The Baron Biddulph of Barking Bares All

Warning. Contains nudity. May not be suitable for minors or those of a nervous disposition

My mate the Baron was, and I hope still is a smashing bloke. He lived with me and the rest of the gang in the old LCC tenement blocks hard-to-let flats, alongside the Bow Bridge flyover. He worked in the Crown Suppliers dodge uptown and like all of us, he enjoyed a drink or seven. He was quite partial to having a few scoops of the old falling down water on a Friday night. If not saturday, sunday, monday, tuesday, wednesday and thursday come to that. In fact, all the years I know the Baron, he never refuses a drink.

Well what happens one friday night is typical of the kind of thing the Baron gets up to when he has been squeezing the hops since early doors. He is drinking since lunchtime with his work pals and has unfortunately forgotten to eat anything, so as you can imagine all that grog on an empty stomach naturally leaves him feeling a little tired and emotional.

Now being the sensible sort, the Baron figures the best thing to do is to go home and sleep it off; it being only five o’ clock in the afternoon. So this he does.

It seems he has a pretty good snooze, because before he knows it he is awake and it is already ten to nine. Late for work! The Baron hot foots it out of the door, down the stairs, across the courtyard and out of the estate onto the Mile End Road. He is headed in the direction of Bow Road Underground station, when he becomes aware that cars driving past him are tooting their horns and flashing their lights. The Baron also becomes aware how dusky the sky is looking for such an early hour.

Slowly it dawns on him that it is not nine a of m, but nine p of m. Nightime in other words. And not only that, but he has sleepwalked the whole way, and moreover has done so wearing only his Y-fronts.

Sheepishly the Baron retraces his steps, gingerly now on bare feet across the courtyard, enduring the cat calls of the kids who hang around there and for whom he has provided much merriment minutes earlier, up the stairwell to the flat door. Now here’s a problem. Of course the flat door is locked now, it having closed on the yale lock earlier when he “leaves for work”. This is where the story gets interesting on two counts. One: unbeknown to the Baron while he was in bed reading the insides of his eyelids, flatmate Peadar had arrived home in a similar state, as our hero , having forgotten to eat his lunch too. Two: the Baron decides in his wisdom to knock on the flat next door and borrow some kind of implement which will allow him to gain access. (His preferred route being through the toilet window – see “Look on the brightside, its Norman Whiteside“) Now, just put youself in the position of the neighbour for a minute. There you are, minding your own buisness on a friday night in your flat on a grubby East End estate. There is a knock at the door which you go and answer to be greeted by the sight of a deranged skinny white nobleman dressed only in Y fronts and apparently talking in tongues. “Hammer!” He pleads – and they give him one!

But the lunacy doesn’t end there. Oh no. As the Baron makes a bit too good job of demolishing the toilet window, he wakes up Peadar, still sleeping up to that point inside. Peadar thinks he is being burgled and begins to shout, taking a variety of voices in an attempt to trick his would-be assaillant that there is more than one person inside.

Finally, the two realise who each other are and as the Baron returns the hammer, Peadar opens the door.

“Jesus what a shock” says Peadar “I need a drink” says the Baron “Fancy a pint?”

And the moral of this little tale? Well if neither of them had forgotten their lunch, none of this would have happened.

Bow Bridge Estate

© Andy Daly 2012

Steve, in the unlikely event you should ever read this, I know you’re not from Barking, but Basildon didn’t scan as well.

Diamond Jubilee 2012

So, how was it for you? As with the last Royal occasion I remained aloof and uninterested. Until it started of course, and then became glued to it, as if it were the only thing that mattered. I’d had the intention of having my say about it from the outset. About the unfathomable wonder that people took in the river pageant for instance. Perhaps it is just me. I have never found the grey/brown sludge of the Thames particularly inspiring anyway. Not when compared for instance with the majestic Tyne or the proud Mersey. With its flotilla of seemingly random belfry, boats and barges it looked an untidy sodden mess. I couldn’t help thinking it would be at least as interesting – if not more so, to stand on the motorway bridge at Scratchwood services on the M1 and watch the traffic passing underneath for four hours.

And then there were the reactions of the star of the show herself. There must have been some deft editing going on by the TV boys and girls as all the highlights clip compilations seemed to show radiant smile after radiant smile. Well I was watching the coverage quite hard and I didn’t see too many of them. In fact, for a lot of the time she wore a face (if you will pardon the expression) like a slapped arse. On stage after the concert for instance, she looked for all the world like she was standing in the queue for the meat counter at Sainsburys. I thought it unfortunate, too that she did not engage the eyes of the readers in the catherdral, who after all their preparation and rehearsal, at the big moment found themselves rewarded with a view of the top of her hat.

Perhaps she was taking forty winks. In fact, maybe all things being considered, we were all asking a bit much of an eighty six year old, whose husband had just been taken in to hospital.

Then, while collecting the snippets for this piece – sounds grand doesn’t it? – on You Tube, I came across a comment which praised Stevie Wonder’s performance on monday night, but was extremely abusive about the Queen. It made my blood boil (and this is  coming from someone who still rates the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” as one of the best records of the last fifty years) and then I realised. This particularly spiteful peice of online invective didn’t just reflect on our monarch. Yes this Jubillee weekend was about the Queen and the House of Windsor with all their foibles and faults (after all who would we have on our money otherwise? David Cameron? No thanks) but its real stars were the hundreds of thousands packing the Mall for the concert and processions, or lining a wet and dismal Thames, or the millions who arranged street parties or events. The people who came out because they wanted to. And who did so in the most endearingly eccentric way that could be only British, in an atmosphere of joy and inclusivity. Faces painted, silly costumes, home made crowns, union flags everywhere, sleeping out in the park. These are the people who lie in baths of custard for Children In Need or who go to work dressed as clowns for Comic Relief, whose sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters are flown back from Afghanistan, maimed or in boxes.

And may God bless ’em.

Highlights: The concert on monday night, I have to say was spectacular. I can’t stand Tom Jones. Brilliant voice, but his choice of material is lamentable, especially “Delilah”, but surprise surprise, he made a cracking job of it, even managing to make it sound relevant and contemporary. Grace Jones Slave to the rythmn and Madness of course!

The African Childrens’ Choir and this; the stunning Diamond Choir with Will Todd’s “Call of Wisdom” from the St Paul’s service.

© Andy Daly 2012

Rake’s Progress

What time is it?

“What time is it?” asks one of the patients of his next door neighbour.

“Quarter to three”  He announces  firmly, without looking either his wristwatch, or the clock on the wall.

(It is in fact 11:30 am)

“So,” continues Patient  One, “What’s your name then?”



That’s right, I’m back in hospital again.

Back in the parallel universe, whose space/time contiuum is so warped, that days can last as long as weeks just as surely as hours may fly by in seconds.Where the most improbable things are commonplace, and are treated as nothing out of the ordinary, Like in Flann O’ Brien’s absurd and perplexing “The Third Policeman”, you reach a point, eventually where nothing is a surprise, such that one begins to wonder whether ‘The Real World’ actually exists out there at all. Or whether ‘the ward’ consistutes its own reality and all that goes on outside its confines is actually nothing but a figment of your own imagination.

Weird shit

And of course, on a Neuro ward you get more than your fair share of weird shit happening.

Take Malcolm. A bit of a music fan, one of the many symptoms of his condition is short term memory loss. So he uses a Dictaphone to record the names of CDs or tracks by artists he wants to download or buy …. and his lottery numbers, so he doesn’t forget. Every night, after his sleeping tablets have taken effect, but before he has turned the damned thing off, the rest of the ward is treated to a seemingly endless loop of the day’s messages to himself:

“‘Theme from S Express’… Hot Chip… David Bowie… ‘Kinky Afro’ by Happy Mondays… Seventeen!”

Also suffering memory loss and poor eyesight, there’s Ned. So called because his alarming resemblance to Simpsons’ Ned Flanders (inc. yellow skin)

He constantly pesters the nurses in the most nauseating way,

“So where do you live then?”

“And is that a house or flat?”

“And what do you prefer? Indian or Italian food?”

Minutes later, the long-suffering nurse is bombarded with exactly same barrage of questions.

I overheard him one morning. He was being attended to by two nurses, one male, one female. She was doing all the talking. At one point, without warning, she went off to get a blanket, leaving the male nurse to continue with the bed. I don’t think Ned realised, firstly there had been two nurses by his side, and that now he was left with only one – the male nurse.

Off he went:

“So where do you live then?”

