March 2004 Archives


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I do actually work, however I do get a lot of holidays. With this in mind, I'd like to tell you about my trip to the seat of everything, Ngorogoro Crater. It really is quite a place. It is a massive volcanic rupture, seveteen kilometeres wide, in the earth's crust. It is a huge, wide and completely flat grassland. Herbivores love it. Currently, it is the rainy season, so all the animals are hanging around for a drink and some food.

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I watched this particular female lion being seen off by the wilderbeast..... very impressive.

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Oh yes, it's a big Macca.

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Isn't it all rather lovely?

....and so Kilimanjaro was conquered. Here is the hike, as told through the medium of the big macca thumbs up.

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Note: Ayr, Ayr, Super Ayr. Bottom of Divsion One in Scotland, top in Africa.

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The whole experience was rather tough, if not somewhat arduous. It is indeed a long way to Uhuru peak. However, Hendrick, eight kids and myself reached the top. Splendid.


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Well, have I ever been a busy camper.

Over the past week or two I have been working rather furiously. The main reason for this is next week's Kilimanjaro hike. Thirteen year nine students, accompanied by four teachers (of whom I am one), are going to climb the mountain over six days.

I have ended up organising the trip, which has been a lot to think about. Although the main point is that I will miss a whole week of school. This has meant that I have planned the full weeks lessons in some detail. I have also completed the children's report cards quite hastily.

School just gets somewhat chaotic now and again. However, I can't argue with climbing mount Kilimanjaro for free. (I'll have to work on getting the kickbacks and slushfunds, and then it will all be just too easy.)

I shall post some interesting photos upon my return from my wander.

In the meantime, here is a picture of the continuing nonsense that is the large avocado tree in my garden. Avocados are sore if they fall on you, but now pieces of the tree have started falling under the sheer weight of fruit. Which is quite clearly rubbish.

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I was out of work and down on my luck when I met up with a lad I hadn't seen in years. Rumour had it that Richie Castleford had become a man of the cloth, but when I met him in "The Bear in the Pink Sandal" he told me the truth. As I sat, drinking away my savings on a bottle of brown and half a stout (a combination of drinks that will last you a whole afternoon) I was nearly given an early bath by God and his angels when a fight broke out at the dart board. As the darts flew about the bar, I nearly lost an eye and - much to my annoyance - the last clue on the teddy bear crossword I had been labouring over for the last half hour.

When the dust settled, and there was a lot of dust in 'The Pink', a small, large shouldered man stumbled over to my table. Lifting my drinks before he knocked the crossword across the floor, I didn't greet him all that enthusiastically. In fact, I was waiting for him to apologise when he began to tell me his story. Although I had nothing else to do except do crosswords and begin to educate myself by making full use of my library ticket, this sort of interruption really annoyed me.

He liberally dipped his fingers in the remaining roasted peanut dust that was hiding at the bottom of the packet that some other punter had left in the ash tray. He showed me his tongue, just like a Maori, when he tasted the blizzard of ash from a Regal. Realising how uncouth he had been he pulled himself up in his seat, pulled his jacket back into place across his chest, wiped his hair back into position and cleansed his hands across his flannelled thighs: "I'm sorry", he said.

Being in a forgiving mood I began to gently quiz the man. I asked him about his past, where he grew up and what road he had lived in. It took me fifteen minutes to work out who he was (which in itself annoyed me further as all I had to do was ask him his bloody name). This wreck of a man was a boy who had once nearly saved me from a beast on Old Man Crabapple's Allotment. I say nearly as he valiantly tried to pull me through a fence rather than let me leap over it. While he was pulling me through a gap only five inches wide I was trying to hook one leg on top of the five foot fence. This battle was further illuminated by both our screams and the barking of Crabapple's beast: a Jack Russel that made up for its size in its accuracy for nipping an assailant in the testicles. Wearing a pair of rugby shorts and a pair of exposed Y fronts offered the little bastard a prime target. Needless to say that I won the screaming contest between me and Richie. Thankfully not much damage was done, but I will never forget the smile on the dogs face when he snapped his jaw shut.

Some years had passed until I saw Richie again. Although I didn't blame him for the near-loss of my manhood, he seemed to be consumed by an overwhelming guilt. Rumour had it that he had exacted revenge on the Crabapple's beast by introducing 'Sailor' (the beast) to the only gay Bull Mastiff in the whole of the North West. Sailor wasn't able to say no to 'Kieran' and, after the heat was over, the poor sod was left only half a 'Sailor' of what he was before. Gone was the tip-toed trot and the insatiable appetite for trespassers balls. As for Kieran, when he passed on he was immortalised in his favourite position (behind another 'bull') by the taxidermist who lived on Thingwall Street. He spent many years behind "The Stick and the Conker" bar before it was turned into a fun pub.

