Monday, 13 November 2017

The flock scatters at the sound of breaking glass

I am defunct hardware.
Scratched disks
Clicking and trying to write over
what I cannot understand.
I am not compatible
with what you want to do
Drop me from a great height
into a cavernous metal skip.
Listen to the crunch and shatter
as I spill my innards,
rare earth metal,
scraped from exotic lands,
buried in a mundane mound.
The once and future king
picked over by flocks of gulls

I am a fragment of memory
I am the path once travelled
I am archaic connections
I am the picture behind a blank screen
The words under the stuck keys.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

A lack of insight.

Little maggots squirming.
Fat little dreamers
Oh, to be a fly
and to feast on shit
instead of rotten flesh.
The open skies await.
Tiny little minds
cannot concieve
of the spiders web.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Deny sleep

Wasting time in fear of silence
Filling the space with any noise
Pseudo company.
The illusion of a connection
I drop the stone
If I do not hear the splash
It might be falling forever

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Turn on the radio, nah, fuck it, turn it off.


I don't mind Gordon Brown. He's like a big old armchair and I imagine if you're in a room with him he moves quite slowly, so he wouldn't alarm you too much. He'd be good company in a library as he seems quite self contained though I think he probably chews his food quite noisily and that would do your head in if you were trying to read the paper in a bedsit share scenario where you were like Jimmy Porter and he was the other bloke who lives with him in 'Look Back in Anger' - Brown is always going to remembered as 'the one who wasn't as big a cunt as Tony Blair but pretended he liked the Arctic Monkeys and got gobby about Sue letting him speak to 'that bigoted woman'' which really is a bit tight when you consider he did lots of other stuff that no one can remember because it was a bit boring.

One thing I do remember him doing was saying he liked Six Music and that the BBC shouldn't axe it. People said 'Good on you Gordon Brown!' and the BBC didn't axe it and then David and Sam Cam liked the Smiths and everyone lived happily ever after listening to reheated Peel sessions in their expensive sheds in the Cotswalds and there was no poverty any more and Liz Kershaw was made Queen of England.

Except I fucking hate Six Music and I think it's frankly a squalid waste of tax payers money. Look at that stupid logo with it's underlying 'guitar music is real music' message. Piss off.

When I say this, usually people say to me, 'oh, but it's got some good shows' and it has. It genuinely does. I don't want to waste time discussing what they are. There aren't many given it broadcasts for 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

The thing is. It could be so much better. So much better.

Lets take a critical and thoughtful approach and move beyond the fact that it's comforting in your mid 30s to hear familiar sounds from your misremembered glorious youth. Yeah, remember the Charlatans, that was great! Good times! No it wasn't, it was crap and you spent it staring into the middle distance with 4 other depressed people wondering why nothing ever fucking happens, then you got hammered and thought the Levellers were good because you'd drunk two litres of cider.

That is not what the license fee is for, helping you remember that.

You don't want to remember that. You should be listening to Radio 2 if you want musical nostalgia. You can get all the hits, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Cameo, hell, they even play edgy stuff liked the Damned and 'this old house' by Shakin' Stevens. Real music man, when it was good.

But underneath this irreverent revelry lurks a serious point. There is already a radio station dedicated to playing 'classic pop hits' with space for a bit of white boy indie nostalgia. There is no reason at all why Radio two can't shoehorn in a few 'boys with guitars from off of the 90s' shows in its schedule.

It's got Steve Wright, Chris Evans, Johnny Walker, Jo Whiley, all the people from when you liked Radio 1, from when it wasn't all hashtagbanter and DJs with just first names or nicknames.

Which brings me to my second point. Why the shitting fucking crap is 6 Music full of ex radio one DJs? It's like a place where people who weren't even on Radio 1 very long and no one remembers being that arsed about the music go. Or, where people who were vaguely interesting to interview in the NME in the 90s go to do a radio show.

Why is it minor indie celebrity corner? I don't fucking care what Huey from the Fun lovin' Criminals is up to. No one liked Catatonia anyway and if you did, you really should have got bored of them by now. Have you not heard classical music yet? It's way better than 'it's all over the front page, you give me road rage'

The license fee is not for giving ex Radio One DJs a comfortable life until retirement (and quite why they haven't dragged up 'the Ranking Miss P' yet is a mystery to me. They've had everyone else you'd forgotten that you remember on -why not her?) or for subsidising people who were in middle ranking indie bands by paying the so they don't have to drag themselves round the festival circuit growing more and more depressed as they look out upon the pathetic ranks of middle aged people desperately trying to relive their youth with their kids on their shoulders like no one ever was embarrassed by their own dad ever and blurting out the choruses to songs that were tired two weeks after their release, holding plastic cups of wine and shouting stuff like

'Claire! we should be going soon, I've got a meeting Monday AM and I don't want to get bogged down in the carpark'
'But Shaun, Sleeper are on soon'
'Oh, Cl-aire'
'Shaun! You got to watch Dodgy!'
'Ok, we'll stay for inbetweener, but I want Lucy and Clive in bed by 9, they've got tutoring tomorrow'

It's probably hard for people who were in 'rock n fuckin' roll' for a bit to not want to go a bit UZI mad at your typical festival and I don't really blame them for wanting to do a Sunday morning show which consists of them doing an hour or so of browsing their records and picking a few songs, hitting 'shuffle' on the 'new music playlist' and then chucking in a couple of records from 'the big book of good records that everyone agrees make you a person with impeccable taste'

But that's not really what the license fee should be for.

I'm not being cruel here. I'm really not. I wish these people well, it's nice to see Liz Kershaw and Steve Lamacq them looked after a bit better than poor old Bruno Brookes but frankly, it's a miserable that a station that is about 'new music' isn't better at getting people on the airwaves who actually give a fuck about it. Who is on Six music that wasn't a music industry or radio name 15/20 years ago? Er, John Peels son and... that bloke in the morning who rambles on like he's doing a stand up act and that's it.

What the license fee is for should be about creating opportunities for people to make radio shows which could never exist on a commercial platform. It should be about art, about stuff that challenges the listeners tastes, that broadens the definition of music and 'radio'

The license fee should be about risk taking and the triumph of the unlikely or the unknown. I'm not saying Six Music is unremittingly shit. Mary Ann Hobbs is automatically allowed to do whatever she wants and is exempt from all criticism because she's MHB. That's a fact, whether or not her show is any good. It does, from time to time, play some interesting songs. a fair proportion of the time it's only vaguely distinguishable from 'mainstream' radio.

It tells you constantly that it 'Keeps it Peel' but the endless recycling of 'vintage Joy Division classic sessions' isn't what John Peel was about. The procession of well chosen, quality songs and quirky quiz items just for fun isn't what John Peel was about. The samey guitary whiteness of much of it's output isn't what John Peel was about. It really, really isn't. 'Keeping the spirit of Peel alive' doesn't mean giving jobs to some people who were once in session or interviewed by him at Glastonbury or he had a pint with or had an office next to him at Radio 1. It should mean an obsession with music, it should mean a radio station that some people love and most people turn off, not a good thing to tap your foot to in the car.

Peel lived it, breathed it, his car was full of random tapes people had sent him, he lived amongst stacks and stacks of records, he played stuff that was amazing, strange, odd, short, long and sometimes fucking awful. He constantly wanted a new sound. I still miss him. I don't think Six Music is at all in his spirit. It's cosy and safe most of the time. It's a pseudo radio 2. It's an excuse to make Radio 1 contentless but with none of the imagination of Radio 3. Like, Metal Box is the greatest record ever, but I don't want to turn on the radio at 10pm and hear 'vintage PIL Peel sessions' - I really fucking don't. I want to here something interesting, original and different and I want the radio station that is branded as 'the music' station to care more. I want it to dig into the corners of the music scene. I want it to scare me, to shock me. I want to hate it and love it and it to be breathless and odd and different and ugly and beautiful. That's what new music is. I literally just checked what is playing...



It's just disappointing really. It could have been so much more, It could be so interesting but it all seems like a 'concept' of a radio station aimed at a target audience. It's got no spirit, no freshness. It's like listening to two spotify playlists - one of them is 'your mate's playlist of classic choons from back in the day' and the other is 'hot new tracks you might like because you like Beck'

I'm sorry, it's not good enough and it's symptomatic of a BBC system where everything is aimed at a demographic or a target audience.





