Let slip the dogs of war

They say that when pinecones close, it's going to rain.

If cows sit down, there's about to be a storm.

When rats desert the city, expect an earthquake.

And so on.

A lot of our boys have taken to wearing military dog-tags with their school uniform. Is it time for me to start digging a bomb shelter?


Level playing field

FAO Mr Shorts - Head of Physical Education
Big Field
The Great Outdoors
Our School
United Kingdom

Dear Mr Shorts,

This isn't Hogwarts so just what is the magic spell you are casting over the kids in Physical Education lessons?

No, no, don’t worry – I’m not implying anything underhand. We know you're not like the last Head of PE.

But you obviously have a few clever teacher-tricks up your tracksuited sleeve and we tweed-jacket types can’t fathom how you do it.

It's the general attitude of children around you that's been turning scholarly heads your way. I've heard some of our slightly murderous pupils using positive expressions like ‘Yeah, alright’ in your company and referring to you as ‘Sir’, but in your absence they revert to apprentice-gangsters.

When I told a class you’d be covering a lesson next week some of the little creeps hissed ‘Yessssss!’

And when was the last time you actually had to walk from the playing field to the staffroom? Or walk anywhere, for that matter? You are so popular that an adoring crowd of children actually gathers to carry you upon their rugby-player's shoulders wherever you go.

Why are they sucking up like this, the sycophants?

You must admit that, of all the school-subjects, PE is the most akin to actual torture. Yes, PE ticks all the boxes: humiliation for those who can’t perform, physical punishment for those who can, lashings of psychological and verbal abuse for all. And, having eaten mud pie on the field, they have it washed down by a high-pressure, ice-cold shower.

If that list doesn’t bring Amnesty International protesting at our gates I don’t know what will.

And yet they treat you like a sports celebrity. What is this? Stockholm Syndrome? And how do you achieve it?

Is it the torture? No, it can't be that simple... Is it because PE is the only lesson where the girls and boys are herded separately, allowing unhindered bonding between the gender-tribes and their respective PE teachers?

Why do they do things for you they won’t do for the tweed-jackets? And they do things to us they wouldn’t dare with you?

Heaven knows I've tried emulating your success in motivating the gangsters.

‘Your mobile phone and make-up goes away and that’s two laps of the playing field, Chloe . No, I don’t care that your leg’s in plaster – I’m sure Mr Shorts wouldn’t accept such a lame excuse. You know the rules!’

Total failure.

The truth is that the only way I can make kids run is by telling them something like 'stay where you are, I’d like a word, please - nothing to worry about, just your future and the rest of your sorry life.'

I didn't give up.

‘Wakey-wakey! Shane! What are you, Sleeping Beauty? That’ll be ten press-ups!’

And did Shane do the press-ups? No, he did the telling me to fuck off and go fuck myself.

Have you encountered similar barriers to learning in your field? If so, how did you tackle these problems?


Mr Socks


Copper-bottomed plot sinks without trace

Hollywood-lore has definitely got this right: When something dramatic happens, the real world does go in slow motion.

Like me paying for a coffee and cake in the mall cafe this afternoon.

INT. DAY. (filmspeak for 'interior, daytime'.. oh, you'll get the hang of it).

Mr Socks is choosing a cake in the self-service cafe. Happy music. He places the slice of Battenberg on his tray and slides the tray along towards the cash register.

Close-up of Socks' back trouser pocket. Brooding, sinister music.

Socks approaches the cash register with friendly nonchalance. Happy music. The cashier-lady smiles.
Cashier: That will be one pound fifty-seven, please.

Interior shot of inside Socks’ back pocket. Darkness. Sinister music. Sound of unseen creature breathing. We hear Socks and the cashier talking in the distance.

Socks (distant voice): I might have the right money... hold on a sec...

Cashier (distant voice): Alright, dear.

Music becomes scarier.

Socks reaches down to his back pocket

EXT. DAY. 1912

Flashback to Socks as a child in Edwardian clothes, complete with cute little boots. Patriotic Edwardian music.

Mother Socks: Now you be careful young William when you’re helping Mr Perkins in the china shop! I know how clumsy you are, there's always a disaster when you're around!

Socks: Yes, mother.

Later: young Socks comes running out from 'Perkins Chinaware' store. The building explodes behind him as he throws himself to the ground.

As the smoke clears the wind blows the tattered remains of this newspaper into Socks' face. He slaps a dirty hand on his forehead as though to say 'but I didn't do nothin' !'

We return to the Present Day.
Socks: Think I’ve got a fiver somewhere.
Socks’ hand enters back pocket.

Close-up of Socks’ surprised face.

All in slow-motion

Socks: Whaaahh!

The cashier throws her arms up to shield her face.

Cashier: Aaaargh!

Socks: Ooooops! Coins!

Freeze-frame shot of coins suspended in air between Socks and the cashier. The camera does a Matrix-style 360° rotation around the scene.

Socks: I’m soooorry!

Close-up of coins striking the cashier’s apron like shotgun pellets bouncing off body armour.

Cashier: Arghhh!

End slow motion.

Socks: Sorry, I don’t know how I did that.

Cashier: Not to worry.

Happy music again. Camera zooms in on Socks’ back pocket as he carries tray of coffee and cake to table. We hear the unseen creature growling from within pocket. Scary music.


Breaking the spell (-checker) at The Last Supper

Got unwanted elderly relatives? Or maybe you’re a pitiful OAP* yourself?

So painfully ancient, perhaps, that you’ve been wondering if, when all your affairs are put in order, there’s something to be said for this euthanasia thing?

Or maybe you are just depressed and have no wish to go through all the bother of another Merry sodding Christmas and a Happy bloody New Year?

Keep your heads out of that gas oven! Save those pills for someone who needs them for a headache!

Because there is a legion of children in blazers and stripey ties ready to help you out.

Maybe you’ve already seen the notices our angels have been pinning up outside the school... and along the street... and all over the town.

Maybe soon you'll be seeing angels?

When the idea first came up at the student council meeting I thought they said it was an ‘OAP Party’ they were organising. But my memory must be failing me in my autumn years.

Now, proudly presenting our school’s first and your last -

(That's the school name I've censored - I doubt the R.I.P Committee is planning for suicidals travelling in from outside the area).

I dare not imagine what goes in a 'minced' pie at an R.I.P Party, or what this choir is going to be singing as you drink your last sherry - the important thing is that some teacher gets this malarkey under control before the school has a misunderstanding with the local community.

*Speakers of non-UK English (in case you don’t know), OAP = Old Age Pensioner.


Talking the talk in Room 101

I was listening to a wireless broadcast about the US election the other day and there was an English journalist introducing an interview like this:

‘.. I’m here with a spokes...person from the NAACP, that’s the National Association for the Advancement of Co...’

Cough! Splutter! Mumble, mumble ...

‘ ...ored People ...’ and so on. But I was lost.

What people?’ I spluttered back at the radio. ‘Whhhoooo?’ I strained, reaching for my hearing trumpet.

Scratching of head. Rummaging through badly eroded brain cells.

‘Oh!’ I had the revelation. ‘Coloured people! Well, why couldn’t you just say.... I don’t want people coughing and mumbling on the wireless because they don’t want to say a word...’

A harp strummed and my admonishment of the journalist faded into a distant echo, my vision became fuzzy, and when the world came back into focus I found myself in my classroom.

A recent memory.

I was sat in my swivelling chair, clutching a bunch of stapled A4 sheets, staring though the dirty windows at the clouds and traffic whizzing past like a speeded-up film in contrast to the silent stillness of the post-schoolday classroom.

One could almost hear the dust collecting on my head, the world around me rushing into the future. I reclined in the battered old chair. I had discovered myself to be anachronistic, lost and abandoned in this modern age, simply waiting to be found by the cleaners and wheeled out to be thrown on the skip.

The photocopied papers scrunched up in my fist are a school policy document listing words and expressions I have been told I must erase from the minds of the children and banish from use, lest 21st century western civilisation crumbles like a Babylonian tower should they ever be uttered again.

A careless word. An insensitive cartoon.

We have seen how easily unguarded thoughts or a few innocent strokes of pencil on paper can lead to embassies being turned into infernos, to streets being given over to the mob, baying for the blood of those who dared offend their precious beliefs.
I sit there in the empty room long into the evening, oblivious to the caretaker - ‘Locking up in ten minutes, mate’ - rising from my chair only to light a candle to see me through my night-long vigil and into the next day.

