Category: opinions

So What?


Any education system that puts too much stress on getting ‘right’ answers runs the risk of crushing the natural instinct young people have to experiment. You don’t learn new things to impress others but to discover them for yourself. Extrinsic motivation is no substitute for the intrinsic purpose of finding out how the world works and determining your place in it. Making mistakes is the only way to learn what works. It’s all too easy to repress the discovery urge in children and to make them fearful of change.

Herbie Hancock’s story about Miles Davis has inspired me to riff on the theme. The uncertainty of the future calls for a creative response which is fearlessly experimental. Rule nothing out and incorporate everything. Natural evolution itself proceeds by accumulating past success and the cultural evolution that is our special invention should never be hijacked by political elements who wish to exclude particular influences. Art and science must remain open to the world.

To help myself argue from first principles, I’ve revisited the WordPress Daily Prompt site – now extinct – and its fitting final word: Retrospective.  I had to dig down in my own Archive for this draft post which, without a hasty bit of improvisation, might never have seen the light of day. And a word by itself is nothing – alongside others it can become everything.

Could mortal lip divine
The undeveloped Freight
Of a delivered syllable
‘Twould crumble with the weight.

Emily Dickinson

At risk of crumbling, then, here is my poem:

R each back into those days gone past.
E mbrace mistakes and forget fear.
T rial and error’s long and winding
R oad has led you thankful here.
O pen up your heart and mind to
S eek the lessons you have learned.
P erspective is the hard-won prize when
E very corner’s safely turned.
C oming up and straight ahead
T he way is still as yet unclear.
I f your SATNAV screen go dead
V alue common sense instead.
E ach step into dark bring cheer.


Image result for broken sat nav


Image: Imgur


Out in the Open

Confession time … oh, nothing you might read about in the newspapers, no shameful lapse into avarice, bullying, callousness, demagoguery, envy, folly, gullibility, hopelessness, idiocy, jiggery-pokery, know-nothings, lip-service, myopia, nastiness, ostracism, prejudice, quiescence, robbery, stupidity, terror, unfairness, viciousness, woe, xenophobia, youth-quake nor zealotry.

That’s the A-Z of stuff-in-the-news from my previous post, by the way, published a week ago. All that ugly stuff out there – nothing to do with me!

Well, I might confess to a touch of hopelessness – a modicum of quiescence – a degree of woe. It’s all that other stuff, see? 3 letters of the alphabet, you might say, at the mercy of the other 23. The clue is in the phrase ‘published a week ago’. The truth is – and here’s the confession – I’m finding it hard to think up posts and even harder to complete them.

It’s not for want of trying. My back catalogue contains 129 drafts, each one more half-baked than the last. For all I know, this is #130.

So far, the signs aren’t good. Who the hell wants to read about somebody else’s reasons for not doing something? You’ve probably got enough feeble excuses of your own. Perhaps you tried some of them out on your teachers. The dog ate your homework. You’re wearing the wrong trousers. The doctor has diagnosed amnesia.

My crummy alibi is that I’m too nice. I gave that idea a dummy-run in the previous post. Weaned in the liberal 1960s, you see, I love everybody. Live and let live, each to their own, horses for courses, whatever floats your boat … yeah, do your own thing, man! Whenever I hear that track where Jimi Hendrix says It’s all freedom my fingers still make an involuntary peace sign.

I know, what a paradox! No way is freedom to wage war on my wish-list. Freedom from war, maybe. The conundrum is only solved by remembering that freedom is just one of the essential human rights. The other two, equality and solidarity, are no less important. How to get the balance between them is the $64,000 question – more like $64bn after inflation! And I’m no philosopher so it’s time to enlist the help of one.

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The other day I watched a remarkable film about intolerance. It was Rupert Everett’s tour-de-force about the final years of Oscar Wilde. Its title – The Happy Prince – comes from one of Wilde’s radiant, life-affirming fables. Somehow Everett manages the triple feat of writing, directing and starring – his passion shining through to make it a movie like few others I’ve seen. OK, no others.

