Newcastle United And The Spectacle At St. James’ – Coat Tales 2

As you will know, if you read ‘Coat Tales Part 1’  ‘Once upon a Tyne’ I used to live in Newcastle as a student. I loved the city and it remains what I continue to consider my adoptive home. It is more than just a collection of buildings whose coming together, the happy result of topography, suitable materials and human ingenuity: the realisation of the vision of generations of Tyneside dwellers – spectacular though they may be. It is the people, their character, wit, their homespun philosophies, their generosities. Pah! I’m getting nowhere near explaining it. It is intangible – but you know what it was when you feel it. Yes, it was with a very heavy heart that I left ‘The Toon’, more years ago than I care to remember to move down to ‘The Smurk’ (‘The Smoke’) or London as it was otherwise known.  – not a hint of irony. Never to return. Not as a resident at least anyway. Now then, I could wax lyrical about Newcastle all day but I think you get the picture…. We best move on.

Newcastle United

It’s such a cliché when people rattle on about



…. Yadda yadda…

St. James’ Park today

It’s the same everywhere. Newcastle is nothing special in this respect. People are always proud of their local club and project on to it their dreams, aspirations, hopes and so on. In 1981, I wasn’t a particularly active football supporter/watcher. I was fairly rootless having moved about more than somewhat and didn’t particularly feel inclined to devote my attentions to one club or another, or shell out the kind of potatoes necessary to watch them play at close quarters. In fact, it was to be another ten years before this little bug got its teeth into me in, of all places, Valencia in Spain, where the hallowed turf (yes, I am being ironic) of Mestalla, became the focus of my footballing obsessions. I found Valencia C. F.’s stadium with its vertigo-inducing steep stands or ‘gradas’ was on match day, host to  the most exhilarating of experiences and it was, I am pleased to say the first place my kids saw professional football played. Very different to my experiences in England.  (Hopefully you will have noticed and approve my refusal to apply the over-used word ‘passion’ here)

St. James’ Park in the 1970s

St. James’ Park

And so to St. James’ Park, Newcastle. Season 1981-2. Of course it looked very different back in 1981. The covered East stand had been added in 1973 – still, (but only just) allowing a handful of the adjacent University – owned student flats an uninterrupted view of the pitch. On saturdays these ample but basic living spaces contravened just about every Housing Health and Safety regulation going as hundreds of people crammed themselves inside and pressed their faces to the windows.

‘Wor Kev 1982. Leazes Terrace in background. Keegan’s perm remains calm under pressure in front of goal

The Gallowgate (Home) End was still uncovered. Almost immediately out of the Gallowgate End was popular stopping off point, before and after matches, The Strawberry. A basic no-frills town centre boozer – It was just my type. In fact I used it a lot. It was one of my favourites. Not that there was much choice. Having been thoroughly spoiled during the course of my early drinking career by the sheer variety of great beers and pubs within easy stumbling distance from my home in Rochdale, Lancashire, the North East was a sorry let down. It was gripped in the iron Scottish and Newcastle fist; the result of which was every pub sold the same fizzy shite. And as if that weren’t enough, living in Fenham we were near enough to the brewery to be able to smell it being made every week. If you were lucky you might find a 70 or 80 shillings (Mc Ewans), and very occasionally something like Belhavens, otherwise it was the ubiquitous Newcastle ‘Broon’ (Brown), Scotch bitter, or, if you were in a club, possibly a pint of Federation Brewery’s ‘Fed’  which was brewed for workingmens’ clubs as opposed to pubs.

The Strawberry: ‘Pint a Scotch, Pet’ 

The Strawberry

And so it was that on a chilly Saturday afternoon 21st November 1981 we found ourselves crammed like sardines into The Strawberry. About to present ourselves as paying customers at the St. James’ turnstiles for the Home League Division Two fixture, Newcastle United vs. Luton Town. That season’s eventual league winners, as it happens. Why we went to see this particular match is a complete mystery to me. The ‘we’ in question  is Yours Truly, Keith and Nige. We met during our first week in Newcastle, and have been firm friends ever since. We lived together (I nearly wrote ‘in peace and harmony….’) at 72, Sutherland Avenue, Fenham, in the city’s West End, 1980 -83 and had a blast .

 Anyway, there we were, in the Strawberry, Keith conscious of damping down his Merseyside accent lest it should attract attention, while Nige (originally from Durham and therefore, out of all of us the one with the most ‘right’ to be there) chattered away with his faint East Anglian twang: result of a few years in Norwich, while Yours Truly mumbled as always in my Lancs/Yorks hodge-podge. As long as we weren’t mistaken for ‘Makkums’* that was the main thing.

The ‘Makkum’ is the Geordie’s sworn and mortal enemy, the embodiment of everything the North Easterner detests about the South East and the people who live there. Or Sunderland and Makkums as they are respectively known.

The Strawberry is heaving now. Full of male bodies clad in denim (Geordie Jeans) Checked shirts, T-shirts, Fred Perry’s, Docs and trainers. This was before the era of the replica shirt, but some were sporting black and white football tops. It is a good-natured crowd with more than a few genuinely hilarious characters who entertain us while we make a series of concerted efforts to get served. The pub is at full capacity. The only way we can get a drink is to wait patiently till someone leaves. Briefly the pressure in the building drops (more so if a group depart) There is a hissing sound, like air from a leaking tyre or footy: a big ‘sigh’ almost, indicating to occupants inside the possibility of movement. People peel themselves away from their neighbours and continue their assaults on the bar until the next arrivals restore maximum capacity again and everyone is glued together, immobile until the next punters choose to leave.

Conversation is becoming impossible, both because of the cacophony and the fact that we are separated by yards, trapped by other groups, who are for all we know trapped by other groups. We finish off our beers and head for the stadium. Two minutes thirty seconds from pub to turnstile. We pop our heads into the toilets on the way in. Now would be a good time to go, and would save later heart (and bladder) ache. But the nauseating wall of smell and unsightly scrum within is enough to stop us dead in our tracks, and turn swiftly on our heels. As if it would have made any difference anyway. We still would  require several mid-match visits, given the amount we had drunk and the timeframe in which we had done it. Finally, we stumble out into the watery afternoon light, and a packed  Gallowgate End. ‘As long as we aren’t mistaken for ‘Makkums’ I pray.

Where have all the Magpies gone? an unfancied fixture during the Second Division ‘doldrum years’

The Match

What then took place was typical of my experiences of going to football in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, notwithstanding some epic matches with My Best Mate Aky: Man U vs. Barcelona European Cup Winners Cup quarter-final, second leg, for instance. No, today I find it irritating, being buffeted by a large, and in turns, genial then menacing crowd: all the time struggling to see what was going on. (Something which on a Friday or Saturday night watching a live band I’d be right in the middle of, loving every minute) I am also freezing cold while the ‘Toon’ army sport bare chests and vests. To top it all off, unable to move due to the dense mass of bodies I am encased in, and so from five minutes after kick off onwards I suffer excruciating bladder pain as I strain to hold back what must now be close to half a gallon of processed alcohol etc. I knew it. I should have gone when I had the chance.