Monday, 9 October 2017

Rat

Sensation of disconnection
uneasy silence.
The opposite of peace. 
Disquiet.

Half finished buildings. 
Notes that don't ring clear.
Phantom alarm calls disturbing sleep
Dead sea waves.

Exhale
Expell 
Ignore

Monday, 2 October 2017

Kindness flows harder than cruelty
Setting hard. Anger runs like lava
I am becoming stone.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Scotia

Marching pines bleached white in fog
Cascade of dying ferns
Waterfall of decay.
Liminal space.
Yards and lorry parks
The signs viewed back to front
All pole and bracket.
Truncated walls and tangled coppice of
trees.
The past is guesswork.

So many turbines
Seem to power the rainbow
Which forms above the town
Watery mirage
A headfuck of light.

Taking the edge from the squat square blocks squeezed tightly and meanly in the middle of a lonely land.

The river is full
The future is guesswork.

Monday, 18 September 2017

A willful suspension

I know nothing of god's words, only silence
But here I can believe that creation is majesty

In the kill.
In the dripping red tooth and claw
In the light, soft and dappled on a floor of tinder dry leaves

The water cascade pounding itself into white foam on the rocks is my fears destroying themselves.

I know nothing of past lives but here I am reborn.



Thursday, 14 September 2017

Incline

Sky is lead heavy, the hill is hard.
The killing field.
Machine thrum.

All there is is the death of summer
A heavy, lazy anxiety. Restless stirring itching biting.

Tomorrow is coming. Now is not forever.

Monday, 11 September 2017

The cat's claws.

You look like that person off the TV.
Your quest was successful.
It really suits you
To look like someone else

Valley

Tall purple flowers from tangles of weed
Rusted metal and rotten wood
Posts askew and wire bowed

Silence between bird calls
Silence waits before the wind stirs the leaves
A smell of decay

This is an empty land

Monday, 4 September 2017

Pendulum

Time is the thief of detail
Blurring the detail, the diamond shimmer of dew on the grass
Smudging the edges, dulling the shine.
Colours fade in the pull of the tide.

How to not succeed at blogging

1: Do not put pictures on your blog
2: Don't have any discernible theme to your blog
3: Write about subjects that don't interest the majority of people
4: Update it sporadically
5: Alternate between really long pieces about nothing in particular and really short pieces about nothing in particular
6: Choose titles which rarely describe the content of the post
7: Ignore all the advice in 'How to succeed' at blogging posts.

Lose one, find one.

A lone blackbird sings.

The air is peaceful and the scent of summer pervades everything. Wind that makes no sound save for the rustle of branches heavy with leaves. Dusk on a day when the night will never properly set, the sky a deep blue calm with dawn not more than a few miles beyond the horizon.

Static. Scalpel. Jagged. Glass. Wire wrapped tight around flesh, taught, cutting, wire, flesh, pulled, slicing.

The dawn is never more than a few hours away. The night is not silent.

Cold feeling in the pit of your stomach. Cold feeling. Acid, bile, ulceration and fear. Fear you cannot name. Fear that claws and crawls like a spider up your spine and grasps you round the neck sinking it’s fangs right into the soft indentation you learnt sometime you don’t remember, from someone you don’t remember was called the nape.

Maybe you read the word in a book. A hardbook book, no dust cover, just a faded green fabric, embossed with burnished gold, full of the musty smell of illustration plates. Pen and ink and typesetting. An Edwardian child in a magical land.

The lone blackbird sings.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

The abattoir.

I have found another world. One in which you can start again. Fresh. As many times as you like.

Painless.

You can see yourself as you wish to be seen. The perfect angle, the perfect light. Pose held, forever. This is you. As you want to be seen.

Who can see beneath the surface? The sculpture is polished. Solid.

Your desires are sated. You can be at one with what you are, what you want. Whatever that might mean. Whoever that might be.

This world is shelter. This world is life support. This world is bomb proof nuclear technology. This world will live on. You will live on. You never existed.

There are no demands. There is no need to speak. No need to reply. A space for everyone.

You can live through others. All the goodness of real blood but none of the vampiric baggage. No staining of your best dinner suit. No shrieks and screams. Just feeding.

The world is everywhere and nowhere. The world was empty. The world is full. The universe is ever expanding whilst the world shrinks.

Step from one place to another in an instant. It's a science fiction dream come true. From lust to innocence in a heartbeat. Elastic slingshot from pillar, to post.

You need never be alone again.

Speak what you like. Faceless words of truth. Weighed and counted or thrown down in uncalculating abandon. There is always someone to share your truth. Your truth is their truth. Their truth is your truth. No more isolation. Souls connected. It's the same sky above our heads.

Nothing is lost. Everything is found. In reach. At hand.

Fuck without feeling. Speak without talking. Love without touching. Laugh without moving a muscle in your face. Synthetic pleasure rendering reality dull. Unsatisfying, heavy, leaden, poisonous, dirty and unreliable. 

Step away, step back and repeat. This is a dance with yourself.

This is pigs to the trough. Animal feed. The food is there, so you eat.

Monday, 28 August 2017

The dusk is falling earlier
Yellow leaves speak
Of the end of dreams

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Wither ambition, turn the pages. Libraries give us power.

A book that might be available at a library.

I'm a serial misanthrope. A hypocrite of gargantuan proportions. Too cowardly to 'drop out' and live a genuine revolution of the self, too many excuses for myself. I sit, on the sidelines and snipe at meaningless targets and align myself with mediocre causes. I trundle along in the middle lane doing a half decent job of a half decent job and live a half decent life when I remember to be happy.

Remembering to be happy isn't easy. Maybe happy isn't the right word. To be content, to be calm, to be present now, not hypothesising about the future and the terrible things that will happen. Not opening the door on the stomach churn, the stab of glass, the discordant high pitched whine.

In my mind, all too often I'm the centre of my own storm. The swirling vortex around me, out of control and me at its axis. This isn't how it is. I'm nothing, I'm just dust, I'm just an insignificant thing, doing what it takes to survive. I'm a flea, a slug, a bowel dwelling parasite, a tiny fly hovering around a fetid puddle. I think therefore I am does not mean I think therefore I am important.

It's the thinking I matter that brings the rotting doubt, the crippling nausea of circumspection and self analysis. It's thinking I've got 'something to say,' 'something to achieve,' 'life goals' and all that that brings with it all the competing mania and stasis. I truly begin to believe that I'm happiest (again, same caveat about the meaning of the word) in a kind of pseudo animal state, rest after exercise, living on my wits, using my senses, seeing what's round the corner. Trudging, feeding, sleeping. Repeating. Not thinking.

I am aware however that this isn't a healthy place to be, at least not all the time. To deny the intellectual, to be totally self absorbed (or totally vacant perhaps), to live life just as a process seems to be somehow a waste of the body and mind. It seems dangerously wrong, to apply this sort of unthinking en masse.

It brings me to the crux of the matter. I need to think, but I need to think about things other than me. I need to think and I need to forget. I need to be and to be able disappear. I need to hide from myself. I need to be able to destroy my own illusion of self importance without destroying my ability to think. I need to go places in my mind, to travel the roads, to visit the clouds and the stars.

As much as I tell myself I am nothing, I am not. I am unimportant, but I am not simple. The older I get, the more I am aware of this, the more my head yearns for experiences, the more denying myself what I need seems to have an impact. The older I become, at times it seems the less certain I am in my convictions about what I want, the less I understand myself.

With every passing day, the more I am aware that life isn't, contrary to what I believe I would see if I ever bothered to put the TV on, a multicoloured multi-lane highway of opportunity with an infinite number of exits to possibility, every drink a tropical explosion of sand and sun, every decision a chance to define yourself in a way that makes others envious and aspire to be a little bit more like you, every purchase a definite statement of self.

The more I become aware that life is a narrow, single lane highway bordered by grey concrete and that the only way to escape this is to stop, pull over and scrabble up the banking. The exits, the opportunities are an illusion, a mirage, forever in the distance.

I'm tired of pursuing distant shimmering mirages. Lets make our own escape.

Turn the pages of a book. Absorb yourself in the life of someone else. Absorb yourself in the sounds, the sights, the smells of the far away, the exotic, the past, the present, the future. Let yourself be taken from here to there.

