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')








Wednesday, 19 April 2017

'Strong leadership'

Austerity.

This word matters. I think it was chosen to describe the government's approach to finance for two reasons.

1) it's more appealing than 'efficiencies'
2) it's laden with good old post war, Brits in it together meaning.

The word was then largely dropped but the process remains in full force. (See the upcoming *massive* real term school budget cuts and the recent parks closure warning as just two examples)

The use of the word makes me angry. It irks me because it's being used as a justification for cuts.

It's become a reason why nothing can get done and the ultimate answer to 'why everything is shit'

Can't afford libraries, mental health service, special education support, disability benefit, buses to rural areas, care for the elderly, social housing and so and so forth? Austerity.

Pay freezes, withdrawal of subsidy for new technology, cutting educational subsidy for low income students, closing per school services and so and so forth? Austerity.

Yet, if we examine the word in the context of British political history we see a very different picture.

Think of Britain in 1945. Think of the depth of destruction, the sheer cost of rebuilding the infrastructure, the streets reduced to rubble, the creaking public services, the huge cost of the war. There is austerity. Life is austere. But it's not hopeless. It's not a procession of cuts, diminishing gains and rights in employment.

There is investment in housing on a scale unimaginable to the modern mind, there is the NHS, the widespread improvement in quality of life and wages. It's worth noting that creation of a meaningful welfare state is not just happening in the UK but is a condition of the reconstruction in the post fascist axis countries.

In essence, the word austerity in that context means 'yes, things are a bit grim, but this...'

It's easy to romanticise the Atlee government and it's wrong to suggest they were as radical or far reaching as they could be (it's the flippin' Labour party for heaven's sake) and I have much sympathy for the argument that in reality the establishment went as just as far as they needed to mollify a potentially revolutionary disillusionment but...

Whatever you think of that government austerity today doesn't have the promise of the reward and rebuilding. It doesn't lead towards any sort of future prosperity. We can question whether government debt really exists, let alone whether it should be paid off, but even this central tennant of the idea is empty. Debt has risen. Growth (which again, we can question as a useful measure) is negligible. By the terms used in conventional economics the policy is useless. It doesn't achieve its own (taken at face value) aims.

I think the point I'm making is this. If the question is 'how do we make things better' then I'm stumped that the answer appears to be a version of austerity that takes the grim bits of 1945 without any of the good bits.

I'm even more confused that for the average person some vague notion of 'strong leadership' seems to be more important than an actual strategy to improve anything.

I meet people in real life who say 'I just don't think there's any alternative' and the point here isn't to bang on about St Jeremy. Far from it. Corbyn is not the new Messiah, he's just a cipher for a lot of disparate (and desperate) hopes. Which is part of his problem really. Though, it is undeniable that he is an opponent of austerity. He might not be the best at pointing but what if he's actually pointing in vaguely the *right direction* as opposed to pointing with certainty and elan in *exactly the wrong direction*

The point is also not to say the answers of 1945 are the answers of now. Again, they're not. Some things would be welcome, but good luck with the nationalisation of the shipyards and the coal mines. Times have changed both socially and economically

The point is, that if we continue to be 'strongly led' down a certain path toward more austerity the only outcome is more cuts, more pay freezes, more dwindling living standards, more declining rights, more precariousness overall.

This is not to do with Brexit. This process was already in place. I'm not going to get into the ideological outrage about the rich/poor divide or who benefits from austerity because i think we often vote from self interest, even when we think we are voting in a socially responsible way. My point is, how on earth are the vast majority of people going to benefit from austerity? What exactly is in it for you?

You might be able to list some emotive arguments like 'scroungers won't get benefits' or 'immigrants won't get solid gold cars' and clearly those arguments are not invalid - you have to be completely blind to the concerns of actual people to right them off. But, (and this is a big point) whatever the rights and wrongs of benefits poverty costs more than keeping people out of poverty.

What essentially I'm saying is - if we stick on the same ideological course (with the strong, business like leader) we face not only losing all the services (and plenty more) listed above but we pay more to pick up the cost of poverty. Poverty equals crime. It equals illness, both mental and physical. It equals children who require more intervention, it denies access to education and self improvement, it equals, ultimately ghettoisation and gated community and unfortunately the bad news is, the majority of us are locked out and even if we aren't, it's a damn sight more expensive than the alternative.

