Archive for October, 2012

Mid week poem – Disappointment

October 31, 2012

Disappointment oozes in my blood

Boils my brain with the hopeless feeling of oh no, not again


Promises are made, soft words of high hopes

The moon is ours if only we believe and trust

And deny all that we feel in our gut


Darkly, slyly, creeping like the mist up the turgid river from the turncoat sea

You moved in like a gathering storm

A grinning front, leading us into a grey impenetrable darkness

A surge of disappointing déjà vu and here we were once more nailed to our

Wheels of fortune, of blame and recrimination

Of failure and inadequacy

You thought you saw (what?) so you accused, you blamed

We sighed, exhaled, here we go: let’s repeat the refrain

Hunting the bottom, finding the flaw, squandering good will


Oh, how much worse it is to be fooled, led by the nose

Into the field of bloody, boggy betrayal

Of arrows at dawn

Of stalking assassins in the corridors and rooms of our castle

Of smiles that dissemble, then sling the mud based on ephemera and lies

Do you know the enemy, where she skulks, waiting for you?

Your very own Thane of Cawdor


Do you wonder that we despise

And despair once more, immured in the squalor of our disappointment

Brought by you to our intrepid door

To our stoic hearts

Tenaciously fighting against the entrenched tides of ignorance

And over-whelming arrogance


Who are you to disdain us

To condemn us

To accuse us of being second rate

Of not being able or worthy or mighty?


It is you who falter

You who are deceived by your elevation

Your foolish counsel, your belligerent, ignorant generals

Your inexperience

You, fresh prince-ling, with your schoolboy bullyboy tactics, your Stepford strategies

You know not the trees from Burnham Wood

It is you who fail us

You, who disappoint Us (Images courtesy Google Images)

October’s Recipe: Potato Top Yum-mince Pie

October 30, 2012

This is the epitome of easy – and it takes no time at all. This easily feeds 4-5 with generous servings. Excellent all year round, but especially in winter, great as left-overs too. Just an all round fabulous little feast, really: and economical too. Just don’t buy really cheap mince as too much will end up as fat to be drained away. A medium quality lean mince is best. If you want to extend the meal add more beans. Cheese needs to be medium-mature, not low fat as it won’t melt and colour well enough.



400-500 gram of beef mince

1 decent onion

2 tins of baked beans

1 tin of corn kernels

4-5 medium potatoes – cooked

shredded cheese – as much as you like


1. Boil potatoes for usual time – not over cooking as you need to slice when cooled and potatoes that are too soft are impossible to slice. Skins on is quite acceptable. Drain and cool – in the fridge if need to hurry things along.

2. Fry onions in oil til soft and brown – you know, when they smell good!

3. Add the mince, brown. Drain off any excess fat. Remove from heat.

4. Stir in tins of baked beans and corn. Make sure all ingredients are well mixed.

5. Decant to a glass or ceramic oven-dish – shape and size are immaterial but the surface area will determine how many potatoes and how much cheese you will need.

6. Slice potatoes and cover the mince mix, pressing slightly into the surface. Try to ensure there are no gaps.

7. Spread cheese over the top.

8. Cook in moderate oven 30-35 minutes or until cheese has melted and is a lovely golden sun colour.

Serve with peas and boiled potatoes, or salad.


(Images courtesy Private Collection)

The Artistic Paradox: Need spirit of a marshmallow, hide of a buffalo

October 27, 2012

Just as there is a fine line between pleasure and pain (oh how I loved thee, Divinyls) so there is a gaping chasm at the heart of every artist. In order to create you do need a soul more sensitive than others, a sensibility a bit more fragile, a world view that does not accord with the masses, which puts you inevitably and invariably on the outside. What else can it do?



The artists role is to sit outside, to view the world, humanity and its infinite foibles from a distant land, so they/we can comment freely, unhindered by the norms that stem creativity, the imagination: ART.




The artist is soft, gentle, searching: sensitive. They have to be or they cannot do what they do: look, see observe: find things that we do not, see the world as it really is and make us see it anew, different, real or unreal. We must have artists in our lives, our communities to comment on the world and shape it for us.




But the artist is caught. She has to be sensitive, but she wants to be heard, read, viewed. And that means exposing yourself to the public; to ridicule, rejection, venom, ignorance: even death.



How does the artist reconcile these two opposing axioms – the necessity for sensitivity and the need for a public?



The public is quixotic, cruel, adoring, lambasting, forgiving, understanding, ignorant. How does an artist survive in the face of this?

Sadly some cannot manage this. The road to public acceptance, let alone acclaim, is riddled with dead artists, with those unable to withstand the brutality of their public lives. Consider the alcoholics: my beloved Fitzgerald, and Dylan Thomas. And the tormented: Van Gough, Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Frida Khalo, Mark Rothko and of course, Kurt Cobain.




