Forget the season to be jolly. There’s loads and loads to dislike about Winter.

A confession before we start this one: I actually quite like Winter. Fresh, clear mornings, the sight of snow blanketing the landscape, the relief at walking into a warm house. So, you might think maybe I’m being a bit contrary in writing about the things I hate about it. Well, let me explain what it is that irks me so much about Winter and gives us that love/hate relatiomnship.

Having to scrape frost or ice off the car in the mornings is something I really can’t stand. I should expect it really, but every time I open the front door and discover that icy covering on the windows of the car, I’m surprised. My heart sinks. It’s hard enough getting out of the house on those freezing cold, dark Winter mornings, but then to be greeted by frost or ice is just a step too far.

As soon as I see it I know that I’m going to be delayed. I can’t just get in the car and put up with the freezing temperature for the next few minutes before the usual drive to work. Oh no. Instead, it’s a race to start the engine, grab the ice scraper and then get to work at clearing my windows. Throw in the likelyhood of an icy driveway that may just see me ending up on my backside and we’ve got a pretty terrible start to the day. And then on my return to the car I’ll have to drive with a painful, icy numbness in my thumb for the next ten minutes. Not good.

Ice on the pavements and roads. That feeling of sliding uncontrollably in the car is just awful. It’s not too bad if there’s nothing around, but on one occasion, when I worked at a particularly rural school I managed to drive up a particularly narrow and steep road for a few hundred metres before getting stuck in the snow and ice. With no way forward this meant that I had to slowly reverse back down through the ice to get home a different way. Inevitably the car slid and we collided with a wall on the way down. On another occasion I fairly burst out of my front door laden with a few bags and ready to head to work only to find, as soon as I placed one foot on the front step, that the whole place was glazed with ice. I literally somersaulted onto the path, quite spectacularly. Arse over tit, we call it and bruised for days after. Bizarrely, my neighbour from two doors up emerged from her house at exactly the same and achieved exactly the same results. I think we’re both a lot more cautious in the Winter these days.

Putting the lights in the tree in the garden is possible the most dangerous thing that I’ll attempt all year. This isn’t because it’s a big tree or that the set of lights is particularly cumbersome. It’s because of the fact that we don’t have a proper ladder and that our front garden runs down to the tree on a bit of an uneven slope. Every time we put the lights up, I can sense curtains twitching, neighbours queueing up for what must be a combination of the most death-defying show they’ll see all year and the kind of act that a medieval jester would have put together in that it’s not funny, just kind of awkward.

Each year I dread the feeling of the step ladder legs sinking into the moist grass, wobbling as I get higher up the rungs and then veering dangerously sideways as I reach anywhere near the top. Many’s the time I’ve had to jump off before I fell off. In my head I’m something akin to Alex Honnold in the film Free Solo as he scales El Capitan. For anyone watching I’m probably a lot more like Stan Laurel or terrible circus clown; a lovable simpleton putting his body on the line in the name of looking slightly more masculine than usual. And that’s still just about as masculine as one of Steps.

The Winter wardrobe; particularly how I can’t manage a scarf. Some people are just stylish and the carrying off of a big coat or a thick jumper just seems to come naturally; they literally put on some of their Winter wardrobe and look like they’ve stepped out of the pages of Italian Vogue. They can trudge through the foot deep snow looking cool. They seem to almost levitate above the slush (that’s the dirty melting wet snow if slush is unfamiliar to you), their trousers immune to the water or the dirt, their cashmere overcoat unruffled by the wind. And then there’s me, either sliding about in trainers because I hate walking boots and wellies, or looking not unlike the Stay Puft man from Ghostbusters because of the sheer amount of layers I’m employing to fend off the cold. A few years ago I bought a new, expensive Winter coat and then almost immediately ripped the lining by one of the armholes, meaning that I couldn’t even put it on stylishly, preferring instead to choose the wrong hole almost every time and end up with one arm just stuck in the coat somewhere.

I’m a disaster when it comes to scarves though. Although it never puts me off buying them. Even this morning I made the latest in a long linesof attempts to wear a particular scarf that I must have bought in a sale a couple of years ago. It’s a bit of a Moddish affair and the kind of thing I’d expect Paul Weller or one of The Kinks to look fabulous in. Not me though. I still can’t decide how to wear it as it just seems about a foot too long. Thus, in my head I’m going to look great in it, but in reality I’ll stand in front of the mirror for 5 minutes trying different ways of wearing it before folding it roughly and returning it to the draw. I’ll wear a football scarf instead and just ruin whatever look it was that I was going for!