Another confession – several times I was surprised to find tears rolling down my cheeks. Wilde’s suffering becomes symbolic and the film achieves that rare thing in these days of CGI insincerity – catharsis. For once you can believe the reviews. I cannot recommend this film too highly.

Image result for the happy prince

Two scenes stand out – two emotional poles which couldn’t provide a more powerful  contrast – one where he has to endure the abuse of a crowd, the other where he finally stands up to his tormenters. At risk of running on empty, I can only repeat what I wrote in my previous post:

There comes a time when the worm has to turn and fight. Or a mouse, when there’s an elephant in the room.

Tolerance can’t be infinite, as Karl Popper says, any more than freedom. But what made growing up in the 1960s such a gas was watching one after another side-lined social group achieve – or begin to achieve – parity. Once the Beatles had made it groovy to be young and northern and working class – and in the USA to be white and into blues and soul music – other glass ceilings beckoned. Race, gender and – with Oscar Wilde now a counter-cultural hero – sexual orientation. As a white heterosexual male whose mum taught him to look beneath superficial differences to the person beneath, I always knew that what mattered was character – not characteristics.

The movement was international in outlook and, for many of us, its substantial gains remain firm red lines against any retrenchment. Public displays of intolerance should always be challenged. A phrase variously attributed to Jefferson, Paine and Lincoln runs: The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Well, I don’t suppose I’m the only one who wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about that. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a whole lot better than being woken by a sudden knock on the door.

Hmm … if confessing stuff isn’t good for the soul, at least it helps write posts. May try it more often.

Command and Control

Image result for narrowboat

Two days ago my wife and I met up with two old college friends – now married and living abroad – whose chartered canal narrowboat had finally reached our town. After many years we had a lot to catch up on and conversation naturally focussed on children and grandchildren. Delights and disappointments were celebrated and lamented – achievements, anecdotes, adversities shared.

Their concerns about one of their grandchildren, born with congenital health problems, put our own woes – about the great distances we must travel to visit two of our grandchildren – into firm perspective. And we were glad to hear that the daughter of a mutual college friend, who developed anorexia when her dad died prematurely, is now much better and starting a college course herself.

Swings and roundabouts. Growing older seems to generate interlocking circles like these which bind us ever-closer to life as it approaches its end. Ripeness is all, as the Bard so succinctly put it. The sweetest is always yet to come.

At least, that’s the theory. Eager to revisit our youth, we embarked on a lengthy pub crawl – hilarity ensued, just like back in the day!

Well, there was one difference. Waking up next morning, I discovered my brave attempt to replicate the drinking capacity of former times had been, er, a little unwise. Hearing moans and groans, my wife – who with superior foresight had managed to put her hand over her glass quite a few times – was a tad unsympathetic. No fool like an old fool was one of her kinder comments. So I turned to the previous day’s unread newspaper for solace.

Another mistake. My ‘morning-after’ despondency was compounded by pretty well everything I read. I won’t go into all the gory details here. Unless you live in a cave … on Mars … you’ll know about most of them anyway – but suffice it to say I found avarice, bullying, callousness, demagoguery, envy, folly, gullibility, hopelessness, idiocy, jiggery-pokery, know-nothings, lip-service, myopia, nastiness, ostracism, prejudice, quiescence, robbery, stupidity, terror, unfairness, viciousness, woe, xenophobia, youth-quake and zealotry.

See what I did there? Yeah, A-Z, but behind that I’m treading water. Can’t blame the hangover, that’s gone! Think I’m fighting shy of specifics here. As usual. Maybe that’s a liberal thing. Live and let live, each to their own, horses for courses, whatever floats your boat … yeah, do your own thing, man! I still believe in all that stuff, of course, but there comes a time when the worm has to turn and fight. Or a mouse, when there’s an elephant in the room.

