Wood you please - Chapter 10

Three different stories

11th June 2019

So it's another night with no sleep. I've had a reasonably productive day and week. I've finished a garden table that I've been working on and I've completed some legs for a client who wants to raise a lamp that she's purchased off the floor. I'm physically tired and mentally tired but sleep eludes me. Insomnia has been something I've lived with for many years. The slightest stress and my mind buzzes and sleep becomes a dim, distant friend: I kind of remember what it feels like but the memory is fuzzy and indistinct. So I do what I usually do – watch TV.

Tonight's list was 'interesting': The Brief, the story of an itinerant gambler whose father is dying in the last episode [not a great choice for obvious reasons] and since that didn't make me sleep I decided to watch an old favourite from  the 80s: Beverly Hills Cop. It's the story of a Detroit police-officer whose friendship with a criminal leads him into trouble. Hilarity ensues. It's made me think about friendship and friends.

Sometime in the 80s – a conversation with Dad

TWW:     Why don't you go and visit them?

Dad:        I don't know whether they want to see me and I don't want to impose.

I have often felt the same. I've always lacked in confidence particularly in my relationships with friends. I can pinpoint this feeling to an incident in the late 70s when I was told by a child in my class that none of my friends liked me. I remember as clearly as if it was yesterday. It was in the boys' toilets at the top of the Junior playground. The quarry tiles underfoot were slick with poorly aimed urine, the trough urinal started to flush and I stared into the brown, earnest eyes of the child and thought, 'Why is he telling me this?' My paranoia begins.

Sometime in the Early 90s

Friend:   You know you can be in a room full of people who like you and you'll think they hate you

11th June 2019

The saying goes, 'a friend will help you move. A good friend will help you move a body.' This is a stupid expectation I know but it makes me think of friends and friendships. Thankfully, no one I know would help me move a body because they are all inherently too good but does this mean I have no good friends? Of course not.

My friends have shown their true colours in the past few weeks in myriad ways. They have looked after me. They've called just to check-in. They've invited me over for dinner or lunch. They've been patient, understanding, caring. They've given up their time. They've been kind. They've mopped up tears. They've placed a gentle hand on my shoulder or have given me tight embraces. They've shared their homes or listened patiently whilst I've repeated myself.  They've just been there. And for that I can never thank them enough.

It would be too laborious [for you] to share every story with dear reader so I shall share just 3. But these stories could apply to any one of you.

Friend 1 – Sunday 14th April 2019

Friend:   I'll be there tonight.

TWW:     You don't need to come; I just wanted to tell you. I know it's the start of the Easter hols and ou'll want to rest

Friend:   I'll be there tonight.

As promised he arrived and he spent two days of his holiday in a small hospital room. He made mum and I laugh in between a stream of visitors. He sat chatting about the time he'd first met Mum and Dad: we drove through the night from university. We landed up outside our small-terraced home in Wembley and woke my parents with a loud back-fire from his ancient Vauxhall Chevette. In order to keep the rust at bay, he coated the entire car in clown shelf paper. He reminded us of my PhD convocation where he'd taken us on a short walk: seven miles uphill in the Yorkshire Dales. Dad was wearing a suit and was 66 at the time; Mum was 52 and just as exhausted. 3 miles in and my friend realised that this wasn't really a short walk for a pensioner and was worried about how grey they were going. Mum and I laughed again.

He sat with us for 10 hours on the first day and with us for 4 hours on the second day.

Friend 2 – Thursday 18th April 2019

I have to dress Dad in sudreh and kusti today. Although I'm not religious, I wanted to Dad to feel safe and happy. I know that he was happiest when protected by his religious garments and so I wanted him to feel safe on his next great adventure. When I arrived at the funeral parlour on Acton Lane with my cousin, the Directors were kind and sympathetic. My friend went to park the car and met me inside. After we had completed the religious ritual and I had left we drove back to his house. As we drove, I silently started to cry. He must have glanced at me and saw the tears rolling down my cheeks.

He rested his hand on my shoulder.

Friend 3 – the last six years

The friend I've had longest is Mum. I am definitely a mixture of both my parents. I have the fiery temperament of my mother and the introverted nature of my father. But Mum is the one I have always turned to. She is strong, passionate, and loving. And she has spent the last 6 years of her very well-deserved retirement looking after Dad. She didn't resent it, she did it out of love and her sense of duty to the man with whom she'd spent 51 years. As such she rarely went out for anything except medical appointments and shopping. Mum or I would tell Dad where we were going in the hope he wouldn't forget and we'd dash off.

February 2019

We can't do that anymore – Dad's too fragile. Dad's cousin [himself in his 80s] comes to look after him while we're out. Dad always used to talk of his cousins as brothers and sisters and they treated him as such. Dad's cousin returns pretty much weekly so that we can go out and get things done and for the love and care that he shows my father, I'm eternally grateful. Eternally.

End of March 2019

We've been invited to someone's house for lunch and I know that Mum really wants to go. As is my wont, I'm not particularly bothered as an afternoon watching NETFLIX or PRIME [other streaming services are available] seems infinitely more inviting.

