Don’t bring your difference to my table: a poem.

January 27, 2018

Perhaps something suitable for Australia Day, but for many other days and places too. A poem to help us consider and reflect on much of the nonsense of our world.

Don’t bring your difference to my table

Don’t bring your otherness into my room, don’t bring it to my door, into my home, my country

Don’t bring your arrogant aged, patronising wisdom

Don’t bring your cocky youthful ignorance

Don’t bring your God of war and hate and intolerance

Don’t bring your colour, your gender, your fatness, your beauty, your out-dated misogyny, your vitriolic feminism

Don’t bring your pointless, damaging shit to me

Be silent when I speak

Listen with your heart

So you hear the sameness

 

Look into my eyes, beyond the blue, the brown

Peer beyond my skin, whatever hue

Ignore my hair – whatever colour or texture it be

Ignore my external appearance, the distracting packaging

Instead

Gaze deep inside, into my soul, my heart

Is it not the same as yours?

 

Don’t look for differences

Don’t proclaim your otherness before all else

Don’t make enemies where there are none

 

Wherever we come from

Whatever we believe in

Whatever we eat

Whomever we pray to

Whomever we love

Whatever we speak

 

We are the same

We are human

We are sisters and brothers

We originate from the same one mother

Stop judging

Stop hating

The old, the young, the fat, the rich, the poor, the stupid, the black, the clever, the informed, the wise, the dumb, the hopeless, the sick, the homeless, the immigrant, the refugee, the victim, the lesbian, the homosexual, the transsexual, the foolish

Stop

 

Don’t bring your differences to me

I only want to know how we are the same

How we care about the same things

 

How together we can make a difference (Images from Private Collection)

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Life is Precious: Honouring Ferida.

January 14, 2018

Life is Precious: Honouring Ferida Tasholi.

This is not the blog I had prepared for today but I need to honour one of my friends, one of my former students; someone who was responsible for keeping me writing my blog, to whom I felt honour bound to write something for her to read on a Saturday morning as she had her coffee. I’ve let her down over the last few months and now she’ll not be there to keep me honest in my renewed quest to post regularly again.

Vale Ferida Tasholi, whom I taught in the very first year of my teaching career, who latterly became a dear friend. I am saddened beyond belief. My heart breaks for your family, for your beloved boys and husband. I am angry with a world that takes the likes of you and leaves behind so much rubbish, so many people who do no good, who cause so much damage and pain, who do not add to the planet. You added to the planet: you did that, as a mother, wife, teacher and friend: you were a force for good, you had a positive effect on many people, you made our world a better place. Your death is one of the cruel ironies of life – where once there was joy and sunshine, now there is pain and loss.

I will miss your responses to my blogs, the interactions that ensued; your intelligence, humour and engagement; our recent FB chat about the loveliness of flowers, my orchids that I am managing not to kill! I will miss you nagging me when I miss a week or month. But most of all I will miss having you in my head, as I write, wondering: what will Ferida think of this, will she find this interesting, will she like this? I feel quite bereft and can only imagine how those who were so much closer to you feel. Yes, I have some inkling how your boys are: my mother died too soon as well. You were the same age.

It is cruel. A death like this – sudden, unexpected, unnatural – is hard to take. I sometimes think a lingering death, the struggle with disease, with the likes of cancer is somehow easier: you have the chance to get used to the passing of your loved one. You are preparing for it and when there is a great deal of suffering, as there often is at the end of such diseases, there is also relief at their passing: the suffering is over.

But the death of those before their time is always hard, no matter the cause. Death stalks us all. It is the single common denominator of everything – we are born and we die.

 

So, here’s the thing, the thing we need to remember as we travel through this life. Some things matter more than others. Let Ferida’s death cause us to pause and remember the things in life that are most important:

*Family matters more than work.

*Friends matter more than money.

*Love matters more than anything.

So, take the time to be with those you love, to tell them how much they mean to you, to be kind and patient, to answer that text, to keep in touch, to forgive and make up before it’s too late.

Make sure you look after your own health. Have the check up; lose that bit of weight, keep moving, stay active; don’t ignore that nagging cough, that lump, that persistent pain. Look after yourself in the world – drive carefully, walk carefully, get off your phone, be alert to the dangers of others; keep your mind active: don’t die when you don’t need to. Don’t die before your time. Don’t leave a hole that will never be filled.

And don’t forget that those who are gone, those we really love, are always with us. They live in our hearts, we see them in our children; we remember them when a song is played; when a smell unlocks a memory; when we hear ourselves speaking their words, intoning their wisdom, wondering what they might have done in this situation. And if we’re lucky, they’re watching over us, loving us still.

While we should ‘show our friendship for a man when he is alive’, as Meyer Wolfshiem advised Nick in The Great Gatsby, we should also honour the dead, as the ancient story tellers like Homer did, through stories and songs told over and over again at the fireside, repeated and retold forever. Tell your own stories of those you have loved and lost so others know them too, so they are not forgotten, like Achilles and Hector and Odysseus, the heroes of Troy.

So tell your stories of Ferida; mourn her, honour her and do not forget her. My orchids are for you, Ferida, one last time. (Images from Private Collection)

2018: More and Less for the New Year

December 31, 2017

2018: More and Less

I am making a blogging come-back in time for a New Year – and have some thoughts about how to make it a better year for me. Perhaps my non-Resolutions approach will help you too. I have found over many years that lists of what to do – whether seemingly practical or noble seem doomed to fail, so for many years I have eschewed the idea of New Year anything… But this year I feel it might be time to try again, to re-focus my energies in a way that might work for me. So, welcome to my More and Less lists for 2018. After all, most of us love a good list!

MORE

Writing

It’s time to return to regular blogging as I’ve paid for another year’s worth of platform, as writing regularly is good practice, and as I really do have a lot to say on most things!

I’m also going to be more regular in the fiction realm too: make sure I write for several hours at least once a week; Sundays most probably – to regain the habit of writing there too, of setting a regular time and place and letting habit bring the Muse to the surface sooner rather than later, and therefore allow the next murder-mystery novel to move at a more productive pace.

Movement

Winter slows me, swaddles me in layers and keeps me in the car and inside but it is anything but good for my knees or my health, so I will move more – try to walk every day, try to get some level of acceptable fitness back into my existence. Small steps, modest goals, but more movement will lead to improved fitness and a move away from obesity and declining health!

Reading

I mean for pleasure, just for me. I read a shit-load of stuff every day – mostly less than erudite essays and stories from the great unwilling teen-age beast, but also works of fiction that need to be read and re-visited for work, for the afore-mentioned teen-age beasty. So, I want to read more for me, read something current, something good, something classic that should be re-visited – perhaps a bit of Moby Dick; can I finally get to The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (bought last summer) or get through Eleanor Catton’s Booker winning The Luminaries (started three times)?

