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Testicles In The Wind

Posted 28 August 2009, 1.00 am by VanGogh

Since April I have been making a habit out of hitting the gym. Iím down right around 50 pounds as of this writing. And while that number would be more impressive if I still didnít have twice that to go, Iím going to go ahead and pat myself on the back.

These days the gym is not only a part of my daily work routine, but also something I do at home. When we moved, my wife and I both joined the 24 hour gym that is a quarter-mile from our apartment. So three or four times I week I also put in a workout down there. Having now solidly settled into the groove of routine fitness, Iíd like to remark upon something that Iíve noticed. Or rather, something that I have witnessed against my wishes:

Old, naked fat guys blow drying their pubes.

I donít know what possesses a man to blow dry his nether region. Perhaps it is part of a sacred styling ritual. Or maybe it is related to a trauma caused by a case of severe jock itch that they have vowed never to repeat. Whatever the root cause is, why are they constantly doing it in front of me?

And why are they all fat? At any given time there are between 5 and 35 people working out at the same time I am, regardless of location. Of those, the great majority look so fit that you have to believe they are working out at another gym just to look that good while working out at this gym. Statistically speaking, youíd think that from time to time Iíd walk into the locker room to find a Hercules wafting heated air at his secondary beard. But it has never happened. They are always fat, old, and disturbingly naked.

For awhile I thought it might have something to do with balding. The majority of offenders are chrome-dome types, and I thought that maybe they just missed the thrill-filled exhilaration that comes with blow drying. But then I saw what can only be described as an aging, overweight sasquatch performing his own rendition of ďno wet ball left behindĒ. (And franklyÖ given the fur factor, you have to wonder how that particular spot earned a good drying when the rest of him, including his head, was still a matted mess.)

And even if you set aside the seizure-inducing spectacle that is ďTesticles In The WindĒ, you are still left with a plethora of old, fat, naked guys strutting about. Being a man of girth myself, I always try to do my part to screen the world from my ďvast expansesĒ. It seems only polite. But these fellows donít seem to be aware of the spectacle they are creating.

And believe me, it is a spectacle. Because they arenít just strutting about sans clothes or a towel, they are frequently finding reasons to bend over. Itís as if once they are naked they become extremely obsessed with getting a good look at their toes. Or maybe they are just checking to see if they have dried their man patch yet. Regardless, at least once a week I find myself in a locker room full of old, fat, naked men alternatively blow drying their pubes and bending over to perform various questionable tasks.

I canít be certain, but I imagine this is what it would have looked like if Hitler and Satan got together to choreograph a ballet.

Little Luca Sunday

Posted 9 June 2009, 9.47 pm by Alexander

Little Luca is maybe just a few hundred in population, a quaint small town sat in the middle of nowhere. It could be the 1950s, or maybe not much has changed since then. It's the kind of place where everyone knows everyone, for better and worse, and gossip spreads like wildfire. Jerry Henderson runs the town's only gas station and is married to the local schoolteacher, a tall and attractive woman named Molly. Jerry is a tall, rangy, practical man of few words, unless you count grunts from under a car hood every once in a while. Despite being in their mid-thirties they have no children, which has only recently become a talking point in the coffee shops and hair salon in town.

It's Sunday morning. Jerry wakes and upon opening his eyes, jumps out of bed, breathing heavily. "Who the hell are you?" he shouts at the dark-haired woman lying in his bed. The woman looks confused, "What on earth do you mean Jerry?". "You're not my wife!" Jerry continues, becoming red-faced, totally bewildered and angry at this intruder in his house. The woman starts to look scared, gathering the bedclothes around her. "Jerry, you're scaring me, come back to bed! What on earth is wrong with you?".

Jerry grabs some clothes and runs from the house, tripping on his trouser leg as he hurriedly dresses all the way down his driveway and into his pickup truck.

On the way into town, driving erratically, Jerry mops his sweat-soaked brow with his shirt sleeve, he's frantic. He's on his way to visit his best friend, to try and make some sense of this situation. Maybe he's still dreaming?

Jerry's best friend is the local newspaper reporter and editor. A bald, slight man with a cocky smile and small round glasses. Jerry bursts through the door of his untidy newsroom.

