X was trouble. He didn’t mean to be trouble. He just ended up in trouble.

There was the time X came to me, indignant because another boy had punched him in the toilets. Trying to be fair to the notoriously trouble-prone X, I quizzed the other boy closely.

“What are you playing at? How dare you punch him?”


“Go on!”

“We were standing in the toilets…..”


“And he turned round and peed on my shoes.”

Then there was the occasion when he tried to poke his tongue through the grille of the fan in the library. You get the picture.

Sadly I cannot remember any further incidents involving X. I should have followed the example of an elderly retired teacher I once knew, who wrote down every incident in his career and got two modestly profitable books out of his diaries. This has been repeated more recently by Gervase Phinn.

I disliked hardly any of the children I taught, and I tried very hard not to have favourites, but I suppose I felt very sympathetic towards the guilelessly naughty, particularly boys, who frequently knew they were going to get into trouble but went and did it anyway. As I tiresomely and repeatedly pointed out in assemblies, when a child simply says: “Yes, I did it- sorry” it’s very hard to get cross.

Y was also trouble, in a very different way. When we were first married, Mrs O. would come in to school to do cooking with children from my class. She found Y at breaktime copying down a recipe for scone pizzas (a very good recipe). “You don’t have to do that,” she said.

“Oh, I’m going to cook it for my dinner, Miss,” he told her. Y’s mum did not spend a lot of time looking after him. Hence it was no surprise when he came in one morning and told us that he’d been down the pub with her and that she’d been arrested after a punch-up. He matter-of-factly went on to say that he’d been put with a new lady who said he could call her Mum. Later I heard that he had been expelled (that’s ‘permanently excluded’, children) from secondary school for head butting another student.

Much later we met a smart young man in the street. He told us that he was Y, and (justifiably proudly) that he was now a male nurse.

My teaching career, mostly in leafy suburbs, was however very peaceful and uneventful compared to a huge number of the people I am still proud to call colleagues, doing a superb job in trying and even threatening circumstances round the country and around the world. My apologies to them for these minor musings.


‘A Darker Shade of Magic’ by V.E. Schwab

Briefly. Another book from the Ms Oblique library. It’s fantasy, and I suspect Young Adult. Oh no, I just looked it up: apparently it’s not, as Ms. Schwab publishes YA books as V.E. Swab and adult books as Victoria Schwab. Come to think of it, I think it would be rather dark to be YA; but who knows nowadays. It does have a freshness that has the feel of a youngish readership.

Kell is a magician who has the rare ability to travel between three different versions of London: Grey, Red and White. In the past, Black London was uncontrollably magical and has been walled off from the other dimensions. Now it is a threat again.

There’s good consistency of invention in the book, with no implausible solutions. The contrasting Londons are nicely described and delineated. There’s a good action plot, with not too much introspection. Kell is a well-portrayed central character, a hero who is not infallible. Of course, there is a sidekick, Lila, a good action heroine, but the romance is very understated.

I started it with an impatience to be back to science fiction, but found it was one of those compelling reads which have you snatching a few pages whenever you can. Recommended.

(It’s the first of a series.)


Photo of Victoria Schwab: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Oblique Aphorisms

Aphorisms, apparently, are pithy observations which contain general truths.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Source unknown

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Evelyn Beatrice Hall, expressing in her words the view of Voltaire

“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.”

Samuel Johnson


Picture of Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds







The management does not necessarily agree with these pithy observations.

“(As a nation, we are) spending money we haven’t got, on things we don’t need, to impress people who don’t care.”

Mr Oblique Senior (aged 91)

“Sometimes, when you get what you want, it doesn’t taste as good as you thought it would.”

East Enders, BBC1

“You never blow your trip forever.”

Daevid Allen


Photograph of Daevid Allen by Ilan Lukatch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“Water will wear away a stone, but it won’t cook supper.”

Ann Leckie

“Every bad day has an end.”

Ash’s dad

“There are no such things as problems, only opportunities for development.

Mark Oblique

If you wish, you can regard these as gnomic utterances; or you can ponder them as Zen koans; or just ignore them totally.

“We (shops) sell everything you want, but nothing you need.”

Mrs Oblique

“What if the Hokey Cokey really is what it’s all about?”

Source unknown

“The early bird catches the worm- which is great as long as you’re not the worm.”

Our Girl, BBC1


Photograph by Airwolfhound [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons



Why I use the Post Office as little as possible-

-is because of experiences like the one I had today. We had two small parcels and two large letters to post, so went into our local office. Inevitably there was a queue; well it was 4 o’clock.

20171017_200245There were two Post Office staff and one for the attached franchise. In between serving birthday cards and the like from the far side of the store, the latter called the next Post Office customers over to her till; that is, customers who didn’t need more complex services. Clear? No, neither were the customers. It had the makings of one of those very English arguments about queues. Then one of the Post Office staff disappeared; the other went behind the scenes for a moment. It was now our turn.

