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Monday, 28 February 2011

Weather (2)

Before I start the main topic of this post, The Weather (again), I'd just like to say thanks to all of you that have made this blog the thing of beauty it has evolved into. 
I'd like to thank my beloved for allowing me to use "Your Bloody Electronic Mistress" between the hours of 5-6 am and 7-8 pm (except at weekends, when it's "sneaking in under the radar" when she's having a little post-lunch nap). 
I'd like to thank Richard [of RBB] and the temporarily absent ManOfErrors, who introduced me to the world of blogging. 
I'd like to thank The Curmudgeon for proving that there's someone out there who's as bitter, twisted and cynical as me. 
I'd like to thank Second for continually disappearing. (Keep it up Second, you'll get it right one of these days, and disappear permanently)
I'd like to thank all of the weirder manifestations of disturbed psyches who keep appearing, leave inane comments and then bugger off.
I'd like to thank all of the little people who allowed this gentle and unassuming blog to reach over 20,000 views in just 9 short months.
9 short months

I thank you.  I couldn't have done it on my own. [Ed. Well actually you could have.  If you were willing to do nothing but click onto your own blog every spare second of the day, then it is possible to build up a huge number of hits.  But only a sad and twisted person would stoop to such depths of iniquity]

However, I would like to get back to my topic, The Weather.

Last Tuesday (The Canterbury Earthquake Day), while my beloved was watching the news develop on TV, and I was doing the same on "My Bloody Electronic Mistress" (The time allowance having been extended due to the terrible events of the day), I heard my beloved mutter something about the weather.
Now we'd just had our sports day cancelled (see the last post - Weather) due to heavy rain, and I thought my beloved was referring to that, so I sort of grunted in agreement, then my sub-conscious and extremely suspicious (let's call a spade a spade; its not just suspicious, it's completely insanely paranoid) reptilian brain put up a flag that what she said did not coincide with what I thought she had said.

The Reptilian brain is the oldest (and most suspicious) part of teh Brain
I must digress.
This next part may come as a shock to any members of the gentler sex who peruse these pages.

Men don't really listen to your inane lists of things that have happened.
We don't care that cousin (twice removed and lives in Stoke-on-Trent) Gladwys has had surgery to those bits that guys don't want to talk/think about.  (We don't mind looking, especially if there's two women and mud involved, but we don't want to talk about it.)
We don't care that butter has increased in price another 5 pence/cents.
We don't care about the plot of whatever cheap American-imported soap opera you've been watching during the day while we've been working like dogs, bringing in the money we need to survive.
We don't care about your opinion on politics/sports/industrial relations.
We don't care about what plans are boiling in your little cerebellum regarding future celebrations of birthdays, anniversaries, St. Valentine's Days, Mother's Days, Father's Days etc.

Please note that all of the above are predicated on statements made whilst doing other things in a lounge/sitting room/snug at home.

If any of the above are initiated while occupying the marital bed, then we're all attention until either:

We fall asleep (10 minutes max)
We get sex

We get sex, then fall asleep (5 minutes max)

Men have developed a defence mechanism called the anonymous grunt.

Anything stated by the partner can be responded to by using the grunt.  It can sound affirmative or it can sound negative, or even non-committal.  The beauty of the anonymous grunt is that it sounds like the expected response.  If your beloved thinks she should be hearing a "YES", it sounds like you are agreeing, and vice versa.  If she wishes to discuss the topic in more detail, she hears the anonymous grunt as a request for more information, which allows her to happily prattle on.

Please don't be upset, any lovely ladies who are reading this (Fflur, Nicola and Ax included) we don't mean to offend you, it's just a simple defence mechanism.  Guys want to talk about nuts and bolts,  We want to talk about problem solving.  We would happily talk about the best method to fix/repair a damaged door for hours (especially over a few beers and the back of an envelope with a pencil in hand) but we don't like (read hate) to discuss feelings, or emotions or relationships.  It's just not us.

Anyway, back to the weather.

Oh bugger, I've run out of time.  Must head of to Nuova Lazio High School to get the relief set up.  I'll tell you all about what my beloved said about the weather next time. 

It was really odd.

Sunday, 27 February 2011


Weather is odd.

We've been having some odd weather in NZ, which has completely mucked up our sports day(s) in Nuova Lazio High School.
Last Tuesday (the day of the terrible Christchurch earthquake) we were supposed to be having a sports day.  Our students were excited about it, not because of having to run around a track in the hot weather, or throwing a metal spear, or jumping over a bar, but because :
1. They didn't have to attend normal classes
2. They were encouraged to wear the most outlandish costumes, based on their house colours (Blue, Yellow, Green and Red)  Prizes would be given for the best outfits.