Ok, we might not be contributing to fund 'feckless workshy people' (or people with terminal illnesses or youth clubs or rape crisis centres or jobs) but our private security is essentially equivalent to a tax (that doesn't go back to the government either, so can't be reinvested in anything that may potentially benefit us), as is our spiralling insurance costs and as is the feeling of dread every time we set out in the armoured Hummer.

There are of course complex issues the election is going to be fought on. Of course Brexit is going to be 'a thing' and immigration is not going away (either as a political issue or a real world real problem) but these are the issues that the Prime Minister wants the election fought over.

Now, I would be the first to express cynicism about the democratic process but I've got just enough faith in the intelligence of people and the ultimate logic behind our process to think there is just a slim chance that in 30 years time this is remembered as the Election where Theresa May asked a question about Brexit and got an answer about austerity.

The question of austerity or not is far simpler and far more pertinent than remain/leave. It's also not just a question of whether 'you care more about other people' - it's about your self interest. If you want more grimness, anxiety and general squalor, go ahead and think there is no other way.

If you want to be route marched further towards a low tax economy built on debt repayment with few (if any) safety nets to catch you or your loved ones, go ahead and do what you think is best.

May wants this to be about Brexit and Corbyn's perceived competency. It actually really shouldn't be about either of those things. It should be a test (the first one) of austerity as that is the defining factor of this government and no one has yet (Scotland aside) stood up to this at the ballot box.

Please, stop playing internal politics, playing dumb, playing head in the sand, playing whatever game you play to distract yourself and just consider opposing austerity by the most effective means open to you. It is almost certainly bad for YOU.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Mental journey

Wire fences, pitiful defences against the metal thieves, arsonists, teenagers. Pausing to think. What this space could be.

We own nothing. Spend big, pay later. Tied to a desk, tied to an alarm call, tied to rope, weighted down and sinking. 

The water is murky. The gloom is Stygian. The buildings loom but the reflections are dulled, great hulks over black oil. 

Boarded windows. Bricked up doors. A blank slate. What do you want? 

It seems I cannot dream of flying anymore. Each morning I wake from dreams which are unedifying. Dreams of petty squabbling, dreams of jealous failings or abject mundanity. 

I want to dream of flying or not at all. 



This is England
A flatpack nation
Angry about nothing
that it can put its finger on



Friday, 7 April 2017

"There's always a cold wind here"

Image result for Blackpool spoon

I stop the car. I want a moment to myself. To be still. The space next to me is empty for all of 30 seconds. In a flash of recognition I see family members. We have aged. We have all aged. She has died. We are all here to gather together because she has died. When I see them there is a lurch inside me, a feeling of momentary horror. My moments peace, my chance to stop for a second or two and just be. It’s gone. Selfish thought. True thought. I wanted it. I thought I needed it.  

I think about her. I loved her. I really did. The frail bones and the quiet days of the last few visits nothing against the memory of the life lived, the warmth of a shared joke, the endless cups of tea, the treats, the trips, the gentle curiosity and the time at the age of 25 I pretty much broke down in her front room because I was so lonely and fed up and she didn’t make me feel awkward or stupid.

I steel myself for the awkwardness of a reunion. The stiff hugs and handshakes I can never master. It doesn’t happen like that though. We know why we are here and it’s suddenly ok. I am out of the car, I am cold, but I am glad. We laugh, we talk. I talk, a bit too much, a bit too keenly, but I want to talk, I want it to be ok, I want today to be ok, I want today to be great. Like she was. I want to put people at ease, I want people to feel at ease. I want her to be with us. I want her to be with us because she’d like that. All of us, laughing and smiling and teasing.

