The spring of hope (and misplaced apostrophe’s)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…’

And so begins the latest instalment of this thing we call a blog, which is really a confessional, and a catharsis of/from/to/probably for – I don’t even know, and I’m a literacy co-ordinator – my life events.

We start at the beginning of the end of the last post; a wonderful half term spent in La La Land; similarly self-indulgent, gratuitous and filled with love and romance.

The following morning – the twentieth, in fact – back in work I had to face the music and dance, though, as the evil demigorgon – or, more appropriately, demagogue – of Ofsted* reared its (very) ugly head and announced its visitation just like the ominous mothership of ‘V’.

*That’s all I have to say about that, as Forrest Gump said, because social media and school DO NOT mix.

During a stressful and hectic period of observation and introspection, one kid spoke real sense and struck a chord.

“Sir, if you got such good GCSEs, why did you become a teacher?”

That throwaway comment really made me reflect on my life and current status, and in a way reflected on current views of teachers rather than my own successes but made me hark back to getting married in 2012 when things were every different, and our stag and hen dos… what fun we had.

Back then, I was merely a boy, and meeting my wedding suit tailor in town recently – for the first time since then, and the suit still fits – brought back memories of my innocence and experiences since.

Most recently, the anxiety, stress and mental health issues caused by five (count ‘em) observations within three weeks suggest I’m in the wrong job. However, I actually thrived on the intensity, and came to enjoy the calm which came after the storm.

“You are my density – I mean, my destiny,” said George McFly, which probably would’ve been one of my questions on my third and favourite chosen topic of choice, had I made it to the final of Mastermind which aired recently. He said this quote after an intervention by Marty, his son, who introduced himself as Darth Vader and, as if by magic, I also dressed as the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Fleet for World Book Day in school.

We then enjoyed a 4th birthday party in the presence of Vader, Ren and Leia at a wonderful occasion which was a lovely escape from the trials and tribulations of Gove’s legacy (last mention, I promise) and spending such quality time with the kids made me so grateful and appreciative of what I have.

Especially after World Book Day inspired me to actually pick up a book and start reading it – one I’d been looking forward to opening for ages, the part-autobiographical Being Iniesta – the pale-faced ‘solutions man’ who has quietly developed into my favourite player, especially because he scored the first goal when I last frequented the Nou Camp, just before my wedding back in 2012 – and even more so, after reading the foreword to said book which was dedicated to his wife, his son and daughter and then Andres Jr who was stillborn in 2014.

Iniesta, of course, took part in – I don’t care what anyone says – the greatest football comeback ever. And here’s a wonderful picture – which I sadly didn’t take – that sums up the magnificence of the occasion perfectly.

Reading a book felt special, a bit like normal life, because it was an unusual occurrence and it happened during a train journey into Manchester, commuting like a regular Joe to a very useful day-long course which helped me forget everything else which was going on – ‘one day like this a year, would do me right’ – and despite the sardinesque train journeys, it was great to be back in Manchester, amongst like-minded people and the beautiful buildings I spotted on my way whilst walking to Salford.

The course finished early and, as luck would have it, I had already researched the distance to the Lads’ Club on Coronation Street – famous for being the location of a seminal Smiths photo and a dream of mine to visit for over fifteen years.

I braved the walk through a dodgy industrial estate, ignored the pyjama’d young mothers who crossed my paths on their way to the corner shop opposite, and proudly took selfies and filmed myself there, where Morrissey stood all those years ago, as if in a dream, dreamt by another.

Whilst walking away, content that an unexpected life ambition had been realised in surprising circumstances, a female voice shouted out, asking me to take her photo on the same steps. Kelsey, from Richmond, Virginia had travelled much further than I to see the lush green signage and the cobbled streets that the terraced houses which inspired a soap opera but more importantly, the confidence of millions of young people, exist on, and I felt a remarkable sense of contentment and achievement whilst walking away from the scene.