Anyway, it was no hardship to be dragged from the noosepaper by a Skype call – our other grandchild, my little twice-weekly playmate, just now away on holiday and wanting to chat. I had to be Baby and ask her about her adventures. It’s a thing we do where she’s the adult and I’m the junior know-nothing, eager for explanations. Sounds crazy, but it works for us. Helps make sense of a funny old world …

I turned back reluctantly to the real world and read this, in an article by Jonathan Freedland entitled Trump and his allies are taking the world back to the 1930s:

The parents ripped from those 2,300 children on the Mexican border were not led off to be murdered. But there are grounds to believe they may never again see their sons or daughters, some of whom were sent thousands of miles away. There is no system in place to reunite them. The children were not properly registered. How can a two-year-old who speaks no English explain who she is? Eighty years from now, perhaps, old men and women will sob as they recall the mother taken from them by uniformed agents of the US government, never to be seen again.

But the echoes don’t end there. The wire cages. The guards telling weeping children they are forbidden from hugging each other. And then this chilling detail, reported by Texas Monthly. It turns out that US border guards don’t always tell parents they’re taking their children away. “Instead, the officers say, ‘I’m going to take your child to get bathed.’ The child goes off, and in a half-hour, 20 minutes, the parent inquires, ‘Where is my five-year-old?’ ‘Where’s my seven-year-old?’ ‘This is a long bath.’ And [the officer says], ‘You won’t be seeing your child again.’” It’s not the same as telling Jews about to die they are merely taking a shower, but in the use of deception the echo is loud.

To read the whole article, click the link above it.

I read it all, eventually, but – no doubt through a combination of physical tiredness and my heightened emotions just at that moment these two paragraphs moved me close to despair. No more words, I thought, nothing else will do but music – and music of a certain kind where performers play off one another to produce something intricate, rich, strange and beautiful far beyond anything an individual could achieve.

The old ideal of teamwork, I suppose, where two (or more) heads are better than one. I associate this music with a time when you could sit up talking all night and, no matter how much divided you, by the light of morning you’d found something to agree on.

The lyrics, when they come, elevate rather than depress. And yesterday it worked for me where nothing else would. A spiritual purification, you could say, which I offer here as a still-efficacious balm in a suffering world.



Only Us

Ah, what the hell!

Here’s me fantasising about breaking out of my acrostic straitjacket and letting rip with cascades of free-verse epics and oceans of prose extravaganzas, when along comes another WordPress Daily Prompt with a word I can’t resist!

Show me a person who does not feel Guilty and I’ll tear up their application form to the Them & Us Club 

G uileless, taking stuff on trust, we set a timid foot
U pon the road of dreams. Elsewhere, far beyond all love,
I t seems that hatred wove a labyrinth of selfish lies.
L et us awake to the hurtful truth. We slept upon our watch.
T ell children, when they ask you straight, that black and white make grey
Y et don’t forget yourself where credit’s due or lost that day.


Image result for black white grey


Out walking the other day, I saw this scrawled on the back of a road sign:

forget yourself

I’m trying, believe me, but it’s hard. Maybe when I do, those epics and extravaganzas won’t be far behind.

In the meantime, I’ll content myself with this supreme example of collective self-effacement in the brave hope of a better way, broadcast live to the world and shown here with subtitles in two languages to symbolise shared international  values …


Image: The Brainzooming Group

Pop Music (Part Two)

Where was I, by the end of Pop Music (Part One)? Banging on about freedom, I’ll be bound!

Or rather, I’ll not be bound. Anything that restricts my freedom of movement – my natural right to become a fuller, deeper, happier version of myself – is utterly intolerable. I won’t conform to anyone else’s idea of who I should be or how I should behave.

Most of all, I reject any attempt to limit me to any particular culture. The age-old tactic of those who seek power over others is to divide and rule. Convince people they are surrounded by enemies and they will be putty in your hands. Allow them to Flaunt their imagined superiority over others and turn them into little Hitlers.

