The Best Years?

This post concerns a dream I had the night after publishing my previous post. I’m sure there was a connection because the dream was about school life. Another possible trigger was that I had just visited a couple who live in a rough neighbourhood and they became annoyed at a group of teenagers hanging around outside – I suggested a calm, polite approach might work and it did.

I still have occasional dreams about teaching, despite not having been in a classroom for several years. Before I tell the dream (and lose a reader, Henry James warned) here is a potted scholastic history. I did well at school despite an anxiety block about arithmetic. I rarely got into trouble because I liked praise and didn’t want to upset my parents. Many people go into teaching because of teachers who inspired them; I went in because I felt I could do a better job than the rather lazy and dull pedagogues at my grammar school – they taught bright kids and were therefore able to coast without much effort, I always thought.

Anyway, the dream, exactly as I wrote it down on waking …

3 kids in my tutor set, who lived in a gloomy housing complex overshadowing the school, had been withdrawn from lessons for ‘counselling’ on the say-so of a shadowy religious order – nuns, somebody told me. Their classmates were upset, telling me they’d seen these kids in and out of school in hysterical states.

I tried to find out what was going on but things started to unravel, as often happens in dreams. I was also being chased by people. Somebody accused me of not setting enough homework or else failing to get children to distinguish between classwork and homework in their exercise books. I started to forget where I’d put things, couldn’t remember names, worried I was losing my grip. The paperwork from the religious order explaining why they’d withdrawn the kids went missing – easy to put stuff down in a staffroom and have it covered over and picked up by another teacher, of course, but I felt very uneasy.

In the end I sat down with the other kids in my tutor set to ask for their help. For some reason I asked whether they were being bullied or haunted. Several of them began to cry …

At this point I woke suddenly, in quite a sweat but somewhat relieved to be out of my increasingly Kafkaesque dream. I wrote the above and read it over, unable to decide whether it was amusing or just bemusing.

It would be interesting to hear what other people think …



Work is a Four-Letter Word


Thought I’d begin my rant on the subject with this little film. It’s only a few minutes long but makes its point so eloquently I almost don’t want to add anything else.

In a way, my job is done. So I’ve just fired myself.

Ha, that’s better! The burden of having to fulminate against such an obvious target was beginning to weigh heavy. Who doesn’t curse their job several times a day? And who needs an old codger like me, long-since retired from the wearisome world of work, to kick against the pricks he no longer has to suffer?

Don’t get me wrong. I liked teaching … whenever I had the time and energy to do it properly. Teaching is simple. You choose a topic that interests and perhaps even excites you, organise the lesson carefully (leaving as little to chance as possible while making sure you can take advantage of any unexpected developments) and then engage with the students proactively to stimulate an active response which keeps the inquiry going into future lessons and down avenues where you will learn as much as they do.

Most of your energy should go into three tasks: prepare, teach, mark. Instead you are dragged into a hundred and one side-tracks devised by people who are not practising teachers yet think they know better than dedicated professionals what needs to be done. And on top of all this unnecessary office work you have to try and keep the kids on task. Result: an exhausted profession and a big recruitment problem.

Teachers in the UK aren’t badly paid but a job that takes up so much of your time should be rewarding in every way. Teaching should be the best job in the world. Nothing demoralises you more quickly than realising that for no fault of your own you’re not really getting to grips with what needs to be done. And meaningless work is soul-destroying, as the cartoon so clearly demonstrates.

Hmm, thought I’d sacked myself …


Images: and

Our Complaints Desk is Closed

                                                A long rant followed by a short poem.

I find it harder and harder to cope with big ideas. They loom above me like giant unstable airships, making me want to let go and run. Instead I hang on like grim death, risking imminent immolation or a sudden short flight ending in a very long drop.

Even worse is that big ideas force me into using metaphors which lumber out of control like maddened elephants into crowds of innocent and slightly bemused bloggers who … well, you get the picture.

This, in case you hadn’t noticed, is one of my pour-myself-a-drink-and-see-what-comes-out posts. (I just poured it and noticed it was Guinness … )

Believe it or not, this post has a subject and it may be that all this frantic jocularity is a way of ducking it. It’s a big idea, you see, and there could be a touch of stage fright before launching into a heavy monologue. But if I don’t get going soon, I will soon be talking to an audience of three … me, myself and I.

Oh well, anything’s better than being in two minds about something. At least a three-way split offers a chance of adjudication …

OK, enough wisecracking, already! Big ideas need big build-ups … just hit play!

I’ve just poured another Guinness in the hope that I’ll hit my stride soon … ah, begorra*, I’m talking about the bloody mess we’ve left the next generations to clear up – more specifically, the ecosystem. It’s the elephant in the room, all right, and like the blind men in the old story we can’t even agree what it looks like. It doesn’t appear in economic models and it doesn’t get discussed at cocktail parties.

( * that was quick, maybe Guinness is good for you … )

We just don’t seem to have the language, do we? There is climate science, of course, but for too long governments have been playing divide-and-rule when it comes to results. Pure science is systematically underfunded and the self-interested opinions of corporate science – biased almost by definition – are taken far too seriously. Money, alas, talks louder than morality.

