Cultured or Second Class

I have been trying to get a bit of culture in my fairly ordinary life.
This sounds like it should be a relatively easy exercise if it weren’t for
the fact that I am a full northern male with, what was rather
discouragingly called, a secondary education.

Perhaps this title isn’t meant to imply a sub-standard academic
environment; however the address given by our deputy head master at our
opening assembly certainly did.

We sat before him as a group of gangly eleven and twelve year olds looking
for the kind of pedagogic inspiration we have become accustomed to in our
primary schools.

‘At an establishment down the road’ he began, referring to the local
grammar school. ‘They are being trained to be the cream of society’ he
continued as if imparting wisdom. ‘I want you to know, however, that you
are not second class’.

Until that assembly I had never considered that I was, being glad to
attend a school that played both football and rugby.

Now, as I approach fifty, I consider it is never too late to become
cultured. So as I waited for Mrs M to finish her nursing shift last week I
listened to Pavarotti’s performance of Nessun Dorma.

At the same time I surfed the Internet to find the words. This didn’t
completely prove fruitful, as I didn’t learn Italian at my secondary

Fortunately the World Wide Web is not limited by my lack of education and
provided me with an English translation.

It turns out that Puccini was an old romantic and the song contains a very
moving lyric.

My computer didn’t stop there in trying to bring me culture. It seems that
those who know about such things are very passionate about naming their
favourite performer of this operatic masterpiece.

It seems that Britain’s Got Talent contestant Paul Potts doesn’t please
the opera going public of these fair isles.

When my bride finally arrived home I shared my newfound knowledge with her
and insisted that we did our own comparison by listening to several
one after another.

Mrs M wasn’t immediately keen on the idea but soon came round and so we
listened, and we listened, and we listened.

After hearing nine tenors I had two conclusions; Firstly, Pavarotti was a
genius. His performance stood out above the rest. Secondly, my education
was, to some degree, secondary because our deputy head master never told
about the brilliance of Nessun Dorma during any of his assemblies.

Nothing to wear

We are heading off to a conference this week and we have had our usual 'I haven't got anything to wear' conversation.

I don't want to sound unsympathetic but I approach the issue with a completely different perspective than my dear Mrs M.

We entered this dialogue immediately after an in-depth assessment of my wardrobe methodology. Apparently my bride doesn't feel that my system gives full honour to the hard work she has put into the ironing.

I foolishly asked her to explain her comments and so we stood in front of my proud collection of shirts and pants whilst my wife explained how I wasn't making good use of the available space.

I tried to seem interested but I couldn't help feeling that I was letting down all male members of the human race by spending too much time looking at cloth. I mistakenly said this thought out loud and was informed that I was as old fashioned as the corduroy jeans that have mocked me for the last five years. I bought them just after they changed the sizing system to make Medium the new Large.

Anyway, faster than a speeding knitting needle, my wife rearranged my clothes into an order that made her sigh with satisfaction.

'There you are!' she exclaimed.

In deed, there I was; my garments were now gathered in order of smartness and colour. My best shirts were neatly lines to the right and my comfortable, if slightly scruffy, T-shirts were waiting for me on the left.

Granted, it had a certain aesthetic appeal but I wasn't convinced that it offered me anything of any use.

Therein lies the difference between my bride and I; the question I ask when looking for clothes is 'are they fit for purpose?' Not so Mrs M who assures me that she looks at the bigger picture.

I realise at times like this that it is pointless arguing so I agreed to so order my wardrobe knowing too well that I would forget the next time I come to hang up the nicely ironed clothes.

I asked Mrs M why none of her many clothes would suit our upcoming conference. I didn't word it like this of course; that would imply a certain amount of sarcasm.

At this point she gave me lots of information that seemed, in her world at least, to sound rational. All I remember was that the black trousers weren't the right kind of black and that most of her outfits would be no use if the weather turned warmer.

After nodding my sympathetic agreement I put my shirts and trousers in the case; never once did I question their colour or suitability for warm weather.

