Monday, September 18, 2006


Warm-up gamefor Toastmasters, teachers, meetings

I now have a better variation on that warm-up game in which you start a story going around the audience and each person adds three words. Most of it is usually nonsense. Instead I suggest:
My variation on this is a communal rap song. It's a rhyming game with a well-known tune. Each person must complete a brief sentence or phrase which makes sense in context and rhymes with the preceding lines. You could do it in couplets so that half the people, the first and all odd numbers, say what they like, and the second and all even numbered seats have to rhyme with the preceeding sentence. However, it's simpler if everybody has the same rhyme and then some of them can plan their rhyme in advance.
You can have four people, or eight, make up each verse.
For example, take the song: Oh my papa. (4 beats, 4 syllables.)
Oh My Papa
The original first line goes: Oh, my papa - to me he was - so wonderful.I shall ask everybody to rhyme. I shall tell them that you don't have to stick to four syllables but you must end with ah!
I shall ask people to call out words ending with ah: bar, baba, car, far, ga-ga, ha-ha, jar, 0o-la-la, mama, na, papa, ra-ra, salsa, ta-ta, yah, Sza-Sza, oom-pa-pa, tra-la-la, la-dee-dah.
They must make couplets about two Toastmasters talking in the bar.
Here's a sample O my papa parody:
"O my papa -
Meet me in the downstairs bar -
Bring some cash, mine won't go far."
"We're skint, let's call mama."
"She says, 'Stay in that bar.-
It's your problem - ta-ta!
' "

I can then get the next row people sitting in the audience to do Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
My example of a parody is:
"Twinkle, twinkle little star;
Meet me in the Old Vic bar;
Me director, make you star!
Why did you bring your papa?"
After that the next person can change the rhyme and everybody must follow or go back to the orginal rhyme, making couplets. eg
The bar's a super place to meet.
We can have a bite to eat.
The problem is I don't eat meat.
Vegetarians must bring sweets.
I'm teetotal. I don't drink.
Drink some water. Helps you think.
I'm nervous. That's why I blink.
I must be sick into the sink.
Reader -
You may continue this refrain.
Be assured I won't complain.
Bring your rhyme - and read again.
This game could drive us both insane.

It's a warm-up and like brainstorming you allow some random nonsense.
However, the discipline of ending with a rhyme helps you with writing poetry and songwriting and creating humorous verse for birthday cards, leaving parties and speeches.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Pearl's 90th Birthday Party
 Pearl's 90th birthday celebration on Sunday Ocober 10th was a great success, although she said she was too tired to go out to lunch or dinner and simply wanted to stay at home for tea. I drove to Morrisons supermarket to look for a birthday cake. The only decorated cakes were footballs and kiddie cakes. But I was delighted to find a delicious Thorntons toffee cake topped by tiny dice-shaped pieces of fudge.
 I was talking on my mobile phone to my son Anthony who was in Tesco and he selected the largest traditonal iced fruit cake with marzipan, meant to be the lowest level of a wedding cake, with a nice flat surface to decorate. I purchased Happy Birthday to go on top, plus the numbers for ninety. I discovered and could not resist twisted candles and candles shaped like champagne bottles.
So that we did not overload on sugar, I stocked up with some savoury snacks: including falafel (fried chickpea balls), taramasalata and chopped herring.
   I drank orange juice. (Not enough vegetables for the five portions a day, which should be seven. Later when I got home I made freshly-squeezed orange juice and ate melon.)
On Saturday I had bought the best and most beautiful bunch of flowers, pinks and purples, containing perfect roses and cute carnations and dramatic giant lilies. We had enough flowers to fill two huge flower vases and the perfume wafted across the room creating heavenly aroma therapy.
Relatives from overseas (Steve and Tami) sent more flowers including cheerful yellow sunflowers.
Pearl brought out a box of photos, large wedding photos, hers, her mothers, family certificates, the barmitzvah certificate of Trevor, her younger son, the graduation of her older son, his first graduation. 'He was at Southampton and then Oxford, and then became a professor,' she said proudly.
'They wouldn't put him in for the eleven plus! So David sent him to a private tutor. Then he want to the poly and passed his exams and went to uni. Here's his exam certificate.
Anthony said, 'Lots of people succeed in life and business without passing school exams.'
After another think, Anthony asked, 'Why did you think pasing the eleven plus so important?'
Pearl explains, 'They didn't have Comprehensives in those days. You needed to get into grammar school, so you could take O level exams, and A levels, and go to University.'
  Pearl continues, 'We went to the parents evening and they said he knew the answers but he didn't put his hand up.'
   We hear this twice. I accept it unquestioningly. But Anthony puzzles over it.
'If he doesn't put his hand up, how do they know he knows the answers? From his written work? What does it matter whether he puts his hand up?'
Pearl tells the story again.
   Eventually Anthony queries, 'But the eleven plus is a written exam. Why does not putting your hand up affect going in for the exam?'
   I say, 'Because when you go to enter the eleven plus, even if you pass, they give you an oral. I think I was good at English and I was expected to pass so I had my interview at the Grammar school before I got the results. Or was it afterwards? Maybe there were two interviews. After the exam, the headmistress told my mother my maths result was low but the English mark was high and pulled me up, which is very common with girls. Maybe you get offered a conditional place. But if you are too shy to talk, and you don't get given a provisional place, there's no point in taking the exam.'
Anthony is still not convinced.
Now neither of us understand the logical leap between Pearl's stories.
Neither does Pearl.
   But as far as she is concerned, the point of the story is that despite that the school was unhelpful. They helped their son. He proved his parents were right to believe in him. The facts are, that they were told that their son Stephen would not succeed, but they got him coached and he took his exams at the Poly and became a professon and a prize-winning author and a great success.
However, we are all still puzzled.
   I took pictures of us and of old wedding photos to make up This Is Your Life for a big family party when relatives come from abroad later this month.
   I was disappointed not to go out for a meal. I had wanted to go to Friends Restaurant in Pinner which has a Michelin star and is our family's favourite but it is closed until Tuesday.
   However, Anthony's Granny did not feel up to going out and said several times that she had had a great time, 'I shall tell everybody I had the most wonderful tea party'. She insisted on giving me a couple of the flowers 'because you brought the tea'. And the next day she phoned to thank me.

