Friday, 21 August 2015

Public School – A Harrowing View...

I recall watching the excellent Lindsey Anderson film “If...” and thinking that aside from being surreal, whimsical and hugely engaging, it was based on a pretty absurd premise: that public school was an outdated anachronism, the structure and leadership of which was responsible for the widespread dysfunction of society. However, over the past few years, I have started to revise that option and the recent discovery of many of my school reports have led me to thinking that perhaps he was right.

It certainly seems to be the case that these institutions are very often badly led, based on a misplaced Corinthian ideal that gives leeway to bullying, intimidation and bad leadership, setting the tone for individuals to end up feeling repressed, inadequate and ensuing a complete lack of attention to the individual.

There were a great many cases where a small group of highly popular individuals in each year, who were athletic and skilful enough to represent the year rugby, football and cricket teams and bright enough to perform reasonably well (or better) across a range of subjects, were basically given free range to dictate proceedings. They became house captains, prefects, were treated with greater freedom by masters and were generally “farmed” in order to boost their ego. One could presumably assume that they were essentially being mentored to walk into a job in banking, finance or law and dictate their terms, disappearing up their own arseholes in the process.

For those who didn’t fall into this select category, there were other buckets...the pure academics – not great at sports and probably quite introverted... the pure sportsmen (invert the previous)... the outgoing populists...the geeks... etc...

I can honestly say that I didn’t belong to any of these categories. At best I had one foot in some of these camps, but would straddle and often slip from acceptance in each case. Academically I excelled in subjects that I was interested in (History, English), produced average-to-good work in subjects that were either of acceptable interest or that I saw the point in (Maths, Geography) and then failed miserably in areas that bored me or I saw no point in (Science, Languages). This was a constant puzzle to the teachers, but then I would point to a complete lack of effort on their part in making these subjects interesting and bringing them to life. One would expect this at a fee paying school, yet instead they treated their topics as if we were still in the days of straw boaters and forty lashes of the cane. Sporting –wise, I was talented at cricket and played rugby to a modest-ish level, but was fairly poor at football and hated athletics. This again was jarring when it came to placing me neatly into a social circle; typically if you were good at sports, you were good at sports – end of. I loved Lord of the Rings, but didn’t want to spend my free time visiting Games Workshop. I liked a joke but tended to avoid anything that would lead to detention. I loved rock and heavy metal music but didn’t want to sit in a corner drawing logos all over my bag. And so on.

Whichever way you look at it, I was an awkward customer. Always have been – probably always will be. If you try and pigeon hole me, I’ll kick and scream and will invariably become even more eclectic and miscellaneous in my approach to life than ever. If my wife struggles at times to understand this, then my teachers and peers had no chance.

Anyway, I digress. Let’s bring to life these dated institutions by examining some of my old school reports as they delivery some scary insights into the mindset of a public school teacher stuck in the ancient ways of fusty, poor quality communication...

Are you really concerned that I live in a world of my own? Because it's a better world than one in which grey-haired cane thrashers bark orders out and thrive off disparaging comments...

That's more like it. Always enjoyed writing a story :)

Okay Mr Sarcastic, I thought that was the point of engaging in a subject? Call me a method actor if it suits...

No. I really couldn't. See above views on the matter.

Don't know how to take this one. It could be a review of any English batsman of the past twenty years...

What ifs... How about what if my science teachers made some sort of effort to explain why chemistry is of any value in the big wide world? 

Imagine this sort of comment now? Unbelievable approach to written feedback. What's YOUR problem Mr Waller? (That's right, I'm naming and SHAMING the Latin department). Never going to use it, never going to use it...

Oh fuck you!!!

Anyway, you get the idea. And I cant really complain - it made me get on with things for myself. Self-taught, my own judge, self-driven, etc. It was a serious of hard lessons and yet I can honestly say that few of these teachers really did much for my development.

Might share a few more of these soon :)

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Abandon Ship - I CANT find Peter White #findpeterwhite

So, after several weeks without anything in the way of an update, I can conclude that if you are searching for someone with a common name, for whom you lost contact with over twenty years ago, well before the advent of the internet, with no real clues to go on then social media will NOT assist you in your quest to find that person!

