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Monday, 23 November 2020

A Potted History of Coffee and Me

My coffee is always black. I grind the beans every morning, and have two large cups of whatever bean I have in the cupboard. I'm drinking an Italian blend at present, which is smokey, choclatey and with a superb balance of sweet and bitter tones . Occasionally I'll buy the already ground stuff. This is the result of, after being brought up on sixties and seventies cuisine, the cuisine that built the empire and then sunk it again,  finding out since the eighties that I have things called tastebuds.

And nowadays real coffee is as common as builders, tea (which I have also drank, stewed in a teapot on a gas ring, whilst shivering in a dusty, muddy, raucous temporary building on a few building sites in my life... After lifting flag stones, mixing cement or priming planks, those sandwiches washed down by strong tea really did always taste better than any three course meal).

At my current work, I drink black tea, or at lunchtime nip out to the local drive through Starbucks, which serves coffee that is head and shoulders above the odd brown, dishwater like stuff we used to get in cafés and kitchens in this country.

Except, of course, for the milky coffees Italian cafés used to serve. We had two of those in Banbridge, Fuscos's and Scappaticci's, who also served amazing Ice cream. Fusco's had incredible murals, on the walls - scenes of Mr Fusco's old country.
{Mrs Fusco and friend in front of some of tge Majestic Café murals} 

 Jovial, friendly, proud Mr Fusco, dressed in his white or grey cotton over coat, mixed the ice cream with ash precariously hanging off the end of the feyg balanced between his lips ... Smoking wasn't part of the rigourous health and safety regime he went through as he approached closing time. Cigarettes were part of being human. An appendage as important as a finger or a nose, or a good cup of frothy, milky coffee. If some of that ash ended up on your plate, you pushed it uncomplaining, to the side of your plate.
Some of my early memories are going in to Fusco's with mum, after shopping, having proper chips with vinegar and that chippy vinegary tomato sauce, and then an icecream float or knickerbocker glory while studying the scenes of Italy on the walls. I didnt know Fusco other than from the other side of his always friendly counter, but I went to his funeral with my dad, as he was part of my childhood and teenaged years. A decent, welcoming, friendly man who kept a great café. 

{Mr Angelo Fusco and Mrs Rosa Forte Fusco

Scappaticci's had great chips, icecream (though not just as good as Fusco, though close) and a juke box. These things mattered. Large coffee chains, play piped, coffee shop music, and all have a degree of interior design that reminds you you are in plastic Seattle, but have neither beautiful murals, or a jukebox that ranges from punk to Jim Reeves. We need another Italian invasion like the one that brought us Mr Fusco, and the Scappaticci's. 

I was thinking about the years I worked in  Down Shoes (Lotus Shoes, or as we referred to it, "The Shoe Factory). I used to drink this stuff out of a machine which was called "coffee" according to the button you pressed after inserting the proper change. Ten cups of it a day. Going to the machine, which was by a wall and two doors that intersected the Bottoms section, the Assembly, the Closing room, the offices and the Shoeroom, was an excuse to get away from the desk. And I suppose I was addicted to the stuff. It may not have tasted anything like the coffee I know of as coffee today, but they had, in the process of making the stuff that went in to the machine, managed to keep the caffiene in. Basically it was hot, brown and it had a taste that if someone had have said to me was essence of rotting wood, I would have had no good reason not to believe it. If someone, on their turn to go to the machine, bought you tea by mistake, it was difficult to taste the difference. Tea didn't taste like tea either. It was probably less rotten rotting wood. I remember the price rising to a round ten pence... We were outraged (remember those days when you'd have a ton of loose change in your pocket ?). Our water cooler moments were at this brown stuff dispenser, and I met at least three girls there I went on to have a fling with, once I knew what time their "line" had a break. And on Saturday morning overtime days, the morning after the Friday night before, it was a hangover cure. Not an amazingly brilliant one. Not one you'd swear by, but one into which you'd pump a good quid of that overtime. 

At home, when I lived with mum and dad, the coffee of choice was Maxwell House, or Douwe Egberts Gold. Those where the days when I drank milk. Drinking these odd almost inaccurate facsimiles of coffee black, really is not far from that strange brew back in the eighties and early nineties from that machine we slagged off, but really was a rotting pearl of joy in our long factory days.

Why don't we have taste museums? The development of what became coffee, really has happened in my lifetime, though before the invention of instant, surely people drank the real stuff? Its an extraordinary devolution of a beautifully rich, and luxurious drink (before my lifetime), and then its re-emergence (during my lifetime) is a history much more important than that of the much studied and discussed Classic Coke, New Coke thing. It really must have its origin in a consumer culture focused on price and speed rather than quality and factory, reconstituted, easy packed and stored mass production. Imagine classes of children tasting little thimbles of Shoe Factory caffienated  rotting wood, moving on to Mellow Birds or Camp and then an expresso from an amazing italian blender? Every morning I'm glad to be on the other side of the odd history of coffee in the industrial UK as I drink the best part of my breakfast.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

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Saturday, 21 November 2020


This damp, narrow alleyway has not changed one tiny iota since I was a child. It lies on the opposite side of Banbridge, from the streets I grew up in, safe, happy and surrounded by love. 

It lies opposite my friend's childhood house.

This alleyway has gone a long way in defining me as an adult and informing me as a teacher. 

I think I was around 15. School for me at that time had become more bearable. I had worked out after a few years, how to avoid people who were, when I look back, troubled, unpredictable. Their hangouts were predictable … Where they sat in the morning before school started, where they went at lunchtime, where they played /hung out during down time. 

I'd worked out routes between classes that took me away from them… Sometimes longer routes that meant I arrived out of breath, late, to the safe anger of a teacher. And my friends and I had drummed up the courage to go to teachers and the school management team to ask for help from the constant fear. I don't recall what was done by them in reaction, though. 

I compartmentalised my life. School was where bad things happened, randomly. Home and my after school, weekend and holiday time was a different life, where I had predictable, fun, friends and a really wonderful, loving family. Sometimes when I suffered abuse in school, when I was reduced to tears, the tears were about this division. If only these people could see how great my family were, and how cool my friends were, they wouldn't want to do these things to me. Eventually this was to become me finding ways to be, safely, as random as them. A rebellion that took me to the same dives and gable end cans of beer, boozing where they were. And I developed a stinging, judgemental wit, that although funny, ironic, mocking when in a crowd, made me feel bad. I still sometimes get memory flashes of this past behaviour and cringe. 

I also took my frustrations out on someone, beating him up, when I was about 12 years old. It led to me being thrown down concrete stairs in school,as he was a friend of one of the most unpredictable of the people who, for what ever reason, hated me. I met the victim at a festival once, while watching a band. We stood for ages talking about what we were doing- I  was working in a factory office, he was an accountant in Dublin. He introduced his girlfriend, I introduced mine, and then I shouted an apology over the noise of the band, because I had hated myself for seven years for the eruption of fury I had directed at him. He told me not to worry, and at nineteen, I had to hold back tears. To this day I don't know why I went for him. It really was no fault of his. But I think the rage of being absolutely stressed was channelled at him that rainy day. My powerlessness was vented in power over this boy. 

And that has been a huge factor in my life ever since. If I am consistently attacked, verbally (adults don't tend to push people they don't like through windows, or pick a fight after school for the fun of it), my feelings sit bubbling behind a smile, and then eventually erupt. I try hard nowadays to let people know how I feel, and unions over the years have been this amazing thing that either can step in, or the use of which can be waved in front of the power abuse. Anyway, I haven't seen him since that mid eighties late night summer, less than sober meeting, and I wish I could. I'm not wanting forgiveness. I'm wanting to apologise for something that was not his fault at all. Have a real discussion about it and how my random shittiness impacted on his life at that time. 