“Edgeware” (My goodness! She has a sexy, throaty voice)

“Edgeware? I know Edgeware. Whereabouts?”

“Richardson Road”

“Richardson Road? Eh?…. Er, have I just asked you that?”

“Yeah about ten  minutes ago”

“Richardson Road, Edgeware. I’ll make sure I don’t forget that in future”

The nurse looked up momentarily and, meeting my eyes, ever so slightly raised his to heaven and muttered:

“I wouldn’t fucking bother mate, you’re still going ask me again in ten minutes”

Andy the Autonomic and his snoring! Bloody Hell! I mean I’ve known people whose snoring has annoyed or irritated me (no names) but never frightened me! After a night on the ward with him, the nurses would have to spend 20 minutes the following morning moving all the furniture back into place and retrieving small objects from his nostrils. The noise, and more than anything, the sheer power of his massive inhalations of air scared the shit out of me.

And then of course there is Yours Truly, who on the night after my op was convinced my bed was a 750cc Honda Fireblade, I just couldn’t work out how to get the blanket over the petrol tank. I tried numerous configurations – some at high speed – until exhausted by my efforts I went back to sleep.

Mount Vernon

In fact, I am in Mount Vernon Hospital which from its vantage point on the Middlesex/Hertfordshire border looks out across North West London. The hospital and its surrounding land was the gift of Charles Dunnell Rudd at the turn of the last century. Rudd was a partner of Cecil Rhodes in the De Beers Mining Company. During the First World War, as well as its British patients, it played host to French and Belgian soldiers suffering from tuberculosis. The patients were expected to work or exercise for an hour and a half in the morning and two hours in the afternoon to prevent them becoming ‘self-centred and lazy’. Those who could work outside did gardening, maintaining the grounds and pathways. Just what you’d want I suspect after two years digging trenches at the front. It even treated German prisoners of war between 1939 – 45.

The old chapel

It consists of a whole range of buildings in a bewildering collection of styles from the bizarre York Sandstone and flint gloomy Art Nouveau chapel, which was never consecrated and is now The Cancer Research Campaign’s Gray’s Library, to timber-clad Swiss-style chalets to utlitarian ‘boxy’ system-built things (like this one) to constructions which appear to have come straight out of a De Stijl book of architectural templates from the ’20s.

My room, third big red window on right, top floor. Four Star

And then there’s the ‘Main Building’ A cruciform shape which houses the cafe with its high-beamed ceiling, a dark building replete with green tiles (like the Paris Metro, it says here) and ornately carved staircases. Here hang the plaques in memory of Rudd and Benjamin Abbott Lyon, the hospital’s chairman 1884 -1909: a bygone age of practical philanthropy. The foundation stone was laid by the Princess Christian in 1902: she must have been a strapping lass as it is set into the wall about four feet up. It must have taken a bit of lifting! I guess they had stronger backs in those days. From the outside  you follow the path round to the front (it is only at this point you realise that till now you have only been looking at the back and the side of the main building) and are rewarded  by the sight of a beautiful south-facing two storey curved  facade behind which are light and airy wards. A balcony with white balustrade stretches its whole length, and in the centre, a clock tower with bright green copper roof and flashing. All of which look out over a lawn which ever so gently falls away to the shrubs and trees at the bottom. Back in the day these would have been pruned to allow uninterrupted views as far as Windsor and beyond. I close my eyes. I half expect that when I open them again, the lawn to be peopled with nurses in starched white uniforms and caps, wheeling young men, smoking pipes, tartan blankets covering their legs whose brilliantined hair glints as they enjoy the late evening sunshine.

Facade and clock tower from lawn

Oddly enough not more than a few yards away from this grand but delapidated nod to an era so far back it may as well be ancient Egypt, is the consulting room in which I was given my diagnosis. Twelve years ago. My wife was with me.

Well, it seems your GP was correct

“Well, it seems your GP was correct, you have Parkinson’s Disease” I remember distinctly the tall beech trees that I could see behind Consultant Neurologist Richard Crawford, through his window. I was transfixed by them as they swayed in the stiff breeze. His words seemed to echo around the room, while briefly, still captivated by the trees I left my body and looked down on the scene in the room from somewhere above the window but which still allowed me a view of the trees as well. The gentle squeeze of my left hand brought be back down to earth, and back to the body, destined to be a battleground for the rest of my life. Crawford leaned back in his chair and began to chew on his spectacles. He had taken off his jacket earlier when he got me to do the gait tests (to my humiliation, out in the corridor in front of a packed clinic waiting room) and sat there in blue striped shirt and tie with red braces. He began to speak. His eyelids closed and fluttered as he did so. There was the tiniest hint of a stammer in his voice. God knows why, but I imagined him as a schoolboy. Public school of course: taunted, teased and bullied because of his blessed stammer and, I suspected, a complete lack of co-ordination and interest when it came to sport. I found myself feeling sorry for him. Strange, really in the light of the news he had just given me. I first saw him a little under a year ago, with the same symptoms. Stress and Writer’s Cramp he concluded. I think he knew then, his diagnosis possibly intended to ‘buy’ me a few more worry-free months, maybe more. In the event, it did the exact opposite: the intervening year being one blighted by increasing concerns as to whether there was something wrong with me or whether it was all in my head. By rights, I should be on his desk now slamming his head in the drawer.

“I think it would be wise to start with medication straight away. How do you feel about that?” “Mr. Daly? … How do you feel about that?” Another gentle squeeze of my left hand, and I was back in the room again. “Yeah. OK I suppose”

Parkinson’s Disease? What was it? I had no real idea. I knew that it was incurable and that it manifested itself as a tremor or shaking; none of which I had. Was it killer? How long had I got? How was I going to tell my Mum and Dad … the Kids? That’s all I could think of.

As we left the clinic I wondered how many other recipients of bad news there were still sitting unawares in the waiting area.

My senses sharpened and heightened, I remember the rest of the afternoon clearly. After walking down past the plaques, green tiles and staircases to the pharmacy to collect the medication, I drove us home. And you know what? In what is probably the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me, and something I’ll never forget, my Wife popped a tape cassette into the machine in the kitchen and pressed Play.

It was an interview with Saxophonist Barbara Thompson, who I was a big fan of, during which she talked about her own diagnosis with Parkinson ‘s and how it shouldn’t be thought of as a death sentence. My Wife had heard it on ‘Womens’ Hour’ and recognised that she was describing exactly the same symptoms as mine.

She aleady knew what was coming earlier that day in Crawford’s office.

She had collected a variety of information: leaflets and advice from the Parkinson’s Disease Society.

And I began to read.

I’ve really fallen on my feet this time! I am in the Northwood and Pinner Community Unit housed at Mount Vernon. Basically a rehab unit for elderly patients which aims to stabilise them prior to their discharge back into the community. And lucky old me has blagged himself a single side room with a spotless en suite bathroom, bigger than that at home. I wonder whether my threats to kill the ‘all night talker’ who kept me awake during my first night on the ward had something to do with it.

I am waiting for a transfer to The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. Some six months ago I had the surgical placement of the hardware necessary to enable Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) Namely bilateral implatantation of titanium leads, both of which carry four contacts, in the Subthalamic Nucleus of the brain and a constant-voltage Implanted Pulse Generator   under my collarbone during a seven hour operation.

A Beginner’s Guide To Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery: A Practical Approach

You will need: one coconut, one cauliflower, 4 kebab skewers, copper wiring,  AM Radio,  power drill and a new potato.

For those of you struggling to visualise the brain anatomy here: take your  cauliflower, it’s kind of that bit just above the stalk. We can replicate it by using a small new potato. Use some cocktail sticks to secure it. Your coconut is the skull. You’ll have to split it (Carefully retain cranial fluid and place in suitable receptacle. Add vodka and sugar later for home made Malibu) and then shave it first of course. Drill two holes (a 20mm bit should do it) with a Black and Decker or similar about 5 cm apart. It is through these that the skewers (leads containing electrodes) will access the cauliflower. (brain) Carefully stick two kebab skewers through the holes we have made into the top of the cauliflower, push them down at  angles until they enter the new potato, almost meeting at this point And there you have it. Wire the skewers up to an AM radio. If you can pick up Radio Luxembourg, you’re in business.

Actually, I don’t for a minute want you to think I am belittling the work of the surgical team who frankly leave me in awe with the kind of exqisitely accurate micro surgery they perform on a daily  basis) Programming the DBS system to optimise its therapeutic efficacy in my case has proved melon-twistingly difficult. The last configuration of contacts has caused increasing dystonia (turning in of my feet) result of which I had three falls (unlike me) I was deemed ‘at risk’ and so was admitted here to the unit at Mount Vernon as a temporary measure, while the Functional Neurosurgery team at Queen Square decide what to do next.

