Archive for 2013

The field of the gods

19.6.13 § 1 commentarius

The field of the gods is quiet tonight,
without corn, without barley.
The god sleeps, theft unseen.

The field of the gods is empty tonight,
without ward, without guardian.
Ripened corn, stolen with falsehood.

The field of the gods, without white barley,
the bull's red blood spilt on the ground.
A serpent has bound the Thunderer's feet.

The field of the gods, plundered by giants,
without land, without claim.
A mother's three sons plunder at twilight.

A boy and his dog

26.5.13 § 0 commentarii

When I was four, I insisted that I wanted a dog. I'm not fully sure whence this inexorable conviction came, but nevertheless, I was solid on this. As young girls insist that they need a pony (preferably in pink), I wanted a dog.

For what, if I recall correctly, was the only time in which my parents actually indulged my childhood whims, we got a dog. We went all the way to Wiltshire, to a reputable kennel (as scathing as I can be about my parents, they always had a very strong commitment to animal welfare[1]) and they allowed me to pick out a puppy.

I went for the runt of the litter. Shetland Sheepdogs are, in general, bred for show. Drooping ears and short legs, with a vaguely timid demeanour. I went for the long-legged, perky-eared pup who came wagging his tail to the edge of the pen. That was my dog.

For reasons which still have yet to be determined, I initially insisted that he was called Gwalchmai. Either an irresponsible uncle had been filling my head with Arthurian nonsense, or I had just realised quite how bizarre my own middle name (Geraint) was and wanted a fellow-sufferer. Exhibiting a sound good sense which would characterise his entire life, my dog refused this moniker entirely and ended up responding only to “Scamp”.

In contrast to my actual brother, who has a good twenty-five years on me, I grew up with this dog. As well as teaching me all the things a dog is supposed to teach a young man, such as responsibility etc., Scamp was often my only friend. Shelties bond to one person and one person alone, and that dog was almost my shadow. When I was unhappy, he skulked behind me. When I was grounded, he howled outside my window. When I was happy, he would accompany me up and down the valley of the river to which I still regularly pay devotion: he would sit patiently (if puzzled) at the bank when I waded out to pour a libation. When I was in a fight, he would lick my wounds. Literally. One day before my eighteenth birthday I was badly beaten with a metal bar: when I was released from hospital and got home, he climbed on top of me, licked my scars and would not leave me for the following three days.

And ten years ago today, I killed him.

Few things make me cry. My husband accuses me, not without justice, of being cold. But this makes me cry: writing this I have tears running down my face, even a decade later.

Scamp had a heart condition. The first I knew of it, he fell over and pissed all over the place. We assumed this was just age. It happened a few more times. Annoyed, I walked him down to the PDSA, and they gave us some tablets for him. He showed some improvements. A few weeks later, the same happened, but he didn't get up again afterwards. He lay on his side twitching and whimpering. It was about eight o'clock. Mam was at work. I picked him up and carried him the two miles to the PDSA. They prescribed him more tablets. I carried him home again. He was not in a good state. I got him to drink some water and laid down with him, his back against me. He turned his head and licked my face a couple of times. His breathing was irregular. Every breath he wheezed.

So I carried him back to the PDSA. They examined him and told me he was dying. That he probably wouldn't make the night through.

That the kindest thing to do was to put him to sleep.

And I said yes.

They asked me to lay him out on the bench to administer the injection. I wouldn't. I climbed up myself, my dog in my arms, and sat with him in my lap. He didn't struggle, because he trusted me. [Ten years later, I am actually bawling my eyes out right now.] They administered the injection, and I sat with him in my lap, my face next to his, whispering him into the Otherworld.

I still haven't forgiven myself.


1) Well, I say that. On the one hand, my mam would only ever buy free range eggs, but at the same time one of my earliest memories is curling up on mam's fur coat in the corner of a pub[2] when I was probably about three or so. It was the eighties, and mam was a big fan of Dallas and Dynasty.

2) I am not unaware of the irony in this.