On the morning, I had to leave for school at 7:00 so I would have time to arrange for some relief teachers if the sports were cancelled. (Obviously I didn't have to arrange relief teachers if the sports were on; I mean, who cares if there's 4 instead of 5 teachers supervising the Discus, or the Javelin.  Admittedly, having a Year 9 pupil skewered by an erratically thrown Javelin is not to be encouraged (in almost all cases; but I have a little list, they never will be missed) and might even bring the school to the attention of the dreaded press, but adequate sports activities supervision was all arranged, and not my responsibility). 
I was dressed for the sports; big floppy sun-hat, cool cotton shirt (blue check, house colours,  The BLUE obviously, not the check, unless you're a Czech, then it's modrá) trusty ex-Army shorts that have seen me through 5 house paintings in two countries, really silly pair of Hush Puppy sandals and about ½ litre of factor 50 sunblock. 

Factor 50 SunBlock is a bit thick
It was raining as I left my house, a gentle spatter on the windscreen.  The skies were full of dark clouds.  Excellent I thought, the sports day will be cancelled, normal classes will run, and I'll appear as a complete prat to everyone, because they'll have heard the radio announcement cancelling the sports day and will have had time to change into normal school dress ( not necessarily a dress, could be a frock, although I prefer the traditional tweed jacket with leather elbow-patches, brown corduroy trousers and highly polished brown brogues)  The Head of PE was due to make the call at 7:30, and the local radio would announce the cancellation at that time.

At 7:35, just as I was driving into the Nuova Lazio High car park, the announcer gave the cancellations for that day.
Only one.

Upper Hutt Cricket.

Oh Hell, that meant our sports were on. It was still drizzling.

The Evil that is a Mince & Cheese pie
We entered the fields at 9:00 taking out all the equipment. Our wonderful ground and caretaking staff had already set up the areas, roping off the danger areas around the javelin, discus, hammer and the pie stall. (Personally, I reckon a Kiwi Pie of Mince & CHEESE is an abomination under God, and should be banned under the unnecessarily high fat foods Act, but our kids love them and have to be strictly controlled when purchasing them, otherwise fist-fights spontaneously erupt) They had also set up some tables

and in my case at the Javelin area, no chairs (Gentle reminder guys, at least 2 chairs next time, OK?)
First job, grabbed a group of Year 10 boys, "Go get two chairs"  They did get the chairs.  It took them 20 minutes.  I saw them approaching through the now heavier drizzle, one poor sod carrying/dragging two chairs at the rear of the group, the other three boys laughing and chatting at the front. (have you ever noticed? There always one person in a group that actualy does the bloody work)

Badly supervised Javelin
We began to process the students through the Javelin throwing, occasionally watching participants on the track as they passed.  One bad sight of the year was a Year 13 boy, who was running in a faithful replica of the notorious (and banned in 23 countries under the bad-taste provisions of the Geneva Convention) Borat  Yellow Unitard.

Should be banned world wide. It's just WRONG
 Making a mental note to purchase a wire brush and some Dettol (sometimes removes bad memories, and I could always use it on that stupid bastard Matt, to remind him that Borat was passé) we continued with the Javelin attempts.
By now the rain (no longer drizzle) was coming in across the fields in ever-heavier bands, and it was getting colder.
When I was in the Army, I have spent many hours working or walking under pouring rain, hail and snow.  I have marched for miles through cloying mud, scratching gorse and dense woodland.  I have even crawled through soaking heather and bogs.  But I was always ready and prepared.  I wore suitable clothing, which even when soaked through protected me to a certain extent from the elements. And there was always a feeling of an important objective to be reached, a time constraint or a vital task to be completed.

Standing in the rain amongst a bunch of brightly painted kids who really didn't give a rat's arse for the sports but just wanted to have some fun with their mates could not be construed (even by Ringo) as an important/vital task.  As the water dripped off the brim of my hat onto the record sheets in my clipboard, and began to wash away the previously recorded names, even as I tried to write the current competitor's name and house, I decided that enough was enough.  I began to tell the kids and the other teachers to pack up.  I was now soaked through, and it was getting colder. 
Every time I moved, I was aware of a feeling of numbness in my shoulders and arms, a feeling of water running down my legs, my bulging varicose veins guiding them into my now squidgy sandals, and a decided lack of numbness in my nether regions, where it felt that the rain had converted my normally robust but soft (and comforting) shorts into at least grade 10 sandpaper.

We began to hear, through the drumming of the now relentless downpour, shouted instructions from the command tent to pack up, head for cover, sauve qui peut mon braves. It was like being at the beaches of Dunkirk, the retreat at the Marne.

The rush to shelter
And so ended our sports day.  Many of the kids buggered off home to get warm and dry, but many staff had to stay, and we sat in our wet clothes and shivered and tried to work. 

Then we heard about the Christchurch Earthquake.  Tuesday 22nd was not a good day.

It was decided to go ahead with our alternate sports day on Friday, but as the day approached, the weather forecast became worse, with showers promised on the Friday morning.. The decision was made on Thursday to cancel the sports on the next day.  Normal classes would resume.

Friday was a lovely day. Warm sun, fluffy high clouds, even a gentle cooling breeze.  It would have been a perfect day for the sports.

Weather is odd.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

We're OK

Such terrible news from Christchurch, and such terrible images of the dead, the dying and the trapped, crying for help.
Like Richard [of RBB], I was going to post something light, twisted and extremely cynical about our Sports Day Fiasco, but the news of the earthquake made me re-evaluate, and realise how trivial our complaints are compared to the real tragedy down South.

