The Whistler – December 2012

If you believe clap your hands

SEASON’S GREETINGS

The Whistler offers you a politically correct Christmas greeting. Best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, winter solstice holiday, practised within the most joyous traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, but with respect for the religious persuasion of others who choose to practise their own religion as well as those who choose not to practise a religion at all. Additionally, we wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the generally accepted calendar year 2013, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions have helped make our society great, without regard to the race, creed, colour, religious, or sexual preferences of the wishees.

(Disclaimer: this greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others and no responsibility for any unintended emotional stress these greetings may bring to those not caught up in the holiday spirit.)

In this issue we feature the many and varied activities that take place at West Hill Hall, and here we remind readers about the monthly fun quiz run by WHCA which is open to all. As we go to press a new fitness class is starting on Wednesdays and Fridays and of course, there are our internationally-famous music gigs on selected weekends.

The committee is appealing for heavy curtains for both the Hall stage (260cm drop, 487 total width) and the 4 windows (215cm drop, 180cm width). If you know of any which are going spare, we would be most grateful to hear from you.

The theatre tickets competition answer was Of Human Bondage. Congratulations to all those who got the answer correct. All those names went into a hat and David Fielder won two tickets to see “The Sacred Flame” by WS Maugham at the Theatre Royal. The editors went to review the play but found the acting by some of the cast members wanting and the direction clumsy. Best leave it at that.

Train Dead

Brighton StationStories from the half-life…continued

London Ad Agency partner and account director and long-time West Hill resident Andrew Osborne-Smythe reports from the front line of commuting and explains how he deals with the trials and tribulations of the 7:15 daily commute to London.

This is coming hot off the iPad! As I write I’m sitting in the penultimate carriage, third row from the front, on the inside seat, left hand side, on the 7:15 to Victoria. It’s actually 7:14 and I’ve already answered the time-critical client emails plus had time to bang out the agenda for the 11am PARP Project meeting to the dozy creative team – who I don’t expect will be reading it anyway.

I should be becalmed by the Rachmaninov (Symphony no.2 op.27) that is now gently piping through the headset, but not this morning. No. The manic typer is sitting behind me. This must happen at least once a fortnight; I think she is doing it deliberately to irritate me. Why such a glorious piece of music cannot just be enjoyed for what it is without some neurotic witch on steroids pounding the keyboard so hard my seat is vibrating. IT’S LIKE THE TRAIN HAS ALREADY STARTED.

Of course, art is purely subjective, and we cannot all enjoy the same high quality things that I do and most people (particularly back in row 6) apparently enjoy, subjecting themselves to moronic cacophonies of talentless drivel, blips and electronic squeaks produced by computer programmes, which themselves must be programmed by morons. Through some ill turn of fate, the manic typer is reproducing almost exactly the same cacophonous output as that emerging from Row 6 – only louder!

Anyway, I need to hold my nerve right now, as the carriage will fill by Haywards Heath and I’m currently in the ‘unlucky dip’ phase of the journey; learning exactly which freak or madman is going to take the spare seat next to me. As usual I have The Telegraph on the spare seat; which is normally enough to put off anyone from Brighton and also serves as a useful signal to the more refined, quiet, smaller types at Haywards Heath who know there is, at least, one safe seat on this train.

Hold it! We’re just stopping at Preston Park and I can see on the platform that Hinge and Bracket have already started their public shouting conversation. NO! NOT NEAR ME YOU MINDLESS BORES! These are the two twits who go on and on all journeys, every day; reliving last night’s TV blow by blow. I can hear them now…

Hinge: “Did you see Jamie on The Apprentice make the genius move to put the chocolate flakes on the ice cream?”
Bracket: “OMG and Andrea just didn’t have a clue – went with the curry powder!”
Hinge: “Sugar called it right in the end; although you have to say Colin got away with it over the cones.”
Bracket: “Exactly – I saw that…”

OF COURSE YOU SAW IT – THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GAWP AT REALITY TV ALL NIGHT ON YOUR 32” FLAT SCREEN.

Phew! I think ‘Manic Typer’ may have put them off. Yes! They’re moving into the centre; good riddance at least for this morning. Meanwhile I have my right arm, very carefully placed exactly halfway across the armrest. That’s right – I’m allowing for whomever choses to sit next to me their exact portion of the armrest for themselves, should they opt to use it. It goes without saying that whoever does take the seat this morning HAS ABSOLUTELY NO RIGHT TO TOUCH MY ARM. Note how considerate I am in all this mayhem.