I give Dad his bath and Mum and Mrs WW head out for lunch. Mum has left lunch for both of us and a list of instructions for me.

As I settle down to watch the TV, I can hear some noises coming from Dad's room. He's struggling to get himself out of bed. As I approach, he asks me who I am. This is the first time that this has happened. I manage to swallow the lump in my throat and help him.

I know how upset this made Mum but as ever, she bore this new load with her usual good humour and fortitude. I can't express how much I love both of the women in my life [Mum and Mrs WW]. They put up with my moods and my temper. They look after me, they care about me and they show it. I can be a bit of a cold fish and as such I express myself better on the page than I do in real-life so this is for you both. I love you.

Author's Note

This leaves me to thank all of you – my dear, good friends. I am lucky to have all of you in my life. You have refreshed my faith in humanity and I hope that I can repay you someday. I don't know if I will but thank you none-the-less.

PS However, I still won't move a body.

 

 

 

Wood you please - Chapter 9

Three Stories

3rd June 2019

Woodwork has always been my sanctuary, the space where my head can get screwed back on. However, in the last 6 weeks it just hasn't been the same. It seems so mundane. It seems so futile. It seems so irrelevant.

6 weeks ago Dad died and although the world has not stopped turning and the sun has not stopped shining, I can't shake off what he'd become. I've written approximately 2000 words already but having read it, I don't think he'd like it. Should I delete it? Should I share it? At the moment, I'll do neither. Instead, I'll adopt a 3rd way – I'll rewrite it.

My dad touched many people in his quiet unassuming way – me more than most and I define him with three words parenting, prayer and politics. As ever, I'll put the cart before the horse.

January 2019

I suppose one of my parents' greatest regrets was the fact that they didn't have grandchildren. It was no one's fault but that's the way of the world. I could have explored more options but I couldn't face that particular roller-coaster and grandchildren-less they were. A little boy came into my life however, and he called Mum and Dad grandma and grandpa. He's not mine but he feels like he is. I was looking after him today and as we walked together past the park I used to play in, I explained that Grandma was really looking forward to seeing him but Grandpa would be quiet as he's not very well.

As is a five-year-old's wont, he wanted to know why he was ill. His mother explained that he wasn't eating his food and so he wasn't strong. This seemed to satisfy him and when we went to visit Mum and Dad he delighted in the cuddles and kisses Mum gave him and giggled as she tickled him. My mum has always loved children.

Mum asked if he would come up and see Grandpa which he eagerly agreed to and in his five-year-old way tried to engage with Dad. He was fascinated by the length of Dad's ears and how 'wobbly' they were. He wanted to show he cared so he asked if he should feed him. We all smiled indulgently but said no.

Note from the author

As with many sons, when I called it would be a quick exchange of pleasantries with Dad followed by, 'Where's Mum?' The conversations I had with Dad revolved around politics and my earliest memories of him are filled with him watching the news.

 ‘Coal not dole’ were the words on everybody’s lips in the summer of 1984. Arthur Scargill had made the fateful error of believing that democracy did not extend to the NUM playing right into Maggie Thatcher’s hands – the result was the creation of the UDM, Ian MacGregor continued down the road of dismantling the mines and we had another 6 years of Maggie.

Although many say that Dad and I look alike, including my mother [she jokily says that we are both ugly], we are most similar in our politics – left-wingers and proud. I suppose the summer of 1984 was when many of my generation became politicized, I can pinpoint the moment almost to the minute: Dad’s watching the news and Maggie comes on the screen – he immediately starts shouting in Gujarati, “Mother fucker, you mad fucker…” mentally, I raise my fist in solidarity.

Note from the author

Dad suffered from a dementia type illness and we had been told by his wonderful geriatrician that his brain had shrunk considerably since his last CT scan. Dementia is a cruel illness. It strips you of your essence, your being, your soul. Tellingly, he'd forgotten his prayers. Those words that he'd recited day after day, without fail, for his entire life had now escaped him.

March 2019

After I had given Dad his bath and ensured that the routine had been completed to Mum's satisfaction, I got him dressed. He'd have to stand to put on his clothes and although he found it exhausting, he insisted on bathing, getting dressed and praying every day. As he got weaker, this was harder and harder to do. His religious garments [his sudreh and kusti – a vest and thread] had to be put on but they got in my way as they kept falling down on my head.  I joked with him and said we'll have to cut these. A familiar, throaty rumble escaped his lips, 'Khabadhar!' which means don't you dare! Mum and I laughed at this. For me it was a reminder of my youth and for her it showed that although Dad was almost gone, some of his sense of self was still there. It was almost the last time he was lucid.

17th April 2019

Dad died in the night. As we were waiting in the room, a voice note appeared on my phone. It was from my boy, he said he loved me and that he was sad that grandpa had died.

18th April 2019 – the day of the eulogy

Mrs WW had told me she's spoken to my boy's mum, she said he was still very upset and that he thought it was his fault that Grandpa had died. He had asked his mum if he should have forced him to eat.

