Ian Whybrow

…coming soon…

Jan 26. Man in Haste Squirty Wrong Toothy-Paste (Confucius)

January 27, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Up at six, dun me chores, including agreeing to open a little library at a school in Towcester where, I am reliably informed, some children have named their class after me. (“Well done as always, Ahlbergs!” “Don’t do that, Dahls!” “Walk! I said,Strongs!” “In twos, Eyebrows, and stop mucking about!”) Then blow me, the sun’s out. The promised overnight snow-flurries haven’t materialised. No excuse not to get round Chorleywood Common before we do our Saturday dash to Marks & Sparks in PInner.

It’s all too exciting. I end up squeezing moisturizer on me toothbrush but I don’t care. Off we go, booted against the slush and shades-on against the glare. Move over, Sir Ran.

Pause for a tweet.

One is enough. Especially of this kind of stuff:

“The sun’s out. Quick – to Chorleywood!

We need a walk!”

I rush.

And that I blame for getting No 7

Facewash on me brush.

Strangely, my other hero of the moment, Thor Heyerdahl, has for the second time risen from the dead to favourite and retweet yesterday’s verse about him and his crew. What IS going on?

Jan 25 Paddling like Hell to Get Back on the Raft

January 25, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Thor Heyerdahl and the crew of Kon-Tiki

Sometimes took to the dingy to look at the raft.

And what happened next in that vast empty ocean?

They laughed.

And then they nearly killed themselves trying to catch up and scramble back on board.

I spent yesterday catching up and recovering after my visit to a Nursery and Infant School not far from Heathrow on Wednesday. It’s rewarding but full-on, communicating with children as young as this in the hall when they’re not used to sitting and listening for long periods. And when you’ve got planes flying low overhead and the occasional shouter to compete with, it’s a heck of a strain on the voice.

During one of the sessions, a little lad with speech and learning problems sat on a teacher’s lap, clutching a cushion and shouting loudly… possibly with excitement. The rest of the children (over a hundred of them) seemed unperturbed. The other teachers looked a little strained – but there was nothing to be done. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for the boy to be removed and the teachers clearly felt an obligation to let him experience a meeting “with a real author”. I carried on, having to talk louder and louder, feeling that the experience for everybody was to a considerable degree diminished, and that the shouting boy had profited not at all.

Over lunch, I commiserated with the teachers who have to deal all the time with classes of thirty which are constantly disrupted by individual children with severe physical, psychological and learning difficulties. I was reminded that the specialist centres have all been closed down for lack of funding. So this is care in the community. The children with the greatest difficulties are allotted carers who can remove them from class if things get crazy or chase them round the building when they become restive. The carers, whose pay is minimal, are generally untrained.

One can’t help regretting that the day-to-day learning-experience of the majority of children has to be tempered by the needs of the minority. Add to this the fact that about forty per cent of the children don’t have English as a first language…

And today we have the Secretary of State for Education applying himself to the question of whether A/S levels should be stand-alone qualifications. He’s worried about students being unfit to take up places in good universities. Judging by what’s going on at the start of the educational process, it’s surprising that such a lot of people get as far as A/S level.

Thinking about being all-at-sea reminded me of something that Thor Heyerdahl wrote. So I looked again at the chapter describing how he and other members of the crew of the Kon -Tiki decided to jump into a rubber dinghy to get a different perspective on the endless empty ocean in which they were drifting. When they saw what the Kon-Tiki looked like from a bit of distance, they all roared with laughter at the craziness of it. And then they realised that it was drifting away. They had to push themselves to the limit not to be left behind. It was terrifying. After that, they made a rule never to leave without a safety rope. After all, they had a hunch the raft was going somewhere, so they decided to hang on.

They were right; let’s hope Mr Gove is.

Jan 21st Unblocked Melody

January 21, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

I’ve been fiddling about with a story for so long that I had got to the stage where I lost all faith in it.

I found myself in something of a spiral – where I’d spend far too much creative energy on blogging and tweeting and trying to set up a child-friendly area on my website in Little Wolf’s name – to want to concentrate on bread-and-butter writing. Everybody knows that you need to inhabit the world of the story you’re engaged in and for a while now I’ve been concerned about not wanting to go there. But this morning – quite suddenly – I’ve had a break through. It may be entirely illusory, of course, but today I’ve rediscovered the feeling I had when I first started the story. So maybe all those side-hannels are actually tributaries serving that particular creative stream.

Moral: Keep fiddling about. Thus:

Dr Spooner at the WineClub.

Dear Wister Mybrow,

What a very shasty knock.

There is wuthing nurse for authors

Than a case of Blighter’s Rock.