As I’ve said before, if you take the correct attitude to commuting, adopt the right philosophy, it’s actually quite a pleasurable experience. However, there is absolutely zero chance of any pleasure when ‘Manic Typer’ is banging away and rattling your seat; I can’t stand it any more. I’m going to have a word.

What a cheek! She told me to change my seat if I don’t like it. Can you believe it? Change from this position after effectively establishing common law rights? Who do you I think I am – some kind of shock absorber for your electronic diatribes? A human buffer in the digital torture highway? My blood is boiling, now she’s upped the ante. Where is the justice in this world?

Help! Haywards Heath! Oh dear – alongside the platform, he looks like the first to get on. A builder type, huge, eating a large pastie, dirty work clothes, boots, big bag, The Sun. Surely he should be on an earlier train? Lord, please not him. Not next to me! That’s it. I’m feeling murderous now. Not only has that monster sat down next to me with his pastie breath and cheap, foul-smelling aftershave, I have flakes of oily pastry gliding on me like a dust storm. My iPad has grease spots. This is outrageous. Beyond the pale. His huge, fat arm has not only transgressed the natural border of the armrest half-way point but has actually veered into my seat zone. This is disastrous; I’m having to twist my body toward the window, almost embedded in the other armrest and pull my right arm over, gripping my left knee just to avoid contact with this thug. I could have 50 minutes of this. Where is the EU now? The Human Rights Bill? What about my rights? What about civility rights? The Magna Carta? Martin Luther King? The Chartists? Was it all in vain? What good was it all if I can’t even sit straight on the 7:15 and have space on the armrest? What’s this all about? Is Mr Pastie-Guzzler-for-Breakfast-Piggy-Bull-Nosed-Tatoo-Armed-Giant actually trying to make me contort myself into a life of disability? What about the quality of my life? How am I going to play squash now? What about the cricket club?

Just as I thought my twisted organs would be permanently re-arranged, the pastie-breath monster got off at Gatwick and now I am into a different kind of ‘unlucky dip’ – people who board at Gatwick. It’s been a tumultuous struggle already this morning and only half an hour has passed; now what fate beholds me? Once more unto the breach…

Well, you couldn’t make it up. A group of Italian students have packed the carriage corridor and one of them has chosen to sit on the seat, next to me, facing into her compatriots; with backpack retained on back and veering back and forth across the armrest space in time with the insistent chirping and raucous Italian- style guffaws and shrieks. What are my options now?

All I can do is fight fire with fire. Yes, I’m bringing my suitcase down from the rack for a bit of territorial warfare. This is the equivalent of going over the top; I have a copy of the PARP Project briefing in my case, 345 pages, heavy, ring-bound that is providing some real ballast. Sadly, I’m going to have to sign off now as I need all my resources to fully engage in the battle of the bags and rightly take back my side of the armrest from this foreign invader.

The Old School Tie

Whatever I read about education these days leaves me more and more confused. Where once there were just Public Schools, Independent Schools, Grammar Schools, Comprehensive Schools, etc, there are now Academies, Free Schools [?], and goodness knows what else.

Most of my school years were in the 1940s. I was one of those who benefitted from the 1944 Education Act and I went to an old-fashioned Grammar School. Very old-fashioned, because St Olave’s and St Saviour’s, in Southwark, was founded in the reign of Elizabeth I. Today I often hear such schools mentioned with approval. They are said to have facilitated ‘Social Mobility’, which, we are told, is much more restricted today.

Perhaps if I explain my attitude to my old school and describe something of my experience there, you will see why I have reservations about the approval rating. Because I came from a working class family and a working class area, I was very aware of the number of perfectly able people who did not go to a Grammar School. Even worse, within my school there was another division. About 100 boys entered each year. They were divided into 3 classes by ‘ability’. I soon realised that almost all the teachers regarded the ‘A’ stream as the ‘real’ Grammar School, while the ‘B’ and ‘C’ streams were seen as second-class. Later in life I was very amused to discover how many men from the lower streams had achieved very successful and prosperous careers in business, the Civil Service, etc.

For me, going to St Olave’s was a wonderful opportunity. It opened my eyes to a whole world of learning and I entered with enthusiasm. [My parents were amazed to discover that I was good at Latin!] There was also a sports ground in Dulwich, where I spent many happy weekday afternoons and Saturdays. My Grammar School education gave me access to a top university and a CV which would impress future employers. But here come my reservations.