Kindness and Tolerance

I advocate kindness all the time: it is one of those seriously under-rated human attributes, something we need a whole lot more of. And if I expect it from others I should practice it more myself. I need to be kinder, more patient with those I love, those I work with, those to whom I am meant to make a difference. I shall work on smiling more genuinely and less ironically at my charges and think seventeen thousand times before opening my mouth and speaking. I like the idea of the THINK steps before you speak…

T – is it True?

H – is it Helpful?

I – is it Inspiring?

N – is it Necessary?

K – is it Kind?

 

Time doing the things you want to do –

This isn’t doesn’t need to be that hard and covers a multitude of sins: spend time doing what you love, what brings you joy – be that your own creative pursuits, being outside in the wonders of nature, being with those you love. Don’t ignore the importance of doing more of what you want to do, what fills your heart – don’t be afraid to be happy, even – especially – in small moments. Don’t fill your days with work and grind and have to, make sure you do somethings for yourself, that make you appreciate the joy and wonder of your life and makes you a better person.

 

LESS

 

Time Wasting on FB, etc

I don’t need it, it’s mostly rubbish and it eats my time in a passive-aggressive sort of way. Yes, I love seeing what my friends and family are up to, I love the cute dog pix, I love the quizzes, I love the interesting articles, I love that it keeps me connected to so many parts of my life, but I don’t need it open all the time, distracting me from more productive pursuits… and neither do you!

On-line Shopping –

This is hard too – I love a good trawl through Groupon, Kaleidoscope, BonPrix, Amazon, Wayfair, Tesco’s but oh, it too is just sucking time from my life. I shall restrict myself to certain times of the year and limit the spending (which was okay until Xmas!!) and exercise more self-control in such matters – do I really need it, where will it go, how can I get it back home (when that finally happens)?

TV –

Yes, this is taking over my life again – once during the PhD years there was no TV, now it seems to be slowly but surely taking up too much time again. I shall simply watch the programs I really like (The Chase, Victoria, Feud, Dr Who, University Challenge, Only Connect, Death in Paradise, Father Brown, The Durrells – oh, see how the list swells and grows…) and walk away from the couch the rest of the time and go and read or write. I shall be more discerning and less zomboid in this matter.

Diets that don’t work

Time to simply adopt a lifestyle change that gets me into some sort of reasonable weight range, allows my knee to have less bulk to deal with, allows wine and cheese but gets me stronger, and prolongs my life. This has to happen NOW – 5:2 anyone?

Being Angry, Frustrated, Feeling Negative –

It’s so easy to be over-whelmed by the negative of life, to wallow in the bad, the evil, the nastiness out there and closer to home. Too much time spent engaging with politics and economics and the cult of the rich and famous does us mere mortals no good at all. So keep away from things that make you frustrated, let the anger go quickly, do not brood on injustices – real or imagined. Accept that it is fine to feel angry, to get upset about things but the key is not to wallow in the negativity of life, not to sulk or brood about life’s many and varied injustices. All you do is hurt yourself, so don’t indulge. Feel the pain, the annoyance, the bile rising within, and then, let it go… You will feel better for it. This is the wisdom about knowing what you can change in your life and what you can’t affect. Negative feelings hurt us, not anyone else, so don’t spend the year hurting yourself unnecessarily.

 

And a Final Bit of More…

Pink, more elephants, more joy and more love – you can never have too many of these things

 

Can I manage this? I think so – less of some things will get me places, more of others will help too. But note this is not an eliminations list, not an all-or-nothing ambition for 2018, and to that end it should be achievable. Is that not the reason most resolutions fail – because they ask too much of us, doom us to failure before we start? We need less doom, less failure, more kindness, more attainable goals in our lives, more small things that will lead to big changes.

Think about how well you know yourself and make your plans for 2018 in line with that self-knowledge, then you will be a winner. Make your 2018 a successful year on your terms. Happy New Year, dear friends. (Images from Private Collection)

 

 

Music Soothes the Soul and Inspires the Mind.

April 9, 2017

Music Soothes the Soul and Inspires the Mind.

What is your favourite song? Can you name just one? No, probably not – it would have to be a personal top ten, maybe a top twenty. I’d struggle to keep to twenty, wouldn’t you?

On Friday driving home from Tesco’s in the bright Spring sunshine the radio played something cheerful and rhythmic – can’t recall the tune but it made me tap my fingers and wobble my head as I waited for the lights to go green and it reminded me how important music is to most of us. That it soothes and inspires, brightens and saddens, and without it we are lesser beings.

And then my mind jumps to the lunacy of an Education system that doesn’t value music or drama or Art or anything creative; ignoring the fact that Britain, London especially, thrives on culture. There are galleries all over London; the West End is full of tourists and locals going to shows; literary festivals populate the country: music festivals sell out fast wherever they are (Glastonbury) and the O2 and other concert halls remain in constant use.

What sort of madness is it that says Music and the arts don’t matter? How short sighted is it to side-line these subjects in school?

Music is for the soul and the heart – it can make you feel better, it can make you feel worse; it can transport you to different times, different places: a different life. It doesn’t matter if you can’t play or sing, you can enjoy music on your own terms wherever you are.

Art and stories make you think, challenge your views of the world, broaden your understanding and give you beauty – of an image, of words. Images and words are incredibly powerful things.

Stories can tell the truth when no other medium can. Art makes us face who we are. Music makes us feel things and rouses our emotions and makes us feel connected. Is this why the powers that be want to shut down the Arts in schools; why they blissfully ignore the plethora of evidence that shows how important music is for learning, for healing, for being human?

 Plugged in- zoned out!

I like the diversity of all the art forms but Music is the one that lives with me every day – yes, even more than writing, believe it or not! The first thing I do every morning is turn on the radio. In the car there is music – radio or CD (is that terribly old fashioned now?). When I am writing there is music – ah the joy of iTunes and a personalized selection on Youtube. I play certain music for certain pieces of writing – stuff to sooth and block out the extraneous rubbish in my brain, or stuff to cheer me up, or take me to a specific time or place – hello Australian Crawl, Split Enz, The Police!

Music can be devastatingly simple or awesomely complex – the Beatles love you, yeh, yeh, yeh and a simple but devastating hook that infects your brain. And then we have the complexity of Stairway to Heaven and Bohemian Rhapsody – in lyrics and musical movements. We have the grunt of AC-DC’s Highway to Hell (even sung by John Farnham – it’s brilliant, find it on Youtube), the madness of Florence and the Machines’ Dog Days are Over and the joy of John Paul Young’s Love is in the Air. Whenever I hear Christina Anu sing My Island Home I well up and suffer terrible longing pangs for my own island home, thousands of miles away.

John Denver has just come on the radio: back I go to sunny days in Tasmania and to thoughts of my father who loved him (we had a dog named Calypso for the song) and to my step-mother struggling to cope with her estrangement from my father and then his sudden death, and playing John Denver as we had our own farewell ceremony after the funeral.