Author's note

As I pondered this in the garage and shed a few private tears, I mused on what I was going to say later that afternoon.  Casual encounters I have had have been an integral part of my life - those chance meetings where my destiny twisted and turned and fate threw me a ‘get of jail free’ card and I remembered an assembly I had been to. As ever, it was one of the Head's

18th April 2019 – the eulogy

As I finished the first two stories I asked the 150 or so mourners to close their eyes and think about someone they love or someone who loves them. I asked them to think about how much that person worried about them, cared for them, thought about them and sacrificed for them. How they tried to guide, model and shape. How they spent every waking moment wanting and hoping for the best for them. And then I wanted them to think about my dad [and mum] as they'd done all of those things and  many more, for me….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wood you please… Chapter 8

The Infant/Junior Uncertainty

29th September 2018

My nephew and niece had been left to their own devices for a weekend. Their parents had been invited to a wedding where the children weren't invited and they were excited at the prospect of being home alone. I texted my niece late in the evening to see that they were ok, there was however no response. I woke early and my response was waiting [we went to bed early 'as we are good kids']. I smiled and texted her that I'd be there to pick and her brother up at 9. I was taking on the Taxi of Dad role for the weekend. As I dropped them to and from various clubs our conversation was thus:

TWW:                     So how was it being alone?

BOTH:                     Good

TWW:                     And….

BOTH:                     It was really quiet

TWW:                     [Smiling broadly] so you missed them?

BOTH:                     Err NO! [Insert the voice of your own teenager's sardonic voice]

ON OUR RETURN JOURNEY A FEW HOURS LATER:

TWW:                     What are you going to do with the rest of your day?

MN [My niece]:    I have an RS essay to finish. It's on euthanasia

I pondered this for a while, my thoughts drifted to when she was little. She was always the one who wanted to do things, wanted to have adventures and wanted to make people laugh. She has her father's sense of humour. I dwelled on this and how our conversations have changed from telling them stupid stories to conversations about life and death.

TWW:                     I want to be euthanized.

MN:                        Nooooooo!

The conversation continued with her saying flatly that she wasn't going to do it. My nephew, the older one, said that he would.

My mind drifted again…

 

12th July XXXX – The Governors’ Annual Report to Parents

…and the teacher in Year 2 will be The WW

Silence followed by an audible intake of breath.

Presumably my reputation precedes me.

 

A few weeks earlier

The conversation inside Sweaty Secretary Head’s [henceforth and further to referred to as The Head] office had started off quite stilted. I was really just a bystander the two main protagonists were Asian Teacher and Ginger Teacher – both wanted a change: one was fed up of doing SATs and one wanted to do SATs.

The Head:              So, it’s quite simple really you want to swap?

AT:                          Well…

GT:                          I don’t want to go back to the Infants

AT:                          And I don’t want to go so high up in the Juniors

The Head:              And I asked you to do Year 6 [turns to me]

Mr WW:                                [smiling brightly] Well I don’t mind really…

Author’s Note

Generally at the end of an NQT year the received wisdom is to consolidate one’s practice in the same year group…perhaps The Head saw in me the need to move about because for not one year that I worked for/with him did I remain in the same year group.

GT:                          I’d really like to do Year 6

AT:                          And I could take Year 3

The Head:              [Turns to me] And that would leave you in the Infants [there’s a note of nervousness – is this really shouty teacher going to cope in the Infants]?

The WW:               [smiling brightly but this time in rather a fixed manner] Eer… Yeah ok…

The Head:              [stands up and walks to the door] well I didn’t think this conversation was going to conclude like this [he had a habit at the time of vocalising his thoughts].

13th July XXX

A [very] middle class mother approached me today. She was concerned about next year; her son is quite scared of me. [This was the first time a parent had said this to me and I was devastated, as I became more experienced [thick skinned some might say] I cared less, by the last few years my thoughts more along the lines of “Good”]. I showed the appropriate professional concern and trotted out one of the platitudes that we are not taught but all teachers seem to ‘osmotically’ absorb, “Oh well, I know I have a reputation for being strict, which I don’t apologise for, but I’m not all that bad really…”

4th September XXXX

Son of [very] middle class mother was so relieved that I wasn't going to kill/eat/maim him that he fell asleep on my lap at church – we have bonded.

5th September XXXX

The difference between the Infants and the Juniors, I have discovered today, is that Infant teachers really teach – they explain, they make it clear, they demonstrate and model [not because it's good practice but because they have to].

Today was the first literacy lesson of the year, for some inexplicable reason the school has provided literacy books sans margins. So after the lesson introduction I explained that to the children that they would have to draw their margins themselves and then write the question number on one side of the line and write their answer on the other side – I also explained that the margin shouldn't be too wide, 'about the width of your ruler…'

Child A came up to me at the end of the lesson to declaim proudly that she'd finished her book, I was busy so I replied, "That's nice darling, well done!" As I continued my work with child B it dawned on me what she'd said; the work set had been challenging but it certainly wouldn't finish a book.

