Out Now!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Fried Spam. Thank you Andy.

Mrs Griffiths lived in 36A a ground floor flat in Bryngwyn Road. I lived in the Bed-sit above – 36B Brynwyn Road. I didn’t know then that one day my future wife – Miss Griffiths - would one day occupy 36C the room above. Guardian Angels know when the stupid need a very strong hint.

Mrs Griffiths has since died though I kept the curtains she gave me. Miss Griffiths is still alive though under a different name.

I loved Bryngwyn Road, the roads surrounding it, solid red brick Edwardian villas, some run down, others turned into bed-sits and flats, the majority family homes. I loved red brick, and decided one day I would live there, not a bed-sit but a house of my own.

Until then it was 36B Bryngwyn road, a bed-sit adjoined on either side by two other rooms, lived in by Andy Lyon and Tom. We shared a kitchen, consisting of a small stove, sink and a blue Formica table. The curtains were yellow though they may once have been white. The bathroom we also shared though I cannot remember anyone ever cleaning it – which was ironic because Andy was a trainee Environmental Health Officer.

Tom, a genial bachelor, worked for Alcan and every weekend he’d spruce himself up until his face shone, comb brylcreemed hair across his scalp, and go out on the town in search of a date. He often ended up in the Lamb at the bottom of Bridge St.

I owe Andy a lot. He introduced me to Little Feat, never mind Steeleye Dan, or Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airman. He also introduced me to fried spam, which I find hard to forgive. Just writing about it brings back memories of teeth glistening in grease. Mind you, he did leave me a parting gift of two beer mugs which are still in good use. Thank you, Andy - almost makes up for the fried spam.

Spam is now making a comeback, and I think, is the world going mad? You can buy Spam Classic, Spam lite, Spam with Cheese, Spam Hot and Spicy. There are Television adverts for Spam – couples celebrating anniversaries with candle-lit tables and…Spam salad. My wife would kill me, which would at least spare me the spam.

There was only one thing worse than Spam – the Vesta (accelerated freeze dried) chicken curry. For long enough I convinced myself Vesta was a front for the CIA, I mean did people eat this stuff? Were they actually bought? How did they stay in business? I pondered these things as I chewed on something akin to predigested cardboard, but with less taste. I think I’ve eaten two – once out of curiosity, the second time because I was drunk and the alternative was spam.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Walls still bend.

Kevin and Dave were Mancunians and sweated cool from every pore. Kevin was tall and long-haired, like a lugubrious Viking, Dave smaller, dark and sharp. I met them at the White Hart, a seedy but vibrant pub in Caerleon where most things were available. The place to go on a Friday night. When the pub closed, we went to a bungalow they’d rented in the country nearby, and continued the party. In daylight the bungalow was bland with beige carpets and mushroom coloured walls. At night, lit by two dim lamps, the walls glowed dark gold and bent in time to the music. It was good for a time, until the cool ran out.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Juggling Children

The founding Head Teacher of the school was Joe Witherinqton, a red faced Yorkshire man who hid a warm spirit behind a stern, uncompromising exterior. He surrounded himself with a praetorian guard of the academic - and Northerners. This was at one time a striking feature of the school. When you consider it was a Welsh school, the amount of Northern accents about the place was quite frankly bizarre: a bit like a school in Boston staffed by Texans, I guess.

Also bizarre was the record of work. Each member of staff had a large green diary in which you had to write the objective and method of each lesson in a two inch square. Every week these were collected by Joe and signed, sometimes with a comment.

Neil Campbell, not a northerner, more excitable, taught science in a wooden cabin where the less able children had their science lessons. One week – Friday, Period 3 – he wrote ‘Einstein’s Theory of Relativity’. On Monday he got it back signed. The following Friday he wrote ‘Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – Practical Demonstration.’ This was also signed, which shows that Joe didn’t always read what he signed, or like all good teachers tolerated the eccentric.

