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Anybody got £20 they don’t want?

If you fancy a gentle walk in the park on a Saturday morning in Brighton, forget it! You run the risk of being trampled to death by the hundreds of crazy people, who forsake their beds or their breakfast tables in order to go running round and round the park in endless pursuit of nothing in particular.

I thought that this kind of collective madness was just a Brighton phenomenon, but no! It’s happening everywhere! All over the country!  As if Brexit wasn’t bad enough!

It’s all part of the “Couch to 5K” movement, that was set up a couple of years to encourage people to get up off their couches and get some exercise. What a ghastly idea! I can think of nothing worse than having to put on gym shoes and get sweaty with a bunch of strangers in the park!

Imagine my surprise, nay, horror indeed, when I discovered that our own son, Tom, had not only taken up the “Couch to 5K” challenge but had actually started to enjoy the experience and had progressed way beyond the 5 kilometre target! Horrendous!

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that a son of mine would ever show an interest in, let alone an aptitude towards, any kind of sporting activity.  After all my efforts over the years to steer him away from any hobby that would require me to stand outside in the cold and show enthusiastic support for anything that involved mud or sweat, let alone running shoes! After all those conversations extolling the virtues of music or theatre or any activity that takes place indoors and doesn’t have the words ‘touch-line’ or ‘referee’ in its vocabulary, it was quite a shock to discover that my own son had gone over to the dark side and become a sportsman.

So why am I unashamedly asking for donations through the medium of this blog? No, it’s not to pay for Tom to go into some expensive clinic to be cured of his aberrant behaviour. Believe me, if I thought that that were still a possibility I would not be ashamed to beg for money, on bended knee if necessary.  But it’s too late for that now!

On April 8th, (and I never thought I would write a sentence like this), my son will be taking part in the Sheffield Half Marathon! The very idea makes me feel weak at the knees, – even though I have to admit to just a tiny frisson of admiration.

So where does the £20 come in? (Or indeed £10 or even £5)

Well, Tom is using his attempt at the Half Marathon to raise funds for the Sheffield Children’s Hospital Charity, which provides the little ‘extras’ that the NHS cannot fund but which can make children’s experience of hospital just a little bit less distressing.

Tom has set himself a target of £300 and I’d like to see him burst that target wide open. So if you’ve got a little spare cash and are wondering what you can do with it, can I suggest that you help Tom to reach his target and encourage him to get over the finishing line in Sheffield on April 8th.

Just go to

Many thanks



Today is a depressing day, a very depressing day.

OXFAM, an organisation for which I have enormous respect, is headline news today because of the disgraceful behaviour of a number of OXFAM staff during the relief efforts following the earthquakes Haiti in 2010.

Stories have emerged of ‘sex parties’ and the use of prostitutes, involving a group of OXFAM employees, including the Country Director, who was subsequently allowed to resign and went on the join a French NGO, presumably on the basis of forged references. Several other individuals were either allowed to resign or were sacked.

Further digging on the part of The Times newspaper has uncovered evidence of similar behaviour by the same Country Director during a previous posting in Chad. OXFAM stands accused of trying to sweep the affair under the carpet for fear of reputational damage and subsequent loss of donations.

The Times broke the story on Thursday, coincidentally on the same day as its sister paper launched the banner headline ‘Stop This Foreign Aid Madness.’ All part of a campaign on the part of some elements of the press to cut the foreign aid budget.

Since then all of the media, newspapers as well as radio and television, have been headlining the story. It is all very saddening.

I need to declare an interest here. I used to be an OXFAM Country Director. Indeed I worked for OXFAM, in the UK and then in Africa, for a total of 15 years. I saw the organisation from both sides during that time, from the fundraising, the OXFAM shop network and public opinion work in the UK to the work on the ground with the recipients of the funds, both as Deputy Country Director in Kenya and then Country Director in Coastal West Africa.