Having tried the local schools, they were not able to help and pointed me to Worcestershire County Council. They in turn were unable to provide details due to data protection and therefore pointed me to Redditch Borough Council as the electoral roll might point to his whereabouts. Sadly they have declined to respond and that’s where I left off. Even if they had, I would imagine that the latest roll would be the only visible source and if he moved from the area some time ago, then that would draw a blank.

Remaining options? Appoint a private investigator or draw the experiment to a close. Given that I’m no stalker and this was an exploratory exercise, it’s the latter. Still, never mind!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

He lived at Evesham Road, Astwood Bank #findpeterwhite

So here are a few further details... Peter White lived on Evesham Road in Astwood Bank for much of the 1980s and I believe the 1990s. The number was somewhere over the thousands (I think). And I’ve been told that the house was up for sale around 10 years ago, which suggests that his parents have since moved away some time ago.

Not much to go on. #findpeterwhite

Saturday, 4 July 2015

People living in Astwood Bank in the late 1980s and early 1990s #FindPeterWhite

Moving on from the impossible task of describing someone who I can’t remember that clearly, the next step in this impossible task is to try and find some points of reference to try and spread this message and assist with my quest to track down Mr White.

Whilst he may very well have left the country years ago or be living as a goat in Mongolia, I have to assume to an extent that he might still be living somewhere within the known (and contactable universe). And I can only start with what I know. So then, are you of a similar age? Do you recall this child? Did you live in Astwood Bank at the time? Did you go to Bradley Green nursery? Did you got to Morton Stanley Park in Redditch to play?

Morton Stanley Park! That’s another thing I recall...

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Peter White. Astwood Bank, Redditch. #FindPeterWhite

So it would be worth taking a little time to establish the facts – or at least those that I can recall. If Peter happens to stumble across this blog (highly unlikely by accident I know) then I can at least document enough of a profile to allow him to identify himself and hopefully say hello. Or contact the police and report me as a stalker.

Oh god no – please let’s just nip that one in the bud right now. I really am not the internet equivalent of that obsessed fan in I’m Alan Partridge. I’m not going to lock anyone in a cellar and get their face tattooed on my chest. This is purely an exercise and it is not necessarily designed to rekindle a childhood friendship. You can’t even stalk someone who you don’t know and can’t locate...

Anyway, here goes. He must have been born the same year as me – 1980 (so 34 or 35 as of today). From an early age he lived in Astwood Bank near Redditch – initially attending the nursery I previously mentioned in Bradley Green and then on to other schools in the Redditch / Astwood Bank area. He had a younger brother called David and lived in a house with a weird indoor passageway leading round the outside of his house (if that even makes sense). He had (I think) short brown hair, was probably of medium height and now I’m running out of things to say.

He liked all the things I listed in the last post.

I seem to recall his parents were ramblers. But I can’t remember their names.

Ramblers as in walkers, not talkers.

His house also had a lounge. And a kitchen with bar stools... god this is going to be difficult.

Look, just spread the word okay?

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

My Social Media Challenge: #FindPeterWhite

When I was three (or at least I presume I was three – maybe I was four, but almost certainly not two) I started going to a nursery at Bradley Green in Worcestershire. I don’t think it exists anymore. There I met Peter White, who became my best friend. Although when we both left nursery at five he went to a different school to me and lived a reasonable distance away, we remained friends for many years, corresponding by letter during term time and then spending the holidays at each other’s houses. Our interests were mutual – He-man, Thunder Cats, Star Wars, Cross Bows & Catapults, Centurions (who even remembers them?) and such like. We would make costumes, write scripts and generally invent and inhabit a parallel universe in which 1980s cartoon themes would be rolled into one mass of geeky fun. And then all of a sudden it ended. I can’t quite recall when, but it must have been around the early 1990s – probably at the age of 11 or 12 or so. I have a flaky memory of the last time I stayed at his house but I don’t really recall I parting of the waves – I think it was just a case of no further action being taken and other distractions happening. And then before you know it, five years have passed, then ten, then... it’s just a memory.