I’m sure most people have seen this fairly short documentary film about an anti-racism classroom exercise. If you haven’t, I can thoroughly recommend it:

50 years after this startling little film was made, education is still the battleground for hearts and minds. Telling is no substitute for experiencing. And empathy is the most powerful educational tool. To use the teacher Jane Elliott’s favoured phrase, Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins. 

So I prefer to assume everyone is my friend unless and until I see evidence that they’re not. Evidence of my eyes, not hearsay. Innocent until proved guilty. I base this on the fact that I belong to many cultures which reach out to include the vast majority of my fellow-creatures. Not only that, but these cultures overlap to provide an intense and overwhelming reassurance that my faith in most others is firmly grounded and impervious to interference from above.

I use the word ‘culture’ to describe a broad affinity arising from a perceived similarity. There follows a list of the cultures I belong to, in no particular order:

sentient being

Yes, blogger. Last but not least. In a way, it includes all the others. And that, of course, is true of them all. They intersect with one another and all (plus others I may have left out) combine to bring me the fullness, depth and happiness I require.

You, I’m sure, could make a similar list and a similar case for its indivisible totality. We have an affinity based on perceived similarity. We belong to so many common cultures, it makes sense to imagine we share one culture. No one can put a name to it because no name would be sufficient to describe it. It is in the process of development, invention, evolution. And no one can possess it for it belongs to us all.

It remains to be seen whether we can keep it in our sights amid so many calls to withdraw our empathy from those that somebody hidden in the shadows deems to be different, alien, other … whether the circles that bind us will remain unbroken.

Turns out I’m happy to be bound after all …

OK, I’ve done my link to WordPress Daily Prompt. Now all that remains is to justify the title. Bubbles pop, you see, and ‘Bubble’ was yesterday’s Prompt word and then there was that Bert Weedon track and … and … oh, never mind, here’s Joni Mitchell !!!

Pop Music (Part One)

B ig me
U p, Promoter Man,
B oost my image if you can!
B ring me
L oads of ready cash –
E xtra cushions when I crash!

Image result for shooting star

Easy enough target, of course, the pursuit of short-lived fame by people – often young and low on self-esteem – who are easy prey for the cynical Svengalis that feed the ever-hungry maw of modern media!

The search for novelty is relentless. Get famous and instantly the hunt is on for new (and now not-so-nice) things to say – scandals, skeletons-in-the-closet, stylistic faux pas – and if there is any dosh most of it will go to publicity agents, libel lawyers and anti-stalker security protection.

What do I know about it, you ask, whose only brush with fame was the soft brush I once wielded when washing Bert Weedon’s car as a Boy Scout during the fund-raising Bob-a-Job Week? Bert who, you inquire? Ah well, none other than the man who shifted a million guitar-tuition books entitled, somewhat optimistically, Play In A Day. Made it sound easy, you see …

And how much did this guitar megastar fork out for his carwash? A bob. Twelve old pennies prised with some difficulty from a battered leather purse. It was clear fame hadn’t turned his head.

Actually, I’m glad it never came my way. I’d only have gone off the rails. Mind you, it might have been a hell of a way to go …

Nowadays, of course, the high-point of hubris is looking up my Stats when I’ve linked to the WordPress Daily Prompt. Today it was Bubble. A celebrity bubble may go pop but if you live in one it could be suffocating. So there! Usually my posts go pop but I’m letting this one run on a bit, if only to prove I’m no flash in the pan … though it could be smoke and mirrors if I don’t come up with a subject soon …

Yeah, fame for its own sake is a dead end. Famous for fifteen minutes, anyway. Famous for being famous, even worse. But fame that’s earned, well, that’s a different story. Last year I posted a list of my personal heroes – Guiding Spirits is the link. Perhaps you share my belief that we carry within us everyone we’ve known or been influenced by. It’s not a religious idea but it is, nonetheless, an idea I think of as sacred. If we are not guardians of the past and gatekeepers of the future, we are nothing.