Civilisation has many drawbacks. The mucky mess of unregulated greed we swim through at the moment has more than its fair share of things which make you wonder if really, we'd have been better staying in the caves and fighting with sabre toothed tigers and scrawling on walls instead of creating the kind of precarious torture, the dentists chair nightmare that modern life can be. But it has libraries. They might have vaulted rooms, they might be glazed red brick, they might be pebble-dashed concrete and polystyrene ceiling tiles, but they have books, ordered, arranged and labelled.

and free.

Free for anyone to take, free for anyone to run with, to climb into the nearest tree, hidden by the shade of the leaves and bury themselves in. Free to be carried in handbag or backpack and read on the journey, free to be placed beside the sofa for the moment at the end of the night when you phlumppp and exhale, at last free from the duties of life, free to be read whilst eating, before sleeping, to be held precariously above you in the bath, or to make the inevitable expelling of bodily waste into a time of rare joy.

Free. Really free, without adverts compelling you to sign up for the premium service, without messages from our sponsors, without coupons and tokens and boasting claims of 'the best in town' or 'award winning.' Without guilt inducing requests for support or small print reminders that you will be charged £x.xx per month if you don't cancel before the end of the trial period.

Free.

You just take it back when you've done with it. No questions. No means testing, no sign up fee, no subscription or credit check.

Books with long, beautiful intelligent argument, coherent and thoughtful explorations and explanations. Books that bare the soul, labours of love. Books that push the edges of what a book can be, books that comfort, books that teach. Books that scare, books that reach inside you and make you see things you never realised about yourself, books that leave you stunned and confused. Books that make you yearn for people and things that don't even exist.

The end of libraries is the end of civilisation.

I don't believe it's possible to live a life that reflects the kind of manic happiness that is represented all around us, I don't believe we can exist on the cusp of material actualisation, quasi psychedelic joy or vain-glorious basking in our own perfection. This is the happiness of diminishing returns. This is the happiness of caffeine and though it is energising, though it is addictive, it will leave us hollowed out and empty.

The joy of the book, the commitment of time, the ideas, the flow, the poetry, the sheer fucking amazement of the moments where somehow you connect with someone who wrote a thing once somewhere in a room, some complete fucking stranger you never even met when, man, for fucks sake you can't even connect with people you've known all your life half the fucking time is worth everything. Everything.

I want to live in a world where to think matters. Where to think is more important than to own and it is stunning to notice, there, in plain sight, there hiding amongst the space colonised by zombie half shops that resell things unwanted or sold in desperation, chainstore coffee shops retailing lifestyle drinks, endless variants on exactly the same vaping craze or mobile phone accessories, cardboard signs declaring 'we sell fidget spinners' in the most bizarre locations and the few slick, beautifully lit emporiums of taste which offer a better label or the same shit in classier packaging, is a temple of thought. A library. It's jaw dropping. It's like something from a different world. It's like discovering a steam train still working on the mainline that somehow got forgotten about, like finding that actually the dodo isn't extinct.

Think about all that has been lost as we march relentlessly on to the drum of the free market. Think and wonder again that the library still exists. That the books are still free. To take and return. Free. That somehow we still do this. We're still allowed to do this.

Take your nearest item of clothing, take a permanent marker pen and write "Read Library Books: Be Happy" on it in big bold letters. Wear it as a statement.

There are times when I feel manic, when I want to change the world, when I think I matter or at least when I think I could matter, but right now, I think all I could ever want is the time to slowly browse the shelves of a quiet space, the soft hum of voices, the essentially municipal air warmed by a shaft of sunlight from a high window casting a slanting oblong of light across the floor and up the shelves. Choosing, thinking, taking and returning.

I can't think of anything to persuade me that wouldn't be a life well lived.

The above was written in the knowledge that in many places the library doesn't exist anymore and with the acknowledgement that I am insanely lucky to live in a place where I can walk to a library that isn't to my knowledge under immediate threat of closure. Many local councils are placed in an invidious position by being forced to bear the brunt for central government cuts and it is tragic that local libraries are not seen as essential but also understandable that councils when faced with cutting provision for the elderly or youth work may choose the library. It is my humble opinion that it is a very deliberate, very transparent and very disingenuous strategy by the Conservative party to deflect blame for the decimation of services as a result of their miserable and wrong-headed austerity policies on to local councils. 

http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Stile.

With stillness comes life
Fluttering, hovering or swimming
Alien black
In peat water or stiff reedy grass
Flitting and flirting and landing
The summer is short
The summer is grey, ink blot blue.
Banked up layers of dark heavy clouds
Drift across sudden, soaking, sucking bog
Soft smells like childhood linen

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Suffocating, smothering and synthetic. A long read.

The election is well and truly over and I think I've finally recovered from the lifting the heavy weight of changing the world via social media, making sure people I largely imagine already agree with me know exactly what I think about things at least three times a day. It takes it out of you.

In such times, it's important to use the internet for what it was made for, which is bluntly and rudely stating your views with no thought, curiosity or consideration for anyone else. This means it is important to share as many knee jerk headlines as possible to badly written clickbait articles

'NOW Theresa May is vaporised by the large Hadron Collider of Public Opinion' which, when clicked, consist of a clip that will stutter as it plays and a 6 paragraph description of how someone shouted something like 'oi Theresa, I'd like to Brexit you you daft mare!' from a distance whilst she ignores it and 5 people cheer. Sometimes you read the description first, sometimes you watch the juddery video but each time you thrill to the beat of democracy as you share it with all your hundreds of actual loyal real friends all of whom would be there for you in an hour of need at a heartbeat's notice. Such is connectedness in the white heat of electoral excitement.

Now you can look back on that time with a glow of satisfaction, knowing you played your part in the glorious June revolution of 2017 where the people's party stormed the barracades of power* and the people's emperor sit's proudly and wisely atop a throne of public love**

*didn't get beaten quite as badly as people expected.
** garnered quite a few likes for his witty 'fields of wheat' act and other madbantz.

Anyhow, this sarcastic act of Stalinist self critique will end end soon and I'll be turning my ire on to a target more evil than Tories. What I'm going to write about is controversial and we'll not be diverting from the main line of 'strong opinion' or stopping at the station of 'seeing other people's point of view parkway'

Consider that your trigger warning snowflakes and run for your padded safe space bunker if you like. There's a nuke coming, a white hot flash of views.

But first, I'm going to contextualise how strongly I feel about what I'm going to write about.

I'm going to take on a target worse than the insidious attack on the self that is the brain eating virus we call 'neo liberalism.' I could write at length about Donald Trump and the deeply disturbing threat to world security posed by the puppet clown of the oil industry. I could look at way the government has run roughshod over local politics and opinion and is trying to enforce fracking on the Lancashire countryside by fair means or foul.

I could write about the impact of global climate change and the sure fire twin impact of sea level rises and mass climate driven immigration creating a problem which makes the idea of procreation look bad in both hindsight and foresight.  I could attempt to rally you with a cry of anger and hope, to urge you to look at the wider world and realise that we have only a short window of opportunity, a tiny chance to change our society for the better, to totally rearrange the system for the benefit of the vast majority of all life on the planet. I could say something snarky about how that rearrangement might require some self sacrifice and deluded you are with your ecover washing up liquid, Nissan Leaf people mover, vegan multigender awareness initiatives and all the other pathetic liberal cliche's that amount to essentially pissing in the face of the coldest, bleakest wind you can imagine.

I could try to write an intelligent and fair minded piece that undoes the panic room rhetoric above, about how I admire the principled stand you take but that how anything you buy that presents itself as 'a revolution' probably isn't and how we need to understand how to draw together multiple threads of argument instead of endless self promotion of our own discreet viewpoints and causes. I could write about how whatever we do, however ethical we are we are human and ultimately, humans are cunts and really a mass extinction is the best thing that could happen and how possibly that's reflected in the prevalence of apocalyptic representations in TV and cinema.