So that’s me for you - Part II

30.4.13 § 5 commentarii

I can’t remember precisely what it was that made me think of teaching as a career. I always wanted to be a teacher when younger, and my going to university in the first place was vaguely motivated by this as some kind of end goal (although, in honesty, my major motivation was simply to escape). However, think of it I did, and began to look into doing a PGCE. I was ambivalent about the entire affair, having convinced myself that I really didn’t like children, my thoughts probably clouded by wholly inaccurate memories of what a bunch of little shits I and my peers were at school[1]. Grudgingly, I booked a placement on the School Experience Programme, classroom experience being a prerequisite even to get to interview stage. Gloomily, I predicted that I would hate it, and that frankly I was only getting into this for the money, and much gritting of teeth would serve to get me through.

Consider my surprise then, when I discovered that I loved every moment. Rather than just sitting at the back and observing lessons, the teachers at my host school got me involved in the actual teaching process right from the start. It was utterly exhilarating. Being called “Sir” and “Mr Jones” took some getting used to, I will admit. I’d only just become accustomed to being called “Chef”. The day also changed my mind about how I wanted to do my training. No university-based PGCE course for me, I wanted to be in the thick of it right from the start. I got home and began to draft my application for a place on the School Direct scheme. I submitted my application just before the Easter holidays, and of course a frought couple of weeks followed as I waited for a response. Why it never occurred to me that it was bloody Easter and there would be nobody there is entirely beyond me.

Two days after the end of the holidays, I was invited to interview. This took place last Thursday, and by Ogmios it was one of the most gruelling interview processes I have ever experienced in my life: about five hours. I also had to go into work straight afterwards[2], and was utterly exhausted by the time I got home. However, a sleepless night followed. The following day I received an email saying that I had impressed the interview panel, and only one portion of the interview remained. Normally, a candidate would be observed interacting with some pupils, to get a feel for how well they do with children. Now, this should have happened on the Thursday interview, but the school at which it was being held was in the middle of an OFSTED inspection. So this final part was held yesterday morning.

I had been advised that I didn’t have to dress up for the interview (good, I’ve only got the one suit and an evening of being hung up in the office at work has done it no favours in the odour stakes), but to be on the safe side I chose slacks, blue shirt and tie and a brown blazer. With my glasses on, I looked so teacher-like that I actually felt somewhat disturbed. Finding the school where the interview was to be held was something of a difficulty, particularly given that I was a touch hung over (foolish boy!): it turned out to be in the middle of a 1970s-vintage suburban estate of neat little bungalows with well-tended gardens and old men glaring suspiciously at sixth formers smoking furtively just beyond the school perimeter. Feelings of biliousness fled as I entered the school, to be replaced not with anxiety but anticipation. Oddly, I didn’t feel at all nervous, in spite of having not even the first idea of what was expected of me.

I was only told what I was going to do while being escorted down the corridor toa small classroom. Inside was a group of six pupils from Year 7 (about 11 or 12 years old). I was to introduce myself, attempt to elicit some language from them, maybe try to teach them something. And that, my dears, was the entirety of my brief. Panic flared momentarily as I crossed the threshold and found six faces staring at me expectantly. Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck. I was magnificently unprepared for this.

“Bonjour les étudiants! Je m’appèle Monsieur Jones,” I said cheerily. Oddly, it seemed that my voice had deepened by about an octave.

“Bonjour monsieur” they trilled in unison. I sat down, suddenly feeling astonishingly calm. I adjusted my glasses, forgot entirely about the pair of teachers conducting the observation and smiled.

“So, tell me, what have you been doing in your most recent lesson?” It turned out that they had been studying directions. Now, it’s been a good eighteen years or so since I covered the same ground, and actual situations in real life where one needs to give somebody directions to la plage or similar are uncommonly few. I got them to recap what they had learnt and then explained that I was new to the school and horribly lost: could they direct me to the canteen? So I got each of the six to direct me around the school and then taught them how to say how to go upstairs and downstairs in French. I realised I hadn’t asked them their names, quickly rectified the situation. We returned to the little directing game (because I had no idea of what else to do), and soon enough had them giggling as they got themselves lost in the school as well. One lad was rather quiet, so I drew him into the discussion (thank fuck, I remembered his name). By this point I was flying, and surprisingly really enjoying myself. We switched to English, and I asked them about how they had adjusted to moving from primary school to secondary, what their favourite subjects were and so on. Then they had a turn asking me questions: one of the girls entirely flummoxed me by asking me where I was teaching at the moment. The allotted twenty minutes flew by, and before I knew it I was bidding them au revoir, bonne journée and walking back along the corridor.