Barbecues: Pretending to be Australian but without the weather.

We have just watched a promotional advert for the football World Cup that is about to descend upon us. At the same as I cheered my wife gave a little sigh!

It seems that Mrs M is less than keen on the idea of four-weeks of solid football. I suggested that we could give the England matches a party feel by having a barbecue at the same time
Meat, beer, and football. Excellent!

My bride looked to the heavens, as if for help, and asked me whether I would prefer to watch most of the matches in the local pub.

'Really!' I said trying not to look too excited.

'I'd like you to enjoy it' she said presenting the idea as if she was being kind.

Twenty-nine years of married life tell me that this is not so and that my bride, is in fact, trying to make the house a soccer free zone during competition.

I asked her whether we could still have a few barbecues and she reminded me that she has never been fond of this outdoor eating experience.

Disappointed about her lack of enthusiasm for both football and barbecues I asked her what she found so off putting. Here are the thoughts of Mrs M.

Beef burgers - Why would they take perfectly good steak and mince it up only to put it back again as a pretend piece of steak unless they are trying to hide something.

Cooking outside - It's like pretending to be Australian but without the weather.

The World Cup - I can cope with football but not when they are trying to steal our summer.

Needless to say, I don't agree with my bride on any of the points she makes above.

Beef burgers are a perfectly convenient way of hiding the bits of meat that you wouldn't otherwise consider consuming. I would call this being thrifty.

Barbecues are a great way of us Brits expressing our eternal optimism in spite of consistent bad weather. Up and down the land you will see families huddled under makeshift gazebos whilst dad cremates pig meat protected from the rain by an umbrella. We wont be beaten.

As for the World Cup; it is a great way of practicing for the result of our general elections. For four years we have all followed our own favoured team; but now we form a coalition in order to support our national side. In the case of my two son-in-laws and me it will be a Spurs-Man pact.

In this new alliance there is no room for people who don't like beefburgers and all our cabinet meetings will be done, in the cold, around a barbecue.

Floating Voters, CS Lewis, and 'That Woman'

Election day has arrived and, subject to decent weather, we should see a high turn-out. High in this context is a relative term as there has been a sharp decline in the numbers over recent years; the last election standing at a mere 61%.

I am sure that people have a variety of reason for how and why they vote. Here are just a few that seem likely:

Personalities. In this super fast, media obsessed world it appears that celebrity is a major motivating factor. Even so it can be difficult to find anything that resembles a personality.

Policies. I know people try to convince you that this really matters but you have to ask how many of the electorate have ever read the manifestos.

Ideology. Some have an idea of the kind of government they want and vote accordingly. Even if the current leader of their chosen party, or indeed their policies, seem less than attractive they will continue to offer electoral support.

I suppose which ever of the above becomes your main motivation it is at least better than being what the media call a 'floating voter'.

I overheard a conversation on the train last week where one man said to his female companion 'I will vote for whichever party knocks on my door first'. A simple approach if not exactly politically engaged.

Perhaps that is part of the problem; we think the whole matter of governing this incredible country is simple. And so like a crowd watching a football match we shout at the referee, sure that we could do better.

Our politicians don't help by trying to offer answers to the complex questions we face with the most simplistic of all responses; the sound-bite.

CS Lewis, the writer of The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe, once said that reality is not simple. He went on to say that it is not neat but odd. This sounds like a terrible negative view but we human beings do seem to be not very neat and a little odd; probably a good description of British politics.

Just last week I was amazed to hear the response from Gillian Duffy at being labelled a bigot by the Prime Minister. Whilst everyone focussed on the nature of bigotry and the size of the gaff made by Brown, we seemed to miss the real cause of her upset.

'How dare he call me 'That woman'' she said.

Perhaps that is why there is such a low turn out to the election; none of us what to be known merely as 'that woman'.

Politicians of all parties need to remember the electorate may not be neat. We may be a little odd. But most of all we are real people