20130121-122543.jpg Dr Spooner at his day job

Jan 20th Eeyore on Sunday

January 20, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Too much telly last night – a double dose of Borgen and the bits of Match of the Day I didn’t snooze through – followed by Poetry Please on Radio 4 that kept me awake with two of my favourites, Peter Porter’s “Your Attention Please” and Stevie Smith’s “The Galloping Cat”. All that and the uninviting chill meant that I was still in bed until just before 8.00 this morning. The snow began to fall as I was sliding the croissants out of the oven while listening to Will Self’s “Point of View” on the radio. His subject was his clash of feelings about the impact of Le Corbusier on the London skyline which he finds at once repelling, exhilarating and depressing in roughly equal measures. I felt the same about his talk and the lugubrious, estuarial slither of his delivery. Hence:

Radio 4 Cold Weather Blues

The voice of Self at ten to nine

Eeyored its Point of View

Exactly as the snow resumed

Its stealthy numbing slew.

I was cheered up by Holly who helps me with the challenges of the digital age like a wet dog over styles. It was she who provided the unexpected illustration for my piece on Grinling Gibbons yesterday and also sent me a link to assist with the detoxification of our sitting room, still beset by a horrible fishy smell after the switch on the standard lamp caught fire the other day.

Just in case anyone needs it http://www.howtocleanstuff.net/how-to-remove-burnt-plastic-odors/

A Consolation

Dear Holly is my Guru

And a chum to me as well.

She solves my I.T. problems

And sweetens my bad smell.

Jan 18th. BAMs

January 19, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Ann and I braved the cold yesterday evening to head for the Speech Room Gallery for a private view of an exhibition of English watercolours and BAMs. I’d never heard of the latter but they turned out to be British Art Medals which are wonderfully-wrought palm-sized round sculptures, often in silver, worked on both sides in pairs, so that both sides can be viewed together. Packed with emblematic, intricate detail, they delight and speak volumes.

As is usually the case when people loiter with a drink, one was able to pick up scraps of some choice two-sided exchanges between stage-whispering gossips – that encourage what you might call SPAMs or Spoken Art Moments. Here’s one I made earlier:

The Old Story.

Her a fool & him a shit

But then she let him do it

& then they married and that was it

& golly he’s put her thro it.

And just to provide symmetry to some pleasurable viewing and listening, we were home in time to watch the BBC 4 programme about Grinling Gibbons whose carvings in lime-wood were sought by kings and dukes for their impossible delicacy and intricacy. No-one could get close to one without giving them a furtive blow to see if the leaves or blossoms or the curling sheets of music would flutter.

20130119-120632.jpg Not Grinling

Jan 17. Alarums and a Heavy Sleeper

January 17, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Up just after 6.30 to a smell of burning – particularly strong in the hall and in the sitting room. Couldn’t find any obvious source. Began to worry that it was coming from another flat. Woke everyone up except Marie who failed to answer phone or doorbell. Eventually discovered that the bulb-fitting on my standard lamp had burned right through, dripping black molten plastic on to our white sofa. Scary. Must find out how that happened.

The most alarming thing about the whole episode was not being able to rouse Marie, though I think I can now hear her fairy footsteps overhead… Yes. And she never heard a thing.

A man just turned up to take my car away for inspection. A faulty sensor on the back axle led to a general recall. Blimey, you never have an electrical scare in your life and all of a sudden …

Jan 16th Radlett, Hertz

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Had a warm welcome for a fundraising event today where I did a presentation on behalf of Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope at a great little school, St John’s Nursery and Infant School in Radlett, Herts. (“Good MORNING Mis-ter Eye-Brows! Good MORNING ev-ry-wun!”) I’d forgotten until I sat down to eat with some at lunch, how much fun a three-year old can get out of a large spoonful of jelly.

I’m most grateful to Janna and to the Head for organising it and building up to such an enthusiastic response from parents, teachers and children. A lady from the St Albans branch of Waterstones was on hand to provide books for signing. The Big W has offered to contribute something for each book sold, so, what with the money contributed by the parents, there should be a tidy sum of money to provide prosthetic limbs for children in countries where these things, though relatively cheap, are beyond the pockets of ordinary people. Elizabeth’s twin daughters, the fizzy and irrepressible Victoria and Sarah were there to explain about the work of the charity they started in memory of their mother who was killed in a road rage incident that also cost Sarah’s infant daughter, Pollyanna, her leg and injured Sarah terribly.

I also met, after a gap of twenty years, an ex-student of mine, Paul English, whose son is a pupil at the school. Paul’s now the financial director for Tottenham Hotspur. Naturally, I dropped a broad hint about taking up a vacant seat should a gap appear in one of the directors’ boxes.

A propos of Herts – we have some chums in Aldbury. His name is Brian and hers Jackie. Jackie’s aunty Rosy is a German Jewish lady from Israel who used to send them postcards addressed to:

Mr and Mrs Brain R.




It says something for the Post Office that they arrived.

January 14, 2013 06.10

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The Wrong Stuff

Blimey, it’s snowed. They said it would

But this is the wrong stuff;

Like skin on tapioca pud,

And nowhere near enough.