I'll try some humour tomorrow.

I'm just not in the mood today.

Writing as an atheist however, I was struck by quite a few comments about the earthquakes, referring to them as "An Act of God"

Bloody Hell, I wonder what they did to offend the Big Guy if he had to send two earthquakes in 6 months

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Sports Day

It's all about Sports
No teaching today, just supervising our kids frolicking under the merciless New Zealand sun.  There's always a slight haze in the air in Nuova Lazio, I suppose it's the marijuana smoke gathering in some sort of temperature inversion in the volcanic bowl that we all live in.

Anyway, back to the sports.  Ringo gave his seminar on e-portfolios yesterday, I actually did want to go, but there was some errors with the relievers' pay, and I had to sort that out first.  Our erudite and grammatical guru went, so I'll get some feedback from him and from the others who went.  There's a rumour floating around that the HOFs had to cajole, browbeat, bribe and in at least one case, threaten members of their faculties to attend as their designated victim representative.  nobody denies that the concept of the e-portfolios is a bad idea, it's just that technically there are some serious issues, and socially, not many of our kids have easy access to computers and a broadband connection, so many will automatically be disadvantaged.  It's not right.

Anyway, back to the sports.  I'll be in my normal place, right up at the far end of the field, helping with the javelin.  It's not too bad, and once we get properly organised, we'll feed the kids through conveyor-belt style, and should be finished by lunch.  Most of our kids enter into the spirit of the day, with real Kiwi enthusiasm, painting themselves in house colours and wearing silly clothes. My only concession to the day is to come in wear shorts, sandals (not jandals and definitely no socks) a big floppy hat and sunnies.  Plus of course a slathering of factor 50 sunblock.  Any non-kiwis reading this should be aware that the sun in New Zealand can be really ferocious, much worse than in Aussie, and good protection is vital.

Blistering, Scorching Kiwi Sun
I remember, just after I had arrived in NZ, going to a used car lot to buy some form of transport (I couldn't afford to keep my hire car much longer)  I didn't have a hat, but only spent 30 minutes looking at cars and talking to the salesmen in the yard before going into the office, and in that time my balding pate got enough sun to cause extremely painful blistering that evening.

Anyway, back to the sports.  The finishing event is normally the student - staff relay race, but our HOF of PE seems to think that such a race may be too dangerous to allow.  He gave some sort of half hearted reasons like a fear of one of our older and out-of-shape teachers collapsing while have a myocardial infarction, or risk of extreme groin strain, but we could tell it was just an excuse.  He was frightened that the students would win (again) 

We should run events more in keeping with the general school ethos.

200 metre joint sprint:  Where students attempt to outrun a slavering police dog whilst finishing and then swallowing a 50g joint.  Extra house points are awarded for style, lack of brown trouser stains and levels of intelligibility after finishing.

Subaru Strip:  Where teams of 5 students strip a Subaru Impreza down to the chassis.  The school record is 25 minutes and 42 seconds.  The current record holder is tutoring advanced classes in Rimutaka Prison.  He was exceptionally skilled at removing parts, but exceptionally bad in character judgement after he tried to sell two front panels to an off-duty Senior Sergeant in the Firemans's Arms in Petone.

The Warehouse Nonchalant Stroll.  Only for senior students. Where individuals have to move without expressing tension, stress or dropping any of the 25 items of Warehouse stock secreted about their person over a 50 metre obstacle course.

The Teacher Pursuit.  Run in two heats.  The first leg is where 10 -15 of our younger athletic male teachers are each given a baseball bat and allowed to chase catch and thoroughly beat a group of our worst behaving male students.  The students being handicapped by a ball and chain and a sense of social inferiority.
  The second heat is where any (living) male teacher is allowed to chase a pack of our lady teachers.  Just for fun.

Chase the lady teacher

Anyway, back to the sports.  I would really prefer to spend the day teaching my students.  They're really great kids who perform to the best of their abilities, and it's fun for all of us.  That's one of the secret advantages of being a teacher.  You can plan, prepare and present a topic or concept in such a way that the students don't really realise they're learning (the juniors anyway) and the teacher has a captive audience to try jokes, funny voices, practical jokes, trivia from life history etc.  Fun is had by one and all.

An example of a bad joke (but with an ICT teaching component)

Anyway, back to the sports.  The one major advantage from my perspective is the lack of relievers.  If one of our staff throws a sickie, I don't have to arrange a relieving teacher.  Who cares if there are 4 or 5 staff supervising the discus?


Is that a migraine coming on, or just an acute attack of situational hypochondria?

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Walking the Dog

We have a little dog, a Bichon-Frise called for some forgotten reason "Samo".

I say we have a dog, but to be accurate, my beloved, because she is at home alone a lot of the time (she is on a full medical pension because of a very bad back injury) wanted to get a doggie companion two years ago.