Image result for Shut Up and Take My Money

And don’t get me started on the creationist idea that we’re all part of a master-plan to improve the universe. In my bleaker moments I’m with Bill Hicks that we’re a virus in shoes.

The trouble is that the more miserable you make people about this stuff, the more they retreat into denial and comfort-eating … meant in the broadest sense (no pun intended!) as consumption, much of it conspicuous. In the absence of meaningful community, two killer syndromes loom like giant airships, etcetera … (a) our self-esteem comes from the way our lives look to others and (b) self-gratification takes centre stage.

It doesn’t help that we’re dragooned into nation-states. Countries who’ve had the cream aren’t about to set an example to countries who haven’t by switching to low-fat yoghurt … oh, these blasted metaphors! What I mean is, our bling and binge culture may be the death of us.

Says he, polishing up his post and swigging down stout … ah, but let me tell you, it’s an agonising business tackling big ideas!

Oh sausages, I’m going to cut to the chase! We need a blessed miracle to get out of this hole and I don’t mean the one in the blinking ozone layer – concerted action on that, by the way, shows what we can do when we have a mind to get together. As a non-believer I’m not holding my breath for any manna from heaven (or pie in the sky, for that matter) but I do admire the liturgy and litany of religion, so here is my attempt to graft it on to a more pagan life-focussed viewpoint in sonnet form … something of a hymn, as it turns out.

It’s worth remembering, I do believe, that the word ‘ecology’ has an ancient root. It comes from Okologie – Greek oikos “house, dwelling place, habitation” + -logia “study of”.


        Noah's new age prayer

o Gaia hold us rapt within your arms
that life be one with love and one with all
let sense be always open to your charms
and spirit never falter at your call
o Gaia keep our step upon the way
that leads to wild places sacred shrines
where pilgrims catch a glimpse of yesterday
and dream of leaving children cryptic signs
o Gaia turn our thoughts to simple joys
and tune our hearts to nature's steady beat
that we might hear the hush beneath our noise
and feel the dance begin to move our feet
for only celebration stirs the blood
enough to build an ark against this flood



The Time Has Come

I have a confession to make. I am guilty of terrible crimes. My public face – decent, caring, compassionate – is a sham, a hollow mask which conceals a crawling, squirming, grotesque monstrosity you would hate to hallucinate in your deepest and darkest nightmares.

Image result for snakes crawling from mask eyeholes

  • I have voted for people who have betrayed humanity.
  • I have worked for employers who refuse to contribute to the well-being of the wider society to which they belong.
  • I have quietly pocketed my share of the spoils.
  • I have bought products from organisations who lie and cheat their way through the world.
  • I look forward to a pension bloated by financial investments in dubious, amoral and even illegal activities.
  • I have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to countless sins and abuses committed in my name.

Thank you for listening. Just by bearing silent and non-judgmental witness, you have managed to lift my burden of shame.

As a matter of fact, I feel much better now. A trouble shared is a trouble halved, they say, or else quartered or maybe eighthed or perhaps sixteenthed …

It may even be that my sense of culpability has been spread so microscopically thinly that there is actually no vestige left of personal responsibility for anything at all … anywhere … ever …

                                                                            Did I just say that out loud?

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Images: and and


Bafflesby Echo Scoops Schools Shake-Up

                                                  by our special freelance correspondent Ziro Owers

News that Prime Minister Theresa May has given the green light to grammar schools was greeted with cheers of gratitude and a fair few tears of nostalgia at the Bafflesby Institute for Generating Upmarket Policy (BIGUP) earlier today. This conservative think-tank is the brainchild of Doctor Ry Twyng who welcomed me personally in the foyer of BIGUP with an iron handshake, his eyes glinting behind rose-tinted spectacles. I imagined he would whisk me up to his plush office but, washing his hand with a wet-wipe, he indicated a couple of plastic chairs next to a wilting plant. The interview clearly wasn’t going to be a long one so I plunged in at the deep end.

Was 11 years old too early to separate children by ability? ‘Well,’ Doctor Ry began, leaning forward, ‘in some ways it’s too late. As we speak, we’re working on techniques to predict personal profitability potential in five-year-olds. It’s only a matter of time before we can reach into the womb … as it were.’

Profitability potential? ‘Estimated economic value. Future earning capability. It pays to think ahead, you see.’

I pointed up at the motto under the BIGUP logo, which read Backwards Is The New Forwards. The Doctor blinked. ‘Ah, yes, well … you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! And one thing never changes, taxpayers want big bangs for their bucks. A return on their investments, you might say. We need to identify the growth points and channel expenditure accordingly.’

Did that mean spending money to help disadvantaged children catch up? He sighed, as if dealing with a slow learner. ‘You don’t turn sheep into goats by giving them climbing lessons. Think of grammar schools as hothouses for jungle creepers. A battle to reach the light!’