I even decided to start my own super band; The Misplaced Apostrophe’s, and I’m on vocals and ukulele. No other members as yet, but E enjoyed shaking his maracas at toddler church at the weekend and B has got into music videos recently so maybe we could do a ‘Von Trapp’ style project.

I had another hour or so in the musical city where they ‘do things differently’ and visited a lovely little exhibition curated by Martin Parr, including fascinating photos by Candida Hofer (example above: sublime) of a black and white Liverpool I recognised from things like The Golden Vision – who sadly passed away this month, and remains a hero in my head even though he was playing twenty years before I got into football myself; you can watch the whole thing, starting with the brilliant interview with his daughter on youtube – and fantastic scrapbooks of flotsam and jetsam by Shinro Ohtake.

How had I never seen these before? Only I had, in my dreams, and in the work of my foundation tutor which heavily influenced my own sketchbooks and scrapbooks. Matchbooks, surreal collages, pasted and painted Schwitters / Cornell hybrids which I’d love to make again… one day, one day. Talking of flotsam and jetsam, on my way back to the train station I then saw a transvestite street cleaner, an octogenarian queen in a hairdresser’s window and a toothless DJ making a joke about myxomatosis on the platform, and I looked forward to getting home to my wife and kids – normality.

But normality didn’t last long, because change was afoot.

The boy had started the transition into his own room; his first two teeth were proudly poking through, too. And, he had followed in daddy’s footsteps by loving his first, tentative tastes of Farley’s rusks. He slept through a couple of nights, and even began bouncing in the Tigger-themed door frame trampoline-without-a-base, which will hopefully help to develop his femoral head which a recent scan recognised that his surgery may have hampered.

Then: another challenging week due to new policies, nursery shocks, Lukaku’s contract renegement… none of which really matters, but all set against the backdrop of several friends having the time of their lives watching horses run a bit, during days spent indoors with generous celebrities who I secretly admire and deserve praise for their kindness, and centenarians who deserve even more. Yes, ol’ JC put five hundred quid behind the bar for people to enjoy themselves and so I enjoyed a couple of pints of Sam Smith on his behalf – after everything. The place gets much (often deserved) criticism but is full of kind, considerate gentlemen who are so tightly knit and supportive of each other that it feels a bit like the Cheers bar.

You wanna go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came, and a room full of tipsy men are singing to one who’s just turned a hundred which can be quite a humbling and emotional experience. A couple of pints in the afternoon there rather than actually going the match, or even a night in watching a big fight (which I managed to get on a dodgy Russian stream) is much more convenient and fitting for the way things have changed over the last few years.

Still, we remain on the up and up, and Coca Cola adverts say it best: “Holidays are coming, holidays are coming” and the opportunity to reflect and rest after arguably the hardest half term of my ‘twelve years a slave’ – but also the most positive – is an enticing one. The good times are definitely calling, but it has been the best of times, and the worst of times, yet I remain optimistic that the good will out and, as Harvey Dent famously stated, ‘the night is darkest just before the dawn.’

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known” said someone in a famous book which I admittedly have never read, but I don’t think I need to have, to understand that this rollercoastery feeling is but a temporary affectation which will improve in due course.

After a month of contradictions, all I can say is re-iterate that ‘everything was beautiful and nothing hurt’ and hope that April offers consistency and the solidity which a ‘wood’ anniversary deservedly commemorates.

It’s all good, don’t get me wrong – just hard at times. Which is in itself a positive, because I think that’s the point of Lent.

I’ll write again at Easter, when it really becomes the spring of hope.

Know that love is truly timeless

The year started with an air of optimism.

Let me explain… Everyone spent time at the end of December reminiscing and moaning about all the celebrities who died in 2016. Some of my own heroes passed, too: Cruyff in particular.

Still, having spent most of the year pregnant and then getting used to a new little blue in the house – and dealing with the potentially life threatening illness he developed at three weeks old – a big positive of the year, for me anyway, was learning the skill of putting things in perspective and… Prioritising.