I could then deconstruct my own argument as cowardly and self defeating and blame the 60s for destroying any notion of collective responsibilty and allowing actual thought to disapear into a smoky haze of groovy love and consumerism that still underpins the most insidious of our current ideological self deceptions. Namely the idea that consuming stuff that we don't need is 'cool' and 'arty' and part of 'actualising' our 'inner selves' or some kind of inalienable right which defines the free world we keep on rockin' in. Get to fuck the sixties. Get to fuck in a big leaky boat and sink in the sea choking on the plastic crap you begat as your bastard Thatcherite offspring grab a water anytime on their way to some kind of bullshit culturally appropriated enlightenment class.

I could try to link the 'bullshit enlightenment' movement to the very real and endemic invisible mental health crisis and come back to neo liberalism again, pointing out how it's grip on our physical and therefore mental space is almost total, how the twin opposing forces of performance based precariousness and endless consumer temptation are evil, and I mean, evil. Like the worst torture devices imaginable. Like ISIS evil. Like, responsible for death and pain and shit evil.

Whilst I'm there I'd point out that I don't really think 'enlightenment' is possible. Just a state in which you feel calm. Perhaps contentment. That enlightenment is the religious equivalent of capitalism's better tomorrow. An idea that keeps you buying into the faith, an idea that keeps you buying into the dream, fiddling with the rosary beads, paying for the guru, buying the crystals, filling the collection plate, splurging on the designer lifestyle choices. There is no enlightenment. There is only death and blackness and loss and you are getting older all the time.

Anyway, all of the above and that, but that little lot pales in significance in comparison to what I actually want to address.

I want to discuss the deeply troubling concept of the funkily named astroturf. The phenonoma of artificial grass. 

I think I first noticed this when (driving to work in my environment destroying car to do my oft pointless job in order to buy things I don't need) I spotted a white van, parked up next to the road at a jaunty angle, displaying a roll of lurid green fake turf on its roof. Driving to work generally creates a sense of bitterness and questioning of meaning, so I think it was repeatedly seeing this van day after day that helped to foster the feelings of bile. I started to shudder when people said 'we're getting astroturf,' to sigh involuntarily when passing houses with it installed.

So, I started thinking about it.

Why have I so little tolerance for this little fad?

1) Is it is a signifier that the end of the world is coming?

It's really popular in places where the climate makes grass difficult to maintain. Could it be that astroturf induces a sense of existential paranoia whenever I see it? Is it a trigger for a vision of a scorched earth where everything is dead and the only food and water is synthetically produced and rationed by an evil mega corporation who force the world's population to live in the arid wastelands whilst themselves dwelling in a heavily fortified biodome heaven on earth?

2) Is it a conspicuous sign of the thoughtless environmental damage we all inflict by not living in a tree in the wilderness at one with nature, walking in the snow and not leaving a footprint? 

I'm not an expert on the dying bees, but y'know, if the grass is plastic then there's less little flowers for the bees to pollinate and all that. What about the worms? Here's an article that discusses the environmental impact. You should read it, because it makes the argument I want to make and also because I'm going to use a quote from it below, that won't make any sense if you don't.
"Robert Redcliffe, managing director of Nam Grass.... has some sympathy for the environmental case. “I would agree them; it’s not for everyone, and it’s not for every bit of the garden. Half my garden is artificial grass, where the children’s play area is, but the rest is natural lawn with lots of shrubs and plants. I spend all my time trying to make the lawn look as good as the artificial one.”
There's the rub my friends. He has 'sympathy' for the worms, but unfortunately their habitat doesn't 'look as good.' That's the human race there. Well done, we are brilliant. Turning our mind to the problems of the world and coming up with innovative solutions all the time.


Here's an image from the 'Nam Grass' brochure. Now imagine the dog eating the kid in a desperate attempt to survive a dying world. You did that Robert Redcliffe. You. With your big plastic garden. Maybe the kid and the dog are robotic simulations Robert Redcliffe has had created within his biodome in order to have everything just as he likes it?

'I've got two kids, one of them is a robot and the other one is real, and I spend all my time trying to get the real one to gaze lovingly at the dog like the robot one does, because the robot kid is better, you should kill your kids and get robots instead'

3: Is it about control? 

I alluded in my introduction to the idea of control of our own minds and the prevalence of 'wellbeing' events as a means of surviving the mentally toxic environment we live in. Naturally (or, rather, unnaturally) we see people trying to control their physical selves and their physical surroundings and is artificial grass a signifier of this?

That somehow, ridding the world of blemishes and bumps, of weeds and bees and worms is akin to the desire to do the same to our bodies. To defy age and reality, creating new and false ideas about what is aesthetically pleasing and thus new norms for people to live up to. We can see in the body fascism of everyday attitudes that a leads to b to c to d and so on and so astroturf is the start of a slippery slope. People will be having entirely synthetic gardens installed, covering their 'outdoor' space in a thin transparent membrane and having purified, perfume tinted air piped in before we know it. You are warned.

4: Soil is dirty? 

It isn't.

5: It's fake. 

Lets return to the idea that Robert Redcliffe mentioned above; that his fake grass 'looks' better. It's a weird statement. I think I must have a different aesthetic sensibility than Robert Redcliffe. On the wall of my yard little weeds grow. These have the most exquisite tiny blue flowers. The other day I was sat at the railway station admiring the tangled avalanche of brambles and flowers tumbling down the bank.

Everything is fake, of course. My wall, the railway embankments aren't 'real' in any deeper timeless wilderness sense, but the plants that thrive there speak of the impermanence of humans, of the ability of the trees and plants to overwhelm, they remind us that life is a constant struggle against being overwhelmed and eventually we will lose that battle. I don't find that depressing or want to fight against it. I like the life that is around me. To be amongst life, flower, insects, animals reminds me that beyond the gnawing doubts and self loathing that life is quite interesting. That right now, worms are burrowing, things growing, fruiting, falling from branches, taking root is fascinating. That birds will dig in soil for grubs, that thrive in a bacteria ridden moisture feeding on the rotting mulch of fallen leaves that in turn nourish the plants that grow to carry on the cycle. I'm not some unreconstructed eco-warrier, I don't do that much to aid this process, but I can't understand wanting to impede it for purely aesthetic convenience

I don't understand how Robert Redcliffe doesn't find this fascinating. I don't understand why he wants to smother it in plastic and wants other people to do so. Most of all, I don't understand how he can see the plastic as somehow 'better' than the extraordinary biodiversity of the living environment. Like, yeah, your actual grass isn't as uniform but when did sterility and uniformity become the definitions of beauty?

6: If I'm honest I don't have a lot of time for actual lawns. 

A bit of grass is fine, I don't mind a bit of grass. What I don't understand is the desire to cover every inch of the space available to you with grass. For most of my adult life I've lived in houses without gardens. I deeply envy the houses near me that back down on to the canal. They have beautiful undulating gardens that get loads of sun and sweep down to the water side. They are idyllic locations. As near to heaven on earth as it gets in a northern ex industrial town.

There is one particular house that each time I pass it, makes me feel as if I must be a slightly different variation of the human species than the owner. There is a large old tree in the garden, A lovely mature curving angular gnarled graceful gentle beast. There is grass. And nothing else. Literally nothing. No shrubs, no flower beds, no water feature, no herbs, no exotic grasses, no alpines, no little conifers, no roses, honeysuckle, ivy. Definitely no weeds.

The thing is, I love a bit a bit of minimalism. I'm all for the empty room but outside, it feels like the space is a shared one and keeping the place so utterly bare seems somehow selfish. I don't want to get all new age and patchouli but the thought of the retired colonel of my imagination who lives there (I've never seen anyone in the house or garden) angrily pouring some kind of chemical compound on the daisies and dandelions, poking furiously at the nests of swallows and swifts with a long stick and stabbing at mole hills with a fork in the hope of skewering one makes me get visions of karmic retribution. I fantasise about what sort of mind set is happy, only when the outdoors is free of any signs of life and the land is tamed into neat stripes by the regimental rider mower.

Where this digression is going is to signal my pre-existing discomfort with the lawn as a concept. In fact, back in 2004, I was invited to take part in a poetry day. I did so and I read a poem, long since lost on the hard disks of time, about my disdain for lawns in general. I can't really remember the details of it, but it was along the lines outlined below in terms of content, but worked into an actual rhyming structure with several stanzas.
people with neat lawns are insufferable smug cunts who look down upon people who have wild and untamed gardens but I wonder if they realise that I look down upon them because I can't imagine anything more dull than spending your life looking after a lawn like it was some kind of work of art when actually a wildflower is a thing of beauty. 
So, given the above, you can imagine how the idea of people who want a fake lawn makes me feel.