My involvement with OXFAM, however, goes back much further, more than 50 years further, in fact. I parted company with the Church, indirectly, because of OXFAM.  I don’t suppose that at the age of 13 or 14 I was a particularly devout Christian, but I was in the church choir, until my voice broke.

At around that time, a few weeks before Christmas, a little cardboard money collecting box from OXFAM appeared on the mantle-piece of our dining room. My mother had put it there because she felt guilty about the fact that we would soon be having a proper Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, whilst half the world was starving.

We were not a particularly wealthy family. My father held a middle management position in an aluminium factory and had five kids to feed. My mother didn’t work, so money was always an issue. Nevertheless, in the weeks before Christmas, my mother faithfully squirrelled bits of money away into the little cardboard box , so that, in her mind, she could eat her Christmas dinner with a clear conscience. In the New Year, she sent whatever she had collected to OXFAM.

At the same time by an unfortunate coincidence, our local vicar decided to spend £3,000 on a ‘reredos’, a decorative screen to beautify the back of his altar. This was about 1963/1964. In those days £3000 was a huge sum of money. I left the Church.

I got my first job with OXFAM after five soulless years with the Metal Box Company, for the last two of which I held the exalted position of Export Salesman. I was, without question, the worst salesman in the long history of the company and, even today, I wonder at the fact that I was never found out.

My new OXFAM job was brilliant. I was the local organiser in Berkshire, Oxfordshire and parts of Buckinghamshire. I had about 30 shops and several non-shop groups in my area. The job was never dull.

One day I would find myself in a meeting of shop volunteers trying to convince them that using an electronic till did not equate to going over to the Dark Side and, speaking of the dark side, putting the lights on in the shop might encourage more people to come in.

The next day I might be addressing the local Rotary Club at lunchtime and then rushing off in the afternoon to try to stop the rain coming in through the roof of the Pangbourne shop.

Following a number of ‘reorganisations, ‘ I eventually found myself one of four Regional Coordinators, responsible for an area that had over 240 shops and a quarter of OXFAM’s total shop income.

I then moved to Africa and spent the next seven years basically dispensing the funds that I spent the previous seven years raising, and monitoring the effectiveness of those funds.

I saw the effects of OXFAM’s staff and funds at work in remote areas of Kenya, Senegal and Mauritania where, for the first time ever, water suddenly became available to ordinary people, who were able to grow their own crops and feed their families and where, for the first time in in anyone’s memory, women and girls did not have to walk miles each day to fetch water for their families.

I saw women’s groups using small loans from OXFAM to fund petty trading activities, buying tomatoes in bulk, distributing them to their members, who would sell them in local markets. The loan would then be paid back to OXFAM so that the same funds could be passed on to other groups.

I saw health posts being built in remote areas so that the local people could petition their government to send health care personnel to treat diseases that otherwise would have gone untreated.

During my 15 years with OXFAM, I worked with literally hundreds of volunteers and staff at all levels. Some of them, I liked. Some of them, I didn’t. Some of them I agreed with, some I didn’t. But the thread that ran through all the people with whom I worked was that they were committed to their work and to the ideals that OXFAM represents and were, almost exclusively, thoroughly decent people, working, in whatever way they could, towards a goal, the reduction of world poverty, that was greater than they were.

OXFAM has grown enormously since I left in early 1990s. It now employs around 5000 people in the UK and all over the world. It receives funds not only from individuals who want to support its work but also from governments and other agencies who have seen what OXFAM achieves with poor communities and are confident that the funds channelled through OXFAM will reach the people they are intended to support.

I believed when I worked for them, and I believe now, that OXFAM is an excellent organisation, run by exceptional people, who do unbelievably valuable work amongst communities who are, for the most part, desperately poor and, in a civilised world, deserve to be helped.

The news splashed across the headlines this week is devastating. The behaviour of those involved was appalling, degrading and utterly unacceptable in any decent organisation. The action taken by OXFAM management at the time may have been insufficient and misguided. The damage to OXFAM’s hard-earned and thoroughly deserved reputation will be immense.

