Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The lunatics have taken over the ayslum...#rhizo14

As the sun came up, the enormity of their action dawned on them.  The VHS was looping Dave's home movies, gradually graining up with rewind.

No they didn't need him, they were perfectly alright on their own.  But, his comforting presence had left a hole, a yearning for old times. The weekly therapy sessions were attended with robotic remembrance but their heart wasn't in it.  Where was Dave? They left his chair free...just in case.

Some of the inmates put on the old LP's for the afternoon dances. After two days, they gave up as the others sat around in the sunroom gazing vacantly into space, tapping their feet to some other rhythm.

Charlie-boy, still chirpy, came up with a quiz night, the others cheered up a bit. When it came to actually answering the questions, the patients were stumped. Question forty five was just an example of their inability to remember:

Question 45: "What is it to love?"

They scratched their heads, they looked at their partners hoping for a clue. They were none the wiser. The question cards were stacked up unanswered one after the other.  The game passed the time, the tea punctuated the stacking.

Outside, sparrows were fighting over the remains of their digestives.

Over the wall, if they had ambled so far, they would have heard kids shouting, squabbling, screeching.  Shaking branches of the apple tree in the garden might have alerted them to unruly life.

They might, if they had ventured, have pushed the gate to the clamour beyond.

Ritual had become their reality.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Standing on the sure...(tidings for @dogtrax #rhizo14)

We are on well tread ground,

Our words in huis clos.

We feel our art in static sound,

As page feeds furtive flow.

Notes drum our door waiting for attention.

Rhymes plumb our paths seeking some intention.

"Who my friend do these belong to?

You know not? I have no clue."

Disembodied verse clicks connection for a while,

Drawling pebble wash on my wall,

Coaxing rythmic chorus to recall.

Disenchanted text pitter patters without guile.

Standing solely on the sure...

Some signs may break your rolling stride,

As distant echoes lie chaotically aside.

Clasp our shells to your ear and listen to their roar.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Lost in translation.

That's all folks.

The final cut.

Last images of a dying art.

Well damn me!

I regret to inform you that I am now a casualty of progress.

Each year for the past twenty years at the turn of the year, I would say to myself:

 "That's the last year I am doing that short-film dubbing for the Festival de Court Metrages."  

A few days later, a leaflet would drop in the letter box with this year's poster, followed by the program.

It never took much persuasion, that wierd nostalgia for working under pressure kicked in. I would go and get this year's film list and... abracadabra! I was back in the translators' cabin again, staring blankly through darkened glass at the crowded audience down there (on a good night).

This year, everything happened as normal, the leaflet, the letter box and....

Then no news.

It has finally happened.

I am obsolete.

Those years of mastering multi-voice dubbing, the dim light, the fiddly controls of the headsets, the avant-garde directions, all for nothing. I am a throw-back to a golden age. I am a part of cinematic history. I am gone, ignored, forgotten.

No more shall I be credited in the festival program...

So now it is all wrapped up and done, I embrace the silent movies, the VHS, the DVD and I reflect: I was there, hidden far up behind a shadowy window, part of it all.

I love the movies.

Take it easy.

Take it easy.

They'll be fine with out you.

They were only waiting for you to leave. No one's irreplacable.

Take a walk. Admire the view. Lap up the peace.


Breathe in, feel the fatigue. Breathe out, sigh.

If it's worth doing, it will wait for you.

Time doesn't fly and nor do you, except when you take time to...

Lie down.

They are there.

They don't need you.

Make the most of it.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Suspend disbelief... #rhizo14

The sky an epiphany in blue, the back of my scalp is rested and given form by wirily-summered meadow. I am bathed in foetus warmth.

Way above us, our gaze is lost amid an unfolding story of the clouds. I am in wonder, I am four or perhaps five years old....and now you lie beside me.

Who would believe us now, when we recount the fluid sense that was there, that instant, speaking to us?

Lambs aleaping.
Youthful momentum rebounds from rock to rock, I go careering down the hillside.  With each bound I am flying, I am part of all and electron libre.

Freedom, you can see me now.
Mid-way down the slope, I am in flow, joy, exhilaration.  The summer sun is ecstatic, the mountain laughs but lets me live.

I inspire the sheep bleating echoes from the valley.

You are far behind me, less carefree, more calculating perhaps, but witness to grace.

One breathless leap...you are there.

We are together.

A secret to keep.
It was mine. It was my friend, the tree in the garden. We enjoyed so many adventures together. Even felled, he lives on in these leaves.

Seeing as you're here, I shall let you share my branch, just this instant.  Shh.. make no noise for fear that the giants break our hide.

Tread carefully, the passage over the wall was my secret.