Strads Lads and Mary Anning

I was so caught up in the hair-raising, mind-blowing prestidigitation of the violinist Mintcho Mintchev at a recital yesterday evening that I wasn’t aware of that someone was occupying the seat on the end of the row to my right where I’d parked my coat. We’d done the Beethoven and the Mozart: this was gypsy-music from the soul of a 1716 Stradivarius – “The Baron Wittgenstein”. It was only during the thunderous applause that I became aware of an unexpected presence to my right. I hoiked my coat out from under him and apologised. The late-arrival couldn’t have been more charming. Given that he had got caught up in the crowds of Arsenal discontents on his journey from Highbury, and so missed most of the music, he was positively sanguine. Turned out his name was Sam Neaman. He was the son of the late Yfrah Neaman, Minchev’s brilliant violin teacher at Guildhall in whose name the maestro had turned up for a series of memorial concerts, ten years after Neaman’s death. So there I was in the presence of history; a collision of the lives of geniuses: Stradivarius, Mozart, Bethoven, Neaman and Mintchev. Just for a moment I had an inkling of how Mary Anning must have felt when she stumbled upon the bones of that ichthyosaurus…

Jan 13. Canuting.

January 13, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

I feel a bit peed off today

What with the change and the decay.

So that’s enough of “Let it be”.

Stop dying. Now! Abide with me!

So many of the people I know have health problems and too many have died lately. Normally work is the answer but I’m not in the mood right now. Still, nobody could sit in the Maltese section of the stalls at the Festival Hall listening to Jose Calleja without a lifting of the spirits. And he was so excited to be there, cheered on among the waving flags. It was a bit like a re-run of the Last Night of the Proms. So he gave us a little speech and an encore that took us well into drinking time for the Philharmonia. Surprisingly I didn’t see any of them, not one percussionist even, looking at his watch.

That was Friday night. Saturday I was so zonked I sat on the sofa after lunch and watched Tottenham slugging it out with QPR. This was Harry’s game in which 0-0 was a victory for Spurs’ ex-boss; he won on gestures. AVB sat mostly, with a kind of agonised passively while Harry stood and twitched and sliced the air in a manner resembling a vet checking a cow for a breech-birth. With that kind of threat hanging over them, Rangers weren’t about to give ground. So that’s them off the bottom of the table.

More life and death struggles on Saturday evening at the Odeon Swiss Cottage. “Life of Pi” amazed and niggled and provoked by turns as a book and that’s what it does as a film. The fact that it exists as a film is a miracle. As everyone agrees, the central performance, the direction, the effects are breath-taking. People told us we should see “Quartet” instead. We really must, because our erstwhile next-door-neighbours, Ita and Graham Scott feature quite a lot, apparently, playing violin and viola. But we just had this feeling that “Pi” might be grown up and “Quartet” might be the other sort of Saga.

Anyway, we wanted to scuttle home in time to catch “Bergen”.

Jan 11th Tann was a Man

January 11, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Our friend Phil Tann is dead. Lizzie told me yesterday and it has haunted me all night.

He liked to know how to work things and couldn’t bear to watch other people faffing about. “Gis it ere,” he would say. “ Less av a look at it.” He was a short bloke, a pocket-Hercules, a proud Narfeck bor from Foulsham (“Thet’s Foalshum!”) and sometimes you would find yourself shouldered out of the way so that he could get at whatever you were trying to do that was wasting your time and his. He hated wasted time.

Always on the go, always a hard worker, he hated having to lie still and let Motor Neurone Disease whittle him away, so he put his not inconsiderable back into shifting things in line with what he wanted . He made up his mind to die in the beautiful home that he and Annie planned for so long, painstakingly built together and thoroughly enjoyed together. While he could, he emailed and Skyped from his bed there and sent you pictures of things that struck him as marvellously weird or funny or puzzling. When he needed a ventilator, instead of being self-conscious and hiding himself away, he was happy to leave his Skype light on and to welcome you in to see him any time. For a while he would do his best to shout through the mouthpiece of the ventilator or round it. When he couldn’t talk, he would type; when he could no longer type, he’d listen and let Annie talk for him; all the while he’d smile broadly and nod his head vigorously and give you the thumbs up.

A few weeks ago he stopped eating and bit by bit refused even a taste of water. Yesterday he died peacefully in Annie’s arms, holding hands with his daughter Lizzie, the two lights of his life.

Always a back-stage man rather than a performer, Phil liked to have his hands on the levers and the ropes. He managed a life and a death that will continue to be an inspiration for everyone who was privileged to know him.

I’ve always liked e.e. cummings’s elegy for Sam, the poem that goes: “rain or hail, sam done the best he kin”. Tann and Sam seem interchangeable now:

heart was big

as the world aint square

with room for the devil

and his angels too

yes sir

what may be better

and what may be worse

and what may be clover

clover clover

(nobody’ll know)

sam was a man

grinned his grin

done his chores

laid him down

sleep well