Please feel free to correct me but I don’t think scientists top themselves with the monotonous regularity that artists do.



What does this tell us? That the imperative to create kills? Or is the critic, the rejecting agent, the cavalier reader, the careless reviewer, the indifferent public– do they drive the sensitive, the fragile gifted ones amongst us to the precipice and then without a thought, with a casual throw away line: ‘I don’t love it enough’ tip us into the abyss?



It’s hard to wrap your marshmallow heart inside a pachyderm’s hide but it is what you must do. Withstand the storms of criticism, the cruel winds of rejections, the swamps of ignorance and get your message out. An artist needs to be heard, they want to be heard, appreciated, challenged; they need to know that they have reached someone, that their work has a point.


Do not be like the house that has withstood the cyclone only to crumble in the summer breeze. (Images courtesy Google Images)

Getting Published – Never mind the story: It’s All In The Initials

October 21, 2012

So, you’ve written something wonderful. Fan Fiction loves it, your friends love it and of course your mum does. It’s a timely topic, on trend, actually it’s well written so shouldn’t you be able to find an agent and then a publisher, therefore reaching your much dreamed of wider audience, not to mention some money (so you can give up the shitful day job) and the divine pleasure of holding your very own book with your (possibly pseudonymous) name on the cover?

You know what, it’s not going to happen. Well written doesn’t cut it. You don’t have to be eloquent, erudite and expressive, you just have to be engaging – whatever that really means. You do need a story that somehow grabs the imagination, that taps into the zeitgeist of the times and if you manage that then you are away – home and hosed for the rest of your life.

And, well done you. You may have written something truly banally awful but if the great unwashed public eat it up, who are the critics, or the bitter unpublished writers to comment or complain? Not everyone wants to read the latest Booker or Costa winner, do they?

But here’s something of note, dear reader. The last two block busting best sellers have been women (okay, that’s good) but women without a first name on their books. Instead they entered the published world with their initials. Yes, the much loved, revered, reviled, envied, JK Rowling and EL James.

Further musing on this matter led me to PD James, also a mega-seller in her field of crime writing. Fantasy has JRR Tolkien and kids books have AA Milne. Both hugely popular still and well loved. These two have stood the test of time but will our mega-selling ladies?

But wait – there’s much more. Consider:

JD Salinger and Catcher in the Rye – all time classic with the unreliable Holden Caulfield as the epitome of the teen anti-hero

CS Lewis – JRR’s mate – equally loved creator of classic kids fiction – hello Narnia

DH Lawrence – oh did I love Women in Love and The Rainbow when I was at uni

LP Hartley – the Go Between where ‘the past is another country’

EM ForsterWhere Angels Fear to Tread, A Passage to India; Merchant Ivory’s muse there for some years

RL Stine – he of Goosebumps who saw my boy through early childhood and sells millions

SE Hinton – she of the famous disengaged teen novels of the 70s & 80s, part of my early teaching days – Rumble Fish, The Outsiders, That Was Then, This is Now

And the poets: WB Yeats, WH Auden, TS Eliot, ee cummings:  and AB Paterson, AD Hope – de rigeur as an Ozzie child to read and know both!

Plus: AS Byatt, HE Bates, GK Chesterton, HP Lovecraft, JB Priestly, HG Wells, JG Ballard, JM Barrie, JM Coetzee, RL Stevenson, TE Lawrence, VS Naipaul, etc

What does this tell us? Well both Rowling and James were more lucky than anything else. We all know by now that neither writer is particularly gifted in terms of crafting or beauty of language. Yes, I have read 6 of the 7 Potter books: my stamina failed me at the end. Too much crappy writing for too long meant I could not endure the finale. I have read one page of Ms James – some utterly banal dialogue that flouted all the rules of dialogue – to reveal character, to move the story on, to break up the narrative for a bit – such that I was mortally wounded by its wretchedly wrought writing and couldn’t even get to any of the supposed juicy bits.

Popularity isn’t always about quality. So be it. I write as an envious scribe who can’t get past an agent, so I am not an unbiased contributor to the debate about merit and payment, publication and adulation. But, dear reader, it seems, does it not, that should you desire publication, either in the real world or the e-world, a change of name is advisable.

Just as it was sensible for the Brontes and women of by-gone eras to use men’s names, and writers used to be advised to change your end-of-alphabet surname to something more ABCD to be more visible on the bookshelves, now it seems that initials, your own or someone your pretending-to-be, is the sure fire way to get yourself an agent, a publisher and a book out there in the wide, wild world. So that the agent can say, ‘Oh, I do love it enough to take it on’!

