You are feeling sleepy……

A while ago I read a book called ‘Dear Me’, the premise of the book was that a selection of writers, comedians, actors and other noteworthy people would write a letter to their 16 year old self. This letter would contain the wisdom of their years of experience, the benefit of hindsight and some sage advice. It was a good book, with some humorous moments, some quite poignant and a great deal of introspection and soul-searching. Before writing this I checked that I had got the name of the book right and found it still has its own website that people regularly contribute their own ‘Dear Me’ letters to.

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Since reading it I have regularly mused on what I would say to my 16 year old self if I were in a position to offer advice. These range from the obvious (I would tell me the names of some horse race winners and what stocks and shares to buy into), to the very particular (I think 16 year old me really should know not to eat that Chinese take-away at the end of his Stag night).

Most of the advice I would offer myself would, in reality, be useless. 16 year old me didn’t actually listen to anybody. Ever. Anyway, there is nothing in my life that has been so bad or awful that it needs to be fixed. I have made my own choices in life and accepted what those decisions have bought me, for better or worse. It is what it is. (Except maybe that Chinese take-away, that was pretty bad.)

In recent years however, I do keep coming back to one particular piece of advice:

As well as being able to sustain lengthy periods of being awake, all-nighters, whole weekend parties, getting by on a couple of hours – and still putting in a full shift at work the next day, you should enjoy the sleep.

Go to bed at 9 if you want. Stay there and sleep for as many hours as you can. Enjoy the bliss of not having to get up in the morning if it’s not a work day. Sleep! This is a more precious commodity than you know.

Once you have children an all-nighter takes on an entirely different dimension, with small, wet, hungry, sick babies being passed from parent to parent as they struggle to stay awake and do what needs to be done. Every dawn chorus is greeted with wide-awake enthusiasm and the desire to get you up so you can entertain them more effectively. Going to work on limited amounts of sleep feels less heroic than it used to, and certainly doesn’t endear you to co-workers.

Add to that the joy of not being able to manage to go a whole night without needing the toilet. What has happened to my middle-aged bladder? I am sure I used to go for days on end without needing to go for a pee, now 5 hours seems to be my absolute best, and that’s only if I have had nothing to drink for the last few hours before that. I daren’t have anything after 9 in the evening.

On top of those things are the pressures and challenges of day to day life. The little things that wake me up at 4 AM, bolt upright, sitting up in bed wondering if I remembered to empty the washing machine or lock the back door. Things I should have done for work. Or, worst of all, the cats wanting to be let out.

In case the 16 year old me somehow gets to read this, I haven’t slept well this week.

Enjoy this song if you have 3 minutes and 16 seconds to spare.

Grand!

When I was 5 my paternal grandfather died. All I really remember about him is that he took snuff and had a walking stick, also when we visited him we were allowed to visit the Olde Worlde sweet shop and buy a sugar mouse each (Me and my brother, not me and granddad.). Not much I know, what can I say, I was only small.

My other grandfather lasted longer, but lived further away, so I didn’t really know him that well either. He was an artist and had a moustache.

I have an appalling memory at the best of times, so the fact that I can dredge up so few details of men who I didn’t know very well isn’t too alarming for me, it’s just what it is.

However….this Easter my wife’s Dad came to stay again. He has been a regular visitor at our house throughout the boys lives. He came to help when I was working away, he comes to help out when we ask, he was here to babysit the older two when our youngest was born. He helps me fix things that are so far outside my skillset they are on a different planet (he is a retired plumber) and loves being around our boys. Every year he comes on holiday with us for a week and the boys all love having him to stay, as do I.

I am sure the boys will all grow up with fantastic memories of Grandad. He regales us with stories from his time as a sailor in World War 2, tells them about life growing up in his village and the things him and his 3 brothers used to get up to. He shows them different trees, plants and birds and gives them a different perspective on the world, from someone who remembers a time when things were different.

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Below are some Grandad highlights that I am sure will be safely stowed in the boys memory banks, but I am also recording here, for posterity – and because they’re funny:

Feeding the ducks one day Grandad scooped one up out of the water, put it in his hat and told the boys we were bringing it home as a pet (we didn’t!)

When he was a boy him and a friend accidentally blew in a shop window with the shotgun they had taken to the woods.

In the navy his minesweeper was sent to clear 10 mines from an estuary. They could only find 8, but as they were due shore leave pretended to have cleared all of them.

His dad (Great Grandad) killed a rat with a broom in a World War 1 field hospital – only to find that one of the nurses had been keeping it as a pet.

He secretly doesn’t like Liquorish Allsorts, but doesn’t tell the family as they have been buying them for him for years.

He is a wonderful man and it is always great to see him. My biggest hope is that, if I ever become a granddad, I can be as grand as he is.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden…

After I had published my last post I recalled another, not altogether unrelated event, which I am now adding as a kind of postscript.

A few years after the ‘plasticine poo’ event, I was working another school. The layout was not dissimilar; a long central corridor, office and staffroom at one end, classes all along the length of the corridor etc. The main difference was that instead of being arranged in chronological order they were in a kind of haphazard, nonsensical order with year groups occurring apparently at random as you walked the length of the corridor.

Like the previous school I was situated quite close to the end of the corridor and got to have a good nose at what everybody else was doing as I wandered from my room to the cup of tea emporium.

