Category Archives: Blog

My Blog

Book Review: One of my teachers speaks out!

NOT THE NOBLEST PROFESSION

by scarrattGraeme Scarratt

 

A teacher in the north of England recounts the amusing but miserable hell of trying to educate council estate chavs and scallies.

The reason I was drawn to this book is that Mr Scarratt was a teacher of mine and although we were in the same poverty-stricken coastal outpost as the comp he mentions,  our time together was at the local grammar school.

I chiefly remember ‘Scatterbrain’, a burly and renowned county cricketer and footballer, as the man who took the biggest run up with a cane to flay young bottoms that I ever witnessed.

When I experienced his lash, he bent me over his desk, cleared others out of his runway and then from the back of a class took off at a fair lick before flogging my arse with a bamboo rod.

In the book he mentions this technique and attributes it to one of his colleagues. Then, laughably, he claims that this robust approach gained the respect of the victims. I beg to differ.

The man was a twot and I couldn’t wait to drop French to get away, although there were many other sadistic ‘masters’ in black cloaks stalking the school corridors.

They got their come-uppance though when halfway through our time at Hartlepool Grammar, the new comprehensive education system kicked in.

Christ, it was like leaving genteel company for the wild west. The boys from the local secondary modern were a gang of ruffians who terrorised the grammar pupils and the teachers. I managed to escape the bullying by accidentally nutting one of them during an impromptu game of footy – soccer being previously outlawed at the rugger school.

Despite this descent into lawlessness, five of my chums managed to get into Oxford. I doubt Hartlepool has produced five more Oxbridge scholars since education minister Shirley Williams decided to lump everyone together.

I don’t see any evidence that this has worked – quite the opposite in fact.

Some years later when I was a journalist I happened to live next door to Shirley when she was MP for Crosby. The issue came up a couple of times. We had to agree to differ.

Advertisements

I have a new short story published in an anthology of northern writers #writetimewriteplace

Write Time  Write Place

Supported by the Arts Council

Blood on the Menu

 

IMG_20171026_130605What  I am about to relate to you is one of the strangest stories I encountered during my time as a journalist of more than 30 years. In that period I encountered many strange people and events. I have been chased by Rottweilers owned by the Yorkshire Ripper’s psychiatrist, cursed by a witch, assaulted in a courtroom and once had dinner at the home of Nasser Hindawi –  an outwardly pleasant chap who later planted a bomb on his pregnant Irish wife in an attempt to blow up an Israeli airplane.

I often related these various amusing tales at speaking engagements at writers’ forums and women’s institute gatherings. On one occasion I was invited to address a meeting of aspiring crime writers.

As was unusual, I moulded the audience, leading them through the creative processes, adding a pinch of anecdote and ended by inviting a sprinkling of questions.

I told them I had just a few minutes because there was a train to catch but one query stopped that planned journey in its tracks. A bespectacled man in his early fifties asked me what was the strangest crime story I had ever come across. I had numerous tales to tell and was reminded of my old chum Will, a crime correspondent at the Liverpool Echo who was so terrorised by the gangsters he wrote about that he ended up in an asylum. But there was another event, that although I never wrote about, was something that, to this day, fills me with dread. I told the audience about the chef.

I had met Jean-Paul in my early twenties when I spent six months on a short term contract working for a newspaper in London. One day a colleague asked me to a dinner party; persuasively he said I might find the chef for the evening quite entertaining. Jean-Paul was taking his first steps in the profession under a famously brash and flamboyant Michelin star cook.

Already some of his mentor’s less sociable habits had begun to influence him. As we slipped sauvignon blanc in the dining room we could hear a string of expletives from the kitchen, apparently aimed at an unfortunate assistant.

Those gathered around the table found it amusing enough but I was less comfortable with the situation. However the food was as good as had been promised.

Later in the evening I was speaking to the fiery Frenchman himself and mentioned to him my interest in cooking. His returning look said pah but he was kind enough to humour me. Our paths didn’t cross again and I moved back to the North West.

It must have been a decade later that I was invited to a new restaurant opening close to my home in Liverpool. It was with some surprise that I discovered Jean-Paul was running what was a trendy waterside eaterie. Clearly he had progressed from those early days in London and when I introduced myself he remained puzzled. However he was all Gallic charm and extended an invitation to return for a meal. I gave him my business card which contained my number and address,

Under deadline pressure I was unable to take up his offer immediately and months drifted by. Then, one evening, I was working late in my study listening to the wind howling outside and watching rain drumming a beat on the patio doors.