The day has already been long. The day has already been an uphill struggle, a trudging route march through surliness and strategic complements designed to put me off my guard. I’ve had to fight today, to sink my teeth into flesh and shake it, to run to stand still, to weigh up how to talk, how to respond, what tack to take. It’s exhausting. It’s draining. I wish I could pretend it didn’t matter, but today it did. I haven’t stopped to think of this moment. I haven’t gathered my mind at all and now I feel like I’m stood at the top of a hill about to career down it. About to head down a waterslide, blindfolded. Cold water. Darkness. The ladder behind me has gone.

Time ticks on. We wait, we mill, we wonder who is coming, How we all have aged. How we amaze ourselves as we look around and see those people we haven’t seen since our childhood. How they have aged we remark. How we have aged we think. Time ticks on.

We mill, we chat, then the doors open. People loiter, anxiously. There is an etiquette apparently. No one has explained it. Someone says something about ‘family first’ but family don’t seem to here and for a moment it seems like no one will go in.

Music plays. I don’t think of music when I think of her. She always gave you her full attention. Music was something she enjoyed in private. Something to keep her company. She was such good company. I think of her, on her own, years on her own, refusing a television, reading, thinking, musing, wondering. I know she was lonely sometimes. I know she was lonely at the end. This makes me cry. Her dying doesn’t make me cry as much loneliness. I see her favourite carer. I think that she wasn’t as lonely as some people are and I feel a bit happier.

I think about it all. It’s too big for me, this day. Too much today has been about the shuddering, shattering reality underneath the dreams we’d like to live. The rhythm of payments, the back and forth of incoming and outgoings, the balance of security, each debt and debit weighed in balance on the scales, all of this in doubt. Life is fragile. Life is frightening, but we cling to it, we skate on the ice, never sure of when it will break but we skate on.

I calm myself. All this seems small now. We have a life lived in front of us. All the detail and small print and the interpretations and argument over outcomes and possibilities stops for us all at some point. I think of life like a chain, each person’s experience overlapping with the next like a link. I think of how she was a connection to a world I could never know any more. Of Lyon’s tea rooms, black and white films, of celebrity Stanleys like Matthew’s and Mortenson (the former ‘self regarding’ the latter more approved of apparently,) of soot blackened Manchester and of handsome service men who would take your heart and walk it on the promenade of a breezy, beautiful bustling seaside town for the rest of his life and wouldn’t live, like you would, to see the brash optimism of your hometown turn from graceful art deco inspired civilised freshness, all green paint and civic pride to a faded, tatty remnant of some other time, all woozy and staggering uncertainly.

I speak. I speak second. The first speech is calm, measured and beautifully well prepared. This was your son. It was everything you thought he was and he does you proud. I don’t know what I’m doing on the lectern. I don’t like the lectern. I’m really not the kind of person to stand still and speak but I do. I can’t remember what I say. I’m good at speaking, but speaking feels like a deception. I’m good at persuading, explaining, cajoling but there’s nothing to explain, no-one needs persuading. There’s no argument with anyone. You can’t debate away the end. I want to say how much I loved you as a person. Your knowledge of art and history, your gentle conversation, full of facts and stories. Your interest in things. I wanted to you to know I liked you, not just because you spoiled me, but because you were like a friend. Not just because you’d press £20 into my hand, but because you made me feel wanted and loved by all that we did. I wanted you to know that. I don’t know if I said that. I have no idea.

The minister has a benevolent look as I step down and take my seat. Then he tells us to take a memory and hold it dear to us. I don’t actually know what he is - he has a collar, but someone said this was non denominational service. I shook his hand at the beginning, but I couldn’t process the information properly. I can’t focus, I can’t think of a memory. All I can do is look around, look at the people around, heads bowed, or staring past the space at front into the middle distance. I wonder what they are thinking. Right now, I’d like to borrow a thought from them, because I’m getting restless. I need a thought, a memory, but my mind is racing too quick and I can’t stop it to focus. It’s producing an absurd mix of strange dreamlike images and everything I try to fix on morphs into something else. I wonder at the thoughts of this reverend, this vicar, this strange man who leads a life of death and marriage, a schizophrenic leap from joyous beginnings to sad endings. I wonder if he is thinking pious and wise thoughts or if his mask is fixed to cover the same mundanity that goes through everyone’s head in their working lives. I shouldn’t be wondering this. I should be remembering.