I had given up on the donkey jacket (Coat Tales1) by now and was sporting a normally cosy ensemble of Levi denim jacket and MA1 flying jacket. If nothing else, at least the MA1 jacket design made it harder for someone to piss in your pocket. A nice little souvenier to bring back with you from the football and no mistake. Speaking of which (coats and jackets I mean) Keith has a dark double-breasted greatcoat, with something of a naval cut about it and Nige, a bomber jacket.

Phoarrr! Look at that lasses. A genuine Tyne bloater.

I almost forgot … What a match! Newcastle flounder, on the backfoot for much of the game. Luton lead 1 – 2 until a magnificent final ten minutes in which the Geordies manage to put two past the visitors, including a last-minute winner. The tension unbearable. The explosion of relief at the final whisitle, unbelievable. Imre Varadi gets one, Alan Brown – irony of ironies, a loan signing from … ‘The Makkums’ – Sunderland no less, bagging a brace! Final score: Newcastle United 3, Luton Town 2.

Varadi: who didn’t he play for?

The place erupted. Twenty thousand (give or take a few) Geordies celebrate a famous victory. I am overjoyed: I might just make it to the toilets without major incident. Keith and Nige were jumping on the spot. We embraced and were embraced by high-spirited/drunken Newcastle United fans: ‘What a finish!’

Spectacle Case

Now, I didn’t actually hear the sound of crunching glass. The roar of the crowd was too strong. Keith said he felt it underfoot, but didn’t realise what it was. Then I saw it, or rather them, or rather what was left of them. For as he celebrated equally the Newcastle side’s powers of recovery and relief at a decent game seen; unbeknown to Keith, his glasses, which were not in a case, had slipped from his greatcoat pocket onto the terrace, where his feet demolished them with surprising efficiency.

Keith’s specs. Or what was left of them

He managed to recover them – Not an easy thing to do as 20,000 people suddenly decide ‘ Howay. Pub, club, home?’ All destinations which seem to involve trampling through just where you’re standing. We make a bee line for the exits via the toilets (I would have risked the grottiest, smelliest, disease-ridden facilities by this stage) Finally, we make it out of the ground and Keith shows us his glasses. In an admirable display of empathy and support for a colleague in trouble, we are left momentarily disabled by fits of laughter as he stands clutching the most comically mangled pair of spectacles.

At least they didn’t mistake us for Makkums!

 © Andy Daly  2010

* Author’s note 1: I am aware of the numerous variations in the spelling of the word, (usually ‘Mackems’) but I am going with my favourite: as seen graffittied on a wall in the centre of Newcastle, c.1981 – ‘Makkum’

Author’s note 2: Apologies for the amount of updates/corrections on this post. Normal service will be resumed forthwith.

Which Reminds Me

A re-issue, by Timeless Classics. First published in January 2010

Once upon a long time ago, we had a French friend who was at the dinner table
with her boyfriend’s parents  for the first time. “Oh I say are you alright
Chantelle?” asked the concerned hostess as Chantelle appeared to choke on her food. Keen to impress with (as ever) with her wide vocabulary she replies
“Oh yes, I’ve just got something stuck in my clitoris!”

Of course she meant epiglottis!


© Andy Daly  2010

Timeless Classics presents “Mirror, Mirror”

(First published Feb 2010)

Not suitable for young children, the squeamish or those of a nervous disposition. “Celebrity Big Brother” on at the time was the prompt. 

There’s been a lot of talk about ‘Male Banter’ recently.

It’s been the final week of the last ever ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ and as ever I’ve been glued to it. Can’t fathom it really, because normally I have zero interest in the lives of the rich and famous, but it’s just fascinating watching ‘Celebrities’ out of their little comfort zones, being told what to do, being given menial and degrading tasks to do (I pass on the disgusting eating tests: a bridge too far, personally) and sometimes even reaching meltdown on live TV.

 Well, the final few hours of ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ 2010 seems to have been notable (If you believe all the pundits, commentators and hangers-on etc.) for the quality of ‘banter’ between remaining male contestants who outnumbered sole female Stephanie Beecham 4 to 1. They were Vinnie Jones (Ex-footballer/Actor), Alex Reid (Cagefighter/boyfriend to Katie Price/’Jordan’), Dane Bowers (Ex-Boyband member: I forget which) and Jonas Somebody or other (Swedish ‘Euro-Pop’ Recording Artist)

 From where I was sitting, it was decidedly average. Unless I was somehow sitting in a parallel universe and watching a complete simulacrum of the ‘real’ Big Brother … or was it?… but I digress, the point is that I didn’t find the ‘Male Banter’ on offer all that good. Especially when I compare it to banter, jokes and laughs I   have enjoyed, courtesy of some of the lads who drifted in and out of my life, particularly during the early/mid eighties. As well as My Best Mate Aky, people like Skull Murphy, Stig, Gibbo, the Baron, Andy Kav, Jonah, Mo the Header, Dinks, Glenn, Wayne, Peadar, Arthur, Ken, Rob, Bouncing Bob, Chawkey Neil and Wiz. Compared to some of the comments, insults, antics and tall tales from this little lot over the years, the ‘Big Brother’ quartet would have been found sorely wanting.

 It was while mulling over some of the highlights of these hangover-stained years (eg. “The Great White Chief” stopped by Police on Waterloo Bridge at two in the morning, drunk as a monkey, driving – if you can call it that – without lights, The Baron’s drunken sleepwalking escapades, one of which lead him, semi-naked, out of his flat and all the way down onto the Mile End Road to ‘Get the bus for work’ at eleven o’clock in the evening, A 21st Birthday Party at ‘The Ukranian Club’ in Rochdale, coming home from which we got ‘lost’ less than 200 yards from the house in which My Best Mate Aky had lived in all his life, Chawkey ironing his stomach etc etc) that I was reminded of the tale of Dinks’ anus. I will never forget him telling me this story and the helpless laughter it left me with, and for which I only have to recall the story’s dénouement to have it re-kindled.

 Dinks, despite being from ‘Sheff’ (Sheffield) was a smashing bloke. Bit of a nuisance when he was drunk; but then so are a lot of people. He had a tendency to square up to, or a wish to discuss the finer points of issues with Lads (and sometimes Ladies) of considerably bigger build, and who seemed to have an air of greater ‘combat experience’ behind them. He was never a great-looker, bless him (Use these words to form a sentence of your own: Pot, Black, Call, Kettle)  the last time I saw him, he wore baggy (as in no arse at all) army surplus trousers, a Sex Pistols T-shirt and a denim jacket. His head was shaved, revealing an angry lunar landscape of spots, blackheads and acne scars. His only hair, bleached, sprouted from a point to the front of his crown, and for the most part dangled down over his eyes and face.

 “Did I ever tell y’t’ story of when I saw me oan arsehole?” He asked one day in the pub, apropos of nothing.

“Well, I were on’t’ bus comin’ oam fr-fr- fr-fr- frum college one dinner time…” (he stammered too)

 I was immediately hooked and listened intently.

“Aye, I were on this bus, when I thowat: Y’ knurr, twenteh too yeayurs on th-th-th-th-this planet and I’ve n-n-n-n-n-never seen me oan arsehole.”

Then and there, Dinks resolved to do something about it. He hatched a plan. What sort of bizarre meanderings and tortured thought processes lead a human mind to close focus of such an issue is beyond me. However, unimpeded by such concerns, the intrepid Dinks prepared to alight.

