Saturday, 1 December 2012

Tempting fate

I've been putting off writing this entry for one particular reason.  Every time I write anything about wearing a corset *again*  I immediately go off the idea and it all comes to nothing.  After two months, that may still be the case, but I very much hope not. 

I've been corseted now for several weeks - and when I say "corseted" I mean laced up in a corset tight all the time apart from showering and 'essential maintenance'.  Although I've had brief spells of lacing up before, and did it on and off on a pretty regular basis a few years back, I've never managed to do it quite so successfully.  How do I define success?  I've gone from a fully-closed 30" corset, down to a 28", and at the beginning of this week to a 26" one - which I bought some years ago when I could only just about fit into it.  So I'm feeling pleased, quite proud of my efforts, and best of all really comfortable and happy at being so tightly corseted.  I was pretty amazed at the photo I took last night of the jeans I'd been wearing all day - 34" waist Levis (my natural waist size) looking positively baggy!

I've always tended to look back rather wistfully to the time when I'd just left school but was still only a 28" waist and used to buy boys jeans because I could still get into them and they were in fact a better, slimmer fit on me than the men's styles.  It's probably optimistic to expect to be able to recapture that, but I'm able to pull my laces just a little bit tighter every few days so I'm certainly working on it!        

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Of cans... and the worms that lie therein

In a blog entry written round about this time last year, I concluded with the observation: "In an age increasingly dominated by revelations of sleaze amongst the rich and famous, it's a refreshing change to have come across a genuinely good person".  Normally, I stand by what I write on here as being an accurate reflection of my thoughts and feelings, based on my own perceptions and experience.  However, I'm neither omniscient, infallible nor clairvoyant and so I wasn't to know that other peoples' childhood memories of the late Jimmy Savile are considerably less happy and innocent than mine were.

The full story is yet to emerge.  While I have considerable reservations about the principle of launching accusations against people who are dead and therefore unable to respond to them - and the cynic in me can't help wondering if there's a "me too" element involved with an eye on a prospective claim for compensation - can this many people really be making it all up?  There's certainly a disturbing element of complicity and cover-up allegedly involved and a better-than-average chance that other famous names may get caught up in the fall-out.

Thinking back to when I was a teenager at the time, I'd have been an innocent victim, too.  Would the word of an unknown 13- or 14- year old boy be believed against that of a "respected" broadcaster?  Of course it wouldn't.  Would I have been naive enough to believe that being groped - or worse - by a famous DJ was 'par for the course'?  I might well have done, having overcome the initial shock.  The "untouchables" rely on their victims' continuing silence, as well as on the co-operation of their accomplices.  No-one, but no-one is in a position to blow the whistle.

What's going to eventually happen is at the moment pure conjecture.  The police are still trying to build up a complete picture of the extent of what went on, and you can't of course prosecute a dead person - although you can strip someone posthumously of their knighthood (incidentally I think it's high time we ditched that particular anachronism which has its origins in medieval chivalry, but that's another story).  But if a prima facie case is eventually made out, what good's it going to do?  It's bound to give the victims some sort of satisfaction, certainly.  Perhaps more significantly, it might at last make some headway towards encouraging other victims of abuse to come forward and take a firmer stand.  As events in Rochdale have recently shown, the problem is still being swept under the carpet just as it apparently was thirty or more years ago.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Trial by Jury Facebook

His dream in ruins, the hapless Jeremy Forrest was hauled into a Bordeaux court this morning, handcuffed - and complete with a coat over his head!  What was the point of that, incidentally: his photo was in every paper in the land last week, everyone knows what he looks like?  Anyway, if all goes according to plan, the extradition will be finalized on Thursday and he'll be winging his way back shortly afterwards.

Talking of things going to plan (or rather not, as the case may be) the journos have been busy digging away to find out what really went on last week.  The answer, we're told, is a staying in a seedy back-street hotel, living out of packed bags and subsisting off kebab takeaways.  Oh, and the thing that "betrayed" him - the dodgy fake CV.  Personally I'd have thought that was enough to tarnish the gilding a smidgeon on any fairytale romance, but maybe that's just me.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Megan Stammers, who was flown home on Saturday, has been staying at an "undisclosed location" being interviewed by the authorities (I do hope they're feeding her well after all those kebabs).  Presumably she'll soon have to start back at school: I mean, she's had a week-and-a-half of 'unauthorized absence from school' already or hasn't anyone else cottoned on to that yet?

