New Podcast -The Chains he Forged – a Ghost Story for Christmas

Lockdown is the mother of invention, or so it seems. In the long, idle hours generated by Covid and Retirement, there has been ample opportunity to hone a new set of skills. The main insight I have gained after being out of the English classroom for the first time since 1982, is that the thing that I miss the most, the essence of English teaching is reading a great book or a poem aloud to a classroom full of kids. And so, I present the results, via my two new ventures, The View from the Great North Wood Youtube channel, and the Telling Stories Podcast. Indulge me, and think of this as therapy for someone still grieving.

Both ventures are straight out of the “Sniffin’ Glue” school of publishing, that is, rough and ready, with an unmistakeable aroma of punk. In those days, we were all just encouraged to get it down while it was hot. To pick up a guitar and learn two chords (who needed more? Patti Smith famously used just one, brilliantly) and start to thrash. To type, cut and paste (with scissors!) and xerox it.

So with that in mind, dive in. But be kind. And, don’t hold back from subscribing and spreading the word.

The Watcher and The Friend, Chapter 1 Telling Stories

This is the first chapter of a new novel for children by R J Barron, The Watcher and The Friend, published by Burton Mayers Books on June 11th 2021
  1. The Watcher and The Friend, Chapter 1
  2. Asking the Questions
  3. Episode 6 Don't Smile before Christmas, part 2
  4. Episode 5 Don't Smile Before Christmas, part 1
  5. The Chains He Forged – a Ghost story for Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…..

Zero Tolerance – the perfect gift for the special teacher in your life….

Since it was published at the end of February this year, my first novel, Zero Tolerance has had some brilliant reviews. At this festive time of giving, what better way is there to celebrate the end of a truly ghastly year, by giving a copy of the book to that special teacher in your life.

You can buy Zero Tolerance using the links below.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=zero+tolerance+a+novel&crid=2YAT8X7XXX3WO&sprefix=zero+tolerance%2Caps%2C658&ref=nb_sb_ss_ts-a-p_5_14

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/zero-tolerance/

Still not convinced? Read some extracts from the reviews below:

Peter Thomas, Chair of NATE

Be warned: this is a very offensive book. It will cause great offence to true believers of some of the current orthodoxies prevailing in UK education.

Sceptics, agnostics and heretics will love the book. It is very funny and it is rooted in a very realistic school setting.

Swift’s Modest Proposal….Pope’s Rape of the Lock…Rushdie’s Satanic Verses…The life of Brian….Charlie Hebdo cartoons…(were all) a cause of offence.

Rattling the bars of an institution can be done from outside or inside, but, either way, rattling them turns the apparatus of repression into an instrument of communication. And this novel rattles quite a few bars, with offence intended.

Debra Kidd – Trainer, writer, founder of National Teacher learning Day, author of “A Curriculum of Hope”

Love, loved, loved this book by The Old Grey Owl. If you’re a fan of silent corridors, zero tolerance etc etc it may not be for you. For the rest of us …..bloody brilliant!

Mark Aston – Schools Week

This is the Edu-Dickens that we have been crying out for since Hard Times. Not since watching A Very Peculiar Practice – an equally caustic satire of encroaching privatisation of the NHS in the late 1980s – have I felt so politically energised by a cultural product. If the malpractices engaged in in this novel are anywhere near truth, then we have streamlined and simplified the English education system into nothing less than a Victorian workhouse, with all its attendant, oft-ignored rules and regulations and lack of meaningful (because often corrupt) oversight.

Those who already experience schools in the way described by the anonymous author will lap up the almost burlesque caricature of the Cruella de Ville that is Everson (she is described as such during a pleasingly terrifying learning walk of the school).

London Headteacher (name changed to protect the innocent)

Loved the book! The plot rang very true for a leader of one of those rare beasts, an LA maintained proper comprehensive school in London. Lots of sadness, but lots of hope too and lovely characters. Highly recommended!

Amazon Reviews

Toxic Policies Poison

Toxic workplace practices have been in place in the private sector for decades, but now they have infiltrated schools. The academisation of Fairfield High has a catastrophic impact on the teachers, pupils and local community. Amid all this turmoil lie two boys, a Syrian refugee and a pending class boy fed a diet of violence and racism. Can anyone survive Zero Tolerance?

A Great read: both enjoyable and disturbing

A great narrative expose of a zero tolerance approach to school management – believable, scathing, with a sensitive human touch and engaging characters. I thoroughly recommend this read, particularly for educators …

A satirical, yet hopeful, look at 21st century schools and the dark forces attempting to transform them.


Warmth, wit and wisdom!


This is a must-read for any teacher that will make you think about what it’s really all for. The novel deftly blends wit and wisdom throughout and The Old Grey Owl writes unsavoury characters so well that you’ll be recoiling at every mention of the pathetic ‘Barry Pugh’!

Brilliant!

I loved this novel, it took me on an emotional roller coaster. The characters with all their own doubts and foibles, are drawn brilliantly, We’ve all met these characters during our own school lives or as teachers and we can all picture a face that fits. Then there’s Karim, we may not have met him, but we all know the terrible plight of the refugee. A wonderfully spun tale, I highly recommend this book.

A great satirical work

The British education system has been slowly languishing for many years, suffering from defunding and having attention grabbing, but ultimately useless ideas forced on it. The cries of experienced educators have been drowned out and it seems empathy is at an all time low… or so I believe from what I’ve read in Zero Tolerance. This was a great, satirical work which weaves in astute thoughts on politics, refugees and the general ridiculousness of 21st century life. The Old Grey Owl really breathes life into teachers, a career which has been disrespected by the government for a while now.

Lifting the lid on educational chicanery

This novel is both an engaging page-turner and an important indictment of the direction being taken in state education at the moment. The characters are expertly drawn and the narrative takes you through the travails of teachers trying to do a good job against a back drop of crazy initiatives and unscrupulous school leaders. Added to this is the poignant story of a Syrian refugee who has escaped from one sort of nightmare only to be engulfed by another. Ultimately it has a redemptive finale. We can but hope that, like Rick and his fellow travellers at Fairfield school, this country finally sees the light and we move forward to an education system which aspires to give young people a fully rounded education rather than one narrowly focused on league table supremacy.

First of all this book is a great read. The characters, while they clearly represent a type, are drawn in depth and detail. The plot is wonderfully controlled to keep the reader engrossed and although the story is serious and often tragic, it is fundamentally kind-hearted. This is plainly a book on a mission which may be too apparent, but anyone with experience of children, teaching or teachers can fill in the shades of grey between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. I mustn’t give a way the ending, this book must be read.