Then he makes a strange gesture with his arm held out and fingers crooked. Some kind of blessing or a signal to someone else. I don’t know. The curtains close. So soon. It’s like everything from all the memories I could latch onto happening at once, like I’m going to visit on an autumn evening, like I’m a child in the garden, like I’m taking an arm to steady her, like I’m following round a department store, like I’m wanting to stay for another week and not go to school, like we’re being naughty and sharing a cake when we’ve already had an ice cream, like I’m laughing at the lock on the back door’s ludicrous mechanism, like I’m being told to put my coat on in case it rains, like I’m watching her watching my little boy and thinking of my dad watching her watch me and how I must have reminded her of my dad and so on and so on and it’s all there, all at once.  

I cry and my sister hugs me tight. She’s all shoulders and hair, firm and solid and I need her. Just for a second. Just for a moment. I need to cry. I need not to celebrate or remember or follow someone’s instructions on how to think or deal or feel, I just need to drop into the abyss and have someone pull me out. The darkness is like oxygen.

Outside there is more conversation and people are thanked for coming. I don’t know what to do, whether it’s my place to do this or not. I don’t know if they know what to do. I wonder if you ever get the hang of this sort of thing. I suppose, rather grimly, that you do.

I wonder, rather macabrely why we pretend that live isn’t the same as death, why we can’t just accept that life is fleeting and precious and why we wrap ourselves up in so many layers of complete and utter pretence. Why we give it so much pseudo meaning, when really, it’s just essentially that moment of oblivion and being pulled out of it by knowing someone is holding you. It’s just the warmth of someone else, the smile, the hand on the shoulder, the sharing of the burden.

That’s all that matters. I’ll miss her. I was lucky to have her for so long.

Friday, 24 March 2017

The call of a seagull on the bluest of days
A sound you heard, over and over.
The minutes were countless
Until they were done.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The most pointless thing in the world.

I was driving the other day. Driving is bad. But I do it anyway because we live in a world where no one will pay me any money to do anything that combines things I like doing with getting paid in a place where I could feasibly walk, cycle or catch the train to. I'd quite like to burn my car in a ritual ceremony, along with the other vestments of my complicity with the notion of 'career' and 'a stable life' and then head for an island without any mobile signal and rebuild a long abandoned cottage and think about the stars at night and sing to the ocean.

Essentially, I think life is utterly pointless (later in this piece I'll retract this statement) aside from the meaning we construct from the myths we choose to believe and I'd like to go somewhere free from the pollutants of sardonic irony, liberal braying, insane body image, frothing outrage and uber-cool futurism. I just would like to survive and think for myself for a bit.

I'm aware this is a not uncommon fantasy and I'm also slightly suspicious of myself for thinking this way, aware as I am of the fascist 'back to the land' imagery and the dangers of retreating from the world when the going is rough. Something I read that Bjork said always sticks with me though, something along the lines of (and it helps if you read it in a Bjork voice) 'I'd like to live on a rock in sea, with just the waves and world's best speakers') and I think Bjork is just about the polar opposite of Hitler so I'll continue to indulge myself in this fantasy.

Where is this leading? Well, it's leading to the question of the value of things. Clearly, if I'm honest, my statement above about life being pointless is hyperbolic (see!). I've not killed myself and I've not really come close to thinking that way, so obviously I must attach some value to things. This was in my head as I was driving, the idea of value. The things I value, the things other people value. The gap between what I think is valuable and what some other people appear to value.

Why?

Because as I was driving I was reminded, for the second time in a week about something I can't fathom. Something I can't understand on any remotely logical or moral level, or any other level you'd care to throw at me that one could use to measure human reasoning.