Spittle flecked his lips. I asked if he saw human beings as a collection of different species. He thought for a moment. ‘Well, I’d like the school system to resemble a well-run zoo. It’s certainly cost-effective to keep meat-eaters and vegetarians apart.’

Did cost-effective mean cheaper, I wondered? ‘Some people know the value of everything and the price of nothing,’ he said, with a mysterious little laugh.

So there’d be no truck with antelopes auditioning for the big cat enclosure? He rolled his eyes, back to that lesson with the slow learner. ‘It’s all about giving children the opportunity to succeed. The grammar school is a beacon of high attainment.’

Did that mean a light on a far hill only glimpsed by most people from the valley below? His snort of impatience implied that I was struggling with his analogies, which was hardly fair. I was only trying to help him with them.

Time, it seemed, for a direct ball upfield!

What I found hard to understand, I said, was the claim that grammar schools improved choice when the vast majority of children failed to get into them. ‘Ah, well, the losers have the choice of paying for a private education. We still live in a free country. Or are you suggesting we abolish the human right to buy our children an educational advantage?’

For some reason I imagined myself as a French peasant telling Marie Antoinette I had no bread and being told to go and eat cake. I looked at my hands. The Doctor must have seen his advantage. ‘And don’t forget,’ he added, ‘that everyone has the right to purchase extra tuition in the run-up to grammar school selection tests.’

He’d pushed his case too far. I told him I thought the PM had ruled out a return to entrance exams. ‘Ah, yes, well … selection can also be made by interview.’

Did this mean weeding out social undesirables? ‘Now you’re trying to put words in my mouth, my young friend! Think of the grammar school as a lifeline to bright children from the wrong side of the tracks. The poor are always with us, alas, but some of them are surprisingly clever.’

He gave me an accusing look, as if I should doubt his word. I pressed on. What of the existing grammar schools, in which a mere 3% of pupils were poor enough to need free school meals as against the national average of 18%? Were these schools playing a part in their country’s heroic struggle for equality and community?

‘You’ve forgotten liberty,’ he said in a dry voice.

I pressed on some more. Why, I wondered, did London’s comprehensive school system outperform the selective system of neighbouring Kent for children from every social background?

The Doctor opened his mouth as if to speak but stood up instead. I followed suit and he gave my chair a quick once-over with the wet-wipe before flashing me a smile like a porcelain wall.

‘Do you have a coat, young man? There’s a cold wind blowing outside.’




Here is Part 2 of my childhood poem, linked to the ending of Part 1 which was about talking in bed. The stuffed bear was a vivid memory and I’ve only just worked out why. My intention is to alternate free verse with more formal sections but maybe the contrast between them is too sudden and jars somewhat. I don’t intend posting more extracts for a while so would appreciate any thoughts and suggestions so far…

Image result for fur

little birds calling   let them sing
airy nothings          float in the wind
waves on the seashore  play in the sand
castles tumble         sweep of my hand
word in your shell-liketickles my ears
shush now shush        sounds of the seas
               sh sh sh
         that ebb       and flow
           of nights and days
         that rhythm rocked you
              into trance
           you knew the steps
                but not
               the dance 

You knew the silky hot embrace of fur
From grandma's mothball hugs. How fearful then
That fusty pelt as big as forty grandmas
Sewn together, topped with claws and teeth -
A frozen tableau, savage snarl on pause
And paws forever raised about to strike!
You'd sucked two notions up like mother's milk
That every bear was fierce and out to kill
And hunters only shot in self-defence,
For truth was simply what it seemed to be.
You saw a monster make his final charge
And never guessed the taxidermist's craft
Behind the pose, that lifted lifeless lips
In endless snarl and stretched dead limbs upon
The rack so you could thrill and tremble there.
At four years old you never would have dreamed
Of country houses stuffed with trophy kills
Where pocket heroes boast dominion
And long-range high-velocity success
With simply nothing ever left to chance.

You knew the steps but couldn't read the dance.

Voyage in Time

A sentimental – even slushy! – poem about early childhood when my greatest joy each morning was lying in bed with my mum and swapping sense and nonsense with her …

    a secret key to everywhere

head to head           whisper soft
just us two            i just laughed
snuggle down           why does the sun
warm as toast          who life begun
nice and cosy          how high the sky
safe and sound         what where why
special secrets        only we
never to be told       riddle-me-ree
what say what          when is the moon
now and always	       late and soon
where our words        lost in dark
bibble-babble          gobbledy-gook 
che ma pasa            shan ti kapo
bazi baza              yabos yabo
little birds calling   let them sing
airy nothings          float in the wind
waves on the seashore  play in the sand
castles tumble         sweep of my hand
word in your shell-liketickles my ears   
shush now shush        sounds of the seas

This is the intended opening to a long poem about childhood that will explore the relationship between nature and culture which makes us what we are. I’ve made lists of childhood memories – the easy bit – and now all I need to do is write them up!

I may post the occasional extract to gauge public reaction …

What I must remember is that being creative is not an exact science. Things could get messy. A little bird tells me you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. And so, the cc-rack of eggshells and rrr-rip of  tearing rule-books in my ears, I set sail …