Posts Tagged ‘friends’

The SSF (Sea-Sick Friend) and I were well overdue an excursion which we rectified this week by taking a trip into London by train, for old time’s sake. Long suffering readers will recall that SSF and I met years ago during our commuting days whilst stuck one evening on a stationary train going nowhere out of Waterloo Station. We struck up a conversation bemoaning the appalling service and haven’t stopped chatting since.


The Walkie Talkie Building, centre.

This week’s outing would not be involving water other than looking down on the Thames from a great height, which SSF assured me, was fine, although I think vertigo was mentioned. We were making for the Sky Garden – an innovative use of the top floor of one of the city’s less than attractive new buildings, known locally as the “Walkie Talkie.” This unwieldy looking skyscraper hit the London headlines in the summer of 2013 when the sun’s reflection beamed intensely off its mainly glass structure into the street below and melted part of a car as well as setting a shop doormat alight.

Undeterred, as our weather was positively chilly – even for early April, we decanted ourselves from the tube at Monument Station and hoofed the short distance to 20 Fenchurch Street. The lobby security was akin to any airport rigmarole – everything and everybody screened – this was dealt with deftly and provided a natural filter for the two available lifts. Whizzing ear-poppingly to the 36th floor in cramped conditions isn’t my most favourite thing in the world but it was over with so speedily there was hardly time to wonder about a staircase option.

The lift opens to reveal another lobby – tiled in black slate and containing state-of-the-art unisex toilet facilities. Now, if there’s one fear greater than getting stuck between floors in a lift, it’s becoming imprisoned in a public lavatory. Which, for what seemed like hours but was actually less than a minute, happened to me when the lock mechanism failed to release. After moments of sweaty trauma I was able to join SSF and step into the glass domed conservatory that is the Sky Garden.



The audible gasps are justified: this space definitely has the wow factor. The views over our capital city are amazing. The first area reached is the Cafe-Bar  which is completely free to access although booking a time slot is necessary.



The mezzanine contains the Darwin Brasserie (For which SSF had booked a table) and above that, at the very top of the dome, is the Fenchurch Restaurant. Tumbling down the two sloped sides next to the staircases are cascades of tropical greenery. The air temperature is surprisingly cool but this is catered for with colourful throws and blankets provided in the seating areas.




Here is a great view looking east towards the Tower of London and Tower Bridge with the towers of the Canary Wharf business district in the far distance. (Best place for it…).


And here, looking west. The Post Office Tower, once one of the capital’s tallest structures can just be seen, top right while the London Eye to the left (or south of the river) and near to Waterloo Station is one of the city’s newest landmarks.


Looking directly south, The Shard towers over everything else. HMS Belfast can just be seen in the foreground. (Or should that be fore-river?) The outside viewing platform was sadly closed during our visit due to inclement weather. Surely a reason for another trip?


And finally, looking northwards – the “Cheese Grater” on the left and the “Gherkin” on the right. London certainly has its fair share of odd looking buildings – and judging by the amount of cranes dotted about everywhere, we are destined for many more.

So…the verdict: well worth a visit. We had a very enjoyable lunch in the Brasserie with a prime table by the window overlooking the Thames. After lunch we had a sneak peek up at the restaurant and decided that the Brasserie looked much the best option. The tables in the restaurant are too far back to take advantage of the views so we wondered what the point of eating there would be. Although there seemed to be a steady stream of people coming and going, there was no feeling anywhere that the place was overcrowded and I suspect that for health and safety reasons only a certain number are allowed in at any one time.


Leadenhall Market

We left the building to stretch our legs around the city, taking in Leadenhall Market, Bishopsgate and Spitalfields before returning to the Underground at Bank via the Royal Exchange. This is SSF’s old stamping ground but for me, fairly unchartered territory – so a good day was had by all. With any luck there will not be such a long gap between this and our next outing –  just deciding where to go is tricky – so much to see, so little time!



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How many friends do you have? Two, six, thirty?  Or perhaps, like one of my fourteen year old pupils, you have 762. Really? The word friend and its meaning is becoming debased and devalued, thanks to social media which, as far as I can tell was set up by the socially inept and is now creating social ineptitude on a global scale. A recent BBC news item stated that in a survey of twelve to eighteen year olds, twenty-five per cent of them felt more comfortable dealing with ‘friends’ via a screen or on their phones than face to face.

