Wednesday, 27 May 2009
I have just sent this enquiry to the BNP office in Bristol.
It really is a genuine enquiry; I want to understand what they think. I believe passionately in freedom of speech and thought, but I also believe in integrity and truth. Some of their recent publicity has not really given me much confidence in their ability to show either of these qualities. My suspicions are that they are an organisation of ill-informed, narrow-minded bigots that haven't really thought about what they are saying or what it means, let alone checked the facts of what they are saying in any kind of historical or philosophical context; that they are a group of people that are excusing their racism and prejudices by using pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo. They would certainly not be the first group of extremists to do that and they probably won't be the last. However, I am prepared to admit that I could be wrong on this fact and that their policies are based on sound thought and motive. I look forward to their response and will, in the interests of balance and parity, post it here when it arrives. The letter I wrote them is as follows:
Dear sir or madam,
I was wondering if you could help me understand one of the details of your policies. I have read on your party's website that you are not against people of other communities and immigrants but rather are standing up for 'native British people'. I have also read that you are standing up for Britain's "indigenous population" and not stirring up racial hatred.
The phrases 'native British' and 'indigenous population' confuse me somewhat; what exactly do you mean when you use these terms? Where exactly is the line drawn? As far as I am aware, the term Briton and British strictly speaking refers to the pre-Saxon celtic population of these islands. The Saxons were just one of a group of immigrants (Angles, Jutes etc.) that flooded into the British mainland and forcibly took territory from the 'indigenous' population, marginalising them and forcing them to the extreme west and north of the island. Does that mean that the English - as those immigrants later became - are in fact one of the groups of immigrants that would be offered the benefits of your voluntary resettlement policy? Or perhaps the Scots, who were in fact immigrants from the kingdom of Ulster that overran the Pictish peoples of the far north of the British Isles?
By that reckoning, almost everyone on the island is a non-'indigenous' person. Except for the Welsh (and perhaps a few Cornish). And them only because we can't actually prove where they came from. All we know is that they represent all that's left of the 'native British' that would have existed before the country suffered wave after wave of immigration - from the Romans; the Saxons, Angles et al; the Vikings; the Norman French. And even the Welsh originally came from somewhere else, probably central Europe, in the first instance. Or is it simply because all of the immigrants I've mentioned here are white? They were categorically not of the same religion or culture and all bemoaned the influx of immigrants that came after them.
So where are we drawing the lines? Were all the previous immigrations to this island wrong? Are we not merely in a fluid and transient flow of peoples in and out of the islands?
This is a genuine and serious enquiry; I am not writing a hate mail or making fun. These issues are very important ones for me and I am trying to make up my mind with regard to casting my vote on June 4th. I analyse every party's policies carefully, question them and decide which fit best with my personal beliefs and opinions. I would be very much obliged if you could help me understand this aspect of your party's philosophy. I look forward to your reply.
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Total perspective issues then flooded into my mind. I must have as much idea about the universe and how it really works as that snail has about Cheltenham's one way system. That put my egotistical, self indulgent, self interested self in its much more insignificant place. Which reminded me of Douglas Adams's description of the The Total Perspective Vortex in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. It was a device that was used as an extreme punishment for criminals; they were put into the machine which proceeded to show them as they truly were against the terrifying, mind-malfunctioning vastness of space. They duly went mad and were well and truly punished. Except that when Zaphod Beeblebrox - one of the main characters and the very definition of narcissism - was put in, he came out reassured that he was exactly as wonderful as he thought he was.
I think I would struggle in the Total Perspective Vortex. Maybe the best way to cope is go for the snail's approach: I don't think he gives a toss about the one way system in Cheltenham. Or anything other than his dinner, for that matter. Doesn't seem right though - we're not snails and we are wired up to care about more than just dinner, thankfully. Maybe, then, I'll concentrate a bit harder on not believing my own hype and trying instead to just enjoy myself and the world a bit more. There's much to see and do...so many rocks to crawl across.
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
By way of translation (using much assistance from the Oxford Pocket Modern Welsh Dictionary)
Llid = Irritation
y = [of] the
pledren = bladder
dymchwelyd = has returned.
The implications of being a Welsh speaking cyclist appear to be much higher than that of being an English speaking cyclist. I'm going to keep cycling in English; the risks are simply too high not to.
Saturday, 16 May 2009
It pains me that I need to use English here rather than the Welsh I grew up with, but it would take me hours to write even the most basic of my thoughts and ideas and then it would be wrong and I would be missing the whole point of language: communicating what I am thinking, feeling, meaning. I used to have Cymraeg hard-wired into my young brain, but now it has receded amongst the clamour and overwhelming dominance of English in my life. It has suddenly occured to me that I am missing the old language, and that it may never come back...