I asked for some light ale to sober Richie up. As he slowly sipped his beverage he began to become more self aware. He wondered how he had got into 'The Pink' in the first place. He explained to me that the last place he can remember being in was the job centre. He tried to explain how he must have got there when he realised who I was. There was that awkward minute when he realised he remembered me... from somewhere. "Frankie...Frankie Bootle... you've got a great colour about you since I last saw you", he said. "Well", I replied, "Given that Frankie died three years ago, that would be a pretty generous compliment you just paid." He stopped: puzzled. He looked me over again. "Gerry?" he asked. He went through a dozen names before I was allowed to put him out of his misery. When I told him who I was, there was a cold silence. It was as if Richie had seen a ghost. I could tell that some guilt still remained - even after all these years.

I wanted to know what had happened to him over the last couple of years. I told him that people believed that he had become a man of the cloth and had been serving God in a Parish outside Wigan. He laughed and said, "They're half right... I was a man of the cloth. I got myself an apprenticeship with O'Hanlons the Suit Makers. It was working out really well until Mr O'Hanlon died. Then his son died. Then his other son died. Then his wife came a cropper. His brother and second cousin then died after an unfortunate accident. I was last in line to take over the shop, but lacked the business acumen to make the business succeed... and the skills. I can't even thread a needle."

"Blimey," I exclaimed, "what happened to the family?" He sat quite upright and answered as if he had been asked to give the original line-up of Bella and the Monk-rats in the pub quiz, "I killed them" he said. I couldn't swallow. I couldn't breath. I couldn't talk. I couldn't shift my eyes. But I close on lost control of my bowels. He continued, "Well, so the prosecution said. Apparently I wanted to run the business myself and needed to bump off the heirs to the fortune before I could get my hands on the business and the loot. It was such a good story that I nearly believed them myself. Close on nearly convicted myself too. If it wasn't for Smiling Simon, my legal bloke, I wouldn't be spitting my story at you. He proved it all wrong. The man is a legend."

"So, you're a free, innocent man then?" I asked nervously. "Kind of", he replied as I lost physical control of everything beneath my waist, "Between you and me - and I know we go a long way back - I am only guilty of two things... trying to pull you through that bloody fence!" The relief must have been obvious as we both laughed and I waited for some anecdote about Kieran, the gay Bull Mastiff. "And," he continued, "accidently pushing Mr O'Hanlon under the industrial press in his workshop... had to iron out a couple of problems!" He laughed again. Slapped me on the back, winked and offered me a pint when he got back from the toilet. I told I was fine and watched him disappear with a fixed smile only contestants from Blind-date have seen backstage with Cilla Black.

I have never tried to achieve an Olympic World Record (one dream that I have never been able to live), but I ran like Ben Johnston packed with every performance enhancing drug there was going. I ran until the 22 bus stop and jumped on the next bus. I have seen Richie twice since, once was on Crime Watch, and I hope I don't see him too soon either. Although I do perversely thank him for one thing: the tooth marks down below can be a bit of talking point when the conversation runs dry.

The walls of 'The Bear in a Pink Sandal' - or simply 'The Pink' to the locals - were decorated with pictures taken from magazines which fulfilled the dreams and lies of the pub landlord, Archie "The Blizzard" Jones. He had long told everybody that after the Great War, he had been left in France where he had then become some sort of racing driver. The pictures on the wall, of a man in a leather cap behind the wheel of a racing car, were supposed to be him. If any one ever questioned Archie about it he would threaten to remove a finger or to spit in their ploughman's lunch.

In build, Archie was like a barrel with legs. His arms swung around his barrel chest on a parallel line with the floor and he often took the odd one or two things off the bar. When he bent down you were guaranteed a view of male hygiene that scientists at a University in Arizona would be very interested in. To say that he had a hairy back was like saying that water was a bit wet. One year - it may have been the year that the pub won the darts league with Peter 'One Arm' Yates as captain - Archie had his back shaved and dyed in the design of the pub sign. By all accounts it took three days to control the hair on his back. For all that hair, there is one problem with it: he has nightmarish dandruff. It's not just a problem on his head, but his back hair is covered in a flurry of the white stuff. "The Blizzard" was given his name after one of the regular punters noticed Archie trying to close the snug door against a gale force wind. According to Duncan Duncan, there was a ghostly whisp of dried flakes whistling around his barrel like body. Perhaps what followed is more of a statement about the youth of today: a young man was found selling small foil packages of Archie's flakes and a young girl was found snorting a line of it in the toilet.