All the best. JAC Rat (Images courtesy Google Images)

Poem Zone – Alone Now

October 20, 2012

It’s no good when all that was good

Turns sour, rots on the vine, poisons your mind


When what nourished you now depletes you

Empties your heart and defeats you

A life filled with dejection

Oppression, too much rejection


A world dark and dismal

Grey mists rolling in your heart, your mind, your soul

There is no light

No bright space guiding your way

So burn your books, shut down your heart

Hunker down in safe spaces, let the world roll away

Until you’re strong enough to rejoin the fray

(Images courtesy Google Images)

Mid week Poem: Say No

October 16, 2012

Just say no, she thought

Stop, she thought

Just stop

Don’t do it anymore

Resist the temptation

Pull away from the abyss

Pull yourself together

Don’t falter

Don’t let weakness into your mind

Stay strong

Stand up tall


Walk away now

While you can

While dignity and courage remain


Don’t sleep again – murder sleep

Don’t close your eyes – remain vigilant

Until it’s done

Until it’s all over

Once and for all

(Image courtesy Google Images)

Bullying – a lifetime calling

October 13, 2012

We like to think that bullies from school somehow got their just rewards, that somewhere someone bigger and nastier than them got them back. And you were karmically rewarded for your own suffering. But, sadly just as bitchy girls grow into bitchy women, so schoolyard bullies grow into workplace thugs. It may be subtler and harder to pin down, but bullying in the adult world is endemic.

I find this terribly sad. I was one of those bullied as a child. I was never sure why. It was girls much, much older than me who seemed to find it amusing as tough grade sixers to monster a child in grade two. It must have made them feel wonderful. There was a girl in my class (grade 2 still – must have been a great year) who played the more devastating bullying games of you are my friend, you aren’t, you can come to my party, you can’t. Essentially she was a bitch and one of my happiest days was when she left school at the end of that year – off to torment someone else, somewhere else.

For years then I was free of torment, had friends, got on with my life, went to uni, got married, had kids, made a life. But now I find myself in a work-place where bullying is endemic. It is part of the culture it seems. Is it because that’s part of the culture in this country?

It is, of course ironic, because, as well you know I work in a school, where we’re meant to protect the kiddies from such nastiness, where we have anti-bullying policies but where bullying of the staff is a daily occurrence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with bullies in the past and dealt with too many students who are failed by school anti-bullying policies. When faced with bullying most schools fail to deal with it adequately. At my last school students were clear that bullying happened and no-one on the vast pastoral team had any real idea it was going on or dealt with it effectively.

It seems to me that bullying is one of those things we know we’re meant to abhor and need policies for but very few of us know how to deal with it effectively, either when we know others are being bullied – our own children, students in our care, friends  – or ourselves.

Part of the issue as an adult is the shock that you are actually being bullied, that you’ve somehow let someone do that to you. It offends your decency, your professionalism, your sense of self-worth. It’s often a sneaky thing, a subtle undermining of your value, your ability to do your job. You’re set deadlines that you can’t meet, not because you’re inefficient but because the deadlines are unreasonable. You’re set a task but not told the parameters of the task, yet if you ask you’re considered incompetent: how can you not know how to do that? You’re signaled out for an offence and ‘dealt with’ while others who commit the same crime are let go. You’re called to a meeting with an hour’s notice and an agenda as long as your arm. How can you be prepared? You are expected to perform in a particular way but nobody else is and if you are found wanting you are called into the office. You may even be disciplined.

Bullying at work is designed to under-mine you, shake your confidence, isolate you, lessen your performance so you can be legitimately sacked, or end up succumbing to illness from the stress of dealing with the on-going bullying.

Bullying at work is carried out by your superiors; someone with power. Think Devil wears Prada. Sometimes by people who are threatened by you: who find something about you, personally, or your performance, unsettling. Are you too good, too qualified, too experienced, do you show them up in some way; are your methods or philosophy not in accord with theirs?

Yes, your work-place may have a swag of lovely anti-bullying policies (ours is Dignity at Work) but try getting one to stand up. Try complaining about your bullying Line Manager. Doubtless they’ll be protected when you complain because the organization itself will be incapable of recognizing the problem and manifestly incapable of dealing with it. Or, even better, they didn’t realize what they were doing, just a misunderstanding, really and truly.

I think the truth of bullies being deeply insecure people holds but it matters not that they may need help themselves, they cause an enormous amount of damage in protecting themselves. Careers and lives are ruined by bullies.

Bullies are everywhere. They run large businesses, banks, governments; they work in entertainment, they manage schools. If you think Jimmy Savile wasn’t a bully you are severely deluded. There was a man with a nasty dark secret to hide and he used his position to abuse and bully young girls and then anyone who stood in his way.

What do you do if you’re bullied at work? Leave. The evidence shows that people who lodge grievances or complain about their bosses never win. Invariably they are bullied even more, forced out of their position, no matter their worth or ability.