Caution. Walter Mitty

I am idly considering this when I am reminded of another meeting some six months after that pivotal twenty minutes in Crawford’s office. A meeting I have called to inform my employer, the Chair of Governors, Kingsmead School, via its Headteacher Neville O’ Laughlin about my illness.

I remember O’Laughlin’s first day. I was singularly unimpressed with the way he ambled to the tatty stage to take his first assembly in his Marks and Spencer suit one size too big, the backs of the trousers hanging down over his shoes in a big ‘V’ and dragging on the floor.

From Essex.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against Essex or the good people who live therein. But as I think we all accept, there are a small number of its citizens who frankly let the side down on a regular basis. Such as O’ Laughlin. I had him sussed out from day one. His loathesome ‘Estuary English’ and his ‘Wide Boy’ demeanour were a giveway. What took me a little longer to figure out was whether his machinations, lies and duplicity were all part of a master plan or whether they were the knee-jerk reactions of a Walter Mitty, living in a fantasy world in which he had forgotten what lies he had told to whom in ‘off the record’ conversations in toilets and corridors.

It was the latter.

Confirmed as he became an increasingly reclusive figure surrounding himself with a phalanx of ‘Assistant Headteachers’, so desparate to hang on to their positions, and so afraid that they were prepared to do his bidding even if it meant rubbishing or harrassing colleagues and former friends.

The meeting comprised myself, O’Laughlin and Dan Morton, my union representative. Ostensibly there in the capacity of friend: to make sure I didn’t forget anything. Of course Dan’s role was much more significant than that. He was there to make accurate minutes of the meeting should it be necessary at any time to refer back to them. In a cruel irony, Dan himself was to exhibit Parkinsonian symptoms a few years later. We sat round the table. I had an agenda, which I’d given to O’ Laughlin in advance. He was flustered. I wonder whether he thought I was going to spring something on him. Evidence for instance that money from Special Needs budgets had been diverted elsewhere – allegedly.

So, it was with an expression of relief that he took my news.

“It’s Parkinson’s Disease” I said.

He fidgeted in his chair

“Well, all I can say, Andy is I’m glad it’s you and not me.”

I almost burst out laughing. Proof, if more were needed, that Neville O’Laughlin was a grade A, top of the range, gold-plated knob.

The rest of the meeting was taken up with conjecture over ‘how long I would last’, puncutated by entreaties to let him know if there was anything I needed – to ask and it would be done. I did. It wasn’t. He would even try to sort out ‘a little deal’ for me when the time came to give up. The governors (in other words He) had it within their gift to enhance final salary under certain circumstances (eg. retirement through ill health) but in my case, although having taught there for over fifteen years, it was not deemed appropriate. (I was never told why) Although this was still to come, I got a sinking feeling as the meeting went on that told me I was on my own. Negotiating the tricky path toward early retirement was to be my journey alone. They took over six months to respond to recommendations made by the borough’s Occupational Health adviser for example. But again, I’m getting ahead of  myself.

I left his office pausing only to comment to his secretary about the tiny balls of white polystyrene which lay all over her office: packing from some delivery.

“Chrys, you’ve really got to do something about your dandruff”

Me and Dan had a de-brief in the pub after work.

“What did you think of that then, Matey?”

I shrugged.

“Par for the course I suppose”

Dan took a good slug of his pint and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“I’ve just fucking seen him now”

“What? …. What do you mean?”

“O’Laughlin. I’ve just seen him now. I was on gate duty, he came over to me. He says “Dan, how do you think I handled the meeting with Andy?” So I said “Okay, considering you were on the  backfoot: you didn’t know what was coming” “Yeah, he says …. But don’t they shake?””

This time I did start laughing … fit to burst. Dan began to chuckle as well.

“What a wanker! ….”

It was six years later that I called it day, most of my best freinds on the staff had moved on  by then, although that was not a factor in my decision. By then I was purely and simply knackered. If the truth be told I worked on probably two years longer than I should have done. A secondary comprehensive school is not the sort of place to work if you are not 100% fit – especially one in which the concept of a caring environment was as alien as a genuine crop circle.

Kingsmead School. Excellence through teaching (it says here) I would have though that was a basic aim of every school, but then what would I know

The truth is, my relationship with the school had always been a bit ambivalent. I recall the day of my interview. I simply couldn’t make up my mind about the place. I was already Head of Department in a successful school in Berkshire. I had just taken 105 students through their GCSE Art and Design, my prospective Lower Sixth A Level group for the new academic year numbered 15, all of whom showed great promise. Why would I give all that up to come and work in a school which had more bins than students, didn’t run A Level Art and apparently held an all-week jumble sale in its foyer? In the end I decided to leave it up to Mick Godden, Greg Hill (the then Head and first Deputy) and fate to make up my mind for me. I resolved to give the most assertive interview I could muster. If they wanted me after that then fine! I remember saying some controvertsial things about the National Curriculum and Assessment, what I felt about the way the school presented itself, and finished off with a series of demands which included (among others) my wish to be a Sixth Form tutor and for the management team to match any funding that the department raised which would enable us to work with practising artists on projects in school.

“We don’t normally de-brief successful candidates, but there are one or two points we think we should make about your interview technique” Greg Hill said as he called me back to the Head’s office. I had been offered the job and my requests granted!

An unhealthy interest in hospital architecture and decor.

And so here we are, The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, having transferred from Mount Vernon. As I stand in the ornate black and white marble atrium, waiting for a porter to take me up to the ward, I am reading the big stone plaques which record the story of the origin of the hospital and its benefactors. Here she is again: Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. She certainly got around her London hospitals. Mind you, I’m not doing so bad myself. In fact, I realise I am starting to develop a rather unhealthy interest in hospital architecture and decor.

The National. Notice the decorative lintels and the exquisite brickwork ….

Up we go and after a brief wait while the bed is prepared, I am taken in and introduced to it as well as my fellow wardmates with whom I am destined to be as close if not closer than their partners and immediate families over the next few days.

They consist of the charming Winston, unfortunately plastered, collared and braced seemingly over every inch of his body. Looking comically like some cartoon image victim, before he is reconstituted to pick up his chase again of Roadrunner or somesuch.

Michael, who is in a lot of pain and discomfort, but seems an interesting bloke, someone I would like to chat to more.

Raymond, a parole officer, whose only complaint seems to be verbal diarrhoea,

and Colin.

I don’t know Colin’s story. I don’t want to know Colin’s story. I know his hands are bandaged like boxing gloves to prevent him pulling out his own tubes and hitting the nurses.

No, Colin makes himself my mortal enemy by calling out day and night the name of his brother Neville (with an irony that is not lost on me as you will remember if you were paying attention, for that was the name of my former employer) Then, when Neville (who I never see because on visits he is always hidden by the curtain, but whose voice is the exact double of writer and presenter Danny Baker) is here, all Colin does is slag him off. I know that brain injuries are capable of changing a person’s personality in wierd and wonderful ways, but that said, I think even before his surgery Colin had ‘shit’ written through him like a stick of rock.

Matters came to a head one morning after laying in bed, listening to him abusing the nurses who were trying to clean him up after he had ripped open his colostomy bag and … well I’ll leave it at that. After the nurses had finished with him, I walked up to his bed and in my best ‘Angry Teacher’ wagged my finger at him and shouted that he ought to be ashamed of himself and how he didn’t deserve the care being bestowed on him. (Feel free to incorporate your own suitable expletives here – I did!) Then I stormed off to the bathroom to the sound of faint applause from the other end of the ward.


From  Essex.


© Andy Daly 2012

Recurring Dream: What would Freud have made of it?

Here I was minding my own business, being agreeably insomniac, when all of a sudden I’m having these dreams. And not only that, but recurring dreams too. I never have recurring dreams: I’ve had ‘The Old Hag’ dream and woken up to find her sitting on my chest (I’ll tell you about it one day) but never recurring dreams.

Hindu Temple in Neasden

So it was that in the first of these dreams I found myself having to produce a life sized copy of the Hindu Temple in Neasden North London, or perhaps more correctly The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir; Europe’s first traditional Hindu temple. My task was not only to do this, but to do it with flatpack furniture. No easy feat I can tell you, when all they give you is one stupid Allen (Hex) key and no instructions.