There's certainly been no shortage of comment on all this.  After all, being a pupil at school is something almost everyone has had at least some personal experience of.  One that struck a particular resonance with me is this one on pupils' changing perceptions of their teachers.  Coincidentally I was just fifteen, when at my all-boys grammar school, we got our very first female teacher.  Married (well, a Mrs at least), 40-ish and by swinging sixties standards somewhat frumpish, she was in our eyes definitely not flirt material.  Her arrival to take our German O level classes nevertheless provided us 15-year old boys with something of a lively conversation topic, which soon descended into plumbing depths of hitherto uncharted vulgarity.  Certainly no-one had a crush on her, and if she had one on any of us she kept it well hidden.  Had she been on the other hand young, single and attractive (or even two out of the three) I can think of several of my ex-classmates who'd have been more than willing to test the water to see if they were in with a chance!  Taking that line of thought one stage further, I'm willing to bet that - then as now - if a 15-year old boy had run off with a 30-year old married female teacher, the level of outright condemnation and frankly rather judgemental criticism would be much more muted.

Perhaps rather tantalizingly if cryptically, Jeremy's lawyer has indicated that we can "look forward to the full story emerging".  Fair size chunks of it already have, courtesy of some determined ferreting.  Some of it scrupulous, some less so.  In my schooldays this would have seen the light of day in the form of a scandalous 'exposé' in the now-defunct News of the World.  Now, thanks to the magic of the internet, considerable material can be amassed and pieced together bit by bit: a tweet here, a photo there, a wish list, a diary entry, a link.... there's a reason it's known as the "Web", you know.  Everyone can play at being detective: forget privacy settings, a picture of sorts can still be assembled.  It may be incomplete or inaccurate: stuff uploaded in all innocence or with the best of intentions can appear to assume a sinister significance far removed from the one its owner or author may have intended.  The finger of guilt will point.

And maybe that's the moral in this story for all of us.  If you're ever accused or suspected or wrongdoing, the thing that will hang, draw and quarter you - even if you're innocent - will be your Facebook page.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Hang on a minute, though..... what now?

So, the runaways have been found, I see.  Twitter is chirping positively nineteen to the dozen with tweets of joy expressing how relieved all her family and friends are at the prospect of having young Megan Stammers back home again.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad she's apparently safe and well and hasn't suffered the same fate as countless other teenage runaways: in that respect at least she's been lucky.

The reports however are that the pair were spotted strolling hand-in-hand like any young lovers down a main shopping street in the middle of Bordeaux in broad daylight and the police were tipped off.  Megan was said to be "in floods of tears" when the police separated them.  Which suggests to me that she may perhaps not in fact have actually wanted to come back and be reunited joyfully with her family - or at least not just yet.  Either way, the scenario certainly doesn't bear the hallmark of a kidnap victim, and whatever the legal nicities of it, an "abduction" is not the word I'd use to use to describe it.

Jeremy Forrest the maths teacher is under arrest and if I were he, I'd get myself a good lawyer sharpish: he's going to need one.  His job and marriage I imagine are down the tube, and despite the UK judiciary's propensity for pretty perverse sentencing, he's got to be looking at jail time as being on the cards.

And what's Megan going to make of that, I wonder?  She's had an awful lot of her private life dissected in public this week (if anything on Twitter or Facebook can legitimately be described as "private", that is).  Will she blame her parents and/or the police for the abrupt end to her little escapade and the loss of the guy she loved (or thought she did)?  How will she look back on it in years to come?  What will she make of all the things that have been written about her?  Will she one day end up on the Jeremy Kyle show *shudders*?

We shall probably never know.  Out of the harsh glare of media publicity, some semblance of a normal schoolgirl's life should start to return.  But I doubt somehow that either of them are ever going to be able to just carry on as if none of it had ever happened.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

... and crushes on 'Miss'

"Childhood is a time of innocence" used to be the old saying.  Much or most of what I remember doing as a child was innocent enough, and although I don't particularly recollect having a schoolboy crush on any of my Junior school 'Miss-es' (or anyone else either) it certainly wouldn't have been looked upon as unusual - almost a rite of passage, you might say.  Going to an all-boys secondary school with (until I was in my O-level year) all-male teachers effectively then ruled out crushes anyway.  In fact we never knew anything much of what our teachers did in their private lives - even those whose own sons were at the school: it was regarded as bad etiquette to tittle-tattle or indulge in slanderous gossip.  And in the days when "social networking" was decades into the future, when phones were things on the end of a wire fixed to the wall, and when "grooming" meant nothing more sinister than making yourself look presentable with the aid of a brush and comb, it was all pretty harmless anyway.  The doodles on the cover of your exercise book and the names on the inside of your satchel or pencil-case weren't plastered all over Facebook and Twitter for all the world to see.

