Sunday, September 30, 2007

Digging Around

I've been busy in the garden this morning, collecting sweet pea and Godetia seeds to be kept till spring in little brown envelopes; turning over the compost heap and shovelling it between bins; digging up Gladiolis for dry winter storage; pulling out weeds, clumps of grass and dried-up flowers; damping-down the greenhouse floor to help out the aubergines; emptying hanging baskets; and planting daffodil bulbs ten-centimetres down along the back-garden borders.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I am, officially, a free man.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Poll Blames People For Climate Change

Now there's a surprise.

Morning Calm, Fear and Loathing

I'm not really sure this qualifies as a brief history, but it tells you at least half of everything you'll ever need to know about teaching English in Korea. (I have to admit, strip away the hysteria and the Korean netizens sometimes have a point.)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Self Destruction

If any of this is true then Chelsea could be about to implode. I can't say I'll be too upset. Or surprised.

Fruit of the Sea

I had the Coal for supper last night, shallow fried in olive oil and served with greenhouse tomatoes and freshly picked garden radish. The rest's gone in the freezer.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

When The Boat Comes In

Leaving North Shields just before eight, we motored out to sea past The Groyne and Tynemouth Pier while tying up our Mackerel hooks and cracking open the beers.

Casting off a few hundred metres from the mouth of the Tyne, I caught four Mackerel before the line had even hit the sea bed, and nine more in the next two reels. We cut most of them up as bait for the bigger fish further out.

After many tries, my first non-Mackerel was this Coal fish, from a WWII wreck a mile or so off St Mary's Island, which I almost lost when my line got snagged as I reeled it up from under the boat.

The beady-eyed Coal fish and my second catch, a long-bodied Ling lying across the top.

We got as far up the coast as Newbiggin, then came back by the offshore wind turbines at Blyth. In towards land, near Seaton Delaval beach, I hooked a Haddock and a few more Mackerel.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Beneath Us The Waves

When I was a kid my grandad would sometimes take me stickleback fishing in the foul smelling dene near Boldon Colliery. We used plastic nets tied to bamboo poles, stirring the dark water like teaspoons in a cup-a-soup and throwing whatever miniscule fish we caught straight back into the fast moving slurry. Tomorrow morning I'm going fishing again, this time several miles out in the freezing North Sea with a proper boat, bendy rods and cool bags full of beer. It won't be a pretty sight.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Son of Samurai

I've just got back from seeing Son of Samurai at the Customs House in Shields. It's the tale of a shoe salesman from Byker who discovers he's the descendant of a legendary Japanese warrior, played out in the form of a live radio show, with a three course meal chucked in beforehand for just £15 a head.


I was sure I'd left it too late for the aubergines this year, but one out of the six plants has finally flowered. Now I just need to stick some marigolds nearby to keep the aphids at bay, thin the plants out into separate containers and keep my fingers crossed for a bit of autumnal sunshine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tampering with The Mail

The interesting thing about this story is not so much what it tells us as what it doesn't. On the one hand we know - or are at least told, which isn't necessarily the same - that Romanians were responsible for 1,080 offences in the first six months of 2007 compared to 135 in the same period of 2006, that the Mail believes this constitutes an "explosion in crime in this country", and that "in an ironic twist" a Romanian mayor thinks the number of offences committed in his town might have fallen since the country joined the EU.

Needless to say, the article never stoops to reporting facts, either by explaining what the offences were or whether they took place in one small town - where the word "explosion" could be justified - or nationally, in which case the choice of noun would be patently absurd. Have Romanian migrants started a littering epidemic, straining the resources of the police and the Keep Britain Tidy campaign? Are hundreds more East Europeans parking their cars on double yellow lines, shoplifting bars of chocolate or smoking in enclosed public spaces? If I've never seen a Romanian committing any of those crimes in South Tyneside does that anecdotally cancel out the mayor's evidence?

Try this for an ironic twist, Mail readers, a journalist who's Slack by name as well as by nature, and still you swallow every word.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Magic of the Cup

I don't suppose it's much good boycotting big money football if you're going to sit on your arse watching the Champions League on TV. So while Liverpool drew in Porto and Celtic lost in Donetsk, I walked fifteen minutes across the burn to see Jarrow Roofing take on Horden in an FA Cup first qualifying round replay. Under the floodlights, in front of a few dozen fans, Horden went through by two goalkeeping mistakes to one.

The Melting Pot

This year my students include one of the priests from the local Sikh temple, Poles with post-grads in several different -ologys, a Kurdish teenager, office workers from Naples and Shanghai, young Czechs and Dutch-Angolans, thirtysomething Pakistanis and a middle-aged Iranian woman in a full-length coat and headscarf. I'm not yet sure of all the paths that brought them here, to an overcrowded classroom at the furthest edge of the world.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Disappointment Once More

I got back late from work to find Newcastle one-nil down to Derby and Shola Ameobi mis-kicking the ball after lumbering through on goal. That was about as good as it got. For all his innovations off the pitch, Sam Allardyce doesn't seem able to alter his tactics whenever Plan A fails: his substitutions changed nothing, and the little and large pairing up front - understandable when Mark Viduka's fully fit - falls apart when it relies on the over-rated Ameobi. It's early days of course and not always easy to judge a team while players are settling in, but a performance like this has been on the cards: too many square pegs in round holes - Alan Smith wide left? - and not enough width, pace or penetration through the middle.