7: The advertising makes me queezy. It's part of a self delusion we are performing that 'everything is normal' HAVE YOU NOT SEEN WALL-E FFS? 

I'm going to let up on Robert Redcliffe for a moment. In my research for this article (don't laugh) I looked at the google search 'environmental impact of astroturf' and came across quite a lot of statements like

- it doesn't need watering
- it doesn't need chemicals

The first two are countered by the fact it's big fucking lump of plastic. It'll still be there in a thousand years. Your house will have crumbled and your neighbour's lawn will be a beautiful meadow with buzzing insects flitting in and out, undisturbed by your extinct species but your plastic lawn will still be there. Perhaps ripped by the thrusting trunks of trees and shredded by the claws of who knows what emerges from the post extinction ecosystem but it'll be there. Perhaps that's what astroturfers want.

8 It gets advertised as 'a time saving trick' 

When are we collectively going to get our heads round this one. When are we going to understand that most of the time we are saving is pointless? In the unlikely event that anyone is still reading I've penned a short play below to illustrate the point I want to make. It will mention astroturf.

A: Hey, I'm not sure about your plastic garden. It looks a bit weird.
B: Fuck you buddy, I'm one of life's WINNERS, I don't have time to do the garden. I've had my intestines hooked and bladder up to this bag and trained a chimp to run alongside me while I'm busily doing IMPORTANT STUFF, unhooking the bag and fitting a new one. Hell yeah.

I think it's a culturally aloof perspective to assume that the only people short of time have delusions about being 'succeeders' -  the garish advertisement of the time saving benefits of a synthetic outdoors is a metaphor for something or other. I'm not quite sure what meaning I would pin on it.

- The need for instant gratification
- Something to do with homogeneity
- People increasingly seeing or being forced to see leisure as a time they can't afford.

It evokes faux utopia, beautiful dystopian visions of workers toiling away, visiting a 'leisure zone' and listening to piped birdsong and walking on treadmills facing a cgi representation of countryside. Under their feet, synthetic grass.

Perhaps these workers are employed by the biodome dwelling overlords and shuttle between their work duties and their sleeping chambers without ever seeing the outside world. Sealed off from the plastic ridden dust filled wasteland of storms and heatwaves. Maybe they're satisfied. Maybe it's the inevitable march of progress.

Maybe I shouldn't think so deeply about astroturf.




























Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Partially complete music



A work in progress. Needs a bit more body in the opening drone and then something to underpin the guitar work

Monday, 31 July 2017

Water bottle.

Incinerated plastic.
Fumes.
You are too lazy to cover your mouth.
Take a deep breath and suck it in.
an acrid lung full.
Take it deep and hold it there.
Punishing headache.
Screw your eyes tight.
Press the palms of your hands against your eyelid until you see shapes.
See the leftovers of ragged nests of ragged carrion birds in dark winter trees.
See the broken walls of buildings.
See the moon through a broken window.
The tide which poisons the shore.
The rhythmic step of clockwork soldiers.
Spider's thin legs. Fragile, vulnerable.
Mould on the inside of the window.
Don't turn your back.
Stay alert.
Don't turn your back.
See the fading, bleaching sun destroying colour.
Drop a stone in a well.
Hear the wet echo and feel the cold of the earth.
Here is burning plastic.
Black smoke choking.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Cross country.

Who are we?
The land we no longer work?
The things we no longer make?

The shadows of buildings decaying or destroyed?
The people we don't speak too?
The songs we no longer sing?

Are we the corrugated box people?
Are we multiplex man?
Are we one?

Are we one and the same?

Monday, 3 July 2017

Over.

The weight is gone.
Surface tension disapated
A punctured balloon
A windless sail
A flag without a country
A soldier without a war.
Drilled to walk, up the parade ground, down the parade ground.
About turn and again.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

New York had hidden secrets


Many years ago when the internet was a more fun place and less of a collection of algorithms dedicated to enslaving us to a life of payment free content creation in our own little work from home factory cells, I stumbled upon a site dedicated to an abandoned railway line in New York.

Across the city skyline it strode. Dodging between the legs of high rise giants but casting shadow over low rise dwarves.

The high line for high life or low life. Rattling and humming and hissing no more.

Just parallel rust hidden beneath untamed stems. An elevated beltway of urban garden. A strip of pollination and graffiti.

A world above your head. An alien space.

Interior.

When will this war be over?

When will I sleep again?

When will I not wake nervous and edgy?

When will the silence not be filled with a fear of what is to come?

What will come, out of the unknown?

Out of the unknown, silent and sudden, bringing fire and wrath and sending what is ordered into chaos.

The floor beneath my feet could be pulled away, the ceiling could come crashing down

No warnings, no meaning.

Each hour of survival is a relief, each tick of the clock is another moment, pregnant with possibility. Each fraction of time may be the moment when the searing heat turns my fragile world to dust.

Limbs bent and shattered, grey flesh moulders in the heat. A fallen window frame still with curtains and broken water pipes gushing. A little gurgling stream from a pile of destruction.

No meaning, no sense.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Beneath Victorian ironwork.

Latticework symmetry which frames the bluest sky

Graceful curves leading away in opposing directions

No sudden moves. Minimal friction. Sliding, gliding and heavy.

Steep banks full with green tangle and tumbling wildflower.

The centre of the wheel. Content with stillness.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Restless

There is a pounding in my head like the throb of a machine

My stomach churns storm water.

Knife edge blunt against stale bread.

Stasis and inaction.

Damp matches won't light a fire

No warmth against fear

Self pity never built an empire.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Appearing to listen is not the same as listening. May on Question Time.

I'll try and keep this one short and sweet but it might end up spilling over into a diatribe.

There was a slightly awkward moment on Question time when Theresa May, Prime Minister and all round powerhouse was confronted by someone who had suffered the indignity of being questioned aggressively about mental health in a work capability assessment.

Image result for theresa may question time disability
'listening face'

I'll give the 'strong and stable' one her due, she did quite a good listening face and dealt with the question quite capably on a superficial level. This I won't deny. What I will now do is attempt to explain why her answer was an utter fraud. 

The basis of the answer from the self proclaimed demigod of negotation was that 'mental and physical health require parity in the NHS and that it is important to ensure schools are equipped to deal with mental health'. I'm going to take issue with the second part of the answer as I don't work in the NHS and thus don't have the required systemic knowledge (though it's fairly plain to see the NHS needs more than a re-balancing of priorities.)

So to the crux of my argument: 

Dealing with mental health in schools is fine - I don't take any issue with that goal. What we need for our economic prosperity and future wellbeing are functioning people who can think clearly and effectively about the challenges which face our society and live happy, healthy and productive lives. I absolutely agree with the fact that mental health in children and young people is a priority.

However I also believe that the government have NO idea how to tackle it and no intention of taking any measures to support young people in crisis. Below, I lay out a brief set of arguments explaining why I believe this.

1: When faced with an 8% real terms funding cut, schools have incredibly tough decisions to make. It is little surprise that the mental health funding (as well as funding to support 'neurodiverse' learners of all types - there is a clear link between certain areas of neurodiversity and mental health) is on the line.

2: Schools are often the people who refer young people to external services. Again, the picture here is bleak. With less internal and less external services the burden falls onto teaching staff. Mental health isn't something a well meaning teacher or teaching assistant can just 'listen away' (assuming the teacher has any time to do so) and dealing with self harm, suicide and overbearing anxiety can leave a huge burden on teaching staff who (lets remember this) aren't equipped with any clinical specialisms in their training. They are just adults who have been trained to deliver information about their specialist subjects in the main. It's not all that far removed from expecting the person in charge of training at Tesco or Morrisons to intervene when their employees suffer ill health. A good history teacher is not automatically a good counsel for anxiety or stress problems for example. The ability to teach well is different from the ability to manage mental health in others, especially when severe.

3: Are teachers themselves in that much better position than the learners? I wrote at length about teacher mental health in a previous blogging guise. The stunning fact is that over 80% of teachers self identify as suffering or recently suffering their own mental health problems. I don't know about you, but I feel like that also requires some thought from our leaders. We constantly hear rhetoric about 'creating world-class education' and I feel that anything that is going to be 'world class' will require healthy and fit people to achieve it. Our teaching staff are not. Much has been taken from corporate culture and transported into education. The idea that rested and happy employees are more creative, productive and efficient has not.

