Monday 29 June 2015

Indominus Rex - Jurassic World's monster - symbolism

According to wiki

Director Colin Trevorrow has stated that the Indominus rex, the synthetic hybrid dinosaur at the center of the film's story, is symbolic of consumer and corporate excess. Trevorrow stated that the dinosaur was "meant to embody [humanity's] worst tendencies. We're surrounded by wonder and yet we want more, and we want it bigger, faster, louder, better. And in the world of the movie, the animal is designed based on a series of corporate focus groups."

He also stated that "There's something in the film about our greed and our desire for profit. The Indominus Rex, to me, is very much that desire, that need to be satisfied."


Not that we have to take his word for it!

We can let it 'symbolise' whatever we want - referencing why from stuff within the film - or not!

It might also symbolise or represent a whole load of other things.

And we can also ask, why a dinosaur? Why do dinosaurs have traction as symbols today?

(I don't have a clever answer for that question!)

Further thoughts on tigers, book-tigers and the meaning-bag...

I shouldn't have to say it, but I will. (Still with the tiger in The Tiger who came to tea'.)

If it were 'just a tiger', then we would want it to behave according to what we know tigers do. In our collective experience and knowledge of tigers, a tiger that turned up at a house would in a British context (as is the book according to its signposting in the illustrations) be an escaped tiger. It would be fearful and dangerous to humans.

It isn't.

So this is a 'book tiger', not a tiger…the kind of tiger that it's OK to find in art and literature. Surrealist if you like. So, that's yet another reason why we can ask, 'what does this tiger represent?' We can speculate about what it might represent for Judith Kerr….and we can investigate ourselves to discuss and wonder what it might mean to us and to our children. Two separate things that may or may not overlap. And whatever it means to Judith, may or may not have bearing on what we make of it. That's up to us to decide. And there'll always be more meanings beyond whatever we say anyway…The meaning bag never fills up!

Sunday 28 June 2015

Tigers, the Gestapo and the Today programme

In a recent 'Imagine' on BBC1 I was interviewed about the wonderful Judith Kerr. In the conversation I made some comments about the tiger in 'The Tiger who came to tea'. The point I was trying to make was that it is a 'tiger' but at the same time it is a whole cloud of meanings - some to do with tigers but others to do with surprise visitors, some who could be dangerous, some who might pose a threat, and genial though the tiger is in the book, he/it does in fact eat all the food and drink all the water out of the tap. At some point in this conversation I mentioned that Judith had a dangerous time in her childhood (of course) when anyone from the Nazi security services could knock on the door.

This observation has been reduced to: 'Rosen says the tiger is the Gestapo'. No, that's not what I said. We all interpret texts how we want to. I wasn't saying the tiger IS the Gestapo, the tiger retains its tigerishness but that Judith and the rest of us are entitled to pour into that image, dangers of all kinds, and, as it turns out, this tiger is not all that dangerous. More like a predatory uncle figure who drink the drinks cupboard dry.

Anyhow, poor Judith has been confronted with this idea that I said, 'the tiger is the Gestapo' and quite rightly she has rebutted it rather crossly. And said, 'no, he's a tiger'.

Yet, it has to be said, at some level, any of us who write things don't actually know what our characters, motifs, and scenes represent and symbolise. We don't fully know ourselves so why would we or should we fully know what the images we create represent?

Anyway, the Today programme (tomorrow morning sometime around 7.30 I think - or a bit later) are going to return to the matter, with me chatting about it. Hope you tune in!

Friday 26 June 2015

For Jeremy Corbyn

Fresh from:
proclaiming the virtues of the
1000 year dynasty, the British monarchy;

advising us of the special qualities of a 
non-elected second chamber
with its origins in Norman rule;

celebrating an economic system
that was developed and finessed
with the use of child labour around 1810;

continuing to solve international disputes
with the 10,000 year old method of
killing those you disagree with;

they tell us that socialism is outdated.

Thursday 25 June 2015

"Knowledge", "Not-knowledge" and "lesser knowledge"

In order to win the argument about the validity of exams and the exam curriculum, the people who run education have to impose a non-contestable, a mustn't-be-contested notion of 'what is knowledge'. It just is. The knowledge that has to be studied will be and must be the knowledge that is. The only knowledge. The knowledge. Or just 'Knowledge'. All other knowledges or abilities or capabilities outside of this 'Knowledge' have to be treated as lesser, or irrelevant or not important or not-knowledge. 

