Archive for February, 2013

Get an Education, Son

Monday, February 18th, 2013

My mum and dad left school at 14 years old and were determined their two sons would receive a good education; perhaps go to university. But what defines a good education?

I passed my “eleven plus” examination in elementary school and was eagerly waiting to be allocated to one of the two grammar schools in the city: Dynevor or Bishop Gore. To my horror I was posted to Penlan Comprehensive School. Opened in 1956 as a “multilateral” school, it had been redefined as a “comprehensive” school and I was one of first guinea pigs chosen to test this new system.

Transferring from the safe haven of an elementary school at the age of eleven to the daunting secondary school comprising 1500 pimply and hormone crazed schoolboys was not an easy transition. I was reasonably successful in elementary school where the main subjects taught were the “three Rs” (reading, writing and rithmetic) and I didn’t have much problem with them. Following the successful eleven plus results I was introduced to my nemesis: “geometry!” I should have known this represented the tip of the iceberg and worse was to follow.

One passing comment on my introduction to the isosceles triangle et al. My teacher, the folically challenged Mr. Watson, could not understand why I was so inept at geometry, so he pronounced me as being lazy and a big head now that I had passed the “eleven plus.” We never liked each other, and hitting him between the eyes with a lump of chalk during a classroom skirmish didn’t help foster a better relationship.

Secondary school introduced a variety of new subjects: English, English Literature, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, History, French, Welsh, Russian, Mathematics, Woodwork, Pottery, Music, Metalwork, Art, Latin, Geology, Religious Instruction (later changed to Religious Education,) and PE (physical education.)

Oh boy! Physical education also introduced me to communal showers and the thought of stripping naked in front of a bunch of strangers was appalling to me. For the next seven years I would rarely be addressed by my first name. This applied to teachers and fellow pupils. Another phenomenon was an all boy environment rather than mixed classes in elementary school. We seemed to lose touch with the female species at a crucial time when our male hormones were racing at 100mph. Maybe that’s why so much emphasis was placed on showers to cool our ardor.

At the end of our third year, at the tender age of 14-15, we were required to make a decision which would shape the rest of their lives. We had to choose between the path of the sciences or the arts. Unfortunately we didn’t have any career guidance counselors at our school and the teachers were not very helpful either. The Labor Government of the sixties made a big push into promoting science and technology, and promised there would be many jobs available in those fields. On this basis I chose the sciences despite having little talent for them and this unforced error would haunt me for the next 15 years.

In retrospect success in certain subjects was so dependent on the quality of the teacher which varied greatly in my time at Penlan, none more so than languages. I was so disillusioned with the academic world at 15 that I seriously considered leaving school and taking an apprenticeship as an electrician.

A statement made by one of the senior teachers has resonated with me practically every day of my life: “I’m not here to give you an education. I’m teaching you to pass exams!” Maybe that explains why the history teacher never arranged a field trip to the many mediaeval castles in close proximity to the school. What a wasted opportunity.

My lasting impressions of a seven year residence at Penlan Comprehensive:

  • Spending endless hours in a five-storey matchbox traipsing up and down countless flights of stairs.
  • Milk monitors arriving at school on horseback.
  • Avoiding sadistic arts and crafts teachers
  • Grunter, Toad, Crow, Taffy, Stumpy, Pip, Dayo, Skinny, Hitler, Bummer and Fifi; affectionate nicknames for some of the teachers.
  • The stench emanating from the kitchens from yesterday’s leftovers and easily converted into pig swill to be picked up by the local farmer.

It’s very appropriate how the letters from “Penlan” can be rearranged into “Penal.” The school motto was “O NERTH I NERTH” which means “from strength to strength.” Little did I know that I would need all my strength to survive the traumas of Penlan Comprehensive which was mercifully put to rest in 2005.


