Monday, July 31, 2006


Ah, summertime. The temperatures creep up into the high 90s and I find myself becoming increasingly sleepy. We are off to the beach for a day or two. Photos to follow.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Book learning #17

The Natural, The misunderstood presidency of Bill Clinton. By Joe Klein.

A quick read, this one went down faster than a Diet Coke at a Clinton policy meeting (KApoom!!)
Klein whizzes through the 1992 campaign and thereafter in 219 pages, he casts a look at all the scandals and missed opportunites and examines the wierd relationships within the Clinton White House from Bill and Hillary down.

There's not really anything new in this book but it serves as a timely read when Clinton is so readily described as the greatest ever President ever. That's a fairly easy claim to make in light of the last three years. He makes the point that Clinton was the greatest politician of his generation (except perhaps Tony Blair) but look at his generation, Newt Gingrich, Al Gore, Tom Daschle, ummm.

You read on, realising that revionism about Clinton is all too easy and there are many facts that get in the way of hailing him as the new Messiah. You also understand that he was an exceptionally bright man, charming to an absolute fault and he had a West Wing full of good ideas. He also failed to achieve much of what he set out to do. That's politics.

A compact read for the political Junkie.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

3 days left.

Summer camp is nearly over!!
Unfortunately 'they' have moved my schedule about, this means that I will in fact have to work today.
I am willing to risk bodily infection by jumping in the pool with the kids as it means that I don't have to help them get dressed again afterwards.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Book learning #16.

'Don't let's go to the dogs tonight' by Alexandra Fuller.

This is the memoir of a girl growing up in a bunch of African countries in the 1970s and 80s.
A number of themes come through.

Her parents are dirt poor farmers who move from farm to farm depending on circumstances (civil wars, independence and majority rule, economics).
Life in rural Africa is very tough and often unduly fatal.
Justice in rural Africa is often swift and brutal, (especially if you happen to be black).

Her family are well bred, slightly obsessed with the British class system and completely, stoically insane.
They are living remnants of the end of The Empire, who, despite their economic straits attempt to retain a superior lifestyle.
They drink a lot, sweat alot, send their girls to distant boarding schools, drive beaten up Land Rovers, watch out for terrorists and land mines and smoke profusely.

Throughout the book you become accustomed to their casual rascism, right wing perspective and exhaustingly rugged lives. It shook some of my ideas about Africa (A division of Mondale International are based in Capetown, SA where they lead a very 21st century, urban and urbane existence) and made me damned thankful for the comforts of my own little world.
Still, the love of Africa for all it's tremendous faults shines through. As does the adventure of childhood.
A good read.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A much better field trip.

Last weekend I was sh*tting my pants about this trip.
I thought that it was going to happen on Tuesday. On Tuesday the weather in New York hit a roasty-toasty 103 degrees. If I had been sitting at a ballpark with 40 children I would have expected to spend at least almost all day in the emergency room with heat related concerns. Added to which, those who did not succumb to 'the stroke' would have whined all day about how effin hot it was, there is nothing Mondale likes less than whining children, that and a lack of initiative, and bad manners.

So I was quite pleased, verging on the almost very happy when I discovered that I had been a fool and had misread the dates. I'm big enough to admit my mistake, I think that admitting mistakes shows that you are a fallible and realistic person, There is nothing Mondale likes less than those who won't admit their own mistakes.

Thursday rolls around, the temperatures have plopped down to a cool and breezy 81 degrees and we are all set for a gorgeous day of baseball related/Coney Island based fun as the Brooklyn Cyclones take on some team we have never heard of and have now forgotten (oh, the joys of minor league baseball for the casual fan!)

You know how I feel about those yellow buses, Contempt is a kingdom which holds no valley deep enough, no stinking wretched cave low enough for my bruised soul as far as the yellow bus is concerned. So it was with some surprise that the bus arrived on time, with a friendly (if mildly OCD) driver who insisted on cleaning the bus before we got on. YES KIDS, HE'S CLEANING THE BUS. TAKE A GOOD LOOK. He also knew exactly where he was going and drove there in a calm and fairly relaxed manner, a bit heavy on the brake but you can't have it all. He went some tiny way to restore my faith in this institution, just a little bit, just maybe.

We arrived at the game in time for the start, what fun, we're not late already!
We approach the Cyclones gate people who usher us in with all our lunches, telling us to eat inside (despite the big signs posted telling us "OUTSIDE FOOD NOT PERMITTED") . The man at the gate with the walkie talkie tells us "You got 40 kids, you're on a budget. we aint gonna charge you $5 for a hotdawg, take your lunches inside, have a great day".

