Tag Archives: London

O Captain My Captain



The O Captain My Captain scene from Dead Poets Society flashed through my mind the minute I heard about the sad death of Robin Williams.  I wasn’t only one.  All over social media people were playing the above clip in tribute or even, as in the office of ITV2, recreating the scene themselves.

The film had a huge impact on me when I saw it as very unworldly 22 year old living in London.   I would like to say spurred on by John Keating’s message that life was for living, that I did seize the day,  but on reflection I think it took another 30 years.  Still don’t they say better late than never!

So I had been eager to watch the film again as my own tribute to that funniest  (and hairest) of funny men, and I did last night.

The film seems to have held up pretty well over the past 25 years (maybe a lot better than me).  I was stuck by the precision of Robin Williams’ acting as the inspirational English teacher John Keating.  His look, his manner, his voice, I was right back in the classroom.  I was amazed how many lines from the film had stayed with me and how I could remember that O Captain My Captain came from a Walt Whitman poem.  If if had come up in a Mastermind question the week before I wouldn’t have been able to answer.

Moving performances too from the then teenaged unknowns,  now household names, Robert Sean Leonard or Wilson in House, Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles (Will Gardner from The Good Wife).  The only place I thought the film had dated (except for the very obviously late 80s synth soundtrack which jarred otherwise perfect 1959 period piece)  was in our modern age of constant social media, ultra violent video games such as GTA and COD,  underage binge drinking and drug taking that a bunch of boys who went to the woods at night read the poems of dead men would be celebrated by all in education not castigated and expelled.  I tried to read Ode To Autumn, my very favourite poem by my favourite dead poet John Keats (the similarity to name to John Keating can not be an accident) and my, then young, son just sniggered at the perceived rude bits “close bosom’d friend of maturing sun”  “Bosum, mum you said bosum”.

It made me wonder what  Ofsted would make John Keating’s teaching methods.   Would they see enough planning, he certainly demonstrates outstanding knowledge of his subject and it is clear he had high expectations for his class to learn from him.   How though do you measure this ability in exams, and to do it fairly.   For the first time I could see the point in curriculums; syllabuses to be studied and regurgitated at exam time.  How else can you really do it?  Especially as there provides a safely net for parents and students.  Do this this way and you are pretty much guaranteed your result.  Exam Fodder.

The film deals with the culture clash that was to define the 1960s as tradition and conformity made way for personal freedom and emotional expression.   The Old Guard found John Keating’s teaching incendiary.  The revolutionary idea to be yourself, express yourself was, to parents who had made sacrifices to send their sons to the school and therefore felt compelled to map out for their children’s lives into adulthood, to make them accepted, intolerable.   To the Establishment this was treason.    There was no question the Headteacher’s mind.  The blood was on John Keating’s hands.

Not much so much has changed today.  How to educate our children is a debate that rages on still.   Tony Blair swept to power on the platform of “Education, Education, Education”.  You can’t turn on the television or radio without hearing about another change to way we school our offspring.   Just the day before I heard the head of Eton College speak of his desire to get rid of all exams up until A-level.  How schools are in the thrall to the University’s desire for grades.  How we fail our children if we “spoonfeed” them their education.  That we have to make them think for themselves.  How the exam system was so artificial.  That we don’t go out into the world of work and get supplied with all the information to do a good job and work individually.  No we work collaboratively and we have to teach children to be able work like this at school.  But I don’t think there is an educator in this country brave enough to free things up to that extent.  No matter how many times Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk asking is school killing creativity is  played on You Tube.

Of course school is so much more than just getting qualifications, it is about socialising and learning about to get on with your peers.  Exposure to new experiences and cultures help you take those nascent steps to building your own tastes and fashions.  It’s about falling in love for the first, and usually the most painful time.   If you are lucky it is about building self-confidence and resilience.   It’s safe environment to learn about the world and how you fit into it, school is where we realise that we might be the centre of our parents’ universe but to the rest we but one part of it, vital and essential but just a part of it like everyone else.

But back to John Keating, despite how the old guard viewed him I think most parents would like a teacher to inspire a life-long love of learning, to impart an appreciation for knowledge for knowledge sake.  Schools have changed beyond recognition from when I was at school.  I am very glad to see the growth of pastoral care and it makes me wish I was going through the education now.  But  I  had some wonderful teachers, but in particular an incredible English teacher, Mr Thurlow, and an inspirational history teacher Mr Hopkinson.   With his tweed jacket and his mischievous twinkling eyes he dropped  left of centre ideas like truth bombs into minds used to only hearing from the Right.  He was the teacher who said there will be a nugget of information taken away by every pupil and never forgotten.  Well he told me mine and only today I retold the tale of the suspicious Russians serfs feeding the revolutionaries to the pigs after mistaking them for tax inspectors.  Pigs that would eat up every trace of the Moscovites, hair, skin and nails and although I am not a teacher I like to think I am continuing on the tradition in my own little way.