The aforementioned 8% cuts are going to put more pressure on teaching staff. This will surely not improve the situation. How are adults in education going to model healthy behaviours and take on the additional burden of mental health care for young people in education in the light of the above cuts? I honestly don't know. The bleakly hilarious blackly comic truth is that it will probably be through a half-hearted programme of mindfulness lifted from a well-meaning corporate strategy elsewhere but with a 10th of the funding and a 200th of the time allocated.

4: The school system itself is partly to blame and the Conservatives have made it worse. Again, I've written at length on both the draining experience of 'learning' experienced by young people. I've also covered the damaging impact of high stakes testing and the lack of access to a second chance for young (and old) people. I believe in the core of my being that our teachers, by and large are dedicated and excellent. I believe our schools are often truly remarkable, but we are stuck with a badly designed and outmoded view of how to measure and record learners progress and success.

I think we need to embrace thinking skills, technology and be prepared to rewrite from the ground up, what we want education to be and how we do it. There is plenty of the current model I'd keep, but equally much I'd change, not least because there is such a gap between the way learners interact with the real world around them day to day and how they are expected to communicate in exams.

The 21st century will require learners to independently discover new skills and knowledge throughout their life as the economy becomes more 'gig-based' - 'lets do away with coursework as we can't think of anything more imaginative than more old fashioned exams. Brilliant!' - This is clearly a debate for another time but I think it's clear to me (and in my thinking about education, I try to be as free from dogma as possible) that any sort of fundamental positive change is unlikely to happen under this government with its largely backwards looking agenda. (ok, the coding thing was good, I'll give Gove that much.) The Tories have spotted certain problems correctly but they've prescribed the wrong medication and made the patient more poorly is how I'd judge their record.

As a result of both cuts and general direction from education policy we see subjects on the fringes of the system being put under pressure - things like arts provision in which children have arguably more time to reflect on themselves and their existence in a confusing world, to learn to communicate and explore emotion, are amongst the subjects most likely to be cut.

5: Child mental health is of course not simply caused and created by schools. Nor can schools simply cure it and solve it. If we accept that poverty and precariousness is intrinsically linked to mental health and behaviour (and thus logically to performance) then we need to see a government serious about tackling mental health, serious about tackling poverty, homelessness and so on. The evidence tells us this government isn't committed to this.

6: Do we trust a government which so enthusiastically pushes a programme of academisation (or privatisation which should be its proper name,) creates the chaos of free schools and seems hell bent on grammar schools?

My opposition to these proposals is not (in the main) ideological, it's because there is slim to no evidence to support them and they hoover up funds and time pursuing a dead end when it would be far more cost and time efficient to reform a comprehensive model of education for the 21st century. It might not fit into the tired mantra that 'the market will dictate' but it might actually work.

Conclusion: 

- I cannot see how we can improve child mental health by cutting funding for services related to child mental health, ensuring testing is more stressful not less, putting greater pressure on school budgets (and thus on TIME for teachers to respond to individual needs) and making the exam system more distant from the reality of the 21st century. Putting a token sum of money back into the system marked 'mental health' doesn't help and doesn't address my concerns at all.

- It's like me robbing your house, taking the valuable, smashing stuff up but doing the hoovering for you.

- A friend of mine said to me that the Tories are genius at keeping things 'just not quite crap enough for people to revolt' - I think those of us who care about education (which basically should be more or less everyone) should be revolted by the non-answer May gave to the lady on question time and in revolt over her plans for education. She might intend to 'solve' child mental health and want to be Prime Minister but I wanted to be a footballer not a teacher. Sadly, I simply wasn't equipped for the challenge I set myself and neither, I'm afraid is she.

Brief thoughts

Some rough ideas for something that is half formed in my head.

The constant challenge
Endless improvement
Desires seep into dreams
must have lifestyle
Cannot live without

To be still is to waste
Get by get on
The tick tock of the timer
dream only of escape
You embrace emptiness

The silence would be rich
If only you would listen
Is it normal to spend everyday
Fighting to feel
Normal

The sun would be warm
If you could leave the darkness
But you believe you don't deserve
The light behind the clouds
And live in the shadows

All you can imagine
Is destruction
Of everything
Of everyone
Then silence.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Distant connection

I treat my emotion like an indulgence. It shames. Cauterised melodrama. Empathy makes me feel like a vampire.

Drinking deep of the blood of innocence.

Everything happens at once. Tragedy at thrice remove multiplied.

Yet nothing ever happens.

The damp sofa stays upturned on the estuary, waiting for a high tide.

The warmth of the evening bewitches me.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Sticky note



Watching you draw the future.
Reaching on tip-toes to place the bright square on the board
A patchwork quilt of childish optimism.
You have faith, not in God but in the everlasting world.
A science fiction where everything can be fixed.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Alice

The song is dead.
There is only texture.
Layer of grainy image, blurred and overlayed.

Colour is dead.
There is only black, white and grey.
Clouds, roads, buildings from yesterday

Meaning is dead.
There is only a liminal space
Only hovering on the edge of things.

The future is dead.
There is only a chaos
Nothing planned, nothing dreamt.

We live in a dream.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Crowds

Watching the closed circuit
Playing myself backwards
To try to trace my own steps
Is that me?
Am I there?
Am I looking suspicious?
Do I believe myself any more?
Walk forward, walk backward
Upstairs downstairs
Yes sir yes sir
Three bags full
I'm following myself again.
Losing myself in crowds
Following myself again
Switching cameras
Changing lanes
Losing myself in crowds

Monday, 15 May 2017

Creativity is not just fun.


I attended a rally the other day about education cuts. Other people have written about the impact of cuts on education. I'm not going to retread their steps aside from to say that a government who say they are driving up standards whilst creating a real terms 8% cut but respond to any questioning about that fact with a blunt piece of deceptive semantics about 'funding never being higher' aren't my choice to sail the good ship 'HMS I Believe the Children are our Future' across the stormy oceans of economic upheaval.

I'm sure I could summon up some pithy paragraphs along the lines of 'stability? - for whom!' or 'stability? - try being an autistic child who loses their teaching assistant and then see how strong you feel Ms May!' or 'stability - try being a parent who discovers their primary school is considering delivering a four and half day timetable and then wonder how on earth you are going to sort out the childcare for that?' but we've been there and and back and there are some excellent campaigns dedicated to the opposition to the cuts which cross traditional political boundaries.

One of the things I heard at the rally quite frequently was that cuts to art, drama and music provision alongside the loss of free writing and story time in the curriculum make school less 'fun' for the children. This I don't doubt and I'm not going to argue that school shouldn't be fun - of course it should. Anything worth spending any time on had to have a degree of fun in it otherwise it should be done by a robot. What I am going to suggest is a lack of 'fun' is far from the biggest problem in a creativity starved curriculum.

When we take away the creativity of children, we deny them the opportunity of learning some of the most important lessons they could possibly learn. We prevent them from exploring the world around them on their terms. We stymie their language development by denying them the opportunity to experiment with words in different roles. We prevent them from finding different ways to express themselves, reducing the chances of them becoming autonomous communicators.

What possible logic is their in this particular time and place for a curriculum which spends very little time on the power of the image or the construction of meaning through anything other than written language?

It's not just fun that's being lost here, it's an essential skill for life in the 21st century.

If we remove creativity from our curriculum, how are we supposing our young people will explore their emotions and learn to manage their feelings? Creative subjects are almost inevitably a prelude to discussion. Young people create something and the adults involve them in a discussion about the 'art' created - what is it, what does it mean? Why did they construct it thus? Inevitably that discussion creates some kind of sharing of views and experiences, some philosophising, some appreciation and interpretation, some listening from the adult and a sense of the child being in control and engaged in a conversation which runs deeper than 'right or wrong answer'

If our children aren't to have these experiences in school, how are they going to learn to communicate properly, to value their view, to justify and explain and discuss their thoughts and feelings?

