Monday, 29 September 2014

New Poem: Underground

It said, ‘Please use the stairs’, so everyone turned

right at the end of the platform. Someone with a

buggy hesitated and there was a blockage behind

it. Someone grabbed the front and the flow carried

on. At the bottom of the steps there was a tunnel.

It turned sharply. We followed it round. There

must have been hundreds of us. Someone was

whistling. A man near me was doing that sniff-cough

thing: sniffing hard, which made him cough. We

weren’t really walking. Shuffling, more like. Then

the tunnel turned again. More steps going

down. We glanced at each other. Just because the

escalators weren’t working, surely we didn’t need

to be going quite so far down? At the end of these

steps there was another tunnel. It seemed temporary:

no advertisements on the wall. And no tiles either.

Just raw cement. Then the lights flickered and

dimmed. That set off some shouting. A child up

ahead start to scream. A few people were talking,

asking each other if they knew this part of the

station. Someone near me said that it was the

‘Transit Route’ for the maintenance crew and we

would come out by the post office. Someone

way back shouted that they were sorry the lights

had failed, asked us to be patient and it would

be sorted as soon as possible. We carried on

shuffling, though much more slowly. The floor was

untiled too. More like gravel.After a spell of this, it

became less dark, and the tunnel opened out into

a chamber, a kind of hall. Now there were one or

two station staff, holding out their arms at full stretch

sideways, as if they were making a passageway. And

nodding. I thought, what’s with the nodding? One of

them was saying, ‘This way.’ There was no other way.

As people filed into the hall behind me, another

station person started making an announcement

on a megaphone:.. ‘...thanks very much for your

patience...not an

held here for a short while...’

Then she said that it would greatly help if we could

separate into two groups, those who travelled regularly

on the transport system and those who were new to it.

People started filtering right and left and I heard an

argument near me when someone said that a child

couldn’t be someone who had ‘travelled regularly on the

transport system’. The father - if that’s who it was - started

shouting, ‘What do you want me to do with him? He’s

five years old. Send him over there on his own?’ And

he got the reply, ‘Well that’s what they’re asking.’ One

or two people couldn’t understand what was going on

and were trying to find out more. So people were

pointing over to the side of the hall for people who

don’t travel regularly on the transport system. I had a

sense that those of us who do travel regularly on the

transport system were being let down another tunnel

and we shuffled off down it and there were more staff

with their arms out, nodding. The people who didn’t

travel regularly on the transport system stayed behind in

the hall. At the other end of our tunnel there were some

steps up to the street but it wasn’t by the post office. It

was nowhere near the post office.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

New poem: Car Alarm

I wondered if car alarms go off in the night
because they feel unappreciated. When they
go off, they know that people have turned over
in their beds thinking about them. The other night,
an alarm was going off in bursts of eighteen.
Then a pause. Then another eighteen. After
about five bursts, I tried counting in between.
It came out as twelve. After the tenth burst the
alarm changed. A second beat came in, then a
guitar. It was a remix of that song they released
after Bob Marley died, ‘Blackman Redemption’. In
fact, I think the release was a remix...I went
downstairs and put on a pair of trousers. I went
into the street, walked down to the car and I was
right. I wondered whether there was any recording
of Bob Marley doing it without the remix. After that
bit where it goes, ‘Spread ou-ou-ou-out...’ , it went
back to doing the alarm. Bursts of eighteen. I
counted the twelve in between and went back indoors
to bed.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Who is the Enemy?

Who is the enemy?
The enemy are the people who do terrible things.
Do we do terrible things?
Who is our friend?
Our friends are good.
Do they do terrible things?
Thank you, I am happy now. Tra la…tra la.

New poem: Tattoos

I had a thought that I would be the last person

in London who didn’t have a tattoo. I was looking

in the window of a tattooing place and saw a sign

that said, ‘Tattoos: seen, foreseen and unseen’.

I went in and said to the man, ‘Excuse me but

your sign, ‘Tattoos: seen, foreseen, and unseen’

what’s that about?’

He said, ‘A tattoo that’s seen is one that you can

see. A tattoo that’s foreseen is one that you choose

which people you want to see it. A tattoo that’s

unseen is one you can’t see.’

‘I get the ‘seen’ tattoos,’ I said, ‘but what’s this

foreseen one, how does that work?’

‘They’re digitally pre-arranged tattoos, so they

can only be seen by the people you choose.’

Wow,’I said.

‘There’s an app on phones now,’ he said, ‘which we

hook up to. The app does it. You programme in

who you want to see your tattoo. I’ve got a tattoo

here,’ he said pointing to his arm, ‘now you can’t

see a tattoo there, but now look on this phone,

and there - see - a tattoo.’

‘Well, actually, I can’t.’

‘Oh, well, it’s just booting up...but you will,’ he said.

‘Great,’ I said, ‘I can think of a lot of uses for that.

Now, the other one, unseen tattoo, is that one that’s

hidden, like- under your clothes or something?’

‘No,’ he said, ‘it’s one that no one can see.’

‘You mean, it’s somewhere private?’ I said

‘No, no, it’s an invisible tattoo,’ he said,’we do

the tattoo, anywhere on the client, but no one can

see it. I’ve got one here,’ he said and pointed to

his arm. ‘See that,’ he said, ‘you can’t see that

can you?’