For hours I try forcing myself to read beyond the first word of the banned-expressions list. I am like a student on exam results day, holding the slip of paper but not daring to look because they know their grades will be as useful as an amputation to an athlete. I cannot persuade my eyes to look any further than the first word on the list.


It is gone forever.

‘Staff the lifeboats!’

‘The British army lost 57,000 staff on the first day of the Somme’.

I fear to contemplate what other terms could be deleted from our collective vocabulary.

Some time after sunrise children start wandering into the classroom. The ringing of bells. Soon all the seats are filled with children, the familiar mixture of the keen, the lost and confused, the criminal, the good, the bad, and the smelly.

The average form-group has 7 or so nationalities, children of all races (or visible minority ethnic groups, to use the jargon) , 10% are gay or bisexual (I am told), there are Christians, Muslims, Hindus - in fact my classroom is a Noah's Ark of religions.

This is an average form-group sitting before me. How did I ever manage to stop race wars breaking out before getting this list of words we mustn’t use? How did we previously manage to avoid Jihads and Crusades being launched across the room? Why did the girls not slaughter the boys, yet?

An Asian lad keen on his education floats around my desk and looks curious about the crumpled papers in my sweaty paws.

‘Good morning, Sir! Urgh, Sir, have you washed today?’

I break out of my trance for the first time in 10 hours.

‘Good morning and sit down. Right, listen up, little people.’ They don’t mind me calling them little people - I don't know how I survive with my patronising attitude - maybe someone should tell them to be offended.

I steel myself for the unsavoury task ahead of me, as I finally summon the courage to look at the list of forbidden words which I have to warn the children about.

‘Listen, I’ve got some new vocabulary for you to learn. Now let’s go through this list together... ’

PS. A reader wondered recently whether the surreal nature of my experiences recounted in these annals might be linked to teachers drinking something other than ordinary tea in the staffroom. Well, thank-you for that comment - and I think I've got to the bottom of the mystery.


Rat habitat endangered

During a shopping trip I stopped at the mall's central cafe, a favourite vantage point to observe humans going about their affairs.

Sitting in the oasis, plopping sugar cubes into my coffee, watching the ripples moving out across the surface of the life-restoring liquid, I was astonished to look up and see a human carried across the shopping centre concourse in the ripples of the global economic money shortage, like a drowning rat swept downstream in a November flood.

I’ll try to explain.

The mall is an eco-system, with 'eco' standing for either ecological or economy – the terms are interchangeable in this context. In addition to the permanent shops, this eco-system also supports a thriving colony of predators whose job is to catch unsuspecting shoppers - their prey - and savage them until they agree to buy products such as insurance, windows, remote control toy helicopters, and so on.

Usually these predators are very relaxed and manage to catch prey with very little effort. The harshest tactics I had previously seen were the waving of a brochure at the victim, and a predator playfully flying a remote control helicopter around the prey's head.

What I beheld, while stirring my coffee and eating a biscuit, was one of these helicopter-sellers - a Socks-Scholar of yesteryear - actually chasing a mother and child through the mall, roaring ‘You’ll have hours of fun, and I’ll include the batteries for free!’, his helicopter repeatedly ramming the poor victims’ backs as they sought refuge in a shop.

This is the first evidence I have observed of desperation among the predators as the mall eco-system collapses in the world-wide economic storm.

I fear it will not be long until the flood waters reach the school gates.

Waves of economic-migrants from eastern Europe – with their attendant children - have seen our school prosper and expand in recent years. But will these guest-workers remain in the UK in the event of financial cock-up and employment melt-down?

With the loss of clients, what future will there be for those eking out a living from the dark art of teaching?

I do not believe we teachers are recession-proof. Kids = Cash, and my observations in the mall make it only too easy for me to imagine the desperate measures we may take to keep the education business afloat.

Maybe teachers will have to bribe children to stay in school?

Could we be required to compromise disciplinary standards so they won't want to leave?

If we run out of children to teach, will we have to keep them in school when they have reached an age when some of them would be more usefully employed selling toy helicopters? (Make them serve life, I say!)

Or will teachers simply ensnare escapees in barbed wire traps? Actually, we do that already, too.

If none of the above works and I do find myself hanging up my tweed jacket for ever, at least I know I can always get a job as a translator.


Thought crime - if only...

My working life revolves around misunderstandings of various kinds. I make no complaint about that – on the contrary, as a teacher I see it as my raison d’être to embrace misunderstanding and the perpetrators of misunderstanding with the ardour of a seasoned preacher taking a miserable convict by the hand, inspiring him to join the flock and leave his life of sin behind.

I have an appointment with one of our school’s greatest sinners. He crashes through the door into my study.

‘Hello, Aaron, good of you to come. Take a seat.’

Aaron - a criminal by instinct, a thief by specialism - thinks I am trying to trick him with this sneaky ‘take a seat’ business. I can read the boy’s face – one beady eye is scanning an imaginary horizon to see if anyone is watching him. (He does this scanning thing instinctively - we are obviously alone in the office). Aaron’s other eye is on the chair, sizing up its weight (Can I run with it?) and market value (Who will buy it? How much will I get for it?)

I am not perturbed! I am not downhearted!

‘Sit down, Aaron’.

By this stage I have also started my own beady-eyed scanning of the room – what’s going to be missing if I turn my back? The stapler? A few pens? My computer?

Aaron lands his bum in the chair – he nods to himself, probably thinking something like ‘Nice chair that idiot Socks has got here. Fifty quid for it down the market, maybe?’

‘Aaron,’ – you have to keep repeating his name or his attention will be in outer-space before you’ve drawn your next breath – ‘Aaron, this is the second time you’ve been brought back to the school in handcuffs. Think about it. Do you want to end up in prison? What do you want to do with your life?’

Aaron looks back at me, his face, as always, more expressive than his words could ever be. His face says, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about and I don’t care! It means absolutely jack all to me! Stop wasting my time, I’ve got some stealing to do! Fool!’

‘You know…’ I try to illuminate the issue for him ‘…when you leave school. What you want to do with your life? Have you ever thought about that?’

Aaron speaks for the first time since profaning my inner sanctum with his presence.

‘What I want to do in… in… the after life?’

Let us all embrace Aaron - I think we are making progress, albeit in a direction outside my remit.

(Note to readers: I've tried to moderate the tone of the words Aaron would be thinking... this isn't intended to be an x-rated blog, and I don't want to offend readers in more sophisticated parts of the world).


You won't catch teachers with their pants down

Derek is lurking in the (staff) toilets again, studying his nose in the mirror.

‘You alright, Derek?’ I call from the urinal.

‘You’ve got to keep them under control… nostril hairs, I mean. Or they will notice, you know. They notice everything.’


They – that is, the little people in the school - are the ubiquitous inspectors and critics of every aspect of our appearance and mannerisms.

Our children - imagine the talking mirror from Snow White inflicted with tourette’s*.

‘Socks, big nose!’

‘Flab face!’

‘Fairest of them all? You must be having a laugh! Ugly old teacher!’

'Socks, smelly old Socks!'

Well, you get the idea.

In the high-octane world of teaching it is only too easy for harried professionals to turn up at work without the most carefully chosen clothing.

I step away from the urinal, double-checking my flies are firmly done up.

‘You’re absolutely right, Derek.’

As I wash my hands and make for the exit, I find myself suddenly trapped in a flashback-loop.

The words 'They notice everything' echo around my fevered mind as I recall last Monday's horror, when I went as far as lesson 2 before realising I was wearing one normal shoe, and one slipper.

'They notice everything, you know.'

I see in my mind's eye the day a colleague came to school with a hairbrush sitting in her hair. She had apparently been distracted while brushing her hair, and had left the hairbrush stuck in mid-brushing position. She then drove to school and taught three classes before it became a hot conversation piece for staffroom fashionistas.

'Everything! Notice everything!' The room spins around me, a young man appearing before my sight. Who's this? Oh, it's you, Keith. You did your teacher training here. And you didn’t need no education - you came to your induction day wearing a t-shirt of Pink Floyd: The Wall. Well done, that man.

Everything! Everything!

Then my flashback flashes into the future - a flashforward!

There's a teacher striding through the school gates in his dressing-gown, Arthur Dent-style. It's me. Have you seen what's in the carpark? Socks drove to school in his wheelbarrow today! What an old fool!