Big Night Out

I went to see Rachel Unthank & The Wintertons at the Sage last night. As the great Larry David would say, it was pretty, pretty good.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

If you can keep your head...

For the second day running British high streets looked more like Harare or Buenos Aries as panic-stricken savers queued to get their money out of Northern Rock. My reaction is defined as much by parochialism as by personal circumstances. On the one hand I've always been with Brecht - "It's easier to rob by setting up a bank than by holding up a bank clerk" - when it comes to the global banking system, added to which my money's safely tucked away in building societies and it's about time binge borrowers and house prices had a reality check. On the other, Northern Rock donates a lot of money to important causes in the region - I can't see Barclays or Lloyds TSB doling out grants for art exhibitions in Ashington or refuge shelters in Redcar - and thousands of local jobs will go if, or more likely when, the business fails.

One Small Step

Wind-powered lighting in pedestrian subways, one of South Tyneside Council's infrequent good ideas. It's a shame their domestic recycling record is so hopeless - the top performing councils are already exceeding South Tyneside's stated recycling / composting targets for 2020 - meaning schemes like this have all the effect of a charver's hockle against a North Sea gale.

Sipping with the Enemy

I was going to write more scathingly about the Brown - Thatcher meeting but Marina Hyde's done a pretty good job of it already. In Jarrow, voting Labour is as instinctive as jerking your knee when somebody smacks it with a hammer. Nowadays it's almost as painful, too.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Now that the runner beans and potatoes have been dug up, I've bought a set of fifty Japanese Onions to fill the bare spaces in the vegetable patch, in the hope that the winter will be mild enough for a decent harvest come March. In the greenhouse, I've decided to grow thyme and fenugreek once the aubergines and tomatoes are finished. The basil will have to come indoors to be grown on the windowsill, possibly next to some cress.

The Brown Agenda

Putting the world to rights by Ian Brown: carrots on the sides of skyscrapers, starter homes on Balmoral, cars that run on corn oil and chicken shit, bulldozers at the Vatican and restraining orders for Bono and Bob Geldof. Realistic or not, I'd gladly take any of that over Gordon's bombs for Baghdad, below inflation 'pay rises' and tea and biscuits with Maggie Thatcher.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


With the exception of international football results and outbreaks of foot and mouth the news this week has been dominated by just one story: Did the McCann's do it? The Portuguese police appear to think they did, albeit accidentally, but I'm not quite so sure: Could they really have kept a body hidden for almost a month and then moved it completely unnoticed by the media glare? Why would they have turned the search for a single missing child into an international news story if they'd been responsible all along? There's a lot more to come out of this case, but for now the example of Robert Murat, the previous named arguido, cautions against adopting the infantile logic of no smoke without fire. The best we can all hope for is that the kid turns up safe, and soon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Bare Necessities

For the first time in years - in fact ever since I left Korea - I'm teaching English to almost absolute beginners, the kind of students who struggle with words like pen or pin, as opposed to ones who can't decide whether the verb accused collocates with the preposition of or for. This afternoon we spent twenty minutes on simple alphabet sounds, built up three letter words using little plastic tiles, filled in missing vowels and practised asking What's your name? and Where do you come from? The trick, I'm beginning to remember, is to cover the same ground in lots and lots of slightly different ways, and to remain conscious of the fact that people learning a language can sometimes, though not always, have more patience than those of us who teach it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Still Growing

Underwatered while everyone was off on holiday, the first tomatoes of the summer went rotten at the bottom and had to be thrown on the compost heap. Over the past week a second, slightly misshapen batch has begun to ripen in the greenhouse, joined by a few plump circles on the vegetable patch outside. Elsewhere, runner beans droop by fence posts, basil leaves turn to seed pods, flowers begin to shrivel up and flake away and the final radish crop swells in a plastic container.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

History Matters

At the entrance to Washington Old Hall, the ancestral home of the first US president. Now owned by the National Trust, entry was free all weekend as part of the annual Heritage Open Days.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Climbing The Cairngorm

The slow trudge up Coire Cas. Far below, Loch Morlich and the road back to Aviemore. The triangular roofed building is the lower mountain railway station, car park and starting point for the hike to the summit.

At the top of the Cairngorm, 1,245 metres up. Hunched on a wet rock, I celebrated with a dry cheese sandwich and a few swigs of water. On clear days you can see all the way to Ben Nevis, fifty-six miles to the east. Today I could just about make out the weather station, thirty metres across the rocky plateau.

The lazy way round: the Allt Mhor path, running four and a half miles downhill from Coire Cas to Glenmore.

The last stop: Loch Morlich's scimitar shaped beach.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Back to Work

This afternoon I started my Level 4 teaching course, the final step in becoming a government certified proper teacher. Today's lesson: how to write classroom aims in a variety of jargon crammed, linguistically complex sentences. Three hours down, nine and a half months, one hundred and twenty logged teaching hours, ten assignments and six observed classes to go.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Monday: Loch an Eilean

Shadows cast by the setting sun crept all along the hillsides, turning green into orange and finally black. The water rippled silently; there was the noise of small stones crunching underfoot and the pull of oars from the ruined castle, partly hidden by the fading light and overhanging pine cones. A small tent stood alone in a field by the empty car park. A woman sat like a statue by the water's edge, gazing out at nothing.

The Highlands

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Road To Wembley

Begins in Jarrow. And ends, I hope, a little further north.