‘No,’ I said, ‘that’s perfect. I can’t see a thing.’

Thursday, 25 September 2014

New poem: Escalator

I got on a down escalator at a station

and I remember thinking it was

a bit strange that I was the only person

on it, I noticed an ad for kiwi fruit. I

was thinking that’s the first time I’ve

ever seen an ad for kiwi fruit on the

walls of the escalator and at that

moment I looked ahead to the part

of the escalator where you get off,

where there’s a big metal plate

that you walk on to, off the end of

the escalator.

But it wasn’t there. There was no

metal plate. There was just a gap.

A dark space.

I had my bag with me. In it was the

dish I had when I was a baby, the one

with a rim round it. And some papers with

stuff that I had written or was going to

write or had forgotten to write. Looking

ahead at the dark space felt like looking

down a corridor, as if I was at school,

the times I was sent out of class and sat


Towards the bottom, I remembered there

was the alarm. I thought for a moment

that I might press it. A bell would ring

very loudly and the escalator would

stop. By the time I had thought this I was

past it.

At the bottom I felt myself going over an edge.

I was in mid-air, floating with the bag.

I heard someone shouting.

Then I landed. I landed on someone.

No, I think it was two people.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

New poem: Hair

I was in the barbers.

When the barber had finished cutting

my hair, he was about to flap my overall

and flick the offcuts on to the floor when

the bloke sitting next to me said,

‘Hang on there, can you save that?’

The barber stopped.


‘Yes,’ he said, ‘just hold it a moment

but can I have that hair?’

We all looked at each other

We looked at my hair sitting on the overall.

The man got up, took off his overall

and went over to his bag. He rummaged

about and took out a box. He

collected up my hair and put it in the box.

I found myself wondering whose hair

it was. Wasn’t it mine? Or did it now

belong to the barber? After all, it was

the barber who had cut it off and it

was the barber who was going to

sweep it up and put it in his bin.

I looked at the barber. Though I

remember I looked at the barber in

the mirror, which is not quite the same

as ‘looking at the barber’. The barber

said to me, ‘Is that OK with you?’ I said

to the barber in the mirror, ‘Is it OK with you?’

The man went on collecting up my hair.

‘What do you want it for?’ the barber

asked the man.

‘Tea,’ he said. ‘I make tea with it. This

is very good hair for tea,’ he said.

‘Most people’s hair is no good. This is

very nearly perfect.’

He collected up some more, closed

his box and sat down. I looked at the

barber - face to face this time. We

kind of shrugged with our eyes, didn’t

say anything. I paid him, said goodbye

to the man and walked out.

On the way home, I thought, what did

he mean ‘very nearly’ perfect? Why

wasn’t it ‘perfect’? I looked at the hair of

of the people on the bus. Is his hair

perfect for making tea? Or hers? Or his?

Or hers?

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Once upon a time there was Bourdieu….

Once upon a time there was a man called Bourdieu who looked at what he called a 'habitus', the total psycho-socio-economic pictures - and variation between them - of homes according to class and education. He suggested that one of the ways in which class 'reproduces' itself is through the fact that we have devised an education system which suits one kind of class habitus more than another. This was a critique of education more than a 'blame the victim' view of how working class people live. Bourdieu looked at schools in France to see how certain uses of language, 'framing' of knowledge fitted neatly into way language and knowledge was handled in homes where parents had already had higher education. Other researchers looked at how schooling downgrades 'unofficial' knowledge as less valid e.g. cooking, gardening, car maintenance and of course art, music and drama…So even when those abilities and capabilities start to show in children they don't show up as 'high achievement' in school data…but as bodies of knowledge they are no less valid than Latin or English Literature, say. Then Hirsch et al came back and said that it was precisely this kind of talk that was holding poor children back, because lefty teachers weren't teaching poor children Latin and Shakespeare.

Further, the right took Bourdieu up as a stick to beat the left with, claiming that we used Bourdieu's ideas to justify low aspiration even though most of the 'left' teachers I knew/know beat their minds out helping children from poor backgrounds do as well as they can.

Again and again, though 'researchers' find that poverty is a clear marker of low school attainment and that rebranding a school as an academy and/or getting it to be 'outstanding' doesn't significantly close the gap between poor children and the rest. This catches the right on the hop because it defies their take on the argument that poverty is related to school attainment i.e. they say they can overcome poverty through creating academies and bringing in 'rigour'. However, this leaves out the questions of whether schools themselves are geared in such a way as to be unable to use the talents and capabilities of everyone in an equal way.

It is often left unquestioned when talking about 'attainment' that this is something 'objective' when in fact the methods of testing determine a particular way of thinking (not co-operation, right and wrong answers only) and the curriculum (based on 'core' knowledge as opposed to 'society's knowledge and needs') are determining who succeeds and who fails anyway. Moreover, the system is built to fail a percentage of pupils - no matter what happens. HIgh stakes testing throughout schooling means that there is an inbuilt failure rate that must be 'achieved' - no matter what knowledge systems are in place. This failure rate is pre-determined by examiners and the school authorities. It's as if they have a lever they use to ensure they get whatever results they want. And they seem to have a willing press and media to buy this crap as if the percentages they trot out each year are deeply significant.

It's just wonks sitting in offices fiddling with graphs.