8 March 2008

Back together again

I was quite thin on this photo! It was taken in 2004, at a school reunion of the 'Class of 84' from Hedon's two primary schools. From left to right - Diane Rudd (no relation), me, Sarah Pocklington, Fay Cooper, Hayley Connor, Vincent Shepherd and Joanne Simpson.

I think it was Five-Centres who recently expressed horror at the thought of attending a school reunion. Well, I organised ours and I don't have any regrets at all - as far as I could tell, it was a roaring success.

I did get a bit heavily into it. The Natural Blonde says I'm sometimes too focussed on something for my own good and as a result, everything else in life becomes a little sidetracked. I see her point. But it was a big job - Hedon is a small town (or it was in 1977-78, when this group of people started school - indeed, it was still regarded as a village or borough back then) but it was expanding all the time and once we headed for the big comprehensive in the village next to us (Preston, if you have a map), it had grown substantially - so substantially that it had been afforded town status and, more pertinently for the growing child, a second primary school had needed to be built.

And this was the bit of our early educational life which I suspect is fairly rare. Our year was everyone in Hedon born from September 1972 to August 1973. As a May boy, I was in the youngest third and started in the reception class at Easter. Three people who lived on my cul-de-sac had been at school six months by then. We all learned and played and fought together for another full year and broke off for the summer holidays in 1979.

When I went back in the September, half my year, including boys I was friendly with and who had attended my sixth birthday party, had disappeared. One or two I would literally not see again until we were 11 and all headed for South Holderness. The new school had opened.

Hedon Primary School is on the west side of the village and was, for a generation, big enough and staffed well enough to take every single child in the village. I don't know when exactly it opened, (Friends Reunited have incorporated pupils from the pre-war primary school which my dad attended, so that's a red herring - that building later became a special needs school and then an adult education centre). By the 1970s, however, a huge new housing estate was being built in the east of the village and more and more newlywed couples were buying marital homes there and raising their families in these new surroundings.

The school got overstretched, and in 1977 it was decided that an additional one would be built within the new housing estate. There were no obligations to go there, but the large majority of parents on the new estate decided that their kids should go to the new school when it opened.

It opened, to infants only, in September 1979, and my year was the eldest to be given the opportunity as a result. It meant that Gaynor Mackman's name would be enshrined in Hedon history forever as the eldest pupil ever to attend the school, a fact I'm sure she's chuffed about...

As a boy on the west side, I stayed where I was. But roughly half of the six year olds I'd known in July 1979 were nowhere to be seen in the infant three classrooms at Hedon Primary two months later.

I remember asking my mum where they'd all gone and she explained. Then I told her about Paul Kelly. Confusingly, we had two Paul Kellys in my year. One of them had gone to the new school and one had not - yet the one who had not lived in a smart bungalow on the very estate where the new school had been built. All he had to do was fall out of bed and he was there. But, in a move which did his mum credit (and his mum was ace), she gave him the choice when he handed the letter from Hedon Primary over to her. He asked to stay where he was (he told me at the reunion it was because he wanted to get in the school football team) and his mum agreed. So, Paul would leave his bungalow each morning and see every other schoolkid of his age and below walking in the opposite direction to him. That must have been surreal.

Another issue parents faced when making the choice for their kids regarding the new school was that it wasn't for juniors. The intake was gradual, and just three lots of infant years were admitted, which would grow over the next four years into a full quota of infant and junior pupils. Therefore the kids from the area who were born before September 1972 had to continue going to Hedon Primary and making that much longer walk. Some parents kept the younger ones at the old school as a result; having two kids a year apart but at two different schools would have been harder work. Some, however, split the kids up and sent the younger ones to the new school.

You see, selection did exist back in the 1970s... just not quite in the same way.

Three blokes from Hull set up a lads' football team in Hedon in 1983 and therefore I got to see a lot of the old faces again after a few years as we all joined the team. The rest then came back into our lives at South Holderness a year later; in effect, that was our first reunion. Some had remained in touch because of the big brother/big sister scenario, but by the time we were 16 and left school everyone knew (or knew of) everyone else again, even though South Holderness, as one of the biggest comprehensives in the country, had approximately 700 kids per year from ten feeder primaries and a lot of small villages.

So, in 2004, we had a reunion. I'd considered organising one for a bit, as a confirmed nostalgist and someone who is fiercely protective and supportive of Hedon as a great place to grow up. I had bumped into one of the old faces, David Feetham, at his printing place in Hull's main shopping centre and we mooted the idea over a catch-up coffee in the cafe next door.