Time management, work/life balance; call it what you will, things were – had to be – more settled, with an evening routine and another one in the morning which allowed for maximum quality time and although it meant little or no visiting my creative wells, for now at least that’s ok, because it’s all about love.

I also came to recognize that night that life doesn’t automatically reward those who deserve it. If anything, those who appear not to deserve it seem blessed, destined to enjoy success by any means necessary. Not just in terms of football, 2016 also gave plenty of examples of laughable behaviours from those who should know better. As Michelle Obama so cleverly put it in one of her last speeches, ‘you go low, we go high’ and I’ve tried to stick to that mantra.

I haven’t spoken to you since Christmas… the Day itself brought with it lots of plastic, fraught kitchen work and a broken phone due to turkey juices being spilled on it, which would cost me £100 a few days later… Not the best start to the year, I’ll be honest, but the kids had a wonderful time and as things improved. Meanwhile, in my drinking den, tensions had built up to the extent that mutinies were planned and bugging devices had been found – think Phoenix Nights combined with Ancient Rome – and, most controversially, a member’s wife even turned up to drag her husband home, despite the fact that women were actually allowed in over the festive period.

First week into the new year, I was due a haircut. It’s only around the corner but the barber – a good Blue, sits in the Gwladys Street – was late opening, so I dived in the café opposite to wait.

I recognized the car outside, straight away.

I walked in, and there he was, sat happily devouring his eggs on toast and cup of tea. I had EFC tracksuit pants on, so ignored him completely, pretending I didn’t notice him, because I didn’t want to come across as a sycophant, nor a hypocrite after having told him in town that ‘K A G’ after a derby in 2001. He was reading the paper, probably his own column, so I downed my espresso, ignoring the fact that he was a noisy eater and would haggle over the bill, and made a quick exit.

The rest of the first couple of months have been tiring but enjoyable, and full of love. For a variety of reasons, I’ve been in a nostalgic mood recently and decided to delve into the archives of my mind, both to self-indulgently reminisce and to compare current events to those of yesteryear.

Strap yourselves into the DeLorean and get ready to hit 88, as we first go back…  then, into the future.


After the delightful victory against Man City and embracing the positivity which followed that crazy afternoon, it would have been easy to regret not being able to go to that match, it being our best result for years. That I hadn’t was due to WW having a weekend away with her friends and me spending quality time with the kiddiewinks.

In the past I really would have been bothered, because unlike the baying majority, I actually go the match once in a while, but again this was all about perspective, priorities and love.

The following week, too, I made the sacrifice of a nice lie-in and day with the family, to go into town early and visit the NORTH exhibition at the Open Eye. What a great show, and reminiscent of yesteryear fashions and culture. The subtext was seeing an old friend who wanted to have a chat – the good news being that he’d got engaged at Christmas and wanted to share his announcement, and I was delighted.

Things had clearly changed – for the better.

And, not just for me.

The following weekend, just to remind us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, my little girl broke our TV with a violent swing of the toy binoculars, which meant a large amount of money being spent on a replacement.



It’s funny, like I said, how you look back and time has deceived you. It’ll be five years very soon since we got married, and things are so very different.

Better, but very different.

I was planning my stag night in town, then a last hurrah in Barcelona – the idea of both now would be but a pipedream, as I find it impossible to stay awake past midnight plus could never manage a weekend away, but evoke wonderful memories of a time before things got even more wonderful.

Sentimental tosh, maybe, but true, and I ‘m envious of those nearest and dearest about to embark upon exciting adventures of betrothal or parenthood in equal measure because that’s when the real excitement – and love – begins.

Know, though, that love is truly timeless.