We eventually bought him (more accurately "it" as he's "been seen to") from a Chinese family in Kelson, from a Trade Me advert. I should point out here that dog people (different from dog-owners) prefer to use the term "adopted", rather than bought. Whatever.
Loose weight or die

On the first visit to the Vet after we had adopted him, we were told he was about 2 kg overweight, so we put him on a diet, and took him for regular walks. His previous owners couldn't have walked him very much, because Samo strongly objected to walking further than 50 metres from the house. He showed his reluctance by sitting down and refusing to move. I solved this problem by ignoring his objections and continuing to walk. As I weigh considerably more than even the overweight Samo, the result was he got dragged along the sidewalk on his arse, which caused him to re-think his objections and continue walking. He soon lost weight through a reduction in food and the extended exercise, and he is now quite keen to go on fairly long walks; the little chap now gets excited as soon as he sees the lead.

The lead which I am carrying.
For some unknown reason, I'm the mug who now takes him for his walks. Ignore the fact that it was my beloved who wanted the bloody animal in the first place, ignore the fact that I work from 7:00 am until 6:00 pm, and come home knackered, ignore the fact that my beloved is home most of the day, watching TV, reading etc., I'm the chap who takes Samo for his walks.

But I'm not bitter.

Before we had a dog in the house, I was surprised by the occasional comment by a friend or colleague about the propensity for dogs to produce "poo".

Only this machine produces more crap than a dog

Dear God, they're just ambulatory crapping machines.

Samo gets one portion of dried dog food at 4pm every day, and maybe a couple of small bikkies as treats once or twice a day, but I'm sure that his gut exhibits a complete disregard for the law of conservation of matter, and he produces at least 3 times the amount of "poo" compared to his intake.

We have big wooden decks all around the house, and every morning we do a poo patrol removing the deposits and spraying the contaminated area with bleach or disinfectant, before thoroughly rinsing with water from the hose.

Cute bone-shaped poo-bag dispenser

But the little bugger ALWAYS retains enough to make deposits on his walks. We have fitted a plastic bag dispenser to his lead, so we are always prepared to remove anything he leaves as we walk around the neighbourhood, so we try to be good citizens and keep the contamination to a minimum.

But it's always me. My beloved doesn't even take Samo out for a daytime walk anymore (to be fair, her back is playing up badly at the moment) so it's moi who accompanies the little white happy but crapping canine on his perambulations.

It's really not that much of an imposition, and if I can sneak a quick alcoholic infusion before we leave, I can actually enjoy the walk.

OOOh, Hello Neighbour

I can do lesson plans and units of work in my head, dream about new cars, imagine DIY projects, design death machines for the prolonged and painful destruction and dismemberment of Ringo (always a favourite), meet and chat to other dog walkers, (mostly blokes oddly enough) view with unalloyed delight the fluorescent blue of the gorgeous New Zealand sky, especially as it segues into the almost more impressive turquoise and pink of the sunset, admire the silhouette of a neighbour's wife against the evening sky, spend the next 10 minutes trying to eradicate the arousing fantasy which popped into my fevered brain after seeing her voluptuous silhouette

So the walks can be diverting, (Please note: I do not consider rain to be a part of the contract.  Rain = No Walkies.  Ever.  No Exceptions) a relatively benign way of taking a modicum of exercise for the both of us. 

See Nicola, I don't use every excuse to put pictures of large-breasted women on my blog.
Then someone gave Samo some melon.  We had a few friends around last weekend for a barbeque, and my beloved had prepared plates of fresh fruit, including melon and watermelon.  A few pieces fell off which were promptly scarfed down by Samo, waiting under the table. (He never begs for food while we are eating, but he reckons  that anything that falls on the ground is fair game).

I took him out for his walk that evening, following the usual route, stopping at the usual places for him to sniff and pee, everything normal, except his walk wasn't quite normal, he seemed to be waddling a bit, almost as if he didn't want to move his hind legs very much.  I didn't give it much thought until the first crap stop.  Samo exhibited the usual precursor signs, grass sniffing/snuffling, going in circles repeatedly, then the final sign, the glazed eyes and the straddled legs.

Poo bags come in all sizes
Sighing, I removed a new bag from the dispenser, and after he had finished, removed the pellets, sealed and tied the bag, and hung it from the leash. (this is now de-rigeur for dog walkers, demonstrating that we're actually picking up the poo, and not leaving it to foul the sidewalk).

We carried on walking, but Samo began to exhibit the pre-poo signs again!
Oh well, out with the bag, ready....

JESUS CHRIST, where was this coming from.  My little doggie had turned into a monster.
The area was becoming covered in large deposits of a foul-smelling semi-liquid, looking remarkably like lentil soup.
Looks like this
Smells a bit different.  Can't comment on the taste.

I couldn't pick this up, I'd need a straw, and I certainly wasn't going to use one to suck this stuff up. I'd need a hose and gallons of disinfectant, but I was quite a bit from our house, and I didn't really know these distant neighbours.

So I did what any other bloke in similar circumstances would have done.