Friendship as we know it is a dying art. Friendships these days are conducted through the medium of Facebook or Twitter on whichever small screen is to hand. Popularity is measured by how many people like whatever crashingly boring news you’ve just posted on your page, be it the mundane making of beds, washing the family laundry or having a night out at the 02 to see Michael Buble. Your page or thread of inane consciousness instantly means something to somebody, desperate for you to ‘like’ them back. These people immediately become your friends. All it takes is a little thumbs up logo. It’s not unusual these days to have hundreds of friends: Stephen Fry, for instance, has a Twitter following of messianic proportions (now there’s a thought. If Twitter had been around two thousand or so years ago maybe the New Testament would have panned out differently) – but how many of these buddies would drop everything on a freezing cold morning to come round and help him jump start his car? How many of them would bake you bread in return for dropping their offspring at school? How many of these push-a-button-quick friends would you invite to your wedding or significant birthday? How many of them would you go on holiday with?

I think I have quite a lot of friends, as it goes. Probably between ten and twenty. There are different groups of them – old friends, tennis friends, writing friends, work friends, book-reading friends and friends I made when Son was small. Some of these friendship groups overlap but they all have one thing in common. They are real. I know what these people look like, know how they think, what’s likely to upset them, what will make them laugh and which ones I can call on for advice or a trip down memory lane. I know when their birthdays are, how old they are and whether they are sensitive to my knowing. They know all this about me. Most of them know some of my family; I know, or know of, their nearest and dearest. I might know some of their deepest darkest secrets, their hopes and dreams, the successes and failures they’ve made and they will know mine. They are the people I share celebrations with, remember to send cards to and phone when it’s time to get together. We meet, we interact, we pick up where we left off. Face to face. As friends do.

The internet is a powerful tool. Of course I can see the potential of Facebook and Twitter in a commercial sense. If I had something to sell or I wanted to raise money or awareness about something then it would be foolish not to sign up, even though it irks me to have to sponsor somebody through their online giving page. All big businesses now use Facebook (it’s easy PR – back in the day, my life in publicity would have been such a doddle) – even BBC news has a page although I’d much rather visit their website for updates, but that’s just personal preference.

The internet can also be extremely destructive if not treated with a little caution. Splashing drunken photographs of yourself across a Facebook page may seem highly entertaining when you’re a student but may come back to bite you when (as happened to a friend’s son), fresh out of university with a good degree, you struggle to secure employment because the potential employer has checked your suitability via social media. There’s no hiding from it once it’s out there.

Posting photographs of children online is done either with complete naivety or a flagrant disregard for child protection. I came across an alarming post on WordPress recently highlighting the plight of one family who, quite innocently, posted a video of their six year old son performing in his school talent contest. The pictures got into the ‘wrong’ hands and went, as they say, viral. The family were traumatised by the salacious comments made towards their son and began a long and partly unsuccessful journey to have the video removed.

Sadly cyber bullying is rife amongst teenagers –just to be ‘unfriended’ causes untold grief. In the real world, some friendships fizzle out naturally due to geographic distance or a change in interests perhaps – but it doesn’t mean that the original friends have parted acrimoniously. Life goes on. Then there is the sinister issue of young people being ‘groomed’ on the internet and Facebook is the first port of call for this lowlife. How do teenagers assess the authenticity of a wannabe friend?

Which brings me to blogging. Blogging is a form of social media, so what’s the difference? Why do we blog? To seek out similar interests, to inspire and be inspired, to be informed through an alternative channel to anything else that’s published or broadcast. To have our say, I guess. We build communities with like-minded bloggers – we visit each other’s sites and leave comments. A comment is valuable; it can set off a discussion or a different train of thought.  Blogging creates a form of friendship but, without wishing to offend, it’s a two dimensional one.

I don’t know you, not really, and you don’t know me (although through our creativity we get to know one another on a certain level), so how do you know that I’m not a sociopathic inmate residing in a high security prison? With a good imagination?

How do I know that you aren’t?

I’ll leave you with that spooky thought this Halloween week. imagesKUGEYSAW

Have a good one.



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As we trundle inevitably towards our new school year next week amid threats of redundancy, more cut backs and an ever shrinking national curriculum, here’s a reminder of why we do what we do.

Queuing up in our corner shop the other day, I recognised the young man in front of me as one of our ex students. He bought a couple of cans of coke and a pack of cigarettes.

“Still smoking then Danny, I see,” I said smiling, but trying to force a look of disapproval.

He turned and grinned at me. “Orright, Miss? Hey, do you remember when….?”

We reminisced a little before he left the shop. I watched him drive away in smart little car.

Do I remember? How could I forget? Eight years ago Danny (not his real name) was a student in a class of sixteen listless, under-achieving kids with bad attitude. I supported their English GCSE lessons alongside a young teacher who has since become a firm friend. I shall refer to her throughout as TF (Teacher Friend). She was patient, innovative and determined to get the best from this rabble who were not overjoyed to be in school at all, let alone have to struggle with Shakespeare or, heaven forbid, visit the library and select a book. I admired her enthusiasm but worried that she was being overly idealistic.