I come back to reality with Derek's hands on my shoulders, steadying me against the wall.

'Keep it under control, Socks,' he reminds me. We stride confidently out of the bogs and onto the catwalk.

*I know this isn't a strictly accurate portrayal of tourette's syndrome - maybe coprolalia. Hmm.


Doth Iceland protest too much...?

Actually, I don't think they can protest enough. Here you see hundreds of Icelanders flaunting their non-terrorist credentials - 'We are not terrorists' - yeah, we've all heard that one before.

Basically the British government used an anti-terrorist law against an Icelandic bank, and the 300,000 inhabitants of Iceland are taking it all a bit personally - as I can well appreciate.

If you believe the Icelandic claims of not being terrorists - or even if you don't, but feel like reaching out to a small, friendly nation - do go and put your name on their petition against the British government. We are such rebels, you and I.

iPen gets a pasting

The UK government is to spend £300 million (double that for a rough figure in US dollars) to give every child access to a computer at home.

Some fallacies I’ve identified in the BBC report on this computers-for-all plan are:

Fallacy #1: ‘Digital Divide’

Mr Socks (to class): Who knows what plagiarism is? Why do we have to avoid plagiarism? Yes, Bill, what do you think?

Bill: It's where the rats spread the plague and if it happens again we will all be dead.

Mr Socks:

The government keeps saying we must close the so-called 'digital divide' between those children from households with and households without computers.

It doesn’t matter how often the government repeats the words ‘digital divide’ – it still won’t exist. What they are really talking about is the ‘cut and paste divide' or the 'plagiarism deficit', or something.

The main way that children do school projects these days is by shameless cutting and pasting from websites like Wikipedia. I see them doing it when I take my classes in the computer room, and when they manufacture their essays at home I moonlight as a Google-detective finding the sites they plundered.

So the children without computers are indeed 'disadvantaged' because if they did bother to do their homework, this would actually mean have to do proper research and thinking.

There are honest pupils who take pride in their learning and the originality of their projects, but a growing number of children are rats and they are going to kill us all.

● Fallacy #2: The internet is the cure to all our ills

BBC says “the government set up a taskforce to ensure all children had access to the internet outside school.”

Great! – So can we sort out the internet access inside the schools, too?

Our school network has so many websites blocked you’d think you were in China or even North Korea (and while I’m on that point – our headmaster is becoming as reclusive as Kim Jong-il … they might even be the same person for all we know).

It’s not just the pornographic and obviously ‘inappropriate’ sites that are banned (our Year 10s are monitoring these porno sites and would put Bletchley Park to shame with their determination to crack the codes standing between them and the porn).

Also black-listed are most websites related to politics! I have yet to figure out how this tallies with government Citizenship initiatives to inspire young people’s interest in how the country is run. The young might indeed become interested in politics, but they sure won't be able to cut and paste research anything about it.

● Fallacy #3: Without computers we are nothing

Schools Minister Jim Knight is quoted "There has to be a culture where families see home access [to computers] is as important as making sure their children have pen, paper and calculator at school."

Never mind the paper and calculators – my school is rammed full with children for whom the concept of even bringing a pen to school is confusing and alienating. Strangely, these kids come from families with the latest widescreen televisions, Xbox thingies, and the rascals usually have their heads plugged directly into a little digital device called an iPod.

Digital divide!


Sew silly

16 years old? Your attempt to escape the school grounds cruelly thwarted by the barbed wire? Torn your trousers (groin area) as you wriggled on the fence, your fellow escapees laughing at you and walking off?

Don’t despair!

Just pay a visit to your school’s secret-blogging teacher and ask to borrow a pritt stick to glue something in your exercise book. They won't be at all suspicious that you are suddenly taking an interest in your studies!

Then stand in the corner of their classroom and unsubtly try to glue the shredded fabric of your trousers together. When this doesn't work, just try sticking the cloth directly onto your leg - the teacher won't mind one bit when you hand back the pritt stick with stray pubic hair embedded on the end!

The secret-blogging teacher will either be too dumb to notice what you're doing, or too dumbfounded to say anything if they do! And they certainly won't want to tell the world!

As that Gestapo agent says to the gullible British officer in The Great Escape, 'Good luck!'


Smells like teen anthropology

Deciding that BMX bikes plummeting from the sky, like lightning, probably will hit the same place twice, the Lady Socks and I postponed our sojourn to find somewhere safer.

We weren’t sure what to do with the bike stuntman who’d made an unscheduled flight over our heads. Abducting him for a quick visit to hospital would perhaps have been a venture into rather uncertain legal territory. The most we could do was persuade him to allow Lady Socks to patch up the more hideous of his wounds.

Like the hero of Wilfred Owen’s ‘Disabled’, the stuntman made the impression he was that kind of kid who ‘liked a blood smear down his leg’. He was also quite partial to the bruising on his cheek, the lacerations to his hands, and limping.

Strolling by the canal a few minutes later we saw Evel Knievel again with a mate, debating where they should go that evening.

‘Is there much birds* there?’ the stuntman was asking his friend.

The chum opened his arms expansively to indicate a large amount of something.

‘There is loads of birds there. Swear down’, confirmed the second teen.

This little exchange tells the amateur anthropologist something odd, maybe even important, about how the teenage male perceives his world.

These young chaps apparently preferred to think about their female counterparts as a kind of substance, the quantity of which can be measured in the way one measures substances like oxygen or beer. These guys would go to a bar and order 'Two pints of lager and.. erm... twenty gallons of girl, and a packet of crisps, ta'.

I am not sure why this new generation of male hunters - when they're not busy painting women on their cave walls or crashing their bikes on unsuspecting teachers - don't think of their prey as individual 'units', where one girl is a distinguishable entity from another.

Don't the lads want to be able to count exactly how many 'birds' they've 'had'?

(Please excuse my rather crude terminology - we amateur anthropologists have to 'go native' sometimes).

And do young males score more points with their pals if they boast 'I've had 450kg of girl!' rather than '8 girls' (just for example). Morrissey used to sing that 'some girls are bigger than others', so is this what he meant?

A possible reason for the fudge on numbers of girls ostensibly snogged or shagged could be to prevent fights amongst the males - it is harder for jealousy to develop if all the studs can claim to have snogged 'some girls' or 'a whole load of girls' rather than '3 girls', which would bring them dangerously close to conferring identities and personalities on the women, thus risking discovering they had 'shared' the same prey with a rival male.

As I stood there by the canal, cogitating on these weighty questions, Lady Socks grabbed my arm and told me to stop staring, and that we were going to feed the ducks and not worry about it today.

I raised my free hand in a salute from one generation to another, and the males looked back at me.

'Cheers for the plasters!' called the stuntman.

You will think I am making up the next bit. A whole load of teenage girls - 10 of them, to be precise - entered the park. They walked in a line towards the males, like suicidal wildebeest towards lions.

I felt like I was watching a real, live, nature documentary, as Lady Socks led me away.

Reaching the lions, the wildebeest sat down on the grass, and chatted with each other, with a few of them obviously taking a strong interest in the males.

Our heroes, however, glanced at each other, nodded in conspiracy, and left the scene. The nuances of the mating game have long defied understanding.

*Birds = Chicks.


Staying in the closet on speeding

Warning: This post contains sweeping generalisations and I know it.

Here’s a picture of Wile E. Coyote coming to terms with gravity. It’s an apt illustration because I’m writing about drivers who speed like the Roadrunner and perceive the real world a bit like Wile E. Coyote's cartoon world, with the sort of upside-down logic that goes with it.

When there’s a staffroom conversation about Nigel who got a speeding ticket or Nicole who pranged her car for the third time I go and hide in a cupboard because I know I will only say something like, ‘well, Nigel, you don’t like getting tickets? So don’t break the speed limit! Please?’ or ‘Nicole, have you considered switching to public transport until you learn to drive?’ and thus find myself single-handedly responsible for the revival of lynching in the 21st century.

Paraphrasing Yogi Berra - ‘you can hear a lot just by listening’ - so that’s what I do when I’m in that cupboard with my ear pressed to the door.

Here’s a snippet of Nicole recounting her walk-away crash last night.

‘…the bend just came up on me… is there someone in that cupboard?’

The bend came up on her? So is it the case that cars actually remain motionless while the ground moves beneath them, and sometimes the ground decides to makes things interesting by spinning under you, or trees just come to life and give your car a vicious thump as you pass? What is this, The Wizard of Oz meets Wacky Races?