My mother was musical – she could play the piano and I recall a reasonable singing voice. I was useless, only managing the opening of the First Noel on our piano. But all of my children can play – clarinet, flute, saxophone and cello. My mother’s despair over my lack of musical ability would have been salved by the fact that her grandchildren had all acquired her musical skills, unlike her dullard daughter. I like to think she’d have been enormously proud of them, coming to concerts and soirees all the years they were in school bands and orchestras. There you go, a little musical sadness, that she never saw them play, never saw her musical genes living on.

Chris Rea has a special resonance for my beloved and me. The Macarena will always be the song for my big girl; memories of her teaching the moves to girls in Shanghai when we were there on exchange. My baby girl is Shiny Shiny by Hazee Fantasee; a Romantics CD on constant play when she was young that made her sing along and bubble and smile. My boy is forever Sting’s Fields of Gold from when he was in all sorts of musical ensembles at school and sang this.

And my favourite song of all time? Is there such a beast? Can I choose from Bowie, Queen, Zeppelin, Oz Crawl? Yes: it is the wonderful and obscure Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins. It has the most marvelous beat and brilliant sax. It is my ring tone and it must be played at my funeral as the fires consume me.

We take music for granted; few of us can play a musical instrument, but like Fran from Black Books, we must be musical because we have hundreds of CDs, or tunes on our various machines: we take music with us wherever we go. It is part of our soul, our being, our lives. Don’t let anyone tell you the Arts don’t matter, that music is pointless. Got to a live performance of any sort and you will be transplanted to another place, deeper feelings, and an appreciation of the wonders of the world. (Images from Private Collection)

Be Nice: It’s More Important than Ever.

March 26, 2017

Be Nice: It’s More Important than Ever.

There is an epidemic of nastiness in our world. It was evident in this week’s London attack at Westminster when an innocent Muslim woman who walked by the injured/dead pedestrian on Westminster Bridge was trolled for being callous and indifferent to the suffering around her. She wasn’t being anything of the sort but the immediate and vile on-line spewing of vitriol was as ever a knee jerk reaction to an image that suggested a great many things, but was positioned as something to react negatively to. And so people did.

Why are we so happy to take the nasty position? To attack instead of saying nothing? Why do we prefer to be unpleasant instead of kind? Is it simply the anonymity of the cyber-world or is there something deeper and blacker lurking in us all?

What is disturbing from my point of view is that this epidemic is becoming more evident in the young beasties I interact with every day. There seems to be something in the air that is infecting them too. Yes, students have always had a robust relationship with each other: bullying is not a new problem, there have always been cliques, the cool kids, those on the outer. But there seems to be an increasingly callous nastiness to each other: interactions that go beyond teasing, beyond banter. There’s an edge to how they interact at the moment. A harsh disregard for the hurt that is being inflicted on others – be it physical or verbal. If I say something they look at me as if I am mad – it’s okay Miss they know I don’t mean it.

Is this true? Am I missing something here? Is it okay?

If it is okay then we are in a terrible way. Young people who don’t know how to treat each other, who think being casually rude or unkind is acceptable, who don’t actually care about someone else’s feelings, even if it is a friend. But it’s not just young people at school, it is people of all ages, from all over the place. You’re on-line, you read the articles and the comments sections. You know how rude and aggressive people have become. It’s almost expected, isn’t it – get on-line and make as outlandish a comment as possible and wait for the responses so you can get even more outraged. We saw this at its worst (best?) during the recent US election when the comments about Hilary especially were completely beyond the pale. We know of women on Twitter and other places who are trolled with comments wishing they were raped or their children killed.

When did we become some vile, so reprehensible?

The anonymity and comments boards have unleashed a monster that is now utterly out of control. The lack of accountability of these people is clear. Yes, some get prosecuted but the vast majority does not. Freedom of speech is a two edged sword and we have allowed the dark side to over-take us. We seem to have forgotten that being free to speak does not equate with being free to abuse all and sundry.

What should we be doing about this?

Parents must be more responsible for their children’s moral education, for making them into decent citizens, who know right from wrong and the importance of thinking before speaking or acting. Parents need to monitor and restrict their child’s on-line interactions. Not just because it is dangerous out there, but because it is de-humanizing them. The more time a child spends on-line, the less they are able to interact effectively with others – they lose the ability to read and understand emotions. They lose the ability to converse effectively, to listen, to share, to understand that the world does not revolve around them.

Those who run the various social media platforms need to do a great deal more about how they police and punish what is posted on-line. Hate-crimes are all very well, but the everyday hatred that is spewed on various platforms needs greater attention. I’m not sure why Zuckerberg etc don’t get it, why they obsess about breast feeding mothers and turn a blind eye to the myriad other vile and abusive images and messages on their platforms. They need to step up and exercise more moral integrity and not just concern themselves with getting richer at the expense of the moral and ethical decline of the population.

We, ourselves, need to be more vigilant. Challenge young people about their behaviour. Make them read. Yes, I know you are not surprised by this coming from me, but there is a huge amount of research that links reading fiction with being more empathetic and better at getting on with people, and more successful in life. Reading matters more than ever. As a parent take that iPad out of their hands and put a book there. You could even read along with them. Perhaps you need to read more too, more fiction not just shit articles on line that do nothing for your neurons either.

We need to turn away from the noise of hatred ourselves. We need not to support it – call it our where we see it. Not engage in on-line battles; not accept the bias of the media.

We need to be nice – a terrible soft pastel word, much under-rated but incredibly important now. We mustn’t just think that we are, as many people do, but act as if we are. Indulge in acts of kindness, for strangers, but especially for those you love. Say something thoughtful, something kind.

Be positive, see the good in the world as much as you can. (Yes, I know it’s hard but it’s worth trying.) Smile, believe that things will get better, actively work towards making things better; grow things, encourage others, read more; be fully informed, don’t make snap judgments.

If we don’t do something to stem the tide of nastiness, of hatred and vitriol then the world will drown in violence and fear and that’s not a world I want anyone I love about to live in. (Images from Private Collection)

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part 2.

March 5, 2017

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part 2.

And so to part 2 – the crapiness of an education system that suits no-one at all, let alone the poor clients – the students. Think about that for a minute – if we were to adopt a business style of model and had to sell education to students how do you think that would work? Would the client – the student – buy what is on offer today? No, they would not. And perhaps that is a good place to start.

What student would choose to be tested from the moment they arrive at school? What child would choose to sit still all day long having a range of information shoved into them that they struggle to connect to? What child would choose to be measured against others and told repeatedly that they are failing in one way or another from the age of 5 to 18? What student would choose to have no choice about the way they learn or the subjects they want to take on their way to a meaningful career? What child would choose to sit in a room of 30+ other students experiencing a one size fits all education, that doesn’t cater to their needs or interests? What child wants to be invisible in that class of 30? What child wants to put up with the poor behaviour of others who don’t want to learn, who are never consequenced enough by the school system to make them behave? What child wants to spend a year with a teacher they don’t like or respect?

Pal's pals@GCSE

The answer is too obvious. No-one does. Yet this is what education is about for too many students. Too many of them are not getting a fair go in our schools. This is not a surprise to teachers, they, as mentioned last week, have their own suffering to endure, but that does not mean that they are ignorant or unsympathetic to the plights of many of their students – except the ones without pens!!