Part of this process, is also the idea that the best time (or indeed the urgent and only time) this 'Knowledge' can be acquired is between the ages of 4 and 21. Any knowledges outside of this time frame are also lesser. Support for the acquisition of 'Knowledge' or other knowledges outside of that time frame also have to be less because supporting it would kick away some of the control and containment that you can get with a test-crazy regime imposed on young people.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

"Rosen doesn't just do funny…he is funny" says Alex O'Connell re 'Uncle Gobb'

Sunday Times children’s book of the week

Michael Rosen is on side-splitting form, says Alex O’Connell

Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed illus. Neal Layton

published by Bloomsbury

'Another book by the prolific Michael Rosen (he’s written more than 140) is a cause for delight, and in the case of my eight-year-old daughter, it induced a fit of the giggles that lasted six minutes.

Rosen, a former children’s laureate, doesn’t just do funny - like so many comedians who bash out kids’ books - he is funny. And unlike so many other mid-range stories, heavy on the illustrations, which play with formats and type with postmodern predictability but forget to tell a tale, Rosen is the real thing. Even his acknowledgements and profiles at the back made me smile. Neal Layton’s drawings are a perfect match, too.

This is story of a ten-year-old Malcolm who must live with his appalling Uncle Gobb whose constant carp is that ‘the boy needs to do more homework!’ while threatening to put his nephew in the Dread Shed (Rosen’s version of Dahl’s Chokey). So far so good baddie. Malcolm’s best friend is the ‘peaky’- looking Crackersnacker who, despite being his pal, sometimes calls him Ponkyboy in reference to an occasion when Malcolm thought the capital of Italy was Ponky, not Rome. Malcolm also eats a lot of beans.

Rosen weaves in maths, geography, social responsibility and education (he’s wonderful on the cult of the ‘worksheet’) into the fabric of the tale with the lightest of touches, as Malcolm desperately tries to outdo his uncle. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the boy doesn’t entirely defeat him. This is something of a relief. Only a spoilsport would deprive us of a follow-up,  and Rosen lets us know in the final chapter that he isn’t one of those.'


Tuesday 23 June 2015

'The Knowledge' and lesser other knowledges and schooling

In order to win the argument about the validity of exams and the exam curriculum, the people who run education have to impose a non-contestable, a mustn't-be-contested notion of 'what is knowledge'. It just is. The knowledge that has to be studied will be and must be the knowledge that is. The only knowledge. The knowledge. Or just 'Knowledge'. 

All other knowledges or abilities or capabilities outside of this 'Knowledge' have to be treated as lesser, or irrelevant or not important or not-knowledge. 

Part of this process, is also the idea that the best time (or indeed the urgent and only time) this 'Knowledge' can be acquired is between the ages of 4 and 21. Any knowledges outside of this time frame are also lesser. 

Support for the acquisition of 'Knowledge' or other knowledges outside of that time frame also have to be less important because supporting it would kick away some of the control and containment that you can get with a test-crazy regime imposed on young people.

July 16 evening performance Keats House

Evening of July 16 at Keats House Museum 

I'll be reading from my forthcoming collection of adult poems - 'Don't Mention the Children' (Smokestack Books) - includes the political and surreal poems I've first posted here, 
- plus some poems from 'Fighters for Life, selected poems' (Bookmarks) 
- and 'Selected Poems' (Penguin). 

All welcome, 
please come and enjoy Keats House, where he lived, loved and wrote, and thought of many things including the 'hungry generations'...

Sunday 21 June 2015

Message from a Helpful Rich Person

"Hello poor people. 
You will become better off
by becoming poorer.
This will also involve me
becoming richer.
The people who will
make you poorer
are people who are poor
or different.
Good people are very rich.
We give you your job.
We do this because we are kind.
It also makes us very rich
but that's just a side effect
you don't need to think about."

Why a counter-demonstration in Golders Green, July 4?

It seems as if a fascist group intends to 'demonstrate' in Golders Green, an area in London with a high Jewish population,  on July 4. A counter-demonstration is being called.