Having to pull your trousers down in front of a teacher is deeply disturbing. I was pushed through a window as I tried to dodge one of the unpredictable group's game outside the Art room. He wasn't a huge tormentor, his brother however, was. At the beginning of this year, after my dad died, during the week leading up to his funeral, my mum and I were in a shop, when the brother walked in. As an adult, I've always confronted this guy, not with the torture he put me through, but with a kind of change of heart on my side. For a few years after we left school I dreamed of kicking him senseless. On two occasions, I came close to going for him. But I have sat and had a pint with him (in my late twenties) and exchanged pleasantries. He's obviously damaged. I know some of his childhood story, and it wasn't pleasant. But his lashing out from pressures he felt as a child led him to do horrendous things on people, including beating up a guy because his family were well off; and riding over his head with his motorbike. The guy survived, and his family pressed charges. I am not sure what happened in court. This behavior among a large group of young people, was justified, and he was heroised. Abuse and violence really was seen as heroic, and funny, in my school. That was my impression as people cheered on beatings and abuse. It's no wonder really that some members of these groups went on to take part in horrendous sectarian torture and kilings; their miserable, disgusting actions heroised on gable walls. 

He stood in the queue in front of me. I've met him a lot, especially when I lived in Ireland (I lived in the same town for the first 27 years of my life). I never confront him when he's drunk. Well, I did once and tied him in knots with sarcasm, irony etc, as we stood in a park drinking as teenagers before going to clubs or pubs. The last time I'd seen him was in a chippy, late at night circa, 2011,and he was pissed out of his skull and was abusing young guys in the queue for being, well, happier and healthier and more balanced than he was. None of them crumpled like I had in school. He didn't physically lash out. He just drunkenly abused them, laughing at his own insults. Sounding every bit like the right wing, violent shit I'd known at school, but now in a middle aged body. This guy who proudly wore nazi badges and UVF badges as a young teenager, flashing them at us with pride. And the young guys, tall, athletic, laughed at him and dismissed him as the old, drunken loud mouth he was. He didn't recognise me that night, in the queue, and I remember hoping he wouldn't, because I may not have been as understanding as the young guys who treated him as the idiot he was. And I didnt have to say anything in the shop earlier this year. But I really never want to back down from confronting him. Smiling at him. Showing him, I'm OK. So I said hello, and he looked surprised as he stood there in the queue. Seemingly genuinely happy to see me. My mother said, loudly, "what are you speaking to him for?" knowing some of the hell this guy put me through. We went back to the car, and my wife was sitting in the passenger seat, and I pointed him out to her… and he waved , smiling at me again. And I felt sorry for him, and at the same time, I loathed him for what he had done to me. And I knew, looking at him, he was still the same mentally tortured, unpredictable person he was. Yet, he had welcomed the fact I said hello. 

The game in the corridor, as I remember it, seemed to be chasing each other, but pushing as many people to the ground or to the floor as they could as they went. I pushed myself against the wall, and seeing that that would not be enough as I was me, the guy with the big target on my clothing, on my face, hovering above me. I sat up on the windowsill, which was about waist high for me. And as I shuffled up, out of the way, he ran towards me and gave me an almighty shove and I went arse first through the window. I pushed myself forwards so I didn't fall right through, and I lay face down on the corridor. I don't remember the sequence of events, but I was questioned, driven to hospital, where I was examined (I had cut the top of my leg) and a nurse invited my teacher to inspect the cut as i stood bare arsed behind the curtain. The next time I was shoved at a window, in a door in the school, I made sure noone told on the person who did it, and I wasn't taken to hospital. The breakage was put down to someone accidentally hitting it with a school bag on the way past.

I could go on about different incidents. Like someone I counted as a friend telling me he had to beat me up after school because the shits in the class were goading him that he wouldn't beat me in a fight; he gave an apology before he basically nearly strangled me  and buried my face in dirt; or the amount of times I had to fend off another of their targets for the same thing, or the time when I was placed at a table in French with a group of them and girls they hung around with and became a target for an hour, regarding their perception of my sexuality, looks, my family etc, basically verbally tortured for an hour solid at eleven or twelve years old, to the point of tears. Or the many times I was left in the street outside the school knackered after trying to fend off a beating. Or the time one of them nearly broke my leg on a sponsored walk. I limped in pain for days. As I sit here, lots of awful memories come back to me. Worse ones. Lesser ones. 

I dredge up suppressed memories of incidents a lot now. I suppressed a lot of this over the years, knowing only I hated school. I hated certain people. And coming to the realisation a lot of who I became after the relief of that last day in Banbridge High School in 1982, was because of the fact I had to spend my days surviving. I left with virtually no qualifications… I had went from being top in the class in the early years, to failure, because I excelled at survival by the time I reached fourth year. 

What did the adults do? This was in the seventies and early eighties… Attitudes were different. I don't remember teachers doing a lot. Though perhaps inviting me and my friend to do things like the lights for the school plays, building scenery etc, might have been attempts to take me out of these classes and give me a more positive feeling about school. I have good memories… I forced myself to remember, because when I left that last day, it became a closed box of negativity for years. I loved art, writing stories, the school plays and learning how to develop photos. And, I loved the trip to London, and the trip to Wales. And some teachers felt like allies. Most didn't though. And when my parents found out things (I didn't tell them) they acted. Dad took me in the car to find someone who tormented me. Actually he wasn't the worst, but he was the one from that day. And dad knew his dad, shouted at him, and told his dad. The guy met me years later and told me that that had changed his life. He became a teacher and, I hope, recognises bullying and deals, with it. I used the same tactic on a guy who had bullied my son over a period of years. We had tried everything, from talking to the parents, to going to the schools. But it didn't seem to make any difference. I rolled the car window down and told him if he touched my son again I'd rip his f***ing head off. His family phoned the police who came to our door and told me to phone them if it ever  happened again. I would not advise that approach at all. But my response really was one driven by the awful feelings anyone being bullied dredge up. 

I had set out to write about the alleyway in the photo above. 

I was, as I say, fifteen. And it was a Saturday. A beautiful, bright summer, teeshirt weather day. I remember cycling the mile through the town, down the hill through the worlds oldest underpass, freewheeling to my friend's house. I met him at the bottom of the steep hill to where he lived. I'm not sure what our plan was, but I was just glad to be out and about. As we spoke, three guys came over to us. Two were brothers I recognised from school, the other guy, i didn't. But I recognised his manner, his tone, his threat. He grabbed the handlebars of my bike. 

"Give us a go on your bike" 

That's what I remember. I think there may have been the pretence at conversation before that. I wasn't from this part of town, and I recognised my friends tone. One of conciliation. One of, "joke, but not too far," with these guys. 

He wouldn't let the handlebars go. I remember thinking, 'this isn't fair. I go through this torture in that place. This is my time away from this. I don't even know you.' 

The guy kept going on at me for a go on the bike. 

I was shaking. Fear, anger, built up frustration at the target floating above my head. 

"F*** off," I said. It felt good telling someone I didn't know, to get back. To reclaim my space. My mate looked at me in horror. He whispered , "you've picked the wrong guy to say that to, you better go." 

So I sprinted as fast as I could up the hill, and they sprinted after me. I remember cycling through some of the grammar school grounds and then eventually to this alleyway which is opposite my friends house. A blind alleyway. And just as I was about to go around the corner, they appeared. I remember one of them saying, "Aha! Look who it is!" I had no way out. And the guy I didn't know, grabbed my handlebars. 

All I remember was a feeling of the inevitable. Surrender. Powerlessness. Of my safe space- after school, the weekend, crumbling. Its safety a lie. The compartment, the shield crashing to the floor. I don't remember the beating I took, and, I have no idea how long I lay in the alleyway. I have a vague recollection of an old bloke helping me to my feet. And me wheeling my bike over to my mates house, me having no recollection as to why I was there. My friends mum standing in her garden looking concerned as fifteen year old me burst in to tears, not because of the beating, because I couldn't remember it, but because I had no idea how I got there. 