At his stop, he scuttled down the stairs and off the bus. He quickly covered the quarter of a mile or so to his house.

“Twelve-thirty: brilliant, me Mum won’t be ‘oam till at least wun. Should be perfect!” he thought to himself as he glanced at his Tintin watch

He described reaching home, hurridly unlocking the front door, and racing straight up the stairs into the bathroom.

 Once in, he threw off his jacket. The bathroom, though clean and tidy, was small and poky. The only mirror was that on the front of the vanity unit placed high on the wall, adjacent to the sink. Now this was going to be tricky, it would require nerve, balance and more than a little agilty. Not to worry! Our Hero had done his planning and, after feverishly unbuttoning, dropping and stepping out of his pants, naked from the waist down, he began his ascent. Careful!… one foot on the basket that housed spare toilet rolls, old newspapers, and inexplicably, a can of WD 40. Good! … it did’t give. A step up with the other foot onto the window ledge. Easy! The fan light was open causing the net curtain to play in the fluttery wind. This was the big one … Ready? One, two, three … Hup! Other foot into the ‘soap space’ corner of the sink, behind the tap … Will it hold my weight? …. Yyyyeeessss! Done it!

 I recall the expession on his face as he reached this pivotal point in his recounting of the whole tale: a mixture of triumph and relief.

“At last! The Holy Grail!” (His words!) “I could see me oan arsehole!”

He should have taken more notice of the open window, for no sooner had his face of triumph clouded with revulsion at what he beheld in the mirror than the bathroom door (which in his haste he had forgotten to lock) swung open, and his Mum walked in.

“Jeremy!” She screeched “What on EARTH are you doing….?”

 “I’m br-br-br-br-brushin’ me teeth Mum!”

 “…..Well, I just said first thing that came into me ‘ead”

© Andy Daly  2010

Once upon a Tyne – Coat Tales 1

 Author’s Note: Caution – Some aspects of this post may not be suitable for younger children or those of a nervous disposition. It details actions of my former self which are neither big nor clever.

Long ago, back in the day when Dizzee Rascal was just a Rascal, I was an Art student in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Now I don’t know whether you’ve ever been to Newcastle in the winter, but it is, to use the correct meteorological term, bloody freezing. Therefore, it is essential to be in possession of a good coat to keep the bitter cold at bay. Unless of course you come from Newcastle; in which case it is essential to be in possession of a good vest or cap-sleeved T Shirt. For if you weren’t aware, Geordies are inoculated against feeling the cold at birth and that is why flimsy garments, summer dresses and bare feet are common sights on the town  (or ‘Toon’ as it is more correctly known) in mid-winter.

I studied Fine Art at the University. The department, originally the King Edward VII School of Fine Art was housed in a building to the south east of the university quadrangle, once of the former Kings College, University of Durham.  I say ‘housed’, in fact it was partly housed;  namely The draughty Library, frosty gallery, chilly workshops and studios, in this imposing 1913 structure with its bronze statue of King Edward VII installed in the niche above the King’s Road entrance,  wrought iron gates and tower with a double-arched gateway. The rest (cold offices and even nippier workshops and studios) were to be found in an icy Modernist white cube, tacked on to the original building.


Fine Art Department (Modernist White Cube out of sight behind)

In the first year, we were ‘taught ‘(and I use the term loosely here) together in a large warehouse of a studio in the new block. We were a strange bunch: a disparate crew of potential artists-in-the-making, all at different stages in our understanding of Art, what it was, what it might be,  and how we fit in to the ‘big picture’ (No pun intended) All issues I have to say, the Fine Art course of the time singularly failed to confront.

As a group, we didn’t gel. I used to look at other year groups and compare: they would meet up at breaktime, sit and have a coffee, chat, socialise – bask in the glow;  the result of the heady mixture of wonderment, envy and hate with which other students saw us. We seemed to take it all too seriously, hid away and were ‘tortured’. I gave up with them about half way through the first term. The lasting friendships I made from that time were with people studying ‘sensible’ subjects like Law, History and English.

Until, that was, I discovered – almost too late in the day – ‘The Poly’ (Remember them? AKA Newcastle Polytechnic, now the University of Northumbria) Here, with partner in crime and Blood Brother, Skull Murphy  I found that there was indeed life during, as well as after Fine Art. But that’s another story.

The tale I am about to recount is of a spell in my first year 1979-80. It was late November and it was cold. I used to wear a ‘Donkey Jacket’. For those of you who have never come across one, they were workmens’ jackets which became popular in the nineteenth century. Unlined and typically of black or dark blue wool, the ‘Donkey Jacket’ usually had two spacious hip pockets, occasionally an inside ‘poacher’s pocket’ (whatever that was) and a reinforcement panel across the shoulders. This panel may be plain black, grey or in recent years, fluorescent orange or yellow (sometimes with the company name stencilled across) in an effort to increase visibility. I never quite managed the dizzy heights of a fluorescent panel, mine was just plain black. As to the significance of the name? I think it is probably a reference to the wearer – the type of worker and the kind of job expected of him: in other words The ‘Donkey Work’.

 Guess What?

Anyway, back to the tale. It was bloody cold, and the point was that – as you will know if you were paying attention – the Donkey Jacket:  trusty, fine exemplar of British Working Class attire though it may have been, was an ‘unlined ‘garment.  So, even when buttoned up, my Donkey Jacket let howling gales of icy cold Easterly wind which swept directly off the Siberian steppes straight through my coat into direct contact with my navel and midriff. (‘Brrrrrrrrr!’) I took to wearing it with a jacket underneath, but I was still cold.

Then one evening, I was in our studio, with one of my fellow artists, Anne, having a wander around the cavernous hole, looking at everyone’s work:  sketchbooks, drawings, colour studies, paintings, as well as notes on paper, models and maquettes. It lay where they had left it at day’s end (with either a four-minute warning or a call to the pub by the looks of it) on desks, the floor and/or pinned to the wall or screens in their respective studio spaces.

There really is something magical about looking at artists’ and designers’ workplaces. To be able to browse through the visual distillations of their thoughts and ideas as expressed in tentative first marks/sketches: wobbly-legged initial attempts at solving the visual problems they have been posed. Sketches, notes, books and art artefacts, some finished others not; complemented with doodles, reminders, visual references – a bus ticket, a bottle top, a scrap of a hotel menu and contextual relationships with a particular artist or artists’ work.  Genuine treasure troves – and always so different to each other:  from the obsessively tidy, to the manically unkempt, they are a reflection of their owners’ approach to the creative process. Looking at the visual traces of the development of an artist or designer’s ideas – no matter how insignificant they may be, is something I regard as a privilege:

And how generous and trusting:  to leave one’s inner thoughts for all and sundry to see. I bet there weren’t many other departments in the university on that November evening which you could step into off the street and immediately get such an intimate snapshot of how a particular student or group of students were responding to a task set.

I think that now, but of course I didn’t think that then. Then it was more a case of ‘Howay, let’s get to the pub, I’m freezin’ Likewise, not everyone’s workspace was blessed with the kind of visual treats I have waxed lyrical about above. Take mine, for instance. As I recall, it had very little of anything to show. I don’t actually remember the project title, but it would have been something like ‘Object and Environment’ and was clearly an attempt to elicit responses from us to the likes of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Ready Mades’ which aside from using materials in an innovative way – in a sense to represent themselves, had started to (and still do) ask all sorts of awkward questions of the received aesthetic script that was Modernism.