Doctor, Doctor, Give me Something to ease my Pain

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Two weeks ago the Atlanta Falcons were within 10 yards of reaching the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history. That they fell tantalizingly close lies squarely at the feet of quarter back Matt Ryan. Yes, he threw for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, but failed to deliver when it really mattered.

The Falcons led 17-0 after one quarter and 24-14 at halftime. They couldn’t score another point in the second half and, shades of the previous week, the defense appeared to run out of steam yielding two more touchdowns for a Niners 28-24 victory. Perhaps it’s a little unfair to lay the blame solely on Ryan’s shoulders, but he gave up two interceptions and a fumble in a pointless second half.

 There was more than a ray of hope when Harry Douglas’ catch was confirmed after review; allowing Ryan to attempt another comeback win with very little time on the clock. Alas some players are destined for greatness while others are confined to mediocrity.

Defeat was a tough pill to swallow, made sickenly worse by the buildup to Super Bowl Sunday. The two teams contesting for the Lombardi Trophy are the Baltimore Ravens and of course the San Francisco Forty Niners. Ironically brothers Jim and John Harbough are the respective head coaches which have afforded the talking heads a field day.

Niners’ quarter back Colin Kaepernick maybe a nice guy but I do not want another shot of him kissing his tattooed bicep. Neither do I want to witness “killer” Ray Lewis getting his hands on the trophy. The last time the Super Bowl was held in Atlanta was in 2000. In the early hours a man was found dead in Ray Lewis’ limousine and Lewis was covered in the man’s blood. One of Lewis’s gang friends is currently serving time for the team.

A few days later, 4000 miles away, the Swans helped to ease my pain by holding Chelsea to 0-0 draw and defeated the Pensioners 2-0 on aggregate to reach the League Cup Final for the first team in their 100 year history. Ironically, the Swans were forced to savor a bitter sweet moment because of the silly antics of a ball boy, Charlie Morgan.

Chelsea were pressing for a goal with a few minutes remaining and the ball had gone out of play. The proper Charlie refused to return the ball to Chelsea player Hazard, and the seventeen year old heir to a $60 million fortune promptly lay on the ball to prevent Hazard from retrieving it. Real time presented a picture of Hazard giving the ball boy a good kicking which he richly deserved. However replays confirmed that the player kicked the ball from under the spoilt little brat. Nevertheless Hazard was sent off and Charlie received his fifteen minutes of fame worldwide.

What can one make of this crazy world when a ball boy achieves more headlines than his club reaching a cup final in their Centenary year? Thankfully the sporting romantic side of me received a shot in the arm from the march of the giant killers in the 4th round of the FA Cup. Premiership teams Liverpool, Aston Villa, Norwich, Queens Park Rangers, and my beloved Spurs all fell to clubs from lower divisions. Americans don’t quite understand the concept of sharks swimming in the same pool as minnows and sometimes coming off second best.

Football’s January transfer deadline proved to be a whimper save for some panic buys by Harry “barrow boy” Redknapp in his quest to save QPR from relegation while Alan Pardew bought himself a French Connection at Newcastle. Surprisingly Swansea City agreed to sell Danny Graham without arranging a replacement. Graham was the club’s top scorer last season with 14 goals. Admittedly he hasn’t played regularly this season due to the emergence of Spanish midfielder Michu, but he managed to score 7 goals this term with limited playing opportunities.  I hope they don’t rue the day Graham returned home to his native North East because Spaniards don’t relish the cold weather.

Yesterday, Wales began their defense of the Six Nations Title only to be kicked into touch by a rampaging Irish team. No team, not even the All Blacks, can trail 3-30 at half time and expect to win at international level. It was commendable that Wales fought back to 22-30 in the second half, but can we stop deluding ourselves? Wales has now lost their last five home games with Rob Howley temporarily in charge in lieu of Warren Gatland’s leave of absence to coach the British Lions. Unfortunately foot soldiers rarely make good generals.

How many weeks are there to the beginning of the baseball season?