The weather can’t make up its mind. Time was, when I was much younger and lived in much more northern climes, that Winter meant snow. Nowadays, this is no longer the case. The sky tells lies. Take today, for instance. The weather forecast promised snow. Promised it! Sure enough the clouds arrived bang on time. It was freezing cold too. And then the rain started, accompanied by gale force winds and we were in the grip of another of our recent weather additions: one of those storms that the Met Office insist on giving stupid names to. And that’s the way of Winter these days; less of the kind of wonderful snowy landscapes that would block the doors when I was younger and more filthy dirty rain and horrible winds, designed to soak you to the skin and make it impossible to walk around the place! All of them given daft names – the last one was called Arwen and the one throwing us around like rag dolls today has the moniker Barras. I mean, who calls their new born baby Barra? Apart from anything else, you’re missing a trick in not adding a bit and christening it Badass, surely?

Linked to the weather is my sympathy for our PE staff at this time of year. Now I get that it’s all swings and roundabouts with PE teaching in terms of weather. I can’t help but feel envious when it’s a scorching hot summer’s day and they’re out on the fields. But in this weather, even a cold hearted old cynic like myself can’t fail but to feel a bit sorry for them. That is, sorry for them with a smug grin on my face as I sit in a lovely, modern heated classroom. Most mornings though, as I’m getting into my classroom, setting up for the first lesson of the day, PE staff are trudging out to the fields, loaded down with bags of footballs, poles and other kit like sporty beasts of burden. Then they’ll wander around said field, marking out areas with poles and cones before trudging back in soaked to the bone. And this is before they’ve actually taught a lesson. Do they ever get dry on these days? Is the only place where they’re not either frozen or soaked, their home? Is work just like one Arctic expedition after another for these poor souls? I love sport, but having to go through that on a daily basis just isn’t worth it.

This is the route to the fields for PE lessons. Runs right past my classroom window!

Sadly though, the weather isn’t something that I can avoid that much during Winter. As a volunteer football coach, I get to sample the sensation of being both frozen and soaked for what feel like endless hours, pretty much every Sunday in Winter (and Autumn…and Spring…and some of Summer; I mean we do live in England).

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, right? A time for relaxing and preparing oneself for the demands of the coming week. And yet, for most of the year I’m up not long after 7am in order to start preparing for a game. Having spent some of Saturday afternoon loading the car with the equipment we’ll need, I’ll rush my breakfast on the Sunday in order to be at our pitch – which is generally a mud bath at this time of year – setting up for around 8.40. Often, in Winter it’s either freezing cold, pouring with rain or your caught in the midst of some ridiculously high winds. Often, it’s all three at once. This will mean that by about 8.50 I’m either soaked through or have pretty much lost all feeling in my hands and toes, making jobs like putting nets onto goal frames incredibly difficult. Sometimes, when I’m really lucky, I might not be able to find any nets or corner flags – on one occasion I forgot the matchball – or there might not be enough spare kit to go around for the lads who’ve only just joined the club meaning I get to run around the place searching stuff out, which is all made infinitely better by driving rain, sleet or ankle deep mud that our winters inevitably bring.

After that I get to stand on the touchline coaching my way through the game, quite possibly losing my voice in the process, while attempting to stay warm now that I’ve thrown in the towel in the battle against the rain! (See below for some images of our pitch on a recent rainy, winter weekend)

Even when I get home, it’s not over. While the rest of the family can get inside and start getting warm, I’ll still have to unpack the car and load all of the gear back into the sheds, all while saying a silent prayer that it will have dried out in time for training a few days later. Then, I’ll have to sit on our wet step and take off my muddy boots, as well as my soaking wet socks and probably a couple of wet upper layers before I can even go in the house! Yep, you’ve got to love Winter!

So there you have it. While Winter is the season of sledging, building snowmen (snowpeople?), Christmas and hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire, there’s also loads to dislike about it. Roll on Summer where I can be far too hot one minute ad then fed up of the rain the next!

Oh, and by the way, remember to tune in next week, when in the name of blogging and content, I’ll be writing about the many things I love about this very season!

Poetry Blog: A Bracing Start to The Day.

I wrote this poem very recently after a drive to work. The title seems fantastically relevant now, given that we’ve just had our first snow, brought by a storm that featured some frightening 40 miles an hour winds.

It wasn’t the drive that prompted me to write, but the weather and just the way my world looked on that morning. It was the kind of morning that I’ve always really liked. Bright, crisp, dry. Quite still too, so ideal as I’m really not a fan of the wind. The kind of morning that I’d love to have gone for a run on. But instead, I was off to work to spend the day indoors, missing out on a beautiful day.