 A well-paced, intelligent and humorous expose of life in a newly acadamised London school. The anonymous author has written an excoriating account of school life under the awful ‘Superhead’ Camilla, a Gradgrind of the C21st.
The novel is an engaging story, full of interesting, empathetic characters and despicably horrible villains. There is genuine emotional engagement with the wellbeing of the oppressed teachers in the book and delightful vignettes of their home lives. The quality of the writing improves throughout the book and there is delightful language and metaphor mixed with political astuteness.
Interwoven with the school story of the bastardisation of education, is the story of Syrian refugee Karim, a modern day Oliver Twist who overcomes every adversity to find a new life in England. The denouement is full of dramatic tension.
All teachers should read this book and all fans of Dickens, Morpurgo, Pullman, Tressell and Rowling will not be disappointed.
Ten out of ten and a gold star.

If you’ve been convinced by those fab reviews, or you’re either curious or desperate, why not see for yourself? Click one of the links below to find the book

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/zero-tolerance/

Ho!Ho!Ho! That’s Christmas sorted….

“The Fascist Painting – What is Cultural Capital?” reviewed.

Phil Beadle’s latest book is a must-read for anyone serious about going beyond OFSTED’s hopeless misunderstanding of cultural capital and its place in the curriculum

Phil Beadle’s latest book is a timely contribution to the current debate about cultural capital and its place in UK schools. It’s not a wishy-washy dispassionate overview of the terrain, with practical suggestions for how overworked school leaders can get that OFSTED box ticked, thank goodness. I was amused when reading it at the thought that some people may have bought it expecting just that, scrolling through edu-books on Twitter and Amazon, desperately looking for inspiration in advance of writing the proposal for SLT the next day. Anyone who does mistakenly buy it thinking they were about to get a how-to guide to cultural capital is in for a shock. It’s too much to hope, I suppose, that anyone in that situation would actually pause to consider whether the pursuit of cultural capital provision in school was worth a candle, but it’s a nice thought nonetheless. I’ve been there myself. You are charged with rolling out an initiative that you have real misgivings about, but your half-hearted, timorously voiced objections are steamrollered, and the institutional imperative takes over. Careers are built on championing the new, fashioning current buzzwords into practical and procedural systems. And jobs are lost, or opportunities missed, for anyone who is lukewarm. The only show in town these days is evangelical zeal, so reluctant turd polishing is not enough. The turd must be buffed with pride and passion.

If you are an agnostic, or you are a fully paid up member of the non-believer wing of the profession (sometimes referred to as “Progs”) you’ll find much to admire and enjoy in this book. It comprehensively demolishes the nonsense that is OFSTED’s understanding of cultural capital, and along the way many of the other sacred cows of The New Brutalists (I particularly enjoyed the withering critique of Doug Lemov’s ideas in general and SLANT in particular. This will almost immediately cause sceptical readers devoted to “Teach Like a Champion” to harrumph, stop reading and unfollow, but woah there! Take a breath.  As Educationalists, let’s at least give ideas we don’t like an airing and disagree politely. No need for no-platforming here)

In OFSTED’s view, cultural capital is what working class kids lack. Familiarity with “the best that has been thought and said” becomes an inspectable thread in schools’ provision and so schools are scrambling around trying to design a crash course in high culture. Beadle, with his scalpel- like analysis, shows that the adoption of the ideas of Matthew Arnold, are simply yet another incarnation of the rubbishing of working class culture as second class and inauthentic. It is an unquestioning espousal of ideas rooted in a racist, violent, homophobic and upper class superiority, all transmitted from generation to generation via model public schools, right down to Mr Michael Gove. These are the views, courtesy of Mr Gove (assisted by the lovely Dominic) and the last ten years of Tory Government, that have left teachers and students with a barren educational wasteland to inhabit, a world where students are subjected to a coercive and joyless trudge through a slurry of facts. It would be a disservice to Beadle to leave the impression that all it amounts to is Dave Spart class warrior polemics. That’s the tone of my review, but not of the book.

First and foremost, this is a scholarly work, built on a rock solid foundation of sociological theory and analysis. Beadle is a clever guy and a very good writer who has bothered to do the work. He’s read Phillipe Bourdieu extensively and it shows. Each chapter is shored up with a mountain of foot notes. But interestingly, the foot notes reveal the dichotomy at the heart of the book ( and the author, I suspect) Because as well as showing the scholarly heft of the work, they are also very funny. Beadle doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is self-deprecating, sarcastic and barbed by turns. But every time you think the book is going to descend into a political piss-take (welcome and justified though that would be) he then veers back into serious academic and pedagogic considerations.

In that sense, the book takes no prisoners. It makes a lot of demands on the reader. Some of the sociological stuff is heavy duty Marxism and can be like wading through treacle at times, but it’s worth persisting with that, because it’s always leavened by an anecdote or a well-chosen, apposite cultural comparison. My take on this was that, whenever the book got to be hard going, well, that was my fault not Beadle’s. Ultimately, it’s refreshing to read a book where the author pays you the respect of treating you seriously as a sentient, intelligent adult. The idea of persistence is important in the context of resilience, another fashionable shibboleth that Beadle examines. He is at his best when skewering the idea that a teenager from a single parent family in temporary accommodation, using food banks and with no access to IT, a quiet space or books might benefit from “Resilience Lessons”. Patronising doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The same thought comes to mind when thinking about giving the same kid a dollop of High Culture at discrete weekly sessions (the whole year group in the hall in front of a powerpoint and a harassed member of SLT, no doubt). It’s like a teaspoon of cod liver oil on your bowl of thin gruel doled out by do-gooder in the workhouse. This is another strength of Beadle’s analysis – his reclamation of the idea that working class culture is real and vibrant and powerful. It’s not second class, a pale substitute for the real thing. It is the real thing. These children do not need to know about Mozart or Shakespeare or the latest Stoppard so that they can hold an intelligent conversation at a posh dinner in the West End with rich clients (I think that was the gist of a recent tweet on cultural capital from Ms Birbalsingh). They need to know about Mozart and Shakespeare and Stoppard because they are good and interesting and make life a little bit more worth living. Just like the other cultural products that they consume.

And this is where Beadle’s book turns from being interesting and thought provoking into being useful and inspiring. At the end, he addresses the notion of what schools could usefully do in terms of promoting culture. He affirms the positive value to individuals of experiencing all forms of truth and beauty, and puts forward the idea of a programme of cultural experience woven into the everyday life of schools. Culture, in this programme, is all forms of culture not just the upper class approved versions of high culture. Teaching high and low together in a dialectical comparison would produce a synergy of deeper understanding. Integral to his approach would be the explicit teaching of the provenance of cultural artefacts. Where are they from? Who are they produced by, how and why? How are they perceived?  All of these are powerful questions that illuminate and empower. So far from rejecting high culture as belonging to the rich and powerful and privileged, he reasserts its value and leaves the reader with a genuinely exciting idea of a curriculum entirely designed around culture. So, duh, of course it’s not Stormzy or Mozart, it’s Stormzy and Mozart, and much , much more.