I buggered off, sharpish

Wishing I had a cork somewhere on my person to plug up the dispensing orrifice of my now dribbling doggie companion, I walked/shuffled back home.  On the way, the little white shit-machine had by now added farting to his repertoire, and mixed with the still dribbling lentil soup, resulted in him spray-painting large areas of the pavement, grass and a parked campervan with a layer of dark beige pigment, which smelled vaguely of fermenting melon with an admixture of dead, decomposing goat.

Spray painting, the proper way

Spray painting, the Samo way

Once home, I locked all the outside doors, banishing him to the outside decks until the plague had resolved itself.  I did put out a large bowl of water, knowing the poor little sod would become dehydrated quite quickly, but no-way was he getting back into the house until it was all over.

I went back through the living room, heading for the front deck and a relaxing lie-down on the porch swing, thinking that maybe a glass or two of peat and barley extract would help my frazzled nerves relax, when I became aware of two things.

My beloved was screaming at me, something about carpet?
I still smelled the disgusting stench of the doggie diarrhoea.

Oh Dear.

I looked down.
Brown footprints.
No relaxing on the porch swing, no nerve-numbing peat and barley infusion, just a long time on my hands and knees, scrubbing and disinfecting.

No more Melon.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Bloody Whitcoulls

Whitcoulls, the book store is in trouble.  They have gone into voluntary liquidation, and are no longer fully honouring their gift cards and vouchers. 
As I have a $150 gift card with them, I'm not amused.

I'm also not surprised. 

Even though it was perceived as the biggest book store in NZ, it had a terrible reputation for dodgy offers and it's on-line system really sucked.  It was clunky, difficult to use, and biggest problem of all was that it didn't stock enough titles.
It was competing against Amazon and The Book Depository (TBD) and Whitcoulls was losing.
Amazon had far more titles, was cheaper (so much so that is some cases it was cheaper to buy in Amazon, pay for the postage, and still be cheaper than Whitcoulls. ) and TBD had more titles, easier to use web site, and free delivery.

With the advance of e-books, I wonder how long the traditional book shop can continue?
The new ebook readers are getting closer to duplicating the book-reading experience, with much better contrast graphics, the ability to work in strong sunlight (a major failing of the earlier models) and reducing cost and size.  Some of the more advanced book readers can also store your music files and playback, so you can read your favourite book whilst listening to your favourite music.  Just add your favourite drink for complete bliss.

At least it would be complete bliss except for the $150 owed to me by bloody Whitcoulls.

Friday, 18 February 2011


Like all State schools in NZ, Nuova Lazio is running a deficit. The MOE (The ministry not the retired gentleman) never gives us enough money to teach everything that they (The MOE, The ministry not the retired gentleman) demand that we teach.

Many faculties use photocopied worksheets rather than textbooks, we get our pupils to copy work from a whiteboard, because sometimes our printing/photocopying budget has reached zero, Richard [of RBB]'s music room desperately needs refurbishment and re-equipping (and has been promised since before I arrived in NZ). Our needs increase every year, as the powers-that-be demand more from us, or change curricula arbitrarily, but our budgets gradually shrink.

We ask for a "voluntary" donation of about $80 from our parents, to support the "Free" education we are supposed to provide for their offspring, and this is quite moderate to other schools which ask for a great deal more. However, many of our parents cannot afford even $80, especially on top of the uniforms, shoes, sports equipment and subscriptions that their kids need.

So we're really short of money for even the basics.

Which begs the question why Ringo is requesting demanding about $20,000 to equip a classroom with a wireless network and a class-set (about 30) of netbooks or notebook computers.

As a technophile, I have absolutely no objection to getting more computers into the school, and greatly support the use of ICT in teaching and learning, but his idea (initiated by the MOE etc.) is worse than silly, it's inane.

For the whole scheme to work, we need:

1. Operational and properly configured devices

2. High speed network connection

3. High bandwidth connection to the internet, and a wide pipe beyond NZ's borders.

4. An understanding of the whole e-portfolio shtick, and a reasonable rationale.

We have 1 and probably 2, but definitely not 3 (It's beyond our immediate control).

4 is still in question. I cannot understand the great advantage of an e-portfolio compared to a paper one, or even a traditional file structure with hyperlinks if it needs to be done on a computer.

No matter how much the Systems Guy (Carrot Head [ aka CH]) and I try to tell him, he has no idea (or at least he gives that impression) of what the technological requirements are/will be, and the technical limitations and constraints on the infrastructure.

He just goes merrily ahead regardless.

He asked me (when I was talking to a student who was a bit nervous and unsure, Ringo breezed into my office, ignored the student completely, ignored that I was having a conversation with the poor girl, and just launched into his spiel) to be at his "training" session on Monday, when he is supposedly showing a selection of our teachers the ideas and concepts behind the e-portfolio crap. He casually mentioned that an external expert would be coming in, and would I "mind" giving technical support in setting up the data projector to use with this person's laptop.

I asked, quite gently, if this person would need the laptop connected to the network and hence the internet, and he replied, in that f**king condescending and sneering manner he so naturally generates, "Of Course".

