Sunday, 29 March 2015

New poem: Shirts

I had two light blue shirts.
They were identical. Exactly the same.
Just two of them.
I didn't buy them.
They were given to me by a TV company.
Wear the shirts, they said, when the one you've
been wearing is dirty, take it off, put on the other one,
no one will notice the difference, we'll wash the first one
and when the second one is dirty, you can put the first one
on again.
At the end of the series, they gave me the shirts.
I've had them ever since.
I think that's 6 years I've had them. Two light blue shirts.
I wear them really often.

The other morning, very early, I went downstairs,
switched on the light and next to the washing machine
there were my two light blue shirts.
And another one. Exactly the same as the other two.
There were three light blue shirts. Identical.
Hanging from a water-pipe next to the boiler.
Three shirts.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

New poem: Faint whistling sound

Sometimes you're sitting in a quiet room

and you hear a faint whistling sound.

It's not continuous, it comes and goes.

It seems to be very near. 

You feel that this isn't good.

It's as if someone is very close by.

But they're not.

Just the quiet whistling.

It's not even a whole whistle.

More like a 'ffffff' then a pause and another 'fffffff'.

After a while, you realise that it's your nose.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Trevor Phillips- journey from anti-multiculturalist to race-obsessive

Trevor Phillips, the anti-multiculturalist, has turned into the race-obsessive.

In an article in the Daily Mail and on Channel 4 he has churned out supposed statistics about how this or that group of people are more represented doing this or that activity. To take one example: "Indian" women are more likely to be chemists.

This is the old 'science' of racialism. Not racist as such, but the racialist 'science' of divvying up people into whatever the race-scientist decides is a coherent or cohesive 'racial' group and then running stats all over that group to see what they are most likely to do.

1. First of all it requires a particular mind-set to see us all in these terms. It asks of the 'scientist' or commentator in question to think that these are important or necessary questions. But why? We know that there is one human race and that we have spent millions of years sharing our genes. The great motors of society revolve around how societies are ruled and resources controlled. Why is it logical or necessary to think that this is linked to whatever it is that these 'scientists' and commentators call a 'group' or 'race' or 'ethnic population' or whatever?

2. Then comes the question of how such people determine these 'groups' or 'races'? You'll see that Phillips uses the term 'black'. By so doing, he eliminates the cultural and class differences between millions (billions?) of people the world over, and reduces them to one entity. Yet thousands of years of intermarriage between people he might call 'Arab', or 'Chinese' or 'Spanish' or 'White' or 'Jewish' or whatever, make the designation of 'black' as a predictor of social behaviour unreliable.

3. Then comes the question of what Phillips or anyone else is going to do with such dodgy stats? Let's say, he can 'prove' that women of 'pure' (whatever that means - and it means very little other than where some people happen to live over a relatively short period of time) 'Indian' origin have a higher percentage of chemists amongst them than, say, women of Australian origin (!). Then what? And the 'then what?' question is crucial. We all know of politicians and opportunists using such 'facts' as means by which they try to gain or wield power. Does he or anyone know which bit of their 'Indian-ness' does the magic trick of turning people into a chemist? And what should we do about such 'facts'. Take that bit of Indian-ness off them? Go down to the Indian chemist and smash the windows of their shop so that we can all become chemists?

Or does he have some other objective? To enact some kind of social engineering, whereby the 'Indian-ness' of Indian women is distilled out and redistributed to the rest of us so that we can all become chemists that way?! Or is he suggesting covert and unfair systems of positive discrimination are working in favour of Indian women so that they can corner the market in chemists?!

In which case, what fine calibration of 'race' interviewing and selection is he, the great anti-multiculturalist, proposing? That we do micro-ethnic monitoring so that each and every sector of society delivers whatever the race-scientists tell us is the 'correct' distribution?

And it's here that further dangers arise in what he is saying. The man (Phillips)  who made a living out of saying that multiculturalism was/is dangerous because it emphasises difference and creates jumped-up, unrepresentative community leaders has come up with a formula that would divide us even more, would require a whole new bureaucracy of 'race' or 'ethnic' scientists and officers but which at the end of the day has actually made himself a bloody great packet of dosh. Oh, so he's become what he says he despises.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Using the deficit argument to smash public services

In the post-Budget fog, there are occasional dissident voices that say something along the lines that obsessing about small differences in 'the deficit' is some kind of smokescreen for what's really going on. In other words, capitalism can cope with what are by all accounts relatively small differences (i.e. people go on lending money to each other).

So, what is really taking place is a deliberate attack on public services, the public sector and wages for ideological reasons not 'sound economic ones' under the cover of saying that 'we are balancing the economy' .

This point is extremely hard to make because a) Labour keep fudging it by going on and on about 'we're going to balance the books better than the Tories' even as they do indeed point out the potential disasters ahead by cutting the public sector. b) interviewers talk over people the moment they try to make this point.