My next task was to visit Vincent, the other chap on the photo above. Vinny has never left Hedon and is one of the most recognisable and popular figures around the town. We were thick as thieves as kids, and he knew absolutely everybody and, as crucially, remembered where everybody lived when we were growing up. So, we got a map of Hedon and went through the roads and estates ("On Westlands there was Helen Cawthorne, Alan Goucher, Tracy Hall, erm, Ian Low, Stella McKee..."; "who was on Roslyn Crescent? Ian Brown, Debbie Gale, Sara Lucas, Paul Saunders, Mark Thompson...") so that ultimately we had (or hoped we had) recalled everyone who had left the two primary schools for South Holderness in 1984.

Then out came the journalist in me. Finding most of them was easy; even if they'd moved far away, the likelihood was that their parents were still in the family home in Hedon so I just picked up the phone book. Most were really helpful and passed on numbers or messages. Some were suspicious and asked quiz questions ("Who was your deputy headmaster?" "Mr Ledgard." "Ok, here's his number...!") but assisted nonetheless.

There were trickier ones to get. One family, the Kendalls, had left Hedon in 1985, a year after we'd gone to South Holderness. Therefore their daughter, Jayne, was someone we wanted at the reunion but had no idea where she or anyone else was. She was on Friends Reunited (the next obvious port of call) but didn't reply to the polite email I sent her. Then someone mentioned that her dad had been a Hedon pupil in his own schooldays, so I went back to the website and found him on the list. I emailed him, he immediately passed it on and within a day or two Jayne emailed me, full of apologies about her email address changing since the day she had registered with Friends Reunited. She came to the reunion and had fun. Result!

If they had left the area *and* not registered on Friends Reunited, then the next step was to look for siblings on there and email them instead. This I did to find Ingrid Richards, thanks to an email to her big sister Kirsten. Again, she passed the details on and Ingrid got in touch.

Vinny and I counted up 105 people who we needed to invite. There were 106 when we were at school, but sadly we lost one lad in 1996, not unexpectedly, as he had been a cystic fibrosis sufferer and we often only saw him for two out of three terms per year due to his illness. He is buried in Hedon's cemetery. As if to make sure his memory was present at the event, Dave designed and printed out a large card at his shop ("On our day of celebration, we remember a departed friend with fondness") and everybody who arrived at the reunion signed it. I then took it to his parents' house, and they seemed very touched.

There were some who I found who were nonetheless never going to come. Mark Blakey emailed me from Australia, expressing his disappointment that he couldn't attend. Daniel Farey wished me luck with my search as he travelled around Thailand. Christopher North was my most impressive find - his family had long left Hedon, and all I remembered about him was that he was an ornithologist as a kid, with a particular fascination for owls. So I put "Christopher North owls" into Google and found him running a bird sanctuary in Arizona. Needless to say he couldn't attend, but was astonished that I had remembered him and found him. The furthest that people travelled for the do were from places like Oxfordshire, London and the Isle of Man.

We sorted out invitations and sent them to 103 people in the end, including those abroad (just so they could at least have the invitation as a memento). Everyone who was invited was listed on the back of the invitation alphabetically, like a school register, so that people could see in advance who they were likely to bump into at the event, and remind themselves of everyone they had forgotten about.

The two we were missing were just totally uncontactable - one was in the forces; the other was only up the road in Hornsea but simply wouldn't reply to messages. That was her prerogative, though she missed a cracking do. Eventually, 61 of us (most of the rest were on holiday or those living abroad, more emailed me afterwards to say they bottled it!) gathered from 3pm on August 7th 2004 in the function room at the Haven Arms in Hedon. For the next eight hours we drank, ate, took photographs, swapped stories, caught up and just had A Complete Ball. This, as far as I'm concerned, is what school reunions should be like. We had our scraps and fights and tantrums at school, but on August 7th 2004 we were all 31 years of age (except for Joanne Simpson, Jonathan Wilson and Simon Turner, the youngest three in our year...) and had grown up. Anyone concerned about whether an argument which raged at the age of nine should still be felt when you meet again at 31 shouldn't worry.

Here are the Hedon Primary lot, including me...

And the Hedon Inmans Primary lot, the deserters of 1979, are pictured here...

Next year is the 25th anniversary. Shall I?

6 March 2008

Try log, bog, slog, clog or flog...