Simultaneously I've been doing yet more digging around my relatives who were living in France in 1939 - and had been living there for at least 20 years, I think. Here's a piece I've written about researching these things:

Against 'Vernichtung'' - Against the Making-of-Nothing

My father's uncle, Oscar/Jeschie Rosen and his wife, Rachel Rosen, fled from Sedan and other eastern territories of France and Paris along with hundreds of thousands of others to southern France when the German army invaded. Oscar/Jeschie and Rachel went to Niort, Deux-Sevres. The authorities put them on the 'fichier juif'- the Jewish file. Later, they were 'aryanised' by Vichy authorities - that is, all their property was siezed, they were given yellow stars to wear and their market stall given the sign 'Entreprise Juive'. They seem to have been selling second hand clothes, though Jeschie was a clock-mender by trade.

They fled to Nice in secret, (I don't know how) where they waited for the Italian occupying authorities to issue them with false passports. At that point Italy was defeated by the allies and Nazi Germany took over Nice. Like many other Jews, Jeschie and Rachel were then rounded up from the hotels, transported via Paris Bobigny and Drancy to Auschwitz where they were killed.

Jeschie was born in 1895 in Oswecim, the Polish name for the town of Auschwitz. His and Rachel's names are on the memorial to Nazi Barbarism in the Jewish cemetery of Sedan and Charleville-Mezieres.

I have pieced these fragments together from a handful of post cards that survived; French books that document the fate of Jews in France under the occupations by Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy where my relatives' names appear on lists; the Wiener Library in London,, and an archive I've only just unearthed in the US.

I was able to access a new set of documents: the application by Jeschie's niece to bring Jeschie and Rachel to the US. She applied in 1939. I don't have the document which turned down the application but presumably it was. Or perhaps, permission came too late and they couldn't leave France. Jeschie and Rachel's address in Sedan was on the application.

We also have letters from Niort in France and from other relatives in Poland writing to the American relatives to send help or adopt one of the children. In fact he escaped by going east into the Soviet Union and eventually joining the Polish Free Army. He is 91. He didn't know any of this story.

I met Jeschie's niece, Olga Rosen Temkin, in the US. She didn't ever say that she had applied to bring him to the US. She just said that she had written to him when she was at school in order to practise her French.

None of the American relatives of that generation, nor my father or his sister, appeared to know any of this. They always said that the French relatives where there at the beginning of the war and they weren't there at the end. No one knew what happened.

I think about what Jeschie and Rachel could have thought as they were being deported from France and when they arrived at Auschwitz. What crime had they committed? What force was being mustered against them, and why? And then I think about whether they thought about how no one knew where they were or what was happening to them. They were being disappeared. The word the Nazis used for extermination includes the word 'nicht' - 'Vernichtung' - nothing-isation. That was the idea behind it all. To make nothing.

So, when I wonder why I've spent so much time trying to find these things out, I come face to face with that word. And I guess I've been trying to contradict that 'nothing-isation'. I've been trying to make a something. So that the aim of the 'Vernichtung' fails - to a small degree, I hope.

That's also one reason why there'll be a counter-demonstration on July 4. There are of course many different ways of trying to make nothings of people a racist or fascist might regard as or wish to be a nothing. I hope that many people will see that that is the more general reason for the counter-demonstration. It's against all attempts to turn all or any peoples into nothings. 

Saturday 20 June 2015

Ted Hughes on children writing poems, and on not letting words kill each other...

This post is about Ted Hughes writing about writing poetry.
It comes from his book 'Poetry in the Making' published by Faber in 1967 but were originally broadcast on BBC Schools Radio programmes 'Listening and Writing'.

Along with five other poets, we've been looking at the book, writing poems inspired by the book, and, in my case, visiting the BBC written archives at Caversham to see how Ted Hughes and the BBC wrote to each other. 

The three  programmes will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 starting on the third Sunday of July and then they'll be up on iPlayer. 

In the current climate, good writing has been infected by the idea that it starts from single 'good' words. I don't believe this. Occasionally it starts from 'sequences of words' - that is, things we hear or read that bounce round our heads. To get good writing, I believe we have to do a mix of thinking about the experiences we've had, reading widely and often, and having space and time to write what we want to write. 