I had once heard a man ask Archie, in French, if he could have a pint of best, a packet of crisps and some darts for a game on the oche. Archie, who had long boasted about his lost years in France, turned to Alein De La Roche and told him that he didn't serve Germans in his pub. When it was explained to Archie that Alein was, in fact, French he grabbed a jar of French soil that he kept by the bar and shouted, "Ziz iz Frenchie land. Zat iz no Frenchman". Alein then produced his French Passport. Everyone in the bar was convinced that this was a man of France. Everyone was convinced except for Archie. He then dipped behind the bar and rose slowly carrying an original World War One rifle and bayonet. He shouted, teeth slightly yellow and showing. There were no words exactly, but he certainly shouted.

It was obvious to everyone in the snug that Alein was not just a man of France, but also a man of great verbal dexterity of France. He managed to conjure from somewhere an accent that had its base in the Black Country. Alein said, "Blimey Archie Squire... what's a joke with friends?" Archie, fingers sweating on the barrel of the rifle, sniffed, winked an eye over the trigger and cracked a smirk. In his mind he had gone over the top, dodged the biggest bullet that the enemy could launch and had dropped back into the trenches. It was obvious from the two fingers he had slung in front of Alein that he was satisfied with the man of France's retreat. Perhaps what cleared any doubts - if any fool in the bar had one - that Archie was perhaps one battalion short of an army he then said, "Now, if you had have said that you were Welsh... you could have had any drink in the bar, what can I get you Jock?"

The beauty of a good cup of tea was best described by a man I knew for only seconds: I was at a rugby competition somewhere deep in the mountains of Yorkshire. It was an awful day. The rain fell with an anger and kept trying to shift as much as turf as it could with every drop. I was dressed sensibly in my beige chinos, a blue club T-shirt and a pair of flip-flops (it was the last time that I ever trusted the local radio weather service that warned you should wear industrial strength sunblock). I looked awful thanks to a cheaply dyed T-shirt which was now close on white around the neck, deep blue at the mid-rift while my beige Chinos were now turned a good colour of midnight-blue. I actually wasn't that cold - or at least I had lost the feelings in my arms, fingers, legs and toes - but the blue dye gave me the look of a man who had just stepped out of the freezer. I needed something warm inside me so I found the only food outlet which was in the middle of the eight fields.

"A'right cock!" was the greeting issued by a stout young woman who had her hair so tightly pulled behind her head it gave her a permanent grin. I asked for something warm and wet. She was about to run through the extensive menu of a beef stock soup or tea when a man next me stepped up to the bar. "Give the boy a cup of the brown stuff. Let it be stewed for a bit. You just want a splash of milk to take away the sharpness of the bag. And no sugar... there is a something pure about the unsweetened leaf. And serve him a large cup that's full to a finger tip of the top. It will give you a feeling that you thought only a sporting success or a good night with a good woman would make you feel. It will make you look on life in a different way... and it will give you some colour to your toes. Make that two love."

I had never thought about the simple cuppa like that. After explaining to the woman behind the counter that we wanted tea with milk and not Bovril and milk, the mystery man handed me what looked like the equivalent of the Holy Grail of polystyrene mugs: a good brown cuppa. I was about to ask his name, after staring into the dark brown mystic liquid, but he was gone. I sipped the hot liquid and felt a wave of pleasure and warmth seep through my body. The power of tea left me feeling like I was in an oasis of warmth and comfort on the dark, damp and bloody cold fields of Yorkshire.

I spent the rest of the day next to the caravan of comfort. I managed to make myself a foot bath which was about five inches deep. Hilda, the woman behind the counter, poured hot water into my pond and kept me warm for hours. Tea had broken down barriers and saved my toes from frost-bite... it is truly a wonderful thing.

I used to share a flat with a man who was more or less a fool. He played a jester at a local stately home ran by the National Trust. His job was basically this: act like a man who is possibly mentally unstable, wear a tight lycra body suit with a three peaked hat and jump from table to table in the Old Medieval Hall. In short he scared the children and was a worry to the adults who were made to feel uncomfortable by his presence. He was warned a number of times for his recklessness and his misinterpretation of a jesters job. He was told repeatedly that a jester was to be funny and not menacing, but he continued as he felt fit. And worst of all, he used to bring his work home.