"Sweetie, could you bring me your book?"

"Here it is Mr Woodworker"

As I opened her book I realised my mistake, I jumped in ahead of the children, I'd explained how to draw a margin, I'd even explained that you write the question number on the left hand side and do the writing on the right hand side – what I hadn't worked out that none of the children knew their left from their right: A had diligently, in her inch square lettering, written the answers to my questions on the left hand side of the margin. I smiled – the Infants was going to be fun.

 

29th September 2018

I had jumped ahead again. My niece wasn't ready for that conversation. She can only think in the present: for her,  people like me are always going to be around, we are always going to be there. And I had done what I have always done; jumped in without thinking and had a conversation where all the participants weren't yet ready.

Wood you please... Chapter Seven

Chapter 7 – The Interesting Times Curse

Author's Note

In 1966, in Cape Town, Robert Kennedy used the phrase, "May he live in interesting times." This quote is purported to be an ancient Chinese curse. Although there is no actual evidence that this is indeed Chinese, it is an interesting phrase.

Arguably, we are living in the most 'interesting' of times and today's blog tries to unpick it.

Manchester July 1993

Today I woke up in a cold sweat. It wasn't the usual anxiety dreams of my impending PhD viva-voce that had filled my night-time thoughts; today it was much more personal. Yesterday evening had been a good one. I had met up with the 'boys' [my university friends from my undergraduate days]. It was the usual conversation and revolved around reminiscing, politics and football. Some parts of the conversation I could intelligently contribute to and others I chipped in with limited knowledge and tried to appear intelligent. [At the time Fantasy Football was massive and all I heard at home were the stats from the papers. I seemed to absorb them and henceforth was called 'Statto'.] Anyway, I digress.

At one point in the evening the phrase, "Play the white man" was directed at me. This shocked me but as a people-pleaser I did not want to make a scene so I replied with, "Easy!" and the moment passed.

This phrase must have wounded me more than I thought: my anxiety dream du jour was us, at a pub, where I was being racially abused and none of my friends lifted a finger to help me.

Author's Note

This stayed with me for some considerable time.

Stockport September 1994

I went to the pub last night with one of my closest friends. She is also my landlady. Our drink was interrupted by a drunken old man. He was leering at her and then at me and then back at her. There was something upsetting him but quite what was unclear.

DM [staggering to our table]: 'ey! 'ey!

We both glance up and I give the man a wary smile.

DM: 'ey! You're a bit burnt to be a Jew

This was all he said as he staggered closer but his voice steadily increased in volume.

DM: 'EY! I'm talking to you! YOU'RE A BIT BURNT TO BE A JEW!

I couldn't make sense of this and neither could my friend but we assumed that his problem was my colour. By this time my friend, who has a volcanic temper, had reached the end of her tether.

MF: WILL YOU PLEASE FUCK OFF!

Suddenly, this buzzy Stockport pub was silent except for the crash of chairs behind me. These chairs had been occupied by a group of skinheads who were now looking balefully in our direction. Inwardly, I groaned; however, my friend's outburst had been effective and the drunkard moved on.

I don't really like scenes in public and I was both embarrassed and, if I'm honest, a bit scared. As a consequence, my friend and I decided to leave. I needed the loo so before we departed I visited the Gents. Mid-flow, I heard the door open behind me and I heard a Mancunian voice:

SH:          Hey!

Had I not started, I probably would have when I saw who it was. Over my shoulder, I saw one of the skinheads whose chairs had crashed over. He looked at me with a serious stare and continued.

SH:          I want to talk to you.

Having finished, I turned and walked [rather shakily] to the basin. As I washed my hands, I prepared for the onslaught to come…it didn't. Having waited for me to wash my hands, I turned to face this skinhead and to my surprise his hand was outstretched.

SH:          I just wanted to say we're not all like that fucker.

I quickly dried my hands on my trousers [yes this was pre-shorts] and offered my hand in return. Tears welled up in my eyes but they weren't just the emotional tears of this act of pure humanity; they were also tears of shame. He had the good grace to turn away and start speaking again.

SH:          I want you and your mate to have a drink with us.

I stammered my apology and he shrugged:

SH:          But next time, I want you to have a drink with us.

TWW:     That would make me very happy.

As it happened, we did re-visit that pub but I never saw them again.

12th September 2018

As I write this, travelling home from visiting a client, I reflect on the 41st anniversary of Steve Biko's death in police custody. A quote comes to mind,

"The revolutionary sees his task as liberation not only of the oppressed but also of the oppressor. Happiness can never truly exist in a state of tension."

We are all capable of pre-judging but isn't humanity the ability to change our minds?

 

Wood you please... Chapter Six

Chapter 6 – The Hunger Game Confusion

Author's Note

My mother always said that as long as I was full I was a happy child. This has always been true and holds true to this day. If I am hungry and the pangs last too long, then I am liable for an explosion. I love eating and always have, hence a 48 year struggle with my weight. Many diets and fads later, here I am: not thin, not fat but here.