Now, in 1979, although familiar with Marcel Duchamp’s work (I had even seen some of it) had I been asked  as my ‘Starter for ten’  to explain the above, I would have been found sadly lacking. In the event, I wound up by making a surprisingly elegant sculpture out of broken chairs from the refectory which took me all of 5 minutes to plan and execute and was as Modernist as you can get.

‘Fountain’ Marcel Duchamp 1917

I didn’t have a bloody clue.

The walk round the studio was punctuated by having to negotiate several large piles of rubbish, for the initial stages of the project  seemed to induce in some people, (Yours Truly included) a kind  of  ’Skip Fever’ in which the contents of, apparently,  every skip within a two-mile radius were brought back to the studio as potential source material. I had recreated part of a skip I had found behind the Playhouse.


‘Why?’ I can hear you ask: Why indeed.  Anne called me over to look at Caligula’s work. That wasn’t his real name. In fact, I don’t recall why she called him that, unless it was because he looked like John Hurt, the actor who played the character in the ‘70s BBC dramatisation of Graves’ book ‘I Claudius’. Whatever, the case – if only for a brief period, the name stuck. Caligula it was.

‘Bloody Hell’ She says ‘Would you look at that’. She was pointing in the direction of Caligula’s workspace. ‘What a bloody mess. I don’t know how he works here!’ It was a tip. Literally. For it seems as though Caligula, cold sweat, heart racing, stricken, like me with ‘Skip Fever’ had done the same thing, but on a massive scale. Either that or together, the students in his area of the studio were doing some serious collecting, dumping their stuff near his table. The pile was now threatening to engulf his desk. Despite all this, Caligula appeared to be, if memory serves correct – and I think it does, making a small painting of an apple, the subject of which was hanging on a string suspended from the ceiling.

‘What do you think of the painting?’ Anne asked me.

Hmmm?… What?’ Something had caught my eye. In amongst all the clutter and debris was the obligatory shopping trolley. Hanging out over the back of the trolley was what looked like a donkey jacket. I had a closer peek. Well, it was slightly more than an ordinary donkey jacket. It was a much heavier fabric, slightly longer … and it was lined! The lining was torn on one side, admittedly, but there was definitely a lining. Before I knew it, I was trying it on. A perfect fit!  (Not often words found in the same sentence when it applies to Yours Truly and clothes) … but more to the point it was warm!

Art – or is it the other way round? See how difficult it is?

‘What do you reckon?’ Do you think it looks like rubbish? I asked Anne. ‘Aye, it looks like bloody rubbish from where I’m standing’

‘No, what I mean is do you: 1) think it’s someone’s real jacket and that has been inadvertently left here? Do you: 2) think its ‘Art Rubbish’ that is part of a combination of real objects, intended to elicit responses about ‘What makes art Art and what makes rubbish Rubbish? Or do you: 3) think its real rubb……..’

‘I know what you mean, idiot. I think its real rubbish. Anyway, man, who’s going to care about a scavvy bit of material like that?’

True: and so, without another moment’s thought, I put it on, and immediately felt warm as toast. Done deal!  And off we went.

Now it came to pass that some months later, around March the following year I guess, that I was in the University Student Union one night. We didn’t go there often, preferring to drink, go to nightclubs or see bands at other venues in the town such as The Strawberry, The Spital, Crown Posada,  The Forth, The Bridge, Balmbras, The Bacchus,The Belle Grove, The Royal Bar, The Newcastle Arms,  The Prince of Wales, The Leazes, Trent House, Red House, The Lonsdale, The Baltic, The Mill, The Percy and The Hotspur (but only if desperate) The Stage Door, Tiffany’s,The  Poly, The Cooperage,The Buffs Club, The Bier Keller, The Mayfair etc. Not that we went out much…

However, on Friday nights, The Union did used to do a fairly decent disco.  Anyway, whatever the reason, band or disco, I was in The Union and at one point, towards the end of the evening found myself in the Gents toilets – I have to admit, dear Reader, rather the worse for wear. Mind you, I was still a long way off the loss of control of bodily functions stage, and hadn’t yet started with the ’Bedroom Whirlies’, I could have got home unaided without stops to sleep in skips, bus shelters etc, but I would have had trouble ordering in the Stanhope St. Chippy or refusing another drink. I stood at the urinals, pondering the above, casually wondering where the evening would take me, when I became suddenly aware that I was not alone. At the other end of the urinal was a crooked, decidedly unkempt figure. He definitely had the ‘Whirlies’, for with cigarette hanging from the corner of  his mouth, he reeled backwards and forwards trying to maintain his balance as he relieved himself.

Recognition. It dawned on me who it was: Caligula! Oh shit! And guess what I was wearing?

Probably conscious of my gaze, Caligula slowly turned and looked. He reeled backwards as he did so and in adjusting his position found he had turned his head too far. He made to bring it back. This time, he tipped forwards, regaining his balance just in time to prevent falling (still relieving himself, cigarette still hanging from the corner of his mouth):

‘Aaallrrrougtthhh?’ He said           Trans: ‘Alright?’

I replied: ‘Alright?’ Which I felt to be the closest approximation. I still had no idea whether he even recognised me. Any further doubts on this score were firmly put to rest when he let go of himself with one hand and (thankfully, for I feared for the jacket he was wearing as the glowing cigarette tip was getting longer and more and more fragile) took a long pull on the ciggy, caught hold of himself again and looked at me once more. His eyes had narrowed to the tiniest slits, bothered as they were by the wisps of smoke as they sidled up the side of his face. His body swayed backwards and forwards as, unable to get a response from his eyes, he tried to focus on me ‘the long way round’

‘Ey! Thath’s my futthen coa…’     Trans: ‘Hey that’s my fucking coa…’

Without thinking I blurted out:

‘Yeah, and you know what? It’s a disgrace the lining’s all ripped on one side. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be expected to wear it in this condition’

Still rocking and rolling:

‘S’my futhecoaaa..ey! Fyoouwannit yu cannavit. Y’heear me? Fyoouwannit yu cannavit.  Annever licchtet anywaaaah, phut!’

Trans: ‘Its my fucking coat. If you want it you can have it. Do you hear me? If you want it you can have it. I never liked it anyway, phut! 

And with that, he spat into the trough and I made my exit.

Which is where the story should have ended, except for the fact that  the remainder of my relationship  with the coat was to be  short-lived; as in a wholly appropriate turn of events, someone nicked the coat from me  a few weeks later at a party in Benwell.

And what of the coat’s original, and as it happens, rightful owner? Well, if you were to ‘Google’ The Fine Art Department, part of the School of Arts and Cultures, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne; there you would find details about its staff, and in particular, its current Professor, a renowned sculptor, whose work is a ‘response to the materiality of landscape.’

What it doesn’t say much about is that  some years ago, he, himself was a student at the University’s  Fine Art Department.

In fact, he was in my year.

Now, I’m saying nothing else on the subject, except to point out that a difference of opinion over the semantics of Rubbish meant that during the winter of 1979-80, I was a few degrees warmer than him.

