Erika Serving Breakfast


If you happen upon
and open the notepad

I took on holiday to
write plans and poetry –

coming across that napkin
with her name –

do not imagine it is more
than a simple thing,

seeming exotic
or suggestive because

you didn’t expect, like
bloc steno or

bloc de éspiral, even
spiraalnotablok, because

these too are only words
for the everyday and plain.

Look closely in the
corner and note its

imprint of a coffee stain
when I had perhaps

spilt from my breakfast cup
or even wiped to clean.

The hearts? Lipstick?
Imagine her late at night

a pile of these and
signing with red felt,

hoping a tissue of such
tenderness will prompt a tip.

Love After Love by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

The Superfluity of the Magic Three

I have complained for years at the overuse and the misuse and the abuse of the list of/magic 3, which is essentially a rhetorical device used in formal speech, exemplified both in famous literary examples like those from Shakespeare, and in famous speeches like one from Ronald Reagan [well, he didn’t write it]. And we could imagine, for further elucidation, a worst-case scenario if, for example, Donald Trump decided to write his own approximation:

Believe me it’s really tremendously bad; believe me it’s so wrong and sick; believe me it’s so not true and unfair….

Yet that would in some respects be following a ‘correct’ patterning…

My opening sentence flirts with the notion of using the list of 3, and is acceptable as a near thing, but one of my pet complaints has been when teachers instruct their students that using three adjectives in a sentence constitutes the use of such. It doesn’t. And I have seen many of these overwrought sentences produced in examination responses and other student writing.

I addressed this in a couple of units in my co-authored book Writing Workshops, cautioning against the erroneous adjectival approach, but also exploring its correct, rhetorical use in speech and formal writing. This latter wasn’t purely to advise how students might use in their own writing, though there are occasions when they should think about applying – for the right impact and effect – but also in recognising and being able to analyse its use elsewhere, both historically and presently.

As ever, I am often prompted by contemporary events to write these blog-asides, and today it was Theresa May’s bungled attempt at the use of the list of 3 in her speech to the Conservative Spring Forum, speaking about Nicola Sturgeon’s proposed new independence referendum. May pulled this threesome out of the trite speaker’s bag, stating Scottish independence

…would be bad for Scotland, bad for the United Kingdom, and bad for us all.

So, what’s wrong with it? It has the intended rhythmic cadence for some impact, and it repeats and thus focuses on its intended criticism through use of the word bad, but the third segment is utterly meaningless, surely? Who else is the ‘us all’ of the sentence? Does she mean the whole world? Does she mean other galaxies?

It is the use of the list of 3 for the sake of it. Not for meaning. It is superfluous.

I know. This is hopelessly pedantic in so many ways. But it is now out of my system, out of my anger, and now out of my need – until the next time.

A Mother

I forget
how my friends

will still have
their mothers.

They visit
or even talk

from a distance
still here.

There is so
much technology

I imagine

catching the train
or airplane

or even driving –
though I am not sure

why there
must be a

journey: it
just seems

there is somewhere
to travel to meet.

Rant Recall


Facebook Memories are a clever way of trying to convince users that they say useful/important things once and it is worth sharing that again 1, 2, 3 or more years down the line. Of course, it is just to encourage users to use – there is no deep-rooted altruism and/or client support!

I was reminded today through Facebook Memories of a former rant of mine, and my main inclination for printing it here [I am not sharing on Facebook] is that I have tried to stop Facebook rants but am rather proud of this one so will share instead on this blog.

It also links to a previous post on this blog here about school uniform, so there is a direct connection. More importantly, as I say in the original rant, this is all a false avenue diverting attention from the real issues and nothing in this respect has changed.

For example, last week’s Association of School and College Leaders’ conference was informed by political and other non-professional interference with nothing other than deflection and diminution on offer: there was Theresa May’s continued fatuous infatuation with promoting grammar schools [supported in the Spring budget at the very time new funding arrangements are decimating school finances across the country]; Justine Greening’s appearance at the conference to ape this promotion to the universal dismissal of professionals, and new Ofsted Head Amanda Spielman also there to attack schools/Heads that remove students from certain examinations [and similar tactics] to improve attainment/meet targets.