So I can't help feeling a little sorry for Megan Stammers and Jeremy Forrest, the story of whose 'crush' and subsequent 'elopement' to France has been plastered all over the papers this week.  I make no judgement on the rights and wrongs of this, save to say that basically tradition has it that the guy always cops the blame, because whichever way you slice it, he's old enough and supposedly mature enough to know better.  There is some probing and much apparent obfuscation over how much the school, the police and the parents knew beforehand about what had been going on, and what they were doing about it - the net result of which is probably going to make it more awkward for the star-struck lovers to return, if that in fact is what they eventually intended to do.

So far, almost a week after they were spotted on a cross-channel ferry to Calais, the couple seem to have disappeared without trace, although they could now be practically anywhere in Europe.  I've seen it reported that the usage of CCTV and ANPR on the continent isn't anywhere near as extensive as it is the 'nosey' UK, and the fact is (a) they're not armed bank robbers being pursued by a manhunt and (b) no-one really knows where to start looking.  In a way the romantic in me hopes it all works out for them, but the harsh reality of life is that it's far more probable to all end in tears.  Compared to all the missing teenage runaways who disappear every day of the week without anyone much even bothering to start looking for them, 15-year old schoolgirl Megan has at least had a bit of a head start at being found.

Monday, 3 September 2012

The onward march of progress

After a hiatus of almost three years, during which my old school lay empty and deserted, the rebuilding work is evidently progressing in earnest.  Today I came across a further set of photos, apparently taken over the weekend.  Although the science block has now been demolished, and everything else is covered in scaffolding, I spotted this photo of my old form room!

Although now stripped of furniture and fittings, Room 12 of Leamington College for Boys is just as unmistakeable as it was nearly fifty years ago.  Our desks were in rows across the room parallel to the beams of sunlight shining through the bay window, facing the blackboard on the wall at the right of this photo. The photographer was standing in the doorway, and I sat on the far side in the front row, probably just this side of where that ceiling beam is.  I was 15, in Form 5A and taking my O levels.

Looking at it now - I'm glad once again of the opportunity to do this bit of reminiscing.  It's something I never expected to see again, and I'm thrilled to have found it - and to have discovered it was all just as I'd remembered it.  It's been quite sad for me seeing the old school steadily crumble and disappear: I have very happy memories of those seven years, and I guess that's why probably why I remember the detail as well as I do - though I never imagined at the time that I'd be sitting here, five decades later, writing all about it!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Publish and be damned

It had to happen, of course: the only question is what took them so long.  But today, the Sun (who else!) have broken ranks in time-honoured style to become the first British national daily to publish the now-notorious photos of a naked Prince Harry romping in a Las Vegas hotel room.

Were it almost anyone else, it wouldn't even be news.  I've never been to Las Vegas (and have no desire to do so in the future) but I've no doubt people do that in hotel rooms there every day of the week, and probably every hour of the day.  The fact of a possible heir to the throne doing it isn't in itself particularly shocking: he's 27, single and passably eligible.  To allow himself, albeit unwittingly, to be photographed doing it and the results plastered all over the internet is at best an error of judgement and may perhaps encourage him to choose his girlfriends a little more circumspectly in future.

The Palace have reportedly done their best "We are not amused" act from which we're given to understand that any British newspaper publishing the photos would do so at their peril.  Publish and be damned, then!  Long gone are the days when journalists could be clapped in the Tower for displeasing the monarch, and the plain fact is that since the photos are effectively in the public domain, albeit having been put there (presumably) without the subject's consent, any "invasion of privacy" issue is already a done deed.  We're not told what the royal bodyguards were doing while all this was going on - perhaps having a strip party of their own?  But their role is primarily to stop undesirables getting anywhere near, not to act as 24/7 party poopers.