‘… I got flashed by another speed camera… yeah, Mr Socks is hiding in there, what’s wrong with him?' says Nigel.

This 'I got flashed by a speed camera' is a phrase criminal drivers love because it subtly shifts blame from them breaking the law to the speed camera which records them doing it.

It's a short-hand way of saying:

'I was driving along then there was a bright flash which startled me, and that made me put my foot down on the gas so I went over the speed limit, and I'll be damned, the camera took a photo and then the police fitted me up and gave me a ticket for speeding!'

Nigel and those like him in school staffrooms and pubs up and down the land avoid honest statements like 'I was speeding and I got caught' because that would leave them just short of admitting that they knowingly and willfully broke the law - which is one thing these white-collar criminals will never acknowledge. Because some laws just don't apply to them.

Here's a proper writer with a sobering story about speeding.

And here's the article about road-criminals that inspired me to take some of your valuable time with my views. It uses very mild language - curiously insisting on referring to criminals as 'drivers', but obviously the BBC doesn't want to alienate half a million of its potential audience (or about 1 in 120 people in this country).


Vagina Monologues

Every rising of the sun and each new child enrolling for purgatory an education at our august institution brings with it a new linguistic challenge, each more baroque than the last.

Calling the attendance register for one of my classes I had to stop and pretend my glasses needed cleaning while I decided how I would tackle the name of a certain Vagina who had joined our happy band.

(Roll-call is usually the first time we teachers learn of new additions to our cohorts – we only receive prior information if the newbie is a known axe-murderer or someone of that ilk – also increasingly common).

In conclusion, Vagina should be pronounced something like 'Vajeenah', it has nothing to do with the meaning in English, and the young lady comes from somewhere in Africa (one of the former colonies) and is related to a tribal king.

I've now had so many people telling me they're related to tribal 'kings' I've come to understand that these monarchs hold a similar status to someone working for the local council over here... like.. well, me. I wonder if I can form an alliance with one of them?



A girl with so many extra teeth her mouth looked like an ivory chainsaw came up to me while I was innocently going about my lawful business of being a teacher and she sweetly said 'Siiiir, don't take this the wrong way, but when I first came to this school I thought you were ... don't take it the wrong way... but I thought you were... were... were...'

…impossibly tall?

…a bit of a character?

…unlikely to last the year?

'...I thought you were.. like...'

'Alright, alright! Get on with it!' was my patient encouragement.

The girl was unperturbed, like a saintly ambassador from the Children’s Democratic Republic of Utopia making diplomatic representations to the mean, snarling president of Adultistan (we shall be re-naming our country when I think of something better).

The ambassador is entitled to her view. I am sure she represents the majority of her people. Sitting far away across the big horseshoe table she speaks into her microphone, and I cannot help but feel her tone is pathetically apologetic.

Interpreters whisper to each other as they puzzle over the most succinct translation.

Eventually my headset comes to life and I hear this transmission:

'... I thought you were a bit strange.'

I catch an interpreter's eye, my eyebrows raised. Is that what she meant? says my expression. The linguist goes down to his microphone again.

'I thought you were a bit strange.'

And I thought for a moment she was going to tell me something I didn’t know. Waste of time, there inter-generational peace conferences. I've got a totalitarian state to run, thank-you very much.


Seeing red, amber, and green

I saw the most ungentlemanly behaviour on the Queen’s Highway this morning.

I couldn’t take a photo to show you otherwise I'd have fallen off my bike, but maybe I’ll catch him at it again one day.

What I saw was a car with a small trailer discreetly hitched to the back, and standing in the trailer were two traffic lights. The traffic lights must have been wired up to a generator because they were changing red, amber, green, and so on.

Now, if lugging your own traffic lights around to stop all the other cars is not cheating, then I will arrange for a few exam questions to be answered by a committee of teachers next exam season, with me as chairman.


Autumn can put a spring in your step

‘This is lovely. Mmmm’

Lady Socks says ‘Mmmm’ during moments of pleasure.

The sun, your humble correspondent, and Lady Socks met up in the park this afternoon.

‘Really lovely, you wouldn’t think it was October.’

The azure blue sky.

The migrating birds stopping in flight, checking their maps, and deciding not to bother with Africa this year and heading back to sun-kissed England.

The children running and skipping and giggling at the sheer joy of life.

The feeling of oneness with nature, as we lay on the grassy slope, a million miles and a thousand millennia from anything bad.

‘Mmmm, let’s stay here a while.’

It was all too much for my cynicism.

‘Sssh, the gods might be listening and they’ll whip up a storm. Or the God… or whatever.’

I lifted my head from the hillside, as though to seek clarification for my own words. I came face to face with a flower.

‘Hey, since when was I a theist?’ I asked the flower.

A breeze helped the flower shrug its leaves but it gave me no further response. It just kept calling out ‘Look at me, bees, come on, I’m wide open! Just think of all the yummy honey! Screw theology! Calling all bees!’

As a bee heeded the call I lay my head back on the grass and closed my eyes - I knew the world could not have been so great as we had just been deluding ourselves.

Seconds later Lady Socks and I were startled by a crashing of metal, a screaming of surprised boy hurtling through the air like a human cannon-ball, and the whirring of an upturned bicycle’s wheel, spinning as the bike imagined itself still racing downhill and ripping through the finishing line of the world’s most important bike race.

Lady Socks was quickly on the scene tending to the human cannon-ball, who was to be found in a heap some distance further down the slope.

‘Oh crikey, my trousers* are ripped!’ wailed the heap**.

I stood like the village idiot, one stubby arm pointing at the crashed BMX, the other arm waving at the area of flattened grass where Lady Socks and I had been eulogising about the beauty of creation, my head now churning out clumsy calculations about the distances and speed of the bike and the velocity of the boy’s flight.

‘Look! One second later and he’d have crashed right on us!’

‘Get the blooming first aid kit out the car, you chump!’ Lady Socks replied.

‘Yes, I’ll do that. I knew all was well with the world. Yes.’

And to the car I skipped full of the joys of life.

*All our pants are 'trousers', here in Blighty.
** No boys were seriously harmed during the making of this post.


Don't have a heart attack

Children regularly use these words to calm me. How wise the young can be.

Continuing the medical theme, the paramedic stretcher monkey over at Purple Plus has something more educational than all my silly diatribes.

The movie was so frightening I almost choked on my popcorn. Maybe I am not School Bully material after all.

Bad Blood?

A colleague handed me a report form complaining about a pupil in my tutorial group. It appeared my lad hadn’t been particularly nice to a classmate. I scanned my colleague’s write-up of the incident, nodding and furrowing my brow in the right places to indicate my understanding of the narrative.

I thought I had my facial expressions under control, but then my head froze in mid-nod and my brow furrowed into a World War 1-style trench system, totally involuntarily.

‘You alright, Socks? You look quite pale!’

I pointed at the phrase of concern on the form. ‘Are you sure about that?’

My colleague looked at the words my pointy finger was pointing at with little circular motions, which I like to think give a ‘questioning’ appearance to my pointing.

‘Well, yes, the other kid has a right to his sexuality, doesn’t he?’

‘Yes, yes you’re quite right, of course he does.’

‘You know your lad’s a right terror,’ my esteemed colleague added.

‘You’re not kidding… So it was definitely haemophobic bullying?’



‘Damn you, Socks’.

The school takes bullying very seriously. In fact one year I was offered the post of official School Bully (for those at schools without a School Bully, it’s a bit like being the ‘Poet Laureate’). At that time I felt my best bullying was done ‘free-style’, but maybe it's time for some career development.


The Spy Who Fondled Me

"They don't let people in to look at it or fondle it.”

It’s not as exciting as it sounds.

“That said, we have stroked the computer screen when we've seen the price go up."

I lurved this naughty sounding bit from this story about a fellow who sold his house for gold and is now experiencing the delight of jingly jangly coins in his pockets.

Someone in Holland took fondling a bit too far according to this Dutch website – basically, a Rotterdamer gets asked to leave a supermarket. He decides the best reaction is to jack off right there in the store. Eeek.