Today I noticed the the Blogger spellchecker does not recognise the word 'blog'.

And looking back at that sentence right now, it also doesn't recognise 'Blogger' or 'spellchecker'.


Case(y) closed

So, is Casey the Mad Arsonist, Abductress and Adulteress ever going to be put on trial on Coronation Street?

Kevin Webster was before magistrates and on his way to chokey within a fortnight of smacking his daughter's teacher. Now, I appreciate that the backlog of committal proceedings is long, but surely by now the trial or hearing at Weatherfield Crown Court would have happened?

Or are Granada trying to airbrush a largely ineffective old storyline quietly away?

(First published on the blog at Off The Telly)

"What a glorious time to be free..."

Time for me to give you another hour of music which I've just played on KCFM...

America "You Can Do Magic"
Nelly Furtado "I'm Like A Bird"
David Jordan "Sun Goes Down"
Supertramp "Dreamer"
Geri Halliwell "Lift Me Up"
Dream Academy "Life In A Northern Town"
Crystal Waters "Gypsy Woman (La Da Dee)"
Jam "Beat Surrender"
Pussycat Dolls "I Don't Need A Man"
Creedence Clearwater Revival "Up Around The Bend"
Natalia "Pretty Like Me"
Donald Fagen "I.G.Y."
Wings "Live and Let Die"

You're listening online already, aren't you? Excellent.

(There's another new post under this one, by the way - I had something of a purple patch. I promise it won't happen again)...

"I'm a Bedlington long-haired black whippet!"

Replying to something on Channel Mondo just now made me do a Google search for one of the great spin-offs of 1980s comic reading - the comic library.

There are a few on eBay, including the one pictured. I don't know how long they ran for as I was all grown out of DC Thomson's papery organs and buying Smash Hits and No.1 within about a year of their first release, but I do recall them being very good.

Basically, the Dandy and Beano released two of these per month as tie-ins to their weekly comics. They were square shiny paper books and contained much longer 'feature' tales of one of the main characters. These would often see them leave the humdrum surroundings of Beanotown and Dandytown (natch) and the elephant-hide slipper treatment and into something more glamorous.

The one which you're looking at now I do remember owning. Roger the Dodger taking on a young apprentice called James ("arise, Jimmy the Jinker!") and trying to teach him the ways of your top-of-the-range dodger. (Is this a spoiler alert? I suppose so, if you were intending to buy this issue from eBay). This glamorously involved Roger and his nervous but keen wannabe travelling the world pretending to be dignitaries and trying to see what they could get for free before being found out (so 40 knockabout pages on obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception, then...). Roger dressed up as three fictional VIPs - one being a tribal leader called King Rogo (who ordered suckling pig and mango chutney from the expensive hotel restaurant) and another being JR Rogers ("straight from Dodge City") an alleged oil magnate. Can't remember the third... and I can't remember ultimately how the story ended. Better buy the library and find out.

One of the earliest Beano comic libraries featured Gnasher, the erstwhile dentally-gifted mutt of Dennis the Menace, leaving Beanotown to become a film star. This developed into a story of Gnasher in Hollywood, living in luxurious salubrious surroundings, citing Chaplin and Lloyd (hence the post from Channel Mondo) as his heroes (images of Gnasher hanging off a clock) and employing a butler ("you ordered juicy bones for lunch sir, but may I suggest this fine caviar instead?"). He eventually got homesick, ate his contract and expressed his intention to go home and "chase cats with the Bash Street Pups".

The Dandy libraries were just as good - they included stories of Desperate Dan trying to become a country and western singer, and Winker Watson winning a fishing contest by using "Granny's super-heavy dumpling" as ground bait. An issue had Korky the Cat constantly coming close to eating lots and lots of fish, only to have them taken away from him at the last moment each time. There was an interesting regressive one too, as the Burrd's comic library debut told the story of how he and his master, Gregory Peck (yes), ended up together, something which wasn't covered when they first appeared in the main comic. The spoilt arch-enemy with his own aviary was called - ready for this? - Albert Ross.

The only thing the libraries did wrong, to the nine year old pedant I was (now extended to a 34 year old pedant), was rewrite history from the actual comic stories. It really got to me when they announced at the front of a Jocks and Geordies library who was who, with each boy's name changing entirely from how we'd got to know them in the weekly comics. For the Jocks, they remained largely unremonikered (barring a mild confusion over who was Angus and who was Sandy), but the Geordies were all over the place - Percy was now Sidney, the proper Sidney was now apparently called Cedric, Specky was now Lanky and the proper Lanky was now some other middle-class public schoolboy nickname. Careless, just careless.