The first time I was drawn to this question, I was stood by in a public space with a gaggle of people gathered near me, their attention on what I can only describe as strikingly featureless girl, who appeared to be wearing the clothes from an American sitcom and wearing a subtly strange mask of make up. Despite the lengths she'd gone to to plaster her face, she'd failed to express anything with the make up. Perhaps it wasn't a failure, but a success. I don't know, I'm not especially qualified to judge. It was if she'd applied the faintest sense of a death mask, or covered her face with a thin gauze. I felt like had she not applied the make up, she'd have looked almost identical, just slightly paler. It's not for me to judge the make up habits of others, but it didn't seem she'd made the most creative use of the tools available. Probably I'm a little jealous of the gender norms that deny me access to the urban decay palette and all its glittery mystique. You might think I'm indulging in some questionable reportage here, but trust me, I'll justify this later. It's not a critique of her appearance, it's merely going to be a set up for a point about how her self constructed lack of personal flair aesthetics wise is ironic, given her own excitement over the concept that I've enigmatically described above as confusing me, but not yet revealed. So trust me here and don't dismiss me as a weirdo set out at destroying the body confidence of a teenager for cheap literary thrills.

She was holding court about her new car, her new new car. As in, a car that has that new car smell and isn't full of crisp packets and bottles that might dangerously roll under the brake that you really should remove but it always seems as if you have your arms full already when you get home, so you tell yourself you'll do it next time you get in, but everyday you are on the last possible minute, so tell yourself you'll do it when you get out, but your arms are full and so on on until inevitably once day you die in a head on collision with a teenager in a new new car who has misjudged the need to wait before turning into oncoming traffic and your last thought is 'I really, really should have removed that bottle'

"Yeah, I don't know, but like, I'm getting plates too!"
"Like, plates?"
"yeah, I've always wanted plates"

Here I had to do a bit of mental working out. I doubted she meant a set of travel picnic accessories for the boot and presumed she meant private number plates. There are numerous ways in which, as I age, I feel I lose touch with the desires, passions and fashions of youth, but usually I can understand some sense of what they are doing. Grime = a pleasingly lo-fi way of expressing thoughts and feelings about stuff that you can join in with too! Got that, did that, but with a different sound. Dressing like your gran = rejecting your parent's love of rock and roll cool. Yep. Fuck you the 60s! Looking at your phone all the time to see an inane group chat thing = a bit like sitting in a bustop all night cos only your friends understand you and even though it's minus 2, you want to be there cos you might miss something.

But being 17 and 'always' wanting private number plates?

What the frigging fuck is that about. I could think of literally 5000 more exciting things than a string of digits that vaguely resemble your name and basically say 'I have too much money/I want to give the impression of having too much money/please key my car/I'm a dick/definitely key my fucking car'

What seemed so odd, was despite the way she'd clearly cultivated a personal appearance of striking anonymity, (a generic look of mid 2010s western youth, inoffensive, tasteful brands, ironed hair, aforementioned make up, like an architects sketch of the person who might inhabit a building yet to be built) yet she seemingly was so desperate to assert her identity as unique and special human via the vehicle registration system of the DVLA. (see?)

So there I was a few days later, driving. Which as we've established is bad, but existential stuff and personal number plates and there in front of me is a car. With a personalised number plate.

And I think... 'ok, I've given some thought to this already, but really, I'm struggling with this' - I could just about understand the desire to drive around with your name on the car if you were Bono or something and people might wave to you and shout 'Bono, I like your music, Bono, you are cool, Bono good work with the orphans and the tax dodging you cunt'. Just about understand that. Most people aren't Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton or the other one though and it still seems like a monumentally odd thing to do even if you are the aforementioned.

Do people who buy say D4N11 think people are going, 'oh, there goes Danii. Danii seems great, maybe I could get to know Danii and be a friend, or at least a nodding acquaintance or ideally a devout worshipper of Danii at some point in the future if our paths cross and we're not going in opposite directions at 70 miles per hour and I'm able to recognise Danii without the car and the registration plate to help me' - I don't know, maybe people do strike up conversation in car parks like 'Hey ST 3VE - my borther is called Steve too, great name, want to come to a barbecue?, there's only going to other winners like you there! We're having pulled pork, the wife makes a mean marinade, wait till you taste it' 'Hey, great! yeah, I'll be there'

And what makes it even more confusing is the registration on the car in front is something like X1 CUM. (it's definitely CUM, it's the X1 part I'm uncertain about)

Why pay money to have X1 CUM on your car when you could write BUM, TITS or FANNY or whatever on it for free? In a font of your own choosing. You literally could just tippex 'MY NAME IS DAVE' on the bumper and it would cost about £1.50.