Eventually after about an hour, things started coming back to me. And for about a year, I had three more people to avoid. 

This alley. One I have often thought of. One that appears in nightmares. And one I visited this time last year, and one that after nearly forty years looked exactly the same. One alleyway I confronted when I went over to Ireland to look after my ill dad for a weekend. 

Friday, 20 November 2020

The Morning after the Life Before...

I woke up this morning, around 6am, with a dry mouth, sore head and confused about much of my world. I staggered downstairs, poured a glass of water, and downed another hit, just to get me to the time I could phone in sick to work. I underestimated my ability to stay awake having taken the opioid , and woke again at 8.30am, after odd dreams of fences, and people who spoke freedom while keeping us in a maze of confusion. I grabbed my phone and phoned my boss, who was understanding, and I hung up and drifted into a half sleep, in which I actually thought I was planning my day. 

Mornings akin to this were familiar to me many years ago. The dry mouth, ill feeling and needing to escape the world were introduced to me on the first night I went out drinking with my mates. We stood in a circle, behind the local grammar school and I drank a few cans of lager, hid the rest in a bush for another night and was introduced to The First and Last bar, the first  of many boozers I called "mine." 

The hit of the booze… How I felt … How I was received (or how I felt I was received), the confidence I felt… Was incredible. I really did think, "the power this gives- no wonder adults don't want us to have it. Teenagers with power… Teenagers who can look at people in the eye, and talk on the same level are dangerous!" Of course, this power was me drugging the fearful child, the one who had been kicked unconscious outside the school gates, pushed through school windows, insulted, assaulted and who buried everything they hated under fear, silence , and the ability to compartmentalise "life," and that place. We all cope in different ways. My Jekyll and Hyde, my Nutty Professor elixir was a few beers. A few shorts, a few glasses of wine. 

Alcohol made and defined me in those days. After a pint, or a few shorts (in early days, pernod and black currant), I was confident , funny, unpredictable, happy, free. I managed to pull together enough of a persona, a lie, to have relationships some of which I had to end as the pretence of the confident, constantly witty guy at the pub, club, gig etc was just that. The sober guy was trying to work out how the world worked. In work, at home, I was morose, unhappy, quiet and tried to be invisible. When the Nutty Professor tried to bring the alter ego to the office, he fell flat, a bit of a laugh. So it was best to restrict that unsustainable figure to the pubs and clubs in Banbridge and student unions and nightlife in Belfast, which is what I did. 

Don't get me wrong . There were a few times I could be me. I was me for a couple of years from 1989. And I stayed off the booze for the most part. But I started to miss that cool, confident part time me, and when I went to University, he tried to re-emerge, but being older, or being in a completely different environment, aye, he was wild, drinking when he could, but messing up more. I remember by the end of my first year, when I was 27, I first encountered a new feeling of being exhausted with booze. I stopped drinking for a while, got fit again, but discovered, or rediscovered a drug I had first tried in my late teens but didnt "get." Hash. Mary Jane. Weed. 

And for a full, hazey year I hardly drank. Just now and again when I cut through the smoke and the political, cultural and downright mad stuff me, Kev, Sarah, and others talked. Then came the mixture. Red wine, smoke, and bang… Life changed again. Calimotxo, caffeine, wine smoke. And I grew tired of the long haired, at times manic hippy creature that had emerged. After Uni, I set aside the extra curricular activity of drugs, and concentrated on when, through parenthood, I could get drunk. When could I fit in talking shit, confidently at friends, strangers and bar tenders alike? 

But that dry mouth, sick feeling; that need to knock back something to be that guy really was annoying real, submerged me. 

Scotland, like Ireland, has a drink culture. Drink is acceptable, excused, as is being a loud, confident drunk. You can have regrets, and people will tell you not to worry, "as you were just drunk." Alcoholism is encouraged on our media and by friends who like a swally. But I was realising that the me I was suppressing was not being allowed to grow. And I was beginning to loathe Mr Confident, and the awful effects of the drug that produced him, on my body.

So here I sit, in a coffee shop, in the last few hours running up to the latest covid lockdown , fuelling my only addiction, a little bit high on codeine because of the awful discoveries the dentist made in my mouth and for over an hour tried to put right yesterday. 

I understand how and why codeine is addictive, but the reminder this morning of Mr Confident's mornings after the wild night (or day, or weekend, or week, or in the case of one particular summer, two months) before, is a sobering one. 

I used to say for years after quitting alcohol (eight years ago) that I have never said never again. I'm not sure if there are circumstances that would bring me back to that warm, but destructive, glow of the first few sips, when Mr Uncertain, Mr Uncool, Mr Unconfident, The Nutty Professor, Dr Julius Kelp became Buddy Love, Mr Confident, The Irish Hippy, Mr Unafraid. 

Im addicted to being afraid, or hiding, but pushing myself to emerge now and again. To grow in a way those first few sips of lager stopped me from going beyond the fearful 17 year old who wanted a potion to help him shout back at the world. And I find myself at times , unfolding and meeting the world as me.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Creeping Conspiracy: The Left and Antivaxxers

I'm finding it quite sad watching left comrades fall down holes of conspiracy theory. I do feel a lot of this has to do with simplifying complex issues for leaflets, slogans and tabloid like articles that delve no further than to try to create some sort of activity through anger and fear. There was a time I could, wrongly in retrospect, turn a blind eye to this stuff (ie when i was ensconced within a political entity that i was trying to help build... I did have doubts then, but like many, I got caught up in the building rather than the minutea of what was going on in order to build). 

The proliferation of vaccine doubters and antivaxx folk, from the left, is a case in hand. I remember the debates around the autism scare back in the noughties in the Scottish Socialist Party. They were often ill informed, and based on nothing but fear and decontextualised, isolated pieces of information, and at times, very skewed and misread data.
I do think this highlights the ongoing issues within the organised, small, left groups. Encouraging suspicion of systems and news sources , and academia, seems to have become a part of SOME peoples activism. These are traits of the far right. Socialism, really should be based on all data, and outliers should totally be dismissed as outliers when studying data. Beliefs and suspicions and conspiracy with NO BASIS really need to be discarded from our discourse.

2020 Gob.

What a selfish thing, intense pain is. I really have so much admiration who live with chronic pain daily.

I have an abcess. I've  had an abcess before, and abcesses are bloody painful. But, the pain I have had in my gob, for the past twelve or so hours, has been the most intense pain I think I've ever had. No pain relief has worked, - paracetamol 500, ibrobruphen 400, usually dulls this sort of pain for me... Not this time. Relating this pain to people, ie my wife, my work and my dentist, is, I find, pretty difficult. Describing pain as, "this is the most intense pain I've ever suffered," is on a scale of my pain.

Why haven't humans developed a way to pass on descriptions of pain through touch? "This is how I feel... "
"Ah. That is a very intense pain. Here are the exact drugs you need for that."
Even when I fell and broke three vertebrae, yes the pain was excruciating , but i was able to sleep that night after pain meds. Cracking my ribs, same. Broken fingers and toes; slept like a log. Previous abscess, same. This abcess, which is painful in itself, has spread from the upper  jaw to the bottom one... And that pain is really like no other I've ever had. This pain- no sleep last night. At least our wee, old, anxious dog benefitted from company as I lay on a seat beside him in the livingroom all night, unable to do anything but concentrate on the sword driven and twisted through my jaw and skull.

I will be at the dentist at two. I'm not sure why I'm looking forward to this so much, other than I hope she prescribes raw morphine, injected directly into my jaw, or something similar. I've never looked forward to a dental visit. When I arrive, I imagine I'll sing. I'll dance. I'll praise all of the pantheons on high or below. Inside my own selfishly sore head.