Hunger has always featured heavily in my life, I cannot control it. If I'm hungry my mind cannot focus on anything else. I need to assuage the pangs otherwise I just cannot settle. Hunger, in the sense that I mean it now, is that hunger to succeed, that thirst for recognition. Not only the drive to conquer but to conquer whilst young.

The summer of 1977

Teacher:                 I just wanted to call you in because he's been going off the boil lately.

Mother:                 What do you mean?

Teacher:                I was just worried because he's given up working. I looked up his date of birth in the register; it's just because he's so young. He's one of the youngest in the year.

Author's Note

I heard this story a lot during my childhood and generally it was around exam season. My mother insisted that not slack off just because I was one of the youngest. Therefore, I strove to achieve whilst young. I wanted to get my O-levels when 15 [I did], I wanted to get my degree when 20 [I did], I wanted to get my PhD by 24 [I missed that by a couple of months – I had just turned 25]. I wanted to be a Head in my 30s I did that [just]. But because of this rush, this hurry, this hunger I never did any of them particularly well.

I did eventually give up working [in the traditional sense]. Mainly because I hated it; partly because I was no longer hungry and finally  because I was bored: terribly, terribly bored.

19 November 1978

I’m lying on the mustardy orange carpet of our living room; I’m face down and bored.

Author’s Note

Boredom has featured heavily in my life: I cannot handle it.  My wife hates it when I’m bored. She loathes the relentless pacing up and down. The unnecessary and metronomic trips to the fridge:

1.       Open fridge door.

2.       Peer inside.

3.       Close fridge door.

4.       Pace around and then repeat until shouted at.

Counter-intuitively boredom keeps me fresh, it’s the driver for trying things new, for changing things, for taking risks. I am a risk-taker, but always plagued with the fear that the risk won’t pay off: I hate the adrenaline rush and those heart pumping, sweaty palmed, nausea inducing moments, but the mundane and the humdrum is hated far, far more.

 

4th June 2018

I'm hungry again. Hungry for success. Hungry for success in the 'maker world' but I need to slow down now and really start learning my craft. Just because I'm hungry for success doesn’t mean that I'm going to get it. I need to earn it. I need to learn it, I need to be patient. I need to chew slowly and allow the stomach of my mind to realise I'm full and not yet ready for another mouthful.

 

 

 

 

Wood you please... Chapter Five

Chapter 5 – The Casual Encounter Assumption

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Today was a good day. It was like every other in many ways but today was better than most. I was asked to be part of a wedding. Nothing major, but a part nonetheless. I was to provide the cheese platter. I received a text from one of my favourite people; he wanted to know whether I could make one. He was doing me a favour really: he knows that I am striving to start a new business.

The bride-to-be is his daughter and as I drove to the timber merchant, I reflected on the first time I met her and the rest of his family. It was at a Christmas Fair in 1999. The bride was a diligent 8 or 9 year old who was proudly pushing a double buggy. She took the responsibility seriously as she obviously wanted to make her daddy proud…as ever, I am putting the cart before the horse.

22nd March 2012

I have worked for [and with] many Head Teachers in the last 14 years – the very first one I met, in anger if you will, was on the first day of teaching practice in September 1998. He was as unlikely a HT as you would ever meet: fat [not particularly unusual], bald [slightly more unusual], American [unusual], six foot four [very unusual] and crammed into probably the smallest office space I have ever seen [in my memory his frame in that office was a quantum impossibility].

28th September 1998

I cycled from Alperton into Willesden this morning for the first day of Teaching Practice [Serial School Experience as they call it at the IOE]. The school was tiny and had an almost imperceptible smell of urine, it reminded me of my own school days – for some reason all schools in the 70s smelt of a mixture of urine and disinfectant. The door was opened by a rather smartly dressed  lady who smiled, said good morning and asked me to take a seat in the staffroom. Two class teachers were chatting and as I entered they continued sotto voce, “Bloody students in today…” [Note to self: keep out of her way]. I made my excuses and took the opportunity to wander the halls. I looked into a room to see, what I imagined to be, a sweaty school secretary. He was typing furiously and the perspiration was glistening on his brow; the day was warm and I thought to myself the head could have easily bought him a fan.

The well-dressed lady who I had presumed to be the head walked up to me and said, “I’ll see if Mr Head is ready to see you.” She ushered me into the tiny office and I came face-to-face with the “sweaty secretary”. He gave me a pleasant enough smile and talked me through the dos and don’ts of the school. He asked me where I wanted to be based; he then stood up and walked to the door. Our meeting was over.

Author's Note

Little did I know that was the first of many hundreds such walks that I would witness in the next 19 years: sometimes I would be the one being escorted away and sometimes I was an observer of that little piece of diplomatic theatre.

In the classic 1980s cult comedy ‘Red Dwarf’ the casual encounter between Dave Lister and Arnie Rimmer outside a brothel seemed disastrous…

Lister:                     Hang on, hang on. Are you saying you never became an officer because you shared your quarters with someone who hummed?

