Words, words, words… they mean so much, don’t they?
It’s seldom I make any kind of extended comment on sporting events, but there are some things that get up my nose (there’s a lot of room up there).
England, surprise, surprise, have been dumped out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup because, simply, they aren’t very good. Solutions for this are myriad, and I might come up with a suggestion at the end.
I’ve just seen coverage of the England news conference, and am utterly fed up. There were clips of Messrs Rooney and Hart saying things like ‘we’ve waited for this all our lives’, ‘we’ve been giving it our all’ and various other baseless soundbites.
No, boys, you have not been giving it your all – you’ve been using your position as (supposedly) being among the best players in the world to make money from endorsements and advertising, for everything from razors to mobile phones, mars bars to your new hair. You regard being part of a national football team as an extra revenue stream. That applies to all players, not just the two I saw on the TV.
You then say that you think Mr Hodgson is the right man to continue… Well, I may well agree, but you are employees, you are not in any way in a position to judge or pass comment, especially after performing so execrably on the pitch. Please note, though, that we haven’t said whether you should continue in your jobs.
So where do we go from here? Well, I think it’s simple. For many years the England concept has to be to take the eleven best players in the country and put them together on the pitch. This clearly doesn’t work, and never has done. Whether it’s trying to fit Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard on the pitch together, or deciding you want to play Rooney in a different position because you want to play someone else in his normal position but think he deserves to be on the pitch anyway.
Don’t pick 11 egos and try to fit them together – pick a team, not necessarily the superstars but 11 players who consistently prove to be effective together. Then we might get somewhere.
Well, who would have thought that there’d be such an outcry over GCSE this week? Well I did, but I thought there would be more right-wing derision poured on yet another increase in overal A*-C grades- I refuse to call them passes as GCSE was designed with 7 pass grades originally – and then media and successive governments did what they do best when it comes to education, namely to reinforce a culture of failure by labelling those who, even if they have flogged their guts out over two years to get an E, as ‘failures’.
I think we need to take stock after the chaos of the GCSE English language marks and, in true market fashion, sort it out once and for all.
Consider this fact: The exam entry fees for GCSE can cost anything from £20 to £60 per student per subject, meaning that schools spend thousands of pounds every year on exam fees for exams that are often mismarked, and lately seem unfair.
There hasn’t been much concentration on leaving school at 16 in the last 20 years, as the vast majority of students stay on to do further education. You could say, though, that once a student gets the required qualifications to get through to A Level study (or equivalent), they are not needed much any more. Therefore, why not try this system.
Scrap all separate public exams at age 16. This was there will be no grade inflation, no extortionate exam fees, no ritual slating by the press and Mr Gove.
Of course there will have to be something in its place, so why not have a simple certification process, stating that a Year 11 student has reached a required standard in a list of subjects – no externally set exams, no stress, no worries and no Gove on teachers’ backs.
But what in its place, baldie, I hear you ask. Well, it’s simple. For each subject the government, after discussion with subject experts, publishes a set of national standards which would denote suitable attainment for a 16 year old. Schools design their own programmes of study, their own schemes and methods of assessment, knowing what is suitable for their children. Yes, I know what you will say next…
Surely that method is open to abuse? Well, the first thing to dispel is that abuse is rife, as teachers know that if there were any improper activity with regard to subjects that would be ‘it’, career-wise. Secondly there has been chat can be called ‘questionable’ activity in the ‘good old days’ of O Level (just ask anyone who did the dictation exam for languages).
There is an absolutely foolproof way to make sure that there is no chance of impropriety with regard to assessment – schools will be subject to a moderation visit at any time form the person who is employed centrally to standardise the work to ensure the work meets the ’16+’ standard. At the end of year 11, schols are sent a list of pupils (drawn randomly by govt) and the school sends their work for moderation. Then pupils are simply given a certificate that says ‘Little person has got a 16+ level of education and this is the list of subjects that they have this education in’.
Simple really – comments more than welcome
Today the sun is out and it’s time for frivolity!
Here are some answers to some questions I have been asked over the years. It’s up to you to work out what the questions were:
1) 43 years old
3) 6 feet 7 inches
4) too much
5) 26 inches
6) size 14
7) Only distantly, but she is not aware of it
9) 13lb 10oz
10) Twice on tv and once on the radio
11) two – both girls
12) The World According to Garp
13) Goodbye Mr Chips
14) German, French, Spanish and Dutch
15) Not while the train is standing in a station
So what do you think the questions were?