Coming home and finding this jester prancing about the settee in his work uniform was an all time low. What was more grating is that he just wouldn't be quiet. No matter what I was watching on the television or what I was reading he would wander in with that bloody stick with bells on it and shake it, then go into a long diatribe about his job. He was never wrong and was always right. He once thrilled me for five hours with his theory on 'relativity': this to him was the way in which we were all brothers and sisters as we all came from one set of parents many years ago.

Correcting a fool is never the best idea. Chastising a fool is a difficult thing to do as it makes you look like a fool. Never try to better a fool as you start to look more foolish than the fool. Never submit to a fool as they think they have some sort of advantage over you and force more foolishness on you. As much as you want to kick a fool it's best not to as they seem to enjoy getting a good kicking. I have found that if you make the fool feel that he is loosing his mind is a sure fire winner. This can be achieved by some simple subtle difference made to the flat such as changing the locks, pretending that you have never met the man when he knocks on the door, change the side that his bedroom opened on and even rent his room out to someone completely different (preferably someone who doesn't suffer fools at all... particularly fools who he thinks are breaking into his room).

I am not the first and I certainly won't be the last to have sat beneath an apple tree and noted that there is a force that drives a loose apple to the ground. I am not trying to jump on the coat tails of another great mind, but simply seeking to make an addition to the theory.

We understand that gravity keeps us attached to this earth, but I want to establish a new theory of selective gravity. I have studied this at length and have wanted to submit a paper to the relevant scientific magazine (perhaps the Sunday Times supplement). My interest in this area was sparked when I watched Joey Pilkington leap into the air and, it seemed, remained there for longer than was humanly possible. Joey himself has dined out on this story more than once.

It was a late Sunday afternoon, when everything goes slowly anyway, that Joey Pilkington, Raymon Ferrer (a Lancastrian Mexican) and I were playing skipping stones along the Liverpool-Leeds Canal. Raymon was in the middle of telling us about a time his father tried to rob the mail-train with a six-shooter and a horse. He told us how his father had chased along side a train for over a mile until the platform of St Helens Central scared the old mining nag and he veered off into the oncoming cargo trains coming from the Manchester ship canal. His father and Nelly the Nag pulled up just in time to prevent blood loss. Raymon's father, Wilbur, was a Lancastrian with great lineage made up of blood, sweat and coal. Wilbur met Maria when he went to Mexico to fight in a war that he was told would earn him enough money to buy him a house. He didn't find a war, he didn't earn himself a house, but he returned to Lancashire with a wife who stopped traffic she was so beautiful. She loved Wilbur and was prepared to wait for the three months that he spent in jail for attempted robbery of an empty decommissioned mail train.

Raymon had just finished his story when Joey fell into the canal. Instead of plunging deep into the dark water of the industrial thorough-fair, he seemed to just rest on the surface - defying gravity. As he lay, just an inch in the water, he looked back at me and Raymon with a look of astonishment. His feet remained on the side of the canal so we pulled him up and sat on the edge of the water looking at the spot where the miracle happened. The thick grass verge was ample seating for we three amigos as we regained our composure and considered how lucky Joey had been. While we sat there Norbert Hoon was passing on his regular hour stroll looking for someone to annoy. Although we didn't want to talk to him, we were still amazed by what had happened just a half hour before and told him about Joey's miracle. Norbert was enthralled by our tale and asked which spot the miracle took place. He became so obsessed with the story that it became a unnerving, but this was a regular character trait for Norbert. When we showed him the spot (you could still see where Joey's feet dug into the canal side) he began to roll his shoulders and widen his eyes. He started telling us that the story was wasted on Joey and that it needed some-one of his charisma to make the story travel. Basically, he wanted to be talked about as the man who defined gravity. He pushed us aside as we protested that we couldn't be sure it would work again. In a flash he was in mid-air like a gymnast. His back bent like a 'U', his arms out like wings and a look of confidence in his eyes. When he sank with out a trace into the black water none of us were moved to follow him in. Neither were the two policeman on the other side of the canal.

Since that day I have oftened wondered about selective gravity. If there is a scientist out there who would be interested in helping me study this miracle then please get in touch. My theory is this: gravity lets arseholes fall.

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