Something of this is behind the poem in my previous post:


M any selves set out at first
E xploring many lives.
N ot one returns without a tale
T o tell of hates and loves.
O ne story holds them all at last –
R emains until one leaves.

There’s a slight tension here between the acrostic word and my interpretation. I made it plural. Having a single mentor has sinister overtones – makes me think of weird cults – whereas a range of influences orchestrated from within speaks to me of freedom.

Any culture worthy of the name encourages a multiplicity of viewpoints. At the risk of repeating myself – and what old codger isn’t? – coming of age in the 1960s was a gas because so many new voices exploded on the scene all at once. OK, maybe under the shadow of a bigger explosion but still …

Such a heady experience of freedom stays with you and any subsequent limitation of liberty always sets off alarm bells. Any attempt to put people in pigeonholes, niches, corners, classes, bags or boxes always gets my goat – maybe the mountain kind that leaps from crag to crag!

Which somehow reminds me of the Lakeland hermit who wrote on the wall of his cave: Don’t waste words, jump to conclusions! 

Haha, am I any nearer that subject yet? Let’s bring in some big guns …

Image result for whitman multitudes


Oh we’ve got to trust
one another again
in some essentials.

Not the narrow little
bargaining trust
that says: I’m for you
if you’ll be for me. –

But a bigger trust,
a trust of the sun
that does not bother
about moth and rust,
and we see it shining
in one another.

Oh don’t you trust me,
don’t burden me
with your life and affairs; don’t
thrust me
into your cares.

But I think you may trust
the sun in me
that glows with just
as much glow as you see
in me, and no more.

But if it warms
your heart’s quick core
why then trust it, it forms
one faithfulness more.

And be, oh be
a sun to me,
not a weary, insistent

but a sun that shines
and goes dark, but shines
again and entwines
with the sunshine in me

till we both of us
are more glorious
and more sunny.

D. H. Lawrence, 1885 – 1930

Compare this with the spotlight of fame which fixes people into set positions, rather like jelly moulds. A famous star is often called a ‘personality’ – perhaps the ‘weary, insistent personality’ that Lawrence so dislikes? Such a person lacks the facility to reflect others and thereby engage with them. They become a closed book and their life a frozen repeat performance.

A book that remains open for me is The Diceman by Luke Rhinehart. This tells the story of a psychiatrist who, feeling bored and unfulfilled in life, starts making decisions based on the roll of a die. We are all, the novel suggests, restricted by our culture in the choices we make and must take active steps to break out of a straitjacket we may not even know we are wearing.

Our current climate appears to engender fear of the unknown, the unfamiliar, the unalike. Labels and soundbites swirl around the internet like the swarm of furies unleashed by poor Pandora. Superficial judgements are the order of the day and the sensitive feelers of empathy are withdrawn out of harm’s way. The big question becomes Whose side are you on? Unfriending is the default act of a faulty, fragmenting society.


Do you know what? My bubble has just burst. Outside the sun is shining and I’m off to catch some calming rays. But soon enough I’ll return to the fray in Part 2, my stubborn and perhaps dangerous openness to new ideas symbolised by the next WordPress Daily Prompt – whatever it turns out to be.

Will I fly high or crash and burn?

Click on Pop Music (Part Two) to find out …

poem & afterthought

Image result for joni mitchell

D id we say one thing and do another?
e verybody singalonga Joni going
p lease o please look after the garden
l eaving a mountain of trash at the gate
e verybody singalonga Joni going
t ill it’s gone you don’t know just what you got
e verybody living on borrowed time

Easy when you think green to imagine it’s other people making all the mess. The truth is, everybody bears some responsibility. Anyway, shared guilt works better than pointing the finger. And just because we’ve fallen short doesn’t mean we should stop singing aspirational songs. Touchstones, yardsticks, beacons … call them what you will, their manifest truth lives on in spite of all our feeble backsliding.

So, once more with feeling

Image: Rolling Stone

Stimulus: WordPress Daily Prompt Deplete