Edit: Well, I went to the dentist and after a lot of x-raying, testing, injecting, drilling, filling, etc, I found out it WASN'T an abcess, but nerve damage caused by an old old filling impacting on a nerve and also infection on said nerve. This pain then travelled around my jaw. I usually hate when they freeze your mouth, but the relief of it was incredible as it froze the nerve that was damaged and my whole jaw seemed to return to normal.

So, cautious hope that with the work that was done, painkillers and antibiotics, I'm going to get some sleep tonight.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Who is thine enemy?

There is a very interesting (really!) thread on Scottish Left Forum at the moment, in which members are saying what they see themselves as. What labels they slap on their various experiential , educational, moral and political person. 

I've said, "I'm a revolutionary socialist." I do so with caveats … I'm not about a singular philosophical divergent branch of anything.

 I see truths, in many philosophical branches that  diverge towards platonic thought, I suppose, like most. I ask "why?" when others say something I at first glance disagree with, and I reset if I'm persuaded that a particular analysis has been wrong. This happens on occasions. 

If I feel, or can see evidence for abysmal analysis that seems to be being carried without thought, I challenge it. I loathe many of those who seek power, or get in to politics just to seek power or have a career- they really do warp, slither and slide and Teflon shoulder and wreck lives to reach their goals. Most of these people are narcissists. 

I'm not part of any sectarian group or thought (never have been) . I feel the left groups have disintegrated into dogma built by some of the post 1968 "new left" heroes (and coat-tail followers) , and 1980's/'90's groupings that are reluctant to give up power and have ensured new thinking and analysis is squashed, or derided. 

It really isn't just a linguistic wrongness- ie. using old slogans and 19th century words to describe complex and modern systems (which, along with using terms that were sloganised in the nineties that have been usurped by the right, do not help). Its the whole root and branch of how policy etc is built. The groups and prominent people (mostly men, but not exclusively), find it impossible to say, "we got that previous 'scientific marxist dialectical analysis' wrong, lets take another look," and instead they warp their wrongheadedness into why they were right, and build on that. Its a problem that all political entities have from right to left. But the organised left are drowning in it at present. 

My absolute hope is for a programme that is centred on the conditions we find ourselves in NOW and is flexible enough to be steered as those conditions change that socialists can get on board with in order to come together and debate other issues that really do divide us (eg internationally like the strange allegiances of some with the ultra capitalist Russia, the totalitarian capitalist, China and the genocidal Assad). A proper analysis would see a clear out at The Morning Star, Jacobin and others (who in these times see the enemy through a 1850's, 1910's, 1930's, and a 1990's to 2008 lense- subsequent conditions are analysed through wrong turns, at those times) as centrist rather than fascist, right wing and right wing populist. At this moment of time, some organised groups on the left seem to think centrism is society's enemy and that it is out to get 'US' in particular. This in the face of a defeated Trump, reportedly planning a media organisation to tge right of Fox, driving through a crowd he has rallied of racist, far right and fascist fans and giving the thumbs up. And a fascist President, urging on attacks of antifa and incredibly a few days after remembrance days, condemning anti fascists in no uncertain terms. 

You'd think, though, that the left could aspire to be different . Centrists at present, like Ahern in New Zealand and Sturgeon here in Scotland, are attempting to show how decisions are made and that aye, we can be wrong and change course. This is creating trust. Holding on to wrongness and denying wrongness and building on wrongness is really helping destroy the left from within. It makes the left easy to attack from the right who now use the same slogans (neo liberalism, elites, 1% and other meaningless  stuff we really should eject).

There is a fear in new young people on the left to be "wrong," as anything said outside dogma is crushed and derided. The left really us an awful cul de sac to be in at the moment that needs a huge overhaul.

Saturday, 14 November 2020

On UBI and the "Left."

I've seen conversations on this topic across the left over the past couple of years, the most recent one had its own graphs that actually made no sense, but some "revolutionaries," were using them to "prove" that UBI would be a setback for "the class," and their "revolution." Complete pish, in other words .

The left I once hoped to be part of in a united front, really over the past decade from Syria, through Labour Party shenanigans, through Brexit and the American elections (and reaction to Biden's uniting campaign that took down a (at the very least proto) fascist, to name a *few* things, has been horrific. The now bouncing from, "Look at what Sawant did in Seattle; dont vote for Biden," to, "Look. AOC (who campaigned wholeheartedly for the Biden/Harris ticket) is also saying she's annoyed at moves to exclude the left from government positions ," shows

1 a disengenuousness borne on a contrarian analysis, rather than a socialist one and

2 the swinging weathervane approach Tony Benn used to speak about.

Its a left that now seems to just dip in to a dogma created through years if an inability to truly reflect on campaigns and policies and analysis and slogans that get it wrong... Each wrong turn building into worse and worse analysis.

Anyway, these revolutionaries are now turning their ire on UBI. There is tonnes of research being done on UBI across the world. REAL research that actual professionals working in the field can quote (Google is your friend). This is an answer i made on the conversation at present, floating around Facebook, which is as i said, illustrated by terrible graphs.

"UBI's most important plus point for socialists really is, in my opinion, what it SAYS to everyone. It tells us, "this place belongs to you, here is a payment from your country to you for being a valuable citizen [nb, the LEVEL of payment is what we should be fighting for]".

It treats everyone as equals. All equal citizens, equally valuable. And a good set level of ubi payment means people can, like we were able to in the past before the tories started dismantling the welfare system, THINK for a while about how we want to contribute to society.

UBI really is projected to increase social mobility, something that is virtually non existent in the uk - a place where it was quite high for the boomer generation. UBI could really stimulate social mobility.

There are some left voices who dont like it because it thwarts the revolution they have been planning in their branch meetings of five or six people in a few places across the country.

Reform that tells us we have a right to the country's wealth, really does, psychologically, go towards creating revolutionaries.

I urge you to seek out the research by the late Ailsa Mackay on this . And the more recent research by public health scotland and others."

{Ailsa Mackay

Friday, 13 November 2020

Dreaming about Blondie

It was a particular kind of contrarian who used to say they didn't like Blondie. It was like not liking salt and vinegar crisps. Or Galaxy chocolate. Or Bugsy Malone. Or Convoy. But some people hated. It was their job. 

 People in the late seventies loved to be contrary. Loved to think they were ahead of a curve they didn't, of course, give a fuck about. Blondie sold out, was the pish I heard from my The Exploited, Ramones, Crass, Dead Kennedys, Killing Joke loving friends and not so friends. They screamed left wing lyrics in the playground, but I bet all of the contrarians who screamed against the changing world, "Punks Not Dead!" all grew up and voted for the exploiting Brexit. 

 All of the above groups were great, I loved the punk finger held stiff in the direction of all that had come before... It cleared the way for beauty that came after and the thing was, I really couldn't be arsed fitting into some punk, post punk, new wave, indie box. I didnt fit, because as well as all of the above, I loved The Pretenders, Blondie, Abba, Charlie Pride, Toyah, Siouxsie, Glen Campbell, The Slits, The Dubliners, Johnny Cash, The Undertones (You could be contrary to the idiot contrarians and like "rival bands..." later, I got into SLF through their biggest fan in Banbridge, County Down, Roger Moorhead.). 

I loved a lot of New Wave stuff, at the time. I knew the singles, but Eat to the Beat and Parallel Lines were introduced to me by Alex Adamson. Amazing albums. And Debbie suddenly replaced the comic characters on my bedroom wall. 🖕

Friday, 30 October 2020

No Love Lost

Japan, The Associates and Joy Division were the first groups that felt were MY groups.  I couldn't afford to buy loads of vinyl, so I collected The Associates and Japan's stuff on tape- borrowing albums from the local library, but buying all of JD's available stuff. This decision was as much to do with the emotions generated as it was financial. The Associates and Japan had, of course, weight. Their stuff was symphonic poetry... Beauty. But jesus kruschev, man, JD had weight in every chord, word, syllable, and record sleeve. They were art, politics, the working class voice of post industrial, crumbling Britain in many ways. To me.