An open goal has been presented to those who exploit that damage in the name of cutting overseas aid. The losers in all this will be those people from whom aid will be withdrawn and whose chances of working their way out of poverty will be reduced even further.

A truly depressing day.

Stop degrading women and our language.

I know I said I had nothing left to write about, but the BBC coverage of the events at the Dorchester this week have encouraged me out of my self-imposed exile from my blog.

Numerous commentators, on radio and TV, have been describing the appalling behaviour of a bunch of sleazy, over-privileged, misogynistic, insanely wealthy men in a discredited London hotel as ‘horrific’.

There are many words that could be employed to describe the behaviour of some members of the obnoxious Presidents’ Club.  How about ‘disgusting’, or ‘degrading’ or ‘demeaning’, or ‘de-humanising’ or ‘disgraceful’? And we still haven’t exhausted the ‘d’s’.

But bandying around the word ‘horrific’ is just wrong.

Rough-sleepers in Britain being kicked to death by thugs is horrific.  Babies being thrown into burning buildings in Burma is horrific.  One and half million people suffering famine in South Sudan is horrific.

The fact that these pathetic, but powerful, men feel entitled to harass young women is worthy of examination, censure and serious debate. 

Over-using words like ‘horrific’ does not help.

Time to call it a day?

With the turning of the year, I took a look back at the statistics of my blog and treated myself to a quiet smile.

I started writing it way back in the middle of 2012, as we started our preparations to retire from paid work and embark on what turned out to be a four-year VSO adventure.

I have thoroughly enjoyed writing it, and Linda will tell you that it was the blog that kept me sane during the darker times of our time in South Sudan, when I found myself, for several months, with practically nothing to do.

The WordPress statistics people feed back all sorts of information, including the number of entries since the beginning, (a total of 1529 posts and thousands of pictures), and then, day by day, month by month, the number of people who have visited the blog and the number of ‘views’.  Over the past six years, this is how it looks:-

Year        Visitors        Views

2012          181               5243

2013          2413           10033

2014          1843             6618

  2015          2443             7011

2016          3494             9001

2017          3261             6401

Total         13635          44307 

So the question is, ‘What happens now?’

Life is certainly less spectacular that it was a couple of years ago.  No crocodile farms, no faced-painted warriors, no machine-gun wielding youths herding cows., no clown fish, just a quiet retirement in an agreeable town on the South Coast.  So, unless I can find a direction that justifies putting finger to keyboard, perhaps it’s time to hang up my sense of irony and my eye for quirkiness and draw a line under the blog.

Many thanks to all those who have followed the blog over the past six years.  It’s been a blast.











Doing anything on February 3rd?

If not, let me tell you where all the best people will be on that date.


If you are anywhere near Brighton on that day, I’ll see you there.

A Christmas like no other.

The people who collect our recycling had a bit of a surprise a few weeks ago.  It’s not every week that our glass recycling bin looks like this.


And what was our excuse for this outburst of unaccustomed alcoholic excess?  It was nothing less than the arrival, some five weeks ago, of this young lady, our first granddaughter.


In the months leading up to her birth, no decisions could be taken about her name, because the parents decided not to be told the baby’s sex in advance.

Linda and I did, however, have a working title, thanks to a dream that Linda had several weeks before the little one’s arrival.  She dreamed that our daughter had told her that they had decided on the baby’s name and that she would spell it out, so that we wouldn’t get it wrong.

The new baby was to be named W-O-R-B, Worb, to rhyme with ‘word’.  And so the new infant became in all conversations relating to his or her imminent arrival and future prospects.  We even developed a diminutive form of the name and started to talk about how life would be once little “Worble” had arrived.

And then she was finally born and we found ourselves elevated to the exalted status of new grandparents, a role that we found remarkably easy to adopt.  Still no decision had been taken on the name, so ‘Worble’ it was.

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Caption:  Worble’s first outing to the park with doting grandparents.