Hoover Factory

Then the following night it was but a stone’s throw away … Okay 20 minutes by car (presumably – I was asleep) and to Perivale. The subject was Wallis, Gilbert & Partners’ wonderful  Art Deco masterpiece, The Hoover Factory on the Western Avenue (A40)  My construction materials for the night were packed in brown card boxes and  were stamped IEKA. What a headache. Every boxed item had a silly name, like Sküm and Tossa. I couldn’t tell my Arsse from my Elbö. In the dream, however, I managed it OK.  It just took us 4 hours to get back in the traffic.

Tower Bridge

Then night three and Tower Bridge. I had to use end-of-line bits and pieces from Do-It-All and B & Q. There wasn’t enough stuff! I told them I would need more shelf brackets and door hinges but they didn’t listen. If you look closely you will see my Grade One listed building has no back. Also, Do-It-All and especially B & Q need to sort out their warehousing.

St Paul’s Cathedral

Last night, and after the North London temple, this was the toughest task: St Paul’s Cathedral. I had to complement the main construction with at least two from the hundreds of really interesting buildings tucked away in that sort of triangle created by Bishop’s Gate, Newgate St. and then down to the river. I was really disappointed with this one: I left out ‘The Whispering Gallery! Can you believe it? My other two very rushed offerings were in the shape of a poorly scaled St Mary le Bow and a lopsided Bank of  England. Finding drawer fronts that weren’t already marked or scratched was a problem.

What would Freud have made of it all?

So just what would Freud, that interpreter of dreams, explorer of the unconscious, architect of psychoanalysis – himself a North London resident for the last few years of his life, have made of this?

(Parliament Hill)

Well for my money, I reckon he would have taken off either to Highgate Ponds and the surrounding area on Hampstead Heath, or Parliament Hill, located in the south east corner of Hampstead Heath, and a vertigo-inducing 322 feet high. From here, or hereabouts, he would have had good views variously of Kenwood House, Keat’s House, The Spaniards and the Old Bull and Bush.

(St. Marylebone Church)


(Kenwood House: A museum of food mixers here) 

In the other direction, although unlikely to have been able to see the river, he would otherwise have had much of the city of London laid out before him: Regents Park, St. Marylebone Church, Westminster ahead, To the east The Monument and St. Pauls. Closer, and those symbols of mercantile might, the railway stations: George Gilbert Scott’s St. Pancras, an exceptional example of the Gothic Revival, flanked by Kings Cross and Euston. Together they presented an unequivocal statement of intent by the railway companies. To the West, and moving away from the ‘dirty’ money  – soiled as it were, by work and toil, the relative calm and tranquility of the Palace and Royal Parks.


Think of the possibilities he had – The Houses of Parliament made using empty carbolic soap boxes, The Monument using packets of tea, and Sloane’s liniment bottles, The Old Bailey, a triumph of Soda Syphons and their cases, Kenwood House with timber pilfered from the rail depot at Finchley Road.

You know, in the light of this, I’m of the opinion that we ought to look at dreams and what they mean in a lot more detail.

What do you think? Send in your ideas. Use the comment space after this post.

(Pic. credits: 1, Wikipedia 2, Blinking Charlie)

© Andy Daly 2011

Dick’s Out!

Before the complaints come trickling in. The apostrophe IS in its rightful place.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bear with me. I am writing this in Spain in a ‘Cyber Cafe’. A vile and loathesome place peopled by well-off, but badly-behaved and foul-mouthed delinquent Spanish teenagers, and (forgive me, for some of my best friends are …) surly Poles and Rumanians. I can hardly hear myself think above the din of Air Hockey, Pool and Table Football; and the associated arguments and squabbles. I am tempted to keep the lot of them back at the end of the evening until they can show me how to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. It will be their own time they are wasting … So if I’m not up to my razor-sharp best there’s the reason.

I’ve been in Spain and I’ve been thinking a lot about Clive.

Clive loved Spain.

He died out here, suddenly just over a year ago. I worked with him: or at least taught at the same school as him for 10 years or so. I miss him terribly. We weren’t ‘Best Pals’ but we did spend a lot of time  together. Like many others we fought against half-baked thinking and the inadequate grasp of fundamentals in education, nay in human relationships, and especially so when it came from the unleavened Mrs Fajita. (See ‘Dopey Cow’) Hapless management, more so in later years, made our day, but at what cost?

We shared some of the same interests in music, although it has to be said we didn’t agree on everything. On another note, I have forgiven him for, unbeknown to me, turning my trusty WEM Dominator amp off  while he did some acoustic numbers at a social do in the school hall. We then took to the stage where I spent the first eight bars trying to work out why my amp or guitar: one or the other, was goosed.

‘It was ‘Buzzing” he said.

‘It’s a 1970s British valve amp.’ I said ‘ It’s what they do!

Ooooooh I was cross with him.

I enjoyed his blog ‘Going to the Dogs in Swindon’, while Clive was complimentary about my writing (if not my spelling) which meant a great deal to me and gave me the confidence push it on a bit … come to think of it, he has a lot to answer for …

We were tutors in the same (Sixth form) year group. I remember a right old day out in Southsea. Ostensibly, a Sixth Form end of term trip, we skidaddled straight away and during the course of the afternoon – this is before the arrival of my uninvited guest of course* – drank a bucketful of beer, ate the second largest plate of fish and chips I’ve ever seen (It takes a lot to beat the Waterford Arms at Seaton Sluice) chewed the fat more than somewhat, and ended up on some hideous ride/torture machine at the funfair. By then, we had met up with other staff, who though sober, still accompanied us. Poor Denise B. I’ve never seen anyone go soooo green

Then there was that memorable day in Valencia. Of all the people over the years who have said ‘I’ll pop across and see you, I’m only in Javea/Denia/Xativa/Valencia/Almeria/Extremadura/Santiago de Compostella/Wherever ….’ Clive and Sue (and Tim Brown) were the only ones who ever did – come to us I mean. We ate paella (which, if you have never had the real thing you have no idea …) To round off the day, I gave our eldest a dollar for the fruit machine, and he won the bloody jackpot ¡Ay caramba!

He loved the Simpsons, and in particular, Homer’s half-witted, lugbrious attempts to  be  a real father; wholly the opposite of Clive . I remember descriptions of his readings of bed time stories from ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ which were gripping enough to ‘reel – in’ neighbourhood kids and passers-by!

We laughed at the same kinds of things, both of us unashamedly cynical. But he never let his … ‘worldliness’ let’s call it, cloud his teaching. He was a great teacher to those who were prepared to listen – and often those who weren’t ….

Clive turned me on to Irvine Welsh, (when he was good) ‘The Watchmen’, which I read cover to cover. Not bad for someone who hates comic-books, while I used to love hearing his tale of how he booked Paul Simon to play at  the folk club he ran in Swindon. I assume this must have been 1965, when Simon was living over here. As Clive recalled, it was not long after this that with Art Garfunkel, (Quick check – yes it is spelt like that) he began to achieve his first major success.

Anyway, the story I am about to relate is true, and it happened  at a West London/Middlesex secondary comprehensive  during a friday morning staff meeting (A time when most present were still actually in a deep state of unconsciousness) Not Clive. No, I think Clive had been preparing himself for some time for that particular morning’s meeting; one which was to be chaired by the school’s First Deputy, Greg Hill.

Now, the reason that the responsibility for the weekly staff meeting – indeed the whole school, lay in Greg’s capable hands was that Headteacher, Dick Duggan, a man of principle and honour (if also worryingly long sideburns and crispy fried seaweed comb-over) was not in school, but attending the Hillingdon Association of Secondary Headteachers’ conference. Or ‘HASH’ as it was known. (I swear I’m not making this up)

Calling the meeting to order, with a most unfortunate turn of phrase which he to this very day swears blind was unintentional, Greg booms out:

‘Morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dick’s out’

To which, quick as a flash Clive replied:

‘Is that an order?’

Now, I don’t know whether you have ever seen a teacher spontaneously awake from a profound slumber; let alone half a roomful. It is not a pretty sight. It’s very funny, as those awake enough to get the joke first time – then watch the spectacle of their colleagues variously choking on dentures, hot tea, coffee, spilling same over weeks’ worth of marking, exam papers and in one or two cases even wetting themselves – will attest. Very, very funny.

But it is not a pretty sight.

Staff meetings, like assemblies are always worth staying awake for (if you can) in my experience, as it is often at these gatherings that you can make the ‘catch of the day’ And so, there you have it. A priceless moment from one of many. Sadly missed. Clive, this is for you with the hope that we may one day chew the fat again like we did down at Southsea.