Ted Hughes suggested that in order to write a poem about, say, an animal, we should 'look at it, touch it, smell it, listen to it, turn' ourselves into it. 'When you do this, the words look after themselves, like magic.' 

Or, later: '…The minute you flinch, take your mind off this thing, and begin to look at the words and worry about them…then your worry goes into them and they set about killing each other.'

Again, '…after telling yourself you are going to use any old word that comes into your head so long as it seems right at the moment of writing it down, you will surprise yourself.. You will read back through what you have written and you will get a shock. You will have captured a spirit, a creature.' 

Friday 12 June 2015

Interview with me at 'Teach Primary' about 'Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed'

Do you really think we should encouraging small children to read dangerously subversive books like 'Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed' (illustrated by Neal Layton) published by Bloomsbury?

Michael: I think a lot of books for children are subversive. Look at 'Peter Rabbit'. His mother told that he would get eaten if he went into Mr McGregor's garden. What did he do? He went into Mr McGregor's garden. Did he get eaten? No. He had an adventure - but he was quick enough and clever enough to get away. Look at 'Jack and the Beanstalk'. His mother told him to sell the cow and he didn't. He got a load of old beans. Then he climbed up the beanstalk and robbed a giant. So, I don't think I've done anything new by being subversive.

What if it makes them start to question the questions they are being asked in school? And what if that causes lower test results?

Michael: I was brought up to question everything - even the questions I was being asked. I was also someone who had a lot of tests to do when I was at school - not as many as children have today, but quite a lot all the same. My brother too - and by learning how to question everything, we learnt how to see all round a topic. This helped us both do very well at school. So, anyone who reads this book will, I think, be helped to see 'all round' what's going on at school and in life. I think this will be very useful for them.

What is the moral of this book? How does it help young people develop into the productive citizens society need?

Michael: Ah - morals. Now that's a very interesting question. I think we are often bullied with that word. People on high like to tell us how we have got to be moral, but when we come to look at their lives, we discover that they are no more moral than we are. So I think if we are going to talk about morals we have to start with some kind of agreement that it should apply to all of us. In a way, that is part of what this book is about. Malcolm is struggling with the education system that is asking him to do things that he and his friend Crackersnacker are coming to realise aren't really helping them with life. What does help is the fact that Malcolm is good at thinking. Now, what could be more 'productive' than that?

Monday 8 June 2015

Tristram Hunt's article in the Guardian + my response re Reading for Pleasure

Tristram Hunt has an article in the Guardian about what Labour could or should have said about education in the run-up to the recent election. I've put a comment about reading for pleasure on the comments thread on the end. Both, in full are here:


“Dear Tristram”, began a recent email. “I’ve had to take my 10-year-old son out of school after his teacher left and was replaced with a teaching assistant for two days a week. After being told by the headteacher that he would be employing a replacement teacher, and several weeks of chaotic supply teachers, he instead put in place a teaching assistant two days a week without informing parents. When we challenged him, he said he could do what he liked because the school was now an academy.”

Sadly, this picture looks set to be repeated up and down England with another five years of Tory government. Expect more unqualified teachers, headteacher shortages, a growing attainment gap between children on free school meals and their better-off peers, chaotic curriculum reform, random academisation, the end to AS-levels, and poor children being denied a chance of university.

But the hard truth is that we in the Labour party lost the election and now every part of our programme needs to be rethought. Education has to be a part of that inquest, because we signally failed to use the potency of education policy – its focus on the future, its capacity to craft a different society, its centrality to wealth creation and work – to offer a compelling enough vision of a Labour Britain.

When it comes to politics and education, the public and pundits are in two minds. On the one hand, there was a general lament that education didn’t feature prominently enough in the election campaign; on the other, they didn’t want party politics involved in education. My view is that democratically elected politicians have a right to shape education policy, but not to double-guess the operational decisions of professionals. No Labour education secretary was going to ban To Kill a Mockingbird.

Sadly, Miliband allowed himself to be perceived as uninterested in schools policy

I also thought that the fundamentals of our education manifesto were correct. Our ambition was to move away from the relentless structural changes of recent years to focus on quality teaching, strong leadership and smaller class sizes. We wanted to end the “every school an island” approach and, instead, roll out the London Challenge system of school collaboration and partnership across the country – particularly in coastal areas and coalfield communities. We were committed to reforming Ofsted, protecting creative subjects, rebuilding careers guidance and ensuring high-quality vocational qualifications.