And now something completely different:

Teachers in the UK now have a chance to be like secret-agent spies, stopping children from turning to 'extremism'. (BBC News report - "Schools told to counter extremism")

I think the news media is trying to indoctrinate people into seeing the word 'extremism' but reading 'religious extremism' or more specifically 'Islamic extremism'. The article chats away about 'extremism' and you're about 1/4 through before they specifically mention Al-Qaeda, which is what they were referring to all along.

But aren't there lots of different types of 'extremism'? There are Christian extremists as well as Islamic extremists. And I'm a sceptic-extremist.

And how about my pupil who joined the army - the last I heard he was doing 'extreme' things to Taliban 'extremists'. Should I have reported him for wanting to enlist?

So if anyone influential in the mainstream media is reading this, hello, and please take care how you use buzzwords because not everyone has been brainwashed, yet. (At least, I don't think I have been).

And that is my brief and admittedly rather superficial round-up of things that amused me in the last 5 minutes. Now I must go and plug myself back into the BBC website to download more assumptions and world-views directly into my brain.


Stop-Press: Socks Puts Magazine In It

Back in July I wrote about a colleague who fired a tissue-bullet from his nose during a moment of high excitement.

I thought the incident would remain a mystery, my colleague preferring to remain enigmatic about the nasal-missile, and I didn’t find it becoming to ask a fellow-teacher how he’d managed to get so much tissue stuck inside his head, a part of the body which I’d previously believed to be dedicated to tasks such as storage of the eyes, airways, and such brain matter as the person may possess.

Now, through sheer serendipity, I think I have discovered how the tissue projectile came to be lodged behind my respected colleague’s face.

I gave a lesson (sort of) last month where a girl was browsing through a magazine about make-up (or some similar topic) when she was supposed to be mindlessly copying from the board.

In full accordance with my training I said ‘Put that magazine away or I’ll eat it’. (Bungling fool!)

The girl said ‘Yeah, yeah, just a moment’. (Only reasonable, yes, I know)

I could see her eyes were scanning the page at a furious pace. It was a really good effort to finish the paragraph she was on.

But then my mouth did this: Muscles twitched into action, air started blasting up through my trachea, and the tongue waved, the lips wobbled, and this sound flooded out from the big stupid orifice -

‘Right theeeeen! Luuuunch time aah yuuuum’

= ‘Right, then! Lunch time!’ (Blithering idiot!)

This was the point of no return. This was the finger pressing the big red 'launch' button, the moment a pot of paint spills from the table of fate onto the Vermeer masterpiece of destiny.

I'm a teacher of my word. No matter how stupid the word is.

I pounced on the magazine like a squirrel grabbing a nut, and scampered back to the territory of my desk. I don’t know what atavistic force it was that erased the millions of evolution-years which have given the world teachers, but I tore a strip from the magazine cover, screwed it into a convenient bite-sized morsel, and started munching.

‘Well, get on with your mindless copying from the board, then!’ I growled through the 10% of my mouth that was not stuffed with Make-Up Monthly’s editorial.

‘Have you got this all written down yet?’ Munch. ‘Could be important for the exam…’ Munch.

Munch masticate munch crunch.

‘Come on, kids, I’m alright, really, just carry on copying’.

Mild panic.

‘I don’t set mindless copying for nothing, you know’

Chomp chomp.

Gag reflex.


Splurting of shredded magazine paper.

I’m alive!

Calm down.

Back to teaching, the future is depending on you, Socks, you silly sod. Never mind the magazine, that’s all gone.

Or so I thought.

Now I think a tiny bit decided to stay behind my nose. I can feel it flip-flapping when I breath. I just have to shout loud enough and aim carefully, and it will end up splatting in some child's eye. I can do it any moment I please. Well, at least I don't eat tissue. That is just weird.

Stamp Out The Squander Bug #3

In a week that saw the USA merrily squander $700 billion, the UK was desperately selling the family jewels, satirical cartoonists were unable to keep up with the pace of developing financial woe, and students were even giving up alcohol.

This is what staff and students at my school have been doing this week to smash senseless squandering. Our motto:

● Ablution Is Not The Solution.

The British were once the masters and mistresses of the environmentally- and fiscally-friendly practice of abstinence from washing. But with the establishment of the welfare state and post-war decadence, people came to value the fashion for hygiene more than they valued that most precious of resources - the jingly-jangly coins in their pockets.

Teachers are taking a lead in this shower-strike, but pupils who don't feel ready to 'see scents' and give up washing entirely can at least stop wasting money on luxuries such as soap and shampoo.

Those able to immerse themselves in the frugal peasant lifestyle may then be able to rent themselves out - turning a small profit, just like our feudal ancestors.

Stamp Out The Squander Bug part #1 and part #2 - please recycle them.


We all live in a total fantasy, a total fantasy, a total fantasy

A favourite ‘What would you do if…?’ question from recent weeks:

‘Sir, what would you do if a nuclear submarine suddenly came up through the floor of this classroom?’

Note that the questioner specifies this is a nuclear submarine coming up through the floor, not just any old submarine. It’s not an out-dated World War 2 U-Boat, it’s not Jules Verne’s Nautilus, nor is it that cute little sub they used in Titanic to bring up the safe with the old drawings inside.

It’s a top of the range, kick-ass, nuclear submarine, and you cannot reason with it. The size of a small skyscraper, this merciless destroyer of worlds is civilisation’s nightmare manifest.

The classroom where this is supposed to take place is, according to my research, about 1/16th the size of the typical nuclear submarine. The room has a solid wooden floor, presumably sitting on concrete, submarine-resistant foundations.

But it could just happen. Otherwise why would my pupil have stopped the lesson, stopped everything else going on in the room, to bring this issue up? We teachers have what people who know these things call ‘a duty of care’ to our cohorts. It is our responsibility to fathom what to do in just such an emergency as a nuclear submarine emerging from the depths of the soil into a classroom full of innocent, peace-loving teenagers.

It’s not such an outrageous proposition. A Russian submarine planted that country's flag in the North Pole seabed last year. Who knows where else they could be going?


Hand-dryer blown away

As it puffed tepid air on my dripping hands I noticed a tiny manufacturer’s plaque mounted on the hand-dryer. It proclaimed:

“This hand-dryer is helping to save trees which would have been cut-down to produce paper towels. This hand-dryer does not harm the environment.”

The point was pressed home by a little feel-good picture of a tree.

I placed my hands on the wall either side of the pompous little machine. I was the school bully cornering the lunch-money kid behind the bike shed.

‘No, hand-dryer, no.’ I shook my head. The hand-dryer fell silent. ‘I like you and all that, but don’t you believe that little goody-two-shoes plaque. They just wrote that to make you feel good about being a hand-dryer.

‘Look, all you do is shift the environmental problem further along the industrial process. You use electricity, right? And your electricity has to be generated somehow, yes? It probably involves burning fossil fuels, if not nuclear fuel. Can your little plaque tell me how that is not harming the environment?’

I began to pace up and down the bogs*, confident in the righteousness of my words.

‘You think you’re so “Hey, just watch me save the world!” Rubbish! … You’re no better than a Humvee!

‘The only way I’d believe that you’re really more environmentally-friendly than a paper towel would be if your electricity was from a renewable source. Like a wind farm, say. And that’s all you produce yourself: wind. But hardly enough wind to actually dry my hands. I only use you out of politeness. I’d dry my hands better holding them out the window for three seconds.’

I strode up to the window, resolved to prove my point. I fumbled a moment with the window catch, realising to my despair that it, like most fixings in the school, was caked with thick layers of paint, set like concrete.

Walking back to the hand-dryer I lifted a fire-extinguisher clear of its housing and felt the weight in my palm like a baton.

‘You think you’ve won, hand-dryer, don’t you?’

If I wanted you to sleep soundly I’d tell some lie such as ‘at that moment the caretaker entered and relieved me of the heavy, baton-like fire extinguisher’, or ‘as I approached the doomed hand-dryer, I realised it was foolish and insane to destroy a machine on a point of principle,’ and so on. However, I think your right to the truth is more important than your right to a happy ending.

We now have one of those pull-down roller towels. But that, dear reader, will be another story.

*British slang for bathroom/washroom etc. This is an American-friendly website.


Questions I dare not ask

A boy called Mekon warned the class today 'I tell you man, I will shoe anyone who sells me some lame goods, man'.

I'm unsure whether 'to shoe' a trader selling shoddy mechandise is a milder version of 'putting the boot in' or a reference to legal action, but aside from clarifying this, I do have to ask myself how Mekon came to share his name with an alien in a 1950s British comic.