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Caption:  Proud granddad with sleeping Worble.

And so the big day came when Worble had to present herself at the Registry Office to be officially registered.  As befitted the occasion, she was dressed in her finest outfit, a testament to our daughter’s legendary understanding of contemporary fashion and her awareness of the delicate art of complementary colour combinations.


And so we were delighted to welcome into the citizenry of the United Kingdom the brand new, young Martha Florence, formerly known as Worble.

Great to have you in the family, kid!

To be honest, young Martha wasn’t too impressed with the registration process and found it difficult to get too excited about it.


And look what I got from Father Christmas to mark the beginning of my new career as Grandad.  Something special to hang on the Christmas tree!


What a brilliant way to finish the year!


Happy Solstice, everybody.

Yesterday was the shortest day of the year and the longest night.  Which goes some way to explaining why, at eight o’clock in the evening, we found ourselves standing in a huge crowd on Brighton’s seafront gradually freezing to death, as the cold of the pavement made its way through our shoes and feet and on upwards, and the cold sea breeze started to chill our faces and make its way down.

For the last 21 years, Brighton has marked the solstice with a huge children’s parade.  Hundreds of children gather in the town centre with paper lanterns that they have made in the weeks running up to the solstice, under the auspices and guidance of a charity called Same Sky.


Working all over the south east of England, Same Sky describe their mission as encouraging people to come together through involvement in parades, street drama, puppetry and light shows.

We advise on community outreach and social cohesion, building connections with people who’ve never been involved with art before, and those in vulnerable or hard-to-reach groups in the community. We work with them to develop creative skills and talents, and show them how art can change their everyday life.”

The title of the parade, marking the winter solstice, is always “The Burning of the Clocks” and last night the parade took a full three quarters of an hour to pass in front of our vantage point overlooking the Marine Parade.


Thousands of Brighton residents and visitors lined the streets to witness the event as clocks of all shapes and sizes passed by on their way to a specially designated area of the beach, where the children and adults alike were asked to throw their lanterns, unceremoniously, into a big heap.

Burning Clocks24

Big clocks, little clocks, well-constructed clocks and clocks that had been assembled by less expert hands were all piled up and committed to the flames.


Once the bonfire started to die down the seafront erupted into a splendid fireworks display to celebrate lowest point in the winter and the fact that from now on, the days will slowly start to get longer and we can look forward to spring being just around the corner.

We trudged home to thaw out our frozen feet, but wouldn’t have missed it for the world. (Note to self:  Must remember my hat next year!)

Well done, Same Sky.  Well done, Brighton


Says it all, really!


No further comment needed.

There’s a hole in my carrier, dear Lisa, dear Lisa.

At 280m (918ft) long and with an estimated half-a-century working life, HMS Queen Elizabeth is the biggest carrier ever built by the UK

Not only have I just spend £6,200,000,000 on two aircraft carriers designed for a type of warfare that was popular fifty years ago, but it has just been announced that the first one to be delivered, years overdue and wildly over-budget, is actually leaking,  Yes, our shiney new ship, the biggest target in Russia’s war plans, is shipping water at the rate of hundreds of gallons a day.

The Ministry of Defence has blamed faulty rubber seals around the propeller shaft.

Now call me curmudgeonly, but I must confess that for £3,100,000,000 I thought I was entitled to receive a ship that was, at least, watertight and didn’t need hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of repairs on its first day at sea.

I’ll gloss over the fact that this floating airfield will have to fly American jets for the next three or four years, because the ones that were supposed to fly off it are, wait for it, years overdue and wildly over -budget.

A senior Ministry of Defence spokesperson, speaking on the radio yesterday said that the new aircraft carrier will ‘project British power abroad’, as it can be filled either with Military hardware or with humanitarian supplies for disaster situations.  OXFAM must be delighted.

Brexiteers have, for the past tow years, been championing the cause of ‘taking back control.’  If this is an example of control, then heaven help us!