Here's This Is Your Life
Pearl was born September 10th 1916, in the middle of The Great War. It was not known as WWI until WWII.
   Pearl thought she was named after her paternal grandmother (shown on the far left of the wedding photo of her mother Sarah Geduld to ... Houtman in 1915).
Pearl's grandmother died in 1916 before Pearl was born. But family records show the grandmother listed with a different name.
   Pearl shrugs and waves her hand, dismissing my objection: 'It doesn't matter.'
Pearl's sister Daphne was six years younger, so when Pearl was a teenager she had her mother's undivided attention on the day when their dress shop closed for the half day and they went out for tea to a glamorous hotel. They started with gateaux.
   Pearl remembers how when she was aged about fourteen, in about 1930, her mother took her shopping in Selfridges, bought a squirrel fur coat, and then said to the assistant, "Do you have one to fit my daughter?"
  Pearl was thrilled to receive such a grown-up costume. And to march proudly down the road with her mother in mother-and-daughter outfits.
  Pearl's mother had married in WWI. Pearl's wedding took place during the next world war, WWII. The date was March 25, 1940.
  Pearl had an ice cream wedding cake. Her mother ordered it from Cadby Hall. "She knew the manager. She probably served his wife in the shop."
   I dutifully write this down. Recording it for posterity. Before my memory can lose the information or change it.
I ask her whether Cadby Hall was in London.
'Yes,' she says, 'It's still there.'
A moment later she adds, 'They have premises all over England. Cadbury, the chocolate people.' I query, 'White chocolate, in the cake?'
'Yes.' A second later she says, 'The cake was made by the ice cream people. What's-it's name?'
'Walls?' I speculate. 'Lyons?'
'That was it. Lyons.'
Pen poised, I pause and I query this. 'I thought you said the cake was made by Cadbury's?'
Later, as my son Anthony drives me home, we try to pool our thoughts and sort out the facts, but come to no conclusion.
   He shakes his head, 'When I was trained at school and university to interview older people, no-one warned me about this. Nobody ever prepares you for this sort of confusion. You are told to expect that most of the public will tell you the truth but sometime they will tell you lies. One or the other. But nobody says that perfectly willing and honest interviewees will give you two completely conflicting accounts of events.'
   I added, 'Or that they often contradict themselves within the same sentence!'
We don't care. We have hysterics. We share the same sense of humour. The hilarity, the absurdity, of this family trip, or trip up, down memory lane, has been a major part of the day's entertainment.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Obituary Eugene Mullan ( 19??-September 2006)

I met Eugene at Caerleon Writers' Holiday in 2005. He was tall, dark and handsome, an English teacher like me, and the author of an award-winning book. I was on the course in erotic writing run by his good friend Mitzi Szereto and I kept in touch with both of them.