 © Andy Daly  2010

The Carbon Fibre’s in the Kitty Litter!

I know this is a bit of a specialist subject, but  lately I’ve become fascinated more than somewhat by the work of three pairs of British motorcycle  racing commentators, namely Julian Ryder and Toby Moody who cover Moto GP, Moto 2, and the 125 class, for British Eurosport. Jack Burnicle and former rider James Whitham who commentate on World and British Superbikes, also for British Eurosport; and Nigel Pearson with former England rider and ex-World Longtrack champion Kelvin Tatum, who cover the Speedway for Sky Sports.




(Moody, Ryder, Burnicle, Whitham, Pearson and Tatum)

So, what is it that makes them all so compelling? What common links exist between these six disparate characters, other than their habit of hanging around in twos at race venues? Obviously, as befitting of people in their position they are almost all completely immersed in the world of motorcycle competition – and in  particular their own areas of specialism in the sport, either as a former rider (Whitham, Tatum) or as serious enthusiast (possessor of  frighteningly comprehensive encyclopaedic knowledge, Ryder; highly articulate, often comically tongue-tied Moody, informed ‘giddy spectator’ Burnicle and Pearson, genial apologist for Speedway, everyone’s ‘Love it or loathe it’ sport)

I used to think commentators were superfluous – I think some still are. Dave Lanning, the voice of Speedway in the ’70s changed that. A good commentator, I feel should not be there simply to give you information, or explain; for example in the way  you might have to explain to those who have never attended or watched such an event before what is going on: especially when it means everyone who has is forced to hear it again and again. (Hope you’re reading this Tony Millard)  A good commentator should be in that place where audience and sportsperson meet; they should engage with the experience that their audience is having, develop and deepen it. This is what Lanning did. He knew the riders, the teams, the tracks, a ‘sufficient’ amount about the machinery to explain the reasons why riders did  the things they did and why events on the track took the turns they did. (No pun – honestly!- intended) with authority and humour. Watching speedway today, I sometimes find myself slipping into ‘Lanning-Speak’ as, distracted, I mentally commentate. (“Oh I say! What a fine piece of speedway!” “It doesn’t get much tighter than that, you could throw a handkerchief over all four of them” “He’s going out to the fence, he’s taking the high, wide and handsome route”)  

Do any of  my crop of six come close to the Big Man? Well let’s say they are at their best, when, like sharps of flint they crackle and spark off each  other with a vitality that the common herd can only watch and envy. Okay, maybe that’s going a bit far in some cases, but tune in to British Eurosport, or Sky Sports, catch this lot on form and you’ll see what I mean.

So, to business. My key areas of interest comprise:

  • PLOC
  • Background knowledge/Response to ‘On-Track’ events/Observational Skills
  • Favourite sayings and creativity in use of euphemisms for the word ‘Crash’

 My findings are attached below:


(On board chasing Moto GP traffic. Let’s face it, you’d have to be bloody nuts wouldn’t you?)

(Ben Spies: making some noise in his first season of Moto GP – I knew he would)

PLOC: (or to give its full title Point of Loss of Control) – usually with reference to voice, but may apply to bodily functions as well, this denotes a point in a race: a frantic start, a particular passing move, fierce tussle, spill, collision and so on which is momentous enough to cause our commentator to lose all self-control in relation to both his immediate environment (the commentary box, his partner and any guests) as well as his listeners/viewers: affects  the volume, tone, timbre of voice and its level of hysteria as evidenced in ‘breaking’, shouting, screaming and in one or two cases singing.

  • A particular feature of Moody’s work, where PLOC is often found to have been reached, before the end of the first sentence. For example at the start of practically every Moto GP. Toby’s voice shifts semi-tones, up and down mirroring the riders’ changes of gear. This is made even more entertaining if his commentary position leaves him unsighted and relying only on the local TV director’s footage. Toby gets more and more tongue-tied and frustrated as he is unable to see who is who, but continues regardless: …. and look! Casey Stoner’s made a BRIIIILLIANT start on the …(up semi-tone) oh! but he’s being OVERTAKEN by  who……? Now THHHHAAAAATTTS (up semi-tone) Capirosi. But No! It’s… ( down semi-tone ) NICKY HAYDEN … Loris Capirosi … (down semi-tone) as they go into the right hander (up semi-tone) But where’s Stoner? WE’VE LOST CASEY STONER! (up a whole tone) etc…


  • Ryder avoids the hysterics. He is the ‘Steady Hand’ to Moody’s emotional outbursts.  His main problems when excited are forgetting to breathe and using unfeasibly long sentences.


  • Nigel Pearson and KelvinTatum feature quite strongly here I am afraid. For example, Pearson continuing to shout in a most disagreeable manner, despite the finish of the particular race he is supposed to be commentating on: “WELL, HAVE WE GOT A MEETING NOW, OR WHAT, KELVIN TATUM?” I just wish he wouldn’t expend so much of his (apparently limitless) energy trying to convince us we’re watching great racing. I think we’ll be the judge of that, Ta.  If you want to get a better handle on what he sounds like, visit Pearson’s web homepage. It’s written exactly as he would speak/shout it! Priceless.


  • Tatum, too, is capable of allowing himself to rapidly spiral out of control, although he seems to take many of his cues from Pearson;  indeed, at times they will chorus in unison; for example, over a skilful piece ‘fence-scraping’  “Ohhhhhh! HOW did he do that?!” Nevertheless, he falls short of that daemonic, possessed quality that transforms Pearson from affable host to deranged nutcase: “IF YOU’RE SITTING AT HOME WITH PIZZA TAKEAWAY AND THE FOOD HAS GONE ALL OVER THE FLOOR DUE TO THE EXCITEMENT OF THAT RACE, PLEASE FORGIVE US!” Nonetheless, I do think it terribly endearing, however that Pearson and Tatum continue to model themselves on 70’s TV regulars, Fozzie Bear and Kermit. Next time you see the dynamic Sky Sports duo doing a discussion to camera, wearing their silly big headphones (What are they listening to: Deep Purple?) and nodding sagely in agreement at appropriate intervals, think Muppets.



  • Of the six, Burnicle and Whitham are probably the most restrained. In Whitham’s case, a riding career which saw him reach the heights of success, tempered by a catalogue of injuries that would make an orthopedic surgeon wince mean he has the ability to commentate with authority and experience. Add a touch of dry, gallows/paddock humour and he’s your man. Having been there, seen it, done it, he doesn’t tend to shout about it much. He finds more satisfaction teasing Burnicle, the enthusiast who comes across more like Whitham’s Dad. 


(The irrepressible Rossi. Doesn’t like hospitals! )


Background knowledge/Response to ‘On-Track’ events/Observational Skills

  •  Background knowledge I am happy to report is very good in all cases and in some excellent.


  • Jack Burnicle, for instance, can always be relied upon to give you that extra insight:  (Re: Colin Edwards, World Superbikes and his choice of tyres) “Colin  had a hard on in practice earlier, and I bet he wished he had a hard on now” and “Simon only weighs 63kg and most of that’s his ears!”