No doubt the defenders of traditional approaches to culture will be up in arms at this pinko threat to standards, but that is the ultimate proof that Beadle is genuinely on to something here. Whether you agree with its thesis or not, this is a great book that deserves to be widely read, and you may enjoy being outraged. Give it a go – all you have to lose is your prejudices. You can buy it using the link below.

Towards Abbey Road – A Review

Martin Phillips’delightful memoir of growing up in a South London suburb in the Sixties. It’s not all Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll you know. There was The Beatles as well.

Martin Phillips’ memoir, published by Amazon earlier this year, has been the surprise hit of a packed schedule of Lock Down reading since March. It’s a delight. A gentle, reflective and funny account of his early years in the Sixties in the London Borough of Bromley, it charts a boy’s coming of age to a soundtrack of pop and rock classics of the era. By the time he leaves, guitar metaphorically strapped to his back, to begin adulthood and independence as a trainee teacher, the decade is on its last legs. There is a powerful sense at the end of the book that the times they are a’changing. His first day at college, in a delicious piece of serendipity, was the day The Beatles released Abbey Road. The innocence of The Sixties was over and we would never see anything of its kind again.

The music punctuates the book like a string of pearls. From Love Me Do in 1962 to the aforementioned Abbey Road in1969, the book covers many of the major releases in that extraordinary 8 year period of innovation and revolution, and delightfully, some of the minor ones (Blodwyn Pig anyone?). Phillips continually returns to The Beatles as the lode stone of the times, the golden thread that ties his early memories together, and the book creates a wonderful sense of what it must have been like to experience it at first hand, rather than, as most of us did, in retrospect when they had been afforded the status of cultural icons.

This, I think, is one of the major achievements of the book, one even more important in these dreadful days of officially sanctioned, improving, civilizing culture. OFSTED and the New Brutalists have a lot to answer for, with their laughable misreading of Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas on Cultural Capital. In their hands, Culture becomes a means of civilizing the savages on the estates and rescuing them for the poverty of their familial and community horizons. It’s a way of saying, over and over again to working class children, you are really not good enough. In Phillips’ memoir, the music of the time was throwaway, low brow, and frowned upon by the great and the good. And, as a result, it was essentially thrilling and deviant and belonged to the people who consumed it avidly as a marker of something new and liberating. We didn’t know it at the time, but in living our ordinary lives, the stuff we liked would become immensely significant culturally and historically in the development of ideas and the challenging of conventions. We don’t seem to know it now, either, but the things that the High Priests of Cultural Absolutism now scorn will be venerated by future generations.

So we have fabulous tales of seeing Fleetwood Mac at The Eden Park Hotel, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix at various pubs in South east London, as Phillips dabbles with acoustic and electric guitars in a series of not-quite-making it bands. An early forerunner of the  Glastonbury festival, The Festival of the Blues at Bath Recreation Ground is attended, with an incredible line up of Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, Ten Years After, Led Zeppelin The Nice (and that’s just the first few acts) compered by John Peel. There are the first tentative wide-eyed trips into continental Europe, the first faltering steps on the path of love and sex, all described with a freshness that conveys the vitality of those first experiences that live with us all for the rest of our lives.

A major pleasure of the book is his description of his life at school, from the end of Primary to the end of A levels, and the enduring friendships that were made with a series of sympathetically drawn characters who become partners in crime as Phillips negotiated his way through the tricky terrain of adolescence in the suburbs. He is splendidly dismissive of some of the teaching he received at his boys grammar school, which should serve as a welcome rebuttal of those who glorify the good old days and yearn for the days of standards and rigour. Hmm. The teacher who set exercises to do in silence while reading his novel at the front of the class, I suspect, was much more common than current educational mythology would have us believe. It was certainly not the model that Phillips used in his long career as an English teacher, Senior Advisor for Devon, Senior Coursework Moderator for the AQA and Educational Consultant.

Finally, for those of us of a certain age, there is the added pleasure of those other incidental cultural artefacts that make up the warp and weft of life lived. Watneys Red Barrel, The Moon Landings, The World Cup, The Beatles doing All You Need is Love live on the telly. Four channels, Crackerjack, Vesta Chow Mein, Derek Underwood at The Oval, playing out all day. Just the names alone will send  shiver down the spine of anyone who was there.

If you’re a teacher, if you like contemporary music, if you are of a certain age, if you like social history, if you enjoy a life well told, then this book is definitely worthy of your attention. Buy it, read it, and then tell your friends to do the same. They say that if you can remember the Sixties then you weren’t there. Martin Phillips remembers the Sixties and he most definitely was there. And because of his vivid retelling, so can we be when we read his marvellous book.

You can buy Towards Abbey Road from the link below

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=towards+Abbey+Road&ref=nb_sb_noss_2

September

Anna had always looked forward to September. Even as a child, the prospect of the new school year, with its pristine uniform, books and equipment, promised the chance of a new start, when anything was possible. The same feeling still buoyed her now as a teacher, even though the new start always turned sour all too quickly, and she knew that disappointment was never too far away.

This year, it felt to her that the promise of a clean page was even more important than usual. As she busied herself with her new pens and stationery, and began to lay out her clothes for the first day back the next day, she struggled to hold down her rising feelings of anxiety. Although the return to class was daunting after six weeks away, it did at least mean that she would get out of the flat and away from Tom for a time. He needed some time and space and six weeks cooped up together in a small flat had pushed him towards the edge. She knew it was her fault and she needed to loosen up a little, but she was sure work would help.

Her anxiety was divided equally between Tom and Anthony Gordon. She had heard the horror stories in the staffroom about Anthony’s attitude and behaviour. Seemingly continually on the verge of furious, violent eruptions, he was particularly bad, apparently, with female members of staff. Ever since she had discovered that he was going to be in her Year 9 class, back in July, a seed of worry had lodged itself in her mind. By the time she arrived at the night before the first teaching day of the Autumn term, it had grown to the size of a Giant Redwood. She had managed the two evenings before the first INSET days, but now before the first real day with children and timetables and teaching lessons and duties, its branches twisted everywhere in her head and she could not get to sleep for worry. Tom hadn’t helped. As she tossed and turned in bed, she thought back to earlier in the evening, when Tom had lingered at the doorway of her study, fiddling with his watch. Anna did not look up from her desk.

“Anna, come on. We’ve got to be there in 15 minutes. I’ve been telling you for the past hour.”

She glanced up, distracted.

“What? Oh, sorry Tom. I don’t think I can come, I’ve got to finish all of this off, and I’ve still got hours to go.”

Tom’s face was thunderous.