Most of us know what a good education looks like. Most of know that what is currently on offer is not even close. Students know this too. They know what a good teacher is, what they like about learning, what they don’t like and they are all too aware that what they get too much of the time is not what it could be. They also know, because they are not fools, that most teachers (yes, stress on the most) are doing their best and care about them.

And no, I am not going to talk about those teachers who don’t give a shit who should have been axed years ago, or never come into the profession in the first place. Shit teachers are not identified purely by age.

 

So, let’s to a few specifics of how the current government sector (especially but not exclusively) is failing young people:

 

1.Relevance of the curriculum – a good education should prepare a young person for the world – as a worker and a citizen. It should offer them opportunities to succeed, to take risks, to learn about things that are relevant to their world and then take them beyond that. The challenge is to mix the classics and basics of learning and the constancy of the new. It is difficult, especially in our changing world. Who’s to know what bit of learning occurring today will be relevant when they end up out the other end of compulsory education? So, relevance is tricky. But it is clear that some sectors of education, some subjects, are not being as relevant as they could. Take my subject – take English. We could be doing so much with how the media presents itself, how language is being mangled and manipulated, or reading some very fine modern relevant literature. But what are we doing aside from his royal dead-white-male-Godness Shakespeare, who will be done in perpetuity, even as the final flames of destruction engulf the earth? We are doing 19th century literature, specifically Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, mainly in truth because it is short and like its predecessor on the Literature curriculum, Of Mice and Men (that evil American text) can be read in class if need be, and with many students across this land, who won’t read on their own, it needs to be. J&H is a misogynistic tale of self important/self indulgent privileged white men who think they can play God, where women barely rate a mention. Where’s the relevance in that for your average English child? Oh, no, stupid me – totally relevant after all!!!

 

2.Relentless change – how many times can you change a curriculum? How many times must successive groups of students be the latest victims of the whims of a politician? This current debacle of 100% external exams is unfair and will achieve nothing – only hurt schools and students. Several years ago when shifting the goal posts of assessment became the main game, I had a group of bright and able GCSE students who completed the 20% Speaking and Listening assessment in year 10. But by the time they had got to year 11 the 20% had been abolished and added to the exams and now their assessment was 60% exam and 40% course-work. All their brilliant speeches no longer counted. How is that fair? Just as the year my daughter and her mates had the grade boundaries shifted from the January to June series and made harder for those not doing early entry. How is that fair? How can schools predict accurately and how can students have faith in their teachers or the system when the shifts occur arbitrarily and within an academic year? Certainly my current year 11s who are the latest victim of unjustified change (to 100% exam assessment) are bewildered by this and do see it as terribly unfair.

 

3.Excessive examinations – as they start school, throughout primary, as they end primary school; throughout secondary on their way to GCSE’s, where students can have up to 10 subjects many of which have multiple exams and then onto A levels. Every stage an exam. Every stage a life ending exam. How can students be assessed so often and not feel pressure and anxiety in the run up, and like failures afterwards? The pressure is intense. Students are told repeatedly how this particular set of exams will determine their future, that it is the most important thing in the world. Really, every exam they do is the end of the world? Of course it’s not but the system is designed to make them think so, to make everything a ridiculously big deal. No wonder many of them opt out, or find other dangerous ways to cope. Why would you want to be told repeatedly that you are a failure?

 

4.Teacher turn-over and inexperience – last week’s blog was about the recruitment crisis in education and no-one knows about it better than the students. In some subjects – usually Science and Maths from my 10 years here, but English too – have an extraordinary high turn over: just like a revolving door. The difficulty to attract and keep science graduates is also well known, what is lesser known is the impact that has on students. Consistency matters to them. They want quality and care in their teachers but a very close second to that pair is consistency. A teacher who is there for the year, or even the entire time they are at school. For many young people school is the only stable part of their life and knowing the same teachers will be there matters a great deal. Clearly teacher turn over affects their learning and equally teachers with limited experience also have detrimental effects on students, in terms of their confidence and progress. But when an experienced teacher leaves they are invariably replaced by inexperience. Some students have years of change and inconsistency and we wonder why they turn off….

 

5.Lack of responsibility – Students are not held as accountable as they should be. I realize this point seems to run counter to the last one but there is an issue here. Students fail, sometimes it isn’t their fault – and as said the system is too geared around progress and targets, not learning – but at the end of the day teachers carry the can. And some students in their naïve ignorance think that’s a good thing. If they don’t work then they will fail and the teacher will suffer. But of course in the long term the student does. They fail to reach their target and go onto the course of their choice, or a job, etc. In the end the student fails. They haven’t taken or been given the necessary responsibility along the way, they haven’t learnt through their failures in a safe environment and are in terrible danger of making terrible mistakes that will make a terrible difference to their lives. Responsibility is important, we want responsible citizens, we want resilient citizens and the current system where teachers are always expected to do more does not bode well for robust young people able to take appropriate responsibility for what they do and what they say. Does the world owe them a living? Will someone make excuses for them all their lives? The current school system is telling them it will. This is the origin of the snowflake generation and it does nobody any good.

 

6.Lack of awareness of your average teenage beast – this relentless pressure on exams, homework, targets and progress does a brilliant job of ignoring the life of your average teenager. They aren’t consumed by a passion for learning, they do not want to spend every waking hour thinking about their future, about how to make progress in each and every lesson. They care, to an extent, about education but it is not the centre of their lives and the educational powers that be are fools to think that it is – yet their policies and systems behave as if it is. Young people need a life – they need to play if they are young, be with their friends, be outside, play sport, relax, socialize, be with their families. They are entitled to their own lives, not one consumed by school. Really, why do we pretend that school is all there is to their lives?

 

6b.Lack of awareness of your average teenage beast and the dark side – yes life is radically different for young people these days. Bullying has not gone away but as well as stalking the school corridors it now hides in the dark of their rooms. No parent alive now can be under any illusions about how traumatic a place the on-line world can be. Bullies, sexting, harassment, gangs and Youtube videos: all sorts of nastiness is there preying on teenagers. And as they carry the world in their pocket so they can be monstered every hour of every day and you, as parent, as teacher, may never know – might not know until it is too late. Not to mention the lives of those for whom getting to school in itself is an achievement. Where does homework, or meeting a target or passing an exam rate alongside actually staying alive, of coping with the neglect or abuse that happens at home?

6c.Lack of awareness of your average teenage beast and the growth of mental health issues – self harming and depression are on the rise. As is teenage suicide. Students are under more pressure than ever to achieve, conform and belong. Social media has not helped young people, it has made their world more competitive and threatening. Schools are not equipped for the many students with mental health issues, counseling can be difficult to get and in the meantime many of them drift along in haze of hopelessness, believing there is nothing good or worthwhile about them or their lives. We make a mistake if we think their lives are like ours were – yes we had all sorts of problems but the dangers were easier to spot and the world was kinder and less mad. Today, in an uncertain world young people are angry, frightened and powerless. Not all of them see a bright future.