Not Open On Mondays

giants causewayWe are having a wonderful holiday in Ireland, visiting my mum.  We come every year, and have taken in lots of the local sights, such as the magical Giant’s Causeway; those incredible interlocking hexagonal basalt stones reaching out into the sea.  So this time we thought we might venture a bit further afield and take the kids for a day trip to Dublin.

The morning started in panic and chaos as my mum’s washing machine had broken down and we couldn’t for the life of us find the number for the man who could fix it.  Many phone calls later (including to one plumber’s mother, who we think might be suffering from early on-set of Alzheimer’s – a very difficult call for everyone; her, my mum, us listening) we still didn’t have a plumber, and if that last plumber ever calls us back it will be a miracle.

Next on the list,  the picnic lunch.  Nigella and Jamie are extremely good at selling us a lifestyle we can’t afford or have the skill or materials to replicate, they make original pack ups look so effortless.  However I was not attempting chicken drumsticks with coleslaw all served in a wooden box a la Nigella.  I can’t bear to think of the mess and rejection of that delight from my kids.  No it was just plain old chicken salad sandwiches, using up the rest of the Sunday roast.  Really it shouldn’t be too difficult to make these and get them wrapped up and into the bag.  But for me it is, and it was. Mum has a treat table for the kids, so that was very easy.  I grabbed some crisps and biscuits, found an old pop bottle, filled with cordial and finally the dreaded task was over. (I still forgot cups, wet wipes and kitchen roll, which were hiding in another bag from the previous day’s lunch. See I am no good at picnics).

But still we were in the car, and to our delight and surprise it was before mid-day.  We had every type of clothing with us to cover all weather from 10 force wind and rain to a summer’s breeze (another frenzied run around the house. Why it is only a woman thinks of these essentials? I am sure men would go out in a tee-shirt without a thought or a care about the weather conditions or next meal, despite its inevitability three hours hence.) But nevermind, we were on the road to Dublin.

All was going great, we had a guide-book and map (Time Out, I love them and use on every trip. Not sure how I first started buying them probably because I used to want to work for them when I lived in London, but now I can’t buy anything else) we even had scraped together the euros for the toll.  The sun was out, we sailed into the fair city, straight into the speed gun of the Garda.

Oh Sh*t.

He flagged us over, “Do you know Sir you were doing 81km in a 50 km zone?”  Paul had thought he was just keeping up with the car in front.  Literally we were seconds from the motorway.  There were no End of Motorway signs anywhere. There were still THREE lanes. “We are just here to show the kids Dublin for the day, officer” I said simperingly.  Luckily he must have taken pity on us and our very sad faces..  “Well, go on wit yer.. but watch yer speed”.. “Oh yes, thank you, thank you” and off we crawled through Dublin over the Liffey and to a deserted car park.

When we saw the cost of parking, we could see why we were the only car there.  Still after our brush with the Law we didn’t want to be worrying about where the car was.  Indeed later, outside Oscar Wilde’s  childhood home, we did see a family contemplating their clamped car. (In Newcastle a very pretty seaside town in the North we saw a disabled driver get a ticket for having their disabled badge upside down – there is zero tolerance for parking offences over here).

But, we were here, we had lunch, in the beautiful grounds of a Norman Church St Audoen’s.  It was us and the winos. But they were happy and chatty and loving the sun too.

Next task, get some Euros.  Easy enough you would think.  I don’t want to be unkind to the Republic of Ireland, but after visiting the cash point (not working) and then joined the massive queue in the bank, a bank I might add that seemed so old-fashioned, slow-moving and intensely bureaucratic, it wouldn’t have been out of place in a Harry Potter film.  We thought we were in those scenes with all the Gringotts goblins.  There were filing cabinets filled with box files, everywhere! This was not a bank embracing the ethos of the paperless workplace, or for that matter a speedy customer service.

But finally we had money, we were set to explore the City.  Mum suggested getting an open top bus around Dublin.  If there is ever a place to do this, it is here in Dublin.  Oh my word, those bus drivers have the gift of story-telling.  Funny, charming, some beautiful singing too, as we hopped on and off the buses each driver added their own personal stories to the rich history of the area.  I must say I did wince a few time being English, hearing the way they dealt with the rebellions of men fighting for their freedom.  After hearing that Oliver Cromwell stabled his horses in St Patrick’s Cathedral during his stay I thought I was Harry Enfield’s German Tourist who feels he must apologise for all the atrocities of the war.