What you should do (but you’d probably get sacked) is follow the advice some parents give their children. Hit back: hard, fast and nasty. Some people are never bullied, they’re the scary, mad ones in the corner: the beserk warriors from Norse legends.

Find a bit of the beserk in you – hit back, find the weak point of your bullier, and go for it. Stop worrying about being liked, being the good guy; stand up hard and strong for yourself and your colleagues. At the end of the day bullies are only bullies because we let them be. (Images courtesy Google Images)

Don’t Stand so Close to Me

October 7, 2012

So sang the Police many years ago about a young teacher and a sexy pouty teenage student. He was tempted, there was gossip and tension, wet bus-stops and warm cars, and it was a great song. But it’s not a great story in the real world.

As we watched the story of the Maths teacher and the 15 year old student unfold we knew it could only end badly. It is not the thing of great romance or tragic suffering: an intimate relationship between a teacher and student is always wrong. Every time, no matter the situation, the orientations of the players or the reasons. All wrong. All ways.

A teacher’s role is one of privilege, of responsibility, of care and due diligence. It is normal for students to have crushes on teachers. God knows, my daughter has had a crush on her wonderful English teacher for three years. My best mate at school had one on our hockey playing, Holden driving Science teacher, such that we trawled the A block corridors at lunchtime hoping for a chance encounter and a smile. It all came to naught, as it should.

Yes, some teachers marry their students. Yes, affairs do happen. Remember the case from the States several years ago where the PE teacher became pregnant by her 14 year old student lover? She ended up in jail. At the moment there is another teacher-student relationship storm brewing in the USA and the case of the runaway Maths teacher from Bournemouth is yet to run its sorry course.

What was he thinking? He’s twice her age. He’s in a position of responsibility – in loco parentis, it’s called, where teachers act in place of a parent. To wit they care for the child, keeping them safe and relating to them appropriately. Let’s leave aside the fact that many parents do not relate appropriately to the their own children and look at why cases of student-teacher relationships are and should be taboo.

You can’t get away from the immense imbalance in power. A student is young, vulnerable, highly impressionable. They may not be all that innocent, and they may be very compelling and sexy and tempting but they are young, unworldly and unknowing. The teacher is the adult and must remain so at all times. If you don’t understand that a distance must be kept and that you cannot indulge in an intimate relationship then you are in the wrong job.

Parents, students and the wider community trust teachers with the young people in their care. It is an awesome burden, but one we should be proud of. Remember that the public rate us in the top 3 of trusted professions: this matters. It matters because it is about the future of our society, that we do make a difference. Thus we cannot abuse that trust.

That’s not too say that it can be hard keeping that professional distance. When you teach in deprived areas, or have students who are more vulnerable than others it can be all too easy to form close attachments to students. Sometimes they need an adult in their life who cares for them, who goes the extra mile: someone upon who they can rely and trust. It is right that teachers fill that role. But at the end of the day, the teacher must go home to his/her life and so must the student. Phone calls, text messages, FB etc are not on. The line in the sand must be observed: the relationship has to remain professional, even if extremely caring. The teacher is the adult and must remain the adult, in control of the situation, aware of their own feelings and the students.

As I’ve blogged before relationships are what matter most to students, what affects their learning and their lives. But teachers who go beyond the ‘rules’, the expectations of a caring teacher, do a great deal of damage: to the student – now and later in life; to the school and to the profession at large.



How do you avoid the trouble Megan’s Maths teacher got into?

1. Be aware of your feelings, know they have become inappropriate and deal with it – transfer, or get help from someone before it’s too late

2. Never be in vulnerable situations – don’t see students alone if you suspect their feelings or your own; never ever meet them out of school

3. Do not share your contact details with students – work emails for assessment purposes is one thing, private contacts another altogether

4. Thus avoid being friends with students – current and recently former on FB – be wary of how the student is connected to others who may be in school still and privy to private info about you that can compromise you

5. Do not share Twitter accounts for the same reason, or home emails, or blog connections. Remember the electronic world can be an evilly connected place –who knows who is watching and for what diabolical purposes??

6. Finally, if you know or suspect something unseemly regarding a colleague you have to report it. There will be someone in the school looking after CP (child protection matters) who can advise you and ensure something untoward does not happen, either to the student or to your colleague.

We know teaching is a minefield. Students can and do lie about teachers. Teachers can and do abuse their positions of trust. Many of us deal with needy and vulnerable young people every day. They do not need to come from impoverished backgrounds to be needy. We need to know the lines in the sand. We need to observe them at all times, to reflect on our interactions with young people, to ensure they are safe and able to navigate their way (often with our help) through some challenging times.

Remember, never stand too close to them… (Images courtesy Google Images)