Were his parents aware of the name's connotation in pop-culture?

Or did the writers of the Dan Dare stories choose the name 'Mekon' from a random foreign book, liking the sound of it and not expecting there would ever be real, live Mekons resident in the UK?

Or is it pure co-incidence?

At least I will have these questions to raise at parents' evening if conversation dries up.

Looking at my class list for this afternoon I see I'm also teaching Dalek and Klingon.* Still, I imagine there are comics and books in distant lands with aliens called Mr Socks, John, and so on.

*Made this bit up.


Stamp Out The Squander Bug #2

We have seen how the mobile phone can be used more prudently to reduce expenditure in this cash-strapped climate. Now Wholesome Socks presents the second in our series suggesting ways to cut spending.

● Don’t come to school.

The World War 2 poster sums up my message: Is your journey really necessary?

I would venture that since a caveperson first scratched something on the cave wall about hunting techniques or how to make a fire, cavechildren will have been finding more enjoyable and less environmentally damaging things to do than travelling to that cave.

Whether you're on the staff or you're a pupil, if you’re serious about saving money then you'll want to follow the example of these truants and avoid frittering away your capital on travelling to school unless you absolutely must.

Even the costs of apparently free modes of transport such as walking and cycling mount up over time, with needless wear to shoes and tyres. Total abstinence from school is the only sure-fire way to save.

Examples of necessary journeys would be to attend induction days, public examinations, and school fundraising events.

With the advent of the internet and distance learning, many of the other services schools offer can already be delivered without students or staff leaving the home.

Many teachers are already following the examples of their more sophisticated non-attending pupils and are travelling to school only when unavoidable. Teachers co-operate as team members and are always happy to cover absent colleague's lessons, knowing they are helping to reduce costs and that the favour will be returned without the slightest resentment.

Stamp Out The Squander Bug part #1 and part #3 - please recycle them.

Revolting socks for peasants

An army of bulldozers advanced from London and halted outside the local town.

Yellow-helmeted troops set up temporary wooden fortifications enclosing the finest land in the manor.

The townspeople came out to see the chipboard hoardings, taking furtive peeks through gaps in the fence, hoping to glimpse the mighty army that had descended on the municipality.

The townsdogs sought new territory in which to exercise.

Soon the yellow-helmet troops raised their coat-of-arms outside the camp. The coat-of-arms was taller than three of our sturdiest yeomen, and broader than the longest pikestaff.

I studied their shield’s design with growing disbelief.

The emblem of the invading army appeared to be an impressionistic etching of a house, not unlike the Manor House from which the local Lord carried out his executive duties.

This representation of a house appeared to be a mischievous and base fantasy, for despite the grandeur of the building’s façade, the coat-of-arms clearly depicted nothing less than uncouth peasants happily living within its iron gates.

As I stood with the other Aldermen of the town, pondering what this new development could mean for our centuries-old way of life, a filthy peasant – an illiterate and one of my former students – set his grubby paw on my arm, jabbed his other dirty finger at the coat-of-arms and asked me ‘What’s that say, Sir? What’s that say on coat-of-arms of invading army, Sir?’

There was indeed an inscription below the fantastical image of the world turned upside down.

‘It says …’ I paused to build the gravitas befitting one of the town’s few men of letters, using these moments to decide which lie I should tell to keep the peasant from realising the intentions of this yellow-helmet host. And then I resolved that it would be futile for me to hold the terrible truth from the stinking, rag-encrusted man.

‘It says, my dear peasant…that this army is planning to build “Executive Homes”… that means more homes for Lords of the Manor.’

The miserable peasant fixed his gaze on me, momentarily paralysed while his brain gave itself over to the interpretation of my words, and he attempted what I remembered from my experience of teaching the odious devil to be his equivalent of ‘thought’.

I took advantage of the peasant’s stupor to tug my cloak free of his grip and leave the encampment behind me, but as I paced back to the school I again felt my former student hanging on my sleeve.

‘But Sir, picture on coat-of-arms is like picture of me, it can’t be homes only for Lords of the Manor, Sir! Lord of Manor’s already got finest Manor House in the Manor, Sir! Why does army now come to build more for him and his sort? What about you that teaches little ‘uns and me that ploughs field? And those that guard town from villains when town sleeps, and those that tend townsfolk during times of plague and pestilence? And…’

I was taken aback by the peasant’s innovative and unprecedented grasp our town's socio-political circumstances.

‘I know!’ I lost my composure. ‘Stop reminding me!’

I returned to my teacher’s cottage where I scribed this account in the fervent hope of redress to our town's grievances.

To those who find this I am and remain - Your humble chronicler, William Sockkes Esq.

I've transcribed the above from some parchment I discovered, a yellowed scroll which had been hidden and forgotten long ago under a loose paving slab in my cottage. It's quite a co-incidence that it was a teacher living here all those centuries ago - perhaps an ancestor of mine!


He's got the whole world in his... frying pan? Huh?

Those Evolution Nuts will stop at nothing.

Not content with claiming we all evolved from fish or something, scientists are saying the entire world was cooked like a fish – billions of years before God even created it!

‘Earth’s early battering revealed’

Video of creationists putting the world - and everything in it - to rights.

Stamp Out The Squander Bug #1

It occurs to me that in these times of economic strife Wholesome Socks should ‘do our bit’ to help the nation – just as we did during the war, when our Public Information unit asked the country to ‘Put A Sock In The Squander Bug’ (historians might like to peruse our 1940s archives*).

Luckily the staff and students at school have already implemented a few smart money-saving tricks. I will be collecting and sharing their tips here as they come to my attention.

To start you off:

● If you have a mobile phone don’t charge its battery at home - the electricity could be billed to you or your parents. Just bring the phone charger with you to school and plug it into one of the many mobile-charging sockets generously provided by the school for your use. This technique has been put into practice by dozens of expert cash-saving students already.

● Although very few young people can survive without the life-support system that is the mobile phone, those able to wrench themselves away from this modern essential will discover that our friendly reception staff will allow pupils to use their free-telephone. The accepted form of request is ‘I have to ring home for a lift’ (or similar) and you will be able to chat away as long as you please – and it won’t cost you a dime.

I have just spied a penny laying across the street - please excuse me a moment.

Stamp Out The Squander Bug #2 and Stamp Out The Squander Bug #3

*Coming soon.


Cheering me up

Mr Socks: We’re nearly ready for our class debate, but first, who knows what a chairman does? Erm… I mean chairperson. Or something.

Prize pupil: Yeah, it’s like a chairleader, isn’t it?

Mr Socks: Yes, that’s right. I have taught you well.

And the teacher saw that it was good.

Another Prize Pupil.

Don't call me, I'll call you (something rude, probably)

The contact email on this site may soon be superfluous – your humble correspondent’s home address could be available to all! (News - CD with teachers' details goes missing - I'll be under ‘Socks, W’ if the disk happens to have fallen into your hands and you feel like popping round for tea).

This appears to be just another overzealous interpretation of ‘putting information in the public domain’. Maybe next week it will be MI5 employees’ personal details strewn from helicopters over suburbia.

I have just finished compiling the CD with names and addresses of senior staff at the General Teaching Council and Parcelforce, ready to be left in a convenient public place this week. I am sure a responsible member of the public will find and return it immediately.

(I assume MI5 will monitor this so can I just say hello, thank-you for your sterling work, and I am joking about the CD with the General Teaching Council and Parcelforce bosses' details. Thank-you again).

Teacher puts downer on ecstasy plans

There may soon be a change in how the drug ‘ecstasy’ is classified in the UK.

(BBC News report).

Excluding for a moment the dealers and users of brain-altering substances, and the thousands of nurses, doctors, paramedics, EMTs, police officers, social workers, friends, families, teachers etc. who help ‘pick up the pieces’, the main groups concerned with the proposed change are:

● The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which is considering downgrading ecstasy from Class A (very dangerous) to Class B (rather dangerous).

● The Association of Chief Police Officers – they are warning that a downgrade would mislead people into thinking ecstasy is OK.

● The UK government, which has to decide to accept or reject the re-classification. (They recently moved cannabis up from Class C to Class B, against the Advisory Council’s wishes).

I believe I can offer a solution satisfying the police bosses, the government, and the drugs advisors (it will still, unfortunately, leave the dealers dealing and the users using, and the thousands of nurses, doctors, paramedics, EMTs, police officers, social workers, friends, families, teachers etc. picking up pieces, as before).