I then told him to get CH, because the person's laptop/notebook/whatever would need to be set up for our network, configured for our server and have the internet proxy LAN address changed to work on our system.

He just stared at me for about 5 seconds, taken aback that there was any obstacle to his nicely thought-out plans.

He has no idea of what he's getting into, and I can see the $20,000 + , which we can ill afford (and which has not been allocated by the Board of Trustees, the Principal or our Business Manager. I don't even think it's in our official budget) being wasted, and the whole scheme scrapped inside the next 2 years.

I'm talking.  F**k Off

Next time he walks into a conversation of mine, with pupil, parent or staff member, and starts interrupting, I am going to tell him to f**k off. Seriously. And Literally.

We wonder sometimes why our students are a bit rude. Maybe they’re using Ringo as an exemplar.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Honeymoon (Part 3)

We got shown to our room in the Gairloch Hotel, and I'd prebooked a good room, e.g. one with a private bathroom. For the younger ones reading this, having your own bathroom in hotels in the 70s was not always the norm, and there was always a shortage of hot water, so planning and arranging your evening bath could be difficult. I always found the scum ring around the top, and someone else's hairs (especially the short and very curly ones) in the plug-hole a bit off-putting. It's not pleasant having a bath in someone else's detritus.

The room was OK, but we were both very hungry, and it was now almost 8 o'clock, and the sign on the door said meals stopped at 8:30.

Two points here.

Meal times in provincial hotels in the UK during the 70s were always a bit constrictive.

An example might be:

Breakfast: 07:00 - 08:00am

Lunch 12:00 - 1:00pm

Dinner: 7:00 - 8:30pm

If you wanted food outwith these hours, you might be lucky and get a cheese or a ham sandwich from the night porter. And the bar closed at 10:30 pm.

Second point. The glorious Scottish summers (we wish) have extended opening hours. The sun doesn't set until well after 10pm, and that extends the further North you go. I've ben reading outside at 11pm in Wick. (There was absolutely bugger all else to do in the bloody place)

We got down to the dining room (huge, the size of a ballroom) and got a table. There were two other people sitting in this room. The tour party we saw earlier must have been leaving after their meal, and the waiters were still clearing up. As they finished the tidying, and we studied the menu, the room got quieter and quieter. No pleasant ambient music or the chatter of happy diners. Just a dead, empty silence. Occasionally punctuated by a distant curse emanating from the kitchen, and a rhythmic farting coming from one of the other diners. I looked into my beloved's eyes and we both giggled. The farting was regular. Too regular, and the bloke sitting there didn't seem to be moving in time to the sounds. A kitchen porter came into view from behind a screen, pushing a huge and ancient vacuum cleaner, which was emitting the farting sound.

Relief. (Apart from a growing feeling of choosing the wrong hotel. What sort of place has the vacuuming done when there were still some customers eating, or trying to order.)

Back to the menu. It was a fixed menu, not an a la carte. Three courses plus coffee (I had booked half-board, i.e. breakfast and dinner each day, when I had booked the room). No options (except a chicken salad, a sop thrown in the direction of those weirdos called vegetarians. A chicken wasn't really meat, was it? 1970s thinking)

The menu was :

Brown Windsor Soup

Roast Meat (I cannot remember what it was, or what it tasted like)

Sponge Pudding and Custard

This was worse than I had expected. Much worse.

Forget the mains and desert for a minute, and let's look at the soup.

Here we sit in the far north of Scotland, surrounded by some of the finest produce nature can provide. The hills are full of deer; so many that thousands have to be shot before the rest of the herds completely defoliate the country. Venison is cheap and plentiful. The lochs and sea lochs are full of Trout, Salmon, Lobster, Crab and Scallops all of superb quality. The big deep-sea fishing port of Ullapool is just down the road, giving access to the finest quality of all edible sea fish. The surrounding countryside is rich in small farms, providing all sorts of vegetables and fresh pork, lamb and possible the finest beef in the world, Aberdeen Angus. Scottish recipes for superb soups such as Cock-a-leekie, Cullen Skink, Hough and Scottish Broth are all well known and much loved.

They offer Brown Windsor Soup.

It's such an anonymous soup, that even Wikipedia is a bit vague about it's contents. It's sort of meaty and brown and should be thick and tasty.

The hotel's soup was thin, watery and tasteless.

What complete arsehole could have written the menu?

Then I remembered the tour party.

Bus tours were notorious for being cheap, and I would bet that the hotel, catering for its main clientele, kept its costs to a minimum, knowing that most of the coach party wouldn’t complain. (It wasn't really British to complain. One just gritted one's teeth and carried on. In extreme cases, a pointed glare was permitted)

I don't remember much else about the meal, but I do remember being in a hurry to get finished and get off to bed.

Look, I was 25, full of love and lust for my new bride, and like most guys at that age, the testosterone was surging.

We did finish our meal, and departed the dining room. There was nobody there when we left, all the other diners had gone, and we hadn't seen any wait-staff for ½ hour. As we walked through the main hall towards the stairs, it was like walking through a mausoleum. The place was completely empty, no I tell I lie. I spotted the spotty Gaelic youth at reception, his head on his arms, and snoring gently. This place would have that effect on anybody. Maybe that was why it was so popular with the bus tours? Maybe the poor old folk didn't need their sleeping pills in this place.