“You are joking, I presume. I can’t just show up on my own. Just leave it, you need to get out anyway. It’ll be good for you.”

She shook her head. “No, I’m sorry Tom, I’m worried about tomorrow. You go on your own. You’ll have a better time without me.”

“It’s just a job, for God’s sake.  The kids you teach are all no-hopers anyway It doesn’t make any difference what you do. You’re wasting your time.”

She looked as if he had slapped her across the face.

“Tom, I..”

He cut across her. “Is it always going to be like this? Christ Anna, don’t be such a martyr and have some fun, while you still can.”

She tried again. “But..”

“Oh, forget it. Don’t wait up.”

He turned and slammed the door.

She could still feel the vibration echoing through the flat as she recalled the scene, lying in bed unable to sleep. She reached across for her phone. No messages. 2 am. Where was he?

*

Anthony, on the other side of town, could also not get to sleep. He was not used to sleeping in a proper bed with a duvet that covered him for one thing. And for another, he was excited about going back to school. It was the first time in his life he could remember having new uniform and equipment. Unable to bear it a moment longer, he swung his legs out from underneath the thick covers that were swamping him, and went over to his desk. His desk! Another novelty that made him constantly look over at it, as if to check that it was still there and someone had not discovered a mistake and had come to take it away. He handled his pencil case and calculator, and flicked through his new dictionary, trying out some of the new words for size.

His finger traced down the edge of the page as he sounded the words one at a time.

“ Stab – pierce, wound with pointed weapon. Hmm. Stability – firmly fixed or established. Not easily moved or changed or destroyed. Stamina – endurance, staying power. Status – social position, rank, relation to others.”

He stopped and looked around the room, picking out objects from the deep shadows that cloaked them. Bed. Wardrobe. Computer. Games. Posters on the wall. Maybe it would be different this time. Maybe his Dad had really changed and they could all stay together in this flat and everything would be alright. Maybe his Mum would be proud of him and school would ring home with good news for a change. Maybe…

*

Thirty yellow buds blossomed cream as 9C opened their exercise books to the first page.

“OK Year 9. Can you put today’s date and the title please, and underline both of those things neatly?”

“What’s the title, Miss?” came a shout from the middle of the room, closely followed by, “What date is it today, Miss?”

“Date and title are on the Whiteboard. I’m not expecting you to be mind readers, you know.”

A couple of the sharper kids raised their heads and smiled up at her, a few looked puzzled and looked around, while the silent majority ploughed on, oblivious to the joke that had just sailed over their heads. Anna surveyed the class, judging when to move on.

“Ok, everyone let’s just get the rules clear from day one. If you all know what’s expected, no-one will get into trouble, and your work will improve. Or that’s the intention, at any rate. So, rule number one..”

She clicked the powerpoint and began to talk through the first rule as it appeared on the screen. The class copied it down in silence. The clock ticked and Anna covered the room, her heels clicking on the hard lino floor. A cloud of concentration gathered above their heads. She already felt the first day of term nerves drain away, the minute she had started to project her voice to this first class. It was the same every year and she laughed at herself inwardly over the time she had wasted in the last few days, worrying about the starting the new year.

After twenty minutes the task was done and Anna could move on to her first real task.

“OK, everyone, pens down please and look this way. Now, I’ve never taught this class before so we don’t know each other. The first thing we are going to do is to think about how English and school in general has been for each of us since we started a couple of years ago, and what we would like to achieve this year and by the time we leave school for good..”

She was off. Instructions came easily and the lesson plan, the product of agonised hours, dissolved as instinct took over. A brief explanation and setting up, some questions fielded and a five minute group discussion with feedback to the whole class (that had caused a deep breath before launching in to it) had come and gone, expertly managed, and almost before she knew it, the writing task had been set up and the entire class were back working individually, writing their letters of introduction to her, their new teacher.

Ten minutes in, she stood back and surveyed the room. The concentration was almost painful. She had patrolled the room, reading over shoulders, fielding questions, making suggestions, correcting mistakes, and now she wallowed in the pleasure of watching the class visibly get cleverer in front of her eyes. Where was the performance management observer when you needed them? Or the OFSTED inspector?

“Miss?”

She looked in the direction of the question and just controlled her frown in time. Anthony Gordon had his hand up. He had been surprisingly perfect up to that point: immaculate uniform, immediately following instructions without question, responsible participation in the group discussion. It was almost as if he had been taking the piss. But now, the honeymoon was over. He’d done well, but it was too much to expect him to keep this up right to the end of the lesson. She flashed a smile at him as she moved over to his side of the room.

“Yes, Anthony?” she asked.

“Miss, can you read this to see if it’s alright?”

She hesitated, expecting this to be the first line of an elaborate setup, with her as the butt of the joke. Her eyes flicked around the room. No, there were no supressed sniggers, no furtive glances, nothing. The whole class had heads bent to their work, absorbed. She looked back to Anthony who was waiting patiently.

“Miss?”

“Sorry Anthony, just coming”

She navigated the tables and reached out to pick up his book. She scanned it quickly, already rehearsing the bland, standard reply of encouragement she would give before moving off, before she stopped, a frown creasing her face. She read it again. She looked again at Anthony, who shifted uncomfortably in his seat. His face fell.

“It’s crap, innit, Miss?” he mumbled, and reached out to grab the book back from her.

“Anthony, it’s great. This is the best piece of writing you’ve done. You’ve got the tone just right. And some of your expression is just beautiful.”

He looked a little confused. “Really, Miss, it’s alright? You sure?”

“Anthony, it’s more than alright, its excellent. Well done.”

A smile spread across his face and he seemed to blossom in front of her.

“How are you going to carry on?”

“I’m not sure, Miss. I’m a bit stuck.”

“Well, you need to go on to, give some examples of the things you’ve mentioned. Anecdotes. And maybe you could use a few rhetorical questions in the next section.”

She bent down over his table, placing the exercise book back in place and on a separate sheet of paper began to write.

“Something like this,” she said, as she wrote out a few sentences. “Have a go, see how you get on.”

She straightened up. He smiled at her.

“Thanks, Miss” he said before bending back down towards his book.

Anna threaded her way back through the grid of tables to the front of the class, and surveyed the group. Perfect, humming concentration pulsed in the room. It was all she could do not to laugh out loud. A girl at the front looked up at that moment.

“What’s up, Miss? What’s funny? You look very happy.”

“Nothing, Kirsty. Let’s get back to work please. Another five minutes”

She began to circulate around the tables, looking over shoulders at their writing, scanning the room for issues. She approached Anthony’s table and found herself just behind him when the quiet in the room was disturbed by his hissed exclamation.

“Oh, shit..”

All heads looked up and searched the room for the culprit and there was the beginnings of a group giggle rolling across the room.