Now I’ve seen it all!

When I was a teacher, it was my constant delight to be able to impart the finer elements of German grammar to a constantly changing and evolving succession of young people.

I loved it and above the whiteboard in my classroom were emblazoned the words “Grammar is Next to Godliness,” a quote from a long-deceased Bishop, who combined his religious devotions with a healthy respect for grammar.

Some years passed before I realised that not all of my young charges shared my enthusiasm for relative clauses or the finer points of the subjunctive.  Some even found the subject tedious!  Incomprehensible, I know, but what can you expect from a generation brought up on electronic gadgets, designed to turn you brain into mush and a constant diet of carefully manufactured, pre-planned and scripted ‘reality’ television.

( I recently met a woman who took part in a nation-wide TV general knowledge quiz show.  She fought off all of the competition until she reached the final and was within one question of winning the prize of a year of travel to all sorts of exotic places.

Prior to the final episode, the TV company asked her to record her ecstatic reaction as she won the glittering prize.  Unfortunately, they also asked the other finalists to do the same thing.  My friend’s daughter was drafted in to add to the excitement with lots of delighted squeaks and ” Oh my god, I can’t believe it!!!”, as they ran along to corridors to the waiting taxi that was to take them to the airport.  Then my friend got the final question wrong and came second.  Close, but no cigar, and no foreign travel either.   Reality television, my eye!)

Anyway, back to my stoical pupils and our unequal affection for grammar.

Part of my strategy to make my lessons more interesting was to occasionally ‘go off on one’, to launch a rant on whatever came to mind to be worth ranting about.  I was never short of subject matter. Kids using the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘defective’ or ‘of no value’.  That was always worth reacting to:  Kids using the word ‘like’ to punctuate every sentence.  “So I was like standing there and he like told me like he was like totally going to like dump me, right.  And I was like totally like shocked yeh, and I said like….”  With this one, I used to tell the kids to think the word ‘poo’ whenever they said the work like. It soon cured them.

But one of my favourite rants was about the kids’ use of make-up.  In retrospect, I should probably have been fired from the teaching profession for crushing the psyche of generations of young girls as they started to experiment with applying ‘products’ to their young faces.

With great relish, I would tell them the words of the CEO of Revlon, one of the world’s biggest cosmetics companies, who once said “In our factories we manufacture cosmetics, but in our shops we sell hope!”  I would ask why they thought that plastering themselves with paint and powder would make them more beautiful than they were in their natural state.  Why did they feel the need of a mask to hide behind?  And what happened when the person they were trying to impress saw them without the mask?  Who were they then?

Being a language teacher, I couldn’t  help making the semantic point that in English, the verb ‘to make up’ is used to describe the action you take to address a deficiency. You ‘make up’ for lost time.  You ‘make up’ with someone if you feel you have wronged them in some way.

So what deficiency were these girls assuming they suffered from when they painted their faces?  Why had they swallowed the cosmetic industry’s lavish advertising that was all geared to convincing them that they were not good enough, with their natural good looks;  that the world  would judge them if they dared to venture outside un-adorned and didn’t spend their money on the endless arrays of over-packaged gloop and gunk and potions and lotions that the glittering shop counters and baby-doll shop assistants were constantly pressing on them.

My students used to have great fun locking horns with me over my rants and telling me all the reasons why I was an out-of-touch, old fuddy-duddy, who didn’t understand anything about the modern world.  They were always very happy to put their pens down and hope that the rant would last until the end of the lesson – which it often did. Great fun and a welcome break from German grammar!

But perhaps I should have kept to my lesson plans and not burdened my young charges with such off-the-wall observations.  Perhaps they were right that I was just too out of touch with the world of today to make any meaningful contribution to the debate.

That was certainly what went through my mind when I saw the latest cosmetics industry advertising campaign plastered on 6-foot high posters on the sides of all of the bus stops in Brighton.


Is it just me, or has the whole world gone mad?

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