 

7.Not letting them think – this is the serious and present danger of our education system. Gove’s emphasis on facts and exams means things like thinking and exploring and taking risks are verboten. We don’t want creative subjects, Gove says, because they’re soft, they can’t be properly measured. But the creative arts and English as it used to be before the exam Nazis took over, are what create a thinking, moral, questioning society: subjects that foster curious minds and bright futures for all of us. But, hey we don’t want that in the government systems because we’re too busy teaching a load of nonsense in exams that advance not knowledge or the person or anything. (Note: all subjects allow for thinking and problem solving, I know…)

 

8.One size fits all – despite all the emphasis on differentiation, on planning for differences, in support staff to help a range of students, the reality is they all have to sit the same exams and they are all taught like cattle. Our system still looks to the days when teachers had class sizes of 40 and coped. Well the behaviour was under control and those who failed wore the consequences – namely they were held back, or dropped out because their learning needs were not diagnosed or considered. You sank or swam in the old days on your own. And sadly, to an extent you still do. We all sit in this room because we are the same age and supposedly at the same stage of learning. Even though we know we’re not. And so it goes that many children get lost. They have to be assessed in the same way, regardless of where they are developmentally, of their ability or needs. Never mind that so many children (grown adults actually) can’t cope in exams, that they cannot perform to their best – no they shall all be assessed in the same way. Our friend Mr Gove, and Nick Gibbs seems to be joining in now too, calling that rigor. Most of us call it idiotic. But what do we know, we’re only teachers, and they are only children who have no say at all.

 

So, the next time you feel contempt or disdain for a plugged in teen in a hoodie or wearing a skirt that’s too tight and too short beneath a face trowelled in make up, step back and feel some compassion. For a great deal of our young people school is anything but the best days of their lives. Essentially a succession of politicians and bureaucrats has made it that way and they need to hang their heads in shame. (Image from Private Collection)

 

 

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part1.

February 26, 2017

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part1.

Only people living under rocks, or politicians in their infinite ignorance, are under no illusion that Education in many parts of the world is in melt-down crisis – the UK, the USA and Australia, to mention a few relevant systems that are entirely unfit for purpose and sadly in no danger of getting better any time soon. Who is suffering here: students and teachers. Whose voices are dismissed and not heard: students and teachers. After all, who in their right mind would ask those who know the most about anything what they think!!

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This week in the UK stories are out again about the crisis in teacher recruitment – that for the third year in a row targets for recruitment have been missed. No teacher in the country is surprised by this – not one teacher in Oz or the US will be either. Too many experienced teachers are leaving before retiring and not enough young enthusiastic tyros are coming in the other end. The reasons for this, for both ends of the shortage problem are no surprise, have been clearly articulated for several years now, yet none of those in power are listening. They seem to think that slick advertising campaigns, bursaries for study and the much vaunted Teach First program will make a dent in the problem.

The powers that be seem to willfully ignore the issues and while they do, and continue to blame teachers for the ills of the world then nothing will improve.

Which makes me believe that perhaps they are quite happy with the parlous state of state education in their various parts of the world. After all, we aren’t really talking about private education here … No, we are talking about state funded, government education for the masses. The masses who voted for Brexit and Trump and brought Pauline Hanson back and even returned an Australian Liberal government that has continued to screw the worker and the less powerful since re-election. Think about that for a moment… If you think that right wing, conservative politicians care about the masses you are a fool. You need only look to the appointment of Betsy De Vos in the US to know that things are going to dramatically worsen in the States for students and teachers alike. She’s already said she believes teachers are paid too much…

If they cared, they would do something about funding state education so that it worked (yes, and the health care system too). So that repairs to buildings occurred, so that school supplies could be purchased for all, so teachers could attend Professional Development – especially in this massive time of change (yet a-fucking-gain) and so teachers were paid what they are worth. Yes, state education is a massively expensive enterprise and increasingly – as with health – governments are refusing to spend what is needed to make it work.

Teachers – maligned, over-worked, vilified – are what keeps the whole embarrassing mess from toppling over the edge of the abyss.

Teachers who care. Teachers who consistently go the extra mile. Who work all hours, who spend their own money to make things better, who ignore their own families and lives and even their health. If it wasn’t for caring teachers who go beyond their job descriptions again and again the whole creaking straining edifice would have crashed to the ground years ago.

 

Why is recruitment such an issue? The government here in the UK knows – God knows the teachers’ unions do enough surveys about work conditions and teacher ‘satisfaction’ for want of a much better word. The powers that be know, they just don’t want to face up to it. But let’s spell it out one more time in a simple, easy to read list:

1.Constant criticism from all – politicians, parents, celebs – essentially anyone who went to school and therefore thinks they are an expert on Education. This has been going on for years and continues – it is relentless and then ‘they’ wonder why people leave and why no-one in their right mind wants to step inside a cess-pit of blame and criticism. Really, would you choose a job where you are blamed for everything – where everything you do is wrong, but not the other people in the system?

2.Constant, relentless change to everything – curriculum, exams, assessment, Ofsted criteria – nothing has a chance to bed-in, let alone last long enough to be reviewed and assessed as to it’s worth. Change is not a new thing – I remember sitting in a meeting in around 1998 about the latest changes about to be introduced in the NT and thinking that there’s no point in getting as upset by this as my colleagues were, as by the time the ink was dry on this approved change, something else would be in vogue. I was right – it was an epiphany and it helps me cope here – to an extent. But what is killing teachers in England is the constancy of change – in the 9 years since I’ve been in London we’ve had 4 changes to the curriculum in English – no nothing has bedded in and the kiddies get caught out by it and they suffer more than we do. I won’t even mention the plethora of changes Ofsted has cascaded through to us…

2b. Test, test, test and then test some more. When did education become a series of tests and exams at every stage? What do tests do – tell us things we already know in different ways but what they do more significantly is raise stress levels in students and tell them they are failures almost from the moment they set foot inside a class-room. Oh, and tests/exams/SATs/NAPLAN – whatever you call them – tell teachers and schools that they are failures too. This bit of madness needs to stop too. 100% external exams means teaching to the exam. You ask any GCSE English or Maths teacher in England at the moment and they’ll tell you that’s all they are doing. Seriously, is this the sort of education we want? A legacy of yet another egotistical politician, our dear Michael Gove – dear in this sense meaning expensive and costly NOT beloved.

3.Levels of responsibility – somewhere down the line it went terribly wrong. Teachers are responsible for it all – for students’ progress, for having the frequently mentioned fucking pen, for tissues, for them having breakfast and a good night’s sleep. Oh and we’re responsible for the exam boards whims. Oh, yes we are, as an Ofsted inspector pointed out to me 18 months ago when the grade boundaries were suddenly shifted and we missed our projections. According to him I should have predicted that and taken it into account. Yes, I had to so bite my tongue. That’s the nonsense level of responsibility we work within. Every other bastard in the system has an excuse, so classroom teachers carry the ever increasing can of shit. Accountability is all well and good and fair, but being responsible for everything that moves and shakes and sneezes and shits in your working world is plainly nonsense.