We saw no one all the way up the stairs (hand-in-hand of course) and along the corridors to our room.

I carefully locked the door, and we quickly got undressed. My beloved, being a nurse was fanatic about cleanliness, and a bath or shower was de rigueur before any sort of major intimacy, so She went into the bathroom to draw a bath.

I heard her shocked voice saying something that in a creature less delicate than my cultured beloved, could possibly be misinterpreted as "SHIT"

I hurried through (see, already being trained to rush to my partners aid) to see what ws up.

Nothing was up. The bath was slowly filling (it was one of those giant Victorian cast-iron baths, which these days could be used as a spa), and the water was the usual peaty brown colour you get quite often in the Highlands.


My beloved had never been in the highlands before, and had never encountered peat-coloured water. It took quite a lot of persuading before she accepted it was safe, and not polluted. I actually had to drink some of the cold water to convince her it was OK.

The good thing about the size of the bath was that we could both get in.

Playing with a rubber duck is much more fun when there's two, and the loofah can get to bits we never knew we had when you have someone else to do the rubbing.

Quickly dried, very quickly into the big bed, and just as the area of mutual contact began to grow (no details, this is a family blog. Sort of) there was a peremptory knock on the door, and before either of us could say a word (our mouths and tongues being otherwise occupied) the door unlocked and the chambermaid stepped in.



Frozen movement. Rigid limbs. Bulging eyes staring.

And that was the chambermaid.

I vaguely remember my beloved giving a muffled shriek and pulling the blankets over her head, which was I thought a little selfish, as it left me completely exposed. Rather prominently exposed as a matter of fact, but the prominence was rapidly diminishing, even as the chambermaid with a sort of muffled grunt/laugh, left the room. We discovered later, that the hotel, in a vague and completely daft way, was trying to emulate the large American hotel chains, by turning down the guests' beds at night, and leaving a chocolate on the pillow. I could never understand this practice, even when performed by somebody actually trained in respecting guests' privacy, which this (rather large and hirsute from my fleeting and shocked memory) chambermaid was obviously not.

Anyway, this sudden intrusion (I refer to the action of the chambermaid) had left me incapable of any sort of romantic act, and this condition persisted for over an hour, before normal physiological processes began to return. Didn't do me much good, as my beloved, now infected with a pathological fear of interruption, just wanted to go to sleep.

And thus ended our first night of the honeymoon.

I should like to mention, that this type of involuntary Coitus interruptus has only occurred to us twice in the many years we have been together.

Both occurred in Singapore, my beloved's country of birth. We had returned to Singapore to spend 3 weeks with my beloved's family, so they could get to know (and of course) love me. On our third night there, just getting over the jet lag and sleeping in the main family bed (they had given up the biggest bed and bedroom for us) I began to feel a little frisky, and proceeded to demonstrate to my beloved my friskiness.

The bed collapsed.

I'm not talking about a Warehouse or MFI special here, I'm talking about a 50 year old, solid teak bed frame, which inexplicably fell apart.

Have you ever tried, without any tools of any sort, to repair a broken bed, in the middle of a sweltering and pitch dark night, with a semi-hysterical wife crying/laughing beside you and being subliminally aware of almost-heard whispering/giggling from the other parts of the house?

Not fun.

No more attempts at friskiness for the rest of our stay.

The second time was on our next visit to Singapore, about 3 years after the first. Remembering our previous accident, we had arranged to spend a few days away from the family home. We were on a very tight budget, and couldn't really afford a hotel, but one of my beloved's relatives had just bought a flat, and they lent us the key for a few days. The flat was quite near the coast, AND it had air conditioning, a luxury my beloved's family home lacked. There was no furniture in the flat, but we took along a futon-type mattress to sleep on.

No bed to collapse, what could go wrong?


On our first night, relishing the cool and de-humidified air wafting over our skins, we began to get frisky.

Just at the peak of friskiness, someone shot me in the arse.

Well, that was what it felt and sounded like. It was a much bigger shock than the collapsing bed, or even the intruding chambermaid, and we both screamed in shock (and in my case, pain. I leave our respective positions to the active, fertile and probably febrile imagination of the reader)

A light bulb had suddenly, with no prior indication of any sort, had decided to drop out of its socket, and fall to the concrete floor just inches from our entwined bodies, exploding on contact, and showering me with broken glass.

After carefully clearing up, and even more carefully removing the glass fragments from my derriere, we went back to sleep.

No, seriously, we slept. The anti-sex gods of Singapore had given me two warnings, and I was not inclined to tempt them a third time.

The rest of our honeymoon was uneventful. We did the touristy things, went to Poolewe where they have an amazing, almost sub-tropical microclimate (the Gulf Stream hits the coast near here) and very famous gardens.

We also bought a sherry decanter and glasses (which we still have and use) from a Caithness Glass sales area outside the gardens. Bit odd, as Caithness is 170 miles to the northwest.