( This was a complete turnabout from our trip last year to the Staten Island Yankees when we were refused entry until our children had eaten their lunches AND disposed of any leftovers. We were made to eat in a scorching parking lot with no shade. We were not even aloud to bring bottled water into the game. Apparently The SI Yankees stadium is a major terrorist target and any one of our 4-8 year olds could have been concealing explosives, that and they wanted to rip us off with their food.)

Lovely, breezy Keyspan park.

When we got into the game we bumped into King Henry. He's Brooklyn's favourite overweight children's entertainer. He did a gig at our camp last year and started greeting the kids as we waited to find our seats. he gave the kids some free stuff and joked and did his thing. I like King Henry. As a professional educator it's easy to be snobby about the world of Kid's entertainment but I think I know a good thing when I see it. King Henry is a great guy, a lovely way with the kids and he's also pretty funny for the adults, and he remembers things, not individual's names exactly (come on, there were 500 kids at the game, be reasonable) but stuff about our school and our neighborhood. The kids like that. I like that.

Throughout the game the Cyclones people were strolling about throwing all manner of free stuff at the kids, snacks, squidgy balls, Tshirts. Bloody marvellous.

After a few innings in our rather nice seats (way to go summer camp! no scrimping there!!) we decided to hit the beach, the youngest kids were getting figetty and despite the cool beeze and nice temperatures we were all getting a bit sunstroked.

The ragged sands of Coney Island with Jungle gym.
During the singing during the stretching we discovered a golden tonsilled young camper. He just wouldon't let go when siinging along with the Cyclones 'Hands" song "HANDS, TOUCHING HANDS, REACHING OUTTTT, TOUCHING MEEEEEEE, TOUCHING YOUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!" The rest of us all sat staring at him as he belted out what was obviously his all time favourite song.
We strolled out just after the seventh inning* stretch, made our way onto the beach and played for an hour on the jungle gym.
The kids loved it, I stood between them and the sea and all was fine.
I gotta tell you, it all worked, the bus, the kids, the ballgame. A day of simple, simple pleasures.

*Good job we left when we did as the game went to a mammoth 26 innings!!!! I think that might be a record.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Material Girl

Frau Random Doubt and I are off to see Madonna tonight.
Just thought I'd throw that one in the mix.

Book learning #15.

Watership Down by Richard Adams.

I loved this book!
Loved it! Loved it! Loved it!

Well written, gentle (although in places horrifically violent) escapism. Perfect for the rural Englishman trapped in a New York summer.

I never thought that i would enjoy a novel about rabbits. I had recently seen the movie again (after a twenty five year lapse) and enjoyed it. I showed the movie to my class in June, they liked it, (except child of teacher chum who was freaked out and had to leave the room).
I was in a bookstore a few weeks ago looking for something for Frau Random Doubt when I picked this up, thought "Why not? It's summer, not alot else going on? A novel about rabbits? The worst that can happen is that it can suck, right?"

Well it did not suck, it delighted me at every turn.
The characters, their adventures, the journey through the English countryside. Everything about this book had me in love with it. It also made me homesick, but in a nice way, I'm not often homesick like that.

As I write I am sad, sad in the way that finishing a wonderful tale can make you sad. Sad also for the two great looking books I have lined up next.

They have a hell of a lot of living up to do.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Creative Athletics is horrid!
I am surrounded by 8 year old Alpha Jocks who mock my every attempt to educate them.
They upset other teachers and I have to reprimand them.
This is not Summer, this is awful.
At least my assistants are pretty damn fantastic.

But wait, there is a future, bright and rosy.
In less than three weeks I shall visit the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
It's going to be the highlight of a week of chilling on the lovely dunes of Lake Michigan.

For my English readers it's probably the equivalent of visiting the Sir Alec Douglas-Home, or perhaps James Callaghan museum (Ah, if only there were such things!!)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I love the MTA (part two).

This morning we took the train to the beach!

Yes, that's right, the train.

Frau Random Doubt came up with this idea as a convenient way of getting to the beach without using the car (it's really too far to walk, what with a beach umbrella and towels and stuff). I was a bit concerned at first, the train? To the beach? But how?
Well it's easy! Flatbush Ave to Jamaica to Long Beach, a five block stroll and a beach pass later we were sunning ourselves on a foggy beach. That's right, FOG.
Still, we had a great time, the sun broke through and then we went home on the train.

I love the MTA (part one).

That's the Metropolitan Transit Authority folks.