That latter factor is of course a reality, but the reasons for it are ironically – and appallingly so – because of decades of irrelevant target setting and consequent school bashing for failures to meet the merely measurable. The point is that these interlopers – all with investment, accounting, banking and similar backgrounds and precious little experience in and of Education – dominate and destroy the educational landscape and any attempt it has to define itself through professional narratives.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that Heads and others even in education, desperate for something to control – but also and obviously those outside of it – fall back on the trivia of the impact of school and teacher uniform/dress.

I entered teaching in 1980 and there was much then that was about teaching by teachers, either specifically about my subject English or more generally. There was Bullock Revisited which ignited thinking about and practice of oracy [Speaking and Listening], and even the Cox Report and its programmes of study had some professional sense to its prescriptions.

I entered the profession at a time when John Dixon, David Holbrook and Peter Abbs – among others – had much to say that was inspirational about teaching English. There was the Resources for Learning Development Unit work that introduced new approaches supported by materials for English teachers – and I would spend weekends producing my own similar ones, enthused by the ideas and positive responses from my students.

Where is that same professionally focused work today, either general or subject-specific? And even if it does exist, who has the time to pursue and engage when the targets and all the attendant pressures of that dominate – dominate school leaders and teachers?

There is, I know, some – I have reviewed it here: Making Poetry Happen by Sue Dymoke, Myra Barrs, Andrew Lambirth and Anthony Wilson, and I noticed recently that Sue Dymoke has been pursuing further research into meaningful aspects of teaching writing. But I have only been able to follow this in retirement.

And that is what I have wanted to write recently, and now I have, prompted by a former Facebook rant, reminded about today [and the original Guardian article here], and here it finally is, still relevant:

This isn’t really a complex issue, but I will simplify it to an extreme to make the point: a good, effective, compassionate, humane, funny, informed and innately talented teacher could teach in a onesie and after the initial novelty had worn off, the students would be engaged and learning; an indifferent, charismatic-bypassed, authoritarian or weak [doesn’t matter which pole], humourless, soulless, ill-informed, and quite likely a member of Senior Management teacher in the most pristine suit and tie [the image tends to be of a male] couldn’t teach worth old dog’s poo because there is nothing/zilch/nought in the sartorial facade that can make-up for crapness, and the students – who probably don’t really know who this asshole is anyway because he/she is so consumed by nothingness – won’t be fooled for one nanosecond and will not be engaged nor learn.

See, not complex at all.

Ok, so you pressed ‘read more’ and got this far: thank you. Yes, I’m off on one, again. So you must like this. I don’t mean you have to ‘like’ this but I always like that. Now here’s the real deal – at 60 and into my 4th year out of the classroom, I do reflect back on what could have made me a better teacher, especially in those last too many years when I wasn’t what I was. And I never think about the clothes I wore! I do sometimes think I could have used less naughty language in the classroom [I see someone was recently brought before the Teaching Council – or whatever it is – for saying ‘crap’ in the classroom! Fucking hell, just the word ‘crap’!!]. I know why I did it, and sometimes I genuinely couldn’t help myself, and I think I got away with it, but I might have changed that. But not my casual attire!

This is all a false avenue diverting attention from the real issues that affect learning and I have allowed myself to be detoured. No doubt the Ofted Inspector/s who made the observations about teacher dress wore formulaic grey suits and thus encapsulate exactly what is wrong with the whole pathetic premise of their observation: as Inspectors they weren’t good enough for the classroom. And they probably wore their suits when they were those nominal teachers.

And of course this article more or less dismisses the nonsense of it all as well! I just wanted to join in the rejection.

Alternative Peace

How is it there is
less to reassure

when we regard the
history of our world?

Perhaps it is the
wishful thinking

from all that music,
poetry and other

peace paraphernalia
in a recent past

that urged us to this
former expectation.

Perhaps it is our
children, teaching,

relative wealth too,
and imagining

language would
matter more widely.

Now there are too
many words framed

in quotation marks –
to name one modern

mystery that scares.
So what is ‘peace’

when there are so
many alternatives?