 (Casey Stoner)

  • Whitham: (My job) “is to get across the subtlties of what is happening, what strategies they might be evolving, what’s going on with the tyres and so on” In response to track action, the assured Whitham sometimes employs an elegant spoiling tactic. When something he has said is about to be contradicted by actual  events as they happen (to be fair, not very often):  He diverts attention away to another area of the race course ” Look, Jack  Now ah knew that were gunna ‘appen. I knew sooner or later someone were gunna open a Heineken umbrella on that bit o’ banking …. I mean … ” He wheelies over the line taking second place on the podium in this category.


  • Winning hands down, however is Ryder. He is eagle-eyed and has (seemingly at his fingertips) a mass of information about riders, and their pedigree, bikes, engines, teams, gossip, rumour, lap times, records and is able to – and this is where he scores trillions of points – put all this in context for the casual viewer. (Much to Moody’s frustration at times, I suspect) For example, as a result of watching coverage of free practice at the new Spanish Aragonese track, I now have a much more complete understanding of ‘wet’ tyre technology. It might not get me very far with the man on the Clapham omnibus, but if I ever find myself in the paddock on a wet raceday, I’ll be able to say: “Yeah! get the wets on, they’ll grip without compromising speed too much, Why? because … er … the heat … um … err … and the little bits … they squash … sort of … and …  Hang on a sec. I’ll just ask Jules”


(Going down the road)

  • In responding to on-track action, bear in mind that our six will know many of the riders personally. A close shave (or God forbid worse) for one or a number of  competitors elicit a uniform response, though these vary in their intensity and level of empathy depending on the circumstances. So we get:

“OOHHHHHHHHHHH!” (Ryder and Moody)


 “OH NO! OOOOOOOHHH  AHHHHHHH  OOOOOOOOOOOH….!”  Poor Burnicle seems to feel every bump and scrape himself as riders come off and hit the hard asphalt or gravel traps: Then “Oh Leon, what have you done? You silly boy!   

Whitham is more matter of fact “I see what’s ‘appened,  he’s front-ended on braking, going int’ corner, so he’s hit the deck fast.  Aye, he’s moving across that tarmac, mind you he’s missed t’ kerb. Nah, he’ll be all reyt”

Tatum puts each spill under his ‘Pain Microscope’

“If we take a look at that again Nige you’ll see … Ohhhhh! Look at him getting thrown around like a rag-doll … and thump on his head! … And now the bike runs over him! That’s got to hurt. Let’s have another look …..”

 Favourite Sayings and creativity in use of euphemisms for the word ‘Crash’

  • Pearson insists on wishing stricken riders “All the very best” – Is it just me ? Isn’t that  the sort of thing you write on a Christmas Card?
  • Pearson: “Chris Louis in the pits there, and apologies if you heard one or two words which you may have found offensive”
  • Tatum: (Every week) “Y’know Nige, very often in the re-run it is not the rider who was leading the race when it was stopped who wins”
  • Tatum: “Well, Nige they’ve just not come to the races”
  • Ryder: “Valentino’s shoulder”
  • Whitham: “I knew that were gunna ‘appen.”

 Crash Pronunciation:/kraʃ/: collide violently with an obstacle or another vehicle. Not to be confused with a ‘Moment’ (When a rider almost comes to grief) Crashes are otherwise known as an ‘An Off’ ‘, ‘A Front/Back End’, Dropping It’, ‘High Side’ (When the machine bucks the rider off after going into a rear wheel slide),’Going Down The Road’  ‘Throwing the baby out with the bathwater’

but by far my favourite is from Toby Moody ‘The carbon fibre ‘s in the kitty litter!’


Perhaps you’d like to add your own. (Incidentally, there is one ‘bogus’ in the above list. Can you spot it?)

So in conclusion, between them, in spite (or perhaps because of) their foibles, idiosyncracies, things they say that drive me nuts, I enjoy their company. After all, if  it gets too much, I just turn the sound down.

Closing note: The Spanish Aragon GP: King Juan Carlos presents winner Stoner with the trophy. Event sponsor’s logo given pride of place!




Moto GP

British Superbikes

World Superbikes

Elite League Speedway

Let me take you back to the dirtrack

James Whitham


Julian Ryder Twitter MotoGPJules

Toby Moody Twitter tobymoody

Jack Burnicle

Nigel Pearson ‘Take Away’ Quote: Jeff Scott ‘Showered in Shale’ Methanol Press 2006

This post is affectionately dedicated to those brave men who risk life and limb week after week at racetracks around the world for our enjoyment, namely Julian Ryder, Toby Moody, Jack Burnicle, James Whitham, Nigel Pearson and Kelvin Tatum

 © Andy Daly  2010

East Ward #4

We think he’s Armenian. That’s Capain Birdseye. I’m not sure. I’m convinced he was speaking in Spanish when he lunged towards me, hand going for my throat. This was when I was still on E-Bay before Jock the Junkie got swept off  into his very own room and I was billeted in the big bay at the end with (finally) some normal company.

I wasn’t frightened as this attempted assault on my person took place. In fact I was fairly sure I knew what it was all about. I was terribly dyskinetic: Lots of uncontrollable movement – almost a ‘fit’. You see the Doctors had been around earlier in the day and had me started on titrating doses of a new medication: Pramipexole a Dopamine Agonist, instead of the Rotigotine. It was only when the dyskinesias started to get really severe, that I figured out what was going wrong. Nobody in the team treating/observing me had thought about the need to readjust my doses of L-Dopa to allow for the more potent replacement.

It was a relief to have been able to rationalise what was going on, so I tailored my doses accordingly, made a note on my Observation sheet and began to brace myself for what seemed was going to be a rocky ride. I was begining to present a danger to shipping.

Enter the Captain. So named because he resembled Captain Birdseye. He was easy to spot. Apart from the grubby silvery, nicotine-stained beard, he had been fitted with a flourescent pink tabbard. The Captain had a tendency to ‘wander’. He’d only been there a day and they’d had to haul him back down off the High Street twice. His ‘high visibility’ tabbard was intended to curtail his meanderings; as was the six foot Nigerian nurse, who he seemed to be permanently fixed to.  I never did get a good look at what sort of device held her right and his left arm clamped together for the whole day. Could have been a chain I suppose. All I know is that at the moment he is dragging the nurse with him as he flies (well, not exactly … it’s more clumsy than that, and I’ve used ‘lunge/d’ once already. He lurches?)

Okay … he lurches at me. I had seen him getting more and more distressed by my violent flailing and so had prepared myself for ‘something’. I calmly avoided his lunge. He seemed to say in Spanish (though not as a native tongue)  ‘Va a morderse  la lengua’ (‘He’s going to bite his tongue’) I think he thought I was having an Epileptic fit, and in the received wisdom of days gone by, was attempting to stop me biting/swallowing my tongue. I Told him ‘No pasa nada, no te preocupes’ (‘It’s OK, don’t worry’)

‘I’m going to get out of the way’ I said to the Nurses: ‘I’m off to the day room’ and that is indeed where I went.

The dyskinesias lasted about another hour or so during which, nobody came to check on my condition. When I emerged, exhausted from the day room (10th floor with open window to boot) All seemed quiet.

Partly because Captain Birdseye had absconded again.

I need a drink. I wonder if Stig’s about?