The people who decide how unhealthy each drug is just need to look at what was done with the grading of GCSE and A-level exams.

When it was realised that some candidates were simply too brilliant to only get an ‘A’ grade, they created the higher A* grade (spoken as 'A star') to mark out the sheer excellence of those students.

It appears from the Oxford Professor quoted in the BBC article that the issue at stake is "the relative damage associated with ecstasy compared with crack cocaine and heroin". In other words - ecstasy is bad for you, but heroin and crack cocaine are worse, so they can't all be Class A.

So, re-classify heroin and cocaine as A* drugs, and ecstasy can stay an ‘A'. That should:

● Satisfy the Chief Police Officers by emphasising the danger of the A* drugs, without making an ecstasy tablet look like a mug of cocoa at bedtime.

● Satisfy the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs by showing how ectasy is bad but not as bad as the A* substances.

● And satisfy the UK government - they won't have to make any further decisions, and the status-quo won't have changed too much.

Anyone from the Home Office reading this? Anyone reading this, for that matter? It's all just ideas.


Storm in a teacup (stolen from the staffroom)

What were the main points of the Treaty of Versailles? Brainstorm.

How does photosynthesis work? Brainstorm that.

How many countries can you think of? Brainstorm them!

Which Prime Ministers wore glasses? Brainstorm a few!

Class, how can you raise money for charity? Brainstorm a few ideas!

Staff, the school is going downhill and we need to fix it. How? Brainstorm!

Kids, remember your top 500 brainstorms from the last week? Well, start brainstorming!

I need ideas to keep you lot busy while I drink mugs of tea. Would you have a brainstorm?

Lots of pens! Huge sheets of paper! Clueless children! Action!

Brainstorms: A humane alternative to caning.

Next week: The Mind Map


Mr. Watson - don't come here - I don't want to see you

Another demonstration of the legitimacy of delivering professional services over the telephone.

Freud's IQ

More fun with pastoral form period activities: 15 year old boy shows me a crudely adapted bus pass and asks "Sir, can I buy alcohol with my false IQ?"

So that's more rubbish to be consigned to my desk drawer-archive of recrement, where it will never be seen again.

If people learn from their mistakes this chap should be a veritable oracle by now.

Even higher false IQ.


99 Flakes

It was a sunny day in the Land of Socks. People swarmed into the parks. Ice cream vans sang out their siren song. Adults were enchanted like sailors crashing their vessels on unforgiving rocks. Children were enraptured as though following the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

With these diversions I seized the opportunity to celebrate the 99th Wholesome Socks post by stealing* away with 99 Cadbury’s 99 Flake ice creams and eating them with the vigour of purpose you would only expect of a hapless drugs courier swallowing packages of cocaine**, sweating at the approach of the sniffer dog of destiny.

Please raise your ice cream with me in a toast to another 99 flaky posts.

*And I mean ‘stealing away’ in the sense of withdrawing covertly, not in the legal sense of theft.
** I have never done this, either.

Idea for would-be speed camera entrepreneur

Speed-limit breaking drivers – slow down or you’ll miss this. I have a plan and I wanted to warn you - unless you’ve already got a gadget in your car that bleeps at you when I’m blogging (it wouldn’t surprise me).

Here is my modest proposal:

Drivers are allowed to have equipment to warn them when they approach a speed camera or radar gun, so they know where it’s OK to drive as fast as they like (collisions permitting).

So what about drivers who don’t break the speed limits? Aren’t they being left out by not having detection gadgets of their own?

But whatever could they be wanting to detect, if they have no need to look out for Gatso cameras or police officers with radar guns?

With so many people flouting the law, surely those drivers who somehow manage not to break the speed limits should have an opportunity to support the law.

To this end I propose the design, production and installation of cheap, easily operated, dashboard mounted speed cameras for recording and reporting your fellow motorists.

If we can make $100 laptops for Third World children, wind-up radios for villages without electricity, and bagless vacuum-cleaners, then I don’t imagine it beyond the capabilities of our finest inventors to invent a kind of mini-Gatso for public use.

(I'm calling it Grasso™ until I think of something better)

I’m happy to leave the technicalities of the project to others. I’m too busy working on my other proposed ‘speed trap’, which is basically a gigantic mousetrap I am building in my shed. It will be set in the road, and the powerful springs released to trap your car if you try driving over it too fast.

Original speeding post from The Magistrate's Blog.

Prequel to this post.

Sequel to this post, where I swap Tom and Jerry antics for Ben and Jerry's (or similar).


News FLASH! Gotcha.

The Magistrate has expressed his displeasure at a website peddling law-evasion gadgets, namely a device which can allegedly warn speeding drivers of the whereabouts of mobile police speed cameras so they don’t get caught in the act. I share the Magistrate’s ire at speeders being helped to break the law (and generally make the roads less safe, not just for other motorists but also cyclists, your granny when she goes to the shops, and everyone else).

I’ve long marvelled at the situation in Holland, where at least one national radio station invites its listeners to phone in the positions of mobile police speed cameras, and broadcasts these as part of its news bullet-ins.

It appears this is perfectly legal in the Netherlands, but I fail to understand why… it’s like Radio 4 finishing the news with ‘… and the serial killer who is currently murdering random innocent people throughout the Home Counties would be best advised to keep a low profile in the *insert any road or area* tonight, where police murder squad officers have been spotted. Our thanks to the listener who phoned that in. And now the shipping forecast…’

Slow down, everyone! Please!


No credit for His Master's Voice

If you are a young person, you are probably talking to someone on your mobile phone as you read this.

Young people love mobile phones. You love them more than your family. More than you love your country. More than you love the Queen, I’d venture.

(Say you’ll ring ‘em back, would you? You’ve got a long text message from me, OK?)

If it helps you to follow this post, we could make it into a ringtone for you. The ringtone will be to the tune of the British National Anthem and it’ll go like this:

I love my wondrous phone
More than I love the Queen
I love my phone
Liz, you’re also a marvel
We’ll chat, just give me a bell
When I’m a hundred
You’ll send me a text

Alright, I know that’s more of a ‘bad poem’ than a ‘ringtone’, but I am not in touch, you know. Never mind ‘having my finger on the pulse’, I hardly have a pulse.

In fact, you young people are so attached to your mobiles that during a recent ‘pastoral’ activity where you had to write down what you believed most important in life to make you happy, some of you girls wrote ‘my phone’ at the top of your list. Lads - move with the times, will you? Most of you are still writing ‘money’ at the top of your list. Money alone won’t make you happy, money's worth nothing unless you use it to buy the latest phone, is that clear?

It’s good that I know how to communicate with you, now. A lot of you won't get off your phones during lessons, so I’ve been asking your mates for your numbers, and now I won’t actually need to come to the classroom. I’ll just ring you up and try to teach you like that.

I believe the Universities and institutions of Higher Education do something similar to this, involving the internet and letters, and they like to call this ‘distance learning’.

What they don’t realise is that you kids have been innovating and perfecting methods of ‘distance learning’ since schools were invented. I have even been out at lunchtime with wire cutters to make a few holes in the fence and give you a head start.

Let’s create as much distance as possible. Then we might all find happiness.

University of Wholesome Socks - new term examinations

“Jethro Tull has never been deformed, on the contrary, they are still performing after 40 years.”
(A 21 Year Old Female, September 2008).

Consider and compare this assertion with the 21 Year Old Female’s claim that ‘In 1980 Led Zeppelin was dismembered’.

(17 marks).


Will b l8 iv crst

Driving makes texting on your mobile phone more hazardous than either alcohol or drug use, according to research by the RAC Foundation. The researchers haven't yet investigated the effects of fasting on the ability to read and send text messages safely, but I will be continuing my own observations.


Had a few things to eat this evening, have we? Blow into this, please, madam

Quite recently at a place where your children are educated in a galaxy not so far away:

The staffroom. Teacher A (male, atheist) is sitting comfortably in a well-worn armchair, feasting on some fruit salad while awaiting the bell to signal ‘action-stations’.

Teacher M (female, muslim) stumbles into the staffroom looking dazed and sits down near Teacher A, accidentally knocking another chair over in the process.

Teacher A: What’s up? You look exhausted, not your usual self.

Teacher M: Damn this headache, I can’t concentrate on anything. I’m fasting, you know.