It was December so the coal-effect fire was casting shadows in the corners of the book-lined room. I was swirling a glass of wine and was ready to call it a night when the solitude and silence was interrupted by a knock at the door. I answered it to find Jean-Paul, dripping wet, edgy, with hands as if in prayer in classic latin imploring pose. I let him into the house and led him into the study where he began babbling. I told him to calm down and offered a brandy.

Jean-Paul’s breath was wheezy as if he has been exerting himself and he spoke quickly, too quickly, so I asked him to slow down and collect his thoughts.

It transpired that all those years ago while working for the famously belligerent chef he had eventually worked his way up to become his close assistant, although both being rather volatile they had threatened to part on numerous occasions.

One evening he was left in charge of the kitchen and unknown to himself a well known and influential food critic had been served while something of a crisis had taken place. It was one of those things that do happen in the best of kitchens but some weeks later the critic delighted in panning the restaurant and it’s staff. Naturally the head chef was furious and naturally Jean-Paul got the blame and resigned.

This turned into a difficult period because when it comes to the restaurant industry London is very much like a village with gossip and tittle-tattle helping to make or break reputations. He decided to remove himself from the goldfish bowl of the capital and moved to the West country. where he found a benefactor in the form of a wealthy builder’s merchant who desperately wanted his own successful eating house.

This was an opportunity Jean-Paul relished and he shaped and formed the new restaurant just how he wanted it. It was a great hit and not only for the food; our friend had developed his furious-genius approach into something akin to cabaret. Diners would gather to hear his tirades of abuse towards staff echoing from the kitchen.

Business was good and although he was pleased to be recognised as a creative chef his burning desire was to own his own restaurant. He campaigned relentlessly with the owner of the restaurant for the chance to open a second outlet on a shared partnership basis. There was a certain reluctance but eventually Jean-Paul won the day and began searching for the location he wanted.

He borrowed heavily from the bank and other investors to match the money being provided by his partner. This was a real risk but also exciting as he imagined finding a city or town to match his aspirations and talents. That city turned out to be Liverpool and the location was the waterfront. The ingredients were just right as Jean-Paul set about creating a restaurant unique to the region and one that would command respect and recognition.

Jean-Paul was fired with enthusiasm but conscious that this was also a business with his own livelihood as stake. Nevertheless he did not play it safe but created an exciting concept that captured the imagination of visitors.

The response following that opening night that I attended was very enthusiastic not least because the city did not have the greatest reputation for fine food. Everything seemed to be going well until a familiar face returned to the scene.

This is what Jean-Paul told me in his own words. The reader must imagine his broken English: “I was very happy with the restaurant, of course it was a dream come true, everything I had wished for. You know I had gone through a very dark period after leaving monsieur Vincent and truthfully it could have finished me. Luck and hard work made life worth living again and branching out on my own was very special. We soon built a good clientele and I discovered Liverpool took to something new and exciting even though people had mocked my plan to come here at first.

“Saturday night was very busy, we had a number of large parties in. I didn’t disappoint them of course and let them hear my screams of frustration from the kitchen but really I had never felt better. I went out into the restaurant to ask customers if they were enjoying the food when a face caught my eye. I knew him vaguely but couldn’t quite place him.

“ He saw me staring at him and smiled broadly. I continued doing my round when suddenly I realised who it was, I felt a surge of panic. It was the critic Mr White. After he had ruined my reputation I found things out about him and had seen him on food programmes. I did not feel good, I thought he had come to do it again to me.

“My mind was turmoil, my plans and desires rushed through my mind as I saw them crumbling in rolled newsprint.  You must understand this went beyond anxiety, I was struggling to breathe and open a bottle of wine in the kitchen. This is something I absolutely forbid so you can imagine how puzzled my staff were. I quickly swallowed a few mouthfuls to try and gain some control but I felt my heart beating fast and my hands were becoming moist with sweat.

“ I asked the waiter how Mr White’s meal was and before he could answer I found myself screaming abuse at him and told him not to make any effing mistakes. He looked a bit ashamed and admitted he taken the wrong first course. My heart sank and my legs nearly buckled and I knew it was all over.