Posting items?” we were asked when the lady came back. “You could use the self-service till.” So we did.

Now I’m reasonably technologically confident, and Post Office self-service tills are, I am sure, not beyond me; but they are not designed for ease of use. Already out of patience, after navigating our way through confusing options and actions and quailing at the thought of having to do it four times we gave up. (Come to think of it now, the till seemed also to have been abandoned by the previous customer.)

We looked at the queue, now even longer. We walked out.

Yes, we could have come at another time of day. But there was another lady there who had come in two hours earlier, only to find the queue out of the door.

So we will wait until we see the people our birthday parcels were intended for. We will post the letters- oh, some time. The result is that the Post Office have lost £6 or £7 of our custom, not that it will concern them. Worse than that, they have lost our goodwill. This is not the first time we have received poor customer service; we often feel that the counter staff are brusque, and there seems to be little attempt to make customers feel they are important.

In the future, we will endeavour not to send parcels; we will send tokens or use Amazon. Yes, I know. But Amazon are CONVENIENT. We will take presents to people rather than post them. We will certainly send more e-mails at Christmas.

I’m not going to bother to complain to the Post Office,as they have never replied to my one previous complaint. (See A Capital Omission .)

I am sorry this comes across as a Grumpy Older Person whinge. I do try to make this blog positive, so my two suggestions are:

staff your offices adequately

give all your staff customer service training

Oh, our bank has just closed its local branch. They suggested we use the Post Office to pay in cheques.

‘The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet’ by Becky Chambers

What a great title, I thought, as I passed this by in the book shop. Months later, having been lent it by Ms O, I can tell you it’s a great read.

It’s SF. It’s won awards. It didn’t seem to be my sort of science fiction, because it is a stream of constant invention rather than an exploration of one basic premise- like huge carnivorous plants (Day of the Triffids), or an alien artefact on the moon (2001- A Space Odyssey). After the first 20 pages, I nearly gave up, but I’m very glad I didn’t. Eventually the invention was thrilling. I’ll try to explain.

The basic premise is that a spaceship has been hired to make a long journey to a potential war zone (the small angry planet) to create a hyperspace tunnel. The ship is a motley collection of technology and is crewed by a motley collection of humans and other species, including an artificial intelligence. A lot of fun is in the description of the aliens (how can you not like a book which uses the phrase “chitinous blue exoskeletons”?), their interactions and relationships, even including inter-species sex. (No it’s not pornographic. But don’t let that put you off.) There is no real chief protagonist, though some of the crew get more attention than others.

Then there’s the technology and “science”- which eventually captivated me. Tunnelling through hyperspace- lockjaw clips- ambi- scribs- sib transmitters- voxes- modders- catastrophic cascade failures- fixbots; the list goes on and on. I don’t pretend to understand what all of it does, and especially how a spaceship can run on algae, but the creativity is addictive, without there ever being a cheap “magic wand” solution to problems.

In Ms O’s always highly intelligent opinion, a chief quality of this book is the personal interaction- the human or sapient element rather than the space opera element. There is however also a powerful plot. I have to admit that some of the personal moments actually made me cry. I feel some of the writing is a bit “young adult”, although I can’t find examples, but it’s a lovely book. Pleasingly there is a sequel, ‘A Close and Common Orbit’ which seems to pick up some of the unresolved elements. I look forward to reading it.

small angry planet

The Independent Republic Of….. Me? You? Us?

Big news this week has been the independence ballot in Catalonia. This part of Spain is apparently the size of Belgium and there is a strong urge for self-determination. The Spanish government says the vote is illegal and told police to seize ballot boxes. Awful violence ensued. (Catalonia is apparently an economic powerhouse for Spain.)

I find the regional variations of Spain interesting and evocative. I know a little about the Basque desire for their own country, now less intense and much less violent. The Basque territories do extend into southern France, which is an added complication. Books like George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’ and Laurie Lee’s ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ have added to the mystique. In my own experience, Mrs O’s Andalusian/ Spanish gypsy accent, acquired in her childhood, was mocked in more Madridean areas. She points out that Catalonia was treated apallingly under the Franco regime.

Despite this, it’s not my place to give an opinion on the Catalonian issue, apart of course to condemn violence of any sort. However it does have many connections with other self-determination issues, some of them closer to home. What about Scotland? What about Wales, Northern Island? What about Cornwall and Cambridge?

Cambridge? There was an intriguing little development just after the Brexit vote, in which some people in Cambridge thought they should become independent so they could stay in Europe. More widely discussed in the country as a whole was the contentious issue that although there was a majority of the vote for Brexit, this was not a majority of the electorate.