"Trevor, you have to help me, there's a strange woman in my bed."
"Lucky you! You sly old dog..." chides Trevor.
"No, you don't understand, that woman - I've never seen her before!" Jerry looms over Trevor's desk, almost menacingly. Trevor drops the wisecracks.
"Well, what did she look like?"
"Ahh god I don't know, dark hair, brown eyes, I guess".

Trevor starts to laugh, thinking he's now in on the joke. "Oh I see Jerry, you and Molly trying a little role play?"
"What? God man this is serious! You know full well Molly has been missing for nearly three weeks. If this is one of your stupid games it's sick." Trevor's grin once again disappears.
"Jerry, what the hell. I saw Molly yesterday at the store, that's Molly in your bed. Now do you want to tell me what this is about? Have you two fallen out again?"

Jerry looks about to explode. "You know full well Molly is a blonde, and this wasn't her."

The journalist just scratches his head and looks at Jerry, nonplussed. "Jerry, I don't know what to say - could Molly have dyed her hair as a surprise maybe?"
"No! I know my wife's face and this wasn't her. This is useless. Come with me back to the house, you'll see!".
"OK Jerry, nothing much newsworthy here today anyway."

Jerry and Trevor drive back to Jerry's house in silence. Trevor is looking noticeably uneasy, Jerry increasingly manic. As they pull up at the house, Molly greets them warmly.

"Hi fellas! Jerry where did you get to?"
"Molly! Looking lovely as always!" Trevor chirps. Jerry double takes from Trevor to Molly. "You know this woman? This isn't Molly! I haven't seen Molly since she disappeared, and neither have you goddamnit!"
"Jerry, look - if you two are having a fight I'd rather not get in the middle of it. Take me back to town, there's a good man?"

"I don't know what's going on here but I'm damn well going to find out!". With this he storms back to his truck and peels out in a cloud of dust.

The Sheriff of Little Luca is a slightly portly man with a small moustache and enormous hands - Colm by name. He's policed this small town all his professional life, with little more to do than round up drunks or get between the occasional domestic. His office is small, neat, but everything is old and worn. His door bursts open, it's Jerry, his shirt soaked with sweat.

"Colm. I'm reporting a burglar in my house. You've got to get there right away. I'm serious!"
Colm removes his hat, wipes the inside brim with his handkerchief and ponderously replaces it on his head. "Well, did you get a good look at 'em, Jerry?"
"Yes, it's a woman, she was in my bed when I woke up!" Jerry grips the back of the chair in front of the sheriff's desk so hard his knuckles whiten. An interminable pause.
"You had a burglar in your bed? What did Molly have to say about that?"
"Damnit Colm, Molly is still missing, you know this - I filed the report with you, we put up the posters around town together, on all the noticeboards, up here on the wall - " Jerry whirls round and points to a blank piece of wall. Something might have been pinned there once, but nothing was evident now. "Where is it? Where's the damn poster Colm?"
"Now calm yourself Jerry. I don't have the first clue what you're talking about. Molly is not missing to the best of my knowledge, I've never printed a poster or pinned one regarding a search for her whereabouts."

Jerry is speechless, fuming, with tears in his eyes, but won't be beaten. "This woman, in my bed, she had dark hair. Molly is a blonde, you know this. Come on Colm!"
"Jerry, what the hell. I may not be the busiest Sheriff in the US but I don't have time for any more of this bullshit. Get the hell out of my office. Your wife is brunette, she's perfectly well and no doubt at your home wondering where the hell you are. I suggest you return to her and have a lie down. Good day."

"No! Look, here..." Jerry pulls out his wallet, fishes out a small photograph and his face turns from triumph to despair as he stares at it. It's a picture of a smiling Jerry with a dark-haired woman, the same woman he woke up with this morning.

"Jerry," Colm starts, with a soothing tone. "I know you and Molly haven't been getting along, and I know you've had your troubles with money - damnit everyone in this town knows you're likely to lose that gas station your daddy gave you if times don't pick up, but please don't lose your mind as well. This is hard on Molly too. Don't forget..." but before he can finish, Jerry has whirled out of the office into the scorching heat, the picture clasped in his hand.

Jerry staggers down the street, to the sound of church bells. He accosts people as he comes across them - "Who is this woman? Do you know her?" jabbing his finger at the photograph from his wallet. Everyone has the same answer -

"Jerry, that's your wife. That's Molly."
"A darling picture! Molly is so pretty Jerry"
"Jerry, what's wrong? Is this some kind of joke?"
"You're a lucky man, Jerry Henderson!"