Creativity can teach empathy, painting a picture of someone or something out of our own immediate experience, considering a role in a drama exercise, writing song lyrics or poetry about a character invites us to consider life in the shoes of another. This is an essential skill for all sorts of life choices, not least roles in management.

Imagination is required in all disciplines at their highest level. Even the 'hardest + coldest' subjects require imagination in order to advance. Innovation in these areas needs the sort of 'beyond the worksheet' spirit of enquiry and a degree of brave abstract thinking which is essentially creative. Music, Art, Drama and Science all share a sense of 'what if...' - It's just rather easier to ask the question with a few maracas and a glockenspiel than some hydrochloric acid when attempting to foster a spirit of enquiry in a small child.

Creativity in schools is essential if we want schools to be more than just attainment factories. There is for example, considerable evidence that learning a musical instrument can boost educational performance across seemingly unrelated disciplines. The broader evidence of the immediate impact of creative projects on broad outcomes is inconclusive.

I argue that we look beyond the immediate 'boost' to the deeper skills. We consider how (for example) skills learnt at 6 impact at 16. It seems fair to suggest that the construction of an art project of any form (the decisions, the choices, the self reflection and refinement involved, even at a young age in the construction of a song, a performance a picture or a poem) is a useful metaphor for challenges faced later in education.

Only in the arts are young people are faced with an abstract and indefinable notion of 'quality,' a situation where they need to judge the quality of their work on its intrinsic merit. Yes, of course a teacher will guide and shape work, but the arts teach us to be inventive and to trust our judgement, follow our thoughts, try different ways to 'skin the cat' in a way that a purely 'knowledge' based curriculum doesn't. It may seem a waste of time for schools to use drama if it doesn't boost SATs results, or dance if it doesn't immediately improve numeracy but when learners reach higher levels, if they have never had an experience in which they've been invited to respond creatively, where they answers are multiple and risky, how are they going to draw on their life experiences and find that buzzword of 'resilience?'  

The skill of identifying a goal, being self motivated and self critical as you try to achieve it is fundamental in education long after we've finished playing clay or dancing in a way the music makes us feel. The notion of valuing your own original thought or following an instinct sustains our confidence in the toughest moments of academic study. We make an argument that the maths we learn teaches logical thinking, even if the practical value of much of it is debatable. I think we could make a similar argument for creativity, with the added bonus that it is more likely we are going to dabble with painting, dance, music and so on, even if 'just' for leisure - such activities can form the crux of identity, the glue of our social life and give us a sense of connection to others or ourselves long after we've left school. I'm not sure we can say the same for the content of a higher tier Maths paper.

I'm not arguing against teaching long division or simultaneous equations. I'm merely pointing out we accept the arguments for keeping such skills in the curriculum, in we see them as having an innate and underpinning value to our cognitive development.

I argue that creativity and the arts have just as valuable a place if we allow them to. Cognitive development is for nothing if our minds don't function because we are fearful, anxious and unable to communicate or explore our own feelings. Brilliant young minds without the courage to communicate or the empathy to consider how to persuade is wasted brilliance.

We have a view that we have produced a generation of risk averse young people. Teacher's bemoan the 'spoon fed' mentality of young people seemingly rigid with fear in front of more challenging material that requires a degree of interpretation or a level of invention in the response. I suggest this if this true it is at least in part because we aren't giving anything like enough opportunities to be fearless earlier in the system and that a lack of creative education is denying the learners a lot more than 'fun' - It's denying them a chance to develop skills they will rely on for a lifetime.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Politics isn't Star Wars.

There's two things I'm tired of hearing and reading.

1: That Tories are 'evil'
2: That Labour's spending plans are 'insane'

For the first time in my life, we have a distinct choice at the ballot box in terms of how we want our economy run. I'm writing this in the hope of improving the debate a little bit.

Politics is emotional, clearly. People tie their identities to parties, or indeed to their disdain for the political system itself. The people in the first group who know what they believe in are understandably keen to express these beliefs. Therefore, those of us convinced of the truth and beauty of the socialist cause are prone to cast those who see the world as more about individual responsibility as 'scum' or 'eton wankers.' The latter group chuckle about 'money trees' and 'do-gooding sandal wearing social workers' or something. I don't know many of them, so I'm not that sure what they talk about to be fair.

The people in the second group are then faced with a choice. Choose 'evil' or 'insanity' or perhaps just don't bother. 'But it matters!' we shrilly pipe, whilst churning out frothing paens of praise to our chosen one and bile filled rage about our enemies. It matters because of 'evil' and 'insanity'

So - what I'm going to do is try to make a short and reasonably well reasoned case for not voting Conservative. I'm going to try to avoid the man traps of emotion and sentiment and explain why it's probably in your self interest to avoid Conservatism unless you are really well off and that's all your really fussed about.

Firstly, lets deal with the idea of debt, borrowing and fiscal responsibility. The way I see it is thus: Failing to invest money costs money. Austerity as an ideological model simply doesn't work. It generates cost which are at least concealing how little money the cuts save (thus, throwing their 'human cost' into increasingly stark relief) and at worst actually impact negatively on the public purse.

Lets take some examples to back this idea up.

There is considerable evidence that the cuts to disability benefit have had an impact on mental health. This impact was quantified into the headline figure of '590 suicides' linked to the cuts. If we take a very cold and clinical view we can assume that each suicide was attended by an ambulance, that there was some police involvement, some kind of coroners enquiry, perhaps counselling services for the surviving family members and so on. I think what I'm trying to say, is even the bluntest, bleakest outcome of suicide has hidden costs.

We could also reasonably assume that there were a number of failed suicide attempts alongside the headline figure of 590 deaths. The World Health Organisation estimates that the rate of failed suicide to successful suicide at a ration of 20:1 - I'm not going to be so trite as to suggest this means that there must have been 11800 attempted cases, but we can reasonably assume their were at least *some*

Again, if we avoid the cliche's like 'heartless' and 'inhumane' and assume the Conservative policy was attempting to save the country money, we can actually make a stronger argument. How much does a suicide attempt cost the NHS? How much does say, 3 nights in intensive care, a paramedic, a crash team, the mental health counselling and so on cost? According to NHS Wales, the cost of an intensive care bed is approx £1900.

What of the less dramatic stories? The prescription anti depressants prescribed? (the NHS spends 4.4 million per week on such medication) The children of the people who suffer mental health problems requiring additional support at school due to the sudden instability in their family life?

Lets go further and link mental health issues (and indeed financial precariousness) to homelessness. How much does homeless accommodation cost? How much does treatment for alcoholism or other drug dependency cost? (The National Council on Drug Abuse describe risk factors for addiction as including 'poverty and mental health issues.') Drug use is in turn linked to crime which again, costs money, both in terms of policing and punishing. The government's own Department for Community 2016 figures identified a 53% rise in homelessness amongst those vulnerable via mental health and a 49% rise amongst those physically disabled.

The point here is, economics isn't straightforward as the Conservative party would like to say. We don't just 'make savings' by cutting things and then counting all the lovely money. We also occur costs (actual costs, not just lovely liberal 'human costs'.) The costs above are speculative but real. Policing, prison, hospital admissions all cost money. They are an inevitable result of cuts.

We can't simply make people 'un-dependent' or 'liberate them from themselves' by desiring it be so. It might be 'well meaning' or 'what the government thought was the right thing to do' but the statistics suggest it simply doesn't work like that. It's an attitude that denies the actual situation.

Let's look at a slightly bigger picture: If the government have presided over a rise in inequality and poverty, then we can make a broader causal link to some mental health issues. We can extend this far beyond disability benefit to the zero hours contract culture (note, 2/3rds of children in poverty come from WORKING families), the failure to invest in technology and industry (low pay, low quality work), the cuts in allowances for a wide variety of circumstances and so on. Inequality has risen, poverty, homelessness and so on has risen. This has a commensurate impact on happiness and well-being, both physical and mental.

Source: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spirit-Level-Equality-Better-Everyone/dp/0241954290

Every other cut is the same. The money might be saved in one place, but the cost crops up elsewhere. If we 'can't afford' educational investment of 6bn, it might be interesting to reflect that mental health ALONE costs the economy around 50-100bn per year (depending how you read the statistics). It would be sensational and foolish to link that entire figure directly to poverty and government policy, but equally it would be folly to not ascribe at least SOME of that cost to the economic circumstances described above, given as the W.H.O is clear in linking poverty and mental health issues.