Not even my brother knew about it...before you came.

If you dare, you can follow me, your foot there, your hand here.

Let yourself slip. Noone can see you, now.

That my friend is the secret tunnel away from the wall.

Don't worry, I've been here loads of times.

Keep your head down.


Ha ha ha ha...

Rewind for fear.
I can't swear, I don't have permission. I am way too young now.

Thank goodness you are there.

The curtains are moving.

The monster, the wolf is here in the shadows.

Making meaning, making terrible meaning the breeze from the window ajar.

I am convinced, I am afraid, I am its prey...

if it weren't for your presence, downstairs in the kitchen.

The wolf is kept at bay by cutlery clattering in the sink.

My grief is standing on a slope.
His frame is boxed rudely. The weight is taken by Dickensian extras dressed for typhoid victims.

Death is so bloody unmodern.

The weight of the earth was stacked up around the rectangular drop, disguised for the occasion by red velveted carpet.  

Wind-swept rain pricks and veils my tears, standing lopsidely on a shallow slope.

This is how it happens, to those one loves.

No denying the brutal melodrama of an absurd separation.

Unable to bare the enormity of the scene, I look around, across to the Tor anchored away on the levels.

Defiantly a child-drawn rainbow appears.

It gives me closure and hope.

He lives with me now.  He is not gone, his gouache is etched in my soul.

I shall bear grief with joy.

We don't end my friend, we become particles for a child's studious science.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Steel my Poem...(@dogtrax #rhizo14)

Fragmentary particles of his final words blurred the town as I was jettisonned from the platform with a jolt.

Random remains of his intent had been scrawled pele-mele, in the rush to get away, in a scruffy note-pad.  They now lay skulking among the oddments in an over-full travel bag.

Journey-weary, I glanced distractedly at those lines. "Steal my poem", I read. Steel my poem, I felt. A city glowed beyond the steamed up window. No, it wouldn't reveal itself.

Standing shakily against the carriage door, I held on tight to his words. From the page to the passing lights, to the track, to my eyes, it made no sense. No, he spoke again.

"YOU'LL appear;"

I watched as his words stretched out down the line. It was made up when I left, to be broken pitifully now. I had cheated him of his last breath. He was alone.

His poetry, sketched a track-scape, a lens through which I mis-read.

I reread, again: "Steel my poem."

Then it shuddered, we turned a bend.

"Tinker against type,
 Tinker against type,
 Tinker against type."

I opened the window to catch breath.

He was a wretched poet posing as painter. His ink tinted the night, tainted my flight with its insistence.

"Damn him!"

I had left him, shackled to his work, shackled to his plight. "God damn him!"

There was no turning back.

The train sped on towards an uncertain terminus.

His words tumbled down the pane.

Spattering, splattering, blurring my sight.

He was lying now. He had cheated me, he had stolen my space. Robbed me of my piece.

I ripped out the note-pad.

"Steel my poem, give it a home,
 Steel my poem, give it a home.
 Break it, trip it, rip it apart.
 Ink it, trace it, make it our art."

A flight of fancy had brought an inkling of sense. Now he was gone, he was gone, consumed by a distance.

I had paid my debt.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Until the harvest...(#rhizo14)

Rooted in the hillside, laid out by the unknown, cut back year in year out, vines stand starkly against a winter sky.

Who will tend them? What will be the fruit of the labour? Left alone, they will wither, gradually overgrown by brambles, littered with haphazard débris.

Here, the villagers had plenty, the valley floor was fertile, their energies fused to bring home harvest, to share out produce, to mark the seasons. Twas back-breaking work, lightened by a sense of purpose, a sense of place, a sense of connection and rugged song.

Custom was embodied in the lie of the land, to each his role: child, young adult, parent, ageing peasant, village idiot. Their commons was bound by story recycled, hardly to renew year in year out.  Rebirth was miraculous, harvest was greeted with due respect and dance.

irritating name for a devastating bug, caught them unawares. Carried from across an ocean, an uninvited stowaway on a merchant ship, their annual vintage was devoured from its root up.  Cellars were emptied, an ecosystem was irretrievably parched.  The harvest would be paltry that year.

A house on the ridge was built. It was undeniably grand. It loomed over those terraced vegetable allotments just up the lane in the Bedat valley. Their stream once diverted, turned mill and machinery. A turning age asked for rubberised wheels. Seasons flew, harvest on harvest withered. Echoes of song and dance remained....miraculously...resistant.

Just along from the dairy, a bell would set to swing an unfailing rhythm. Hope was sown among assembled company for better dreams abroad. Their futures would learn reach beyond simple frame of season. Drilled instruction, revision, separation, children were set to learn modern lessons for a widened 'scape. Their fragmented rhymes were cast far afield.