So, we're living in a time when the post-war arrangement of public welfare is being smashed to bits, and the conversation about this is being constrained and restricted.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

"Hey - what he said is in the book!"

When I do my poetry shows in schools, I always say that very nearly everything I'm saying can be found in my books. So, some of what I'm saying are obviously poems - they rhyme and have very strong rhythm. Other poems are more like monologues or stand-up routines, but they too are in my books. So I get to the end of a chunk of about 10 or 15 minutes and I say, you can find that in  'Michael Rosen's Big Book of Bad Things' or wherever.

Today, at Eversley Primary School in Enfield I had a very nice experience. There was a queue of children waiting for me to sign their books and I heard a boy suddenly say, 'Hey, I've found that bit where he was saying that stuff about his Dad…' And then he started to read it out loud to the boy who was with him. 

Apart from being personally gratified, there is a bit of  theory connected with this. I am very keen on making the connection between the spoken and the written - or vice versa - the written with the spoken. Reading and writing are not easy for all children and there may be several reasons for this (not just the one, that the phonics experts claim i.e. that the children who find reading and writing difficult are lacking phonic awareness or some such). For some children it's getting the sense of sequences of words. So even when they can 'voice' what's on the page (i.e. read it out loud), it's not really hanging together meaningfully. 

I hope that for some children - quite apart from enjoyment and meanings they get from what I write - there is this other kind of connection: what Rosen is saying can be found on the page; what's on the page can be found in what he's saying. And when this 'clicks', it's another way in which we can help children become 'reading writers' and 'writing readers'. 

So, as I say, it was a highly gratifying moment to hear that boy getting so excited to find that what I had said earlier in my performance was written down in 'Michael Rosen's Big Book of Bad Things'.

As it happens, that's also the point about my online videos on my website. They are all poems which come from books. All the videos now have a caption that runs with them, telling the viewer which book the poem comes from. So anyone - children, parents, teachers or whoever - can, if they want to, make that link between the spoken word and the written, helping children get, if you like, what I'd call  a three dimensional view of language…it can be pulled off the page by the speaker (me or the child) and it can be put back on the page by the viewer who finds the poem in a book. 

Monday, 9 March 2015

Oh no, "bad grammar" in the citadel of free-school lovers...

People may be aware of a 'bad grammar award' which mostly involves a small group of people hee-hawing and sneering at others who make what they consider to be 'classic howlers' and the like. These involve all the usual bothers about 'dangling participles' or lack of a 'subject-object agreement' demanded of formal prose writing. Most of these errors (if that's what they are) are usually caused by people writing or talking at speed and where the context makes everything clear. Some are caused by people speaking or writing from within a common local usage e.g. with the use of 'were' or 'was' as in phrases like 'I were' or 'we was'. 

Ironically, as I've observed before, the chap who came on to the 'Today' programme to justify the bad grammar award in its first year, was someone who could hardly string a few words together without saying 'kind of' and 'sort of' - precisely the sort of thing that pedants hate. 

This morning there is a good deal of talk about free schools and those who love them are using a report which claims to have evidence as to why and how free schools help nearby local authority schools become better. It just so happens that one or two of those appearing in the media to say how wonderful free schools are, are also people behind the 'bad grammar award'. No surprise there. However, in the report there is this:

"…sample sizes in some of these categories is quite small'. 

According to the criterion of 'bad grammar' this is 'bad grammar'! It should be 'sample sizes….are quite small'.

We will wait to see if the free schooling bad grammar camp shoot their own messengers.

Meanwhile, a much more interesting issue is why would such academics make such an 'error'? Because it's an example of linguistic change. Listen carefully to radio and TV news and you'll hear that more and more often, commentators use a plural phrase - like 'sample sizes' but treat it as if it were a headline or topic and this 'permits' them to follow it with the singular form of the verb as in 'is'. That's much more interesting than labelling it 'bad grammar' but we'll have to wait to see if the bad grammar bully boys clobber it, or whether their own ideological predilections hold back their condemnation...

Free schools hurrah (the Brixton experience)

I received this from an old friend, Rahul Patel:

"Here in Brixton, they want to close down the FE college, which has 2000 on waiting list for ESOL classes, and put in a Free School. They have already taken over parts of the college, expected rolls for the first of operation were supposed to be 120. Actual number 19. £18m given over to free school. So just under £1m for each child. 4 parents turned up for today's Open Day! 

The Chair of Governors, Dennis Sewell, spouting racist drivel says that the British brought civilised standards to the people of Africa and Asia, sending missionaries "to instruct the natives in personal hygiene, instil good table manners and preach the gospel",
adding: "the occasional unlucky one found himself in a cannibal’s pot for his trouble;". This is one of his milder comments. We are calling for his suspension."