He ricochets across the street until his way is blocked by the town chapel. Looking up at it's tolling bells as if for salvation, he staggers up to the doors and flings them wide. The congregation is halfway through a hymn, which abruptly stops as the flock turns to see who has interrupted them.

"You people!" Jerry is exhausted, his voice hoarse. "You people, what's wrong with you?"

The crowd just stares.

"This woman - " Jerry raises the photograph to eye level and waves it in the faces of the townspeople as he progresses down the aisle "I have never seen her before, I don't know who she is and she is NOT my wife!!!"

The pastor raises his hand for calm. "Jerry, Molly grew up in Little Luca, I baptised her and I've watched her grow up. That's her."

"IT IS NOT!" Jerry screams "And I can prove it! I can prove I'm not going insane!" Jerry turns on his heel and starts out of the chapel. The parishioners, to a man, file out behind him in silence.

Jerry staggers, runs, falls and crawls through the chapel gardens and out into the countryside. With every step he takes, more townspeople join the growing herd following him at a respectful distance. Their faces are blank, almost solemn as they trail this man through the scrub, dust and broken roads on the outskirts of quiet Little Luca.

Eventually, his tears creating clean streaks down his dirt-stained face, Jerry drops to his knees. The crowd stops as one, the entire town stood silent behind him.

Jerry starts to dig in the dirt, with the weariness of an old dog. The crowd watches.

Sobbing, Jerry digs until first one strand, then two, then a mass of blonde hair peeks through the dirt. A female hand, with a wedding ring, emerges like a neglected sapling from the dusty earth.

"That's enough Jerry" comes a voice from behind him. It's Sheriff Colm.

"We knew you'd killed her, Jerry. We all knew. We just didn't know what you'd done with her. When she disappeared it wasn't hard to make some calls out of town and find out about the amendments to Molly's life insurance policy you'd made last month. I know you swore to your daddy that you'd keep that gas station running, and goddamnit you did all you could and you didn't want to lose it, but this wasn't the way."

Jerry just stares at Colm, his face a rictus of anguish.

"This wasn't the way."

The crowd, almost as one, drops it's head, and the townfolk of Little Luca slowly file back into town, back to their jobs and their homes and their children, leaving Jerry sobbing in the dirt with Molly.

Reflections of an Experienced Teacher

Posted 28 May 2009, 3.59 pm by Villager

I'm about to finish my third year of teaching. That might not sound like someone who can describe himself as 'experienced', but the average teacher now lasts only three years before packing it in and looking for another career, so I digress. I have moved on to my second underfunded and underprivileged school, this time in darkest Manchester. It's been an education, if you'll forgive the pun. Despite growing up on a council estate, I've always known that I was relatively privileged; my parents remain married, there's always been food on the table, and I've no particular reason to grumble about abuse, neglect or other childhood trauma. Even so, knowing that life is different on the other side doesn't always prepare you for its reality.

It's a depressing place, it really is. Staff cynicism is endemic, corrupting every activity. Perhaps imbued by years of mismanagement, the teachers here have committed themselves to teaching with the minimum effort required because they don't feel that they are appreciated. Positivity is met with a dismay, as though it's somehow inappropriate. It's infectious, too: I find myself grumbling and complaining, rather than trying to offer ways of improving things as I did at first.

In the past year here, no-one has watched me teach, enquired as to my or my classes' progress, or contributed anything that might improve what goes on in my classroom. Where other schools have tens of thousands of pounds worth of technology in every classroom, I have a whiteboard and some pens. The furniture appears decades old, the most recent books available for reading are from 1993. The entire English department of eleven teachers has a yearly budget of £900 for books, computers, photocopying, pens and anything else.

When I watch other lessons around the school, I cringe, as the hollow figure in the corner hides behind the desk, and puts another video on. In a way I don't blame them; those that try to teach so often lack the charisma or presence to command respect from the children, that lessons degenerate into shouting matches, in which the children have the advantage of numbers. The staff blame the children, the school and the parents variously, and abdicate power and responsibility for making any semblance of difference. No doubt they are right; the children are often obnoxious, aggressive, and always apathetic; the school is grossly under managed and underfunded; the parents are, as often as not, absent or unhelpful. I imagine many would leave, if only they were good enough to get a job at a properly run school with any standards.