The first thing that struck me was spotting the moon still up in the sky, despite the daylight. I noticed it as I was getting into the car and then kept spotting it as drove. It prompted a series of thoughts and observations and I was suddenly really keen to write. But that’s a bit difficult at the wheel of the car and even trying to dictate into my phone would have been out of the question. So, it was a case of scribbling things down in a notebook as soon as I got into my classroom.

I worked on putting the notes together as a poem once my day of teaching was over with. Here’s the result.

A Bracing Start to The Day

The moon, still high in the sky,
suggests night rather than the bracing start to the day
that this early light informs us of.
Vapour trails from soaring planes scratch the blue
from a near perfect sky, like claw marks
down a freshly painted canvas.
Scan the horizon and a coral banner announces 
the sun, while frost on windscreens
defies its very existence.
Crisp air takes the breath away and begins 
to numb the fingers and toes as every
breath spray paints a fleeting pattern in the air.
Winter is creeping towards us.

I can see the weather influencing more writing in the weeks to come, especially on those early starts. I’m up early every other Sunday setting up goalposts, nets, corner flags and everything else that goes alongside matchday for the football team that I coach. I always find it a lovely peaceful, calm time of the day and usually quite look forward to it. Even in the worst of weather it’s nice just to be outside and alone with my thoughts and watching things come together.

I hope you enjoyed reading the poem. It’s a little shorter than they usually are, but it’s one that I think I quite like. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Poetry Blog: Rain on the roof

There’s no great mystery about this poem. Quite simply, it was prompted by rainfall on my classroom roof. It’s quite a cool noise I suppose and I think the sight of it and the relief I felt at being indoors and being able to just sit and watch and listen to it, was quite inspirational.

I have what I think is referred to as an outdoor classroom. It’s not actually outdoors, but it’s a stand alone building away from the main buildings of school. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something. My classroom is actually known as the ecopod; I think it’s supposed to be eco-friendly, but I’ve never really worked out why. The structure is covered with wood and we have skylights and also movement activated lighting, so I suppose there’s something in the name. That said, because it’s wooden, early on in its school life my room was also widely known as Nandos…

It was the skylights that partly influenced the poem, which is basically about the sound and the sight of the rain during a particularly heavy downpour about a week ago. My class were working and the rain just got me thinking, so I scribbled some lines down on a bit of paper and went back to it later to finish what I’d started.

Rain on the roof

Incessant, unrelenting and blended into almost one wonderful noise,
you set the tone, make me feel glad of these four walls
and the roof above, reluctant to leave and glad of my warm, dry room.
Through the window a filter of unedifying grey
blights the green of fields and trees, makes fools of the eyes,
blurring houses, factories, towns on the horizon.
The vague hope of home is lost in the mist
as the rain plays its song on the skylight.
This will pass before I venture out once more,
but its footprint will remain for hours yet.

The effect of rain on the roof of my classroom always raises a smile. It will always prompt at least 50% of the group to stop working. Next we might get an incredulous ‘Woah’ before finally eyes turn to the windows in order to watch the downpour. It’s as if the rain couldn’t actually be happening if all they could do was hear it! And given that we live in the north of England, where rain is fairly frequent, it never fails to amaze me that my students can be so captivated by something as simple as this and that they see on such a regular basis. That was kind of what I meant in the last line as you can always guarantee that your class will struggle to behave if it’s raining. Throw some wind into the equation and you’ve got a battle on your hands!

From my classroom windows I can see in the direction that I live and am able to spot certain places that I’ll pass on the journey home. It can be a bit of a comfort when I’m having a bad day. And so, when it’s misty and cloudy all of that disappears; hence the line about the ‘vague hope of home’. Strange how such a simple thing can spark so much into happening!

As always, I hope you enjoyed the poem. Feel free to leave a comment.

Poetry blog – ‘This trend for naming storms is fooling no one…’

I’m not particularly sure how it all started, but at some point, somewhere, someone made the decision that we should start referring to storms by name. Human name. It wasn’t really a new thing; we’d been doing it with hurricanes for years, but this was just going to be for high winds and heavy rain. Whichever way I looked at it, it all seemed a bit unnecessary. I mean, if the weather presenter told me that we had to stay indoors because Storm Graham was on the way, I wouldn’t worry at all, which I’m guessing isn’t really the point.

Apparently there is some reasoning behind the naming of storms. The Met Office claim that the naming of storms will aid communication about the storms. Apparently, if it has a name we’ll be better prepared when it comes to keeping property safe! And if you don’t believe me, you can go to the Met Office website and have a read for yourself. Now, I can’t speak for everyone, but if a weather warning was issued and it said that a terrible storm with very high winds was going to hit my area, I’d be fully aware of its potential to cause damage.