Well, how often do I do this? This blog post is neither political nor satirical, it’s purely personal. A friend of mine from the mighty Twitter posted about her hero http://nothingbutwordsandwine.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/hero.html . This has driven me to post about mine – my hero, like hers, is my dad.
Mo was born on 5th November 1933 as the sixth of 8 children. He was the surviving member of a pair of twins, and was a sickly youngster, suffering from Influenza and pneumonia over the years. A wiry and muscular young man, with a thick head of ginger hair. Mo took an apprenticeship as a carpenter witha firm in Tunbridge Wells, and did his military service as a sapper in the Royal Engineers, seeing active service in Malaya and Korea in the 1950s.
He met and married my mum in the 1964 and had 3 sons, of whom I am the youngest. We poddled along as you do, until the wheels started to come off our cosy existence in 1985. It wasn’t a medical matter, but my dad was made redundant from the building firm he worked for. He decided to become a self-employed contractor, and carried on for the next few years.
In 1987 I passed my A Levels and went to University in the beautiful city of Southampton. Dad had started feeling unwell, ever since he had got back off holiday on Guernsey- he and mum had never had a honeymoon and this was the first ever time they could afford a holiday away together. Anyway, he had pains in his stomach, and reluctantly went to see our family GP. I should point out that my dad was a liar when it came to medical matters, and even if he was in agony at home, to outsiders, and that included members of the medical profession, he wasn’t too bad!
Eventually Mo went to a specialist, who recommended that he have scans. In March 1988, six months after falling ill, he had an exploratory op to see what was up. I had never seen my dad in a hospital bed, and burst into floods of tears when I saw him in hospital on that Friday. The surgeons had removed part of his pancreas and the biopsy confirmed the news that we were dreading. Dad had his Chemo and Radiotherapy, and we tried to get on with things. Battles like this are a team effort – we all had to get on and refuse to give up, even though only my dad was suffering.
For the next 18 months (I now know that pancreatic cancer has a poor prognosis, so we didn’t have a bad go at it), Mo carried on as best he could, being polite and civil to neighbours and doctors, but swearing to high heaven inside the house. He was losing weight rapidly, and by August 1989 weighed around 6 stone- this for a man who was 5 foot 10. We had our lighter moments- my brother had an operation that required the services of a district nurse to come daily to change dressings. My Gran lived opposite, and came over one morning saying ‘I see the nurse was late this morning’. A voice thundered out of the downstairs loo- ‘We’ll get her to f*****g well clock in next time shall we?’.
At the end of August 1989 we had a party for all the family. My Uncle Henry died when dad had been ill for 3 months and Uncle Arthur died a year later- the first time I have ever seen my dad cry. This was now one year on and I was off on my travels- off for my year abroad in Germany. He stayed up really late that night, even thought the pain was unbearable- we later found the cancer had spread to his stomach. Once a soldier, always a soldier, he made sure I had cleaned my shoes before I set off. On the Monday morning, he was in great pain but didn’t tell me, he shook me by the hand and wished me all the best- that was the last thing he ever said to me.I suppose he wanted me to carry on, and not to wait around, even though he knew in his heart of hearts that the end was nigh. His elder sister had booked a holiday months in advance, and had told him she didn’t want to go- he told her to bloody well travel, as he didn’t want her to sit around waiting for him to die!
At midday on the Friday 22nd September (it coincided with the bombing of the Royal Marines band at Deal Barracks), I received a phone call at school from my eldest brother. Dad was in hospital – nothing to worry about but the doctor had said that I should be brought home. My mum had booked me on the 7:15pm flight from Dusseldorf to Heathrow (I had never flown before). It was the only flight available and I was to be travelling Club Class!
All I had to do was get to Dusseldorf Airport.
I caught the 2pm train. German trains are renowned for punctuality – well they are when there isn’t a major problem with refugees smuggling themselves across the border! The train was 90 minutes late. I had 2 and a half hours to check in, and 120 miles to cover on a very busy train.
I got on the train and put on my personal stereo – the first song that played was ‘The Living Years’ by Mike and the Mechanics.
That was the longest train journey I have ever endured. Time dragged. I ran across Dusseldorf station and got my connection to the airport. I got to the airport at 7:05.
I finally reached the BA check-in at 7:12, and the staff very kindly let me check-in. I got on the plane, asked a very bewildered lady next to me how to fasten my seatbelt and sat back.