I do appreciate that the previous paragraph does not show me in an exceptional light, by the way.

Comics also used to spin off (ie, cash in) with their annual summer specials, as I recall. These would be much larger, full colour publications with all the characters enjoying a story which followed their beach holiday adventures. All I remember story-wise, however, was one where Ball Boy was banned from playing football on the beach because a pompous middle-aged couple had complained that he was disturbing their peace. Again, rather frustratingly, I can't remember the ending.

I always used to get the annuals at Christmas, and even bought a job-lot of older ones from a jumble sale which were from my toddler years or even pre-dated me. I remember the Bash Street Kids' teacher winning a flight to the moon in one story, but declining the prize, saying he'd be happy to send the kids along instead, but "pity it's not until 1985!" The annuals also had a nice habit of reviving characters who hadn't appeared in the weekly comic for a while, and in buying the older-than-me copies, I was also introduced to characters I'd not previously known, such as the ludicrously befooted Claude Hopper or the accident-prone soldier Corporal Clott.

I have friends and acquaintances who remain obsessed with comics to this day. I haven't picked up a Beano or Dandy for 20 years but I'd hazard a guess that Dennis is still in the Beano and Korky probably still in the Dandy. But clearly I have no idea. I do remember reading about Desperate Dan's planned removal from the Dandy in the national press and the 'outcry' which followed. Even I thought it was a ridiculous idea ... then I remembered I was a grown-up. It is that realisation which is now making me end this blog entry...

5 March 2008

You are fit to referee...

There are 19 football referees in England who are considered the 'elite' bunch. They are the Select Group - the guys who take charge of Premier League matches. One of them gets the FA Cup final, another the League Cup final. Those with FIFA accreditation also officiate at European matches.

Occasionally, however, as if to slum it, random Select Group referees get handed a fixture below Premier League level. Last night, Hull City versus Burnley was reffed by one such official - Mike Riley.

Sometimes I do wonder why referees bother. Mr Riley was obliged, under the laws of the game, to send off four players in total. This is a freakish number - indeed, in 21 years of attending football matches I can't recall so many red cards in one game - but ultimately it was the correct number.

Yet fans who have no logical thought immediately accuse the man in the middle of "ruining the game".

Now, assuming the referee got all decisions correct according to the laws, he is the one person who is not "ruining the game" if he feels compelled to send four players from the field. The ones who are "ruining the game" are the players themselves for committing the punishable offences.

Burnley's dismissals were for second yellow cards and a little more cut and dried (although the second player to go, Joey Gudjonsson, must have been told to leave the pitch for dissent, as we could see no physical peccadillo on his part). The Hull City dismissals were straight reds for alleged violent conduct and supposedly much more controversial.

Caleb Folan was spotted by Mr Riley elbowing an opponent. Mr Riley stopped the game to issue the red card. Folan protested.

Jay Jay Okocha then also threw out an elbow and clattered a Burnley defender, who did go down as if he'd run into a lamp-post, unhelpfully. Mr Riley didn't seem to see this so he consulted his assistant - crucially, the assistant hadn't raised his flag, so presumably either he also didn't see it, or he did see something but felt nothing was amiss. Either way, a decision was reached to dismiss Okocha. This caused some anger among the supporters, as Okocha had seemingly been sent off for committing an offence that neither official had actually seen.

However, television replays later showed all four red cards, within the laws of the game, were shown correctly.

Neither manager said afterwards they intended to appeal the decisions.

So, why monster the referee?

Mr Riley is there to interpret the players' actions according to the laws. If he doesn't do so correctly or sufficiently, he is punished. His assessor in the crowd marks him down and he can be relegated, just like an ill-performing team is.

So why is he being castigated for his decisions? I heard people say in the stadium that Mr Riley "wanted all the attention". No, he didn't. He wanted to do his job properly. He is a professional referee, that is what he does.

The reason four red cards were issued is because four players committed offences of a serious enough nature, either stand-alone or accumulative, to merit a red card each. No more, no less.

I don't take pleasure from this, as Folan and especially Okocha are vital players to our team as we try to penetrate the top six in the Championship. But the reason we're without them (and are desperately short of natural cover) for our forthcoming games against Scunthorpe, Cardiff and Southampton in the next fortnight is not the fault of the referee.