I have personal reasons for enjoying looking back to a decade ago, and not just because it was the time that Sylvester Stallone spat out his tea in the director’s box. What a great moment in my life that was, by the way, but 2007 is largely memorable because I was getting with my wife at the time. My season ticket back then, in the Gwladys Street, brought us glimpses of Rocky and Rambo, yes, and last year’s ‘Creed’ showed his too was a lifelong affair…  but another key moment from that period, for me anyway, was my involvement in the design of a top ten album from that year, which is being celebrated this year and I’ll dine out on for a while longer because it’s an experience unlikely to be repeated ever again…

Anyone who doesn’t know, might be interested that you can still see our creation in the Museum of Liverpool, and the lads are doing an anniversary tour to commemorate those halcyon days when my handwriting was on merchandise, on TV, in music videos, on billboards, discussed by David Tennant on Alan Carr and spotted in the Louvre (well, the shopping centre next door) and still to this day, on YouTube: what a time to be alive.

Meanwhile, the most surreal moment form that year has to be getting invited to a Healthy Schools ceremony at Clarence House and getting promised some organic carrots by a tipsy Camilla then telling Jamie Oliver that our kids thought he was a nobhead after the whole school dinners revolution.

To make up for that (I blame the free wine) we celebrated Valentine’s Day this year at his restaurant in town and had a great meal, little E even tasting steak juices for the first time, and then, somewhat serendipitously, I saw both Jamie Carragher (again) and Alan Stubbs locally during the same week as if to remind me of that era – and to reflect on how much better things are now.

The recent notions I’d been feeling, of dreaming and romance, were underlined by a trip to the surprisingly wonderful La La Land in which central character Sebastian discusses certain people I know, quite eloquently: “They worship everything and they value nothing.”

I don’t mind admitting that I cried at several points in the film because it was just so beautiful; the planetarium scene for example, and ignored the cynical claims that it somehow discriminates against modern day Hollywood, preferring instead to celebrate its joy and love and feelgood nature – even if it’s not the happiest of endings.

What made it more poignant was that little E sat through the majority quite happily, and despite a couple of tuts, fellow cinemagoers were astounded there was a baby in the show when they heard his cooing at the end.


On said Valentine’s Day, by the way, I took my son to the Everton store in town and picked up a couple of things for him, now that he has overcome his illness and has started to catch up weight wise. Whilst there, I couldn’t resist purchasing a reminder of the more distant past, an adult sized version of the shirt I distinctly remember getting for my twelfth birthday.

It broke a rule I’d set a couple of years ago, never to buy another football shirt, but as it was one I had previously owned – and was a sign of my everlasting fifth love, on Valentine’s Day to boot – I think it made it ok.


41 years ago, Star Wars was being made, and one of the things I have to look forward to this month is dressing up as Darth Vader. I got into practice at the rather excellent – for anyone of my generation, anyway – exhibition in Southport of Star Wars toys and film posters which really got me reminiscing my childhood and those of the kids. ‘Collecting is a disease, and the only cure is sharing’ said the owner of all these wonderful objects, and it explains nicely the majority of my obsessions and projects over the years. Thankfully, I too still have a lot of SW toys somewhere in the loft that will eventually be passed down / sold on ebay…

Depending on workload, I hope to also get to watch more of ‘The Get Down’ from the same era which – late to the party as always – I’m really enjoying. Now that we have Netflix on the new TV, there is loads on my watch list that I might get around to seeing, one day. Similarly, recent additions to the library mean I won’t be bored any time in the next ten years.

And I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

Going back to the late Seventies, just a few years later, a young boy in Lancaster fell in love for the first time with football, when Emilio Butragueno was in his pomp (I might go and sit in that big stand next month and achieve a lifetime ambition see him play (albeit at Anfield)) and Cujo was scaring people shitless in cinemas. I watched it recently because it had been cited as a major influence on Stranger Things and I kind of get it, but the decline of the dog made me probably scared of St Bernards forever.

I also loved the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror, which again was from the early 80s and reminded us that love is timeless.

However, just like back then, the country is in a mess. Of course, it could all be La La Land talking, but it’s a nice idea to keep hold of that things will improve, akin to a story similar to that which I’m celebrating a testimonial in, this year. Ups and downs, problematic others, fall outs and make ups… and above all, hope that one day, things will be perfect.