Nevertheless, we took them on for two years from the age of fourteen and from the outset they were a challenge. Their target levels were understandably rock bottom. They never produced homework. A detention was not a deterrent – they never turned up for one anyway. Their reading wasn’t fluent; none of them could spell or at least, didn’t bother. They would arrive in the classroom without their exercise books or even a pen. Because they were such a small class and they had most of all their other lessons together as well, they formed a tight bond: they worked and moved as a pack. TF wasn’t having any of this – she set about finding the pack leader and working on him. She wisely reckoned that with him on side, the others might eventually follow.

(I ought to point out now that it was not Danny who was leader; if anything, he presented as slightly anxious. He was content to follow the crowd, take the path of least resistance).

And follow the others did. Amid much groaning and sprawling on desks, we started studying “Much Ado About Nothing.”  Instead of making them write reams and unpick unintelligible quotes, TF got the students acting the play out. Pack Leader was Benedict; our feistiest female played Beatrice. The others took turns in having a go at the other parts; they began to understand the play and, dare I say, enjoy it.

When we finished with that, we moved to a modern text by Willy Russell called “Our Day Out” – chosen because it is a short play about a load of dysfunctional kids going on a school outing. The irony did not pass over their heads: they thought it was hilarious. We began to love these kids: as hard as they found this subject, they had a sense of fun: they began to work for TF and produce essays of sorts. It was more than we had hoped for.

During one lesson, one of the pupils mentioned that she had never been on a school outing. Most of the others agreed. I was appalled. TF and I exchanged glances and before I knew what I was doing I had suggested that we take them to the theatre to see Willy Russell’s musical play, “Blood Brothers” – at that time showing in London.

Well, what can I say – we had opened the floodgates – the kids were thrilled with the prospect. A few of them had never even visited our capital city. They were nervous. To them, London represented a terrorist target.

Of course, we hit massive resistance as well as disbelief in the staff room.

“Take that lot out – you must be mad!”

“You’ll never get the risk assessment passed,”

“Of course you can’t take them by train – far too dangerous!”

“Imagine them in a theatre -they’ll disrupt the performance! You’ll get the school a bad name …”

 And so on…

TF dug her heels in. Management suggested she team up with the Drama department who were running the trip later in the year but she politely refused. She didn’t want our little band of oddballs mixed in with a lot of high achieving students who regarded a theatre trip an everyday occurrence. She wanted this to be an occasion for them.

I dug my heels in. I don’t like being told I can’t do something either, surprisingly. I filled in a lengthy risk assessment form, got it begrudgingly signed and then I set about ordering subsidised tickets, checking out the school minibus schedule and acquiring a driver. My heart sank when I saw the state of the minibus. Used virtually exclusively by the PE department, it was filthy and smelled of unwashed bodies and football boots. Not suitable for a theatre trip to London. I called in a favour from an old ex-colleague who had started running her own hire company. She provided us with a vehicle and driver at minimal cost. Our trip was on – hurrah!

The kids were uncharacteristically enthusiastic. They all paid their fees within a couple of days. We finished “Our Day Out” and started on the poetry, expecting some opposition. There was none. The class continued to work well.

A couple of days before our outing, Danny dropped a bombshell. We were rounding up a lesson when he stood up, said he hated English and wouldn’t be coming on the trip. He stormed out. We were mystified. Nothing appeared to have provoked this outburst.

Pack Leader took me aside and explained conspiratorially that Danny couldn’t come because he wouldn’t be able to smoke. I almost laughed, but not quite. Pack Leader went on to explain knowingly that Danny was addicted to nicotine and “got the shakes” if he didn’t have a cigarette. When I realised that PL wasn’t winding me up, I was horrified. Apparently Danny had been smoking regularly since about the age of ten – with his parents. I thanked PL for his honesty and told him to leave it with me.

I managed to get Danny on his own for a quiet word. I asked him to explain his reason for the outburst. With a little coercing, his reason bore out what PL had told me. I asked Danny if he ever managed to go to the cinema and sit through a film. He had, many times. I told him that a theatre performance was just about the same length as anything at the cinema. It wasn’t the theatre he was worried about, however. We had suggested to the kids that because we would have to leave school in the late afternoon and they’d probably be hungry, we’d go for a burger before the show. Danny told me that after food especially, he needed a ‘fag,’ otherwise he got the shakes and started sweating. I told him that no way was he missing this trip and I’d sort something.