One of the interviewers asked me how I thought it had gone, whether I had found it at all uncomfortable or nerve-wracking. I averred that yes, for an instant, it had been the scariest thing I’d done in a while, but I thought it had gone well. It came to light that being thrust into this situation with the bare minimum of preparation was the whole point of the exercise: to see how well I could think on my feet. In retrospect, there are some things I would certainly have done differently had I my wits wholly about me: got them interacting with each other perhaps. Certainly I would have reviewed the vocabulary they had been taught first- embarrassingly, my mind rebelled and replaced tout droit with tout directe, and I’m sure I said it twice by mistake. But on the whole I don’t think I did badly.

And, it seems that I didn’t. I received an email this morning offering me a place on the training course beginning this September. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet, but great gods above, I am going to be a teacher. Bloody hellfire. Me, a teacher.

So, in the four months that intervene, I’ve set myself a few goals. Of course, I want to discharge my last duties as head chef with a degree of honour: after I finish this post I’m going to have to start work on finalising the summer menu, and giving some thought to arranging for a successor to take over at the beginning of August, as I am not going to finish Saturday service on the 31st and then rock up at my new training school on the 2nd of September. I also need to get my driving license, and stop pootling about town on a provisional license that expired three years ago (to have a new career stymied by a bloody traffic offense would just be embarrassing). I’m also going to have to come to some kind of solution for my alcohol problem, although I rather believe that not working in a sodding pub will go some way towards this goal.

For the first time in absolutely ages, I feel excited and positive about the future. I dare not leave the flat for fear of having somebody take offense at the stupid grin I can’t seem to get off my face.


1) More sober reflection on this has led me to conclude that my memories should not be counted as representative. Not only does everything seem far more significant and important than it actually is when one is a teenager, but I should have also remembered that what seems daring and astonishingly badly behaved when a teenager probably won’t seem the same as an adult. Gobbing wads of chewed-up paper at the back of David Parker’s head in History class is rather put into perspective by getting into fistfights in town centre gay bars. Besides, children are largely little shits to each other, not their teachers.

2) I deftly parried questions on why I had turned up to work in a suit by claiming to have been in court all day. It is a damning indictment of my character as perceived at work that this was accepted without question by my colleagues. One even cracked the old “what do you call a Welshman in a suit?” joke. The sods.

So that’s me for you - Part I

§ 0 commentarii

It pains me to note that I have not updated this blog on a regular basis for at least six months. This is hardly for want of anything to blog about: rather my life has been embarrassingly full of incident since last October.

Daccapo, then. It should come as no surprise to long-terms readers of my oft-drunken rantings here that I have for some time felt a certain dissatisfaction with my life and its (lack of) direction. This has, over the years, manifested itself as periodic bouts of despair and rather more frequent bouts of alcohol abuse (the two not being unlinked). By September of last year, I had become largely resigned to my lot, however, and was busily mentally preparing myself to knuckle down to as much of a career in hospitality as I could scrape together, and to put all thoughts of postgraduate study and its financial infeasability as far out of mind as possible.