4.Life-work balance – we’re back in the dark ages of vocation, where people became teachers because they were ‘called’ to it and it would be their life and therefore nothing else mattered. When I first began teaching it was a lovely normal sort of job, where I had time to plan good lessons, kept my marking up to date and had a lively and interesting social life. I worked in the evenings or half a day at the weekend to make it all happen but it didn’t stop the rest of my life. When I had small kids I was Head of English and seemed to manage it all – family, friends, extra study, a husband. But now there aren’t enough hours in the day. The expectations are extreme. A number of my team struggle to keep all their balls in the air and it’s not because they aren’t good teachers who aren’t working hard enough. It’s because the system wants too much from them.

5.Behaviour and student needs – this is linked to the responsibility thing. An increasing amount of students are less and less inclined to own their own behaviour. They are not, for want of a better word, socialized – they do not know how to behave and have to be contained and controlled all the time. What do you think happens to learning then? And there is an increase in the needs of students – of students being identified as having ‘special needs’. There is an argument that this is progress, that students are no longer labeled at thick or stupid because they don’t understand or can’t learn in a particular way. Yes, that’s very nice but what about the poor teacher who already has 30 in her class and no support and has to plan for that child too? How do you think that happens? How do they find the time to plan for all the needs in the classroom??

6.Pay – while many teachers down-play this angle, I think it is significant. Teachers carry the future in their hands – we shape the future, for better or worse. So, if the future matters and if you want smart, driven, caring people entering the profession then pay them what they are worth. Education is at the core of a productive, intelligent, creative caring society. Teachers are the centre of that core – the magma of it all, so pay us what we are worth. Increase the status of teaching and people will stay and the right ones will chose it as a career. Remember Walter White from Breaking Bad would never have ended up wreaking all that murder and mayhem had he been paid a decent salary and was able to access affordable health care…

7.Trust – the system does not trust teachers – read this to be clear about that https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/a-broken-system-progress-gcses-and-sats/ … Hence the constancy of criticism, the constant changes to stop us cheating or ‘gaming’ the system, the odiousness of observations and Ofsted, the prescriptive nature of the curriculum and assessment regimen. I am not trusted to select texts or topics suitable for my classes. I am not trusted to assess them fairly. I have to be observed frequently, my marking checked, paper work submitted to those further up the food chain. I have to have meetings to explain and justify what I am doing. And now, as mentioned in 2b I am preparing students for 100% external assessment by exams. Yes, because I am not trusted to teach and assess fairly and objectively. Never mind that the system created the cheating, no, blame the teachers (and the senior management who endorsed and encouraged this) who have to meet ridiculous targets and so cheat. What other profession suffers under such scrutiny, such a lack of trust in their professionalism??

 

This list is not a secret. It is not something I know and no-one else does. Teachers are unhappy people, their hands are tied by systems and people who know nothing about education, about children and their world. Our education system is run by people who don’t have the first idea of what it is like in a classroom. Most of them wouldn’t last 5 minutes in a secondary school – they would find your average teenager frightening and not know how to speak to them, let alone control them for 45-60 minutes and actually teach them something.

 

Where education is thriving in the world several simple things happen: 1.Teachers are respected; they are valued and important members of society and usually paid accordingly.

2.They are not blamed for the ills of society. The education system is centred on knowledge not testing, on the child learning at its own pace, on sound educational pedagogy – remember that, Piaget, etc??

3.And, importantly, the education system is about the relevant society, what it needs, what its aspirations and desired future is.

This is Singapore and Finland, the places we look to for inspiration. They are not cherry picking bits and pieces from other systems and mashing them together. Their education systems are thought out, considered, be-spoke for their needs. Changes do occur, but not with the whirlwind destruction and rapidity of ours.

Why don’t we stop this constancy of change and listen to teachers, the ones in the middle of the mess, the ones who have had enough, who know what should be happening? Why don’t we ask the students what they want, what they need?

*Next week: the student perspective. (Image from Private Collection)

Time to Read, to Know and Understand

February 19, 2017

Time to Read, to Know and Understand

Reading is always the way to knowledge and wisdom – often there is more truth in fiction than in anything else you read – especially in these worrying days of alternative facts and fake news. Yes in this post truth world you will find more honesty and truth in novels. So now is the time to remind yourself of the classics you should have read, or to reacquaint yourselves with those novels from your past that have – perhaps sadly – more resonance now than ever before. Here’s a rundown on some of the more pertinent classics that reverberate even today.

 

Dystopian ‘Realities’

1984, George Orwell

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

The Handmaiden’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

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Now, more than ever you need to take on the brilliance of Orwell – too much prescience for one writer. Return to 1984 and Animal Farm with horror at how the world changes and shifts and learns nothing. Too much has come true, too much of what we thought was outrageous fantasy is coming true. Revisit the under-rated Brave New World (an easier read that 1984, as I recall) and Atwood’s classic and tremble. There is, of course, The Hunger Games and many other novels who explore ideas of totalitarianism gone mad but these are excellent and relevant starting points.

 

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

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Not going to say that these are my favourite reads of all time but they tell classic tales of desire, love, lust, abandonment, injustice and the excessive amount of suffering love causes us all. You need to know the classics of love and loss – at least they should make you feel better about your own love life. Emma Bovary will certainly cheer you up, as will Anna Karenina – none of us could be as miserable and bereft as those two, and you need to get over Colin Firth as Mr Darcy and actually experience the original 1813 version. And if you’re going to read only one Bronte, Wuthering Heights is the one: you need to see what a bastard Heathcliff is and how unworthy Cathy was too. You can’t go passed Great Expectations for one of the bitterest spurned lovers in literature – the demonic and manipulative Miss Havisham: if you want to know about revenge she is the go-to oracle. Poor Pip, he never had a chance with Estella. No, what we think love is from the classics probably isn’t …

 

Angry (lost) Young Men

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

American Psycho, Brett Easton Ellis

Hamlet, Shakespeare

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We have too many angry disenfranchised young men in the world at the moment – they’ve always been there, a lot of them going off to die in war, or flinging themselves about recklessly on the sporting field. Now they have grown up and are running the world. Remind yourself of what happens to boys alone on an island without rules, adults or girls in Lord of the Flies; how utterly bereft and miserable Holden Caulfield is, almost as mad as Hamlet, but none as mad as Patrick Bateman. Yes, American Psycho is a difficult and offensive read, but it shows a chillingly dark side of men gone seriously off-course and what damage can be done by those who think they are above the law!