Here's how the story goes.
Yesterday I needed to run a couple of errands prior to meeting some coworkers down the pub for some sunny Friday beer. I had an armful of crap that I needed to drop off at home (I cannot be relied upon to remember things after a few Brooklyn Lagers, let alone carry items such as damp towel, goggles and other assorted swimming paraphanalia). I also needed to drop into Target to buy a beach umbrella for the planned early morning trip to the beach on Saturday. There was no way I was going to hang out drinking with a 4 foot umbrella (oh, guess I already made that point didn't I?)
So, I needed to find my way from school to Target, to home, to pub. In an hour. By public transport. Oh, it was also close to 90 degrees but not that humid you'll be pleased to hear.
Here's the great part, I strolled to 7th Avenue and hopped onto a B67. This airconditioned beast of the street was right there where and when I needed it. Thank you very much Mr Bloomberg.
I disembark right outside Target, go in, find nothing I need so I leave, cross the street and find a B63 waiting for me, yes a bus waiting for a passenger at the corner of 4th Avenue and Atlantic Avenue. Thanks again Mr Mayor.
I then ride a few blocks to Court and Atlantic where, yep, you guessed it! The B75 is there to help me on my way! I'm going to send the Mayor a card!
I then get off at Court and Degraw where I hop into the Winn Discount store for the beach umbrella I condn't find at Target.
I then walk home three blocks, dump my crap and stroll across the street to where the ever reliable B71 is waiting! Fan-f*cking-tastic!!!
This lady of the bus lanes deposits me right outside the pub a few minutes after said pub had opened! Beer Ahoy! Hey, Mr Bloomberg, When's your birthday? I want to send you a cake!!
For the record, I travelled about 4 miles in less than an hour (with stops etc) and only spent about 10 minutes outside in the heat.
Rock on MTA!!!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Book learning, never made the cut. Half time report.

You may well have realised that I liked the books that I read in 2006.
In order to get reviewed here I had to have finished the book, thus, I had to be able to stick it through to the end. Accordingly, the chances of my liking it would inevitably be higher than the stuff I tossed aside after 3 pages.

Here are the ones that never made the cut.

American Sphinx, the character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph Ellis.

I fell in love with Thomas Jefferson some years ago, from afar. It was August 2001, I was trawling through DC sniffing the very sidewalks that LBJ had once stode. My guide, the very lovely cousin Emily took me over to the Jefferson Monument where we spied the most amazing National Parks guide fer-reaking out about how Jefferson started this great experiment, this dream, this vision, this United States. He had me at hello.
Fast forward five years, I'd just read Christopher Hitchen's bio of Jefferson which pleased me greatly. This was for a number of reasons, it was thin and quick and gave me a cursory knowledge of one of history's most fascinating men. In lust for more information I turned to this expecting more depth and thus improving myself as a human being. I have to say that I'm sure I'll read this within the next five years but coming so soon on the tails of a much better jefferson book I didn't have the guts to stick it through. It still sits upon my shelf waiting it's time.

I got about 2 chapters in, then my show came on.

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.

This was heavily recommended by a friend who had spent the previous six months telling me all about it. Whilst I had enjoyed our drunken conversations about civilisation and how some stuff happens to some people and not to others I had no idea that I would be loaned this book and expected to read it.
I tried. I really, almost tried. There were just too many big scientific words.
Then I discovered that there's a PBS show of the same name!
Netflix just saved my life.

I struggled through the first chapter, that "Yali's question" one.

What's the matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank.

I should care more. I really should. I should be much more interested in why the Democrats have lost chunks of the American Heartland. But when whinging liberals wring out their whinging tears in self loathing such as this I'm inclined to vote Republican.
Of course I didn't mean that, and I'm sure that this book contains much that we can all learn from and that by working together we can eventually overthrow the evil Rumsfeld/Cheney Politburo. It's just that I hated his tone, his style and his withering "Oh look at me, I've discovered why nobody likes Democrats". Listen Buddy, If you had all the answers we would have all read your book and taken down the man.

I read about 6 pages.

February must have been a pretty cool month for reading as I have no failures to report. Onto March.


The History of the Church by Eusebius.

What with all the hoolah about 'The Da Vinci Code' I figured that I should get to the root of the matter. Whilst redecorating the apartment I discovered a copy, belonging to Frau Random Doubt, of an ancient text that would surely explain everything I needed to know. The trouble with ancient texts is that they tend to be written in an ancient style, with an archaic use of language, having been translated by some old communist from Oxford University in the 1930s. I would have been better off watching the History Channel with it's endless 'Cracking the code' specials.
This also reminded me of the books I had to read during Classics A' Level at Wymondham College. I enjoyed those.