I mulled it over and discussed it with TF. I hatched a plan of which she wanted no part as it might compromise her professional position but she agreed to turn a blind eye.

Can you guess what my plan was? And what would you have done given the circumstance?

Here’s what happened.

At last our much anticipated evening arrived. The students met us back at school having gone home to change into their ‘smart-casual’ clothes. The girls teetered on impossible heels, looked a few shades of deeper orange and carried huge handbags filled with goodness knows what. The boys wore nicely pressed shirts and jeans. Because it was coming up to Easter, TF put little bags of chocolate eggs on each minibus seat which were scoffed down as we drove the forty odd miles to London’s West End. Any affectation of being ‘cool’ dissipated within the confines of that bus. As we crossed the river their excitement grew as they spotted Big Ben and then Nelson’s Column.

Our driver dropped us at Leicester Square and arranged a rendez-vous point for later on. We trooped off to Burger King where the kids were at home ordering their meals. TF and I withdrew a little with a bag of fries and a coffee. I kept a surreptitious eye on Danny, who was having a whale of a time with the others but who was, I noticed, unusually fidgety. When they’d finished, he was definitely looking sickly; I wasn’t imagining it. I nudged TF who, in her teacherly fashion, grouped the kids together and suggested we move across the street to Frankie and Benny’s for ice cream. This was our pre-arranged cue. I stayed behind to make sure the rubbish had been cleared by our party, and Danny stayed to ‘help.’ Then he and I sauntered off in the opposite direction, into the Square, and he (self-consciously, I have to say) lit up. I stood by the gate while he wandered up and down dragging on his horrible cigarette.

Eventually I was joined by PL who had cottoned onto what was happening and didn’t want to miss out, so he had a quick couple of drags too. Understandably, we received a few disapproving stares. I turned a blind eye to that one and, as we walked back to meet the others, while I impressed on them that I thought smoking was a disgusting habit and that it would affect their health this occasion was not to be discussed or mentioned back at school. They promised me that the incident would go no further – and it never has.

Having met up with the others again we walked crocodile fashion along Charing Cross Road to the theatre, our students keeping to a tight, nervous formation. It was interesting to see a bunch of supposed streetwise kids so far out of their comfort zone.

Their amazement and appreciation of the old theatre was gratifying. They gazed about them in wonderment at the old Victorian building. They were awestruck. We had fantastic seats along the front row of the dress circle. TF had grilled into them the need for excellent behaviour as the other theatre-goers had paid top dollar for their seats. We told them there’d be time for sweets in the interval. They were as good as gold, and as the music began, they leaned forward in their seats and became absorbed.

As the play came to its final heart-wrenching scenes, the sound of muffled sobbing came from along our row. Feisty Girl left the theatre with black mascara tracks coursing through her powdered orange face. Our party was buzzing. Danny gave me the thumbs up as we waited for the bus – he looked calm and chatted to the others about the performance. When our driver saw how much the kids had enjoyed themselves he suggested taking them on a short tour of the sites before we left the capital. So they took in Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament to round off their evening. We arrived back at school after midnight and we dared any of them to bunk off the next day. None of them did. It was business as usual and back to poetry in the classroom.

On my desk I found a scribbled note which said simply ‘thanks for last night.’ It wasn’t signed, but I recognised the writing.

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Time for a bit of a milestone celebration, I think – WordPress have just let me know, by way of a trophy style icon on my dashboard, that this blog is now one year old. Hurrah! Crack open the champagne, pass around the canapés and let’s party like it’s 1999.

On second thoughts, let’s not: I fell asleep then, before the fireworks. I’m not a fan of big parties where the music is so loud you have to shout to make yourself heard; where there is a sparseness of food which, when you finally get offered some, is usually bits of unrecognisable stuff slathered in runny sauce, mounted on flaky pastry that is impossible to eat while standing up, sans napkin, balancing a plate and glass precariously while already well oiled guests brush past with an abandoned lack of respect for your personal space.

Or maybe I’ve just been going to the wrong parties.

A Grayson Pot

A Grayson Pot

So, I got to thinking about dinner parties instead.

Perhaps I could have a fantasy one. Lots of people have listed their fantasy guest list – who would I choose? Hmm. Regular followers won’t be surprised to learn that Grayson Perry would be on my list. Eccentric, cross dressing British winner of the 2003 Turner Prize, Royal Academician Grayson was appointed a CBE in the 2013 Birthday Honours list for his services to contemporary art. Perhaps he’d bring me one of his ceramic pots as a thank you. It could be a rejected one, or even a chipped one, Grayson, I wouldn’t mind.

