpool Football Club fans lost their lives has concluded that not only were the fans in no way to blame for the disaster – as had been strenuously suggested over an extended period – but that the South Yorkshire police and the emergency services had done their very best to divert attention away from their own culpability and their failings on the day, to the extent of having altered more than 160 critical witness statements from their own members in order that they might obfuscate the truth.

Had it not been for an obdurate 23 year campaign by the relatives of the dead the independent enquiry would not have been set up – the more than 400,000 pages of previously suppressed documentation would not have been released – and the appalling truth would not have been laid bare.

This has been a day of apologies – from the Prime Minister on behalf of the government and the nation – from the South Yorkshire police, whose crowd control failure has long been held to be the primary cause of the disaster – from the Sheffield ambulance service, whose failure to get other than a single ambulance into the ground contributed to the deaths that occured long after the initial crush – from Sheffield Wednesday football club, at whose then substandard ground the fixture was held – from the Sun newspaper which, at the promptings of the police and briefed by a member of the then Conservative government, printed a scrurilous story claiming that that tragedy had been caused by drunken, ticketless fans – under the banner headline (insisted upon by the editor at that time, Kelvin MacKenzie) which read – “The Truth”…

The coroner who refused to accept that any of the deaths occured after 3:15pm – thus precluding at the inquest consideration that more than 40 of the fatalities might have been avoided by prompt action from the emergency services – has not yet apologised.

Now that the truths have finally been revealed – and widely acknowledged – some belated attempt at justice might perhaps be made. There should be no sense however – other than for those who have campaigned so long against apparently insuperable odds – of satisfaction at the outcome. All of us should perhaps feel a deep sense of shame – shame that our nation was capable of perpetrating and perpetuating this appalling cover-up – shame that we continued to vote for the politicians who, in spite of their knowledge of the existence and, in some cases, of the contents of the suppressed documentation, continually refused to take any action or to criticise the police – shame that we continued to purchase the offending tabloid newspapers – shame that we grumbled at the repeated efforts of the campaigners to achieve recognition of their case – shame that we did not shout loud enough and long enough that the truth must be revealed, thus failing the bereaved for two long decades.

I still recall watching the terrible events of that day unfolding on the live TV coverage, and being horrified even then that such a thing was possible in the United Kingdom. Each time the tragedy has been revisited in documentaries or articles throughout the intervening years the horror and sadness has come back to me, frequently moving me to tears. Now that sense of horror and incomprehension is edged with shame and anger.

What took place on 15th April 1989 was an avoidable tragedy – what happened subsequently is unforgivable.

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It seems felicitous today to appropriate the catchphrase of the inimitable Dan Maskell, the English tennis player and Davis Cup coach who – post-retirement – became even better know as the BBC’s ‘Voice of Tennis’.

Congratulations indeed to Andy Murray who – at the fifth time of asking and following on from his splendid Olympic gold but a few weeks ago – finally won the major title that had thus far eluded him and was crowned US Open Champion late last night. Murray – and the entire nation – breathed a huge sigh of relief. Now that the citadel has been breached there is nothing to stop him marching forth and – hopefully – claiming the Wimbledon victory that everybody – himself included – surely inevitably sees as the real prize.

Murray’s triumph added a final exhilarating coda to the spectacular British summer of sport, in which this victory and Bradley Wiggins’ magnificent Tour de France tour de force parenthesised the wonders of the Olympic and Paralympic campaigns. I simply can’t remember a sporting summer to compare…

My only gripe last night was that the time difference between the UK and Flushing Meadow – not abetted by the epic nature of the match – left me – and many others – short of sleep. After the marathon 90 minute first set – and the erratic but more rapid progress of the second – I could hardly go to bed with Murray a mere set away from victory. By the end of the third – which featured Djokovic’s initial spirited fightback – it really was getting very late. Surely Murray would close out the fourth? I clambered into bed, armed with the Galaxy Note so that I could get my fix of updates from the InterWebNet.

As one would expect given the class of the opposition nothing would be that easy, and I finally gave up as Djokovic’s sterling challenge increased in ferocity and he levelled the match at two sets all. The next thing I knew was that I was suddenly wide awake in the middle of the night and blinking myopically in the darkness. I fumbled for the Note and hit refresh. Murray had done it!!!