One joker near me even shouted "you're rubbish Riley, f**k off back to the Premier League". Yeah, good one pal. Tell the ref he's so dreadful he should return to a division where the football is better, the stakes are higher, the game is quicker and the players are more devious. Clearly a place for an incompetent referee...

4 March 2008

"Have you got a Nectar card?"

Yes, I have. I still hand it over to the BP garage person with the Visa card whenever I fill up the car. I was doing it every other day during the time when I was driving 60,000 per annum.

Yet heaven only knows what I'm supposed to do with what are doubtlessly millions of Nectar points (are they points?) because I've never got round to finding out.

Do I get a luxury holiday in Sydney, or am I entitled to a free pack of AAA batteries with my next diesel purchase? I really have no idea. If you've ever benefitted from your Nectar card, I'd appreciate your aid.

2 March 2008

Belly's gonna get you

I've been suffering from a dicky stomach all week. It all began with what was a third and final pint in the pub to round off the weekend. When you drink Guinness, the prospect of receiving a poor quality pint - inconsistency, poor head, dreg presence - is a going concern, and I got one of these. I drank it nonetheless, because you just do, and spent a very restless night afterwards.

I hate it when my stomach can't figure out what it wants to do, but nevertheless chooses to inform me of its indecision in the middle of the night. There was this immense pain at just after 4am on Monday morning which fired me awake, followed by a very discomforting sloshing which kept me in a state of distress for the next couple of hours. Normally an upset tummy can be sorted by prompting an ejection of the rogue substance through one of the usual methods, but my body did not want to do this, despite the availability of willing orifices. My stomach had been trapped, and the pain was bad.

I got up and took a sachet of Resolve. Its stomach-settling aptitude is good, albeit this was poor ale belly, not hangover belly, and on this occasion it only part-sorted the problem. It seemed to stop the churning without actually getting rid of whatever was going on there, so at least I could sleep.

The next 24 hours were a nightmare. My belly was agony but again, the body didn't want to do the natural thing and get rid from one of the channels available. I tried to sleep it off in the afternoon before work, but couldn't. 'Poorly' food - cereal, soup, fruit - was the order of the day, and it all stayed down, though I'm not sure just how long it took to take its full, natural course. I interviewed, live for an hour, a thoroughly nice chap called Ray Henderson - a 70 year old ex Hull City footballer - while my guts were pleading for an end to the madness and for my body to horizontalise itself.

The worst of the pain was over by the next day, but ever since I've had a steady stream of dyspepsia and heartburn bouts, and almost exactly one week on from the original bad pint, I'm still clutching my chest hoping the hot pain shooting upstairs will relieve itself soon.

We have Rennie chew tablets and Gaviscon cool sucky things in our bathroom cabinet - both of which give the instruction of eating after meals. So, hang on - does this make them merely preventative products then? I don't want to prevent indigestion - it's not something I ever think about when I've just polished off a hearty meal - so I'll take my chances, ta. But on the rare occasions, like this week, that I do get such unpleasantness, I'd like to be able to reach for an over-the-counter product which will cure it. Finding out it's there for preventative reasons is no good to me.

The worst my digestive system has ever been was about a dozen years ago when an undercooked fried egg - the buxom Canadian girl I was seeing at the time admits responsibility - sent my alimentary canal into atomic mode. I wince when I think about the mess I became (and made). I was in the most extraordinary pain, with anything and everything emerging from wherever you care to imagine for days on end. I absolutely hate taking time off work for illness but on this occasion I was completely floored by it. Bathroom floored, to be precise. You know where I'm coming from. Eventually, when I'd managed to tell my body to settle for one single hour, I made it to the doctor's surgery. I was prescribed pills that bunged up my whole system while sending me to sleep at the same time. Man, the effect those tablets had was pure bliss.

Food poisoning is a horrible, horrible business. Mine was a basic bit of bacterial poisoning which got out of my system after about five days of pain and considerable indignity and, although I've had the odd dodgy bowel issue since, there have been no repeats on a similar level, thank the lord.

I can only imagine (and would rather not) the severity of the symptoms and the intestinal agony that goes with more serious cases of poisoning. Given that I've struggled to cope with prolonged bouts of mere indigestion this week, hope for the sake of the Natutral Blonde and the NHS, as well as myself, that I never have to go through the graver end of the gastric ailment roster. If you or someone close to you has, I can't emphasise just how sympathetic I am. I'd even bring you grapes, assuming you could keep them down.