I grew up steeped in Cymru Cymraeg-ness: I spent all of my formative years, from 3 to 23 in the rural heart of West Wales. However, I lived in a monoglot English household. I'd speak immature Welsh with my friends in the playground, hear it all day long in the classroom, but never used it outside of the school situation. I must have been at that age pretty much bilingual, as was my younger brother, but there was a general attitude of 'what's speaking Welsh any use for' at that time in Carmarthenshire amongst the younger generations and in my home. As I got older and began attending secondary school in Carmarthen, even my most 'Welsh' friends rarely used it in social situations, and as we grew older Welsh seemed to drift off the agenda. Local bands on the scene started using Welsh in a more forceful and defiant manner - Gorkys etc. - but by then the use of Welsh in my life had long since ebbed back to the horizons of my daily life. I attended the mainstream secondary school in Carmarthen (Queen Elizabeth Cambria) and the Welsh language school (Ysgol Bro Myrddin) was regarded as our bitter rivals. I was interested in the language and still had a good command of it, but the fiercely tribal and cliquey nature of some of the speakers of the same age as me combined with a puberty fuelled lack of forcefulness and confidence meant that I had little or no opportunity to use it beyond Welsh classes at school. I could chat the time of day away with little old ladies in town, but I couldn't talk about what I wanted to talk about as a fiery fifteen year old embroilled in a scene of death metal and leftfield art and music. This resulted in an ironically Welsh-like inferiority complex and made the language more and more unsatisfactory and irrelevant when communicating my interests and desires. It began to whither away like unused muscle and, when I moved to England in the mid 90s, became pretty much a decrepit passenger hanging out in the back of my language vehicle.
Like lots of people from Wales, when I left the country I became a bore on Welsh and Welshness. My interest in the language was revived and extended to other Celtic tongues and their various adventures and plights. I was older, more calm and self assured and no longer needed to shout all the time. Suddenly I wanted to revive the ailing language in my head. But how do you do that when you live in a country where speaking Welsh is viewed as an exotic idiosyncrasy - a bit like stamp collecting or amateur dramatics - and in a city where it is easier to get lessons in Mandarin and Catalan than it is to study a language spoken a mere 45 minute drive away? I've had to content myself with snatching bits of conversation on my occasional jaunts home, reading my Welsh dictionary and tuning in to Radio Cymru and suffering the onslaught of second-rate cod Country & Western to listen to a Gog talk too fast in strange words and phrases for me to keep up.
My friend Carl Morris recently wrote a highly thought provoking post about his struggles to learn the language of the country in which he lives. This here post is a direct consequence of my reading Carl's thoughts on his journey so far. He moved to Cardiff as a child and has made an admirably determined effort to become fluent in the language as an adult. I take off my hat to him: it is a considerable task to undertake in a unique situation. The trouble with learning Welsh is that everyone speaks English. Every stuttering, awkward conversation you have with a native speaker is played out against the backdrop of both parties knowing that you could have the same discussion with far more satisfying and accurate results if you both switched to English. This is my experience of trying to reacquaint myself with the language; there is an insecurity, almost ashamedness, about my lack of fluency, and, displaying archetypal behaviour of humans that are frustrated and embarrassed, I switch back to the easiest option - English - or don't enter into the struggle in the first instance. I am not really a confident person when it comes to dealing with strangers anyway and lack the devil-may-care, if-you-don't-shoot-you-won't-score cavalierness that Carl so commendably displays in most situations in life. So how does one learn to speak Welsh fluently at all then? To be honest, I haven't got a clem.
I could enroll on an wlpan course and immerse myself for a few weeks. But then what? Surely without regular exercise the Welsh muscles would wither again. Also, the Welsh I spoke as a child was rough Welsh, hearth-Welsh as it is called, and I'm not sure I've the patience for going back to scratch now - the same reason that I'll probably not start learning the piano when I have a perfectly means of making music with playing the bass. Perhaps I could move back to Wales, back to a juicily Cymraeg region where you could use and hear the language every day? I think Mrs Owen might have something to say about that, and I love Bristol dearly anyway and have roots here down as deep as they will go. No, those things won't really do it.