And Curtis spoke of the inner self like no one else I had heard, as a young teenager. This stuff spoke of - and to- the world.

In a lot of ways, I was seen as a bit wild, out of control, when I was a teenager. I worked 9-5...but disapeared from mainstream life in my room with my records and tapes, and at times, when I needed some kind of way out of here, from Friday evening to Sunday night, physically, and mentally to pubs, clubs, couches, strange beds, floors and other unsuitable places that were not mine.  But I really believed the world should change. I just had no clue how that could be done, and I had a load of baggage I had to wade through before I could think beyond myself. Alcohol really helped me escape my shit, as did other stuff (I had a love hate relationship with alcohol, that sometimes turned to total hate, and I went for bursts without it... Sometimes, replacing it with other addictions like exercise or mary jane). But music really was my drug- an addiction that has never left . And like alcohol and other drugs, it really took me on emotional and physical trips - and like my need for  alcohol to help me escape and be my much more confident alterego, I thought music like Joy Division, shouting to the world, would change it. I really did. Music was my movement. My political rally. My branch meeting.

Unknown Pleasures and Closer, although definately late Joy Division, are very different beasts. I'm not going to review them here. And I'm not sure I ever will, because to do so, would seem like exposing the deepest secrets of my family, or something. My relationship with these albums is so personal, I've never played them when my wife is around. They are mine.

When I was young I couldn't get bootlegs, or back catalogues of Joy Division, in their previous guise of Warsaw. These things were rare, and never in record shops in Banbridge or Belfast. But, I heard this track eventually, in the mid eighties.

I have never heard a decent cover of JD... And I don't think I ever will hear one that will make me think I'll play it instead of the original. Well, until someone posted this earlier, in a JD Facebook group. I've never heard of The Distillers, and have thus far listened to two tracks. This one and another filmed at Reading in 2004, when I was too busy detoxing (eventually) and being dad to an eight year old. For all I know, they were the most famous band in the world. 

Anyone want to recommend me any other Distillers tracks? Because this is a decent cover I'll play more than once (I have already) with the energy of the original, done slightly differently. 

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Fact Division

George Michael on Closer: 

I've seen this footage before. It was posted earlier in a Joy Division group I'm in and one guy (it had to be a guy- it really is such a male comment!) criticised George Michael for not knowing the names of the tracks. 

 As a fan of Joy Division, pretty much from when the album Closer came out, I've got to admit... The names of the songs werent something i learned for years (nor the names of the band members) I pretty much went by how music made me feel. That's how I got into JD, and New Order (and every other band or piece of music or artist I have ever listened to- there are some bands /albums I've had for forty years i couldnt name tracks from! ). I've never been a kind of "tick box collector, filing clerk, nerdy knowledge lister" fan to be honest. Re live stuff, for example, I only own three live recordings on vinyl by JD I bought way back when, and have only played two of them once each (two Peel sessions and the live track on the original Still album). I don't need to feel close to the band or singer, beyond how they recorded, produced, wrote and presented the song. And owning stuff, regardless of fandom, really isnt a competition I'm in. 

My only interest, sometimes, beyond the music for years, was the feelings, politics, (and to some degree) the personal circumstances that led to a certain track, or album being created. Stats have never been my thing in any way, only those that measure inequality and unfairness. 

 When George Michael was alive, I wasnt in to his stuff, though being of a certain age, Wham's Club Tropicana used to lift my spirits thinking about my '80's summer holidays - my fortnight break from the drudgery of my factory job in Northern Ireland. I wish I'd payed more attention to him, as it wasnt until after his death I learned about his support for working class causes, anti-Thatcherism and amazing charity donations... What a kind spirit. 

And it wasnt until then that I paid attention to this track, which has become one of my all time favourites... Praying For Time:  HERE 

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Comics, Scifi and the Dredd-iverse

I read comics. And there are some brilliant ones out there. Its been good to see some of them getting the Netflix treatment (some, like The Umbrella Academy actually come out better; some like The Boys not just as good - having said that, The Boys, although a, slightly different animal than the comics, is ok). 

At present I have a good wee selection of comics on order in Forbidden Planet Glasgow of a few different genre… my absolute favourite is the Descender/Ascender series, which is good scifi with a twist of magic in the Ascender series. I have totally invested in the characters ..  Some of it has been genuinely moving. 

Since lockdown, rather than buy it through Forbidden Planet, I ordered @2000ad, and its sister monthly, The Megazine. I really enjoy good scifi, and good characters whose characteristics drive good story. Recently, though I've become annoyed that nearly every 2000ad story  has some magical or psychic or ghostly element. Don't get me wrong, some of this has its place. But nowadays it seems to have become the driving force for most narratives in what was a scifi comic. It really isn't that interesting to me, when a story can just change because of some magical power or ghostly intervention - especially when it becomes the norm.

Perhaps Scream/Misty comic should come out monthly for people who enjoy this stuff and pull 2000ad back to scifi? Scream and Misty were dedicated to these kind of stories. And you knew what you were getting when you bought them . And the fact that this was the case meant writers really did have to be on point to make their stories interesting. 

Lazy, Harry Potter-ite storytelling? A sign of our post millennial writing talent? 

It kind of reminds me a bit of like watching Power Rangers when my son was wee. "Lets make the monsters bigger at the end." or in this case, "no one will expect an Ichabod /Dredd crossover, and they especially wont expect Dredd turning into an evil being. Will he turn back into a good fascist?"  "Let's bring Judge Death back…" 

As for bringing the old Action comic character Hookjaw into the comic, and suggesting some sort of mystical connection… am I the only person not that excited? 

I really feel good scifi writers are missing something, when Dredd world is moving closer to our reality, with a dying USA and what that has meant globally; the lunacy induced in our politics here in europe with the death throes of whats left of the British empire; the global rise of populism and proto fascism; the pandemic; BLM and the re-examination of the roots of racism, the rebellions of 1968 etc. Introducing a new monster, creepier ghostly death thing, psi battles in peoples heads, really are boring (for me).

Anyone got good recommendations of scifi graphic novels/other comics? Ill stick with 2000 AD for now… There are some good series that I know, that will return (The Out being the most recent good scifi). And The Megazine is mostly great.

Friday, 23 October 2020

Generation Division

Joy Division teeshirts have become the new fitbaw taps. Everyone has one. They are now second only to Ramones taps.

Its annoying in some ways. One being I have had Joy Division tee's since the early eighties (and I own two at the mo).

What should be a middle aged person smuggly  wearing an obscure cultural reference has made me look like mutton dressed as lamb.

This cultural appropriation of the youth is hurting old people. Stop this tragedy now. I'll be forced into feckin' polo shirts, jumpers and chinos by the youth deciding early eighties alternative music is a fashion statement.

Thing is, when this trend dies, I'll look like I'm wearing my sons castoffs.

<reaches for the comfort of an Echo and the Bunnymen tap>

Crusty fun

I was listening to R4 in the car earlier today. A comedian, Zoe Lyons, was reminiscing about her childhood in Ireland. The programme was great... actually about her applying for an Irish passport in order to stay in the EU...

There was one part of these reminisces that struck a chord. I grew up in the outskirts of a mid Ulster town (Banbridge). Our back garden led in to a field that was used by a local rugby team, cows, occasionally horses, an annual grass tracking motorbike race and an occasional pipe bands competition. In fact, there were quite a lot of fields, with animals, near to us.