“I then found my mind racing. How could I get out of this situation? I knew there could only be one solution; I had to do anything I could to prevent his review devastating my business. I asked one of the waiters to ask him if he was enjoying his meal and to try and find out some information about his movements.

“The waiter asked if he required a taxi at the end of the meal but he said his hotel was within walking distance. It could only have been the Plaza so I rang them and asked to be put through to Mr White in room 105. I was told he was in 326 but was not in at the moment. I waited until after he had left and took a knife from the kitchen and made my way to the hotel.”

Jean-Paul was still agitated and I noticed for the first time that his right hand was clutching something tightly in his coat pocket. He then continued his narration as I too became anxious, realising that I did not like where this particular story was going. Sure enough he went to the hotel and to the critic’s room where Jean-Paul, unsure of what to do, had accused the critic of trying to ruin him. He tells me that, as White tried to bundle him out of the room, the knife suddenly lodged itself in his chest. The poor man apparently lay dying as Jean-Paul fled the scene.

I was unsure of how to react. It seemed to be something farcical, as if from a TV comedy drama. Jean-Paul slowly  brought his hand out of his pocket and held both the weapon and a crumpled piece of newsprint. It was from the morning newspaper:

Panoramic Restaurant review

By Michael White

“Rarely have I been to such a badly organised restaurant; a kitchen occupied by a foul mouthed dervish, waiting staff who seem to revel in spilling food and meals of such dull greyness that it rather spoiled my appetite. The whole business seemed to be based on Fawlty Towers.

“Actually that was what I wrote about a restaurant many years ago. The chef, Jean-Paul Blanchard, was clearly in the early part of a drastic learning curve. “Now he has clearly completed his culinary education. His new restaurant in Liverpool is a delight and the food cooked by hands touched by angels….”

I looked at Jean-Paul and he said; ” Yes he had already written and sent his review praising me from his room by computer by  the time I reached him.”

Of course Jean-Paul was locked away but anytime I think of acting in haste over something serious or even trivial,  I remember the strange case of Jean-Paul Blanchard.

 

Jos et Jim

https://www.thefulltoss.com/england-cricket-blog/jos-jimmy-are-they-all-that/

JOS & JIMMY … ARE THEY ALL THAT?

J

It’s time for a BOGOF on TFT. Today we have two articles in one. The first, by Media Penguin, considers a fan favourite with limited red ball experience. The second, by Jack Mendel, considers a player with more red ball experience than than the whole England T20 team put together. Over to you fellas …

Jos Buttler

T20 artiste Jos Butter has pencilled in a £200,000 engagement in Bangladesh this winter when everyone else remotely connected with English cricket will have their minds elsewhere.

There is still a chance he could be picked for Australia but he has not furthered his cause by failing to make (at the time of writing) even a half century in the championship. He has played the last few games for Lancashire, rather bizarrely in place of club skipper Steven Croft.

The tongues clacking in the Red Rose suite in the match against table-toppers Essex reckoned the selectors have leaned on Lancs to give Buttler some game time. It would explain why he keeps getting picked – there appears to be no other reason.

I witnessed Buttler narrowly fail to get a fifty a couple of weeks back and then fall for 13 in the first innings last week. I emailed the BBC radio commentary team predicting his demise within half an hour – he obliged with a slash after about 14 minutes.

Look the guy has talent – for scoops, ramps and sideflips but the mentality required for concentrated innings building appears to have been left out of his cricketing make-up. I don’t even think a few sessions on the inner chimp with Hameed would make any difference.

If Buttler had his sights set on a seat to Australia he would have knuckled down to some county cricket at the start of the season instead of shovelling IPL cash into his back pocket.

In fact the ECB should have insisted on it but seem to be allowing the ‘stars’ some leeway when it comes to piling up the rupees.

Buttler won a couple of games in the T20 – not that it helped Lancs miserable effort this season.  Players like Buttler probably won’t even need to be associated with a county team down the line – which would be no bad thing is you ask me.

@BarryEditor1

Jimmy Anderson

James Anderson’s home-away imbalance doesn’t prevent him from being a great, but it might stop him from being the greatest.

His achievement will no doubt generate a plethora of think pieces saying he’s either unquestionably the best ever or moaning at how overrated he is. The reality, however, is that he’s somewhere in the middle of great and overrated.

His dominance at home makes him, probably, the best quick there’s been in English conditions. But his stats abroad means his overall career requires a caveat.

Taking 500 wickets is no mean feat. It puts him in an elite club synonymous with being ‘great’. The question is whether he deserves to be at the top, even if he does eventually take more test wickets than any other seamer in history?

The simple answer is no. Currently the Burnley quick is perched at sixth in the all time ‘most wickets’ rankings, and third in terms of seam bowlers – only Glenn McGrath (563) and Courtney Walsh (519) have claimed more test scalps. But passing those two doesn’t mean that he’s better than them.

Indeed, it doesn’t even mean he’s better than people he went past a long time ago – such as Wasim AkramWaqar Younis and Dennis Lillee.

Anderson is extremely good in England. He’s taken 19 of 23 five-wicket-halls at home, and taken 66% of his wickets at home (329 out of 501).

But away from home he simply isn’t world class. Anderson has just 34% of his wickets – 171 out of 501 on foreign soil. Even his averages are miles apart: 24 at home, and 33 away.

In this respect, he’s not as good as his closest rivals, or those he’s gone past in the ‘Most Wickets’ list. McGrath’s home-away record is far superior to Anderson’s with 51% of scalps at home and 49% away (with a significantly better average too).

Meanwhile, Courtney Walsh actually took more wickets away from home (290/519) than in the Caribbean. The likes of Kapil Dev, Sir Richard Hadlee, Shaun Pollock and others also had more even home-away records than Anderson.

The statistics prove that all these bowlers were more adaptable. They excelled on different pitches and overcame conditions that didn’t necessarily help their bowling.

Maybe Anderson is a better swing bowler than some of these greats. But in other respects he’s clearly not on the same level.

Anderson is most certainly an English great. He’s probably the greatest English bowler in English conditions ever. Indeed he’s probably one of the best swing bowlers ever.

But regardless of where he ends up on the ‘most wickets’ list, he’ll never be the greatest seam bowler of all time.

I’m a little despot, short and stout….

DEAR LEADER
Jang Jin-Sung

 

dearleaderSuch is the absurdity of the North Korean regime, you could be forgiven for thinking it was actually based on 1984. Sounds a bit far-fetched I know, but hang on…………..one of the state intelligence directorates is genuinely called Office 101. Or maybe one of the Dear Leaders actually had a sense of humour? This book is one of several memoirs by defectors from the tinpot regime in recent years. What makes this a little different is that the author was one of the inner circle, protected from starvation and to a certain extent secret police investigations. He was at the seat of power during the reign of Kim Jong-il, father of the current loon Kim Jong-un. The author rose to prominence after penning an epic poem about the supreme leader. The book encompasses Stalinism, feudalism and Orwellian nightmares. The gilded lives of the chosen few contrasting strongly with the dirt poor penury of the masses. And like in Orwell’s 1984, the upper echelons have to be able to doublethink – accepting both the absurdity and life enhancing situation they find themselves in. Currently the Dear Leader is threatening a nuclear holocaust – America’s response ranges from blitzing them out of existence to more sanctions. Sanctions! Many people already subsist on nothing more than rice water! This book details Jin-Sung’s awakening to the perils of living close to the light when a South Korean book supposed to be used for propaganda purposes was handed to a trusted friend. Escape and adventures ensue!

#The History Boys – grammar school baloney

I am a late arrival at the platform containing one of the most hyped plays of modern times. Alan Bennett, lugubrious Yorkie, has been feted like some kind of colossus of literature for this tale of 80s grammar school sixth-formers aspiring to the silver spires of Oxford or Cambridge.  Perhaps because I was not caught up in the critical storm of approval for the theatre production, and later movie,  that I can take a more dispassionate view. One thing struck me immediately as discordant – the setting in 1983 did not tally at all with the story which was clearly based on Bennett’s own experiences of the 1950s. In fact it was ludicrously out of sync. To have quasi-intellectual teenagers quoting from popular movies and choosing Brief Encounter  instead of say A Man For All Seasons was just wrong.  And then there was the covert and later overt homosexuality one associates with public schools – certainly not grammar schools in the 50s or even later. I can see the appeal of pupils being subject to different ways of inculcating the intellectual tools required for the Oxbridge exam from an old veteran master and a new, flashy one but I felt it fell down on too many levels. I speak from some experience. When I went to grammar school, my later next door neighbour Shirley Williams, decided we should go comprehensive. After three years being whipped by masters in black capes we were then bashed by thugs from the local secondary modern. Incredibly, in a small poverty stricken coastal town, and despite the trauma of  the change, five of my chums got into Oxford. An infinitely more dramatic tale which I may, one day, write about,Historyboys

Cricket beside the seaside

Lancashire v Middlesex 9/6/17

Trafalgar Road, Southport.

Lancs won by 8 wickets

 

https://www.thefulltoss.com/england-cricket-blog/outground-cricket-bloody-marvellous/Birkdale

 

It had it all – a sun blazing on my baldy pate, a washed out day fit for gumboots or goloshes and two other days that at times required a jumper and an overcoat. The cricket weren’t bad either and even though just three days of play were possible, the Red Rose were able to inflict the champions first defeat in 21 outings.

There is something unique about outground cricket, especially at the seaside. But Birkdale is the posh bit of Southport, far from the commotion of the funfair or the whiff of fish and chips.

The cricket ground is not far from the golf club which will host the Open championship in July.

Birkdale has wide rolling boulevards and most homes have their own driveway – nevertheless at the southern approach the authorities have imposed a staggering mile-long parking exclusion zone.

I can’t quite make out if this is to funnel motorists to the designated car park zone (fiver a go and throw in a lengthy hike) or to ensure the top cops and senior Town Hall officials who inhabit these parts are not disrupted by the hoi polloi. One thing is certain, it is not on traffic management grounds.

At the ground there is something of a queue. Given the heightened atmosphere over security I imagined there was a frantic scrabble for exploding sandwiches.

In the event it was an alcohol search. A table had been put up for the contraband and was groaning with two cans of cider.

An old lad in the queue recalled the 1981 encounter with Middlesex at this very venue when the lines snaked down Trafalgar Road and the beer ran out by 2 p.m as Clive Lloyd knocked a few into the leafy avenues. The occasion? A day off for the common people while Charles and Di tied the knot.

A couple of temporary grandstands had been erected and chairs and benches dotted the ground which backs on the rail line ferrying passengers between Liverpool and Southport.  Even though a sign stated that no dogs were allowed on the ground I spied Jack Russell eager for a book signing to commence.

The first day really was a scorcher, ice creams and Crabbie’s ginger beer  being gobbled up greedily. Three chaps behind me were debating various matters relating to the game but the foremost question seemed to be when to get the first ale in.

‘Is the sun over the yardarm?’ one asked. ‘Who knows’ quoth another. They decided on 11.45.

After a slurp of lubrication they embarked on the highlights of their careers in organised cricket – top scores of 24, 20 and 9 respectively.

In the meantime the Londoners appeared to be ruing the decision to bat as wickets quickly fell. At lunchtime there were rumours of dark mutterings from the Middlesex players about the pitch.

I took a stroll around the boundary and bumped into an old colleague from Trinity Mirror. Inevitably it descended into him bemoaning his lot – forced to work from home on a rota made for a Roman galley slave. And one of the lads had to take a 25% pay cut! Imagine having to survive on 90 grand a year in austerity Britain.  

Middlesex were skittled for 180 but cynical Lanky lags merely looked to the heavens when Davis and Livingstone departed in the opening over. The ship was steadied to leave Lancs 123-4 at the end of day one.

In contrast to sunburn weather on the first day, the following was a complete washout. Not many ice creams sold or £4 sausage barms for that matter.

Day three was decisive and particularly innings from MaClaren (75) and Bailey (58) which  propelled Lancs into a lead of 129.

I disappeared due to family commitments but was back on day four when Middlesex were struggling to build a lead with four wickets left.

This time the weather was a mixture of overcast condition and blue skies but still very much on the parky side.

Still a good crowd in but with an air of inevitability about it. The champions cobbled together a lead of 107 which was never enough to make a game of it. Lancs won by eight wickets with Hameed showing a glimmer of form by painstakingly making his way to 38. While most players are greedy for runs the young man ekes them out in miserly fashion, almost unhappy at having to leave his defensive pose.

A great day out is outground cricket and I am pleased to say Lancashire have also played at Liverpool and Blackpool this season. Sir Ian Botham has also made noises about taking Durham back out into the heartlands. Surely its time Yorkshire eyed up some of the haunts they abandoned? Eyy up lad, there’s nowt like it.

 

MediaPenguin

@BarryEditor1