“Anthony! There’s really no need for that kind of language.”

“Huh? Oh sorry Miss, it just came out. I’ve messed it all up.”

He lifted his book half up and grabbed the corner of the page with his right hand.

Anna reached out and grabbed the book away from him.

“No, no, no. Don’t tear the page out, Anthony, you’ll ruin all that work.”

“It’s already ruined, Miss. Look at it.”

She lowered her voice, and softened her tone.

“It’s not ruined, Anthony, you just made a mistake, that’s all.”

“I always make mistakes, though Miss.”

She laughed. “So does everyone. Mistakes are nothing to be worried about Anthony. Just cross it out with a single line and correct it. Then you can carry on and add to what you’ve already done.”

“But it’ll look crap, Miss. I don’t want crossings out all over it. I always muck it up.”

“I’ll tell you a secret Anthony. Examiners love crossing out. It’s a sign of an intelligent student. Someone who knows they’ve got something wrong and who has tried to do something about it. If you ripped out the page every time you made a mistake, you would never, ever finish.”

He looked puzzled as he tried to process this information. Anna gently laid the book back down on his table. Keeping one hand on it so he couldn’t snatch it again, she pointed at the mistake.

“Look, it’s easy. You just draw a single line through what you got wrong, like this..” She modelled the crossing out, her red pen neatly scoring through a misspelling. “Don’t scribble it, that will look messy. Just a single line and then put your correction next to it. See.”

Anthony’s face moved from puzzled through disgruntled and ended in reluctant acceptance. He bent his head back down to his work and the final minutes of the lesson passed in silent concentration.

*

“Yeah, it was amazing, he just kept on writing. I was, like, expecting him to kick off all lesson, but there wasn’t a flicker. It was like teaching a different kid, honestly…”

She paused and glanced over at Tom, who was intently scrolling on his phone.

“Are you even listening to me Tom? Jesus, you’re so rude. You don’t take any interest in my work. You could at least pretend.”

There was a delay as he finished and then he looked up.

“I was listening for the first fifteen minutes. And then I wasn’t.”

“You really don’t care, do you?”

“For god’s sake, it’s just a job. Do you even know what I do? When do you have to listen to me going on about my job. You’re so fucking boring these days. You didn’t used to be like this.”

“But..”

He stood up abruptly.

“Never mind. I’m going out for some peace.”

“Tom, ..”

He lunged at her and grabbed her throat, pinning her to the high-backed chair.

“Shut up!” he screamed, “Just shut the fuck up.”

He pushed her back against the chair and stormed out, slamming the door violently behind him. Anna slumped back on her chair, her hand to her neck, stunned. And then the tears came.

*

 Anthony crouched at his desk, rigid, his pen gripped tightly above his exercise book. Another shout, another crash of something heavy against the wall, another strangled whimper from his mother. He flinched at each sound, slumping lower towards the desk top beaten down by every noise. He remained frozen, breath caught in fear, waiting for the noise he knew was coming next. The sound  that always signalled respite, a brief passage of calm before the next time. The door duly slammed, after a final volley of abuse, and as the vibration settled slowly into stillness, his shoulders came down and a weary peace descended on the room.

He sat frozen, not daring to go out of his room for fear of what he might find. His ears strained for some sign to cut through the noise of distant traffic and an intermittent gusting wind. And then he heard his mother moving around and the sound of cupboards opening and closing. She was alright and he could stay where he was, safe and quiet.

He looked down at his book, at the sentence he had stared at for the previous fifteen minutes while mayhem had swirled around in the room outside.

“In the future, I’d like to work as a professional gamer, and have a nice house and family, where my mum and dad can come and visit.”

He thought for a second and was just about to add a last sentence when the door burst open and his mother stared him, wild-eyed. The bruise around her eye and cheek bone was ripening as she spoke

“Anthony. Come on. Pack up what you need. We’ve got to leave.”

She tossed a battered blue IKEA bag onto the floor in front of him.

“Where?”

“Back to the Refuge. Come on, we need to be quick.”

She went back out to collect her stuff. Anthony automatically began to bundle his clothes and a few books into the bag. He had done it several times before and it barely registered with him, thinking he would probably have to do it again some time in the future. He took a final look around his room, grabbed his exercise book from the desk, stuffed it into the bag, and turned out the light.

*

 Anna sat in the darkness of her flat, scrolling through the messages on her phone. The dim blue glare sparkled in the tear tracks on her cheeks and softened the red rims and smudged mascara. He wasn’t coming back, that much was clear. He wasn’t picking up and had left no indication where he might be staying. Another woman, obviously, she thought bitterly. Someone who had the dinner on the table and didn’t have the audacity to talk about her own life and feelings and worries.

When she had got back from school that Monday she knew as soon as she walked through the door that he had gone. The gaps on their shelves confirmed it. He had come back when she had been at work, gathered up his stuff and removed it all, so no trace was left, without even telling her.

She slumped down at the kitchen table, and swung her school bag, stuffed with marking, with a heave on top of the table in front of her. It thudded down and spilled the first few books, spreading like a hand of cards. She looked fondly at them, so new, so clean, so full of hope. She had been convinced that this September everything was going to be different. A new start, a new her. She would manage everything and be the woman that she knew she could be. Having it all. Juggling competing demands. In control. But it only takes one ball to veer slightly off course and a chain reaction starts, that no matter how frantically you tried to keep it going, inevitably ends with everything crashing.

She wiped her eyes and blew her nose, collecting her resolve to keep on going. Reaching out to the books that had fanned out in front of her, she chose the one that was a little grubbier than the rest. Dog-eared and stained, the name on the front provoked a ghost of a smile. Anthony Gordon. At least he had made a fresh start, if only until the end of the first week. He hadn’t been seen since then and rumours had flown around the staffroom about the police and social services being involved. But now his book had magically appeared in her pile.

She switched on the side lamp, and opened the book, illuminated in a warm, yellow cone of light. As she read, flicking through the pages, her smile froze and then disappeared altogether. He had written three pages, the most he had ever achieved. There were careful crossings out and corrections made but the pages had all been crossed out, each line like an angry slash, almost penetrating the surface of the paper. The last page hung where it had been partially ripped out. Anthony had scrawled a new title, “My Future”, complete with a parody of underlining, free hand, red and jagged. Underneath, in capital letters, he had scratched simply, “I AINT GOT ONE”.

A cold wind moaned outside her kitchen window. She shivered. September was already halfway through and soon October would be here. Winter was coming.