Although I liked almost every one of my teachers, only a few of them displayed real teaching ability. Several of them had obviously come to teaching as a last resort, because other careers did not appeal, or, worse, because they had never grown out of the school atmosphere and wanted to return to it as quickly as possible! This situation was made worse by WW2, because the average age of my teachers was almost 55. Then there was the headmaster. Dr Robert Carrington was an outstanding scholar, but a very domineering and unpredictable person. Almost all the staff and pupils found it best to have as little to do with him as possible. This attitude was compounded for the boys by his rather suspicious liking for the cane.

I am sure several of my readers will say that they had a much better experience of Grammar Schools. Nevertheless I am convinced that they were socially very divisive and that most of the vaunted social mobility came from the individual ability and ambition of the pupils. Personally I never wanted to be ‘Socially Mobile’. As I arrived at my late teenage years I wanted to develop my understanding of Literature and Art, regardless of future job opportunities. A free university place and a grant gave me that chance. I had no wish to move away from my parents and relatives and I certainly did not wish to become a member of some mythical ‘bourgeoisie’.

Over the years I have observed some brilliant teachers at work in a variety of educational settings. Although I owe a great deal to my years at St Olave’s, I would not propose the education I received there as a model for the future in any respect. As we enter an era where it is likely that education will be sacrificed to a bewildering number of new initiatives, I hope that those who can really teach will be allowed to do the job their way.

Peter Batten

‘Peg’ – the Sussex Caring Pet

Peg is one and a half years old, very scruffy, small and black with a ginger moustache. She’s a Schnoodle, one of the ubiquitous hypo-allergenic poodle crosses.

She’s a comical sort of dog,” says her owner, TV and film actor, Paul Bazely, most well-known for his role as Troy in ITV’S hit comedy Benidorm, “and she’s been a huge hit with my two children. She’s very loving and she makes us all laugh all of the time. She doesn’t bark, she talks to us! So she’s a much-loved family pet but now her role extends beyond the family. She loves people especially children, and twice a month she wears what I call her ‘vest of honour’ in her role as a Sussex Caring Pet therapy dog.

Paul and Peg
Paul was approached at a local summer fete and dog show to be a celebrity volunteer member for the charity and he jumped at the chance. Peg was ‘auditioned’ at the age of nine months to become a therapy dog – to check whether she had a suitable temperament and she passed with flying colours. Paul and SCP therapy dog Peg have since become regular visitors to the Cedar Centre School for children with special needs in Hollingdean and the Princess Alexandra House Care Home for older people.

“I get an awful lot out of it, “ says Paul, “and Peg loves all the attention! The senior citizens enjoy petting Peg. Dogs are, of course, naturally therapeutic and Peg’s gentleness and responsiveness seems to relax and unlock them in some way. The elderly residents reminisce about the past in a way which I find fascinating. Peg’s presence means we have an instant topic of conversation, an instant bond – she facilitates the connection between us and the talk just flows. She’s also rather partial to the biscuits they reward her with!”

The trips to the Cedar Centre Special School are much more energetic.

“The children are lively, full of questions about Peg and also what it’s like to be a TV actor. Peg gets a lot of exercise on those days with the children! A lot of the young adults have problems with concentration, but Peg brings out a gentleness in them, a caring side to their nature which is very touching to see.” Paul has found his work for the charity immensely rewarding: “I can see that the SCP therapy dogs really seem to show a special sensitivity towards vulnerable children and adults.”

These caring therapy dogs also do visits to local hospitals and hospices and their arrival is always greeted with laughter from the staff as well as the patients. “Peg is very stimulated by her visits and she always sleeps well on her ‘working’ days! I like that the charity is locally based and helps to forge links with the local community. It has brought me closer to Peg and made me appreciate what a gift owning a pet can be – a gift which can easily be shared. As someone in the public eye it’s also rather good for me to see that on these occasions my dog gets more attention than I do!”

About Sussex Caring Pets
SCP believes that animal assisted therapy provides a source of companionship, comfort and stimulation that is unique and also underpins the work done by the professionals. Our teams of volunteers regularly visit residential care homes, special/mainstream schools, hospitals and hospices.

To be suitable your dog or cat must be people-oriented – not excitable and not nervous as they may come across unexpected noises and unusual behaviour during their visit. If, after a series of simple tasks, we agree that the pet is suitable, then we discuss with the volunteer what kind of place they would like to visit and what might best suit their animal. Once approved, visits are usually conducted weekly or fortnightly depending on the volunteer’s availability and the needs of the place to be visited.

To find out how to volunteer, or see how to support us in other ways, please visit our website: www.sussexcaringpets.org or email us at info@sussexcaringpets.org or call us on 0779 646 8291.

To receive an application form please send a S.A.E. to: SCP, 80 Oaklands Avenue, Saltdean, Brighton BN2 8PA or see our website.