Name or no name, the storm was going to do some damage. It wasn’t any more accesible because it had been in some way humanised. I wouldn’t be able to stand in my garden and plead with Gareth, Clive, Grace or even Serenity to not blow my fence down. The naming seemed like a nonsense. Surely, if you’re going to name the very dangerous storm then at least give it a name that did it some justice. Storm Mad Bastard, Storm Angry Nutjob, Storm Violent Fencekiller – surely they’re far more effective in getting the point across? I’d definitely be more wary of Storm I’m Gonna Blow Your House Down, than Storm Terry. Anyway, I wrote my thoughts down in the form of a poem.

This trend for naming storms is fooling no one…

Despite the efforts to make you seem more warm, friendly and cartoonishly cuddly, this trend for naming storms is fooling no one. You’re still a storm after all. You still bring a garrulous reign of terror, like you’ll never, ever shut up. Alphapebtising you and christening you with Disney monikers like Elsa, Mary and Hamish does not lessen your power to disrupt my day. Sleepy, Dopey and Bashful wouldn’t even help as far as that’s concerned.

Bernard still has the potential to severely damage my fence, bringing with him the middle class nightmare of finding a tradesman. Margaret is also no friend to my shrubbery, deflowering as she does the camellia, the hyacinths and God forbid, the showpiece rhododendron. And Theodore, you can be sure, will up-end potted plants, seedling trays and even a half-full water butt, blowing them right across the patio or maybe even as far as the neighbour’s drive, bringing the need for fawning apologies and a false face of shame.

This no doubt, focus group, think tank driven naming ceremony will not lessen your power to keep us indoors for days and, I’ll have you know, something else has already taken care of that so in continuing your path of destruction, with or without a name, frankly you’re taking the piss. It will not help me sleep through a wind that sounds like waves crashing on a shore I hitherto knew nothing of and during the cleaning up process afterwards, it will not allow me to take solace in the fact that it was all caused by a Samantha, a Florence or even an Alice.

I don’t think a great deal of explanation is necessary for this poem. It’s a bit of fun, really. I think the explanation given for the naming of storms is a bit of a nonsense and I hope the poem makes that quite clear while retaining a bit of humour. After all, there are worse things in life that we should be worrying about.

So, as always, I hope you like the poem. I’m sure there’ll be another one along soon. Let me know what you thought in the comments and thanks, as ever, for reading.

Coaching football: When just in case becomes just too much.

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Back from Storm Ciara to announce a surprise postponement!

As a grassroots football coach it’s easy to become obsessive. I’ve blogged about this before. Training sessions, team shape, ordering kit, even how kids’ families might feel when their son or daughter isn’t picked. But our obsession with weather must be right up there.

Since going back to coaching I’ve become completely obsessed with the weather. One of the first things I do each morning at work is to bring up the BBC’s weather page on my screen. The tab is always open on my phone too. And as dull as it undoubtedly is, I’m forever checking. Percentage chance of rain, wind-speed and the search for the sunshine emoji are personal favourites. But it’s essential. No, really. It’s essential.

It’s not even a case of what the sky is doing on matchday either. Some weeks are spent scanning the day by day percentage chance of rain in the week leading up to a game in order to assess whether we’ll have a pitch or a swimming pool waiting for us on a Sunday morning. I spend more time refreshing the weather than is healthy really. But then you never know when the forecast will change and the rain will just disappear.

This week though I feel like my obsessiveness has moved on to a new, much sadder level than ever before. My team, Morley Glen Juniors Whites of the Garforth League, division 3a should have been in cup action. And we’re on a cup run, so this is exciting stuff. Although, when I say a cup ‘run’ I mean that we got a bye in the first round and today should have been the second round, but the season going as it has been doing, we’ll take any win possible. Even if we won a game that wasn’t even played against an opposition that didn’t even exist. In my head it was a tactical triumph.

As ever, having confirmed the match details with the opposition coach on the previous Sunday afternoon, I checked the weather. With the pitch in mind I went through every individual day. I’d be at work for most of it, but it feels important to know if it’s going to just rain all week or whether we can expect a drier pitch by the weekend. As I said before, it can be the difference between a pitch and a swimming pool.

The week looked great. Day after day of dry weather, one or two warm-ish temperatures, sunshine and a bit of a breeze. Our pitch would be brilliant. And then I read Sunday. The cloud and rain emoji spelt trouble, but maybe it’d be a case of getting on with it and getting soaked again, like we have done on several occasions this season already. But there was an exclamation mark. In a triangle. A weather warning. And clicking on to the actual day would reveal the small matter of potential 48mph winds. Driving home that evening from work the news then informed me of the approaching storm, this one given the charming moniker of Ciara.