We finally returned home and went back to work. Bit of an anticlimax after the wedding and honeymoon incidents.

My beloved has been dropping hints recently about going back to church to rededicate our wedding vows, but I vividly remember the disasters which befell us, and I'm not minded to tempt fate a second time.

I really don't want to be responsible for the next big Wellington earthquake.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Honeymoon (Part 2)

As we drove into Gairloch, we could see our hotel coming into view. As I mentioned before, it was a large, traditional Victorian hotel, built from Granite, so it glistened in the evening sunshine. The sun was also reflected of the two large coaches parked at the side of the building, and off of the line of large black cars lined up at the front.

More on the coaches later, it was the black cars I was worried about. It was either a funeral reception or a wedding. As I could see no drunken bodies or broken windows, it probably wasn't a traditional Scottish wedding, but I've seen some funerals which exhibited similar behaviour. As we parked our Capri in the large car park at the front, I saw a large group of (mostly elderly) people coming out of the hotel. Black suits and black ties. No flowers in buttonholes. It was either a Mormon mass conversion training group or a funeral party.

No American accents were to be heard, just the gentle Western Isles lilting Scottish intonations.


We had started our married life in a hotel hosting a funeral. Not quite the ambience I had been hoping for.

As we walked into the very large front porch, my beloved gave me a nudge in the ribs, and indicated the ceiling.

What on earth was she on about now?

Looking up, all I could see was a traditional plaster ceiling, decorated in Victorian style, and obviously in need of a good dusting to get rid of all of the cobwebs.

"What is it?" I mumbled to her.

"Coffins" she whispered back.

Good Lord, she was right. The geometric lozenge pattern on the ceiling was not a normal rectangle or square, but coffin shaped.

Had we booked into the House of Death?

Not quite.

I should like to explain to any of my "younger" readers that this was in the 1970s. Before the Internet/Web. The only way to make a hotel reservation was by phone or (gasp) letter. There were no easily available reference books (yes, paper books) and many people used a travel agent, and trusted their opinion on hotels and places to visit.

The original Thomas Cook (not the person I saw.  I'm not that bloody old)

Just 2 years earlier I knew that I would be in Germany for a big BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) exercise, and when it was finished, I wanted to join an extended family trip from Norway to Finland to attend a cousin's wedding. All I had to do was to get a train from Hanover to Hamburg, and then fly to Bergen. To arrange all this detail, I had to go into Thomas Cook Esq. in Glasgow, and for about an hour I sat in front of a travel agent as he thumbed through various timetables, maps and calendars, scribbling furiously on a planning sheet, then phoning the airlines and Deutches Bahnhoff to check facts and eventually make the bookings. These were transcribed onto a typed itinerary, and a copy (remember carbon copies) was given to me. Believe me travel agents really earned their commission in those days.

I had booked this hotel myself (by letter), the only reference being an advert seen in the Glasgow Herald, so I had no real idea of what to expect.

I wasn't too sure about the big coaches outside either. Coach tours were/are a popular method of seeing the gorgeous Scottish countryside, but normally the coach companies used smaller hotels, hotels of less than average distinction. Cheap hotels. Oh dear.

The first thing which struck me as we walked into the reception area was the size of the counter, it was really small compared to the size of the hotel (about 200 rooms), and had only 1 receptionist, a spotty Gaelic youth who seemed not to speak English, and who didn't seem to understand my Glasgow (but educated) accent. (I later came to the conclusion he didn't understand Gaelic either, and was just incompetent, uncaring and as thick as a brick).

The second thing that struck me was the smell. It was a curious mixture of beeswax polish and embrocation. (Embrocation is a general term for the various lotions/creams etc. used by many of our aged citizens on aching limbs and joints, in a (vain) effort to escape from the nagging pain of arthritis and lumbago)

The third thing to strike me was my beloved's elbow.

I blame myself.

I had plenty of opportunity for re-training or avoidance therapy.

I could have said something.

I could have said "Would you stop hitting my ribs with your damned elbow"

I could have retaliated.

I could have launched an elbow attack of my own.

I could have swung my devastating right hook.

I didn't.

I was head over heels in love, and we were on our honeymoon.

I was in lust.

I said nothing.

I blame myself.

34 years of bruised and bashed ribs.

It's my fault.


Then I saw the zombies. I was brave; I didn't run or scream or even wet my pants. I just stared. A shambling tide of ancient and decrepit wrinklies were shuffling towards us.

It was the TOUR PARTY.

As we discovered, this hotel, situated in an admittedly gorgeous spot on the side of Loch Gairloch, was regularly used (twice a week in summer) by a bus touring company which specialised in the an elderly clientele. This was before SAGA was even a glimmer in an entrepreneur's eye.

I had booked our honeymoon in a place which seemed to specialise in Death and Dying.


Next episode. At last.

The Dangers Of Being Interrupted During Sexual Congress By A Bloody Stupid Chambermaid Who Wanted To Turn Down A Bed And Who Wouldn't Go Away.
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