Things Teachers Said

Very short and not at all serious…….


My teachers (at a boys’ grammar school) were an interesting lot. Some of them were bored (and/or boring), some of them were inspired. I am grateful to many of them for forming me. I apologise if any are still alive and read this….

Mr P. (physics): “There was a dirty great big hole dug for you there and you fell right into it, didn’t you?”

Mr T. (chemistry): (In reply to the question ‘Do we have to do that, Sir?’) “You don’t have to do anything in this world.”

Unknown (mathematics): “Antilogarithms are a snare and a delusion.” (Does anybody else but me still understand this?)

So, on to college:

Teaching Practice Supervisor: “When I first met you I thought you were slow-moving and slow-thinking. I still think you are slow-moving and slow-thinking.”

We continue to the modern age:

Year 6 teacher:  “Why do you have to go right when everybody else goes left?”

“Am I talking to myself?” (Every teacher ever has thought this, even if they have not said it out aloud.)

Basil Fawlty is not a teacher, but he speaks for us all when he says: “Please try to understand before one of us dies.”


Don’t panic…. Thoughts on the EU referendum


As is obvious, I sit on the fence so often that I need padded trousers. Nevertheless, I feel duty bound to offer some thoughts on the topic of the day, dear readers.

No, I won’t tell you what I voted, although I’m sure it would surprise some. (No, I know it wouldn’t surprise you.) When I voted, I was fully aware that mine was just one voice from we, the people. I was prepared to accept whatever the majority said.

I was horrified, all through the campaign, by the vituperative and abusive manner in which it was conducted, by elements of both sides; horrified by the lies, distortions and threats. Yes, I am aware that not everybody took such a dishonourable stand. There were good and reasoned arguments presented for and against.

I was surprised by the result; I am clearly not a good political forecaster. But I am now very disturbed by the aftermath.

To start with: it’s called democracy. You have your say; I have mine; we all have our say. The majority wins. We could talk about proportional representation, but the referendum was different: a clear yes/ no. If democracy is to work, you can’t change the rules if you don’t like the result.

OK, the number who voted to leave the EU was less than half of the total electorate. That point would have been equally applicable if the vote had gone the other way.

Sometimes I hallucinate…. I am surely imagining a Facebook post saying that some people voted Brexit and are now horrified we are actually going to leave the EU….. they didn’t think it would happen. Voting is a serious matter; it’s not to give the government a scare or whatever. (Though I suppose that they are entitled to that rationale, but should not be surprised by the result.)

I am most disturbed by the abuse that is being dished out by both sides. People who voted out are not all old, poor, racist, chavs, stupid, etc. etc. People who voted in are not all affluent, young, out of touch, elitist, etc. etc. To group millions of people on either side under stereotypical tags is plain wrong.

Whatever one’s view, it is surely most important that we should move on together: to exit, to renegotiation, to whatever. As I confidently predicted, the sun has continued to rise each day. It has even shone (occasionally.) This is a lovely country with a great tradition of tolerance, vigorous debate and humour. (To which Mrs Oblique adds ‘freedom to be unique’.) I beg everybody not to forget that.

My Grandmother 1 (Nuisance Callers)

My grandmother was… difficult. She truly was an individual. This is the first of some memories of her.

My grandfather (See ‘My grandfather’s books’ ) died when I was two, so for almost all the time I knew my grandmother she lived on her own; always just over the road from us, in bungalows.

She had an infallible way of dealing with callers at the door. (She never had a telephone.) No matter who it was: political canvassers, salesmen, Jehovah’s Witnesses- she would say “No thank you, I read my Bible” and shut the door in their faces. I haven’t yet summoned up the courage to follow her example.

Of course, like all good stories, this isn’t completely true. I have exaggerated.She did open the door to the milkman. One hot day, when she must have been in her seventies, she was just in her petticoat.

“Never mind me, you’ll see better on the beach,” she told him. (She was a Brighton girl.)

“A lot worse, dear,” he said chivalrously.


My mother and my grandmother, 1970s.

Forgotten Dishes 4: Soho Tart

It is not perhaps well known that ‘Soho tarts’ were not originally ladies of the night, but a speciality of the various patisseries of old Soho: the Soho of bars, foreign restaurants, and indeed ladies of the night; the Soho before sex shops, cinemas and Chinatown.

Soho tart

A Soho tart had a pastry base, which was filled with Seville orange jelly and decorated with a latticework of sugared pastry, in between which were Morello cherries that had been soaked in liqueur. Each patisserie had its own design of latticework and its own preference for liqueur.

Eventually, of course, individuality became lost and Soho tarts ended up with glacé cherries and marmalade. I doubt very much if they are made any more.