The "public interest" argument for publication is a little less cut-and-dried.  My guess is that most people who want to see the photo have by now already seen it - and it doesn't really raise any important questions of uncovering hidden secrets that the public have a right to know.  The Prince comes of course from a long line of rakes, whose exploits through the ages make this little indiscretion pale into insignificance.  But then of course his grandmother, who epitomises responsible majesty and utmost respectability, would probably prefer us not to be reminded of that - or at least not so publicly. 

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Déjà vu

They say that some of the nicest discoveries are those made unexpectedly.  When in late 2009, I found out what had happened to my old school, the following spring I contacted the developers to whom it had been sold, with a view to taking some photos of the deserted interior as a sort of souvenir of my schooldays there.  Although initially quite receptive to my request, the upshot was that, sadly, they weren't keen on giving me the run of the place, nor conducting a supervised tour, and I therefore resigned myself to just a mental memory of what it had all been like.

Yesterday afternoon, however, I came across three sets of photos - more or less succeeding where I'd failed, or more accurately boldly going where I'd feared to tread.  It made my day!  A virtual tour of Leamington College for Boys, reliving my days as a schoolboy: the stage in the now-deserted hall where I'd looked up every morning at the Head taking assembly; the empty bookcases in the library which I'd helped to run as a sixth-former, the very characteristically 50s-style stairs in the science block, the basins in the boys' toilets where I'd washed my hands at the age of 12 (I'm sure they're the same ones!); the old rusty cast-iron radiators that got treated to odd lick of paint occasionally during our holidays; the long dark wooden benches in the laboratories which were almost new when we sat at them; the gas taps where I'd attached the rubber hose of my bunsen burner in the Chemistry lab and the little sink where I'd washed out flasks and test-tubes when I was taking O level Chemistry - even the dreaded clothes rack in the changing rooms (eek!).  It was just as I'd remembered it all from fifty years previously.

At the same time, I was a little saddened by the desolation of it all.  The buildings have been empty for something like three years now, but that doesn't entirely account for what looked like decades of neglect that appeared in places on some of the photos.  In the thirty years after we'd all left and the sixth-form students took our places, the place had obviously been rewired, as I don't recollect there having been strip lights anywhere.  I'd gathered that alterations had been done to reflect the change of use, but I didn't see much evidence of any apart from an odd noticeboard or two.  Whatever had been done by way of maintenance could hardly be described as "pushing the boat out".  Soon, though, it'll all be gone: the conversion work is apparently going ahead in earnest now.  So I'm grateful to the photographers for their efforts and for providing me with such striking final souvenirs of seven years of my life.   

Friday, 22 June 2012

A rose by any other name

I was fascinated to spot a "leaked" article in the news yesterday, reporting that the Education Secretary apparently plans to scrap GCSEs and bring back O-levels!

Thirty years after the demise of the O-level, it's at least being recognized and acknowledged that the standard of GCSEs is nowhere near comparable and the pernicious creeping influence of grade inflation is rendering them almost useless as a true indicator of any real ability in the subject.  Predictably, the plans have drawn howls of protest from the teaching unions and also from the Lib Dems, who I suspect are mainly just miffed because they weren't consulted about it first.  It's perhaps rather bad timing for the thousands of kids sitting their GCSEs at the moment, who are understandably not going to be best pleased about the idea of their exams being 'too easy'.  We're told there's also to be a new-style CSE exam for the "less able" pupils, so everyone should - at least in theory - have the chance of coming away with a qualification of some description, and if the end result of all this is a system that actually matches the pupil's real ability it's got to be an improvement on the present rather shambolic state of affairs.

I rather hope the actual terms O-level and CSE are re-introduced, although early indications are the acronyms themselves might not be.  But millions of people know what they stood for, would be pleased to see the return of the standard of education that prevailed when they were last used, and are going to be disappointed if it all turns out to amount to nothing.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Seconds no more?

I hadn't actually been following it regularly, but on the couple of occasions I'd seen it mentioned somewhere and taken a look, I was quite impressed with the NeverSeconds- the nine-year old Scottish schoolgirl's daily account of what her school dinners consisted of.  I can't actually remember what I had for school dinners at her age, but I will admit my recollections of school dinners at secondary school are not particularly favourable ones, and I can't help feeling today's kids get a better deal overall than we did - aided and abetted by Jamie Oliver's intervention, no doubt.  Nevertheless, some of "Veg's" meals looked pretty dire, and at £2 apiece not outstanding value for money - although at least she had a choice, which is more than we ever got.