And at this point, it strikes me that I probably think personalised number plates are the most pointless things I can think of and how they serve as a workable metaphor for the twisted values of a world I really don't feel like I understand. And later, when I'm writing this, I decide to work the metaphor a bit and it's more difficult than I imagined it might be, but I do it anyway.

They anger and confuse me on a number of levels. They take no skill to make, no more skill than the normal number plate would do and are valuable purely because of their rarity. There is no craftsmanship being rewarded, no love, no passion, no danger, no nothing. At least diamonds are difficult to get and cut and are shiny and speak to some sort of lost ancient tribal thing of valuing pretty glittery stuff. Like, magpies get that, but find me an animal that understands wanting to pay lots of money for what is essentially a vaguely different code for a thing that is already quite expensive anyway.

I wonder if they are perhaps slightly subversive. A two fingers to the DVLA computer or something, but strike this though down as ludicrous.

I try to think of something more pointless. I can't.

I wonder who makes the money from them. I imagine a bored man on an industrial estate in a breeze block built factory, with a green machine, printing an endless stream of number plates whilst money just flows through the letter box. He is about 55 and is dog tired of the number plate game, but he can't stop. Just has to keep printing one more because he can't bear to let anyone else take his life's work. He knows it's so easy, so well paid, he just can't let it fall to anyone else, even though it brings him nothing but weariness and soulless empty hollowness inside. His assistant put the plates in brown parcels and writes the addresses on them. He isn't remunerated especially well and is just a kid. A bored, slightly nervous kid who the guy on the machine can't warm too. I guess this isn't what it's like at all but the conceit seems quite pleasing in a sad way. I later (actually, just before I wrote this) go online and discover at a glance that number plates seem to regularly change hands for about £5000 and even ones which don't seem to make a discernible word or name sell for £300-£400.

I think about this a little more. In fact as I write this now, I'm thinking these thoughts. We cannot provide homes for elderly people and every time I walk into town there are more people in doorways and the air I breathe seems to simmer more noticeably with the simmering sense of brutal resentment. I haven't got the stomach for a rant listing the ways in which the money could be better used, but what I cannot ever understand is a world where E1110TT is worth £125000, which is about 6 new teachers or nurses or the funding of the community centre or somewhere for all the homeless people to sleep or a rape crisis centre or free school meals for thousands of kids or some new busses or whatever the fuck else you think of that we're constantly told that 'we' can't afford, despite the evidence to the contrary.

I think about how private number plates are a sort of weird metaphor for the kind of trading that goes on above our heads, where money is siphoned out of the actual economy of things and services and just sloshed back and forth between the rich on virtual trades and I feel like the light-hearted observational tone of what I was trying to write has suddenly gone.

And I still can't think of anything more pointless. All I can think is how they are a signifier of how bizarre and destructive our collective value system is.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Car park

Sweet England, skunk scent
Subdued psychosis, sullen violence
Swerving, whirling, circling into the path of on coming traffic.
England does not care.

Monday, 27 February 2017

I truly believe that if I push the stone up the hill then my work will be done.
I truly believe that if I push the stone up the hill then my work will be done.
I truly believe that if I push the stone up the hill, then my work will be done.
I truly believe that if I push the stone up the hill then my work will be done.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Quarried stone

Each step is the water over stones
Smoothed edges
Each step is the receding tide
a pallet knife over sand
Each step is the swell of violence
The crack of shotgun fire
Each step is that which I cannot contain
Myself untamed
Each step is hiding in the shadows
From beaks, talons and hawkeyes

Monday, 20 February 2017

Music - The corpse at the bar.

Words improvised mostly, some improvised and refined, looping pedal, fucked violin and mic + mic looper. 

Hangover bliss.

Taking your chances is like trying to stop the tide going out
Fate leaves you beached
What could have been is the refrain
of the corpses
propping up the bar

What could yet be?
I ask and there's laughter
You never learn.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Endlessly unwinding

You get up and do the same thing you've done for thousands of days. You shivering, hopping ungracefully in the dark trying to put on your clothes without waking anyone else.