A few days ago, I told one of the Primary classes I teach about an aspect of my childhood I dont think I've ever described before. And this comedian, much to my hilarity and disbelief, used the same descriptions of games she used to play and of the thing she used to play with. Remember, we had limited telly, and no computer games in the seventies. 

That "toy," or immersive experience, required a good pair of wellies, which all children owned when I was wee, and cow shit. Aye.
We used to poke shit with sticks and occasionally jump in it to splash. The best shit was the crusty stuff, rather than totally fresh (described by me, and this comedian, as "meringue like"). Crusty shit meant you could jump on it, and it would splash out, quite far, and you would not get your wellies covered. In fact, what impressed us, was who could get a good pile of shit to project the furthest. Older shit that was just crust, could be flung like a frisbee. Frisbees must have been invented, if not in Irish fields, in a field of cows somewhere in the world.

How funny, that just a few days after having an inner city Glaswegian primary class laughing their heads off at this, someone else recalled this activity in the same way. Two of us were paid this week after describing shit activity neither of us were aware seems to have been a "thing" for Irish children. Are these activities (shit poking, shit stomping, and flinging shit) all one activity, or are they definately three distinct activities? Perhaps people exist who carried out just one of these activities, rather than all three. All sorts of questions, are racing through my head. 

Childhood was amazing, insanitary and none of us died of shit activities.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Boxing Matches...

A facebook friend has been talking about labels other political folk place on him. Its been something I've been thinking about (also in the context of how people... And in particular men, obsess, or have almost /quasi religious experiences of things that become obsessions).
I've always been obsessed with fairness. And I've been obsessed with how people decide on dogma/systemic beliefs/groups to join. Like many, my obsession for a better world became almost religious... A kind of Saul Damascus Paul thing, where rather than travel the roads of Asia Minor to preach, I sold papers, organised political activity, debated and organised political campaigns and campaigning groups.

I've always understood that society needs to change - we need a fair world both economically and democratically. And until I was in my thirties, I felt the way to help achieve this was through uniting with others to campaign. I didnt join political parties until I was in my thirties (and because of the fervent religious sectarianism I saw growing up in Northern Ireland, I studiously avoided joining any of the multitude of tail chasing dogmatic socialist parties and groupings-even though I agreed with much of what they aspired to). 

Its odd. People love placing others safely into boxes labelled good and bad, in a comparison with the box they have situated themselves.

After leaving the Scottish Socialist Party, which I had joined because of its original left unity (a recruitment call of "if you agree with 80% of what we say, join and lets discuss that other 20%," helped), and its foundational and essential shared compromises, I realised just how little I had in common with the dogmatic socialist groups and groupings which had made up just less than 50% of the membership up until 2007 (but a huge part of the internal power structure). After 2007, although mostly (not entirely) the SSP was nationally directed by people from one particular group, a multitude of local branches such as the one I was organiser for (Campsie Socialists), were vibrant, multi factional and none, lively debating chambers and locally active units - left alone really, by the small group at "the top."
Friction came when there were moves to reunite the dogmatic, and at times rancid groups (through Rise - even though those who were "in charge"  of this were at pains to say Rise was a unity of individuals joining, the fact was that at the top were people whose politics were forged in the sectarian furnace of splits and dogma and their activities at that time reflected their origins). What became obvious was that the real activity and vitality of the SSP came from the branches, after the leaderships began to impose their new idea of order on these active and effective branches.

The mass exodus (hundreds of activists) from the ssp and the absolute failure of Rise circa late 2015/16 has left many of us (a good few hundred activists) without weekly debating chambers, and made, redundant the politenesses that let dogmatic shite go unchallenged outside these meetings.

On leaving, I found many more left folk without a political home, or are in one they call "temporary," for one reason or another. I've played with doing just that too, but always talk myself out of it. At present, I feel, my pro Scottish Independence activism can be played out outside party structures, as can my pro sustainability, anti war, anti nuke, anti capitalist views. 

So... Yip, I've been accused/placed in boxes of all sorts,  from left anarchist, through to liberal. I myself would say I'm an anti fascist, antiwar, anti nuke, I suppose, "revolutionary" socialist, "realist" (materialist), red/green and a democrat. Actually, I could list many titles. I think though, I understand that the world is massively complex; human relationships, and the needs and desires of people, who club together to realise these things will inevitably lead to disagreements. One of the things, we need to learn and teach is finding ways through disagreement... And how to socialise power.

What do you identify as, how do others see you, and what views have you been accused of having/which boxes have you been placed in by others ? 

I could go on... But box and label me quick.

Friday, 25 September 2020

Born to Be Alive...

Just drove to Pitlochry. On the way, I heard this song on the radio. It really reminds me of a time and in particular, our family at the time it was out. 

When you are young, you yearn for independence, and to know what the future holds. At the time this song was out, I was really happy in our family unit. I felt safe, happy, loved (the opposite of what I felt for a lot of time in school, but had a good circle of friends who put up with me!). I had a feeling of my world changing, but I didnt want it to, beyond the desperation to get away from school... I still hate family change. I like new things, experiences, people, but massive, long term change of family situation, I find difficult. Dad dying and not being able to visit mum as often as I would have liked, his has made this a very difficult year.

My eldest sister, had this song. She was in to disco, but had a range of music taste, and her buying the single of "Love Will Tear Us Apart," got me in to Joy Division (though most of JD's catalogue was not to her taste... I remember her sarcastically shouting through my bedroom door, "Where WILL it end, Neil?" as I droned along to "Day of the Lords...")

Hearing this song also reminded me of the relationship with music we had back then, and how that has changed. Dad had a collection of eight track tapes (younger people ... These tape decks operated like CD's... You could switch songs at the press of a button, and the tapes played on a loop... Albums could be listened to the whole way through without having to "turn over" the tape). Car journeys in the light blue Volkswagon Beetle, were family sing songs along to ABBA, Jim Reeves, Charley Pride, Philomena Begley, Big Tom and the Mainliners and others. And Karen taped the top 40, so we'd hear that (I started doing this too), and skillfully taping new songs over old, and using the pause button and winding the tape back with a finger to make sure you didnt have the Radio One DJ's voice on it at all, is a skill no young person acquires nowadays... Is this REALLY progress?

And buying music, with pocket money or low first wages was a big decision. Buying a single or two really was a massive decision , as was buying albums. Albums I wanted for ever were bought on vinyl and taped for the car or the kitchen stereo (a huge ghetto blaster thing, I remember going to a shop in Gilford with dad to buy... for him to listen to his country and western radio show on a Sunday night. An amazing thing at the time, with LED lights that pulsated to the music, and with a graphic equalizer)... Just what was that "Metal" setting for (metal tapes usually said , "do not use metal setting," on the box ... )?

I remember standing for ages in the early eighties debating with myself in Newtonards Shopping Centre whether or not to buy Kate Bush's album, The Dreaming, based on hearing one song, and based also on the fact I'd liked her older stuff... Buying albums were like that. A hit and miss thing, based on singles. I have to say... Most albums I bought were great. Nowadays, all music , including entire albums are easily accessed . If you want to buy, you've probably heard all of the tracks.

Anyway... Born to be Alive... Yes we are.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

De-stress that squirrel

I was driving to work this morning, as stressed as an over tightened violin played by a squirrel on a hotplate being barked at by a dog with anger issues caused by piles, when this came on the radio... I sailed into work without a care in the world as it played...


Saturday, 19 September 2020

Every School Year Should be a Mr Hull Year...

Im glad schools and teachers are changing. I now know no *mean* teachers. We all do our best to ensure children in our care are happy, comfortable and want to be there.
{P4 gave me a love of art...} 

I have lots of memories of teachers beating me, kicking me, pulling my hair, drumming on the side of my head with their knuckles, lifting me by the ear, or the hair at the side of my head. I have memories of being humiliated by teachers. I've seen children humiliated during my teaching career... And I used to protect children from one old git (who thankfully doesn't teach anymore ) who used to scream at them (i used to usher them out of the classroom-or into the playground if I knew she was on her way).