However, it was very enterprising of her, I thought, and at the same time quite supportive of the school, since the photos were apparently all taken with their consent if not encouragement.  Sadly, the school catering service which is run by the local council, came in for some hefty criticism from an article in a national daily paper, and the aforesaid council  chose to metaphorically shoot the messenger in true council jobsworth style by banning the taking of any more photos: the reason given being that the catering staff were upset and "feared for their jobs".  As far as I can make out, the photos simply recorded what "Veg" chose to eat that day from what was available: there's no suggestion that the photos or comments were doctored or chosen to present an unfavourable or unfairly biased representation, and indeed some of the fare looked (and was reported to have tasted) quite good.  Not only that, she raised a staggering amount for charity via the blog.

Anyway, the ban apparently generated so much criticism and bad publicity for the council in such a short space of time, that I see they've now done the decent thing (and probably the only sensible thing under the circumstances) and promptly rescinded it.  Common sense prevails!  

Oh, and we never got seconds of school dinners either - except when the food was so unsurpassingly awful that there was loads of it left over.          


Monday, 11 June 2012

Credit where credit's due

Re-reading my rather vitriolic rant on Saturday, it began to dawn on me that perhaps I'd been more than just a little unfair.  Irrespective of the rights and wrongs involved, companies aren't psychic, and often the easiest way of getting changes made is simply to ask for them.  With that in mind, I popped into the Coventry Building Society local branch this morning, spoke to a very pleasant and sympathetic guy who said he'd "see what he could do" and within a matter of minutes my £40 was refunded - albeit it with the caveat that "we won't be able to do this again".  Fair enough.

So I'm once again a happy customer.  Props to the Coventry for living up to their slogan, and for realizing - perhaps - that a happy customer is also a loyal member.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Coventry Building Society = TLC? I don't think so!

In common with one-and-a-half million other people, I entrust my money to the UK's third-largest building society - the Coventry. It just happens to be my local one, and while I'm not as a general rule particularly sold on the ethos of supporting local businesses per se, it is convenient - although most of my transactions are done online anyway. In recent years, the UK banking industry has come in for some pretty harsh stinging criticism, so it's perhaps not surprising that Coventry Building Society sets great store on being owned by their members (aka customers) with the slogan TLC not PLC. Hmm...

Also in common with x million other people, I don't keep a lot of money in my account sitting earning negligible interest- just enough to cover bills, basically. While I log on and check transactions/balances pretty regularly, I have a life and I have better things to do than monitor it 24/7! So I was dismayed to discover yesterday that a couple of Direct Debits had escaped my attention and had been "bounced", the CBS ripping me off to the tune of £20 each for the privilege of doing so, according to a couple of smug little messages which had appeared in my inbox. I use the term "rip-off" there advisedly, as these extortionate fees have been the subject of much dissatisfaction from bank customers in recent years and were the subject of a failed attempt by the Office of Fair Trading to get them outlawed by the Courts. Even though the true cost to the bank of a processing a failed DD has been reliably estimated at around £2-£2.50, I suppose I should console myself with the fact I'm only out of pocket to the extent of £40: the going rate at other UK banks is almost twice that. Nevertheless, adding another £20 apiece to the cost of a couple of things I'd bought for a few quid each seems to me to be just adding insult to injury.

I shan't bother complaining: someone's got to pay for the Directors' fat bonuses. Despite a fancy advertising slogan promising "we listen to customers", there are none as deaf as those that won't hear. However, next time the cashier serves me with the customary line of idle chit-chat patter... "and how's your day?" I shall be sorely tempted to tell him/her - in words of one syllable!

**Update - see next entry: Monday 11 June  **

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Apathy rules... OK?

This week's local council elections produced few real surprises, which I always feel accounts for why the turnout is almost invariably low (generally around the 25-30% mark).  In the absence of any particularly contentious local issues, the policies put forward by the candidates tend to reflect those advocated by their respective parties nationally, and it therefore should come as no wonder that those electors who bother to vote at all seem to take it as an opportunity to express their level of satisfaction with how the government of the day is performing.