We've not even touched on the physical costs of poverty to the healthcare system and we're already encountering numbers which dwarf some of the potential savings made by cuts. If we want to make things even more clear, then a report for the Joseph Rowntree foundation estimates that 20% of all money spent on public services is paying for the IMPACT of poverty (Healthcare, poor educational attainment, policing)

It's clear (to me at least,) if we accept the causal link between healthcare spending, lost economic productivity and poverty/insecurity, we need to invest, not simply in the NHS, but also in the infrastructure of society. It's also seems fairly logical to suggest that that investment would have some return in terms of reduced pressure (costs) on the services we are told we can't afford.

If you want *less* people in prison, hospital, surgeries, dependent on social security to top up rents, reliant on medication to exist or whatever form of so called 'dependence' you care to identify, then people have to have their basic needs met. It's a simple piece of psychology to understand that if our basic needs aren't met (security, safely, shelter) then we simply don't function to our capacity. In short, we make bad decisions. If we create a society which creates those conditions for others, then bemoan their bad decision making, we become stuck in an endless loop of repeating blame and by anyone's standard that doesn't seem to be the epitome of that buzzword for rational 21st century economics 'efficiency'

My point ultimately is - investment isn't insane - it's the opposite - Austerity is a blind alley we walk down, expecting to see the open road, but instead hitting a brick wall. It would be insane to walk down it again, expecting the same.

The Conservative economic policy is misguided as it takes a superficial an approach to saving money - and it fails to meet its own goals (taken at face value) of empowering individuals and freeing them. Whether they are guilty of 'evil' is a moot point and one I'm not interested in as it reduces the whole argument to some kind of Star Wars level debate about 'goodies and baddies' and I'm not sure how useful that is apart from affirming our own beliefs in the side we've chosen.

Whatever else the election is about, the choice between investment and not is the very crux of everything. It shapes the entire culture and in my opinion, it's time we rethought about what is and isn't 'sensible'

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Bad satire, some maths and a bit of literature at the end.


I really get annoyed with the 'Now Show' on R4. When I occasionally catch it I am struck by its mediocrity and the image it evokes of its audience irks me too. I presume the audience to be people with nice big oak kitchens baking a recipe from a guardian supplement chuckling to themselves about how witty TV rejects Punt and Dennis are about the government mishandling of social care which is a terrible shame. Sigh.

This is the attitude of envy. I consider myself to be a cheeky banter monkey with an eye on the topical pulse but as yet R4 haven't offered me a contract. I haven't asked them but trying is the first step to failure and we all know a chip on one's shoulder is a serious medical condition worthy of a living allowance and ideally a medical prescription for two or three pints with someone who agrees with you about things. Plus I've got a shit kitchen.

Anyway, I'm going to take the brave step of attempting to create my own 'Now Show' style sketch. Granted, it's a radio show and my sketch includes visual imagery but again, if politicians don't have to live up to their promises, why should I? (that was a warm up gag. See, it's going to be a doddle...)

An office setting - two people dressed in business uniform. Gender and ethnicity of cast is unimportant but they must be well dressed. An air of anxiety pervades. This could be politicians, leaders of a school or hospital or the management team of a large business. 

A: There's a serious structural crisis in the heart of this organisation. Our systems simply don't work.
B: Call a branding manager
A: But... couldn't we go and Google something and make the decision ourselves - It can't be that hard surely?
B: No, because then we'd be responsible for something if it went wrong + the whole exercise would be over in about 15 minutes and then we'd have the rest of the week to fill.
A: That's what I call strong leadership
B: We owe it to the organisation to do this properly.

I'd carry on but I can't be bothered. My teeth are getting blunted with all the biting savagery contained in these words.

Frankly, the sketch is awful, but I do think it contains more truth than much of what passes for communication in our lives. I'm all for well being and positive thought, but it feels like we've passed through a looking glass into a world where everything is what someone says it is and not what it actually is. Linguistic games matter more than truth.

Now truth is a tricky concept, I concede this. We can wrestle over 'the truth' but I'd suggest that it isn't to be found in branding exercises. Recently I conducted some independent research (I googled stuff for a bit) and found that the average UK school has a marketing spend of about 2% of it's budget. This is a questionable truth, but even if the figure is closer to 1% it's quite a spectacular figure if we do some maths.

There will be some maths in a moment.

I absolutely understand why school managers would pay this money. It is after all, essential to attract learners to schools as the funding of the school and therefore the jobs in the school depend on it and so on and so on. We could even probably do some maths to decide its money well spent in a lot of schools.

This is an extract from the first result I found when I googled 'school marketing budget' 

It isn't this 2% figure that scares me per se. It's the fact that this sort of policy is required as schools need to compete with each other. It's that no one questions it seriously beyond a little griping.

Here's a little maths exercise. If we assume (falsely) that teachers work 40*37.5 hrs per week then what time benefit could that 2% have if the money were spent on teaching? Let's just assume the money is spent on more teachers thus freeing the existing teachers up a bit.

Neatly enough 2% of 37.5 is 45 minutes. 45 minutes X 40 is 1.25 days. Someone from Pisa (the global education league table people) suggested (in an article I can't find but does exist) UK education is stuck in the doldrums because UK teachers lack reflection time. Without reflection time, teachers mentally can't produce the high quality lessons, engage in the professional development required to improve, consider their learners as individual people and the things that every decent teacher aspires to do. Without reflection time, teachers are 'getting by' or 'burning out' (or climbing out if any managers are reading this, I see you!)

According to government figures there are over 450000 teachers in the UK (statistical equivalent if we add up all the part time ones to make full time ones)

This means that, if schools stopped having to pretend to be businesses and spending money on glossy brochures, adverts, staff managing outward facing social media accounts and painting the face of a teenager on the back of a bus with the slogan 'Thropp Academy - a pathway to your future' we, the UK publicly funded education profession would be gifted with precisely 571125 days of reflection time.

That is 47500 months of reflection or over 1500 YEARS of reflection time every year.

So, lets remind us of my sources.

A) PISA (I assure you, there is an article! - but the point works anyway even if there isn't, reflection = better teaching, PISA state quality of teaching is vital)
B) Government figures. (I even linked them)

The above isn't taking into account the time that goes into meetings and 'fact finding missions' worrying about 'what the competition are doing' that doesn't appear on the balance sheet by senior staff (on larger salaries) or the cost of time spent by teachers on marketing exercises - it is clearly a conservative estimate of the true cost of competition. Whilst the 2% figure is a fairly educated guess (coming from a survey in which 300+ schools were surveyed to attempt to establish 'best practice' in marketing schools)  the fact that academies and free schools are likely to push marketing spend UP not down makes disputing it's precise accuracy a fairly moot point in the humble opinion of this blogger.

In other words, my shit sketch is trying to show that applying the logic of capitalism to something that isn't essentially capitalist costs money. Costing money costs teachers time. Teacher time lost costs learners. Marketing might be cost effective for school A but school B either improves its brand image (spends money on marketing) or suffers the lost students (loses money.)

This is the trap we are in.

A business whilst also trapped in capitalism is essentially different - It can expand exponentially or alter its product fundamentally if it loses market share. Whilst of course a school can change its character or build another building, ultimately it is a school, providing GCSEs, SATs tests and various other aspects of the national curriculum to a local population - it is a service and its 'product' is strictly defined by external factors and it's customer base is defined by demographics and geography. Whilst these limits exist in a sense for a business, they aren't absolute limits. Finally, the 'price' charged by the school is fixed. The school can't offer a 'luxury' or 'budget' option for example. Why then force it to compete like a business and not question if that actually works financially?

My final point occurred to me as I wrote. It seems the homogenisation of education created by first a national curriculum and second, a stringent regime of pseudo 'standards' (measurement would be a more apt term) coincides almost precisely with the boom in school marketing. It's almost as if we collectively believe that being told we have choice and freedom in our education means we have choice and freedom in our education!

To badly paraphrase Kafka, the door is open, but for some reason, we just don't seem to see it.

We are trapped by our imagination. By perceiving what is as what has to be.

I want to rebrand the word 'efficiency' I want us to really work out what it means to us.

(Now work through the exercise above and change teaching to 'the railways' or 'the council')