The independence movement of Cambridge might enjoyably view that wonderful film, ‘Passport to Pimlico’, which gives a great fictional account of how the Pimlico area of London declares independence. That bid failed; but apparently 30 new nations have come into existence since 1990, such as Montenegro and South Sudan. Even more fascinating is the existence of ‘micronations’, small areas claiming sovereignty but not recognised by any other nation or organisation such as the U.N. (See Micronations on Wikipedia.) Examples of these are The Republic of Molossia,  The Kingdom of EnenKio, and The Kingdom of Haye On Wye. Really. Sealand, based on a fort in the North Sea, is often called a micronation but still claims to be a sovereign state with de facto recognition by the UK and Germany.


It should be pointed out that lots of these micronations are either tongue in cheek, reactions to a particular issue, or financial operations. There are also historical enclaves. I’m intrigued by the idea that some groups declare themselves a nation across the internet, without geographical commonalities.

(The series of books starting with ‘Europe in Autumn’, by Dave Hutchinson, takes as its setting a Europe which has fragmented into small states, sometimes cities, and one which is a railway line. Recommended.)

All this begs several questions. What gives people the right to self-determination? What sort of democratic process makes the decision to leave a super-national grouping, such as the EEC, acceptable? What constitutes a legitimate majority of an area or group to attempt independence? A simple majority of voters? A majority of those eligible to vote? If there is a clear majority, what will the outcome be?

The final, huge question is of course: What is a nation?

There are no easy answers to these questions, as the people of Catalonia are finding out.

(Flags of micronations declared as free to use or share in image search.)

[Although I have said I don’t feel it’s my place to express an opinion on Catalonia, can anybody please expain why the Spanish government didn’t let the Catalan referendum go ahead and then ignore it or stall any action because their courts had said it was illegal?]

B******s Bob

Newport transporter bridge, Mr B. and Bollocks Bob….

Well, there we were, in summer 2013, having just travelled over the aforementioned Newport transporter bridge, after spending some of our holiday…… looking at transporter bridges. (Yes, really.) (Yes, we are dull.) I rarely get calls on my mobile, but at that moment it rang. That fine colleague of mine (now ex-colleague of course), Mr B. said: “Bollocks Bob has had a heart attack.”

Some background is needed here. Note the narrative device.

Our school had been, to be honest, in trouble. We had fallen from grace. Two strong heads had left their mark and left. We braced ourselves for the new head, who we thought would be a new broom, building on our success and bringing us up to date. We were disappointed. For reasons I will be tactful enough not to detail, it didn’t work. (I suppose I have to take some responsibility, as once upon a time the new head had been a probationer under my year leadership.)

We slid and fell. Inevitably, OFSTED arrived and found us wanting, despite the best efforts of the year leaders, led by Mr B, to convince them otherwise. Inevitably the head left, to be replaced by a new regime. I have summed it up briefly, but the process was prolonged and very unpleasant.

There was one light in the darkness. As the aforementioned new regime could not start for a term, an interim or caretaker head was appointed. Bollocks Bob.

He was a retired head, who had apparently been out on his bike when the call came. He came in tieless- at the time that seemed like a big deal- for the new intake (new parents) evening. I seem to remember that he was bearded, with that slight Father Christmas air some bearded men have. He said hello to everybody and took an interest in everybody, telling me it was important to make everybody feel better about themselves. He came in to our in-service planning day and acquired his nickname when he told us that, in his opinion, “OFSTED is bollocks”. Forever after he was Bollocks Bob. I can’t even remember his surname, even if I think it appropriate to give it.

We very much looked forward to working with him, even just for a term. We felt we would be well prepared for the inevitable changes.

Then came the fateful ‘phone call from Mr B. to say that Bollocks Bob had had a heart attack.

So he never arrived; we never got to work with him; we never got to feel better about ourselves. It was a very trepidacious crew that assembled for the new school year. The new regime arrived and did a very good job rescuing the school, although staff morale did not seem to be a high priority. To be told that “the school seems run more for the benefit of the staff than for the pupils” seemed neither fair or helpful. Nevertheless, OFSTED arrived again and went away as happy as OFSTED ever are. Bollocks Bob, you summed it up.

I am ashamed to say I never found out how Bob was. I don’t even know if he recovered. Perhaps he would have been rubbish, but I somehow think not. I like to imagine that we would have been more upbeat and less frightened with him in charge for a term. OK, I’m not necessarily speaking for anybody except myself. Feel free to substitute “I” for “we”. But for me, he’s the great lost leader.

Newport transporter bridge

(To be honest, Newport transporter bridge is quite fun. As the photo shows.)

P.S. After posting this, I looked up “trepidacious”. There is some debate as to whether it should be spelled “trepidatious”, or indeed whether or not it is a real word. It is real, because I just used it and you are so clever that you can understand all the rich nuances of my choice. Or something.