A slightly more novel twist this time round was the addition of a referendum vote on whether our City should have an elected mayor.  Perhaps rather confusingly, we already have a Lord Mayor, which as the title perhaps possibly implies, is more of a ceremonial office.  The idea was apparently inspired by the success of London's elected mayor, the Prime Minister being reported as saying he wanted to see "a Boris in every city"!  While I can see the virtue of having a Mayor in London in overall charge of the city as a whole where the day-to-day services are provided by local Borough Councils specific to the area you live in, the same scenario isn't true of Coventry which has only one City Council.  Sceptic that I am, I could foresee at best confusion over who was elected to do what, and at worst a series of constant conflicts with the result that nothing ever got done.  Evidently I wasn't alone in that thought: the vote was almost 2:1 against the idea.

Those who wanted an elected mayor here are predictably disappointed, blaming amongst other things allegedly biased press coverage and the wording of the question on the ballot paper, while ignoring the rather obvious inference that the majority of voters either didn't want one or couldn't care less one way or the other.  At the same time, I suspect the likelihood of anyone standing who had the charisma of either Boris or Ken, probably seemed rather remote in peoples' minds. 

Meanwhile, down in London, I see Boris got re-elected - albeit by a narrow margin.  Once described, I thought rather aptly, as a "buffoon", I suppose he must be nevertheless rather a likeable one.  After all, a million people can't be wrong... can they?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Be careful what you wish for

The prayers of those concerned by the much publicized "drought" conditions appear to have been answered, at least partially - the 24-hour solid downpour on Sunday saw an already wet and miserable April out, prompting one commentator apparently to coin the phrase "the wettest drought on record"!  After a brief spell of sunshine yesterday, yet more heavy rain has fallen this morning, leaving our lawn more like wetlands or mudflats than a lawn.  Whether it'll recover in time for the summer is at the moment anybody's guess.

So since gardening was a bit out of the question, I set to the task of tidying up a bit round the house instead - attacking amongst other things the small mountain of padded Jiffy bags which we'd accumulated by virtue of buying most things online (and consequently delivered by post) these days.  I supposed I'd hung on to them for two main reasons: one is that it seemed a bit wasteful to just throw them away, and secondly they did come in quite handy when I had a brief but mildly successful spell of selling stuff on eBay a year or two back.

Although I kept some - and a pile of bubble-wrap which might come in handy for something one day - the rest I dumped in the bin.  Had I still been at work, I'd gladly have donated them: the library was always in need of them for posting books off in.  However in the absence of any alternative recycling options (I don't think you can recycle them as paper/card, because of the plastic padding they contain) I didn't reckon actually trying to sell them was a viable idea: they're probably not that expensive anyway and it's a bit counter-intuitive to pay to post off packaging material, although I suppose someone might've bought them and collected them in person?  Whatever.  There'll no doubt be plenty more where those came from!   

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Awww... diddums

I'm not sure if it's the silly season for news or something, but I was a little taken aback by the story of the 6-year old girl "abandoned" and "in tears" because the school bus apparently dropped her off at the bus stop too early and there was no-one to escort her 50 yards up the road into the school.

As you'd expect, many of the comments on the article are from people vying with each other to tell the best 'hard times' stories of how far/how long they had to walk to school at her age back in the 'good old days'. That I can certainly relate to: at the age of six I remember my mother used to walk me to school (there was no such thing as the "school run" because very few people could afford cars and we certainly couldn't). I'm not sure how far away we lived: it was certainly an isolated house on the outskirts of the village, so maybe 15-20 minutes? At Junior School I went with the other kids on the 'School Bus' (a converted 3-ton Army truck) and at Secondary School I went on my own, first on foot and then, when we moved to Kenilworth, by bus. So my mother only took me up until the age of about seven. I knew where the school was, where I lived, and roughly what to do if there was a problem - which incidentally wouldn't have included the use of a mobile phone.

My mother was a "full-time mum" *what a ghastly expression that is?* until I was 11 or 12 when she went back to work, although only part-time. I was taught to be self-reliant and to use a bit of common-sense and initiative, so I don't think I'd have been "sobbing for a quarter of an hour" just because there was no-one else around. There again, in those days, school gates weren't commonly locked. I suppose we shouldn't judge too harshly, but part of growing up is learning to be a bit independent and coping when things go wrong without relying on everyone else all the time - while at the same time developing the good sense to stay out of real danger.

Oh, and what a lovely line in petulant pouting young Katie has got in the (obviously posed) photo there!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Young, free and single... part 1?