Rimmer:                 Obviously not just that, Lister. Everything! Everything you ever did was designed to hold me back and annoy me.

… but the nature of their relationship was a symbiotic one. Holly [the insane computer] placed them together for precisely that reason, because they needed one another. 

Although I have no particular faith in the karmic nature of the universe; the casual encounters I have had have been an integral part of my life - those chance meetings where my destiny twisted and turned and fate threw me a ‘get of jail free’ card.

Wood you please - Chapter Four

Chapter 5 – The Badge of [Dis]honour Anomaly

28th February 2018

So, I've just returned from India after a lovely trip which included a family wedding, a brief sojourn to Amritsar and delivering some toys. More on Amritsar in a subsequent blog; today's thought-piece came to me as I was measuring some wood for a plant stand. As I was completing the mental arithmetic and applying my knowledge of scale I remembered what I have told so many: mathematics is a subject that needs to be experienced. It needs to become second nature and applied in real-life situations. It needs to be concrete before it is ever abstract.

In a previous life as a Head Teacher, teacher, consultant blah blah blah I met all sorts of people: those who are rude, those who are angry, those who are sad and most pertinent of all: those who are ashamed.

Sometime in the Academic Year XYZ [dates obliterated to protect the innocent)

A man [Mr Parent] knocks on my study door; he blushes and asks if he can have a word.

He wants to tell me why he can’t help his son with his reading homework [he’s just had a minor bollocking from his son’s class teacher].

“Erm, well…it’s just that…”

I scream silently -I’m busy and I just don’t have the time.

“…I can’t read.”

Mr Parent  gives me a hunted look and looks down at his shoes.

Suddenly, I have all the time in the world.

28th February 2018

According to Stephen Fry libraries are sensual places: brimming with possibilities – new thoughts, new ideas, new beginnings and for me a new dawn. I suppose when one career comes to an end, unless said career has provided with bounty beyond measure, a new one must beckon and the library is the start of many such careers. I’ve spent many weeks at the British Library and it's a simply marvellous place…

I suppose my love affair with books started when I was two; I’ve been told the only way to keep me quiet was to have a story read to me – from my busy parents’ perspective this meant that I needed to learn to read quickly. As soon as I was able to, I would spend hours and hours reading, reading, reading: anything, posters, beermats, books magazines, toilet walls – anything.

Reading opens the mind; it challenges ideas, reaffirms concepts and most of all it is fun. I’ve always shared my passion for books with the children I have taught and one of my greatest pleasures was teaching a child to read. In fact, although I would not  go as far as saying that teaching English was my favourite;  I knew, with unswerving faith, that it was the passport to success. The subject I probably disliked teaching the most was maths – not because I found it dull [I actually find it very interesting and in some perverse way aesthetically quite pleasing] – but I found it difficult to teach – I just didn’t get why some children found it hard. I found it galling, frustrating, irritating, exasperating, infuriating and other things ending with –ing, all because I was unable to put myself in the pupils'  shoes and walk around in them, because I was unable to fathom why they were at a complete loss. I would make every effort to be kind and calm and understanding whilst my inner quiet was taking a pounding: sometimes more successfully than others [to my eternal shame].

Children are easily embarrassed, easily humiliated and very easily bullied into giving up on something, so I can understand why there are so many innumerate people out there, but what I don’t get is why being innumerate is almost a badge of honour. I’ve been at dinner parties where attendees have talked openly and unashamedly about their inability to count, add, subtract, do long multiplication etc., but I have never been at one where someone has proudly proclaimed they can’t read. These are all well-educated, prosperous and successful people who should know better. So the question I ask myself is, 'Why do people think it's ok to be crap at maths?' Don't be.  Maths is great. If you need some help, ask a friend, ask a colleague or if that's too embarrassing, ask me…

 

Wood you please... Chapter Three

Chapter Three – The 9.5 situation cont'd

 

Friday, 4th November 2016

So, the story thus far:

·         Thumb cut off in the table saw

·         No one around

·         Blood everywhere

·         Just about to get in the car

 

Author's note

Although the drive to the hospital was interesting it's not interesting enough to relate here and our story continues at the hospital. As I entered, I noted the crowd and wondered how long the wait would be.

Reception:          Yes

TWW:                  Erm…

Reception:          [Glancing up and noting with horror the blood drenched towel] You need to go to the triage nurse now…

 

To ensure my obedience, he trotted over to her and tapped her on the shoulder. She too glanced up, asked me to remove the towel and immediately ushered me into the inner sanctum. I was then to meet lady I was to spend the next few hours. The order of business was:

1.       Take an X-ray

2.       Administer some pain medication

3.       Assess the situation and clean up

Take an X-ray

I was rushed to the X-ray department and the staff there were told in no uncertain terms that I was next. On entering I could hear the hushed tones of two young radiographers

R1:                          You do it

R2:                          No, you do it

R1:                          No! You do it

Moments later, a young lady stepped into the room.

TWW:                    Don't worry; I'll do it, just show me what you want me to do

I followed her instructions and was swiftly despatched back to my nurse. I offered to clean up the blood that had leaked from my hand but I had embarrassed her enough: she refused with a blush.