There is a lot of pressure on schools to deliver good exam results. Headteachers are under professional and financial pressure to deliver ever greater results, and it is commonly acknowledged that schools inflate coursework grades whenever they can get away with it. Here is no different; those pupils in danger of failing to achieve a C grade simply had their marks increased to a suitable level. I had a number of students with long term absences with incomplete coursework folders. When I declined to invent grades for them, it was done on my behalf. I have spoken to union representatives at the school, but they didn't seem to comprehend my concerns beyond absolving myself of culpability. The idea that principles of fairness and integrity are being abused here is so obvious that it would be laughed out of conversation, the unspoken truth. Dirty words, principles.

In a way I'm proud that I've managed to maintain decent lessons and not involve myself in anything underhand. Yet I feel my spirit and enthusiasm waning every time I enter that wretched building, and I truly doubt my ability to have a significant impact on the culture there. Do I stay and try to improve things in whatever small way I can, or leave and find somewhere that I can do my job properly? I took the job because I wanted to work with challenging children who need people that care about them; I didn't expect to be up against the school and its staff as well.

For all it's bureaucratic suffocation the government is blind to the situation, for as long as the results graph goes up, all is presumed well. The children here are a damning indictment of class in modern Britain; their parents don't care, their teachers don't care, their school doesn't care. What's the end result? They don't care.

GLASS - Chapter One

Posted 13 July 2008, 10.24 pm by Alexander

The boy surveyed his work. Three years of his thirteen crafting, bending, filing, sawing and polishing and the results lay before him like a sleeping dragon. Almost every corner of his father's library was filled with pipes, pistons, bellows and wires - grapevines and tendrils in a forgotten greenhouse. It was New Year's Eve, 1916 - 1917 would see the first successful Transmission.

Acidic smoke belched from a side-vent as the boy turned handles and frantically pumped footpedals. Some type of grit poured from an opening and was directed out of a window with funnels. An array of greasy bulbs slowly came to life as a low rumble emanated from deep in the belly of the machine. The boy wiped his forehead on his jacket sleeve and retrieved a series of punch cards from a nearby table. Leafing through them, his face lit up as his gaze alighted on one particular cardboard sheet. This was it, he thought - the Initial Transmission.

He had no doubts whatsoever that the machine would do what it was designed to do. The boy considered himself a vessel, an instrument just as the recipients of the Transmissions were also vessels. The only difference was, of course, that the mucky-faced child stood in the shadow of the machine knew his role already.

It was nearly time. The boy didn't research the recipients personally, rather they were supplied to him by the same agency that gave him the blueprints for the machine. The understanding was that if the Initial Transmission was a success, he could choose the next set of recipients himself. Frequently the boy had mused that in the coming years he could perhaps refine the apparatus and reduce it's size somewhat, even relegate it to an outbuilding so his father could reach his Encyclopedias again. Perhaps create living quarters within the vast apparatus if the heat and noise didn't make that proposition too risky.

The boy traced his finger across the rough-hewn holes in the punchcard and read the hand-written title at the top. 'Without' was all it said. Of course the boy couldn't decypher the card itself, and even when the machine had devoured and processed it the likelihood of him being able to comprehend the resulting diagnostic data was slim at best - but he would know for sure that it had worked, and the last three years of his life, three years of night-long knuckle-scraping hard work, would not have been in vain.

Three of the five bulbs were now illuminated and the low rumble had become a dense roar. The machine was ready for input, the autistic child - forgotten and left to his own devices, had built a mechanism by which art could be transmitted across time. He inserted the punch card and lungs still, pulled the lever.

Motorcycling... some thoughts

Posted 15 April 2008, 12.15 am by Villager

I was never the biker type. I never imagined I would even sit on a motorcycle, let alone be inclined to ride one. I wasnít much bothered by cars, either; A to B and all that. If it was cheap, reliable and comfortable, that was enough for me. It was only because I was accepted onto a university course 10 days before it started, and there was no public transport to speak of, that I need to get myself mobile. I knew it was impossible to learn how to drive and pass a test in that time, and my brother suggested a ď125Ē (a small-engined motorbike with a top speed of 60-80 mph, if you donít know much about bikes). Thereís no need for a test, you just do your Compulsory Basic Training; four hoursí instruction, without running anyone over or falling off too much, and youíre away. I wasnít exactly keen on the idea; on a bike you have no protection from the weather, other vehicles, or the tarmac. But I had no choice.