You haven't had had enough sleep. You never have enough sleep.

The cup of tea brings enough clarity to your mind to make you seem capable of driving.

The shadow of an unknown anxiety follows you, stalking your steps, perfectly in time. After a while you don't notice it lurking.

If you put the radio on you'd feel worse. Jabbering, braying voices declaring 'the thing is' or 'what we must do' or 'what people must realise' in sanctimonious tones. Nothing really, nothing said in passion or confusion or love or anything that could mean anything to you. Just nothing, the same nothing, arguing endlessly over nothing. Zero plus zero equals nothing.

You're driving, the sun is coming up. For a moment your mind wanders to the things you could do and the places you could go. To the tops of the hills, to the valleys, back home to the warmth of your bed. To the bosom of a great novel about crossing the sea, or flying to the moon.

You keep driving. It's autopilot, feelings switched off. If you are lucky you'll be early enough to enjoy a meaningless conversation with someone you'd never have befriended in any other circumstances and will never see once they or you leave. You'll exchange platitudes or empty gossip about petty work politics.

You'll spend the best part of your day doing things you don't believe in, which have nothing to do with love, passion or confusion or anything you could believe in. You'll be reminded of corporate mantras and you'll be doubly reminded of their emptiness.

You'll eat. The food will be rushed and there'll be more small talk. Ignorant half thought through observation and more gossip and empty politics. You'll work more, you'll think about how utterly wasteful things are and how the people you speak to who are in charge of you seem to reek of deliberate ignorance and a brusque bullish certainty or fearful compromise. You will struggle to respect them. You'll wonder how anyone maintains a semblance of aspiration.

You'll be released from the grind, spat out, thirsty, eyes aching. Onto darkening roads, dazzling headlights. You'll try and try to concentrate as if your life depends on it because your life does depend on it. You'll think again as the hills and the valleys disappear into the gloam of what you didn't do.

You'll think to yourself 'one day' but you'll know it's a lie. You'll wish that if you lie to yourself enough it would be come true but you'll know it won't. You'll switch on the radio and the same voices will drone, irritated, prim, slimy. You'll wonder if they believe their own lies. If they honestly think they are doing anything of any value.

You'll think of the evening and no sooner will it arrive but it will fold in on itself disappear before you've come to terms with it.

You'll sleep, too late and you'll get up again and live the same dream again.

The shadow will be there. Whispering to you. Telling you to remember that it's your fault you see the world like this. Telling you that you need to see things differently and learn to enjoy the world for what it is. That the hills aren't made to be climbed, the valley streams aren't for swimming, the moon is not for the likes of you.

You'll have to learn to believe that the corporation loves and values you with the tenderness of a human caress. To learn to put aside your love, passion and confusion in exchange for a softer, gentler kind of communication about the smaller things in life. 

You can retune the radio, to something more reassuring. Something less provocative. You can search for the hero inside yourself and consider each day a glorious triumph, a new conquest in your own personal march towards some undefined yet almost tangible glory.

And always remember. Your feelings are entirely your fault. Look at the people around you. Grinning, smiling, laughing.

Skulls.

And the shadow will laugh and say 'it's all up to you how you feel, nothing else.'

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Beware the 'bubble' bubble

It's become part of the common conversation - have we all entered int a world of refracting mirrors which just show us what we want to see, endlessly feeding our brain with the way we think the world is or should be? 

Yes, probably, but what of it?

The social media bubble has been blamed for Brexit, for Trump. For subverting the common-sense of the common people who have skillfully manipulated themselves into believing they think something they don't really think + Nigel Farage.

Does this really stand up to critical rigour?

Where was social media in 1933? Were the Hitler youth transfixed by the latest meme, before marching into town and decrying their parents for un-Aryan activities? No. Did they eagerly swallow false news to fuel their new found sense of purpose and direction? Er...yes. But how did they do this without so much as a Nokia 3310 in sight?

Is fascism the product of alienation and economics or of memes?