(In memory of Esther, my mother-in-law, who was fascinated by this dish when I told her about it in the incongruous setting of Cazorla, in Spain.)

(Beautiful artwork, of course, by Mrs Oblique)

“It should have been me.”

A very brief and unfocused post, just thinking things through for myself. Be warned: there is a huge spoiler here for anybody who hasn’t read ‘The Shepherd’s Crown’.

Shepherds CrownThe above mentioned book is the last written by that master of fantasy and philosophy, Terry Pratchett. (I suspect that he would have preferred to be known as a novelist, not just a writer in the fantasy genre, in the same way that John le Carré is not only a spy story writer.)

I’ve just finished ‘The Shepherd’s Crown’. I was going to review it, but will do no more than say it moved me to tears and laughter, although it is not quite the completely revised and polished Pratchett book we are used to. It is, incidentally, categorised as a “Young Adult” novel. I suspect very many old adults will have read it.

In it- spoiler now- the witch of witches, a cantankerous elderly lady called Granny Weatherwax, dies. (The book deals with the consequences for a young witch who becomes her successor.) After Granny’s death there is a shock which travels throughout the world of the novel. What particularly moved me was the response of her friend, the witch Nanny Ogg, who says: “It should have been me.”

These were the exact words used by Mrs Oblique’s grandmother- not apparently normally a very sympathetic character- when Mrs O’s sister died an untimely death in a plane crash back in the 1980s. She felt that the natural way of things had been upset.

Perhaps such a sad story illustrates a Zen meditation that goes something like this:

What is true happiness?

First the father dies;

Then the son dies;

Finally the grandson dies.

In Christian terms, I suppose an equivalent would be “To everything there is a season.”

Goodbye Granny Weatherwax…. and Terry Pratchett. As that incredibly literate friend of mine, HB, says: “I can’t believe he won’t write any more books for me.” Me neither, H.

This makes me VERY happy


You may know that I get very enthusiastic about a variety of strange things, many of which have a very limited following. Please let me wax lyrical, very briefly, about UK’s Best Part-Time Band.(That’s a link, by the way.) It’s GREAT. If one extra person watches it, this blog will not have been in vain.

BBC 4It is a BBC Four programme, in which professional musicians, starting with Midge Ure of Ultravox, tour Britain with comedian Rhod Gilbert looking for…. yes, you guessed it, Britain’s best part-time band. The chat between the presenters is amusing, but the bands are the great thing. Scottish ska, blues, swamp-rock, folk; young and old; teachers, window cleaners …. All of them have one thing in common: a huge enjoyment of what they do. They genuinely like playing. They’re never going to make a fortune, but the music is the motivation.

I have said that a good way to end my days would be in a beer tent at the Wychwood festival, watching young people do noisy things with guitars. This lot prove you don’t have to be young, just enthusiastic. Their enthusiasm comes across loud and clear.

It encapsulates a philosophy that I have had for a long time: you can do it for yourself. Punk was a great example. OK, not everybody will be as good as these bands… but it’s much more fun than just listening.

Anybody want to form a band with a four chord guitarist?


“Are you alright?”

“Are you alright?” asked the assistant as I wandered, deep in thought, through the large (chain) bookshop.

Why do I always get solicitous enquiries from bookshop assistants? For that matter, why do I always get solicitous enquiries from record shop assistants? (Perhaps, in the case of record shops, that should be past tense.)

“Can I help you?” “Are you looking for anything in particular?”

Perhaps I look lost. Perhaps I look confused. Perhaps I look as if I’m not really comfortable in book shops (and record shops.)

Usually, I’m just enjoying a hugely pleasurable wander, looking for a new title. It’s especially wonderful if I have a book token to spend.

Today I had a spare 45 minutes and had spotted ‘The Shepherd’s Crown’- Terry Pratchett’s last book. (That is if you don’t count the collaborations with Stephen Baxter, which, sadly, I don’t like, considering they are less than the sum of the two prodigious talents.) I had this morning considered buying it on Kindle and decided to wait for the paperback. There it was. To cap it all, it had a “Buy one, get one half price” sticker.

You can guess the rest. I went round and round looking for a second book. It’s soooo tempting…. and I succumbed. I went for science fiction- ‘Europe at Midnight’ by Dave Hutchinson. I got it home and found it’s a sequel. (Read it? Or buy the first book?)

Did I explain all this to my kind enquirer? (I should point out that I don’t object to service like this- and I had a lovely chat about computers with the lady at the till. I just find it a bit puzzling as to why they think I need help.)

No, I didn’t explain. I just told him I was having a wander.