Then something wholly unexpected happened: the general manager at the Bear was fired, and the head chef Jimmy was promoted in his place. As his sous-chef, I was unceremoniously pushed into his position; as locum tenens at first, formal promotion and linked pay rise six weeks later. Adjustment was difficult for both of us: for my part it was difficult to stake out a claim to the kitchen as my own domain, with my own stamp on it (Jimmy had been head chef there for a full twelve years), and for his part adjusting to his new rôle as GM took an entire change in thinking. More difficult for him perhaps was to stop regarding me as his sous-chef and right hand man, my previous experience in front of house management not making my life much easier: for a period I found myself trying to run the kitchen on my own while simultaneously supporting him in his new rôle. Throughout the period leading up to Christmas my own position was rather schizophrenic: head chef one minute and de facto assistant manager the next. Eventually, however, we both settled into our new positions and the umbilical was cut. The addition of a proper assistant manager to the team and gaining my own sous-chef greatly helped on both counts.

It turns out that we make a surprisingly good team. Takings are up on the previous year, and positive reviews on Tripadvisor (that vile nest of vipers) for both the food and the quality of the service soared. Since I’ve taken over in the kitchen, the food has become distinctly more Mediterranean in outlook, which has not gone unnoticed by the customers. One even said that the Bear is now one of the best places in Twynham to eat Italian food, which made me blush rather.

By February, then, we were feeling fairly confident. It was then that we got our first review in the local rag since the management changeover. It was good. Very good, in fact. The reviewer praised the food far more than it deserved, and we saw something of an upsurge in custom for a few weeks. This was my first proper review as head chef, the first time that my work had been noticed and commented upon in the press. I should have been absolutely thrilled: the first of many triumphal moments in my career as a head chef. Instead, I found myself struggling mightily to actually give a shit.

Yes, mes chers lecteurs, turns out that being head chef just ain’t all that. I found myself utterly indifferent to the entire affair. The following week I (deliberately) fucked up an entire weekend’s ordering, just to see if getting in any kind of trouble would move me to actually feeling some kind of involvement in what I was doing. Nope. Not at all.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t actually dislike my job. But nor did I actually enjoy it. Predictably, this set me off on another bout of mental crisis, with commensurate reliance on the help of Messers Jameson and Walker. This was not at all helped by me undergoing yet another late-twenties crisis, in which I firmly convinced myself that oh my God, I’m almost thirty and have achieved almost nothing, nothing goddammit. Of course, I was entirely beating myself up with no real reason. By most measures I was not unsuccessful: ten solid years of marriage, running my own well-regarded kitchen at the age of twenty-nine, a good academic degree under my belt, decent enough prospects in my chosen profession.

The last, however, was the real foundation of my fug. Catering isn’t my chosen profession, and never has been. I fell into it by accident after I had totally fucked up my actual plans for the future through drug addiction. Since at least 2005, my life has essentially been a series of fitful attempts to rectify this situation. Realising this, and recognising that resigning myself to an unsatisfactory situation has never been something I’m good at, I decided that it was time to consider my options.

Post-graduate study was out. While I would love to apply for an MPhil at Oxford in Historical Linguistics (and am reasonably confident that academically at least I would have few difficulties in being accepted), this is really just an instance of intellectual vanity: what on earth would I do with such a degree after two years aside from being pretty much in the same situation as I am at the moment, just rather more inappropriately qualified? I looked at getting a job outside the trade, and realised quickly that I am woefully underqualified for any but the most entry-level of positions in essentially everything. I even considered working in a call centre (for all of five minutes), but quickly thought better of it[1].


1) I have worked in one before. Aside from the entire affair being wholly soul-destroying and responsible for severely aggravating a case of agoraphobia I never even knew I had, the milieu of a call-centre is actually not at all dissimilar to that of a restaurant: people in their early twenties looking to make money to be spent on booze and nights out. These days, one’s twenties appear to be an over-extended adolescence, and frankly on the threshold of being thirty this is exactly what I wanted to get away from. It is a sign of my increasing removal from this demographic that entirely unexpectedly I now seem to own more blazers than I do hoodies.


9.4.13 § 4 commentarii

A poem:

Cíad nain anach:
    láima aras;
níche srí;
    á·dele laer;

Fáe chán chelc;
    tomm i·anár;
stíad sén rath;
    belc úire i·ngaer;

Áccairn rámal;
    ascáile chád;
amáe stain;
    úam i·fáun.

Amáe celc;
    ráim i n·áe;
clechna lú;
    sin nen chíad.