I think really that I have to come to terms with the death of Welsh in me. I was a bilingual child, but as I grew up became a monoglot adult with a some knowledge of an obscure Northern European language. Maybe I need to do a bit of grieving and move on. It might seem odd to you, but as I write this I do feel grief; I feel grief for a language that was part of me that has died; I feel grief for a part of my identity that has gone away never to return, only to be remembered and talked about, never actually present. I need to satisfy myself with chatting to people like Carl who have similar struggles with this beautiful and magnificently mercurial language; I need to delight in having conversations in Cymraeg with Breton shop keepers that have learned Welsh from a book because it is so similar to their native Breton and realise that that is as close as I'll ever get to genuine Welsh conversation as I could probably get without having the escape hatch of English forever accessible in the periphery of the moment. That was with Carl too. Tidy darts Carlos, tidy darts.
RIP y Cymraeg mewn Leroy. RIP.
Pob hwyl te. Da bo chi.
But surprisingly, I don't really mind. It is an unavoidable truth that United have been far, far superior to Liverpool for the last twenty years and, barring the occasional red-mist and adrenaline fuelled derby victory over them, not even the most rabid and prejudiced fan can argue with that. Ferguson is a manager of rare genius that seems to effortlessly keep spinning the plates of modern football management: tactical brilliance; managing a group of ridiculously overpaid cry baby brats; mind games that reduce opponents - including Benitez - almost to tears; rally-cries that stir even the most hard-hearted of onlookers; a healthy dose of gamesmanship, or 'cheating' as it used to be called. To make things much worse, Ferguson to me seems to be a manager in the mould of the legendary Liverpool boot room tradition, with the most obvious comparison being with the great Bill Shankley: both Scottish; both of proud socialist stock; both a bit mad.
So, I can't help feeling that this is the end of an era for Liverpool somehow. The inertia has run out; we no longer have our history to give us succour us through the leaner times. And I think that is a good thing. The hunger has to come back now. We all knew Liverpool were playing catch up in financial terms, now that fact will be cemented and solid and we will have to move heaven and earth to get back to the top and humble United once more.
At least we're on a par with them this year. There can't be many teams that have only lost twice in a season and not won the title. Which only goes to show how good United really are, how great the challenge is to overhaul them. Arsenal briefly challenged them, Chelsea even more fleetingly got one up over them. Can we do it? And can we start another era of domincance?
Hey, maybe we can do it this season. Come on Arsenal! Come on Hull! I'd love it if we beat them. Love it!
Friday, 15 May 2009
The bass Dad got me was to be a combined Christmas and birthday present. I remember with a sharply defined vividness the Christmas morning I came down the stairs - already utterly unable to contain my boyish excitement at the globally delicious anticipation of Christmas mornings - to see my first bass, snug in its case with a token bit of wrapping paper sellotaped to the front. I've basically been playing that bass ever since, until it was superseded as my main instrument by a Fender Jazz five-string that creates strange feelings to be felt by a man regarding and inanimate object. I still have the Christmas morning bass, but it lives in a state of semi-retirement and only gets played in a spur-of-the-moment, nostalgic kind of way. It's essentially a crap instrument, but I regard it as a slightly ugly friend with whom you have come a long way down the pot-holed cart track of life with: you love him, but probably wouldn't want to be seen with him in public by your cool friends.
Anyways...as I said: I've just been playing for four hours. I played like I played when I was a kid and trying to master an enigmatic and much misunderstood instrument. I put on some CDs and listened - really listened - to what the players were doing. Then I played with them and tried to get so close to their lines, so perfectly locked into what they were playing, that I lost a sense of myself and actually felt like I was part of the original music. I believe that an athlete might say that I was 'in the zone'. I love it - it's a trance like state that is by no means vacant or hallucinogenic; it's a state of being totally focussed, utterly intent and right on it.
The album that really got me was Aja by Steely Dan. I've been a bit obsessed with this record recently, so I had most of it etched on my ear drums already. It's a glorious, masterpiece of a recording; every time I hear it new things come to light - percussion, beautiful brass, stunning singing, some of the best drumming ever committed to tape and, of course, some wonderful bass playing from Chuck Rainey. The songs are witty and exciting - pure, surreal Americana.
I don't get to play like that very often nowadays. Work, DIY (see post previous postings!) and general social life seem to get in the way. When I do play, it's usually during the throws of hurried preparation for a gig, church event or something similar. Today I remembered the pure, innocent joy of playing because I wanted to; playing for myself without thought for practicalities and limitations. I really enjoyed it. I must do it more often.