© Andy Daly  2010

Postscript to ‘Getting a kick out of Picasso’

I’ve just been proof-reading ‘Getting a kick out of Picasso’ – Yes, I know you’re supposed to do it before you publish something, not a month and a half after (I never have the time …) When I remembered that it was on the eve of  a half term holiday, that the students were given their ‘slices’ of the ‘Three Dancers’ (carefully planned and cut to make it as difficult as possible to figure out what it was) and from which they were to make their own scaled up versions; accurate, in terms of proportion, colour, texture of paint. I’d already set them homework, and there were a couple of minutes left till the end of the lesson.

As a bit of a ‘throwaway’ remark, I said

‘I bet no-one can come back after half term and tell me exactly what these are …. If anyone can, I’ll give you ten merits (worth about £35 in today’s money on the school’s black market – and an unheard of amount to win at one go) Remember, they knew nothing about the project whatsoever yet. Picasso’s name hadn’t been mentioned, nor the ‘C’ word (‘Cubism’) They hadn’t even had time to figure out that they actually joined together.

‘The only clue I will give you is the word Pimlico’

Well, bugger me, if only halfway through the week after the holiday, and before his Art lesson which was on a Friday I am sought out by one of the class members; a delightful lad by the name of Robert Fone. (Real name, don’t think he’ll mind) 

Story was that at a loose end over the half term, he turned to the ‘optional homework throwaway thingy’ (Nowadays, of course, it would be called an ‘Extension Task’) It didn’t take long for Robert to work out by consulting some of his friends that some (all?) of the pieces joined together. He visited his local library (Again, this was before the age of high-speed Broadband Internet access to this, that and the other) Eventually, Rob came across an image which seemed to connect with colours and shapes on his section, as well as those of his mates. What was it? Who was it by? –  Time to enlist the help of Dad – a postman.

‘Dad what’s at Pimlico that might have something to do with Art?’

‘That what? … that might have something to do with Art? … Well I dunno, son. Let me finish this and we’ll have a look in the ‘A to Z”

Which they did; and sure enough, finally spotted the Tate.

‘That’s got to be it!’ So they set off bright and early the next morning – which they needn’t have bothered doing since the Tate doesn’t open till 10am – armed only with Rob’s sliver of the picture and the suspicion that it involved Picasso.

In a wonderful dénouement, after some time, they found what they thought to be the painting and sat in front of it as Rob took out his slice and his notes from the library. Both of them, tired with ‘gallery legs’  looked for corroboration in the cobalt/cerulean blues, contorted and distorted shapes before them. And sure enough, there it was. Fitting indeed that the ‘moment of realisation’ happened in the gallery in front of the work.

‘Sir! I know what it is! … I’ve got it!’

Well, I’m going to keep my distance if you don’t mind Rob, cause whatever it is you’ve  got I don’t want to catch it’

‘No, no, no I mean …. (Actually this all for comic effect. Rob, bless him, was very quietly spoken and unassuming) So it was almost apologetically that he told me the cut-up picture was called ‘The Three Dancers’ painted in 1925 by Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881 – 1973), measuring 215.3 x 142.2 cm and that it hangs it the Tate Gallery near Pimlico.

‘The largest and most important piece by the artist in the Tate, it fully justifies the epithet ‘masterpiece’ and as such, lays a claim to being the greatest work in the collection; which owing to its fragile condition, it is unlikely to ever leave’ said Richard Calvocoressi.

Ahhh, yes. If only you knew, Richard. If only you knew, mate …

And my pocket was lighter to the tune of 10 merits.

His Head of Year saw me:

‘Ah, Mr. Daly, Is it true you gave Robert ….’

© Andy Daly  2010

East Ward #3

Chapter 3

I didn’t know where I was when I awoke. Somewhere vaguely unhealthy. A skip possibly, off the Caledonian Road? A  rasping voice, seemingly at my ear.

‘Nooooo, I dinnae want th’ methodone. It’s nae fuckin’ strong enough’ (In a Glasweigian accent – in case you weren’t sure)

Yup, Caledonian Road it is. But wait, a patient, calm voice. Possibly a junior doctor:

‘Look, you won’t be getting anything if I can’t get this line in’

‘Nooooo! Ahhhhhh! Ye bastarrrd!’

Patient, calm voice:

‘Okay, now just lay still for me a …’

‘Aaaahhhhhhh! …. Fuck!’

Patient, calm voice, getting irritable now:

‘Look! What Am I supposed to do, You’ve got no…’

‘Shhhhhhh!’ (I’m not sure whether this came from other patients or the nurses, unable to hear each other as they chattered at the Nurses’ station.)

(Almost hysterical whisper) ‘You‘ve got no veins I can get into. We’re going to have to call someone else’

‘Well tell ‘em I don’t want th’ methodone, I….

And so it went on.

During the night, unbeknown to me as I slept soundly for nearly a whole hour, the newcomer – my companion to the left – was wheeled in. I was not in a skip off the Caledonian Road. No, I was in the East Ward and the time was – I glanced down at my watch. I’d bought it a couple of days earlier. It boasted a digital and traditional mode, neither of which I could read, so I pressed the nightlight button. A pathetic watery orange glow slowly emanated from somewhere under the watch glass. It actually made the face darker. ‘Brilliant’ I stretched my neck out to catch a glimpse of the bay clock. 3:35am. ‘Brilliant#2’

And so it went on.

Patient, calm voice finally lost it, and in came someone else.

‘My, your arms are in a mess, I’m going to….’

Ahhhhhh! Tell hum I dinnae want the methodo …etc

They went as far as the Assistant Registrar, who finally after a marathon of whispering, shouting, profanities and one imagines medical procedures right on the limit of tolerance; finally gets a line in. I miss this, as exhausted I doze off about 6:15 …Just in time to get fifteen minutes shut-eye before at 6:30, windows are flung open (the lights have been on all night anyway) and the nurses start their rounds, checking that everyone is still alive and if so, taking their blood pressure.

What was it the irrepressible World Champion motorcyclist, Valentino Rossi said about hospitals recently? He’d crashed during practice at Mugello (June 2010) the result being a compound fracture of his right leg. He said he hated hospital because it was there that you woke up to the snores, coughs and farts of men you’ve never met before. Indeed. It was enough of a shock that he was back on his Yamaha competing within 6 weeks of his injury. If ever there was an incentive to get out.

My Scots companion was now bright and breezy, ready to chat (or more accurately talk at) anyone willing to listen. After the night he’d given us: no way. I dipped under the covers and studiously avoided him for the rest of the day. Conscious of the negative impact that the stereotypical treatment of characters can reinforce, I nicknamed him Jock. I liked the alliteration in Jock the Junkie. Bastard.

Captain Birdseye, however was a completely different kettle of fish….

© Andy Daly  2010

East Ward #1

Chapter One

It is 1:15 am. The sublime sound of Phyllis Hyman’s ‘You know how to love me’  fills my head as I lose myself to its pumping beat and intoxicating rhythm. Through my half open eyes I can see a myriad lights sway and swim. Feeling the cool floor beneath my feet, I dance like there will be no tomorrow. Where? The Gardening Club, Covent Garden? Deep Funk at madame JoJo’s? The Wag? I stop and take a swig from a bottle of water. The lights in question are those of West London. I can see them all the way out to Heathrow, for I am high up on the tenth floor.