I've written fairly frequently on here about my childhood and schooldays, but haven't really tended to mention anything about what I did by way of leisure activity.  Maybe it wasn't that interesting or I just don't remember it that clearly - either of which is a bit sad in a way, I suppose.  The other day, though, a random chance question suddenly reminded me of a key element of my transition to adulthood, which went by the name of the Dungeon Disco!  It was held on Saturday nights in the cellars of the Eathorpe Park Hotel, a Victorian-built establishment out in the countryside some seven miles or so from Leamington.  You needed a car to get there, and it was couples-only admission, which together effectively kept at bay the riff-raff and the weenyboppers: it was a smashing venue.

I first went one night in late 1970 or early 1971: my best mate at the time thoughtfully(?) fixed me up with an ex-girlfriend of his, and we all went as a foursome.  In fact his motive wasn't entirely altruistic, as I was providing the transport! You went in the hotel front door, and to the right I think was a little door which led down some stone steps into the "dungeon" - two parallel cellars, one of which accommodated the dancefloor with the DJ in the far corner, the other being the seating area.  A small bar ran across the end.  Not that it matters now, but I don't recollect where the loos were (maybe back upstairs?).  The dungeon theme was reinforced by white grilles and things painted on the ceiling, with bones and skeletons which glowed periodically under the UV lighting: I can't really do it justice with just a brief description.  The music was a mix of chart releases, disco classics and some oldies, with several "smooch-times" interspersed at intervals throughout the evening.  The DJ would do the occasional request dedication, and the whole thing went on till 1am, which was late by rural Warwickshire standards - at least in those days.

Needless to say the foursome wasn't a resounding success, but as luck would have it I soon acquired a partner of my own, and we went a number of times, singing along to such hits as Middle of the Road's "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" - dead corny now, but great fun doing the chorus as the DJ 'blanked' it out.  At Christmas 1972 it was an established favourite place of ours, and the one we chose for our wedding night - to the amazement of the DJ, as we asked for a special dedication to us newlyweds!  I'm sure he thought we were pulling his leg, but he duly obliged, and I shall treasure forever the happy memory of smooching to the Everly Brothers "Devoted to you", oblivious to everything except singing the words to each other.

We went again a couple of times the first year or so after we were married, but then I heard the Dungeon had shut, and sure enough, the next time we went, the little door to the steps was locked and it was all closed off.  We settled instead for a meal in the hotel restaurant, but although very nice, it couldn't re-create the special ambiance of the Dungeon, and we didn't go again.  This would've been around 1973 or possibly early 1974.  I lost track of what happened to the hotel after that, but I saw from a recent photo that although still standing, at some point it evidently closed altogether and was converted into private apartments.

I don't think I ever did discover what had led to the Dungeon's demise - or at least, if I did at the time, I've long since forgotten it now.  Maybe the hotel changed hands and the new owners didn't want to continue running it?  I suppose, looking back on it from the modern era of clubs and raves, discos in that format were possibly by then reaching the end of their 'shelf life'.  Who knows?  It was a great place while it lasted, though!   

SP3969 : Eathorpe Park by Andy F
Eathorpe Park
  © Copyright Andy F and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Save water... bath with a friend?

The recent spell of uncharacteristically warm Spring weather came to an abrupt end yesterday, with a chilly night giving way to stormy conditions: rain, sleet... and snow!  The snow admittedly hasn't amounted to much here, but it's the first wet day we've seen for about a fortnight I think - prompting slightly panicky pronouncements of drought conditions and imminent hosepipe bans, reminiscent of the famous drought of 1976.  Looking out now at the rain lashing against the window-pane and the phone wires bouncing in the wind, unending sunshine with temperatures in the 90s for days on end seems an attractive proposition.  It's tempting to conclude that we've learnt nothing about conserving water in the last 35 years, but then again there's arguably been no desparate need to.

I remember the house we lived in when I was a teenager: a pre-war detached house in Kenilworth which boasted an iron rainwater tank just above the kitchen, into which all the downpipes from the roof guttering emptied.  I'm not sure which of the previous owners had the idea to build it: it always struck me as being a bit bizarre, and none of the neighbours had one as far as I know.  It had a tap just by the back door, and during the summer we used it to water the garden, which was a large one and took an hour or two even using a hosepipe.  I don't think I ever found out how much it held, but in the ten years or so I lived there, I only recollect it actually running dry once.  When my parents later on had an extension built on the back of the house, they had the tank removed - which with the benefit of hindsight might perhaps have turned out to have been a mistake.