Thursday, 14 May 2009
These tests have long been the source of much tension and controversy between teachers, politicians, academics, parents and, of course, children. It appears to me that the majority of people think that these tests are an incredibly bad idea: they stress children out; they stress teachers out; 11 years old is too young to be dealing with such pressure; they cause schools to 'teach to test' and therefore limit a creative and holistic curriculum; they create unfair competition between schools; the results do not fairly reflect the whole picture of a school; the results are not always accurate, as witnessed in last year's marking debacle.
I have a guilty secret though. I am firmly in the minority of primary school teachers that wholeheartedly supports the tests. Let me make it absolutely clear right now though that I absolutely do not approve of league tables for schools based solely on attainment. A school should be judged on how far a child progresses from when they enter school to when they leave school, not on whether it can produce a percentage of children that achieve some arbitrary level of 'normalness' that is used simultaneously and indiscriminately whether you live in High Wycombe or Moss Side. The teacher jargon for measuring an individual child's progress is 'value added'. I believe that this is what counts; a child should leave school having made the most progress they can from where they began. This is what education is all about for me: improving yourself; broadening yourself; moving forwards.
However, I do not accept the 'it stresses children and teachers out' argument. I do my utmost to remove the stress of the tests from the children despite the fact that the catchment area of our school means that we have to work damned hard all year to achieve results in line with what is deemed the national average. We practice, we discuss, we devise strategies for achieving the best we possibly can. By the time the tests come around, the children are anxious to do well but they are so well versed and familiar with testing that it doesn’t seem that much of an ordeal. They set themselves targets, with my help, and they try to reach them. And I have never yet encountered a child that has not left primary school with a higher level of literacy and numeracy as a direct result of having sat those tests.
The trouble is that many primary school teachers are of my generation. If I'm honest, we were not taught particularly well during the 70s and the 80s. How many people that are over 25 or so can explain what a subordinate clause is, or how to use a semi-colon correctly, or use maths in a fluid and flexible way that suits your own way of thinking and the situation? I had to relearn all of that when I was training - before that I'd used scraps of knowledge gleaned from the occasional visionary teacher and pure gut-instinct. It must be said that many teachers also don't really know how much about this stuff and feel very threatened when they are compelled to teach it. Surely, then, it is a good idea to put concrete things like tests in place to ensure that teachers sort their subject knowledge out and make sure that they teach children to the best of their ability rather than bumbling along safely tucked up in their own comfort zone? The tests create a mechanism of accountability that teachers cannot avoid by hiding behind wooly, half-baked and faddish theories. They have to teach children basic crucial skills that can be measured and that will help them for the rest of their lives. The pressure is not, or should not be, on the children; the pressure is, and should be, on the teachers to do a good job. That pressure is on almost everyone else in all types of jobs in all types of industries because they are paid to deliver certain things. We are paid to educate children, and it is fair to expect us to do that as well as we possibly can. I am certain that there is no greater feeling of achievement or satisfaction than that which is found from helping a child achieve or even surpass their expectations. That alone is worth a bit of pressure.
And since when has it been wrong for anyone to experience pressure? We're all under some degree of pressure pretty much all of the time. Is it not good to teach children to absorb this, cope with it, turn it to their advantage? I find that most children actually enjoy these challenges; they like to measure how far they have come; they like to know what to do next to progress.
The danger is, of course, that some teachers turn the pressure that is on them to do a good job onto the children in their care. Cheating in these tests is incredibly common. Every year I hear many stories of teachers feeding answers, changing scripts, just generally not doing things by the book. Who gains from that? I think that it shows utter contempt and disrespect for the children and, for that matter, for the role of a teacher in society. If we are working in a system of testing, then lets at least make it raise standards of learning and teaching rather than it being just a game that is to be won at all costs. And, believe me, the motivation for teachers cheating in these tests is not to make the children feel better about their results, it is simply to paint themselves in a better light and to avoid recrimination and pressure from the authorities because they haven't been doing their job properly. I've never cheated in a SATs test, and if I was ever asked to, I would refuse without hesitation.
So, next year the headteacher unions are threatening to boycott the SATs tests. This is because they are fed up of being judged failures or successes against those arbitrary percentages that are deemed average. They want to be judged on what their children have actually achieved, and fair play to them. The science SATs, which were easily the most unpopular of the tests mainly because they are pedantic and poorly thought out, have already been scrapped. The government appears to be taking the system apart slowly to avoid any sudden embarrassing u-turns. What worries me, though, is what we'll do to avoid lazy, dumbed-down and faddish teaching instead; are we seriously saying that we'd prefer to raise up another semi-illiterate and innumerate generation that doesn't have the skills they need to learn and live their lives? Just because teachers don't want to be stressed out? I think we all need to get our acts together and learn how to teach children what they need to know and not be ashamed of doing a good job.