I have never forgotten humiliations from people who really should never have been allowed near children. One incident sticks in my mind. I actually liked the teacher, she was "safe." 

Anyway, I sat at a table with very  upper working class/middle class children - other teachers children, a police officers child, a business owners child...

Teachers love to set challenges, sometimes not really understanding the crushing effect of that challenge on those who never can meet it. She set a challenge of a really difficult sum I knew my friends would get- one I really could not get near to achieving. I knew another embarrassing, humiliating time was firmly set in my future, so, I "switched off," as I always tended to do in the face of more crushing, embarrassing evidence of my stupidity. I didn't take part. I froze.

When it was time to reveal the answer, my table, to a person, got it right. The teacher , in order to heighten the humiliation (she probably just didn't think , or care about humiliation, lets be honest), asked all of those who got it right to raise their hand. Like the rest of the table, I raised my hand, but shut my jotter. The teacher then singled me out, knowing perfectly well I hadn't got it, as she knew I really found number work difficult. She asked to see the sum. Not only that, but to show it to the class. I flipped through my jotter and told her I had lost the page. She was really angry with me for my pretence, and I remember the heat of my burning embarrassment as she humiliated me in front of the class. At least she didn't hit, bang my head with her knuckles, pull my hair, break a ruler over my hand, slipper me, cane me or throw a, wooden duster at me. 

I was seven.
And as I say, she wasnt the worst... She was "safe," ie. She didnt physically abuse - this was a thing... Children in those days knew the hitters, the sadists and those who were safe- it was part of our conversation, especially at the start of a new school year. 

Other humiliations were centred around my reading, PE, my inability to remember the alphabet, times, tables etc. And I suffered physical abuse because of my inability to concentrate or recite things we learned by rote. Some humiliations and pain were expected. The ones that stand out were by teachers I trusted, including the one above. And this brings me to today. All teachers should be trusted by children. Careless talk, raised voices and humiliating feedback causes long term anxiety and has a mental health impact. Our behaviours and anxieties are absorbed as lessons, without the benchmarks, "I can" statements, on display. 

I'm glad to say my son enjoyed school. He had a very different experience from me. We can as teachers make mistakes, but we do our best to get to the bottom of behaviours and to help children see failure as a positive learning experience either about the skill, or themselves. My son is confident regarding his knowledge and skills (though the present work market, created by ten years of the failure of austerity politics , and now covid, are denting that a tad).

Teaching children that if they really want to, they can do something and watching them try and try without feeling embarrassed, is incredibly satisfying and actually quite emotional. I know no teacher who doesn't feel the same nowadays. 


And we teach children to recognise that everyone has different positive attributes. And I know that the absolute imperative for all teachers, are children who have a life long love of learning ... Something i didnt properly discover until i was in my late teens /early twenties. Or what I should say, I had all my life , but formal education was almost buried because of the absolute fear I had for school thanks to some god awful people who nowadays would be jailed.

(Primary school for me, was totally saved by the "safe" teachers- P2 Mrs Cunningham, who was kind and fun; P4, Mrs Russell, gave me a love of art; P6, Mr Hull, who made learning fun and school a place I wanted to be - a teacher I really will never forget as he made me feel like I was a valued part of a little community, and P7, Mr Carlton whose stories about driving tanks etc, were just damn interesting).

Children really should not fear school. School for many, is a haven. I love seeing children having a totally different experience of school than I did. Every year should be a safe teacher year.

Every year should be a welcoming, valuing, Mr Hull year.

All behaviour is communication, and that is a, two way street. The children's behaviour communicates their happiness, fears, anxiety... As does ours. Only, our behaviour also teaches children behaviour. Cold, unkind, anxiety driven behaviours designed to control, teach children the same anxiety driven behaviours we picked up from our childhood. We need to try to ensure those mental health impacting behaviours are driven out of the front line of education, into history. Society will benefit massively from that. And there are huge hurdles to overcome to get there.
It's incredible that there were actual debates and disagreements over the legislation that outlawed some of the abuse meted out in schools, just in the way there has been debate over the last twenty years over outlawing physical abuse meted out by parents. Children really are the last in the line when we talk about Equalities. Threats, screaming teachers and humiliation really must be the next front... The next inequality we tackle within our school communities. But to really do that, we must look again at the expectations we have of young kids... The expectations we have on teachers ticking through schemes of work, and the abuse of power meted out by adult managers on staff, because of pressures they are under. Anxiety driven abuse must be stopped. And to do that, education really must no longer be an exercise in time and motion study, or a place of "control." 

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Blue Peter, Uncle Bulgaria, and selling stuff to kids...

Someone posted this picture of their collection of Blue Peter Annuals on Facebook today. 

Nowadays, I'm definately more interested in old comics and musical and cultural and personal vomiting on social media, than today's very broken politics (though, I'm not completely divorced from the political bubbles and commentary on events). 

I had some of the earlier, 1970's Blue Peter books. They, like Look and Learn, and the Magpie annual, were superb kids books, arriving on Christmas day, full of photos of the previous year in kids BBC telly/cultural history, and of things to make and do. Their arrival, was a small event in the massive one of a Christmas day full of Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville (christ, what were they doing to us?), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Top of the Pops, Doctor Who, Morecombe and Wise, Mike Yarwood, Christmas dinner at nanny and granda's , with my great great aunts Emily and Martha with their false teeth sitting beside them, visits to Granny and Granda in Tullylish, and my cousins Ian and Brenda and Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Jackie. 
{the brilliant, Mike Yarwood...

{Emily and Martha, teeth hidden, being photobombed by my Christmas TV tie-in Uncle Bulgaria...

The main toys would be visually stroked and played with and the Annuals, Beano, Warlord, Look and Learn, etc, were night time reading on the bedroom floor, in the landing light cast across the floor through the crack from the partially open door. 

Every Blue Peter annual marked something culturally new, not least the change in the programme's personnel.

Its strange looking back at them, and remembering those change of personnel. Val leaving; the dogs dying; the gorgeous, "modern" Lesley Judd; the hybernating tortoise;  vandals in the garden; Percy Thrower getting his gold Blue Peter badge; Bring and buy sales; Totalisers; Christmas coathanger candle decirations; loo roll Tracy Island; John Noakes doing mad, impossibly brave things and Peter Duncan appearing naked on stage in the Opera House Belfast, and me and my friends laughing at the Paisleyites demonstrating outside as we queued up... Blue Peter, indirectly helping me challenge parts of my community that there was a fear around challenging- and moving from childhood to adulthood. This event is virtually impossible to find references to on the Internet, and Duncans tackle never made it into any annual, but it was an event that had many people of my generation lining up to push through, kick back at, the fascist intimidation from religious, sectarian zealots who were determined to keep culture under a kind of 17th century lock and key. An event my friends and I went on to replicate when we cleared Portadown Town Hall of Paisleyite protestors during a masterbation scene in our interpretation as Acting Strange Theatre Company, of "Once a Catholic." 

{Lesley Judd... Kids TV Purdy

{seeing Peter Duncan's tackle from the front row of the Belfast Opera House with Paisley's followers bellowing in froathing fascism outside, was two fingers at childhood and at those who lived around us who wanted us to live in the 17th century

Blue Peter cultural landmarks in my early, pre-internet life, that really today would be seen as meaningless (the equivalent Duncan nude controversies probably on par with YouTubers selling dodgy stuff or saying something fascist). 

{How many young people nowadays notices a new Blue Peter (or any TV) presenter? Pre-Internet, all of these names made it into our popular culture...