My CBT instructor was a man called Steve. Steve spent the day smoking and making misogynist jokes, but did manage the minor miracle of making me borderline competent by the end of the day. Being a student I was inevitably broke, and was hunting for used bargains, when I stumbled across a cheap Chinese import by the name of Huoniao, a 125cc cruiser for £550, new, I snapped it up. I picked it up from a warehouse on the beach and carried it home in the back of my brotherís VW Golf, with about 40% of the bike sticking out of the boot.

It was a pig to ride. It looked nice enough, with classic styling and lots of chrome-effect parts, even the sound of the engine belied its pedigree. But performance was poor. It did 0-60 in about a week, and I am struggling to find the words to describe how shockingly awful the handling was. Part of the problem was the weight balance; I came off a number of times when turning at low speed, simply because the bike couldnít hold itself up. Whenever there was more than a mild breeze, it felt like I was sitting atop a unicycle, on a tightrope, amidst an apocalyptic thunderstorm. Iím only talking about 25pmh winds here. It was impossible to feel safe, even cruising on straights. I lost count of the number of times I had to stop because I felt I was beginning to lose control.

I also discovered why it was so cheap. The mudguard fell off after 1,200 miles. The electric start button failed after 1,500. Rust began to appear wherever there was metal. Part of the rear subframe snapped under braking after 4,000 miles (my dad had to weld on a replacement as by this time, 6 months later, the supplier had mysteriously disappeared).

Despite all of that, I loved it. It looked far cooler than any of the bangers that my friends were driving and riding, and I gained an unexpected respect from the older boys at the school where I was training to become a teacher. But it was much more than that. The sense of freedom, adventure and closeness to the road was lovely, and unexpected. From being a reluctant commuter, I quickly realised that I would need to take my test and buy a proper bike.

My test instructor was, oddly enough, also named Steve, but his jokes were more tasteful and his vice was to be found at the burger van we stopped at each day. I rode a Yamaha Diversion 400, which gave me terrible leg cramps throughout the three daysí training; imagine riding for six hours in the foetal position and youíll have a decent idea of what I mean. I liked Steve, and I trusted him; so I bought a bike he had for sale, a 1998 Suzuki GS500. I knew nothing about the bike, but he let me test ride it and it was so comfortable, so easy to manoeuvre and control, that I went for it.

If anyoneís still reading, this is what Iím building up to. After a few weeks of tentatively exploring the new power at my control, I fell in love with this bike. Itís difficult to explain in a meaningful way to non-riders what I mean, but Iíll try. Driving a car is a functional experience. Even with performance cars that Iíve driven, even when theyíre driven aggressively, they offer a sterile experience. You are securely strapped into a big metal box, protected from the elements and separated from the road by a ton of metal and mechanics. Even before you get on a bike, you are confronted with the realisation that if the tiniest thing goes wrong at the wrong moment, you can end up maimed or worse. Even low-speed accidents can be fatal on a bike; imagine hitting something at 70mph, and becoming separated from your vehicle.

Riding a bike is about experiencing your journey, not just being a passenger on it. You live the undulating, twisting curves, feel and respond to every bump and imperfection in the road. You feel the wind, and adjust yourself to sit in harmony with it. You feel the power of the engine sitting between your legs, and you respect that power severely because it can kill you. It is no exaggeration to call it a spiritual experience. There is CD player on a bike, no In Car Entertainment; you canít talk on the phone and you canít talk to your passenger. There is only you, and the road. Especially on long journeys, you are left alone with only your thoughts, and I found it disturbing at first; how often do you spend hours simply THINKING? I find it immensely calming. Itís also deadly serious; that thinking time necessarily includes contemplation of mortality and self-control. You cannot make mistakes on a motorcycle and survive. How many times, driving a car, have you hit a kerb, found yourself going round a corner too fast and had to brake and turn sharply, found your eyelids heavy on the motorway, left too little stopping distance, not looked before leaving a junction or changing lanes? Any of these small lapses are lethal to a rider. You develop discipline, or you crash.

I love that riders nod to each other. Itís not a macho club, men smugly acknowledging each otherís masculinity (Iím sure it is for some). Itís a recognition that this person, too, has discovered a pleasure in life unknown to others; recognition that this person is likely a much more aware and responsible road user than most drivers. Itís almost as if to say, ĎBrilliant, isnít it?í

And it is. I love motorcycling because it combines the mundane functionality of travel with raw pleasure and simple joy. I always look forward to my journeys, and every one is an adventure, even if the route is the same. How many car drivers can say that?