In the meantime, B continues to astound, and E continues to improve and develop nicely. Today he could wear a birth gift for the first time, apt for the past few weeks and the theme of love. It was sent by a Liverpool fan who swallowed his pride and despite the odd negative comment over social media, I really respect and admire and thank him and his family immensely.

So – life is changing, not easy, at all, but in a good way.

But love makes it better…

So much better.

I’ll leave the last words to Sebastian again:

“This is the dream! It’s conflict and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting!”

Some Things that Happened

Be prepared for Christmas chat, self indulgent images and pontifications on the state of society at this time of year… If you’re easily offended, look away NOW!


The last time we spoke was just before Hallowe’en, and the day I managed to get out for a match, indeed the first – and so far, only – victory of his lifetime; all was good in the world, because things were looking up on a series of counts.

But… After the positive, another negative.

Back at the hospital the next day, infection levels had gone down and initially the results looked positive, but after coming home, carried by deep sighs of relief, we were called back in to A&E in a bit of a panic to sit in an isolation room for hours because of a concern over white blood cells. Honestly, I’ve learned so much about the body, it’s all to do with neutrophils apparently, which are made in the bone marrow, and eventually, after a scary-looking rash was dismissed as non specific reaction, and, when a trial of oral meds went well, we were home once again.

OK, so the key had broken in the lock for the grandparents when bringing her home and, as a result, B hadn’t quite been able to enjoy the evening to the extent she’d have wanted to, but we were home safe and happy enough for now. She still managed to give out the Trick or Treat lollies etc that the neighbours had prepared, whilst the locksmith worked his magic.

Eventually, things got better for us… we felt very lucky.

The panic over, we grew to celebrate every kick of the right leg and relaxed a little in the knowledge that slowly, things were improving. The strappings came off, the medicines stopped… Having been teaching Of Mice and Men intensely, I could recognise the links with the harnesses in the barn but, like Ol’ Crooks in the bunk room, we too face future pains, referencing the bottles of linament or anti biotics  as we all grow older – and, somewhat inevitably, came to turn our attention to  more positive things… and specifically Christmas.


It all started with the John Lewis advert: how serendipitous that I should have watched it with colleagues in school the day it was released, and immediately texted home to say that it reminded me of B and her cousin on the garden trampoline. Then, upon researching further, I should discover that the second – let’s be honest, specimen of nocturnal vermin – to enter the arena would be called Betsy the Badger – which then reminded me of previous years, and previous posts, on how emotive and reminiscent those John Lewis adverts of yesteryear, were.

Did I mention how this very website had been hacked, thus making it impossible to link for you my previous musings? So, in a nutshell, last year’s man in the moon wasn’t particularly resonant but the previous year featured B feeding her Cashew some fishfingers just like the kid with the penguins, and previous to that, other seminal moments including the romantic snowmen and the boy with the head in the cardboard box (courtesy Charlie Brooker) which all means that this was a key moment in the calendar.

Still, there remain the conspiracy theorists who claim that this year’s ad is a perfect allegory of the US election, you know, where the girl is happily running towards an apparent ‘finishing line’, only to be beaten / scuppered by a slobbering beast who’s been ogling the other creatures for a while… which is nearly as good as the incredible-yet-plausible concept that Eleven might actually be the demagorgon, if you believe everything you read…

Back in reality, another Christmas tradition is the annual Courteeners gig. I’m past explaining who they are, and their brilliance, preferring instead to ignore the haters and ignorami but rather, enjoying that ‘we are us not you’ and the special feeling their performances offer.

A wonderful night was had by all; no-one will ever replace them.


We even got ‘preferential treatment off taxi drivers’ on the way to the Hometown One, as he searched his Spotify to play a couple of tunes for us, and it was a truly wonderful evening, after a couple of cheeky ones in the Alchemist before the gig, a must-go for anyone (unlike me) heading out on a Christmas night out.