I’ve looked at Life from both sides now

From win and lose and still somehow

It’s Life illusions I recall

I really don’t know life at all

© 1973 Warner Bros

*Parkinson’s –  if you are still trying to figure it out

© Andy Daly 2011

Dad to the rescue

My Dad is generally considered a safe pair of hands.

And rightly so.

After a lifetime spent in schools he has survived the slings and arrows of outrageous children (and one or two teachers) and remains to this day enthusiastic about Teaching. He enjoys being in the company of other people and is naturally inquisitive and quick-witted. He is fascinated by language and the links and connections that can be traced from one tongue to another. He will talk with anyone, especially if they speak a language other than English. He is brave and cool under pressure as demonstrated for instance as a younger man, in his climbing exploits and on the countless expeditions and treks he led or accompanied. As I have said before, I would have followed  him (and still would) to the ends of the earth without once feeling the need to look up and check whether he knew where we were going. However, once or twice, on occasions which hold legendary status in family annals, his ‘superhero cape of invincibility’ has got caught in the revolving door of human frailty.

He won’t thank me for this, but I’m going to share two examples with you.

Once upon a time we had a Vauxhall Viva. (Now there’s a sentence I never guessed I’d find myself writing)  Dreadful car. Looked a bit like a filing cabinet mounted onto a Wickes’ trolley. Me and my two brothers would sit in the back where, particularly on long car journeys we would pass the time by wrestling with each other. After which we would then wrestle with our own particular levels of travel sickness. A major cause of this, I was convinced were combustion fumes, which came up through the small exposed areas  between the gear lever and handbrake. Even with the windows open, this petro-chemical fug persisted  and was not eased by the clouds of tobacco smoke which billowed at regular intervals from the front of the car. My Dad was a heavy smoker (probably 40 a day) My Mum meanwhile, would have the odd one or two at the weekend, saint’s days, weddings, christenings etc.

 That’s it! That’s the bloody thing.

Vauxhall Viva 90 ‘De-luxe  Red’ (?) 1966

So we had this Vauxhall Viva. It began to cause us problems when one day it just stopped. On investigation, my Dad concluded it was  a fault with the fuel pump. Every now and then the vehicle would begin to lose revs, splutter then stop.

My dad had it sorted, all he needed to do whenever it happened, was remove the pipe from the carb feed, get his mush around it and suck the reluctant fuel from the pipe, initiating flow then re-attach: in much the same way as you might syphon off fuel from a vehicle (Oh yes, if any of my dad’s escapades resulted in useful skills/knowledge we were quick to assimilate. Nothing was ever lost. For instance this little gem of practical know-how proved exceptionally popular among my mates when we wanted to see if we could drive the JCB on a nearby building site and needed fuel to accomplish our goal)

While My Dad performed his mechanical wizardry, we would sit in the car, waiting with an uncomfortable mixture of  pity and eager anticipation of the “Yeeeuuck!” and spitting that followed and which signalled a mouthful of 4 star; but more importantly, that we would soon be on our way again.

We put up with this for about a month or so until one day my Dad decided, probably on the back of an outburst from my Mum, to do something about it.

My memory is clear, I can see the car parked on the driveway of our house, which incidentally had been inexplicably christened ‘El Genina’ by its previous owners.  After some exhaustive research recently I managed to find out that this mysterious name carved into the substantial chunk of wood that to this day, hangs on the right hand, front of the house means ‘The Genina’

Just on the left here

It was getting cold and light was fading. Why my Dad was attempting the repair so late in the day I don’t know. What I do know is that immediately he hit a stumbling block.

I am probably imagining this, but it seemed in our house, there were never any spare batteries for any of the implements, tools or toys which required them. Consequently when he went to the garage to grab a torch he found none of them working. However, as he turned to leave, his eyes happened on a box of candles, from which he took one, then a box of Swan Vesta matches from the drawer in the kitchen. He then went out into the quickly fading afternoon light.

I guess by five minutes later I was warming my chilled hands on fairly robust flames which were licking their way out of the engine recess of the Vauxhall Viva on the drive outside our house.

‘Quick phone the Fire Brigade!’

Shouted my Dad, presumably to my Mum, because that’s exactly what she did. In fact, I’ve a sneaking suspicion she began dialling as soon as she realised that he had taken a candle with him. In the meantime we had the fire under control, smothering it until finally it was extinguished. Quick thinking.

The candle, as you may have predicted, although undoubtedly in its element on a table with half a dozen place settings, or  to create a bit of atmosphere; on an altar with bread and wine, was not best suited to such close work of a mechanical nature. Or being in such a cramped space, where everything was liberally coated with petroleum, in air that hung heavy with fuel vapour.

Besides which, the bloody thing fell over before he had even started and went skittling down between the fuel pump and engine block.

‘What’s that? ….’ In the far distance, a siren.

‘Oh bloody hell it’s the Fire Brigade: Tell them it’s OK it’s all under control.’

Now I don’t know whether you are aware, but once the Fire Brigade log a call, they have to attend, regardless whether the emergency has been dealt with, and only when satisfied there is no further danger, can they return to the station. Sensible protocol, I have to admit. However, when you’ve got a fire tender, with the harsh noise of its diesel engine, (which they have left running, as they have the flashing blue lights:) its crew standing around on the pavement outside your house, and the whole neighbourhood out to watch the spectacle, you can’t help wishing they’d just disappear.

Much to our embarrassment, the whole  Son et lumière experience not only continues, but it gets worse.

‘Can we have a word Sir?’ a couple of the senior fire officers take my Dad to one side. My guess is it is not to confirm his entry in this year’s ‘Fire Safety’ awards.

‘Oh shite, here’s another one. We’ll never live this down’

A Fire Engine: In case you have forgotten what they look like

A second tender pulls up, the growling beast blocking the road now, causing even more disturbance. Its crew leap down. They huddle with the remainder of crew one, and talk conspiratorially, the occasional guffaw (I assume at my Dad’s expense) punctuating the evening air. Blue lights flicker, radio crackles. After what seems like days, in a flash, the firemen leap in, engines rev and they are gone. Leaving a street full of twitching curtains and diesel fumes in their wake.

To this day my Dad has never mentioned what it was the firemen said to him about his ‘candle capers’

And I’ve never asked.

‘Phew! That was close’ he said, finally after they had gone, looking uncannily like  Groucho Marx, an oily black smear across his
top lip, his eyebrows, black singed  and shapeless. All that was missing was the cigar …..

…. Christmas that same year, or it might have been the one before, or the one after; it doesn’t really matter. He had the cigar. It was definitely Christmas, because that was the only time he ever smoked cigars, and it was usually when my uncle and family came over to visit. He always brought cigars and thus, sets the backdrop to our second tale.

In which my Dad is smoking a cigar.

I love the smell of cigar smoke. To me it is Christmas.  I would watch intently as my uncle slowly and deliberately went through the ceremony of lighting up. (After first offering one to my Dad of course) To begin, he would prepare his ‘tools’: His cigar cutter – he favoured a guillotine type, with which he would remove the cap, which is the round piece of tobacco glued to the head to keep the wrapper together. The cap is added, during the hand-rolling process to keep it from unraveling and drying out. Matches – good quality; not paper matches or those on which the sulphur burned overlong.

Cigars are hygroscopic in nature. This means that they will, over time dry out when in a dry climate or absorb moisture in a humid one, and they continue to do so until their own moisture content matches that of the  ambient climate around them. A damp cigar will not burn properly. It will be difficult to draw on. The smoke may become too dense leaving the smoker with a sour taste and a rank aroma. Never mind his companions. A dry cigar, meanwhile, will burn too hot. the combustion temperature will be too high and the smoke hot and acrid  against the palate. Lost will be many of the subtle nuances of flavour; the smoke (and sometimes even the smoker) may become overly aggressive.  So they had to be right.  The cigar should not be too soft or squishy, it should only “give” a little. Neither should it be too dry or fragile. He would slowly roll the big Cuban between his thumb, index and forefingers, holding the cigar to his ear he would listen for the faint cracking sound which affirmed that it was in tip-top condition. Satisfied, he would then tap it and unwrap it … or was that the Terry’s Chocolate Orange? (I don’t know. I’m bloody making it up as I go along as usual.)