 

Administer some pain medication

Prior to my X-ray adventure, I had been given some nameless pain medication. On my return I was asked about its impact. As they had not even begun to touch the pain a charge nurse was consulted and he said that some anaesthetic would be in order. The next stage of the procedure was to clean the wound with 2 litres of saline and to do that without pain relief would be tantamount to torture.

TCN:                      I'm afraid this bit is going to hurt as I have to inject the anaesthetic directly into your stump.

TWW:                    [Shrugged in resignation]

The anaesthetic arrived and was duly administered. As the drugs coursed through my system I realised quite how great drugs are. Pain melted, muscles relaxed, mood lifted and I began to enjoy the experience. I lay back on the couch and requested a black coffee. I smiled at Mrs WW and asked her to call work and let them know of my accident. I told her that although I was in pretty bad shape now I would probably be at work on Tuesday [proof positive that drugs addle the brain, dull the instincts but make you feel GOOOOOOOOOD].

After cleaning and bandaging I was packed off to a specialist hospital for plastic surgery. On arrival, I noted quite how busy it was [packed to the rafters] and the bold sign on the front door: THIS IS NOT A FIRST COME FIRST SERVED CLINIC. BE PREPARED TO WAIT. Although I inwardly groaned, Mrs WW was made of sterner stuff. She used my parcelled thumb as an all access pass and went to the head of the queue. After recoiling slightly, the receptionist realised the urgency of the situation and took my thumb to the Registrar's Office. Moments later, I was seated in front of a very friendly and efficient young man. He gave both halves of my thumb an intense look and informed me that I was no longer an emergency: there was nothing he could do to reattach my thumb.

NinepointFive Wood works was born!

 

Final note

From beginning to end I was treated by the NHS with dignity, respect and expert professionalism. Without a doubt they are brilliant in every way and I WILL NOT HAVE A WORD SAID AGAINST THEM. Every single one of them works in a demanding and stressful environment and they are heroes to a wo[man]!

I love you all and will always be in your debt!

 

 

 

 

 

Wood you please... Chapter Two

Chapter Two – The 9.5 situation

 

Monday, 11th December 2017

At last I have an idea.

Author's note

I have been tussling with what to call my wood working company and today it came to me.

 

Friday, 4th November 2016

I have had an absolutely marvellous week. It has proved that I can still do it [if I really have to – teach that is]. I had spent my week covering Year 6 and thoroughly enjoyed the bridge building topic we had been studying. So much so that I had promised them that I would make them a bridge out of wood so that they could compare the construction and joining methods with the bridges they'd made themselves. Before I did that, I just had one task to do.

 

Author's note

I was listening to a favourite podcast – The Christian O'Connell Breakfast Show. At about 6:50am on the live show:  Richie, the show's side-kick, displays his talent as a newshound. It's a segment I quite enjoy, a feature named "Hitler's Toilet" and it's part of the show which can be either inane or intelligent [generally in about equal measure]. What follows is in no way attributable to Ritchie Firth or the Christian O'Connell Breakfast Show but something piqued my attention or more probably  I was not concentrating as I should: as one second I was working on the table-saw the next I was staring at the bloody stump of my thumb squirting [very slowly]  in time with my heart.

About 8:55am

I remember saying, 'Oh no, oh no, oh no' with a rising note of panic in my voice. I stemmed the flow by applying a tourniquet to the base of my thumb using my right hand. As I was all alone, I needed to call for help and managed to call 999 on my mobile phone. It  was on speaker and therefore managed to reapply my tourniquet. Now what happens next is neither funny NOR is it a criticism. 999 are besieged with calls by pranksters, wankers and attention-seekers. They are unable to assess or predict whether a call is a genuine plea for help or a call from some stupid mother-fucker who has time to waste. Long story short no ambulance was dispensed.

About 9:00am

I was seriously beginning to panic, I definitely felt very alone. I went around to my neighbours' houses but no-one was at home. As I sat on the driveway, I tried my wife: no answer, I tried a friend: no answer, I tried my wife: no answer and my friend again: no answer. At last I got through to a friend and she winged her way over.

About 9:30am

As my friend stepped out of the car, tears welled up in my eyes. I was so relieved to see someone that I knew, the emotions I had managed to quell came to the fore.

About 4:00pm the same day

The friend who had rescued me, came to visit with her husband [my school-friend].

AD:                         When I stepped out of the car, it looked like a horror movie.

About 9:30am

AD quickly assessed the situation, got some cloths from the house and together we managed to get the garage closed. After trying to phone Mrs WW again, we reversed out of the drive.

AD:                         But what about your thumb?

WW:                      Forget about it, it's been in sawdust for nearly half-an-hour, forget about it.

AD:                         No, we have to try.

As I opened the door of the garage, the greying meat that was my thumb protruded from a mound of wood shavings and dust. She looked at me in horror:

AD:                         Have you got a tissue?

WW:                      [Mentally:] oh for fuck's sake! [Orally]: there's some kitchen roll over there…

About 4:10pm the same day

AD:                         [In Gujarati]: you know, if you hadn't found that tissue, there was nothing on Earth that was going to make me pick up that thumb!

We all laugh.

 

Author's note

I can honestly say, I don't know where I would be if AD hadn't picked up her phone that day. Thanks darling, you know who you are…

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wood you please… Chapter One

Chapter One – The please yourself dilemma

 

Tuesday, 13th February 2018

At the moment, I am flying just above Yerevan at approximately 39,000 feet. I am on my way to Mumbai [the financial jewel in the Indian colony of the Raj]. It is my brother-in-law’s wedding in a few days and I have left the workshop for my first holiday.

 

Friday, 8th January 2016

The woodworker is chatting to one of his rap buddies [Dr G], she’s not really but she is my friend.

DR G:                     It’s time you learned to please yourself.

 

Now, to those who know me best, pleasing myself may seem to come naturally but this is untrue. It is not untrue that they believe this; however, it is untrue that I do. I appear to. It’s one of my few talents: my ability to masquerade, to act, to pretend…to 'slap on a fake smile and plough through this shit one more time'.

 

Author's note

I took heed of her advice and decided to please myself. I dropped work down to three days a week [thankfully, I have a wonderful wife who understood that I needed to] and I took up a hobby: a hobby that was to become a passion.

 

Wednesday, 10th May 2017

The woodworker is sitting and confessing to an old colleague.

TWW:                    I can't take the pain anymore: it's driving me insane.

OC:                         I would never have known you felt like this

 

Author's note

During that meeting I had decided that I no longer had the capacity to do what I doing any longer. Capacity is the wrong word; a better word would be passion. I just no longer cared enough and when you work in the hectic special measures market of education – caring is all you have.

 

Friday, 19th May 2017

My phone rings during my morning walk. I glance down, read the name and almost reject it. A bass American drawl came over the airwaves. I could tell from the pitch that something was up.

OC:                         Hi sorry to disturb you on your day off.

There was almost a note of embarrassment in his voice.

OC:                         We've had the call

The call – in education parlance - is the call that headteachers all over the country dread: the call from OFSTED.

TWW:                    Do you want me in?

OC:                         If you can – see you later – I'm on my way in myself.

 

Author's note

My mind whirled with the same thought: I KNEW I should've resigned; I fucking KNEW it!

Schools in the maintained sector [i.e. those that are funded from the public purse be they academies, free schools or schools under local authority control] are subject to school inspections. These inspections have taken many forms over the years but the most infamous is the OFSTED inspection. This is a slight misnomer as all inspections come under the purview of OFSTED. OFSTED is the Office for Standards in Education. It is the spectre that hangs over the head of every teacher and head teacher in the country – however confident they may be!

The reason why OFSTED holds such terror is simple. It is for one reason and one reason only. We all fear that when OFSTED finally arrive, when they step foot in our schools and finally observe the work that we do. WE-WILL-GET-FOUND-OUT. Most of us humble chalk-face folk labour under the impression that we don't really know what we are doing but we muddle along as best we can. This fear is compounded by the fact we feel that we are alone in feeling this way. We aren't - everyone feels this way – well almost everyone.

Now OFSTED inspections take many forms- they are named after various sections in the Education Act of XXXX

        i.            The Section 5 inspection

This is the bread and butter of school inspection and is the one that's known most commonly as the OFSTED inspection. This is the inspection that is carried out periodically depending how successful your school is deemed to be. Schools that are GOOD or OUTSTANDING do not need to be inspected too frequently as they are successful. As long as they stay successful [i.e. achievement remains GOOD or OUTSTANDING, their head teacher remains in place and there are no safeguarding issues] then these schools are generally left alone.

 

The proviso – in order that OFSTED can maintain a fair perspective, they must inspect a certain proportion of GOOD or OUTSTANDING schools; hence the dreaded lottery. The Woodworker has worked at one GOOD school and two OUTSTANDING ones – none has been subjected to the lottery.

 

There are notionally four overall grades that a school can get after a Section 5 inspection:

 

a.      the holy grail, the one the only OUTSTANDING [Grade 1]

b.      the consolation prize but one that most heads would yank your arm off for prior to the inspection – GOOD [Grade 2]

c.       the bitter pill  that is REQUIRING IMPROVEMENT [Grade 3], and finally

d.      the absolute stinker -  the grade that we all dread: INADEQUATE [Grade 4]

Now within the INADEQUATE grade there are two further sub-divisions: the inadequate where your school has been deemed to have SERIOUS WEAKNESSES and the absolute nut-cracker the one where your school is deemed to require SPECIAL MEASURES. Don't get me wrong both mean pretty much the same thing: YOUR SCHOOL IS CRAP. The difference is that OFSTED judge that the leadership in a SERIOUS WEAKNESS school has the capacity to dig it out on its own. A SPECIAL MEASURES school does not.

 

Since the 1st of September 2010 I have worked [pretty much exclusively] in special measures schools.