But the most common phrase on the bus trip was, “Not Open On Mondays”. Nearly every place we had thought about visiting was not open on Monday, and there we were in Dublin on a, yes, Monday. We could have come on any day out of ten days, only one of which was a Monday, but we still managed to choose it.  What makes this even worse is this isn’t the first time we have tried to visit somewhere on a Monday only to find it closed.

Yorkshire is littered with failed attempts, I will never forget the look on the locals’ face when we tried to go to Newby Hall on a Monday, which of course, all together now, was closed.  We thought never mind we’ll have lunch.  No. The whole village was closed and they looked at us with total amazement and disbelief that we didn’t know this Cardinal Rule of visiting attractions. Well I was looking at myself with utter disbelief and amazement that we had done it AGAIN.

So if you ever hear of me planning a trip ever again please can you make check IT ISN’T A MONDAY.

All of Dublin wasn’t closed thank goodness.  We had a wonderful time.  I felt I got to know this beautiful, compact but infinitely varied city much better.  I long for another visit, I don’t know  maybe a Wednesday, yes Wednesday sounds good, but I think I will take the train, first stop the Guinness Gravity Bar for a pint of the black stuff.


Panic on the Streets of London, Panic on the Streets of Birmingham

When I wrote my blog yesterday I couldn’t imagine just how the violence would escalate, and I watched with horror how it spread, literally like wild fire, from borough to borough in London, and beyond to Birmingham. I know many people have said Morrissey is a prophet, last night I could believe it.

I couldn’t really believe what I was compulsively viewing, I found it hard to go to bed, I didn’t want to sleep until things had calmed down. As I watched the destruction of Clapham Junction and the furniture store burning so ferociously in Croydon, there seemed no end to the momentum; It was deeply upsetting to see London, a city I love so much being destroyed by its own inhabitants.

Through all the apocalyptic coverage, one story seemed to be coming through, from the Turkish shop-keepers in Dalston, to the poor lady in Ealing who found thugs in her house, to the chefs in Notting Hill. People who were standing up to the looters, were having an effect; The looters were leaving them alone.

These looters were so young, 14 years of age was reported in places, and it seemed the looting and arson was getting so out of hand because no one was stopping them. It become a frenzy, this orgy of violence because they couldn’t believe that they were getting away with it. Naughty children pushing the boundaries but finding no one stopping them. Why did only a handful of areas challenge them? Couldn’t more communities acted like the Dalston shop-keepers and the Notting Hill chefs?

I don’t want to attack the police on the ground, all the emergency services showed incredible bravery. Some police were working 30 hour shifts. But this was the third day of unrest, it was being reported that only 1,400 police were on duty last night, after 2 days of rioting. Compare that to the 5,000 police on duty when William and Kate got married.

Surely it doesn’t take much deduction to order as many police on duty as possible. To cancel all leave and get a heavy police presence in our capital. It certainly shouldn’t have taken 3 days, and the return of Cameron from his jollies in Tuscany to make this happen.

What is going on with the capital’s police force? This is the third serious incident of poor practice from the Met in as many weeks. Coming hard on the heels of the resignation of the Commission and Deputy Commissioner over their handling of the phone hacking scandal. It shouldn’t be forgotten this whole incident was sparked by the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham on Thursday and the subsequent evasion by the Met on Saturday when his family sought answers. Whilst probably many of the people on the streets last night didn’t have Mark Duggan in mind, if there hadn’t been the riots on Thursday, Croyden wouldn’t have been burning out of control last night.

The rioters are not political, but there is a political sub-text. It is no coincidence that high status items such as trainers and tv screens were being looted. We live in a very material world, where purchasing power determines your status and self-esteem. Why should we be surprised when people who can’t afford these things and have no route to them in the future become deeply resentful. We all have to look at our values. It is possible to condemn the violence but also to want to understand the underlying reasons.

It has been a very turbulent time, with the US and Eurozone debt crisis before the riots kicked off. Why were the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London all on holiday at the same time? Even in the smallest business, everyone has to stagger their holidays. It is almost incredulous that the very top level of government don’t do the same.

But there is hope. The magnificent spirit of the riot clean up campaigns illustrated this. People volunteering to clear up the shattered aftermath of last night. It was said at one point that everyone getting off the train at Clapham Junction had a brush. All over Twitter offers of clothes, food and bedding were being offered to people made homeless by the riots. Maybe communities will be able to come together over this, that some good will come out of this after all and that it can start tonight, with a peaceful night. I bet I am not the only one praying for rain.