Anyway, whatever … It had a touch of class about it, back then in what was otherwise the cheap plastic/ K-Tel/ Watney’s Red Barrel/ Brentford Nylons mess known as ‘the early 1970s.’ The perfumed smoke spiralled and eddied around our front room and carried us off, away to exotic foreign climes. On return from which, us kids: me, my brothers and my cousins formed a disorderly queue to ‘have a drag’ which, of course was almost enough to make us throw up on the spot, but not before each of  us in turn had gone through a palette of sickly greens and greys. ‘Subtle nuances of flavour’? I thought – or would have done if I had known what it meant. ‘ That’s awful’. Which is why I to this day, love the smell of cigar smoke … as long as someone else is smoking them.

Slowly roll  between thumb, index and forefingers, listen for the faint cracking sound which affirms that it is in tip-top condition.

Then the Cretins descended upon us. The Cretins were a thoroughly disagreeable family from two doors down, who thought nothing about inviting themselves in and ransacking your house and spoiling whatever it was you were doing. Smart arse, whingeing, four-eyed, buck-toothed, no-neck little shit-cake bakers, they were all of them Gobshites, as we say in Old English. As I recall, there were three boys, possibly two of them twins. And a dopey sister. She was just as bad as the boys, only three weeks behind.

I remember being outside their house one time. The elder – Richard or maybe Nicholas was arguing with a younger brother over something minor and trivial, as the younger lad made to walk away, his sibling carefully and deliberately stuck out his foot to trip him over. Which he did, falling literally flat on his face. As he lifted his head up off the road (It was horrible really, but pure Tom and Jerry) and started that familiar deep inhalation which signalled an ear-curdling wail was on its way, I noticed to my horror that his two (new) front teeth were lying, snapped off like two pieces of chewing gum – fresh out of the pack on the tarmac before him

‘You bafftard’ he shouted after his vile brother, who was fast-disappearing  into the distance.

My cousins looked nonplussed as the Cretins took over. It seemed they wanted to play ‘Top Dog!’ A simple enough game, it was one they had invented themselves and entailed each in turn going through a list of their Christmas presents in order to decide ‘Who got the best stuff’ and whoever did – usually one of them – was winner or ‘Top Dog!’

Some five minutes later, Nicholas or maybe Richard was duly announced ‘Top Dog!’ by none other than himself. At their insistence we moved on to another version of the game in which ‘other significant possessions’ acquired during the course of the year were examined in the same way. This was one step too far for our relatives, who at this at this point bailed out.  Unfortunately, I for my part was not doing too well. My stuffed Jackdaw and birds’ egg collection had failed to ignite much interest. And while my signed photo of Barry Sheene was enough to raise a couple of eyebrows and reveal some buck teeth, it simply wasn’t in the same league as the sleek, formula 1 styled go cart, and Raleigh Chopper of the Cretins. However, the fishing tackle belonging to my brothers had a big impact. They demanded to see more.

In order to score the maximum visual effect, we decided to lay everything out in the front room so they might get a better view. This also meant that the handsome wicker fishing kreel (robust box or basket which serves to carry one’s gear, and once fishing, something sit upon.) could be emptied, fully inspected and admired.

Much in the style of a ‘table top’ jumble or car boot sale, all the items were presented on the carpet in their full glory. Reels, line, lead shot and ledgers, disgorger, bait tins, hooks, flies and spinners. Spinners! those ingenious devices of painted or enamelled metal or wood, designed so that when dragged through the water by the ‘reeling in’ action of the fisherman, they mimic the colouring, marking and most clever of all, the movement characteristics of small fish or water animals in order to catch a bigger fish.

Spinner. Looks great. We never caught anything with them.

‘Let us look’ screeched a Cretin and snatched the Spinner I happened to be holding, and which was tied to a line (and rod) ready to fish. ‘Wassis?’ He demanded, so I explained.

It was a close call, but in the end, there was no doubt: A Scalextric, Subbuteo (with floodlights) plus an Action Man with a German uniform. We had no chance. Richard or Nicholas was pronounced winner and immediately demanded his ‘prize’. What prize? There was a long pause, followed by that familiar deep inhalation which signalled an ear-curdling wail was on its way. ‘Oh your Prize …. Ahhhh, Now then ..’  I hesitated, then suddenly had a great idea. In keeping with smoking etiquette, my Dad and my Uncle had left long butts on their now-extinguished cigars. Of course  it is deemed to be bad form’ to smoke the cigar so that it burns close to its head. Each still had a good  four inches of  ‘smokeable’ tobacco’ . I glanced at the remnants in ash trays on the table. My brothers seemed to have cottoned on. It didn’t take long to convince the Cretins that with their ‘prize’  they had struck smoking gold. With a handful of matches, they were packed off home with their ‘prize’, via the back of next door’s garage, where, (as we hoped) they ‘sparked up’ the cigar butts. Now they may have been experienced cigarette smokers, but they were unprepared for the searing, burning of their throats and lungs, when as we had instructed them, they drew the cigar smoke in as deep as they could and held it. Whereupon each of  them in turn went through a palette of sickly greens and greys and threw up.

Of course you don’t, as a rule, inhale cigar smoke.

Later that afternoon, my Dad and my Uncle indulged themselves in a second cigar.

Once again the room became host to the spirals and eddies of thick tobacco smoke. But he post-meal quietude was suddenly shattered with a curse and a yelp of pain. My younger brother was hopping about, one foot in the air.  Oh bugger! The fishing tackle! One of the Cretins had left a ‘spinner’ on the carpet. It was the ‘business-end’ of one of these handsome objects consisting of three hooks, which was now tightly embedded in my brother’s foot and source of all the mayhem.

After lengthy attempts to remove it (unsuccessfully) and a lot of cursing by my brother (successfully, in as much as he selected appropriate words – some of which we didn’t even know he knew, and used them in an appropriate context) the only solution was a visit to Casualty concluded my Dad.

So my brother was bundled up in a blanket, injured foot hanging out and some 6 inches or so of fishing line (now cut from the rod you will be pleased to know) dangling from the offending hook and carried out to the car, nobly by my Dad, second cigar still clenched between his lips/teeth, much in the manner of an American comic-book war hero. Once alongside the car (yes, that’s the self-same Vauxhall Viva we all know and love.) my Dad, carefully stoops down to hand my lame sibling into the vehicle. However, as he does so, to add insult to injury – or more properly injury to injury – his cigar end is brought into sudden and painful contact with the forehead of my stricken brother, causing a handsome burn as it does so.

‘Not to worry …’ assures my Dad ‘… They can look at it while they do your foot’

Whereupon, he climbs in, shuts the door and starts the car. It fires up, he backs out of the driveway, and with a glance back at my brother to check his condition, my Dad puts his foot down: destination Hospital. At which the car loses revs, begins to splutter and stops …

© Andy Daly 2011

Pic Credits: Google Earth,,,

Wonders will never cease.

I once taught a boy called Roque (Pron. ‘Rrro – keh’) He insisted, as did his mother too, that it was to be pronounced ‘Rocky’ (as in ‘Balboa’  – Stallone, you remember?  The film about the boxer … the one with the music) Well this lad Roque was a real shit. Very bright, but extremely disruptive.  He was skilled at orchestrating chaos. I had loads of bust ups with him over the years and had to withdraw him from numerous lessons in the department. He was always in trouble, and it was always something unpleasant: like bullying, or swearing at a member of staff. He was no Artful Dodger, no ‘loveable’ villain. He was a nasty piece of work; and from the ‘knowing glances’ he would now and again shoot you, he knew it and revelled in it

He wasn’t my favourite character, I have to say. I didn’t like teaching him or as a result, sadly, the class he was in. I just grit my teeth before every lesson and went into battle, trying never to lose my sense of humour. The Parkinson’s was begining to ‘bite’ by then, so it was difficult. I wasn’t what I once was. However, I do remember on his last day at school, he insisted on having a picture taken with me – much to his friends’ astonishment (and mine!)

When they sneeringly asked why, he just said ‘Oh he’s alright he is …’

Anyway, it comes up just before Christmas time that I am at the local petrol station. I’ve just put my twenty quids worth in (They don’t bother with the pumps nowadays – they just leave a thimble next to the tank and let you get on with it ) when I noticed said Roque (pron ‘Rocky’) inside the shop. He had just paid and was about to leave. I was very self-conscious because I was a bit ‘Dyskinetic’ (fidgety uncontrolled movements; a Parkinson’s drug, Leva-Dopa side effect,) nevertheless I plough on.

“How’re you doing?” He says, genuinely pleased to see me “You’ll never guess what I’m doing” He was right. I couldn’t. “I’m at uni” He said proudly. “Good for you” I said, genuinely pleased, which I was.