Occasionally I have given this some thought (not that much in fairness) and fleetingly considered if it would be interesting to get back in touch, only to fall prey to immediate distraction. After all, how the hell do I even get in touch with someone for whom I have no address, no telephone number, no email address (email wasn’t even invented then) and to whom I have not spoken to in nearly 25 years? Thats a pretty tough assignment. Google his name? Find him on Facebook? Along with the other 1000 Peter White’s? Consider also that I can’t even recall with precision what he looks like. I can vaguely recall his appearance as a ten year old, but he is now in his thirties – he could have a beard like Gandalf or have had a sex change and look like Beyonce – it’s anyone’s guess. (I'm not actually suggesting that his has incidentally).

But enough of the defeatism. Curiosity killed the cat and I hate cats, so let’s be curious. In the spirit of re-discovery, I am going to set it as my goal to explore whether social media can help me with this quest. I don’t know where I will start, how I am going to do this, whether this is purley a monumental waste of time, or even if there was a deep underlying reason that I have since forgotten about as to why we failed to keep in touch. Hang all of that – let’s try and locate this person!

Starting now – it trends. #FindPeterWhite

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Back from Hiatus (Part Two): The Power of Social

So, taking this from where I left off on my last post, I found myself sat in the back of a taxi, having finished the Heavier Than Heaven biography on the way back from a recent meeting in London. The sun was shining, I felt a little melancholy (actually I felt completely depressed by the last few chapters, but that was tempered slightly by the prospect of arriving back home) and my mind wandered back to the early 90’s and then to the differences in following artists then and now. Back then, you had a small selection of music magazines, most of which were relatively mainstream, with the exception of Kerrang (which itself was still a rock and metal publication at that time) and if you were fortunate to have Satellite/MTV then you’d get access to a few videos plus Headbangers Ball (which would need to be recorded on VHS late at night). Other than that it was fanzines, gigs and word of mouth. Now it’s easy – doesn’t matter how obscure the band, you’ll get information on forums, social media and probably snippets on YouTube. Moreover, audio will be available through file sharing, online mail order, Amazon and a million other avenues. Easy peasy. In one sense it means we’re all more connected, yet in another we’re more distant. I feel I have access to anything I want right now, but equally unless you are into the latest trends then you’ll never feel a part of whatever movement is going on. In the case of music that’s because the last decent trend fizzled out in 1994 when Kurt Cobain died, several other grunge bands broke up or fell victim to drugs and the remainder either sold out or became crap. Nu Metal almost instantly became crap after a couple of promising albums and since then there have been no new genres that can genuinely point to being original. That’s isn’t to say there hasn’t been great music – far from it – it’s just that the internet has transformed consumption of music to something akin to a lunch menu vs a sequential movement. It’s probably better that way, but ultimately something has been lost in the process...

I digress. The point is that things change and the world is a different place. I like to rediscover the past in all forms, but it can become a morose activity at times. Anyway, the point I was leading to was that my reading of those books and the opening up of those memories got me thinking about lost contacts – people I’ve forgotten about, things that stopped happening, that sort of thing. And how that probably wouldn’t have happened had social media been around twenty years ago because those ties would have retained at least a digital fingerprint – a traceable link ready to be resurfaced at a convenient time. Of course, the gap cannot be plugged – once things are lost and you only have limited recollection (or no recollection) of them, that’s that. Which got me thinking – I wonder exactly HOW powerful social media is? I wonder if it really could be put to the test for a particular challenge that I have in mind...?

Friday, 26 June 2015

Back from Hiatus (Part One): Heavier Than Heaven


I’ve been away for some time, not that you have probably noticed because this blog has no doubt grown weeds around it and had a couple of windows smashed in by local kids so you just moved on. Anyway, there are plenty of reasons for my hiatus and I could spend time talking about some of the distracting challenges that I had last summer, or the fact that I’ve moved house this year... or even the shocking events that took over everything over Christmas.