A Journal of the Plague Year, November 2020

Incompetence, Ideology and Entitlement: The Return of the Shit Show

It is with no pleasure that I return to this chronicle of our nation’s darkest days, but needs must. The needs are distinct but all are pressing. A need for personal therapy. In the absence once more of social intercourse, the need to articulate the current situation and its impact, performs a vital function in terms of one’s own understanding of the crisis, not to mention mental health. A need to play my part in the popular revolt against Mr Johnson in particular and The Conservative Party in general. It is coming, sensation seekers, be patient. There will be a reckoning, along with a wailing and a gnashing of teeth. And, finally, a need simply to record for posterity the twists and turns in this long strange trip.

Reasons to be Cheerful

  1. Although, of course, I’m gripped by fear and loathing, the portents look good for Tuesday’s American election. Unless the polls have completely messed it up (and our experience of Brexit and the last US election give pause for thought), it seems likely that the nightmare of Trumpery is coming to an end. This is tempered by an expectation of street violence by very well-armed and emboldened far right militias in the US. Trump really does need to stand trial for his crimes.
  2. People are at last beginning to see through Mr Johnson’s bluster to conclude that, yes, The Emperor is very much not wearing clothes. And it’s not a pretty sight, gentle readers
  3. News that a dossier of evidence about Slytherin Dominic Cummings has been passed to the CPS has warmed the cockles of my heart. The documents support allegations that Cummings perverted the course of justice in his away day to Durham and his subsequent No 10 Garden “explanation”. This (wait for it) carries a prison sentence if proven.
  4. It’s all gone quiet on Brexit. It could yet end in no deal, but more likely is that a fig leaf “understanding” will be announced that can be presented as a great triumph by The Liar Extraordinaire. Even if that happens, le merde will hit le fan. Delays, shortages, lorry queues, rationing, emergency medical shortages. I know it’s harsh that that can be presented as a reason to be cheerful, but I am increasingly of the view that people need to feel the pain to fully understand what they voted for. Already the Lie Machine is in full vigour blaming the nasty foreigners for all of this. My hope is that Johnson’s tattered credibility will make this harder to stick than previously.

That’s enough of whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up. Now for grim reality. And so to Lock down, Act 2. Has anything ever been so predictable as this? The sight of Tories and Johnson himself, making themselves look stupid by condemning Labour’s call for a national lockdown has been priceless. Even two days before their ignominious u turn, they were criticising this as extreme. It is presented to us as Johnson making “difficult” political choices between health and the economy, and being such a libertarian (what a great guy) that he delayed until the bitter end  before bowing to the inevitable. What arrant nonsense. As a result of this dithering he has successfully synthesised those polar opposites, health and economy, because the multiplier effect of delay has ensured that the economy will be locked down for significantly longer now than would have been the case. All the while we have had to endure the prospect of their entire Covid policy being calibrated by a calculation so self-serving, so empty, so crass and yet so predictable. It is this: Johnson’s brain has been whirring with the following equation. What do I have to do to be able to ease restrictive measures, so that some species of family Christmas can be preserved? Yes, dear reader, Johnson is motivated not by protecting citizens but by the prospect of headlines about Boris Saves Christmas. Even if Boxing Day were to be followed by the Dickensian spectacle of bodies piled in car parks, such is Johnson’s short-termism that he would have jumped at that as an opportunity. And then he would have blamed Michel Barnier.

To be honest, the first Lock Down was relatively painless for some people, including me. Retired with a juicy pension, in a nice house with a big garden, it has been perfectly manageable. Misanthropes like myself have enjoyed the excuse it provided for not seeing people. The return to eating out in Restaurants during the summer was also welcome, if misguided now in hindsight. Sport’s return, at least on the telly, was also welcome even if  that, in saying that, I’m well aware that I’m part of the bread and circus’ response of Nero Johnson. The lack of cinema, theatre and gigs has been harder to bear. But the second wave, in the dead of winter, will be very much harder, not least psychologically. And I think, its doomed to failure because of some catastrophic policy errors, that stem from an obsession with presentation rather than substance.

It is a huge mistake to leave Schools and Universities open. The case for closing Universities is unanswerable and the data on children, infection and schools is not yet all in. I am fairly certain, based on nothing more than intelligent observation, research evidence devotees, that schools will be found to have played a major role in the resurgence of the virus. But the libertarian hawks, buoyed by the case to be made on the grounds of “suffer the little children”, are nauseatingly hypocritical when they insist that children need schools to be open.

There are two reasons for school closures to be more problematic than other sectors of society. First, closure presents major threats to children who are at risk in abusive families. Secondly, deteriorating mental health amongst children and teenagers who are removed from society and networks by the lockdown, is a genuine worry. But, to be blunt, mental health and abuse are neither of them contagious and there are other ways of mitigating those risks short of a return to full time attendance.

But, of course, the opponents of this policy are all there, drip-dripping their bile and vitriol. So we have Kelvin Mckenzie tweeting that teachers are lazy, and didn’t do a stroke of work during the first lock down. He is backed up by other such intellectual power houses like Julia Hartley Brewer, Sarah Vine, Isabel Oakshott. The brain dead of Fleet street are joined by the ideologically fervent of Westminster, with their commitment to grand abstract nouns such as Liberty and Sovereignty. You know those Titans of the Commons, Iain Duncan Smith, Steve Baker, Desmond Swayne. Mark Francois would be fighting them on the beaches as well, but of course, he has his own little local difficulty to deal with at the moment. These Freedom Fighters, who so often invoke the Second World War as England’s finest hour, would have been useless during that actual conflict. Imagine them dealing with a polite request from the ARP to put that light out: “How dare you infringe my inalienable rights as a freeborn Englishman. I reserve the right to keep my lights blazing and to hell with Jerry. Those Europeans are all just frit.” As someone pointed out a few days ago, it is delicious watching Boris get shafted on his own side by the Libertarian Loony right. A richly deserved taste of his own medicine, and one hopes deeply instructive to be lectured by people who have the resources to protect themselves against Covid while making a quick killing financially.

“Put that light out!” “How dare you infringe my liberty as a free born Englishman!”

But why have they, Johnson  in particular, been so unremittingly hopeless in dealing with this public health crisis? It’s because it goes to the heart of the lies and contradictions that being a Tory in the modern world now consists of. Every instinct in their body, every ideological sinew of belief screams in agony when the only solution that will work is one which requires them to spend billions of pounds of money to give to people for doing nothing. So they kick and scream and drag their heels. They don’t mind pending billions of pounds of public money that go to their mates or the wives of their mates. That’s business as usual and money well spent as far as they are concerned. This is where the sense of entitlement comes in. They are the ruling class. It’s something they have taken in with their mother’s milk. They deserve it. Scrutiny from the oiks in Parliament is an affront that normally can be tolerated but when their backs are against the wall and it actually means something they are furious that their decisions are being questioned.

