T-shirts and Teaching: Day 2

Saturday. The sun is out again. It heralded the first stirrings of spring yesterday. Perfect T-shirt weather. Clearly God is on my side.

I wear the T-shirt to my morning class. It’s the same one: I’ve taken to wearing another one underneath and with my northern/Canadian genes I don’t seem to get cold much. The class is generally positive, as is my afternoon student. But then some genuine support. I’m in Euphorium near the Royal Free (trying to get from Colindale to Richmond despite an outbreak of rail replacement buses ~ don’t ask). As I purchase something sweet with a sexy French name, a voice behind me asks me to turn around. “We like what’s on the back and we want to see the front”. And so a woman from Leicester and a man from Kent become my first stranger-customers. He treats her. They both seem chuffed. I suppose they’re actually quite nice T-shirts for a fiver. I tell them of their historic feat; the phrase ‘limited edition’ is mentioned; my heart is warmed.

Later: I see my godson but fail to put a T-shirt on him. It would probably be longer than he is. More friends see and admire but there are no more sales. But no matter. 6 down; tomorrow is another day…


T-shirts and Teaching: Day 1

After I stressed the urgency of the situation ~ I’m trying to save the world here! or at least the British education system ~ the printers agreed to deliver on Friday. That leaves me 19 days to sell 100 T-shirts. 19 days to spread the word. 19 days to become a walking sandwich board on the streets of London town.

waddawe want??!

waddawe want??!


waddawe really really want?

waddawe really really want?

I put one on as soon as they arrive. My first comment comes from an attractive blonde as I’m heading in to an afternoon appointment. “I like your T-shirt. I’m a social worker”. I give her my card. I go on to meet a friend. She approves but doesn’t buy one. I can take that; emotional support is as valid as financial, and not everyone wants to look like an 80s throwback.

At an evening class, my student says he likes the T-shirt. “Since you told me about Gove, I’ve heard his name all over the place.” He doesn’t buy one either. But I think he’s sympathetic.

Back home, I get an email from a friend. She’ll take one. And my housemate says she’ll have a couple. I put myself down for one too. That makes 4 sold; only 96 to go.


Dear Canada,

We live in interesting times. I think the Chinese wish that on their enemies, but I’m glad of it. My generation is seeing history in the making, and that history has not, at least not yet, included a world war. So far, so good.

You know, however, where this is going. For once again, Canada, I envy you. Some might pity you your lack of history. I don’t. You see, the situation we’ve got here in the UK is this: we haven’t been successfully invaded since 1066 (unless you count Australians, and they’ve been pretty quiet since they lost the cricket). In that almost 1000-year span, we developed a kick-ass navy, owned the oceans on our way to building an Empire with a capital E, and gained more say in world affairs than a small island off the coast of France had any right to have.

And what have we got to show for it? I’ll tell you what. Every time some other country decides to get involved in this history-in-the-making business to try to arrange a better future for themselves, turns out we helped fuck them up in the first place. Zimbabwe? Our colonial legacy is shameful. Palestine? Don’t get me started on Churchill the Racist. Libya? Decades of collusion and turning a blind eye. Egypt, Nigeria, Ireland, Las Malvinas, Iraq…. the list goes on.

We should maybe take some responsibility for your neighbours to the south too, and look what they’ve gone and done. (Although I still haven’t worked out how the genes of the Pilgrim Fathers mutated into Donald Rumsfeld.) Probably the only country we haven’t screwed over is France, and that’s only because we like their wine. OK, there was the Hundred Years’ War, but zat is, ‘ow you say, ‘istory, non?

You turned out all right, Canada. Probably we just forgot about you. And the Aussies can be quite brash, but they’re not so bad – I guess they’re too far away for us to really get stuck into. But it’s a pretty depressing record.

Maybe we should get ourselves invaded again. I don’t know, maybe there’s a large yet peaceful country out there somewhere that could use a European outpost for something other than a glorified airforce base.

Not that this is your problem, Canada, but are you busy this summer? We’ll all be in Spain anyway, drinking a lot and, you know, doing what we do to other countries. I don’t suppose you could help us out?


Dear Canada,

It must be a blessing to know, however long and difficult the working week has been, however antisocial it has made you feel, that come the weekend, a restorative quiet night in with one of the staples of Canadian heritage is always an option. It’s there for you every Saturday throughout the winter, and on those cold, cold evenings it gives you a little warm feeling somewhere deep inside. I’m talking, of course, about Hockey Night in Canada.

HNIC has been there for you since 1952. I know in the old days you missed most of the first period, but that wrinkle has been ironed out, and there’s nothing to stop you from washing away the week’s woes with a good long dose of your national sport.