Disease

Posted 7 March 2008, 2.58 am by shaggy

The most assurance he had ever received that he was on the right path was purely accidental. When she fell on his knife, and when the smile came across her face, he had not realized it was a spasm.

He watched her face as the glare of life faded from her eyes. He smiled with her and kissed her lips. They felt cold. And they smiled back at him, the imprint of his kiss still on them.

He made love to her after her heart stopped beating. It was exquisite-- no judgment, no complaints. He was neither too rough nor too soft, and she opened up for him easily. When he had finished, he lay beside her, caressing her breasts.

He wondered what it would be like if she made love to him. Would he be as cold? Would he be immediately hard for her if she came to him, as he did to her?

He laid by her side, waiting. And waiting.

After a few hours, he decided that he mustn't be attractive enough for her. He pouted, marched off and lifted weights for a few hours, finally coming back to bed when his muscles throbbed in pain. He looked at her, unable to move. He wondered whether or not he would have the energy to perform if she jumped on him now. But still, she stared at him with those lifeless, beautiful eyes.

He ran his fingers through her hair. She was once so... energetic, and now all she could do was stare at him with those cursed, co-dependent eyes.

It was so frustrating.

He fell asleep, dreaming of her clinging to him. She was suffocating him, and he could not bare it. When he woke, she was there, her breasts taunting him. He couldn't take it, his desire was too extreme, and he made love to her what he promised himself was one last time.

Leaving for work, he felt invigorated. He had closed the book, had told her he was leaving and did not want her in his bed when he came home. Being able to say those words to her was the ultimate freedom, he believed. No longer did he have to feel insignificant, less than a man, unable to please her. No longer did he feel that her approval had waned since that one smile she had given him, and that no matter how hard he fought she would never approve of anything he did.

But when he came home, she was still there, in his bed.

Scars

Posted 15 November 2007, 7.06 am by shaggy

As he hid behind the debris, he took the moment to let all the emotions wash over him. They had been hidden for so long that they came stubbornly; what is hidden is not revealed easily. The death, the destruction, the betrayal... he rose it to his throat, and in a choked, silent, violent sob, it came out and he began to purge everything that he had kept inside.

He could not be heard. And so as everything came out, it was hidden still. He had no voice, no means of expression, only mental images that came unannounced. There were horrible ones, indeed-- visions of flesh torn, screaming children... but most horrifying of all were the visions of happiness. Horror came and went, and he was happy to leave it behind. But along with the horror, each moment of happiness that he once had was left behind him, to never be touched again.

Every love letter she had ever snuck into his pocket, every smile she had ever passed onto him, these thoughts brought more violence to him than the knowledge that everything was gone... if memory was destroyed as well, he could be content, blissful; the exhilaration of this violent new world would almost serve as entertainment.

The others had almost seen him cry. Sandra had asked him if he was married or had a girlfriend; he had answered with a smile that covered his true response. "Once." The silence after the response was filled with memories; for a moment, Sandra's brown hair was blond, her blue eyes green. And he found that he could still remember a face that had once greeted him on a daily basis.

Fuck, he thought to himself. Not now.

He had managed to sneak away from the camp to cry.

The new world was welcoming after his wife left. The loud growls in the darkness, the creatures that all seemed to crave human flesh or at least human misery... they all served to numb the pain. It was in idle moments such as these that everything came back, happiness as bitter as the sharpest blade, cutting and scratching. He wanted to tell her that he loved her, and that he hated her. He wanted to make love to her and bash her head against the rock he hid behind. He wondered if she was still alive and secretly hoped that he would never meet her again.

His sobs almost became vocal. He took the knife from his pocket and before even thinking about it took a quick slice out of his arm. The pain knocked him even lower, but it was something he could focus on.

It was ironic that after hell seemed to have belched out the most hideous of monsters, it was a woman that had truly weakened him. He had clawed out the eyes of great and terrible beings, was dragged by sharp claws of winged things and dropped from great heights, but it was the images of happiness, cursed memories that came accidentally, that was beginning to break him.

He wondered what it would feel like to just give up. Though pain came naturally, he could not kill himself, but what if he just simply refused to fight anymore? Fed the beast instead of fight it?