All of their public health decisions have been made with an eye to the economic cost. Every single one. So they think that’s they can preside over a policy of repeated lock down and easing to buy enough time muddling along until a vaccine comes along. And people will die, but they are not the really important people, so we can put up with it and they can try to gloss it over and get away with it in time for some more giveaways before the next election. Easing the economy in July was essential to allow people to start to make money, so they could ease back on public spending. A terribly sort sighted, ideologically hide bound mistake that will lead to thousands more deaths and just as much if not more on the eventual public spending bill.

They really do need to take off the blinkers and think a little bit more about economics. Globalism and Thatcherism have comprehensively failed. Public spending needs to increase massively on the decent infrastructure that Germany has maintained. They are hardly a hotbed of Marxism, after all. A touch of Modern Monetary Theory is what is needed. The level of deficit is nowhere near as important as classical economics has taught us. Balancing the books is irrelevant. The last six times we have had a balanced budget in the last three hundred years, it has been followed by an incredibly deep recession. For countries that issue currency, deficits are good for the health of the economy, as long as you keep a weather eye on inflation. In the face of this new thinking, traditional Tory economic advocates are like flat earthers.

So what should be done?

  • Lock the economy down just as in March.
  • Impose a rent and mortgage freeze
  • Maintain furlough and extend to the self employed

This puts the economy in a deep freeze, still alive, ready to revive next year.

  • Close schools and universities. Refund part of fees paid. Have rota systems for schools so that children get regular contact with others outside of their household
  • Cancel exams and do ongoing assessment

This will give us a chance of getting to the end of Spring next year with a workable vaccine and everything in place to bounce back strongly.

Next time: My five point plan to rid the world of disease, prevent war, and train everyone to be nice to each other. Or was that my five pint plan?

Podcasts and Youtube videos

Lockdown is the mother of invention, or so it seems. In the long, idle hours generated by Covid and Retirement, there has been ample opportunity to hone a new set of skills. The main insight I have gained after being out of the English classroom for the first time since 1982, is that the thing that I miss the most, the essence of English teaching is reading a great book or a poem aloud to a classroom full of kids. And so, I present the results, via my two new ventures, The View from the Great North Wood Youtube channel, and the Telling Stories Podcast. Indulge me, and think of this as therapy for someone still grieving.

Both ventures are straight out of the “Sniffin’ Glue” school of publishing, that is, rough and ready, with an unmistakeable aroma of punk. In those days, we were all just encouraged to get it down while it was hot. To pick up a guitar and learn two chords (who needed more? Patti Smith famously used just one, brilliantly) and start to thrash. To type, cut and paste (with scissors!) and xerox it.

So with that in mind, dive in. But be kind. And, don’t hold back from subscribing and spreading the word.

Telling Stories podcasts, featuring readings of short stories, poems, and ramblings on politics, education and culture

The Watcher and The Friend, Chapter 1 Telling Stories

This is the first chapter of a new novel for children by R J Barron, The Watcher and The Friend, published by Burton Mayers Books on June 11th 2021
  1. The Watcher and The Friend, Chapter 1
  2. Asking the Questions
  3. Episode 6 Don't Smile before Christmas, part 2
  4. Episode 5 Don't Smile Before Christmas, part 1
  5. The Chains He Forged – a Ghost story for Christmas
On Spotify, if you prefer…
The View from the Great North Wood Youtube Video channel
Books of the Year. Surreal doesnt cover it.
Casting Spells. The joys of reading aloud to a class
Enjoy the short story to a relaxing backdrop of snowy , silent woodland

Where The Crawdads Sing

This summer’s literary sensation is just a Netfix mini-series in waiting.

Shock as Human Being is underwhelmed by book

Twitter has been agog all year, or so it seems, about this book from first time novelist, Delia Owens. It firmly established itself as the book to read this year, and in normal summers, it would have furnished many a beach bag as the go-to holiday read. I was intrigued. Could it really be that good? Or was it just the latest example of marketing triumphing over substance? There was only one way to settle it and, firmly behind the curve, I bought it and settled down with a raised eyebrow, waiting to be convinced.

Unfortunately, dear reader, I was not. Convinced that is.

There is a lot to admire and enjoy about it. I finished it in three days, for a start. So, yes, it’s a page turner, and in my book, that is a powerful attraction. It’s an often under-appreciated skill to load a narrative with so much forward momentum that it’s easy to read seventy pages without really noticing it. Normally, even with books that I end up loving, I can be persuaded to break for a cup of coffee and a biscuit after twenty pages or so. It’s hard work reading and one needs to keep one’s strength up. But here the scenario, setting and characters are so well set up, structurally, that I found myself engrossed in wanting to know what actually happened.

Probably the most admirable thing about it is the fact that the author is a Seventy year old Biologist, whose only other foray into publishing has been Biology text books. A first novel becoming an international best seller is something that the rest of us mere mortals can only dream about. As an aspiring novelist of a certain age, depressingly familiar with the Publisher’s/Agent’s rejection email, this is a phenomenal achievement. So, notwithstanding the criticisms about to follow, I take my hat off to her.

Delia Owens

Her intimate knowledge of Biology furnishes the book with its greatest strength. It’s a beautiful portrait of a wild eco system. There is a fabulous sense of place in the book. The coastal strip of North Carolina marsh land is vividly evoked by someone who clearly knows what they are talking about. This is, refreshingly, not the product of painstaking research, but the result of a lifetime of work and study. She knows her stuff and that sense of authority is absolutely convincing and compelling.

The Whodunnit, Crime element of the book is also very well done, (at least until the end) and she handles the switching back and forth from the past to the present very skilfully, creating tension and adding layers of detail to characters and relationships. There is some sense of satisfaction from the court room scene at the end, with the orderly presentation of prosecution and defence questions and their answers providing some welcome kind of resolution and clarification. The court room scene, of course, has haunting echoes of “To Kill A Mockingbird”, even down to the presence of the marginalised black families in the courtroom. I expected Scout and Jem to pop up at any moment. Kya Clark, the main protagonist, though white, is the victim of prejudice and suspicion by the mainstream community, and her main support and friends throughout her isolation were the elderly black couple, Jumpin’ and his wife Mabel. This Maycomb County type atmosphere resonates throughout the novel. For the most part, it’s another of the pleasures of the book, but like so many things, it’s not an unqualified triumph. There is a straining for this effect, a trying too hard. There are only so many times you can describe the eating and making of Grits, for example, before it becomes faintly ludicrous.

The court room scene, despite its satisfactions, is an opportunity missed. Too plain, too straightforward, with nothing on the same scale as Atticus’ forensic reveal of Tom Robinson’s left-handedness. I got the strong sense, that, like many first-time novelists, by the end Owens had run out of steam, and was just going through the motions. The “twist” right at the end is the least dramatic denouement in the history of murder mysteries. Not because of what is revealed, but the way in which Owens chooses to do it. It’s baldly described, with no character interplay, and the result is deflation. For me, a big “So what?” I’m afraid.