 

Shitty Pointlessness of War

All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

Catch 22, Joseph Heller

Sophie’s Choice, William Styron

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

Poetry of Wilfred Owen

Gallipoli – yes, I know it’s a film but it is bloody brilliant

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War is shit, war is stupid, war kills and destroys and never solves anything, yet war is one of the enduring features of mankind. We are aggressive, destructive creatures, we would rather wage war that negotiate a peace. War rages on our planet still, we learn nothing from history and despite this literary collection from different wars and countries, we keep on going. Read and recoil with horror – war may have led to technological advances and helped the status of women in some countries (and absolutely screwed them over in others), but mostly it leaves a trail of intergenerational damage that echoes and reverberates over time and place. Watch Europe implode in the wake of Brexit, forgetting the very reason for the European Union in the first place.

 

Stolen Generations (Oz)

Capricornia, Xavier Herbert – don’t just watch Australia

Radiance, Louis Nowra – great play and excellent film too

Rabbit Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington Garimara – based on a true story, watch if you don’t want to read it

My Place, Sally Morgan – personal history but you need to read it!

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All Australians need to know more about their history – yes we do have a shameful past and we need to know about it and acknowledge it. Capricornia is Xavier Herbert’s classic story of the far north, of how Aboriginals were treated, how we built our national character – the lone, tough bloke of the outback. Have a read, it’s not the novel you think it is. Radiance is a brilliant play about the complexities of the Stolen Generations issue, and Rabbit Proof Fence and My Place give the issue heart and substance.

 

The American Dream

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

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We all need to understand the American Dream, it isn’t just part of the American consciousness but ours too, given how dominant American culture is. The American Dream is akin to the Oz idea about being The Lucky Country. It is a capitalist construct, a belief in the power of the individual – if he (usually it is he) is driven enough, ambitious enough and hard working enough then he can have the life he dreams of, no matter how big. America is built on being the New World, the place where you can begin again, re-make yourself and be whoever you want to be. Status and class (fixed entities in European and especially British society) do not matter: hard work and ambition does. Witness true life American Dream winner, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gatsby is the best known example of the AD, but you need to read Of Mice and Men too, it shows the other side of the coin; men with small dreams but destined for failure. Is the AD simply an illusion, something used by the powerful to beat the weak with? If you worked harder, believed more then you would be successful… so if you fail it’s your fault too, despite the massive amount of entities ranged against you. It takes away the responsibility of the state, of government to look after anyone. If your life is a failure it is your fault. Read both novels, they won’t take you long, but they’ll give you a handy insight into what makes large bits of the US tick.

 

The System Always Wins

1984, George Orwell

The Crucible, Arthur Miller

Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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Perhaps this is the nastiest reading list for modern times. Justice and fairness and the truth are not part of these sad stories. The hero loses, every time. The system is ranged against them – not interested in truth – definitely not in The Crucible, where hysteria reigns and common sense is outlawed, or in 1984 where there is only Double-speak, and the Ministry of Truth, simply isn’t. Fairness and justice is never on the table for Tess or the characters in The God of Small Things. Ivan Denisovich will die in the gulag, after being beaten, starved and worked to death. You just can’t stick it to the man, when he has everything on his side and you are the size of an ant.

 

There are other classics you should know and read – a whole raft of Shakespeare, one for every occasion! To Kill a Mockingbird springs to mind as does Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. All relevant to the difficult times we are currently experiencing. This is just your set to start with.

What will you re-read to help you make better sense of our sense-less world? What would you add to this list? (Images from Private Collection)

2016: Traumatic and Toxic

December 28, 2016

2016: Traumatic and Toxic

Well, it was a year wasn’t it? A catalogue of death and damnation and one wonders, given we still have a few days to go, what else might befall the planet?

Many years are much the same as others, and pool and blur into an indistinct hue once the moment has passed. Some years we remember: those where we succeeded; where lives started; where we met important people; where we traveled; changed jobs, and yes, lost loved ones.

2016 could be called our global annus horribilis, just like the good old queen had a few years ago, when amongst other things Windsor Castle managed to go up in flames. 2016 has seen the passing of many of the greats of the entertainment world – we kicked off in January with the death of David Bowie, followed swiftly by Alan Rickman and the floodgates whooshed open. I am not about to list the plethora of passings – it is too many to mention. Some celebrity deaths bit harder than others and in our celebrity saturated world it became impossible to keep up with the tributes and the ceaseless march to immortality. Once rock n rollers died young or faded into obscurity, this year they died in greater numbers than before and not the young and not from celebrity excess. No, we lost them to cancer, and illness and oddness (Prince, what actually happened there?) and to a more limited extent old age – Leonard Cohen was in his 80’s.

There must be something in the air, some cosmic disturbance of the energy surrounding the planet, something that has shifted us off orbit and decreed this a year of death, disaster, and disturbing changes.

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Has this been a particularly savage year or is it just a symptom of age: of the age of the departing celebrities, our own ages and of our modern age of instant information? Once the spread of such news would have taken longer. But we knew within minutes of the public announcements that our beloved stars were gone. George Michael died on Christmas Day – we knew about it Christmas night. I was just getting used to Rick Parfitt (Status Quo – the morning music of my youth thanks to my brother, blasting it through the house as he ate his cornflakes, toast and Vegemite) being gone when there was George Michael, one of the iconic music figures of the 80s & 90s, gone as well. And, as I write, Carrie Fisher has died too.

Some deaths will effect some more than others. Yes, there was so much about Bowie, it was hard to ignore and yesterday BBC Radio2 was devoted to George Michael with a bit of Status Quo thrown in. Some of these artists had a massive impact, their songs marked people’s lives; they meant something beyond just great music and amazing performances. Celebrities matter these days and ones that were around for key moments in our lives are mourned like friends, are missed like friends. So, for some it has been like being in the ring with Muhammed Ali, whom we also lost this year, or the like – going the twelve rounds, getting knocked down, getting up only to be knocked down by the next death blow.

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Celebrity deaths are traumatic things but the increasing toxicity of the media is perhaps far more to worry about this year. Several brutal and vicious elections were contested. And to continue with the boxing analogy, the gloves were well and truly off. The EU referendum in the UK was vile and ugly. It marked a low point in an area of life where we have come to expect gutter like behaviour: politics. As you well know I am no fan of Michael Gove, and everything I loathed about him was on display; arrogance, lies, contempt for all and sundry, no care for ordinary people, only ever about his own agenda. Never mind that both sides ignored the consequences of a campaign run on sound-bites and misinformation, never mind that a politician was murdered and that hate crimes and racism has spiked since Brexit, all that seemed to matter for Gove, Boris, Farage, Cameron and Osbourne was their opinions, their agenda, their egos; no, nothing really concrete or honest about what was going to happen next. I guess the best thing was that many political careers were wrecked in this democratic farce but what are we left with in this brave new world of looming UK independence and the lurch to the ultra-conservative right?

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Across the pond the unthinkable happened and an ‘unelectable’, sexist, racist, hatred spewing geriatric was elected. How did the world get Donald Trump as president of the most powerful nation on earth? Would Hilary have been better? Who knows … But at least she had some experience and has spent her life in public service. The Donald seems only to have spent his life in service to himself. And why did so many people who were not his natural constituents vote for him?