Hearty congratulations to both players for such a magnificent contest. A fitting way to end the summer.

Now I need to lie down in a darkened room…

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Never mind, I’ll remember you this
I’ll remember you this way

Mr Blue Sky – Jeff Lynne


A startlingly lovely early September weekend with clear blue skies and perfect temperatures. The stunning London Olympic/Paralympic summer reaches its climax – Andy Murray punches his way to the final of the US Open – the nation beats its breast and sheds a tear at the Last Night of the Proms…

The weather is, apparently, also simultaneously divine in Victoria, BC – but sadly sharing such wonders by Skype alone can be no substitute for the real thing.

A touch of melancholy…


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It is only a few short weeks since – in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics – the inhabitants of this sceptic isle regarded the whole extravaganza with their accustomed disdain. They grumbled about the cost – complained about the upcoming traffic chaos – delighted in every minor news item featuring incipient incompetence on the part of the organisers – and a significant number were prophesying impending doom at every step.

It took all of 60 seconds of Danny Boyle’s magically mysterious opening ceremony to dispell all possible doubts and to convert us into a nation of true believers.

The IOC were fully vindicated in their decision to place their faith in London to stage the games ahead of the French. Yes – in Paris the cuisine would have been superb and the style impeccable – but the IOC had the insight to recognise a more essential truth about the British people. We are a nation of sports fanatics! The games sold out – and huge adoring crowds cheered the heroics of our brave Olympians as they took home more medals than we have won at any Olympic games for the past 100 years.

And then it was over – and the reaction kicked in. We were depressed. We missed the adrenalin rush. The start of the kissball season seemed even more uninspiring than usual. The rugger season had not yet commenced. Where could we turn to rediscover those legal highs?…

Well – to the Paralympics of course.

Now – if there is one thing the Brits love even more than a sporting contest it is one in which they can support the underdog. It is in our national psyche. In the Paralympics – of course – it is possible to consider all of the contestants to be underdogs – and we just love those tales of triumph over adversity. As a result the stadia are yet again full to bursting and the rest of us are glued to our screens.

This increased exposure for disabled sport does raise a few issues, not least of which is the question of acceptable use of language when discussing the sports and the competitors therein engaged. There are obvious ‘no-nos’ which need not detain us here, but there are also areas that are less clear. It has been suggested in parts of the media that the use of terms such as ‘brave’ and ‘inspirational’ could – when applied to Paralympians – be considered discriminatory or even pejorative. The thinking here is that such language is divisive and that the Paralympians themselves wish to be seen simply as elite athletes rather than as plucky tryers.

I have some sympathy with this, but from the impartial enthusiast’s point of view this is rather a shame. When one thinks of the huge amount of work that athletes such as Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis, Mo Foster, Andy Murray and Ben Ainslie have put into their golden achievements it is difficult not to be inspired. When considering Paralympians who – in addition to making similar efforts and sacrifices in terms of athletic preparation – have in many cases also had to overcome crippling illnesses, to recover from tragic accidents or have been seriously injured in the service of their country – then I think ‘inspirational’ is indeed the appropriate term.

What decidedly is inspirational is the response of the attending crowds. The foundations of the Olympic village have been shaken repeatedly by the capacity crowds cheering such golden moments as Sarah Storey chewing up the track in the velodrome for the first of her three (thus far!) gold medals, or Ellie Simmonds hunting down American Victoria Arlen in the S6 400m freestyle in the Aquatics Centre. The sight and sound of 80,000 people in the stadium itself howling encouragement for iron-man Dave Weir as he out-thought, out muscled and out-sprinted the rest of the field in the T44 wheelchair 5,000m will live with me for a long time, and not a single medalist mounted the podium to anything other than a rapturous reception.

To me the whole event – like the Olympic games that preceded it – has indeed been inspirational. The only trouble is – what will we do when it is over?


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The twighlight shadows the horizon
The lustre fading from the day
I’m stranded on a shrinking island
And you are half a world away

The hourglass has changed direction
The silver sand sliding away
Time running slow on this connection
And you’re still half a world away

Plus ça change
Plus c’est la même chose

How did we come to this position?
If you had known would you have stayed?
Should I have raised more opposition
To living half a world away?

Plus ça change
Plus c’est la même chose

Your shining face cuts through the darkness
And I am half a world away

Plus ça change

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