The public seemed to like it. According to the Daily Telegraph (hardly a committed Labour paper), the three top education priorities for parents during the election were a cap on class sizes in primary and secondary schools (41%), fully qualified teachers (34%) and an increase in the number of apprenticeships (33%).

Yet I would make two criticisms. As leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband was deeply committed to apprenticeships, vocational education and childcare support. Yet sadly, he allowed himself to be perceived as uninterested in schools policy. And in our increasingly presidential politics, the media refracts every issue through the party leader’s personal capital. This, coupled with sincere concerns about “initiative-itus” and teacher exhaustion, tempered our radicalism, allowing the Tories to seize far too much of the education mantle.

Second, we muddled our priorities with the tuition fees cut. There are strong economic arguments for investing in higher education and the current policy is loading massive debt upon the taxpayer. But poor children in Stoke-on-Trent start school two years behind their peers in leafier parts of the country. Eighty per cent of the GCSE attainment gap is present by age seven. If our main goal is eradicating educational inequality, then our investment priority must always be the early years.

As Labour licks its wounds and thinks about how best to represent the communities it serves, we have a three-part challenge in education. The first is the essential but frustrating business of opposition. If the Education and Adoption bill is anything to go by, the Tory vision for the 2020s remains firmly rooted in the late 1990s. So we will have still more focus on structures, standardised testing, Whitehall centralism and teacher de-professionalisation. They will combine this with a 10% cut to school budgets – which will see teachers sacked and options closed – while opening two free schools a week, whether needed or not.

We muddled our priorities with the tuition fees cut … our priority must be early years

And it is my kids, and your kids, who will suffer from this tedious, myopic and transactional schools policy. While even the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development, which runs the Pisa tables, and former Tory guru Steve Hilton, are urging creativity, innovation and less testing in schools, Nicky Morgan thinks the opposite.

Then there is the medium-term project of asking the difficult questions about the future direction of education policy outside the election cycle. Both the education select committee and aspiring Labour leader Liz Kendall have raised the issue of attainment among white working-class pupils and this needs to be pursued.

More thorny is the question of religion, ethnicity and school provision. When every mosque, temple, synagogue, church, chapel and gurdwara wants its own free school, what hope have we for a national education system that integrates rather than segregates? One of the many absurdities of Tory education policy is a school commissioning system that militates against cohesion, while demanding a unified sense of British values.

Right from the start the next leader needs to place education at the core of their project

We should also be brave in challenging some of the consensus areas of education policy. Is the distribution of pupil premium funds really fair to working parents just above the poverty line? Is the current school calendar, modelled on the traditional agricultural cycle, the best way to teach children? Why can’t we pay teachers more to work in particularly challenging classrooms? How can we reform a funding system that entrenches existing educational inequalities?

But most important is our vision of the future. Right from the start, the next leader of the Labour party has to place education at the core of their political project – it speaks to all the attributes of aspiration, the future and promise we need to own. For the Labour party that has to entail our founding ideal of tackling inequality and building a just society. So, a focus on strong families, loving parenting, emotional resilience, high-quality childcare and better nursery provision is crucial. It is investment in the early years that makes the difference – which is perhaps why the Tories have identified it as an area for particularly deep cuts.

I would then suggest a full-blooded commitment to building a proper 14-19 baccalaureate curriculum that delivers a rigorous common core for all learners, along academic or vocational pathways. With a rising participation age, increasing evidence of the early teens being a crucial point in young people’s learning, the narrowness of GCSEs and too much teaching to the test, it is a natural step.

Finally, technology. The digital economy is transforming the world of work and it needs to start reshaping the classroom. We have to embrace this and think about how innovation can re-energise our education system. Education must be our vehicle for a bigger story of Britain: how we use the extraordinary talent and creativity in our education system to build a competitive economy, how we ensure communities left behind by globalisation have the skills and confidence to thrive, and how we allow professional pride and moral mission to flourish in the English classroom.