These landmarks were I suppose, because childrens TV was such a small, almost afterthought aspect of general life, disseminated via TV and in particular, the BBC; but its smallness was massive to us. 
It was something that adults didn't sit and watch with us as they were making the dinner or negotiating bombscares on the way home in the Belfast rush hour. John Craven's Newsround, then Blue Peter and then some other "decent, relaxing" programme like a cartoon, or Grange Hill, then Roobarb and Custard... A perfect hour (Play School and Jackanory were never my thing after the age of five or six...) It was "watercooler" culture that united us, that was created for us... Even if it was just the post teatime, "Magpie is better than posh Blue, Peter," snash up the tree at the end of our road. 
Changes in Blue Peter teams and the events; {Cambodia bring and buy sales all over the uk, for  example, a political event that really would not pass the odd "BBC balance" test that our current hegemonic gate keepers use to allow fascists like little nazi Farage on our screens shouting at, dehumanising and demonising refugees who are endangering their lives to escape war, poverty, and imprisoned lives}; had a much bigger, but subjectively similar impact of new editions of a top ranking computer game nowadays. 

Every segment of kids tv, and early evening family viewing from 4pm-9pm were cultural events, the likes of which we dont have any more. Like the slightly later in life indie music and teenage gangs /style in the eighties. 

Is the world like that now? 

Will kids remember as cultural landmarks in their lives, every new design of the football skips sold at them bi-annually? or new iPhone? or the new "set" design their favourite youtuber lounges or dances and sells across?

Kids TV was not designed to sell toys in those days. We werent seen as a market. And in fact, there was a huge debate about advertising toys during kids programmes. Unlike today, when the programme is one long advert. I did have a Monkeys car, A Sooty puppet and a Pluto puppet, a Starskey and Hutch and Kojak car (hardly kids tv), a bionic man and a Fonz... All offshoots of telly programmes, rather than products designed to be characters in formulaic episodes. 

These Blue Peter annuals represent a time when kids tv wasn't sold at us... But was there to entertain and educate. Nowadays, teaching in school, children talk of the brand or the computer game... All parts of a marketing strategy that takes precedence over the cultural phenomena. Marketing that creates forgettable phenomena. 

I think the cultural world we have created for our kids is really not as safe or healthy as the world we left behind in the seventies (though the physical world is, undoubtedly safer). Todays indoor, broadcasted culture has much more going on, but most of it is a sales pitch... creating markets. Not caring or nurturing. It is a world in which kids cultural phenomena are more about selling stuff, and rarely about helping victims of despotic regimes, or cleaning pigeon shit from atop Nelson's Column, swinging on old ropes. 

Greta Thunberg is an exception, but one that was disapeared when covid-19 came to town, and kids are now obsessing over the £100 Burberry mask they desperately need. 

These annuals are superb markers of a time we wanted to create a better world, but ended up with trainer envy, advertising billboards on our kids chests and kids scared of the outside.

Do you think they mark a better time?

Overall, I don't think the times were better (kids, after all were tortured in schools physically and mentally, and many stressed homes were no better... Some of that has changed... At least, there are legislative protections to childhood now) ... But I feel the media has changed from one that delivered a service for kids, and now uses them as marketing subjects... And unlike the tv ratings prompting spin off toys, the incredible power of the social media algorithms are selling sometimes harmful activities and  objects to children whose innocence is stripped away in different, harmful ways than ours was.


[By the way, in trying to find references to the play Peter Duncan was in during the 1980s I've mentioned here, I came across this quote from him. 

"I grew up with it (the Troubles)," he says. "I followed it and was always trying to understand what was going on as a young man. It wasn't called the Troubles for nothing, it did trouble people. I suppose I had sympathy for those who seemed more oppressed than the other. I didn't always like what the British state did. I was understanding of Protestants and Catholics and why they did what they did.

Each time I'd come back and see the change, how different it was," he adds. "Protestants and Catholics have been to the forefront of bringing kids up sharing (their future) and not living in a bubble. That is powerful motivation for not going back in the wrong direction and creating a divide between people."] 

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Letter to Tharg...

2000AD in School

Dear Tharg the Inquisitor of Thales 1,2 and 3, Master of the Timelines, 

Back in '77 I saw the adverts on terrestrial TV, for your mighty organ. In fact, if I remember the adverts correctly, your mighty organ was erected in central London after an intergalactic journey to seed the world with pan-galactic thrills to blow our minds. 

{This letter was letter of the week, this week - wb 31.9.2020!}

I was a late comer, though was filled in by my best mate, who supplied me with the sensual experiences I needed to become whole. He gave me his first few Progs, and that was me hooked. Until I read Halo Jones, after which I found it difficult, at the time to rise to any subsequent attempted thrills as her escape from the drudge of working class life, came to an end. As a working class boy, wanting to escape, I was desperately disappointed not to know if she had totally escaped that GenX like humdrum existence. Nowadays I see it as a reflection of inequality that plagues working class existence. Struggle, mental illness, addiction, used, abused, forgotten. You never totally escape the Hoop, the housing scheme, the projects, the estate. A classic that should be in every high school library. 

I  went into the world without the Prog, for many years … weaving an unsteady path through life, low paid jobs, addictions and then eventually throwing myself into debt to educate myself, becoming a teacher. My venturing out, led me to a kind of escape, but one I hoped would help other young people escape. I think the unfinished Jones should perhaps remain unfinished … Escape is never total. 

In early 2015, I found myself off work on a long term sickness. Stuck at home, with only daytime TV and a bit of beard trimming, I decided to take a stroll through Glasgow, and stumbled upon Forbidden Planet (other great comic outlets are available, though I've yet to find a more friendly, knowledgeable and interesting staff). And there, I came across a whole section dedicated to 2000AD and its past, and of course, The Meg. And there, during that illness, I reintroduced myself to the world's greatest comic. I've almost caught up on all of the stories that have become mainstays, and on some Dredd stories etc. And it has been a brilliant five years doing so. I've also delved into other brilliant stories created by some of those who made their initial career inroads on your pages. Comics are well and truly embedded back into my life, the bedrock of which is 2000AD and the Meg. 

I now run a Comic Club in my school - using some old 2000AD stories, and the Regened issues as the start off point for many of our sessions. One of your brilliant Art Droids, Rufus Dayglo, sent us books for our graphic novel collection, as did the brilliant people of Rebellion (I am @clydewon on Twitter). So I want to thank you all for that. 

I was a "late reader," who only gained the skills to read when my mum introduced me to comics in desperation. Comics were my reading rescue. And 2000AD was a huge part of that, leading me to seek out Harry Harrison, and many other SciFi writers as a young teenager. And Comic Club has already given an outlet to both reluctant readers and children who love imaginative drawing and story creation. 

I'm hoping to try to do something re Comic Club in the coming weeks again, but covid-19 is getting in the way, even though here in Scotland, we are back to school. I'm going to try a work around and create videos teachers can use in their classrooms (I think that is something Rebellion and your good self should consider during these times- videos for kids re skills, story's, story creation, art etc, and with nods to comic activities of the past). 

The Prog at the moment is absolutely amazing. I am, like many, totally engrossed by The Out. Everything Abnett and Harrison do is just so interesting, exciting and beautifully done. Sinister Dexter really never, ever should be retired - their strips, are fun and clever. And Dredd, and the Dredd universe is just brilliant. I don't think that universe can ever be fully explored. 

I am so glad I rediscovered the Prog. I really hope, Rebellion continue from strength to strength … The release of so much back catalogue and reworking  of superb British comic stories has been amazing. 

And thankyou Tharg, for being present in my life on and off and on again, since I was 11. I hope in another forty years, a pupil of mine will send a letter to you, telling you how you had an influence in their lives since their old teacher introduced comics, 2000AD and you to them. 

Forever in your debt, 

Neil Scott