Welcome to East Ward, the Neurology/Surgical Assessment Unit, at a well-known (No, I’m not going to name it!) London Hospital. My ‘dance floor’ is otherwise known as the ‘Day Room’. I am the only patient who seems to use it during the day, largely because I cannot bear the company of my fellow inmates, ‘Jock the Junkie’ and ‘Captain Birdseye’ who arrived during my first night and second morning here, respectively. As a consequence of a painful hour spent here with the pair of them earlier in the week, I now blag the Day Room for my own exclusive use in the evenings by removing the batteries from its TV remote control after first selecting channel 5. Jock and the Captain soon tire and this leaves me a good three hours to watch TV and try to ‘shake off’ the maddening diskynesias; the uncontrollable, jerky movements characteristic of long-term Leva-Dopa use by those with Parkinson’s. Leva-Dopa (or L-Dopa as it is sometimes known) is prescribed to replace the missing Dopamine: the Brain’s chemical ‘messenger’. A very effective drug, it is unfortunately notoriously difficult to get  to reach its target, as the body, in addition to any protein at loose in the system, will quickly break it down. My Neurologist once compared it to putting rocket fuel in a car. Diskynesias happen when there is a surplus, which ends up sloshing around the central nervous system, causing the body and limbs to go here and there. Somehow I  found that dancing (in an embarrassing ‘all-action’ wedding-Dad style) to Disco, Soul, Funk and Punk helps a bit to soak it up.

And so here I am. 1:30am. I’d better get a move-on and clear off. The nurses have first shout on the room from 1:30 am onwards. As from then, each night, there is a certain amount of furniture-moving goes on – It seems, to prevent entry as they bed down inside to sleep or otherwise – I’m not sure; I don’t really wish to know; waking me as they leave at about 4 am.

Of course by then, I am safely tucked up in bed in my room with Jock, the Captain and his ‘minder’. The ward is organised into a series of small rooms or bays, some are general purpose, like this one; others high dependency. The bays are identified by letter.

It goes without saying that I am on E-Bay.

© Andy Daly  2010

Parents’ Evening with Mr.Yong

Okay, here we go …. You know the thing I hate the most as a parent at my own childrens’ parents’ evenings?

When you are greeted, sit down and the teacher then runs his/her fingers down the list of class names until they find ours … or someone who looks a bit like ours and is at about the same level, They then proceed to read me out a list of meaningless marks, grades, assessments, smart targets and other such spurious data, all of which serve to confirm the fact that a bit more time getting to ‘know’ the students (by teaching them not assessing them ad infinitum) would be well spent. Also, and this really pisses me off, when you have been met, greeted and sat down and the teacher looks across at our dear little one and coos “Well, how do You think you are getting on…..” Both are scenarios which say to me as parent: You (the teacher) are not prepared for this interview or you don’t know my child  sufficiently well enough to tell me in a nutshell about his progress or lack of. And why is this such a bitter pill to swallow Dear Reader? Because I’ve been there myself. In my final miserable months before Parkinson’s bloody ‘Shaking Palsy’ forced me out of the classroom and into oblivion; treading water for dear life, I confess to being guilty of same. Pot calling the kettle black. However, in happier times …

… Parents’ evenings could be a pain after a long day in the classroom, but generally, I enjoyed doing them. After being at a school for as long as I had, or having been in the area for so long, you got to know parents and families very well, and this, I loved.

 One of the most memorable meetings was with the parents of a terrific girl I taught called Elaine. She’d managed (poor girl) as luck (or fate) would have it to wind up in my class every year. On this particular occasion, it was the Parents’ Evening just prior to GCSE examinations starting and the students’ handing in of option choices for the Sixth Form and A Level. Elaine’s parents seemed to me like Chalk and Cheese. From Malaysia, Dad came across as assertive and I sometimes felt a bit  used to getting his own way, while mum was petite, demure and sometimes appeared, although nodding her head vigorously, to have lost the thread of the conversation. In previous years, Dad had let Mum do all he speaking. He just let it be known every now and then with a look or a comment, that he did not value the Arts, and wanted Elaine (who was very bright – a very sharp Mathematician) to do Maths and Sciences at A Level.

Well, it comes upon Year 11 Parents’ Evening. Elaine has already warned me that Dad is on the ‘warpath’ because she’s chosen Art and Design as one of her A levels. I am sitting at my desk (on the school stage for some bizarre reason) and along come Elaine’s parents. Even before any pleasantries can begin, Elaine’s Dad has fired the first salvo “Ah misser Daly, so YOU’RE the man who’s responsible for making my daughter wanna do Art. Explain yourself” (I swear this is how the meeting began!)

Well; as he is saying this, he makes with his fist as if to bang the table on the words: ‘you’re’, ‘responsible’, ‘Art’ and ‘explain’ – although he doesn’t actually make contact. However, I notice that as he does this, his wife’s eyebrows arch up, almost jumping off the top of her forehead. It’s as if there’s a fine piece of filament attached from one to the other: Down goes the fist, up go the eyebrows.

At one point, I said something along the lines that

 “Elaine’s an intelligent girl, she knows her own mind. In fact, I haven’t persuaded her to do anything. It’s something I actively avoid doing. I give them some ideas about the pros and cons,then it’s up to them….”

‘Hrrmph!’ (down went the fist, up went Mrs Yong’s eyebrows) ‘And what’s Elaine gonna do with this Art anyway? Make pictures? Who’s gonna buy them? She’s never gonna make any money. She’s gonna be poor. She’s bloody good at Maths and Science, so why you gotta persuade her with this Art? ‘(fist/eyebrows)

‘She doesn’t have to be poor …

… ‘Look at the amount of revenue generated by the Creative Industries for this country every year, the backbone of which is Art and Design. Yes, she could be a poor, struggling artist in her garret as popular myth would have us believe, but she’s more likely to be a well-paid member of one or other of this country’s highly successful design disciplines: Graphic Design, Fashion Design, Textile Design, Interior design, Product Design, Industrial Design, or working in Design management, Photography, Film, Television, Media”….and so it went on. He tested me (‘and what if …?’ ‘Suppose that … ?’ ‘What would …?’)  and wanted concrete examples –

Luckily I was well prepared.

Finally, he sat back in his chair (‘Phhew!’ went Mrs Yong’s eyebrows)

‘OK,You convince me. But if she messes up I’ll come back and I see you good’ He said with a ‘mock scowl’

Well, another two years fly by, and it comes upon Elaine’s final A Level show. Her coursework and Exam pieces are displayed on the wall. Alongside is her Personal Study,  A mature and intelligent analysis, authoritative and insightful on the work of artists Gilbert and George. I am nervous to say the least!

 By and by I relax, and sure enough, among the very welcome visitors are Mr and Mrs Yong, Elaine’s sister, Tammy and boyfriend.  They go to see Elaine’s exhibition, then generously give their time to visit each of the other shows in turn. Before he leaves, Mr Yong makes a point of coming up to me, to shake me vigorously by the hand and thank me and my colleague. ‘Now I understand, now I understand’ He was knocked out. Elaine is now a successful graphic Designer and, before I retired, Dad used to pop in and visit from time to time, to see how ‘His Favourite Art Teacher’ was doing! ….

I made many friends and had many a laugh on those noisy, tiring yet strangely euphoric evenings. ‘Thank you’, and ‘Thank You’ especially, Mr. Yong.

© Andy Daly  2010