Because, at the moment, a 10-year-old boy allocated a teaching assistant two days a week by a shoddy headteacher isn’t good enough for me.



You have the evidence in front of you Tristram that one of the key ways to affect the chances of children who would otherwise struggle is for schools to have the time, training and assistance, and trained, paid librarians to help all children get hold of the books, magazines and comics that they want to read. Not only do you have the evidence, you have the 2011 Ofsted (yes!) 'recommendation' that every school be asked to develop a policy on 'reading enjoyment for all'. There is an enthusiastic raft of charities, (Booktrust, National Literacy Trust, The Reading Agency, Volunteer Reading Help etc etc), there are at least 300 children's writers and illustrators, there is the National Association for Writers in Education, there is the School Libraries Association, the National Federation of Children's Book Groups, there is the NUT and the ATL - these are all people utterly committed to this. All that's missing is for government to join it all up, and harness this body of enthusiasm and commitment.

The priority here is for it to reach the children and families who would otherwise not have access to the books, and printed matter that the children themselves would want to read. Every piece of research that ever comes out about this, confirms how important this could be and yet no minister to date has ever made more than a token nod to it.

Why not? What's the threat? What's the problem with it? Why should 'reading for pleasure' be seen as some kind of 'thing on the side', or something inessential? Why isn't it an urgent priority?

Saturday 6 June 2015

Because My Parents Were Communists, I Thought Everything They Did Was Communist

Because my parents were Communists
I thought everything they did was Communist.
Not just going to Trafalgar Square
or holding branch meetings in our front room.
Not just shouting at Anthony Eden on the radio
or crying about the Spanish Civil War.
I mean everything.
Like camping, or Marmite.
Camping was definitely Communist
because we went with other Communists.
Marmite was Communist because Mum
said it was good for us.
They liked going into old churches
and my father especially liked old walls.
He loved an old wall.
He knew a poem about an old wall
and sometimes he said it out loud.
Old walls must have been pretty Communist too.
They said they thought the butcher
we went to was very good.
I once heard them recommend him
to some Communist friends of theirs
so he must have been a Communist butcher
I thought
until one day I was playing football
with the butcher's son and he said
that his dad said that we should drop the bomb
on Russia.
Later, much later,
things got much more complicated.
Especially when my mother said,
'I think I'm an anarcho-Stalinist'.

Friday 5 June 2015

Teacher Tablet to Replace Teachers

I am trying to market my new Teacher Tablet 
to be distributed by a close friend of a minister of education. 
It is in essence a teacher,
 that's to say reams of worksheets uploaded in bright colours 
on to the tablet which the 'real' teacher 
will simply help the pupil switch on and off. 
These 'real' teachers will in fact be Tablet Supervisors 
and so will not need any training 
beyond switching on and off techniques 
and keeping pupils' heads pointing in the right direction 
i.e. towards the brightly coloured worksheets on the tablet.

Another useful feature of the Teacher Tablet 
is that it monitors progress. 
Whenever any pupil falls behind on their worksheet output, 
an alarm bell will ring. 
The Tablet Supervisor will then bustle over to that pupil 
and ascertain as quickly as possible 
why the pupil is not 'getting on'. 
If there are any disciplinary problems involved 
then I recommend bringing in the 
Discipline Force 
who should be stationed in a central position 
from which they can view all classrooms 
where the work on the brightly coloured Tablets 
is going on.

I hope you are as excited by this as I am. 
It gives the power to the student 
so that he or she takes control of the learning experience. 
Once they have learned 
how to switch the Teacher Tablet on and off, 
all by themselves,
it's over to them.

At 16 My Son Left School

(for Joe)

At 16 my son left school.

On the day after the last day

I said, 'So how was it?'

He said, 'It was OK, but it wasn't funny.'

'Don't you mean it wasn't "fun"?' I said.

'No,' he said, 'I mean it wasn't funny.'

'Funny?' I said, 'it wasn't supposed to be funny.

Teachers aren't comedians.'

'Look,' he said, 'before I went to school,

there were loads of jokes. Loads of things

were funny. Then I went to school and

it wasn't funny. Then for years and years

there was school and I kept waiting for it

get funny and it never did. In the

end I realised that it wasn't ever going to

get funny and it didn't. It didn't ever get


At 16 my son left school.