But then again, maybe I'm wrong.
Monday, 11 May 2009
1 hour, 17 minutes and 17 whole seconds of punishment on one toe. Battle scars worn with pride and honour.
Do I get extra points for running longer than everyone else? The winner did it in about 28 minutes; that's about a third of the total time I was running. That's just lazy.
My finishing position was 5886th. I like that. It's not often you get to be 5886th at anything.
Sunday, 10 May 2009
I was running as part of the Love Running team taking part in the event. There were 300 of us, all from our church, and we raised £50,000 and counting for three charities: One25, St Peter's Hospice and World Vision Zimbabwe.
Unbelievably, amazingly, fantastically I actually ran the whole circuit without stopping even once - except to scamper about on the Portway to retrieve the pieces of my asthma pump that I had tucked into one of my very stylish sweat bands. It was dislodged during some over zealous high-fiving with my friend Matt Smith as he came the other way and scattered in every direction on impact with the tarmac. Roger Bannister never had to deal with that kind of challenge. The resultant scampering only added to the distance though, so it doesn't count as a stoppage in my books. In fact I do believe it means I ran about 10,005 m rather than the advertised 10k. So you definitely got great value for your money.
I didn't quite hit my target of £500, so the amusing costume is staying in the wardrobe until next year (did I just say that?!). I did, however, don a rather fetching headband which, although it made me look like a tool, was actually quite useful. Sweat was kept at bay - an important consideration when you have a hairline such as mine.
I pounded the roads as best I could. I wasn't fast by any stretch of even the most limited of imaginations, but I kept going and even managed a cool sprint finish when the crowds got thicker in the centre of town. The atmosphere of the whole event was a real surprise to me, never having associated myself with such things before. Seeing the other Love Running shirts and hearing people cheering you on was a real inspiration and made any thoughts of stopping unacceptable.
I never thought I'd say this, but I enjoyed the running. The buzz after the pain of the endeavor is addictive. I'm never going to be quick, but I think I'll keep my hand in once I've recovered the use of my ankle. In the meantime, feast your eyes on these. Pay special attention to number 94: a masterclass in athleticism and fashion smarts on the race course.
Friday, 8 May 2009
DIY. I'm sorry but I don't like it. I hate the feeling that you could, at any moment, drill through something vital to the fabric and integrity of your house. I despise the challenge of balancing sky-high expectations with rock-bottom abilities. If I could, I would never DIY anything ever again for the rest of my life.
And yet, apparantly, as a man I ought to love DIY: crave it, yearn for it to prove my masculinity and manhood in the most indesputable of ways. Maybe I need to face the fact that I am a big girl and would rather be listening to a nice record or reading a book. Or even tending the garden; at least I can't destroy anything of importance out there.
So, yes, I have put a curtain rail up. Squiffily perhaps, but it is nevertheless up. And the curtain hang on it as intended. However, a dark cloud of forboding is beginning to gather on the horizon...
Incredibly, there are now a mere matter of hours until Beth and I have to run in the Bristol 10k race. I've never done anything like this - I've barely run anywhere since my school days - and I'm beginning to feel somewhat nervous. I keep telling myself that it is for charity and has nothing to do with my physical prowess or target settings, and yet I can't quite silence a small but insistent voice in my mind telling me that I will look a fool and probably collapse with London marathon style wobbly legs a matter of yards from the start line to the general disgust and derision of a throng of fit, lean and toned specimens of manlihood. What it is to be a man; what it is to live with the voices; what it is to feel like your not quite 'up to scratch'. Never mind. I'm going to experiment with putting the timing device you have to attach to your shoes on an unsuspecting and infinitely lither person and claiming their glory.
Or, as I should have done with the DIY debacles of today, pay someone else to run the bloody race for me.
Thursday, 7 May 2009
Wednesday, 6 May 2009
That is the voice that twitters into my innermost conscience. I've ignored it thus far, citing a prejudice that bloggers are all merely nurturing a narcissistic tendency and sharing their inconsequences with inconsequentials. But, I've just decided that all prejudices, even ones that are obviously correct, are wrong and should be challenged. So, here we go. Sometimes I may talk all clever like; sometimes I may discuss matters of a decidedly low brow leaning. Music will be a main concern, but, as in my everyday conversations with real people as a pose to you false e-people, I do tend to veer off down cul-de-sacs: ancient and medieval history and how it tells us the answer to everything; Welsh language and culture; football being the other answer to everything; religion being not just for thick bigots; stuff that just happens to have happened.
I'm off to muse. See you later.