No, I would not have voted for him, just as I did not vote for Brexit but the fact that so many did and effectively voted against their own self interests (you too, Australia) does make me wonder about democracy and the blatant lack of consequences for those elected on ridiculous promises they have no intention of keeping.

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Regardless of your feelings about Brexit or Trump, or about who deserves to win, what is most reprehensible about both of these elections has been the unprecedented level of vitriol, misinformation, false news and outright lies. But no-one seems to really care. Hey ho, another politician has lied. More tax breaks for the rich, more pain and restriction for the poor and less able, in the US, UK and Australia too. Do people get the government they deserve when they are so deliberately misinformed about what is happening and what will happen when the election is over? Do ordinary people really deserve this level of toxic contempt from those who govern us?

And let us not ignore the media in this – the legit media – whoever they are these days and the alternative media, who may or may not be giving a thoughtful alternative to the gate-keeper news of the big papers and big networks. Where does this level of bullshit come from? Yes, the various media and tech barons across the world. Do you really think Rupert Murdoch or Mark Zuckerberg aren’t influencing the masses, making normal folk vote the way they want? Mr Face-book himself needs to take a long hard look at the amount of acerbic vitriol that was parading as news on his platform, his octopus like platform with tentacles across the world poking into the impressionable minds of all sorts of unwary, unwise people. Does he think Face-Book did not influence the US election, does he really think his locks and bars stop the shit getting through? As to Murdoch, why is such an odious old man allowed such power, enabled by slews of policy making wonks to do his bidding?

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How do you tell real news from fake news? How do you tell what is a toxic real story and a toxic made up story? Why are we buying into the slanging matches that are the comments on various articles, where we seem to prefer to ignore the argument and go straight for the personal attack? If people disagree with our view then clearly they are stupid, and should die or be raped, etc. Yes, these are the sorts of comments that are now common-place. There is no space for disagreement, you are either with me or you are the enemy. And so we scurry to safe places, behave like snow-flakes, ignore unpalatable truths and live in an ever increasingly dangerous world.

Perhaps this year’s gaggle of dead celebrities have seen too clearly how the world is turning to the dark side and have got off?

It’s been a shocker of a year. Not one to be repeated, but I fear things will not suddenly be better in 2017. Perhaps the death rate amongst the talented and exalted may slow, but the toxic state of the planet is not going to suddenly turn and shift to the light, move back to some sort of balance.

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Your job, dear reader, is to learn from this horror show of a year. Hold your loved ones close. See your old bands and favourite musos before they go. Do your best to behave with honour and decency. Do not get pulled into the vortex of bile and slander, on-line or in life. Teach your children well, lead them to truth, let them discern the lies, enable them to stand up for themselves and what is right without resorting to violence and verbal assault. In the old Aussie Rules parlance, let’s play the ball and not the man. (Images taken from Private Collection)

Silly (Sound) Advice for Serious (Scary) Times

November 13, 2016

Silly Advice for Serious Times – up-dated in light of recent events

It’s dangerous out there, so take care. Watch your back, shut your mouth, don’t post and be as kind as you can. If you can’t then here’s a few bits of advice, some silly, some worthwhile …

Don’t swim with the sharks (or the crocodiles). They can take nasty great chunks out of you, rip your limbs off and kill you. This occurs in deep water, shallow pools and on dry land. Dry land sharks are the most deadly, especially ones at work and in the pub – you should avoid wolves too. The problem with swimming with sharks is if they don’t eat you, you could just as well become one of them and that maybe much worse.

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Don’t play in the traffic. Keep to the paths, avoid cyclists, women with prams, teenagers with iPods, hoods, scooters, old people who dodder along and get in your way, anyone with a phone. Don’t cross the road without looking, use traffic lights but still look, listen, look again. There’s too much traffic, most of it going too fast and not remotely interested in pedestrian rights. Navigate skilfully and you will not get hurt. Get off your phone – look up once in a while and you’ll see what’s about to hit you and get out of the way.

Don’t pet strange dogs. All dogs other than your own are strange and can be relied upon to behave strangely. Always ask the owner if you can touch their dog before doing so. Don’t presume anything. If you are a post-man keep clear of all dogs, they know you hate them. If you are a representative of any religion or political party and you get too close to a strange dog then expect the worse. Dogs have an uncanny sense for shit people and will bark and bite, as they should.

Zanz

Don’t tweet, email or FB rudeness about your boss or colleagues, or use your work email for other ‘stuff’. Oh God it is so tempting but you will regret it, sooner or later. So slag them off in the pub, loudly and then claim you were drunk and can’t remember. The spoken word can be denied; the written one will always bite you on the bum. Nothings changed here – keep your work-place nice, keep your electronic communications relevant, and keep your thoughts and fingers under control. Think about how much trouble emails have caused poor old Hilary.

lion

Don’t work with children, old people, sick people or criminals. The caring professions suck, you don’t get paid enough, are blamed for the ills of the world and you are more likely to be abused by your charges than appreciated. You have no authority, are constantly told what to do by others and are expected to take responsibility for other people’s shit – literally and metaphorically. Don’t be a banker either, find something that makes you happy and keeps you afloat, financially speaking and doesn’t cause the planet any more pain. And for God’s sake don’t be a politician – yes, they have becomes the scum-bag profession of our time.

Pal's pals@GCSE

Don’t believe that books are dying. The publishing industry is alive and well, just diversifying. People will want to hold a book in their hands a bit longer; students will want to scribble and underline key points; people like to unwrap books on Xmas Day. Video did not kill the radio star or the movies so e-books are not killing real books. So, as you start to gear up for Xmas put some books on your list and save the life of an impoverished writer.

books

Don’t believe that the end of the world is nigh. It’s been grim for some parts of the world forever – think Africa and Indigenous peoples of the world. It is a time for caution, for not being greedy or reckless. It’s a time to take stock of what you’ve got, look after what’s important, shed the rest. The world is rich enough for all of us – it’s greed that’s killing us and the planet. Do your bit to make your corner of the world a kind and hopeful place. Grow flowers, help others when you can, always be kind – small words of care go a very long way. Don’t under-estimate your own power to do good and make a difference.

nice flowers

Trump is not the end of the world. But he needs to be the end of the way political campaigns are run – on lies and sound-bites and hostility. I do not recognise this as the world I was expecting to grow old in. Politicians and the Media need to be accountable. They need to take responsibility for the mess we are currently in: for the divisions in society, for the hatred that has been unleashed on both sides of the Atlantic in the wake of Brexit and the US election. Now it’s time to make those in charge, those who make decisions for all of us, accountable. We need to shout at our law-makers, our politicians and demand better. Bravo Lego for disassociating yourself from the Daily Mail because you no longer will be associated with their Hate.

Greece2

We need to take a step back from the noise and the flashing lights and the hysteria and breath. Things need to change. We need to take personal responsibility for that change too – protest, lobby, get involved in positive actions. But you know, sometimes what seems to be a disaster turns out to be a new beginning.

 

Fingers crossed, world. xx (Images from Private Collection)