But for once, Canada, I don’t envy you. Not at the moment at least. It may not have found its way to primetime, and it may not be live, but we do have Match of the Day. A few weeks back, MOTD was spectacular. Newcastle came back from 0-4 to draw 4-4 with Arsenal; Everton beat Blackpool 5-3; other games finished 4-3, 3-2 and 2-2; Stoke and Tottenham got injury-time winners, the latter benefiting from a belter by Kranjcar; Tevez notched a hat-trick. Oh and Wolves stuffed Man U, handing them their first defeat of the season – that on its own would have made my weekend.

The next weekend wasn’t quite so spectacular, but it did feature that goal by Rooney. I have to admit, albeit grudgingly, that it was pretty special.

But the problem is this: Saturday night TV is turning into Russian roulette. We’ve got lucky for a few weeks. We’ve been granted harmless, entertaining sport. The last day of the Six Nations, Super Saturday, is on the horizon. But sooner or later, we’re going to have to take a bullet.

So-called reality TV – yes, Orwellian doublespeak is here again, if it ever went away – has mercifully been put on hold. But it will be back. Any day now it will rear its ugly, desperate head, like a greasy, insidious serial killer of the brain cells. I don’t know what it will be next: Strictly? The Apprentice? Those I could just about bear. Big Brother I think has been put down, and not before time. But it’ll probably be one of those God-awful Cowell tumours, which hit you like a fart in an elevator, leaving you feeling sick, grumpy, violent or all three.

There’s no escape. I know from facebook updates (and I’ll be back for you later Zuckerberg, you cock) whose singing most compares to nails on a blackboard, and whose boo-hoo back story gets the most sympathy. I don’t feel like I know these people, although I think that puts me in a minority. What I also know is that soon, too soon, one of these excrescences will be infesting our screens, and not having a TV will not save me from its filthy tentacles.

I might have to go out and join the binge drinkers. I might even be grateful for the royal wedding. Oh Canada, you have so much to be thankful for.


Dear Canada,

I got a photo in my inbox today. It was, in part, of a frozen lake. (It was mainly a shot of the base of a tree. I’m hoping my geocache is still there, but that’s another story.)

You have lakes that freeze! How cool is that? You can then walk on your frozen lakes! Or skate, ski, drive… whatever takes your fancy. Over here we have lakes which are cold all year round and rivers with shopping trolleys in them. It’s not fair.

So enjoy your frozen lakes, Canada; we’re not all as lucky as you.


Dear Canada,

You don’t play sporting fixtures against teams halfway across the world. I mean you do, but not in anything important, not in anything you’re any good at. This strikes me as an eminently sensible idea.

The idea of a Canadian snuggling under the covers with a radio to hear the latest goings-on from Australia is absurd. And yet we’ve just had nearly two months of serious, important cricket against Australia, in Australia.

You can give yourselves another pat on the back for not playing games that last up to five days. (I won’t be totally disloyal and moan about the fact that there may not be a positive result. I still think you need to get over your phobia of the draw, or tie as you call it. But that’s a minor quibble.)

I say five days. I actually mean five nights. That means at least three schoolnights. Sometimes, when we’re lucky, play starts at 11.30pm local time. We might be able to stay up until the lunch break at 1.30am without suffering too much. But sometimes they play in places like Perth (I know – why?) Play in Perth starts at 0230 and goes on till about 1000. You can have a sleepless night and be late for work. Insanity.

Even now that the Ashes are over, I’m having trouble establishing regular sleep patterns. So Canada, be thankful you’re no good at cricket. It would only get in the way of your eight hours, and there’s only one thing that should be doing that.

Till next time, sleep tight…


Dear Canada,

I went shopping last week on Oxford Street. There are some nice shops there. (There are also nasty ones like Primark, filled with savagely materialist bargain-hunters who look like the infected from 28 Days Later.) I just wanted to while away a few hours in that lovely week between Christmas and New Year’s…

Sartre said that hell is other people and now I know what he meant. If it had only been crowded that would have been fine. It was way, way beyond crowded. It was Sartrian. I’m no advocate of terrorism, but if anyone wants to bomb London, I’d suggest early on the morning of 26 December, before there are any people around but in time to turn our commercial core into a post-ashopalyptic wasteland. It’s a cultural and spiritual wasteland already so it really won’t make much difference.

One thing I love about Canada is that it’s never crowded. Busy is relative. In business terms, downtown Montreal is like Streatham on a wet Tuesday (except it looks nice and there’s no gangsters). People are going somewhere and enjoying the journey, whereas in London people are going nowhere and they’re pissed off about it.

So if you have any idea how you reached this happy state of affairs and we got saddled with a bunch of numbskulls, please let me know. Thanks Canada.