And he did tolerate the eccentric. There was Mike McGowan who dressed as an Arab sheik, and who later had the good sense to leave teaching for the more fulfilling job of driving trucks, JB Blisset who looked like an anaemic Charles 1st and spoke in a worry-some bleat. Another man who only spoke one word in his lessons: Quiet…Quiet…Quiet. It was said in the strained, desperate tone of a Dalek who couldn’t pronounce exterminate.

And despite all this Joe Witherinqton ran an ideologically contentious but well managed school. It was a true comprehensive. Being the only Catholic school for miles it attracted every kind of child from every kind of family, and these Joe rigorously streamed. The academic, irrespective of money or class enjoyed a ‘private school’ education that allowed many to escape their roots. As a result the middle class and those wealthy enough to send their children to Private School but preferred not to waste their money, sent their children to St. Joes. The Middle streams did okay too.

The casualties were the non academic who – even with the best of teachers – saw themselves as the bottom of the heap, and behaved accordingly.

Problem was, when the system changed to loose banding and mixed ability a lot of the highly academic went elsewhere. Juggling is difficult. Juggling children, interesting - especially when they're not your own - but hard to keep in the air for any length of time.

Parents always put their own children first, and schools, like oil tankers, take some time to turn around.

Saturday, 4 April 2009


Buy TOUCH OF FIRE by Maria Zannini


Thursday, 2 April 2009

Staff-room ghosts Part One

'I told you we should have tunnelled.'

“I think she’s a witch. You can see it in her eyes.” So spoke an otherwise jolly, cheroot smoking magistrate. She was referring to Pauline Broadway, who was not a witch but a strong minded free spirit who had little time for fools. Both were colleagues, one teaching Domestic Science, the other Embroidery, later called Textile Art.

But a warning: This post will be of no interest except to ghost-hunters or the inhabitants of those houses now occupying where St. Joseph’s once stood. I calculate that the staff room – a large rectangular space in green carpet tiles – now cuts across several bedrooms, bathrooms and various en-suites. If vaporous figures disturb their sleep, an occasional ghostly bell, they have only themselves to blame for buying a house on the site of a demolished school.

The earth holds its treasures in fine discrete layers, so does a school, heavy in gossip and spite, endeavour and sacrifice, joy, bullying, and great swathes of stupidity.

The staff-room was divided into ‘islands’, made from tables and surrounding chairs. At one end sat the Maths Department, and various Heads of Year. The air there was sharp in smoke and difficult to breathe. It was however near the kettle and the toilets.

At the other end of the room sat Pat Thomas, a benign French Teacher who headed up the Language Department. She wore her hair in a substantial pig-tail, strong enough to decapitate a man with one swing of her head. It was a friendly department, all mildly eccentric, and all of them women, with the exception of the Latin teacher, Frank King, a gentle, academic man with a high polished head and gold glasses. When he died of brain cancer he was replaced by - yes - a woman, Margaret Lloyd, fierce, strong minded, and perhaps the most eccentric of all. In time another man did appear in the language department, Anthony Wilkinson. He didn’t die, but went off to Peru.

Facing the Language Department, to their right, sat the R.E Department headed by Bill Glynn, an ethereal, tweed-suited figure who fought to keep Religious Education an academic subject. If you wanted a seat, this was the ‘island’ to head for. People didn’t want to be seen as ‘God-botherers’ I suppose. As a result it was a very peaceful corner, much to the chagrin of several in that department.

I sat/stood midway down with my back to the time-table, my bum on a radiator. In winter you could smell burnt trouser and lightly cooked thigh. But it was from there you could glare at the Deputy Head as he added your name to the cover list, not that it did much good.

Adjacent to the Time-table and midway down the room, was the final ‘island,’ the largest, least heterogeneous and most radical. There the Remedial Department sat, dominated at one time by Jean Lewis, Pat Ahern and Barbara Prendergast; these melded with younger members of the English Department; but the Head of English, Maggie Kreuser kept her distance. She was a ‘Jean Brodie’ figure, perhaps more sexy, quite academic and who enjoyed hard-boiled crime novels. She focused on Shakespeare and the Sixth Form and had little time for the good-natured radicalism of those who taught the least able children in the school.

Any one of them, including me, could one day be sitting in your bathroom, ethereal presences but for the most part benign.