“Yeah” He says, “It’s really hard, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stick it out, but I’m going to try” (I’m not altogether sure to what he was referring here – the work, the drinking, the late nights …) He asked about me, so I told him about the Parkinson’s, the early retirement, the battles with drug side effects People only ever ask me  once. He listens intently.

“That’s bad news, I’m really sorry. You know, you were alright, you. I’m really sorry”

Then suddenly out of the blue, he hugs me! … Not a limp, insipid hug – like a wet raincoat, but a robust, manly, thumping on the back to signal It’s ‘Time To Release’ sort of hug.

And with that he was gone! The cashier had to come out from behind the till, slap my fallen jaw back up into place and take my twenty quid. It was a good five minutes before I could move. Amazing!

Wonders will never cease.

© Andy Daly  2010

Not so funny…

I have this dream.

I am on an ugly, filthy, rusty ship with a vile crew of criminals and murderers. These aren’t comic-book or movie characters, these are the real deal. They bristle with aggression and violence and you know they would cut your throat as soon as look at you and feel no remorse.

There are no friends on this ship.

I am standing on deck looking back at the shore where I can just about make out my wife, with our two boys: standing together looking out towards the ship, and occasionally waving (although it is clear that while the ship may still be in view, no longer can they see me)

For my part, I am frantically waving, trying to get their attention. The story is that I’ve been press-ganged. Sitting innocently in a dockside bar I have been attacked and kidnapped, forced aboard this putrid vessel and put to work as a cabin-hand by day, chained to the deck rails by night. Forced against my will to work and fight as a member of this pirate crew.

But my family don’t know this. As far as they are aware, I have just taken myself off, possibly in search of some kind of adventure.  Never to return.  I will disappear. Missing – presumed dead.

As she and the boys begin to slip out of sight, I realise that for some strange reason, I can still clearly hear them, although when I try shouting out. It has no effect.

“Where’s Dad gone?” The Boys keep asking

“Why has he left us?”

“Is he coming back?

“Are we going to go too?”

She sighs “I don’t know, I don’t know … Come on … we had better get back …”

I shout and I shout “I love you, I’ll be back, don’t give up on me …”

But it’s of no use. They can’t hear me.

They become ever smaller dots on the shore until finally they disappear from sight and my ship of horrors slips into the inky blackness.

I am still waving and shouting.

Cry? No. If I started I’d never stop.

 © Andy Daly  2010

Happy Birthday


On this day during the course of the 1960s (No, I’m not going to tell you which year) a little girl was born in an imposing ‘finca’ close to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (or town hall square) in Valencia, that glittering jewel in the Spanish crown. The youngest of five children, born into the family of a hardworking and respected couple, from Alcoy near Alicante. She grew up resilient and resourceful: hardly surprising considering the competition – three brothers, the eldest of which was 15 when she was born.

To have an apartment in such a sought-after area of the city was a measure of how far her parents had come as individuals, and then as a family since the end of the unbearably bitter Civil War. They had known hardship, privation, hunger, internment, forced labour, the pain of loss, not least,  a brother commited to the opposition in the miserable frozen wastes of Teruel. Yes, this is Spain, everybody’s sunny summer playground. We tend to forget …

Of course, I knew none of this, when I made my first hapless attempts to get to know her better in the staffroom of a West London school.  In contrast, yours truly was born later that same year in a particularly grim area of the industrial North of England. Our respective environments could not have been more different. Around the corner from the ‘finca’ the graceful Plaza with its palm trees and fountains, site of the ‘mascleta’ (You have to see and feel this. Calling it a ‘display of firecrackers’ or somesuch really doesn’t  do it justice. It is immense) You don’t need to walk too far before you come upon the old dry river course, its bridges and boat moorings still intact. Quite different from the ribbon of brown slurry that passed for a river and was such a feature of my journey to school as a child. Then there is the ‘Micalet’ and the handsome central market and the smells!  Of sea, the earth, the orange blossom.

The smells which characterised 1960s Huddersfield? I think we’ll draw a graceful  curtain over that.

I could go on (and on)

And the point of all this? I just wanted to say that despite everything, I never forget, and


© Andy Daly  2010

Wildlife Photography


In which a family of kingfishers manage to trick a former Art teacher into rejecting a process-led model as a metanarrative of a discredited Modernist formal orthodoxy. It also features some spectacular stunt flying, courtesy of the Red Sparrows.

It has slowly become apparent to me that I’ve been had. Done over.  Hook, line and sinker, I have been stitched up like a kipper by … a family of kingfishers

Why? Because I have failed to listen to my own best advice and have allowed myself to be seduced by Product at the expense of Process. I know! …  Me! The Process Kid! ….Me! who has spent a lifetime  teaching a process-based model (I’m getting more and more angry as I write this) Me! a signed and fully paid up champion of a process-led aesthetic. I can’t believe it. Tricked, out-witted and out-manouvered … by a family of bloody kingfishers. I mean, they’re only 6 inches tall with a brain the size of a pea!

The Readers Digest Book of British Birds describes them as ‘mainly sedentary’ and confines the bulk of its entry to an almost obsessive interest in the spectacular colouring, superlative flying, and dramatic diving. Ha! Where are the warnings that this orange and blue – alright – ‘turquoise’ critter will quite happily lead the unwary out onto one of the most treacherous visual arts battlefields of the Modernist era and leave you beaten and bloodied for your troubles? Where does it suggest that it might be wise to re-aquaint yourself with Walter Benjamin before you go birdwatching?

Here is my story.

I take my bike from out of the shed and leave the house I share with my wife and two children, at work and school respectively. And why do I do this? … well … it’s because  we’ve got the bloody builders in. They have just ‘knocked through’. Any sign of a dustsheet? No! Any respect for personal space? No! Any interest in the fact that I too may have some objectives I’d like to acomplish –  preferably before sunset and so therefore really cannot  spare the time to make another cup of tea and listen to another ‘Clumsy Tony’ anecdote. No!

So I’m going for a bike ride to escape, because if I hear that fucking dopey roofer sing ‘Karma bloody Chameleon’ one more time I swear I’m going to pound his brains to mush with one of his own roofing tiles.

And so to the park (tip) at the end of our road.

Just listen to that … Silence! … (Well silence that  is if you filter out the playground noise from the school, the trains passing on the Met. line, the plane landing at Northolt, the coarse chatter of the jackhammer from … Oh gawd!..  Our house by the sound of it)

And so I’m off. A quick three lap burn up of the ‘Nature Reserve’ This presents a major test of skill and nerve as you try to avoid the dog crap everywhere, and today? … well, let’s head off down past the park and along the brook (sewer) and back again.

I’ve got to say, all joking apart, that in the dappled sunlight under a flaming canopy of Horse Chestnut, Ash, Hazel and a couple of Oak and Beech, it is extraordinarily beautiful down here … and quiet. The Parrots look a bit out of place though. There’s a … (collective noun for parrots? a squawk? –  sounds alright) There’s a squawk of parrots, about 6 in total who divide their time between the park and the big old tree behind our house. Escapees, I guess. A novelty at first, they are now right up there with the dopey roofer on my hate list courtesy of the bloody awful racket they make: that’s all seven of them.

I am just imagining what roast parrot might taste like and indeed how it might compare with roast roofer (I suspect a parrot, no matter how well fed might present a challenge in feeding a family of four. The roofer, on the other hand has been nicely looked after and …)

Bloody Hell! See that? A kingfisher! Brilliant!

Wonderful! One of my favourite birds as a child. Not that I ever saw more than about three. Seeing a kingfisher gave me an electric thrill (and still does) as the streak of sapphire and orange flashed past, seemingly unconcerned, but busy nevertheless.

Who would have thought it?  On smelly Yeading Brook. I saw it again the following day and again and again. I was surprised talking to local dogwalkers, regulars along the brookside path, that although ‘vaguely aware’ of the bird’s existence at some time or other, no-one had seen it (or them) this season. Yet I, having begun to observe the bird’s pattern of behaviour and favourite branches on which to perch, saw it two, sometimes three times a visit.

I resolved to bring my camera, which I did (oh how I rue the day!) There was a lot of activity that morning: I’d seen it two or three times – It had of course occurred to me that there could be more than one: a pair? I was on the verge of leaving when right out of the blue/turquoise/saphhire whatever you want to call it, close by the lower entrance to the park it landed on a branch overlooking a bend in the brook. It was about 70 yards away. Against all odds, which included a standard 50mm lens – no telephoto and uncontrollable shaking as I tried to focus (In fact, if the truth be known, I had a quite incomplete grasp of the procedures for focussing my Canon 450D for having had it for two months, I was too lazy to have read the instruction manual) The shot was an accident: I was pressing the button for a meter reading and overdid it. I got another one in, but with a shutter sound like a skoda car door slamming – that was it. The kingfisher was off!