After Caerleon I exchanged emails with Eugene, lengthy thoughtful emails about our respective lives, teaching, and life in general. His reply to me about classroom discipline was:

'Good idea to have a few stock responses to impertinence ... certainly don't lose your temper ... the "naughty" ones enjoy that and will look for ways of winding you up ... and it frightens the more timid children ....
Better to "act" at being angry in short bursts and direct it at an individual who needs putting in his/her place ... not a whole class ...
Look as if you are enjoying yourself ... praise good behaviour as much as possible ... troublemakers at the front of course ... never go back on your word ... "a final warning" means just that ... never punish a whole class for the misdemeanours of a few ... sometimes speak very quietly so they have to concentrate to hear you ... set ground rules early and don't change the boundaries ..... '

His comment on singing was:

'That was very sweet of Mitzi to say so ... but I'm really a "one trick pony" .... as far as playing music is concerned ...

my two brothers are very good ... I was always the least musical in our family ....

as for singing .... I don't mind saying that I can sing a bit ...

I don't know if I could teach you to sing ... other than I know that it is all about finding the "centre" of your voice ... which may be higher or lower than your speaking voice ... and breathing .... and confidence ...

I am singing on Friday too .... let me know how it goes for you ...

doo-wa ...doo-wa

Eugene x '

He was dealing with the law courts about his divorce, unhappy about the divorce proceedings, later happy when it was over, and happy about his new house, but needed a break. I invited him to attend Writers' Summer School in Derbyshire.
I was living in London and he was living further north or visiting friends in Leicester and Sheffield so we did not see each other again. We continued emailing and I last wrote to him on a Thursday in September 2006. You can imagine my horror on opening an email from Mitzi at midnight on Friday with the subject: Bad News.

Eugene had died from pneumonia after being confined to bed with food poisoning.
Mitzi said he had had food poisoning previously. Possibly from food which had gone off whilst he was away on holiday.
I keep churning this fact over and over, as if I could turn the clock back, rewind the video, if only I could find the exact moment when things went wrong.
I thought, maybe he believed that having had food poisoning previously and recovered, he assumed it was not a serious problem, instead of thinking it was a lucky escape and a warning.
I am shocked, uneasy, in denial.
I wrote to Mitzi and she put me in touch with Linda and Andy, 'long time friends of his in Sheffield. They go way back.'
Andy sent me information about Eugene's career.

Linda gave me the email of Wendy Gallagher who wrote:
'I first met Eugene in 2003 thro Linda Lee. I last saw him on August 6th.
Here is some of what I know.
He took me to a Blake exhibition and I learned to appreciate Blake via Eugene's enthusiasm. I introduced him to ballet and he instantly adored it, especially classical, tho the last ballet he took me to, in May, was Deborah Culker's co, which we had seen and loved once before.
Eugene was a runner. There is a very steep hill in beautiful countryside on the outskirts of Sheffield where he used to run regularly. Once, when he was about to miss a ferry in Scotland, he broke into a graceful, loping glide and covered the distance to the boat in seconds without getting out of breath.
He was a gardener; his garden orderly and tended according to season. He had a small but deep pond in his garden which he acquired, with its fish, along with his house. And there came baby fish which delighted him as, apparently, the only way they cd hv come into being was by Eugene's having carried eggs in the crevices of his wellies as he tended to the pumping system. (Well, I understood at the time he explained it to me!).
He loved flowers and loved sending them.
He loved the fragrance of lavender.
He packed for trips two days before departure and always took too much and wondered why.
He enjoyed wine and real ales.
He liked to eat steak.
He loved to cook. But not often enough for himself.
He strung fairy lights on the bedroom ceiling.
He loved going to art exhibitions and encouraged local artists.
He had a beautiful voice and played guitar and banjo. He made me cry with pleasure at the sweetness of his voice when, early in our relationship, he simply took his guitar and sang to me. He was wonderfully supportive of his friends.
Not only was he an extremely talented writer, he really understood the craft of writing and was generous with his time and analytical powers. But not indulgent: I consulted him about a story; he said "You need to cut it by 50%" He gave me a tiny tape recorder to record my late night and early morning ramblings.
He starred in local productions - annual G&S - occasional drama.
He was multi-talented, passionate, loyal.
He is admired and loved by many people.
He didn't take care of himself physically and only showed irritation at any suggestion of healthcheck.
I cannot understand that he no longer is.'

Eugene is survived by two sons.

Mitzi writes that Eugene was with a friend in France 'only the week before and he was so happy when he rang me on his return -- I think he'd spent the happiest week of his life with her there. So maybe that's some comfort. Thing is, it should have continued. He had been through too many rough times and happiness should not be so fleeting.'

Mitzi expecting to be teaching in Greece at the time of the funeral wrote:
'I've decided to visit a church there and light a candle for him. If I can get hold of a priest, I'll ask him to say a prayer (or rather get someone to translate what I want to said priest). Eugene lived in Greece for several years and always dreamed of going back there to live again. So I think it's appropriate.'

If anybody wishes to send any comments about Eugene, details of his life, or photos of him, or general issues raised, such as teaching, death, food poisoning and pnemonia, please contact me at or phone 0208 428 9638.

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