I was particularly delighted when a large model tiger appeared outside the class of one of my favourite teachers, Gavin. He and his class of 7 year olds had worked long and hard making it together and had set it guard the classroom door under a paper palm tree that they had made to go with it.

Unfortunately there was a slight problem with the construction, and the back legs began to buckle and bend. This meant the tiger took on a distinctive crouching posture. It was too much to try and resist, I found a small ball of brown plasticine, rolled it into a sausage shape, and placed it slightly behind the tiger. I thought it was hilarious, but then, I’m not that mature.

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A couple of days later it was still there. I went to Gavin and ‘fessed up’ what I had done. He answered that he had noticed and guessed it was me. He had decided to leave it there and see how long it took for middle management to catch sight of it and demand it be removed. We both agreed that this would obviously be the wisest and most sensible thing to do, and if necessary blame one of the students – those Year 6’s eh? So there it sat until the tiger was retired and taken away along with all the surrounding bits and pieces.

Halfway along the corridor

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I once worked in a school with a single, long corridor running the entire length of the school. All the classrooms staffrooms, libraries, halls and other areas came off this one central feature of the building. I was never quite sure how this unusual design came about.

At one end of the corridor was the entrance to the school, the reception, the head teachers’ office and the staffroom. Along the way were the classrooms, arranged in descending chronological order; from year 6 down to Reception. The rooms all had glass walls, enabling you to look in as you passed and see the progressively younger children on the shrinking furniture like an Alice In Wonderland type of mystic portal.

I was working with the youngest children, 4 and 5 year olds, at the farthest reaches of the school. Nobody much bothered us at that end of the corridor; it was too far to walk, with too many other distractions along the way. So it was a little separate empire which only those who had a specific mission visited.

The downside of this architectural arrangement was the vast distance involved in getting a cup of tea at break time. By the time you had negotiated the whole length of the school, visited the loo and got into the staff room there was barely time to make tea. Once it was made it was too hot to drink straight away and, as carrying a scalding hot cup of tea the full length of the corridor was not an option, I usually just had a glass of water.

One of the plus sides of this not terribly convenient arrangement was the opportunity to see what everybody else was doing. Pausing to look at displays of children’s work, meeting groups of students engaged in various activities, meeting other adults along the way. Just the thing for someone as nosey as me.

One of the adults I used to look forward to meeting was a young, enthusiastic and ambitious teacher working with the Year 3 classes. He was always ready to stop and chat, we had some shared interests and I always liked the way he was around his students. It was as we stopped to talk one morning he showed me the impressive new display he had put outside his room. It was a 3D display of thumb pots his class had made using careful techniques they had been taught in art. In the absence of any clay they had found and used some brown plasticine for this project.

It was later in the day, as I made the long walk to the staff room for lunch, that I noticed his display had been tampered with. At some point one or more children had stopped to admire the pots, and had taken it upon themselves to reorganise it. All the brown plasticine pots had been remodelled to create a frighteningly realistic display of what can only be described as poo, dog logs if you will.

Arriving in the staff room I told the teacher whose class it was, thinking he would laugh and roll his eyes. He didn’t, he abandoned his lunch and rushed off to sort it out, and never spoke of it again.

I was reminded of all this last week when I found out that the teacher concerned has just been appointed to be my line manager in the new job I start after Easter. I will not speak of the plasticine ploppies unless he does though.

Bands

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When I was a teenager one of my favourite bands were a group of young men from Northern Ireland called Stiff Little Fingers. Every so often I would accrue enough money from my paper round to head down to Lawes Radio and treat myself to some new vinyl; Bauhaus, The Stranglers, Velvet Underground, The Cure – all of these and more. But most of all it was SLF.

The raw noise, raucous guitars and tribal bass combined to make noise like no other band at the time. The songs were catchy and sung in a way that even people who could not sing (me) could sing/shout along with them, and they wrote songs about real things that actually mattered. I really liked them.

Unfortunately, growing up in the rural South West of England opportunties to watch bands were rare. Even if there had been opportunities, the chances of my being able to raise the money, or my parents consenting to me going to watch a ‘punk rock band’ were negligible. So I resigned myself to listening to ‘Hanx’ (Stiff Little Fingers early live album) over and over at volume in my bedroom.

Eventually, when I started college, I moved away from home and began to go and see bands. Those were heady days, late nights, loud music, road trips and the start of a lifetime of standing in crowded venues waiting for bands to come on stage. This was inevitably followed by getting home late, with ringing in my ears, clothes smelling of smoke and beer, tired but happy.

At that point Stiff Little Fingers were no longer a going concern, they had split up and stopped recording. So I resigned myself to having missed my chance to see them, along with several other bands from my teen years that I would have liked to have seen.
When they reformed in 1987 the opportunity to go and see them never arose and the chances came and went. But a few years ago I got another chance. They were playing at a university close to where I live, my parents no longer have the right of veto so decided I would get a ticket and see what the voice of teenage rebellion looked and sounded like now it was into its forties/fifties. The audience creaked a bit; there was less hair than there used to be and more stomach. But the band…the band rocked. They still had the fire of youth and energy of young men in their sound. I met some old school friends, had a great night and enjoyed myself.

Since then they have played nearby a couple of times, and each time I have been to see them. The chance to catch up with old friends, the great music and opportunity for a good night out are all irresistible. So, if anybody wants to know where I was on Monday night last week: