Monthly Archives: August 2018

Burka King

I’m not a great fan of Boris Johnson, but I feel he’s getting some unwarranted flak on the Burka-Gate scandal; not so much for what he said, but for who he is. He now faces a show trial. Just laugh it off, Boris; it’s just a Brexit diversion.

Let’s not forget that he spoke against a ban on the full veil. I also don’t favour a ban, but I don’t like full face coverings. Nobody’s face should be covered in public places where security is an issue, or where clear communication is needed. You wouldn’t be allowed to wear a balaclava in a bank, and the idea that someone can teach in a school wearing a veil is preposterous.

Boris has got people talking about a contentious and complex subject. His bank robber and letter box comments might have upset some people but we all know what he means. All he’s done is make a couple of fairly lame humorous comments about garments that some people chose to wear. If women aren’t wearing certain clothes by choice then that’s another discussion that is needed. I notice it’s only women who wear full face coverings. When I see a woman in these Medieval garments I see oppression. It demeans the wearer and disrespects others. You are stressing your difference. You’re saying “Don’t talk to me.” If you want to speak to me, I want to see your face.

Free speech is being eroded with each passing day. If a person faces a hearing for these comments, it’s a sad day for all of us who view serious issues through the prism of humour. Does this mean we can’t chuckle at hipsters’ Civil War beards or people wearing pyjamas to go to the shops?

As I say, I’m generally not a Boris fan. I feel I could have a laugh with him down the pub, though I wouldn’t trust him. The reverse is probably true with Jeremy Corbyn. Jez has been quiet on the burka issue. The Boris issue has taken some sting out of Jeremy’s Jew-baiting. I’d imagine Jez is keen on full-face coverings though, whether a Hezbollah scarf or an IRA hood.

Oh come on I’m only joking, Jeremy. Can’t we laugh about anything these days?

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Is it time for an anti-demo march?

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

So, another summer spent planning our work days around special events. In July we had the Gay Pride event, Donald Trump’s visit, and the ever-growing programme of running and cycling events that make life difficult for those of us forced to use London’s streets.

I find the Gay Pride event difficult to work around, so that was out. This year it coincided with an unlikely World Cup quarter final for England, so I was happy to have this day off (I got a normal day in on July 11th and caught the second half of the semi-final. I wish I hadn’t).

Next it was time for the visit of Team Trump. I’m not a supporter of Mr Trump, but I find him interesting and amusing, rather like Boris (What’s Donald Trump’s views on Uber, I wonder?). Initially, I was dismayed at Mayor Khan’s decision to allow the flying of a balloon depicting Donald as a baby. Trump had previously taken unfair digs at the Mayor over London’s record of terrorism and violent crime, but I felt it was Mr Khan’s duty to stay neutral. Was he showing his political colours by sanctioning the anti-Trump balloon? Would it make us look stupid? However, when I saw as picture of the balloon my standpoint shifted a bit and I could just about view the stunt as traditional British satire (should readers of my articles ever crowd-fund a satirical balloon of myself, I like to think I’d see the funny side).

I knew something was planned for Friday 13th, but there were no signs up warning of disruption. I therefore tried to work, bearing in mind that should there be problems on Saturday it would mean three expensive days off – Sunday 15th was already written off because of a running race. I just managed to avoid an evening of cycle misery in the City on Tuesday 17th by taking a Going Home job north from Goldman Sachs. Before the month was out there would be another two days of cycling to look forward to on the 28th & 29th

Anyway, on Friday 13th I managed to avoid the West End and complete two account jobs. I knew crucial roads in the West End were closed off, but I thought they’d hold their demos, and then everything would get back to normal. At lunchtime I heard that one of the two marches wasn’t even due to start until 2pm and would go on until 5pm. I drove home. The disruption went on well beyond 5pm anyway, so my decision to get out of town was vindicated.

The real disgrace here is allowing demonstrations to close a working city, particularly on a weekday. I often get caught in demos at the weekend, but the traffic is generally lighter and you have a fighting chance of navigating around closed off streets. On a weekday, gridlock brings large areas to a halt. It just shouldn’t be allowed. Don’t give me that “it’s everyone’s right to protest” nonsense. What about the rights of those who live and work in the affected areas? We all have rights.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Mayor will allow similar stunts when even more contentious world leaders make visits to London – real dictators and despots. There are far worse people than Donald Trump, yet the real tyrants only attract a fraction of outrage when they visit our shores.

Who are these people who can spare a day to protest against a president of a friendly country? Who are they trying to impress? Mr Trump wasn’t even in London at the time of the protests. I think many of these people have nothing better to do with their time than hang around in a pack with other like-minded people waving silly placards. Maybe they’re fed up with complaining to each other on social media about how terrible everything is? Maybe they self-diagnose the need to get out more? They’re preaching to the converted. They’re not teaching anybody anything, or changing people’s minds. Their messages are meaningless and confused. “Peace”, “Love”, “No to Racism”, &c., &c… OK, fine. We can all agree on that, now tell me something new? I don’t remember such Peace & Love messages when Chinese and Saudi leaders visited. At least Mr Trump’s own people can vote him out; his presidency is a matter for the American people.

Cycling and running racing events have reached saturation point. These events are run for commercial gain. The organisers get advertising and the participants enjoy themselves, but the majority are put out. The authorities seriously need to re-think demos and marches. London’s clearly not open for business on these days of action. The city can’t be closed off whenever someone doesn’t like something someone says and goes on Twitter to arrange a day of disruption – or however these events are arranged (I don’t know, I’ve never been invited to one).

Anyway, here’s my message: we’ve had enough of people blocking up our work space, so bagger orf.

If nothing is done to stop the marches, maybe it’s time for an anti-demo demo?

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The Book They Tried To Ban (Excerpt)

Hey Teacher!

This short excerpt  from my forthcoming book concerns my ill-fated period as a student teacher. What follows if from the most personal and autobiographical chapter: “My Personal Revolution.” I’ve chosen this section for the delectation of teachers, failed teachers, and others who knew me in 1997/1998. I shall post more excerpts in the coming weeks.

I took to being a student straight away. Loved it. The work wasn’t too challenging. The living was easy. I was privileged to be one of the last cohorts to get a full tuition and maintenance grant. I feel sorry for today’s students who have to take on part-time jobs to survive, and then leave with a huge bill that’ll take years to pay off.

In my final year at Bradford I took part in a student tutoring programme, spending time in a girls’ secondary school helping out in the classroom. I enjoyed my afternoons at school and thought I might like to be a teacher. I’d been thinking about becoming a university lecturer but was put off when I realised how competitive it was. I was now confident I could be a good teacher and applied for courses. I was delighted to be offered a place on a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course at the University of Birmingham. I was to train to teach Secondary English.

Before I went up to Birmingham to start my teaching course I had to spend a week or two observing at a primary school. I enjoyed myself at a school in Blackheath and was still convinced this teaching lark was for me. Oh the idealism of it.

My placement ended at the end of the school term. I joined the teachers in a local pub and curry house on the last day. These female primary school teachers were the biggest bunch of boozers I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. After a while one teacher asked me how many beers I’d had. When I replied I’d had three pints she told me I’d have to do better. I’d have to up my game by way of drinking, but I was excited about my fledgling teaching career.

At the University of Birmingham I enjoyed the university-based study, but wasn’t prepared for the practical placement. I was allocated a girls’ school in workaday East Birmingham. On placement you are for all intents and purposes a proper teacher, albeit with a reduced workload. I had to plan lessons and schemes of work, deliver lessons, and take books away to be marked (usually undertaken at the New Inn, Harborne). My brief experience as a student tutor in Bradford had lulled me into a false sense of security. School discipline was poor, and staff morale was low. The pupil intake was 80% Muslim and the school felt as if it was run by the Taliban. It was oppressive. A member of senior management told me the school was known as a “Paki school”, and it played this up in fine style. Eid was a big occasion, but I was told the school didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter. I couldn’t imagine this place being much fun for the Christian minority.

Girls would disappear for months, but their absence wasn’t treated as anything unusual. I believe they were being sent to Pakistan to get married. I found the whole set-up abhorrent, but what could I do? I was just a student teacher, struggling to make sense of it all and keep out of trouble. Even back then I knew not to question cultural practices.

I’d like to blame my failure to see the course out on the oppressive Christmas tree-less environment of the school, but I can’t. I’d like to tell you that I had the no-nonsense hard man demeanour of one of Ray Winstone’s film characters, but I can’t. I had no stage presence. My nervousness probably showed, and the absurdity of my situation played on me. Well, I would have laughed if someone told me in the 1970s that I’d be a teacher.

However stressful it is pushing a cab down Oxford Street, it’s nothing like waiting for that school bell to go. When thirty teenaged girls run riot they are a match for anybody, and I found it difficult to assert my authority without being heavy-handed and threatening whole-class detentions. Things could be unruly at my Hornchurch comprehensive in the 70s, but at least there was some discipline. The principal sanction here was a black stamp in the girls’ exercise book.

I also thought it would be an eight-to-four job, with a bit of marking in the evenings. I’m quite a disciplined person. In the cab I have exactly an hour for lunch and exactly thirty minutes for coffee. In teaching, you’re working to bells, but your work duties are flexible and are frequently changed at a moment’s notice. If you have any free time they’ll find you something to do. And if you have no free time, they’ll still find you something extra to do. Your lunch break could be taken up with playground duty, and you could be running any number of little projects before and after school hours. Once they found out I was a cab driver they’d surely have me driving the school bus. I could see the way it was going and I couldn’t live my life like that.

A fair few students on my course had already left. I never thought I’d do the same, but soon after New Year in 1998 I left before I was pushed. I returned to London with my tail between my legs and to my mum in Blackheath.

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