A few other gripes from the grinch. The notion of the main character, Kya, pulling herself out of her poverty stricken, school-refusing, backwoods abandonment, to become a highly literate published writer just wasn’t credible to me. I was willing to suspend my disbelief a little, to give myself to the novel, but I couldn’t sustain it I’m afraid. The two emblematic boys in Kya’s life, Nice Boy and Bad Boy, were similarly two dimensional and also had me running my disbelief down from the flagpole in annoyance.

And then there’s the poetry. Give me strength. It’s not that the poetry is so dreadful, it’s just that there’s far too much of it, and, again, it strains credibility that anyone one in the known universe would recite poems in response to things that happen to them as they mosey their way through the Mangrove to the beach.

As I was reading it, even in my enjoyment, I could imagine Reece Witherspoon rubbing her hands together with glee, cackling, “I wonder if we could get Gwyneth in this and maybe Bobbie May Brown to play Kya.” It’s absolutely set up to be the next “Big Little Lies” or “Little Fires Burning”. And it will probably be a much better Netflix mini-series than book.

So, there you have it. For all of you that read it, devoured it, enjoyed it and eulogised about it on Twitter, I’m sorry. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not saying that you’re wrong or stupid. It just didn’t speak to me. That’s my Bad. There’s precious little enough pleasure in these COVID Neo Fascist times, so I’m glad you found some in this and wish that I had too. Now, let me just get back down to writing an international best seller. How hard can it be?

A Journal of the Plague Year

Enter the Nightingale University Programme, stage left.

World Class Higher Education

They really are the gift that keeps on giving. If you thought a nadir of some sort had been reached with the Dominic Cummings jolly to Barnard Castle, the Tories have shown, week by week, that they are genuinely world leaders in arse -from-elbow confusion. And that’s genuinely world leaders as opposed to Boris Johnson-type world leaders (ie embarrassingly feeble).

Each day of the Great Exam Grade Debacle, has sent the collective jaw ever further nearer the floor. It doesn’t seem possible that even vaguely sentient human beings could get things quite as badly wrong as this. And yet still their supporters plead mitigation. Katherine Birbalsingh says she feels sorry for Gavin Williamson. Her compassion does her some credit, if not her judgement. She’s joined by Toby Gobfull of Brylcreem Young, Michael Gove and his wife, Sarah Vine, who just the other day told us she too feels sorry for Johnson, saying that the stress and exhaustion of worrying day and night is bound to generate bad decisions. Nobody has ever been that worried before, judging by the tsunami of bad decisions we’ve been submerged under. And, really, Johnson’s only worry is can he get another holiday in before people start dying in their droves again in the autumn. The only person in the entire country who must be feeling rather chipper about all of this is Chris Failing Grayling, who suddenly doesn’t stand out from his peers as being a complete knob. He is surrounded by complete knobs. There is a veritable Bullingdon club of knobs whichever way he looks. He has never felt so at home. He has heard on the QT, that he has been lined up to replace Private Pike at Education, because it needs a safe pair of hands. Relatively.

Separated at birth….

But now, Gavin has other fish to fry. On the back of his frankly brilliant wheeze to save the nation’s  children, by going with CAGs (how on earth did little Gav think of that one all by himself?) he has another problem to deal with. Universities now have to accommodate thousands of extra students, and there is no chance whatsoever that having clambered out of one trench of excrement, Gavin is going to dive into another by not allowing any of the Great Northern Unwashed to go to a university of their choice. (Rumour has it that Johnson was genuinely surprised, when Dom told him, that anyone from a northern town went to university anywhere. The last time he saw an oik from the north at university, it was warming his toilet seat, for a small fee and a roasting at the common room fireplace.)

Taking back control, one gaffe at a time…

Although Johnson finds it tiresome, he has been told time and time again that he has got to make an effort to be nice to the Oiks, despite their body odour and skin disease. And so he will give his imperial assent to the Great Education Plan. To accommodate the additional working class hordes, he has given the green light to the building of a new generation of “Nightingale Universities”. Because he got a lot of praise for his “Nightingale hospitals” even though no-one was ever treated in one. He said he was going to build them and build them he did. Hurrah!  So it stands to reason that the same thing will work for University capacity. They’ll convert all of the empty shopping centres around the country – John Lewis, IKEA on out of town sites etc – and they will be staffed by (and this is the bit that Cummings is really pleased about) by all the new graduates who can’t get a job for love nor money. Graduate unemployment solved at a stroke. It’s just like Dom keeps saying, you just have to be prepared to think outside of the box and go for eccentrics, mavericks and loons.

And to make it as unsinkable as The Titanic, the new Nightingale Universities will be run by their new Chief Executive, Dido Noseintrough, fresh from her triumphs at TalkTalk and Track and Trace (motto: No infected individual knowingly informed), with fat contracts awarded, without tender, of course, to Tory chums in IT and Construction. And next year, when the dust has settled, a few discreet titles in the honours list. Taking back control to be World Leaders in corruption, nepotism and cronyism.

It’s clear to me that Johnson, Cummings, Gove et al have read my novel, “Zero Tolerance” and have taken it for an instruction manual. In that, the Education Secretary, Marcus Grovelle, solves the problem of Social Care, spending on the armed forces, school funding, graduate unemployment and teacher recruitment, with a brilliant solution. And I thought I was writing satire!

I’m going to publish the relevant chapter to whet your appetite for more. Coming soon!

Cultural Capital

Some people say,
If only these kids read more Shakespeare
At home.
Or even saw a production or two
At The Globe.
That, and maybe listening to a bit of Mozart and a trip to a gallery
To worship at the temple of Art,
Would make all the difference. Even Tate Modern would do, at a pinch.
They deserve it, really.
Culture, that is. It’s just not fair to abandon them 
To their parents, who were
Abandoned in their turn.
So we cannot blame them. Not really.

Others, well meaning, no doubt,
Talk of Stormzy and Assassin’s Creed
Of Mice and Men and Game of Thrones
As if they had the same worth.
But everybody knows that proper culture must be
Old and Hard, otherwise it does not count. It is not
Culture with a capital C.
It’s common sense.
It’s alright for them. They’ve got their exams already.

Missionaries in  Africa did not agonise about their task to civilize,
But set to work to bring light to the darkness.
Not for them the liberal guilt that stalks us today
Or the righteous anger of The Woke
Now that Black Lives Matter.

But in between, where people live, culture is imbibed
Without thinking, like breathing in.
Like air, we need it to survive.
The air we breathe nurtures and sustains, whether its breeze stirs lush, clipped roses
Or scatters crisp packets in a grimy dance.
It is the same air.
It is the same culture.
It is ours, not theirs.