Talking of which, I’ve been teaching A Christmas Carol in Prose (Being a Ghost Story of Christmas) intensely too. Really love the dramatic tension that Dickens creates, especially in the story of Tiny Tim: the youngest of a family, trying hard to get over a childhood illness and lower limb injury, remaining positive despite a potential future ailment…



So we return to the art, and the surprising fact that I actually sold a painting the other day.

I’ve never really gone into detail on this site about my own schooling, for good reason. Yes, I went to an outstanding school, but my educational experiences since have somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for said seven years and now it feels like more than a distant memory.

Still, they contacted me about an Old Boys’ exhibition selling artwork. Natch, they were taking twenty per cent. Due to being back and forward from the hospital, I couldn’t devote the time I wanted to to the submissions I selected, however I was extremely proud that my Sixth Form English teacher, Mr Novell, bought one of my pieces, just as he had fifteen years ago when I was on the verge of something big.

Great Expectations thumbnail_img_0436

He said at the time I should be starving in the garrets for a little while longer, but I wasn’t. I followed his advice from a few years before, and became a teacher… back when I mentored a younger pupil who struggled with his reading, at the request of Mr Novell, he’d later suggested I either try for Oxbridge or be a teacher ‘because (I’d) be a good one’ and only years after did his wise words ring true.

His lessons were wonderful, largely because he introduced innovative starters (I recall answering the “would you rather sleep with a man or the ugliest woman in the world?” with ‘a man if it was Elvis’) and he acknowledged my creative flair (marking an elaborately decorated title with ‘Art for Art’s Sake (10CC)) and encouraged a love of film, too… He kept a notebook of reviews of every film he ever watched; such devotion, which must have inspired a fellow OL whom he taught, who went on to be editor of EMPIRE magazine.

As you can probably tell, he made a huge impression on me and I’d love to be half the teacher he is. I still know Great Expectations inside out, because I hung on his every word… I ended up with a B at A Level which we were both disappointed with, and he pushed for a re-mark, but it matters not. His influence has lasted to this day and will linger for years to come.

I just hope my painting – of Nile Monitor lizards devouring their owner – has such a lasting effect.

I digress.

Art work: yes, I forgot amidst the early mornings and late nights and general hullabaloo of the last couple of months. Admittedly, I’m gutted to miss the shows of Rauschenberg and the Abstract Expressionists currently going on in London; the former was a real catalyst for the development of my style on Foundation and I really loved the cut of his jib from the moment that another inspirational teacher, Iain Sloan, mentioned his name, all those years ago in the ‘Blackpool Bronx’.

I’m hopeful that the new year will offer some opportunities to create once more; until then, I will concentrate on my greatest creations and focus on their development, rather than the development of my own little obsessional trains of thought.

In between, it’s Christmas…


The magic of which we enjoy more than ever, seeing it through the eyes of a child once more.

And before that, the special birthday of my even-more-inspirational father, whose demeanour, unselfishness, dignity, compassion, humility and love remains the biggest influence on how I live my life now… and I thank him so much for that.

Here’s me, with my Dad and my sister and an elephant, somewhat bizarrely:


I did a speech at his party which centred on the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life!’ and his importance to so many people.


Note the exclamation mark, because its sarcasm should make us all think about how we live and how the little things get us down but, as I said at the party, it’s all about how we’ll be remembered and how things might be different if we weren’t around.

It was great to spend quality time with the four generations of family I’m so lucky to have:


Professional head on, I was labelled Grinchbank the other day for not wanting to play Christmas songs in class. I’m very excited, believe me, about little E’s first Christmas,and B’s fourth, just show it in different ways, like writing a blog for no apparent reason… and taking her to a Christmas party at my drinking den.


We sell paintings, we have problems, we spend too much on Christmas when it should be about other stuff… but in 2017, we, the dreamers and writers, are all about to take over the world, and we all need to remember that during Advent.

Me, Mrs G and the baby – as well as the preoccupied badger – certainly will.


“God Bless us, every one!”