Next up, I’d invite Janet Street-Porter. Whatever you think of her (and I don’t think she’d care, either way), there is no denying her contribution to journalism and broadcasting. I’ve been a fan ever since she worked on the long defunct ‘Petticoat’ which was the first trendy teenage magazine I ever read and I was delighted to see her reach the final recently of British Celebrity Masterchef. The girl has many strings.

Jo Brand, English comedienne and regular panel show guest has me crying with laughter with her dry wit and deadpan delivery, would make a great dinner party guest, as would, I think Bill Turnbull, presenter of BBC’s Breakfast News. Bill makes quietly observed asides as he presents the news. He is informed, amusing and keeps bees. Perhaps he’d bring a jar of honey. That would be nice. I could put it in Grayson’s pot.

As my guest list begin to take shape my thoughts are turning to what I am going to feed them which is where this dinner party idea falls down, fantasy or otherwise. I might be creative in other areas but not in anything culinary. Spending hours over a complicated recipe holds no interest or satisfaction for me, to have it scoffed down in a matter of minutes. It makes me think that Michael Landy, the British artist who became famous for creating an art work called Break Down, (in which he destroyed all his possessions), should have been a chef – then he wouldn’t have had to reapply for a passport when he realised that while courting huge publicity for himself, it actually turned out to be rather inconvenient.

I manage to provide adequate and wholesome meals on a regular basis for my family who spend much of their time longingly watching the plethora of baking and cookery shows available at every waking moment, knowing that unless they have a bash themselves, the only way to experience food like that is to take me to a Michelin starred restaurant.

So I’ve decided to scrap the dinner party idea. Somebody somewhere said that we should never meet our heroes and I think there’s a lot of good sense in that. People in the public eye have a public persona that they hide behind and maybe as themselves, they’d be far less interesting than we are led to believe, although I’ll make an exception in Grayson’s case.

But I’ve just had a much better idea: because where would this blog be without its readers? I’d like to raise a glass to all of you, who have dropped in, who have followed, and most of all, who have commented and traded ideas, stories, jokes and banter. You’ve encouraged, informed and motivated me. It’s been great to meet you all and to dip into your worlds. I’ve travelled to far flung places from the comfort of my armchair, seen fabulous photographs and art works, been entertained and educated because of you all. So thanks to you all, very much.

Here’s to another blogging year – cheers!

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Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Thought I must share some images from a link sent to me by Barb a few posts ago. If ever there was an argument for covering the body beautiful, then this is surely it. They are the works of photographer Leo Caillard  who together with digital artist Alexis Persani, ‘dressed’ these Louvre statues in modern attire. aristaeus-by-joseph-bosio-looks-cool-in-sunglasses-rolled-up-pants-and-a-tight-t-shirt[1]     rock-def1-rvb[1] There are several more which can be viewed by clicking the artist’s names in bold, above. The pictures got me thinking about how perception is changed by the clothes we wear and how we are probably subconsciously drawn towards people who favour the same style of clothing as we do. If you think I’m barking mad, pause a minute and think about how your friends’ dress.

See what I mean?

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I read a fantastic book recently called Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green. (  I dropped Matthew a line to let him know how much I had enjoyed his book because I had had an imaginary friend as a child.  He encouraged me to write this.

Barry, my Imaginary Friend

I was nearly three when we moved from an apartment in town to an old house in the country with a large, overgrown garden. That was where I met Barry. He had sticky-up black hair and wore a black coat with a sticky-up collar. Together we explored, in amongst forgotten raspberry canes, swathes of chin-height toughened grass and chaotic weed filled flowerbeds. He pushed me into a clump of nettles once, from where I emerged red and itchy. Nanna gave me a dock leaf and told Barry off, so that was alright. He didn’t do it again. I think he was a bit frightened of Nanna. For three summers we played together, Barry and me, making camps under bamboo or climbing the old chestnut tree, swaying on lower branches, at sea on our pirate ship.  He was a lost boy to my Peter Pan; Will Scarlett to my Robin Hood.

     I’d run down the garden after breakfast, determinedly avoiding the daily brushing of pillow-mussed hair where I’d find Barry, usually with a grazed knee.  He fell down a lot so I kept him supplied with sticking plasters, taking one for myself at the same time. When it came to peeling them off, I’d squeal as my mother ripped then rubbed the fraying grey ridges at bath time.  I was never as brave as Barry.

     Even though my parents often laid a place for him at table, Barry never came into the house. Sometimes I would take a biscuit or piece of fruit outside and we’d feast in our camp. One day, my little sister joined me in the garden and that was the day Barry disappeared. He was shy, you see. She never replaced Barry; I had to make do with her company but she was only ever Friar Tuck or Tinkerbell.

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