When I arrived at Heathrow I heard my name being paged! It transpired that my brother’s fiancee’s parents had travelled from Eastbourne to Heathrow just to collect me. I greeted them but must admit I said very little during the 55 mile journey to the Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells – I didn’t know what to think, didn’t know how I would react, and didn’t know what to expect.
I got to the hospital at 9:15 – Dad was in a coma. I conducted as much of a conversation as I could with my mum and my Uncle Les, whilst trying to keep my composure – I thought I should try and let my dad know I was home. I went home and eventually went to bed, even though I could not sleep.
At a quarter past midnight the nurses went to turn my dad, and he passed away as they were doing it.
Mum came home that night and we didn’t sleep – at 6am we walked the mile and a half to the hospital to pick up the car.
It’s strange – the grieving has diminished a great deal in the nigh-on 23 years since I lost my dad, but it never truly goes. Sometimes I miss the old git, as I fondly refer to him, more than I could tell anyone. He never saw me become a teacher, a husband, a father, and then an ex-husband. Some things he would be proud of, for others he would probably use his most common phrase – ‘you’re a prat, what are you?’. I don’t care one jot – he’s my dad and I will always love him.
Sleep on, Mo, until we meet again. 5th November 1933 – 23rd September 1989
The British are supposed to be a nation of animal lovers, aren’t they? Every April there is an event that draws a great amount of publicity and, especially in recent years, negative publicity at that – the Grand National.
Over the years there have been fatalities at Aintree that have drawn our attitudes to such a spectacle into focus. It is the longest race in British racing, at 4 and a half miles, there are 30 fences to be negotiated, fences that are dissimilar from fences at other courses in the country.
In the last 2 years the biggest steeplechase in the country, if not the world, has seen four fatalities. Measures were undertaken this year that sought to lower the risks posed by the race, but obviously they were not enough. A lot of focus in the aftermath of this year’s race is on the fact that Synchronised, a proven quality horse and winner of this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, had to be put down after falling during the race, a race before which he unshipped his rider and ran free for a while. The first thing to be mentioned is that any equine fatality is desperately sad, and that the death of the other horse, According to Pete, is equally as tragic. One equine death should not be more important, simply because more people had backed it.
Is Aintree a ‘dangerous racecourse’?
There are, as always, calls for the race to be scrapped as the course is ‘inherently dangerous’. It is challenging course, but is it actually more dangerous than others?
Since 2007 there have been 25 fatalities at Aintree, over the Grand National course and the Mildmay course. That is, of course, 25 too many, but how does it compare?
My local racecourse, Hereford, has seen 20 deaths in the same period. There have been 17 at Ludlow, as well. Nearly every racecourse sees equine fatalities – even the newest course, Ffos Las, has seen 14 deaths since 2009. but Aintree does not have the highest tally – there have been 30 at Market rasen and, sensationally, 40 at Cheltenham. Aintree is the course that attracts the negative attention and comments, due to one set of fences, while the home of National Hunt Racing is focused on to a lesser extent. Admittedly there are more race days at Cheltenham, but Aintree is trying to take steps to reduce the levels of danger to horse and jockey.
My favourite flat racing course, Goodwood, has even seen fatalities – 4 in the last 2 years. A televised race last Summer saw a horse suddenly break down in mid-gallop, and it was heartbreaking to see a horse obviously suffering to such an extent that only one course of action was possible.
Should horseracing be banned?
In the light of the statistics I have mentioned, it could well be suggested, as collateral damage such as the deaths of horses are clearly not acceptable. It would, though, cause a lot more. There are many breeds of horses, but only one races. The Thoroughbred is clearly fragile, with legs and ankles that seem desperately fragile compared to the half tonne of bodyweight that they have to carry, but would you be willing to let it die out as a breed, which is what I am certain would eventually happen.
So what can be done?
Well, it is clear that horseracing overall needs to take steps to reduce the danger to horses to a much greater extent. The current focus is on Aintree and the Grand National, so I will make a few suggestions. I might add that I am merely an occasional racegoer, and not a horseracing industry professional.
- The number of runners – with the facilities now availiable in terms of training and making horses faster, forty horses charging down the racecourse is clearly too many. As horses fall, more and more loose horses cause distractions, bring down others (as in the case of According to Pete) and are just plain dangerous. If the organisers reduce the field to, say, 25 horses, there will be less risk of interference.
- ‘Drop’ Fences – The 6th and 9th fences, Becher’s Brook and Valentine’s, have a landing side that is decidedly lower than their take-off side. This is clearly not acceptable any more. The fences in themselves are challenging, so there is no need to make them more so. If Aintree raises the landing side of the fences there will be fewer fallers.
- Sharp turns – The Canal Turn features a 90 degree turn to the left. Many horses and riders try to cut across the corner so that they do not have to ride round too far. If the right-hand edge of the fence were moved anti-clockwise by 20-30 degrees there would be less of a lurch around and should negate the temptation to cut across the fence causing falls and bringing down other runners, as happened yesterday.
The horseracing industry needs to take urgent steps to minimise the risks to horses and jockeys in races. It isn’t good enough to accept it as ‘an acceptable risk’ – as no injury, to human or equine flesh is acceptable. This needs to be done at all courses. In some ways Aintree should be applauded as it acknowledges that work needs to be done. It is clear, though, that much more needs to be done.
I cannot, of course, guarantee that the suggestions I am making here, and I reiterate I am not a horseracing professional, merely a viewer, will cut the number of incidences of death and injury, but they are a starting point. Horses are beautiful animals, headstrong and stubborn at times and they cannot easily be forced to do things they do not want to (examples of jockeys going over fences without their horse and a horse refusing to leave starting stalls are burned in my memory), and they do need protecting in the industry.
Let’s see what they come up with for next year and judge then.
I popped into Worcester this afternoon, narrowly avoiding the footpads on the A4103, to drop something off to a gentleman I greatly admire who has a gig in the city tonight. That man is Mike Harding, radio presenter, folk musician and comedian (not actually sure what order to put those in). Mike is referred to as the ‘grandfather of alternative comedy’ and, if you get the chance, you should see him.
Mike also is a songwriter. If ever you get the chance, check out his song ‘Bomber’s Moon’ – it is evocative, haunting and so, so meaningful. The current political climate, with a government that seems to be pandering to the wealthiest in society at the expense of those who struggle, made me think of a song of his from the 1980s, which also features on his ‘Bomber’s Moon’ album. The song is, quite simply, entitled ‘God Help the Poor’.
Going down the road
With a hole in your shoe
Ain’t even got the money
To booze away the blues
Same old story, nothing new
Good help the poor
Got a hole in your coat, a hole in your shirt
Got to wear a scarve to hide the dirt
What you gonna wear to hide the hurt
Oh, God help the poor
For years and years, they kept telling you
“We need you”
Now the only place for you
Is down in the dole office queue
Talk about the thirties, nothing’s changed
Same old people getting screwed again
People at the top saying they’re not to blame, oh
God help the poor
For years and years they kept telling you
“We need you”
Now the only place for you
Is down in the dole office queue
You never was one to shirk a fight
Knew what was wrong, and you knew what was right
Now you’re in the dark
And they’ve turned out the light, oh
God Help the poor
So you’re going down the road with a hole in your shoe
Ain’t even got the money to booze away the blues
Same old story, nothing’s new
God help the poor
God Help the poor
This was written during the Thatcher years. It’s taken a little under two years for David Cameron, with his pet poodle Cleggy, to undo 13 years of history and divide society.
Let’s fight to undo this wreckage
Love and Peace
PS – Here’s ‘Bomber’s Moon’
The first thing I must say here is that I don’t get lonely per se, but there are times when I am dreadful company for myself. I spend lots of time on Twitter, being verbose and making comments that can be political, and also can be nonsensical – If I were to be truthful, nonsense tends to rule the day.
Just before Christmas I caught sight that someone was setting up a twitter hashtag for people who felt lonely at that time of year. the hashtag that was set up was #notalone365, and the person behind it, @notalone365, needs a medal. I wasn’t actually feeling lonely, but was happy to spend some time being sociable and ‘being there’ for anyone who thought that no-one was there to listen to them. This went on through the whole Christmas and New Year period, and is now a year-round phenomenon.
Please don’t think, though, that the purpose of this blog is an exercise in some sort of self-aggrandisment, because I was happy to chat, because it’s not. Never before have I seen anyone set up anything that has caught on so quickly – it’s the community, the people, the person who actually had the idea in the first place.
I am grateful to #notalone365 because it has helped me make new friends, all over the country and, indeed, the world. I cannot guarantee being there all the time every single day, because no-one can, but as long as I am on Twitter and tweeting, I am always happy to chat.
So, the single purpose of this blog entry. If you ever get fed up and feel alone, follow @notalone365 or tweet with the hashtag #notalone365 and someone will be there to chat to you. If you just feel like a chat, there are lovely people there who will talk to you, whether you feel lonely or not. If you are lucky, you might not end up chatting to me!