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As the week progressed it seemed that the wind speed was increasing day by day. I’d refresh the weather several times a day just in case the storm had miraculously changed direction and was now heading for Spain or somewhere else that wasn’t Morley. But oh no. This lass Ciara was very definitely heading our way. Ever the optimist though, I was still texting all concerned on Saturday night, confirming that yes, the game was still on and that I intended to have a walk over to the pitch on Sunday morning to check exactly how things were. The now predicted 68mph winds weren’t going to cause a problem.

And so it came to pass that I left my front door slightly before 8am this morning and headed out into a quite horrendous storm. I could hear the scale of the thing through the bathroom window while having a shave half an hour earlier. I could see it from the kitchen window when I went downstairs. But a combination of guilt and stubbornness prevented me from calling the match off from the comfort and warmth of my own home. Surely, once you were out there, you could have a game of football, right?

There was no-one around as I started the five minute walk to the pitches. Scanning the houses around me seemed to reveal that people were still in bed, perhaps playing hide and seek with Ciara. The main road also revealed no cars. But still, I pressed on. Of course I did.

In actual fact, it didn’t feel that windy. It was raining, which probably didn’t bode well for the pitch, but the wind wasn’t too bad. There was hope for this game yet.

And then I turned a corner and headed up a narrow path that leads to the pitches. Now the wind stopped playing games with me. Suddenly I was being battered and it was actually quite tricky to walk in a straight line. Like three years at university encapsulated into a matter of seconds, but with less lager.

Staggering like a drunk I had to keep my head down now because the rain was actually stinging my face. But I still hadn’t checked the pitch. There was a glimmer of hope for this game and the magic of the cup was still alive. I kept on going, still with no other human soul anywhere in sight. Where were the dog walkers that normally left us a Sunday morning surprise? Where were the runners in badly matched shades of lycra? Who knew?

Before I knew it I was out in the open. Ciara was flinging me round like a rag doll (Wow, reading that back, perhaps I’ve got a Mills and Boon or a Fifty Shades in me yet?) but I was ridiculously determined to carry on. Pausing to edge my way up a muddy grass bank in order to avoid a path wide puddle, I pressed on as best I could. I slipped and slid and for a moment feared that I was going to end up face down in the mud, but I leapt the last bit in hope and desperation and made it to the other side of the path. I mean, how stupid would I have looked falling in the mud? Well, in truth, no more stupid than I did with rain streaming down my face and a veritable lake down my front, but my obsessive coach’s nature tells me that as yet, this game hasn’t actually been called off.

I briefly recall playing in horizontal snow last season and imagine that we could yet have a game. And then I reach the pitch. Even at a distance the surface water is clearly visible and I know that unless we play in wellies we haven’t got a game. But still I feel that I should walk on the actual grass to just confirm it. I’m wearing fly knit running trainers that give no protection at all and my feet are already damp, but there’s nothing like the feeling of actual water squelching between your toes to confirm a postponement. So out I stride.

Except I can’t stride out as it’s far too slippy. So I tip-toe on to the grass like some kind of wet, clumsy ballerina. We still have white lines, which is a plus, but in no time at all I’m ankle deep in liquid mud. I hang around for a few minutes, just walking on the pitch, maybe in hope of a dry patch, but it’s inevitable that we’ll have to postpone. I love football, but it’ll be no fun whatsoever to play in this, let alone stand around barking instructions at my team.

I spot a dog walker approaching and it’s this sight that brings me to my senses. We exchange pleasantries, each as funny as the other in a not funny at all kind of way.

“Lovely morning.”

“Aye, just beautiful isn’t it?”

We’re vying the title of Archbishop of Banterbury here, but rather than claim the sceptre and funny hat, I walk on, heading for home. I’m soaked and there’s a path wide lake to avoid on the way back.

When I get back the whole family are waiting for me. My wife and daughter both tell me how ridiculous I look and how stupid I’ve been, but it just makes me laugh. My son joins in, probably more out of relief that he doesn’t have to go out into the storm and attempt to play football. I know why I’ve been out. I understand that I could have called this game off from the safety of my home, but that wouldn’t be right and proper. Other coaches will understand.

I dry off – every item of clothing is wet (I’m definitely writing that racy novel by the way, ladies) – and head downstairs for breakfast. Picking up my phone to relay the postponement to all involved, I see that I have a message. I open it to find that, from the safety of his home, the opposition coach has texted.

“That wind’s probably going to spoil the game mate.”

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