I won’t though. At least not right now – there’s plenty of time for that later. I wanted to come back in with a few thoughts that I had recently when reading a couple of books. At this point I should just mention that I have a habit for picking things up after the event at a time to suit. There are countless films I watch when I can be bothered, which might not necessarily be when they come out or even within the first couple of years. Same with books and music and TV shows. Often this is down to circumstances (like I can’t get to the cinema – a big issue in recent times) but it can also be down to apathy – I’ve rarely been sucked in by the Zeitgeist but it does haunt me once it’s been discarded by everyone else. Anyway, in this instance, I picked up a couple of books that I didn’t bother with a decade or so ago when they were released – the first being The Journals of Kurt Cobain and the second being the Heavier Than Heaven biography.

I suppose I was motivated to do this by the prospect of watching a couple of the up-and-coming / soon-to-be-released Nirvana biopic/film docs and the Journals book is one of those things you can flick through casually, providing you are willing to suspend the idea that it does seem a little intrusive. Heavier Than Heaven on the other hand is an all-consuming piece that really takes something to digest...a little like Baldrick’s poem is starts out bleak, becomes depressing in the middle and the less said about the end the better. Owing to the fact that the end is a known and inevitable outcome it really takes it out of the reader, but then anyone who is a fan of Nirvana’s music will have read it or will want to read it. I had avoided both because the problem with that band is that they became so “owned” by the media and fans alike that it was difficult to maintain a personal connection with their music when the whole world was putting them on a pedestal – and this was even true in the late 90’s and throughout the 2000’s when these sorts of releases were published and various anniversaries were reached. Anyhow, the partial misery of reading of Kurt Cobain’s chronic heroin abuse and a spiral into complete and utter hopelessness and depression has been tempered by the re-discovery of his music, which on the rare occasions that it happens is a great joy: you get the music presented as new once more with the fact that you own the back catalogue and are familiar with the story. It’s partly nostalgic but also a pleasant haunting – like an encyclopedia in which eras can be cherry-picked, blended and dipped into without the all-encompassing chains that come when living through the time itself.

This probably sounds a little too whimsical and essentially I could surmise by simply stating that iTunes is great, but there is a convoluted point, which is that this has provided me with a one hand a retrospect and on the other a chance to compare eras: the early 1990's as a fan of music, film and art vs the present day. Hold that thought...

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Images Of Water That Chill Me To The Bone...

So there is a common theme that you will notice. Here's a bunch of iconic imagery that has always made me fearful and presented a sense of dread...

First up (and this isn't the best view because it's the one with the dumping stack that really does it for me, but you at least get the idea) we have Blackhall Colliery as featured in Get Carter. The bleak, black sight of the dumping conveyor against the grey north-east skyline and the cold iron expanse of sea...

Second, we have possibly the image that chills me the most - which is ridiculous when you think what it is - the Thames TV icon from the 70's and 80's that used to rise up from the base of the TV screen when certain programs were about to start. The idea of a sudden apocalyptic flooding of London in which only the iconic buildings were still above sea level and I was poised to fall into the murky depths was the stuff of nightmares. For some reason it seemed that there had been an oil spill in and around the Docklands (again my mind is far too active)...

So we're now approaching full horror mode. Though a Bond film from an era when Bond films were partially comedy films owing to Roger Moore, this model of the Atlantis sea station rising from the sea gave me the fear. And when Bond jetted out on that ski-thing towards it and the camera panned in on it's horrible spider-like legs standing as an ominous monolith against the vastness of the ocean I felt terror. Sheer terror...

Fourth on the list is a more universal image, taken straight from a book I constantly used to read on one of the biggest discoveries of the twentieth century - Ballard's Titanic project in the 1980's. It was the portrait of the final moments of the Titanic's sinking that I maintained fixation on - once more the sheer sight of such an enormous object sat against the even more infinite canvass of black sky and frozen black ocean before disappearing into the two mile oblivion beneath. Horror of horrors...

Finally (and this is a new one) - I used to have a morbid fear that led to nightmares stemming from pictures of sea lions in a zoo pool in a long-since lost Ladybird book. This image below is the nearest equivalent of this - the independence of sea-life, a huge creature lurking beneath he water, itself dwarfed by the mass of water in its endless void...

Notice the common theme? Water. Ocean. Sea. Huge objects that are themselves lost against the water. They terrify me.