Teacher A: Oh, it’s Ramadan isn’t it, I forgot.

Teacher M: Yes, I can’t eat anything until it gets dark, that will be hours.

Teacher A: Can you take something for your headache?

Teacher M: No!

Teacher A: Oh dear, I’m sorry. But what about your blood sugar levels? They’re probably low, that’s probably why you can’t concentrate.

Teacher M: Yes, but I’m fasting.

Teacher M fumbles through her lesson plans, hopelessly unable to find what she's looking for, and dropping papers out of her folder.

Teacher A: You come to work by car don’t you? So you’ll be driving home?

Teacher M: Erm, yeah?

Teacher A: Well, that can’t be safe, can it? You can hardly walk in a straight line, you shouldn’t be driving in your state.

Teacher M looks aghast.

Teacher A: I go your way, I could drop you off.

Teacher M reflexively pulls her Hijab further over her forehead.

Teacher M: I said I’ve been fasting, not drinking. What’s your problem?

Teacher A: Nothing, I just don't want you having an accident, that's all. And I think you should eat something, actually.

Teacher M: Yeah, but I’m not going to have an accident, am I? And I'm fasting.

Not wishing to whip up religious strife, Teacher A retreats into his copy of The Times, and doesn't make any silent to prayer to any non-existent God, he just hopes Teacher M gets home without killing herself or anyone else.

In the beginning was the Word, and it was open to misinterpretation

Professor Michael Reiss, who was recently reported as proposing that Creationism should be given air-time in school science lessons, has resigned from his post as director of education at the Royal Society. BBC News says he quit because the Royal Society believed the professor’s comments were “open to misinterpretation".

Well blow me, if everyone who got excited and then blurted out something unusual had to resign because such an ejaculation was "open to misinterpretation" then I don’t think many people would still be on the job.

Although I can think of a few teachers who come out with some ideas which wouldn’t be open to misinterpretation, but only because they defy all attempts at interpretation.

One of our uberteachers giving a PowerPoint presentation on the latest educational theories recently ambled through the pronouncement that follows. During this utterance she held her hands with palms towards the audience of teachers and nodded at a steady rate of 30 nods per minute, clearly indicating her extreme sincerity, openness, and perspicacity:

"I want us to stay where we are so we can find new directions and keep moving forwards".

Fear not, her job is safe.


Nihilistic about Creationists

I declared a ceasefire in my personal battle against so-called 'Creationists' on Friday afternoon, but now it is Monday morning and the British Creationists have fired their opening salvo for the week.

The Creationists and Darwinists must make their peace and quickly, so humanity can move forwards to the real task they must accomplish to ensure its continued survival.

I have said it before and I will repeat it:

We must start making moves to repair the giant invisible VHS video cassette on which our world exists, or face not just extinction, but the erasure of the entire universe.

Theologians, scientists and technicians will have to work together.


Painting the town institutional creamy yellow

Who paints the schools?

I don’t mean a modern-day Constable who comes and creates some beautiful landscapes featuring the best of our 1970s school architecture.

And don’t be glib and tell me ‘painters paint the schools, who else?’

I don’t believe for a moment that it can be painters, whether of the artistic or decorative variety. Psychopaths, yes. Painters, no.

I want to know who it is that actually comes and slaps the paint on school buildings when the staff aren’t there.

Because I’d really like to be able to open some windows.

They’ve had a go at a few of the doors, too.

Once I knew a teacher who apparently went into school at some point in the summer holidays to put up classroom displays.

We found him in his classroom on the first day of term, his body petrified like a citizen of ancient Pompeii, his arm for eternity reaching out to defend himself with the staple gun in his hand, but he had not been quick enough. He was moulded into the wall under several coats of the usual creamy yellow paint.

I haven’t been able to watch Goldfinger since, and I feel quite queasy when I see those street performers who paint themselves and pretend to be statues.

I hope the same cowboys don’t get the contract to paint Eurofighter jets. It would be terrible if one of the pilots needed to use the ejection seat and everyone could hear over the radio as he realised the window had been painted shut.

Apparently the computers in these modern warplanes can actually talk to the pilot, and I hope they're programmed with swearwords.

Neither King nor Country would be pleased.

The only thing I miss is Hema (when I'm throwing up everywhere)

Holland’s biggest* department store is affectionately saluted in ‘The only thing I miss is Hema’** a book telling the stories of various Dutch expats around the world.

Now Hema (the Netherlands’ equivalent of Debenhams or Macy’s, I suppose) has introduced a system whereby employees who wish to report sick for duty must crawl from their beds, get their computer started up, log-in to a secure Hema website and answer up to 60 questions about their condition.

Apparently employee absence due to sickness has fallen by 50% since the poorly shop assistants were given the choice of undergoing this online operation or showing up to cough and wretch through their day at the cash register.

Although I shift uncomfortably in my chair at the thought of our beloved internet being used for extra control of people, as opposed to promoting their liberty, I predict certain useful applications of the Orwellian technology.

For example, Hema’s sickness questionnaire could be adapted into a Microsoft-style ‘help’ section. A little paper clip (wearing a white coat and with a stethoscope) could come tapping on the screen and say ‘It looks like you’re throwing up! Would you like some help?’

If NHS Direct could be brought into the partnership, and some powerful corporation found to sponsor the scheme (that is, put the workforce in a financial thumbscrew) we could have sick employees logging in and then being guided through medical procedures they need to perform on themselves to get fit for work and back to whatever coalface the economy needs them to be scraping at.

I am also developing some ideas for using the internet to help keeping track of our pupils. Our school is full of wonderful people and it hurts me personally if even one student or teacher cannot come into school.

* Or that might be Vroom en Dreesmann. Never mind.
**= ‘Ik mis alleen de Hema’


Casting light on the past and losing the way in a Routemaster

Exploring my parent’s attic I found a number of old super-8 style cine films (or at any rate, some old film spools with square holes down the side) and it took me a while, but I finally got hold of the right type of projector and I had the chance to see what was locked up in these tin cans since an inch of dust had settled on them.

One night I took the phone off the hook, pulled the curtains tight, and fired up the old projector. The smell of something burning quickly filled the room as the projector reels started whirring, but I just banged a few windows open and decided to risk pressing on with the impromptu film screening. ‘At the first sign of flames I’ll just pull the plug, that should do it’, I muttered to myself. I mutter a lot when tinkering with machines. Pulling the plug when my computer has started burning has stood me in good stead over the years. Plug pulling is the computer nerd’s version of a fighter jet’s ejector seat.

As the projector’s light powered up from candle power to searchlight power the yellow beam revealed the pretty display of dancing dust that always hangs in the air, but usually invisible to the human eye.

Just a few small adjustments and the light was focussed on the living room wall, the film ready to premier. The wall became a bustling city centre scene. Judging from the car designs and clothes, it looked to be some time in the 19…well, I’ll just call it the year 19-when-I-were-young (the words ‘when I were young’ should be imagined with a Yorkshire accent, if you can).

At the centre of the wall I saw a double-decker Routemaster-style bus. The bus was stopped and passengers were getting on and off. Whoever was holding the camera was walking towards the bus (I don’t think the camera would have had a zoom function). The camera was then pointed upwards and I saw a boy looking down from an upstairs window of the bus. He looked down directly at the camera, looking at me from my living room wall.

I didn’t need to see any more of the film. The window was dirty and scratched and my shorts made of itchy material. We had just been to the London museum of big dinosaur skeletons and were on our way home. Or to meet up with my mother. Or was it my grandparents? I can’t remember.

The camera was held by an earnest looking man wearing a suit which must have been out of fashion at least a decade, even in 19-when-I-were-young. The wearer of the suit had not wanted to use the camera that day – no matter how big the dinosaurs had been - but now he had started shooting and pointed the lens firmly at me, as I sat, confused, there on the top deck of the bus.

‘You get on, I’ll get on in a moment,’ he had told me.

I had climbed aboard, hesitantly.

‘Upstairs!’ he snarled. I went up, my itchy shorts rubbing as I mounted each step.

Philip Larkin was right, they really do make you cross, your mum and dad.

And so it had come to be, that I was sitting there, looking at him filming me, down there.

The bus pulled off from the bus stop and drove off my wall. The camera nodded down to the pavement and the picture vanished.

A strange man started walking fast, having just recorded one of his bizarre attempts to get rid of his young son.
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