He knew the answer to that. Only idle hands can contemplate such things.

There was a roar that sounded close to camp. He wiped his eyes, slipped his sleeve over the fresh wound on an already scarred arm, and prepared for another fight.

The last idle thought he allowed himself was to wonder how many scars on his body were accidental, and how many were given so that he could wake up to life, or to punish himself for failing.

One last roar, and the knowledge that he was partly responsible for more lives than his own, and everything was buried, forgotten, a scar to return to only when one had time to look.

Reflections of a qualified teacher

Posted 14 October 2007, 12.52 am by Villager

The past six weeks have been a first for me: six weeks of proper full-time work, with proper pay. The first time I have earned more than minimum wage, too. I have taken a job in Lincolnshire teaching English at an old secondary modern school. I've found success easier to come by than I had imagined, but it does come at a high cost to my time and energies. It is perhaps instructive that I am only truly discovering this at the age of 23, but I abhor the price that work demands from me.

It has been interesting. I have been lumbered with almost exclusively with Special Needs groups which makes every lesson something of a drama, but really I feel sorry for the children: teacher training in this country does not equip teachers to teach anything other than reasonably bright, able children. Those with learning difficulties and lack of intelligence are quietly ignored. I plod through, doing what I can to avoid lessons being an utter waste of their time, but it is terribly disheartening. The entire school is geared towards maximising exam results and those with no hope of ever attaining a C grade are regarded as a depressing nuisance, to be dumped on the new teachers and quickly forgotten. In a strange way I'm glad it's this way: bright, well-rounded children need little help becoming successful, well-rounded adults. Teaching those who struggle most brings an acute sense of purpose and levity to my efforts, even if they are met with perpetual failure.

Then there are the bastards. These are the children that through malevolent parenting, poor social choices or simple innate malignancy, are thoroughly unpleasant young people. It is my job and my mission to educate them, but if you bang your head against a brick wall for long enough, something must start to crack. They are utterly disengaged from the idea of learning, and will shout, kick and scream as they resist attempts to bring them into a mode of thought and behaviour that is both boring and an object of fear. I have yet to be assaulted in this job, but I have had some awfully aggressive encounters. I imagine the only thing that holds them back is the suspicion that there is an authority that can hurt them if they transgress the law. Sadly, the only way to beat them is to be even more aggressive and horrible. That might sound faintly amusing to anyone who has met me or knows my nature, but it's true. through necessity I can now bellow and intimidate with aplomb.

The most depressing thing about this job is realising the extent to which children√Ę‚ā¨‚ĄĘs development and subsequent life chances are determined by their parenting. Households where the nearest thing to a book is the TV guide and Dad's stash of porn, where mothers pass their offspring fast food through the school gates to save them from imposed nutrition, where a father tells his boy to swear at the teachers so he'll be expelled and save his father the hassle he gets from the school about his boy's behaviour, produce children who simply can never live in the same world as other children. The concerted efforts of any school and all the staff who try to help will never truly mitigate that 'home' environment. You see the sharp boundary past which no well-meaning government initiative, nor any amount of public money can ever penetrate.

When I go to work I become another person. I am an actor, and when I put on my suit I feign enthusiasm, personality and principles. One considerable benefit of this is that I have been forced to confront my introverted, constipated nature, and develop some proper social skills. But it also means that I feel like I'm contriving an entire, artificial persona, when my own is in desperate need of development. The thought recurs that I've postponed living to earn some money. I haven't read a book since August. I feel I exert ever greater effort in making an impact on my career, and feel it reverberate in an ever more hollow sense of existence.

I swing between the conviction that I need this occupation for the sense of purpose and motivation it brings, and the desire to jack it all in and return to the comfort of reclusion. I'll stick with it for the near future, but I have yet to submit to the conclusion that I must surrender the great bulk of my efforts in life to a vocation which can never ultimately be fulfilling.

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"New Orleans at Night" Acrylics on Canvas. I recently saw a shot of Bourbon street in New Orleans. I liked the shot enough that I wanted to paint something like it, to sort of reproduce the feelings the photograph gave me. I want to go to New Orleans myself and do another painting in the same vein.

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Hmph

80s candy bars were pretty good

only because i traded it for a candy bar in the 80's.

lol we all know you don't have a soul ghoti

my soul for some carbs...

But of course!

Yo ! Does this work ?

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