Oddly enough, the little pond in the local woods, which last year dried up to caked mud for most of the summer, this year seems to be starting to fill with water again - presumably from the rain, as there isn't a stream or anything there as far as I know.  Evidently there is water around, just not where it's needed most.  Which shouldn't really be that much of a problem: after all, the Romans were building aqueducts two thousand years ago! 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

D for dunce?

My Italian course finished for the Easter holidays the Friday before last.  It's an odd facet of the way the course is structured that you "pass" (and thereby qualify for progression to the next level up) at the end of this second term - with the third term consisting mainly of extra practice, consolidation and revision: you don't actually learn anything "new" as such.  Although you do have to attend all three terms to get the official course certificate.  Anyway, with that in view, I get an email yesterday from the tutor telling me I'd passed - the sting in the tail was that it was with a grade D!

I'm not exaggerating when I say I was gutted.  I'd got an 'A' last year and was naturally hoping for another this year, although I think I've mentioned at some point in my periodic ramblings on here that I've been finding the aural comprehension exercises very difficult.  So I wouldn't have been surprised at a 'B' on the basis of that.  That said, I may be, and probably am, attaching a negative significance to the grade which it doesn't actually have - it's not shown on the certificate or anywhere other than the email.  In fact none of our work is marked, so I don't even know how it's been arrived at or indeed what the possible grades are (A to E, like A levels perhaps?).  I'll have to try and find out from the tutor by next term: the email did say the extra third term would give me the opportunity to improve it.

The last time I got a D for anything was for mental arithmetic at Junior School, aged eight: coincidentally that was the Easter term, too.  I did also subsequently fail three O levels!  So there are precedents, and I guess it's just wounded pride I'm suffering from more than anything else.  Still, I daresay that's as good a motive as any to try and improve my performance?

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Just don't do it in the street and frighten the horses

I had my attention drawn earlier today to this report of an acquittal under the Obscene Publications Act relating to the distribution of an allegedly obscene DVD.  The DVD in question portrays "hardcore" gay sex acts - apparently including "fisting between men, urination, and incidents of sado-masochism". 

The acts themselves are of course not (or perhaps more accurately, no longer)  illegal between consenting adults.  It's the portrayal of them which constituted the alleged offence.  I haven't seen the DVD, so I'm not in a position to comment on whether the material in it is any more likely to "deprave" or "corrupt" than the multitude of clips on X-Tube and elswhere which I have seen catering for the same sort of tastes.  But for me one of the most telling things to emerge from the trial is the revelation that the jury "Although they were quite shocked initially, ... started to look quite bored very quickly"

That certainly echoes my experience of watching a supposedly hardcore German sex video loaned to me some years ago by a colleague at work.  The performances were all very laboured in the extreme: none of the participants seemed to be enjoying any of it and it was totally devoid of any sort of artistry.  Maybe I just wasn't in a receptive mood when I was watching it? 

The article to which I've linked reports that discussions will be taking place with the CPS and the BBFC.  Good.  Crown Court trials don't come cheap, and I feel bound to make the comment that it was a waste of public money: what useful purpose would a conviction would have served?  There's no suggestion that the DVD was being sold to minors, nor that the prospective purchasers weren't fully aware of what they were getting.  The BBFC's role of cinema censorship has, thankfully, dwindled over the years and is now more or less confined to 'grading' films according to their content and suitability for a potentially underage audience.  Leaving aside the obvious exception of childporn, it really shouldn't in the 21st century be necessary to worry about whether R18 material is going to deprave or corrupt the viewers it's aimed at and sold to.     

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Pause for reflection

Time to make New Years' Resolutions?  Probably so.  I haven't done any as such, because like most people I don't end up keeping them, but as I think one should at least make some sort of effort, I have made some tentative plans.  How they match up to the reality I'll maybe record on here as we go along.  I've got off to a good start with an entry for the first day of the year, at any rate. 

And so how was 2011?  It's going to stick in my mind forever of course as the year my sister died, but then I didn't have any control over that.  Of the things I did have a measure of control over, they went OK: not spectacularly well, but I avoided any major disasters.  I learned a bit more Italian, reminisced a little bit, and wrote a little bit.  I can't in all honesty say I achieved all that much, but then who can?  I can't pinpoint anything I did in 2011 that I've really since regretted, so I guess that's something of an achievement in itself.

As for 2012, I vouch for one thing only.  That this blog will be an Olympics-free zone!!