Can you spot it?

 But I had it! After thoroughly testing the image manipulation giant that is Photoshop CS3 (Extended) I had it!  Okay, it wasn’t exactly David Attenborough: but then I wasn’t on his kind of money.You had to look hard deep into a mess of trees, riverbank, undergrowth but there it was the unmistakeable shape of a kingfisher. Ha! I was about to prove to everyone that this was no fig roll of my imagination…

But it was also to prove my undoing … My dissatisfaction with the quality of my kingfisher picture,  which despite all the power of Photoshop was still grainy and fuzzy, began to be replaced by a growing conviction that here was an opportunity to extend my range as a budding photographer. Yes! It was time to move on from those interminable artsy ‘coffee table book’ guitar pictures(  in case you’re interested. I accept Pay Pal and all major credit cards) Let’s face it, any clot with a serviceable camera and a spotlamp could do them – you just had to remember, Do ‘em in black and white and don’t forget: Loads of shadows! No: this was real photography: wildlife photography.

And here, dear reader is where the wheels began to come off. I can hear myself thinking, althoughI never actually uttered the words, but sure enough, like so many of my wayward students over the years I thought them. Words which are enough plunge even the most experienced, hard-bitten, battle-scarred Art teacher into a trough of despair:

“But I know exactly what it’s going to look like”

I know, I know …. Me, the Process Kid! As I sit now staring at words on the screen I can barely believe it. But there I was, a week later, armed with a telephoto lens (courtesy of E Bay. Incidentally, I picked up a delightful plaster cast of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and a complete Morris Marina workhop manual at the same time. Who says it’s a Global Car Boot Sale eh?) and assorted camouflage garments, more usually associated with members of fanatical paramilitary active service cells: ready to do battle with the kingfishers for the ultimate Kingfisher photograph ….

[A small hollow in a sandy bank overlooking Yeading Brook and a family of Kingfishers are sitting around, reading the morning papers and childrens’ comic supplements]

Oh God! Here he is again!

Who’s here again, Darling?

That idiot. You know, the one with the camera.

The one with the wooly hat? You’re too hard on him. You should stop teasing him and leave him in peace.

Leave him in peace? What about us? What about him leaving us in peace? I’ll leave him alone when he stops invading our privacy. Three times last week…three times. You know what I’m like about my fishing –

[The children pipe up] Oh yes! We all know what you’re like about your fishing. We’re not allowed to talk..

We’re not even allowed to breathe!

Now, you two, come on…What your father is saying is that he just enjoys his privacy..

Exactly! Alone. So I can think and unwind and relax. Without having some half-baked would-be ‘wildlife photographer’ sticking his zoom lenses into my beak. And anyway, where do you think your meals would come from if I weren’t allowed to ‘dip this beak’ unhindered?

I caught one yesterday!

That was not a Minnow.

What was it then?

Well, it wasn’t a fish … Now let’s leave it at that … Oh God!

What is it now? You’re ever so tetchy these days…

It’s those bloody parrots, again. I wish someone would sort them out…send them back to where they came from.

But Dear, you can’t say that…

I just did. Okay! So who’s coming to have a bit of fun with old ‘David Attenborough’ then?





Yes, sunshine?

Do you think he knows there’s five of us?

Hmmmmm…Difficult to say… I think he knows there are at least two.

Remember yesterday, when you and Mum had already gone up to bend in the river with the wooden platform, but when I flew past, he went in the opposite direction?

Yes, that was odd. I just don’t think he’s very observant.

…He’s always half asleep

Yes, I’ve noticed that, Dear. I don’t think he gets enough rest…

Rest?! Oh for pity’s sake woman, we need to get rid of him, not mother him. I want my peace and quiet back.

Dad! Let’s try and get him to drop his big camera into the river


And how are you going to do that?

Oh it’ll be well easy … Did you see when he dropped his hat in the river?

That’s right:  So far …Let’s see …  His gloves went in….

… his hat …

… (Twice) …

… His lens cap …

… and he got bitten by a dog! …

[Together] Twice!

It is easy! All you’ve got to do is make him wait till he starts to get tired…

It’s best to sit quite high up

… and behind him. He still thinks we only ever fly or perch low along the course of the river.

Watch him. Watch his shoulders.  After a while he starts to go into this position and his shoulders hunch over.

What’s ‘hunch’?

Y’know, go all rounded

Then it’s time to fly… Straight at him if you can


He goes all shaky! It’s dead funny.

Okay? We all ready? You staying here, Love?  Oh! Before I forget, I’ve left an article out for you… might like to read it. I thought it was quite good. It’s a frank new appraisal of Benjamin’s ‘Work of Art In An Age Of Mechanical Reproduction’ In fact, I think it will throw more light onto the near polarisation of the visual arts and the acendency of a Post Modern,  pluralist aesthetic for the end of the twentieth century. See what you think. Okay kids? We off?

Chocks away!

[Some weeks later. The Builders have now gone]

                                                               …. ready to do battle with the kingfishers for the ultimate Kingfisher photograph.

 [Reader]: So?


[Reader]: So where is it?


[Reader]: The ‘Ultimate Kingfisher Photograph’?

You see, people don’t realise just how difficult wildlife photography is. They just think that the photographer turns up, whips out their camera, Click! Click! Home in time for tea and crumpets. No way! It requires methodical planning, deep knowledge of the habits and environment of the subject and consumate camera skills. Never mind thinking … aperture?… exposure?… focus? … ooops, lens cap off … when there’s a kingfisher flying at you. It needs to be instinctive … it’s raw!…It’s man versus beast in an extreme and hostile environment.

[Reader]: ‘Extreme and hostile’? What? Yeading Brook? In Roxborne Park?

Yeah … err … it’s pretty hostile. I came close to losing my hat in the drink on one occasion.

***   Kingfishers 1 ‘David Attenborough’ 0   *** 

 [Reader]: So how long have you been waiting for this ‘ultimate photograph?

Let’s see, where are we now? March .. That will make it uhmm …  Five months … it’ll be five months

***   Kingfishers 2 ‘David Attenborough’ 0   ***

 [Reader]: And how many pictures have you taken?

Oooooohhhh loads!

[Reader]: Of kingfishers?


***   Kingfishers 3 ‘David Attenborough’ 0   *** 

[Reader]: So your original image and two new ones?

Ahhh ..  No. My … errr…original shot and one new one.

***   Kingfishers 4 ‘David Attenborough’ 0   ***

 [Reader]:  It must be spectacular … the other one? It must be if it’s your ‘ultmate kingfisher photo’ Can you describe it? I’m fascinated by the notion of it being a battle between man and nature in order to wrest the image you want exactly as you thought it was going to look. That must be some result eh? The suspense is killing me … Thanks … No, don’t see it. Ahhh! That’s because I’ve got it upside down … no wait …. No, Still don’t see it ……..what the hell am I looking at?

Well … can you just see behind that branch…?

[Reader]: You mean that blurry brown line?

Hmmmmm…It’s that spot of blue …. Juuuusssssst ……. there!

*** Game Set and Match: Kingfishers ***    


Never has the pursuit of artistic endeavour so exausted me. Never has so much time been invested for such little reward. How could I let myself walk into such an obvious trap? One which, because of my training and experience I should have spotted from the outset.

My ‘Ultimate Kingfisher Photograph’ hangs on the chimney breast (I tell people it’s one of a series of abstract paintings I’m working on – sort of diffused spatial enquiries … ‘Yes, they can sometimes look like out of focus photographs. I’m glad you spotted that’) My misery is complete when the Dopey Roofer decides he likes it and offers to buy it.  It reminds him of the lighting effects used at last year’s Ministry of Sound New Year Party. ‘It was sick man, I’m tellin’ yah I was well out of it’.

I let it go for £5:49 with which I buy a new wooly hat. The house is cold and lonely, the wind whistles through the gap in the front door, making a sound like a maddened wailing banshee. I’m beginning to miss the builders … they weren’t that bad after all.


Cause of all the trouble


The Ultimate Kingfisher Photograph’


If you have been affected by any of the issues in this post, call 0800 4746 4746 to talk in confidence

© Andy Daly  2010