'The problem is, people just 'unfollow' who they disagree with' 

Whilst, clearly, fostering a broad social base is good for the mind, there has never been a period in recent history where we haven't had a social choice about who we 'hang out with' - We chose our pub, our table in the canteen or whatever, based in part on the fact we loosely shared the values of the people we spent time with.

In fact, it's only since social media's advent have we been expected to 'hang out' with 100s of people simultaneously. It's hardly surprising that we might choose to be, from time to time, selective about that.

'It's the lack of 'proper' news that's the problem' 

Yes, it is. This said, social media gives us access to an incredible diversity of sources if we choose to access them. As much as we pine for the media of the past, the idea of an event like Hillsborough or the miner's strike being so meekly reported and the establishment being able to effectively bury institutional criminality on a massively public scale seems far fetched.

Is there a point here? 

Ultimately, what is disturbing is the assumption that things that don't suit the agenda of the literati can be written off as anomalies, that to blame facebook or twitter for fascism and xenophobia is to ignore completely the route cause. It also is a simple way of undermining any opinion which doesn't fit into the status quo.

It smacks of missing the point. Trump won, because Clinton was crap, because of decades of stagnation, because Obama did little to alter the fundamentals of power, because for the first time in living memory socialism was on the agenda because people wanted to kick at POWER.

Brexit happened because the left in Britain made no meaningful changes to the power structure, because people HAVE seen their identity disappear down a rabbit hole with little prospect of return, because the benefits of the EU seem far away in the midst of austerity where everything is on the line and life is completely precarious. The well meaning statements about how a)little migrants cost the country and b)how actually, they benefit the economy only really work if a) you've got a little spare and b) that statement rings true in your experience. 'The EU brings prosperity and freedom, by the way, we're axing the bus service, slashing your benefits and taxing your bedroom, but if you could kindly vote for things to remain the same, it'd be grand!'

Brexit happened because consistently people ignored communities wrecked by deindustrialisation and believed that gay or black cabinet ministers meant *actual* equality and that these things were more than small symbolic steps which actually didn't change the power structures at all. I didn't notice many government advisers from ex mining towns with a heroin problem for example.

Brexit happened because people believed class to be 'not a thing' anymore and decided because there were no people with flat caps and miner's banners it meant there was no more working class people, so we don't *really need* things like council houses because, keep the tax low, keep borrowing, we're all middle class now!

(What about the shipyards? Woohoo! Gay vicars!)

The celebration of tolerance and diversity is of course, a fine thing. The danger is, when we champion liberal values but don't actually alter the structure of power so those liberal freedoms can be enjoyed by all, we breed resentment which then in turn becomes a threat to the very liberal values we've celebrated. When we show how people are escaping the yolk of oppression and enjoying new freedoms whilst simultaneously pressing the jackboot of power down on the heads of others, we foster resentment. Twitter didn't do this. Economics did.

If I read one more article which says 'white working class men men should just shut up and put up, because insert diversity cause writer feels more valid' I'll scream. It is the white working class who created many of the institutions which now champion equality, who inspired many of the rights we take for granted, who created a beautiful culture of self improvement and education and have a history of struggle as long and as important as any minority group. It is the wilful and deliberate destruction of this power base in society which has led us directly to this point in time and to continue to see this culture as 'an enemy in our midst' or somehow subhuman, or essentially inferior is exactly the mistake that will perpetuate the right's grip on the public. Unless people re-embrace class as the defining inequality or 'minority' group, there is no hope of any sort of populist progressive force arising. The dichotomy of 'safe space culture' vs 'working class culture' is a false and dangerous one. When your spare bedroom is being taxed, that seems to me to be a complete invasion of 'safe space'

Both Brexit and Trump rose out of perception that they would alter power structures. They won't, but our cosy little middle class assumptions about the world don't either.  Bleating about decency makes no difference. Only actual change does. Only if the money is distributed better does decency actually get a chance to flourish. You can stand in your garden and wish for the flowers to bloom. You can lambast the flowers, sing a protest song about the flowers but if the soil is bad...

These things didn't happen because facebook+twitter. Don't be lazy.

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Once upon a time in a far off land...