I got about three pages in on the subway but boy did I look esteemed and scholarly with my battered penguin and big coat.

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittan.

Will somebody please make a superb movie (or even better a BBC Miniseries?) about this book?
I should have loved it. Anyone who knows me will know that I am openly fascinated by the 'lost generation', those who did not return from what I still like to refer to as 'The Great War'.
Frau Random Doubt read this book last summer having stolen it from my mother's shelves. She spent the next month weeping, asking questions and just being completely engrossed in this account of love and life and death in the upper middle classes of English society during the first quarter of the 20th century. It was a real delight to see such a voracious reader so completely hooked. I tried, and funnily enough I enjoyed it, well, what I read. But there you go, sometimes you just fall at the third chapter, which I did.
On a side note, I purchased the sequel 'Testament of Experience' for 20p in a Norfolk charity shop. Which Frau Random Doubt also enjoyed.

I got about halfway through the second chapter, I await the miniseries.

I suppose I have done fairly well in my choices since then. I have nothing more to add. I shall update this list towards the end of the year.

Your choice, first caller gets a prize.

I am in summer limbo, Working under vaguely Talibanesque conditions which keep me away from a reliable computer and force me to actually work with children.

I have three upcoming blog projects, one is a certainty, the Mondale CD with liner notes. If you wait long enough I will publish said notes in this space to prevent Unwellness from becoming bored and to keep up my end of the pact I have unkowingly made with the boy Norris.

The other two are yours for the choosing.

I) A summer quiz.

II) Books I failed to read this year and why they suck.
This is the inverse of my critcally acclaimed 'Book Learning' series (Just wait and see what's coming next, you'll never believe it).

So? What's it to be?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Let summer begin...

Whether it's the Wymondham open air jazz picnic, or the slow journey home from the Glastonbury Festival, summer has to begin somewhere. I'm not a Memorial Day believer, prefering to keep my thoughts for a November Sunday.
I believe that the beginning of summer shifts, each year it depends upon circumstance, that something as beautiful and transient as summer cannot be pinned down to a date in a diary, that it depends upon friends, food and sunshine.
Today feels like the beginning of summer. The World Cup is over, Italy won. I drunk a bunch of beers watching the Final and would have rather seen the French win.
That's it, the business part of the year is done, we just have to wait out the hot months until September rolls around.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Book learning 14.

31 Days by Barry Werth.

Right, this is a bit of a tricky one. How to describe this book and all that it is without giving away the essential plot theme. I would hate to ruin the entire book for you so I will just say this. It could best be summed up as a sort of "How do you solve a problem like Dick Nixon?" (to the tune of "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" from "The Sound of Music").
There, The first 31 days of the Ford administration. Sound geeky? Damn right it is, that's exactly why Mondale purchased, read and enjoyed the thing! Geeky aside it's nicely written and the fact that each chapter is a day lends it a certain ease of passage.
Amongst the other cool things the author manages to accomplish are a nice dose of contemporia and a slightly sinister portrayal of a few of the men behind the scenes of mid 1970's Republican politics, A certain Mr G.H.W.Bush, a Mr D.Rumsfeld and a Mr R.Cheney.
It's fascinating to see these guys cutting their teeth over 30 years ago in the West Wing or in George Bush's case weasling to try and get the job of Vice President and having to settle for a role in China.
It was also fun reading about Alexander Haig, was he really just an overpromoted flunkey attempting to hang onto his own influence by his fingernails or was he the outright Nixon/Watergate apologist we all thought he was? Read this book and decide for yourself!
I also enjoyed the contemporary touches, President Ford's taste in wide lapelled plaid sportcoats deemed innapropriate for a chief executive (at least during the week), His wife's personal habits- you end up feeling a real sympathy and admiration for Betty Ford- and her stubborn yet resentful support of her husband and his dilemmas.
A good choice for a political junkie, and don't forget the unmentioned plot, the one I cannot mention. It's a cracker.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

European Championships 2006

At least Brazil went out.
All I want now is for Germany and France to meet in the final and the French to win.
The French have made my day a little better, just a little.
Merci beacoup.

England v Portugal.

I'm supporting France.
I'm off down the pub.

World Cup.

I'm nervous.
The longer it goes on, the more nervous I become.
If we meet success tomorrow my nerves will go crazy.
If it is a broken sunrise my nerves will turn to sorrow.
Either way I shall face them down with a long weekend of beer, meat and my own brand of affectionate American patriotism.