Our vines stand starkly against a winter sky.
Who will tend them? What will be the fruit of our labour? Left alone shall they wither, gradually over-grown with brambles, littered with haphazard débris?

Our vines await a dance anew...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Body and sole. #rhizo14 meets metaphor

We were never allowed brown shoes, only the privileged had them. We wore black army boots and gaiters on Thursday afternoons.

Despite the combined efforts of the door-mats and the cleaning-ladies in winter, the class-room floors were always marked by our childhood games of tig, play-ground football, paddling in the puddles. However much we were told to walk in a particular direction, the call of our souls towards the muck was too much for them, for us.

Mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!

A treasure

The kids may have been taught to walk on a particular path, will have been tested to tears for PISA, but daisy-chains, and conkers don't figure on the international league tables. How sad are the bean-counters for they shall inherit the earth and a vase of plastic tulips. Their arrogant aura, their jolly jousting, their master-plans will be lost for ever.

Under orders, under fire, things go pear-shaped. Thousands of years of research, lines of learned treatises all those casks of port...the metaphor remains a prickly source of study. Have they not listened to their doubts? No doubt not! Their extensive bibliography on an obscure tombstone will be a minor archaelogical curiosity. How shall we fit them into our histories?

Self-help books won't help them, economists won't count, life will escape them. 

My greatest memories were the days of the great flood. The school was under eighty centimetres of North-Sea Sea-Water, a sunken dredging barge moored on the Fylde. Suddenly, life returned, the kids imaginations ran wild, the boys with waders were the elite. Power to anglers, say I!  School Chapel was marooned, an unaccessible pulpit to power. God's little prank! Pupils wide open, sea-air everywhere, existential questions to the fore. Would God answer our prayers that the flood should let Latin be cancelled?

When we have worn out the soles or our shoes.

Who will know that despite our learning, our titles, our Sunday bests, what was really our soul intrigue was a metaphor. We may fear setting off towards unchartable territory. We may prefer the pack, the reviews of mine peers.   The water rises.... perhaps what really counted was?

The texture of baked beans, the folksy fellowship and the smell of hot toast, the day of the deluge.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Enabling the future?

I shall try to be prosaic. I have been studying for four weeks now with @Dave Cormier's #Rhizo14 online course.  I was keen to map out a myth. Instinctively I felt it was important. I signed up to #Change11 but never went further. I did similarly a couple of years before with a Downes course (maybe with #CCK08?). Until now, apparently the time was never right.

I was led naturally to following Stephen Downes, Steve  Wheeler, Graham Attwell through my aversion to 'Learning Management Systems' or 'Virtual Learning Systems' or 'Content Managment Systems.'  I had used internet technology early to break out of the box of course-books, resource books and all.

Technology was not really the key, nervous exhaustion was. Chronology is of no importance. A story written remixes time. When you have no time to prepare, to follow the rules, hell you either just don't turn up or you just turn up. Just turning up, on the edge, I can recommend. When nothing really matters, when you have no care for what anyone might think, then magic may happen.

I had a very difficult relationship with course-books right from the start of my one month accelerated TEFL course in London. I simply didn't understand them, their thinking, their rigidity. I got in trouble very quickly with some managers by not following their program.

I was fortunate to have done my early teaching in a progressive language school which allowed me sufficient freedom to deal with all sorts of uncertainty. I learnt the eclectic way: teaching blind and sighted students together, teaching an evolving group of mixed-level unemployed learners. Learners would arrive at different times, with completely different backgrounds, objectives,  levels. Frankly the idea of people turning up 'mid-course' was my normality, similarily the idea of community being the curriculum. The real issue here was not me (it was impossible to have a teacher-centred classroom) nor the books but the connections between learners, the organisation of events, plays, poetry-readings, karaokés, nights-out.

Coming to the university where now I teach, I was lucky on a number of levels, I had experience of learning language informally, I had virtually no formal teacher-training, I had ended up being a teacher as the result of an extraordinarily twisted path. All those life experiences enabled me to just see the next step as part of a wider adventure.

When you are the son of a clergyman, if you have no belief in God,  integration in the world of work is far from straight-forward. What on earth is work? My playground was the cemetery, I enjoyed grave-digging; closer than the beach and you got better spades. When your father started formal schooling at the age of 12 what on earth is schooling?  When you leave formal education and say to yourself, life is an adventure, you are on pretty healthy ground. When you are sacked from the first two proper jobs that you fall into, well taking risks is easier. On top of that I always got offered a last cup of coffee, a last meal.

#Rhizo14 came naturally at the right wrong time.  I am gaining great creative stimulation from an eclectic bunch of fellow-learners.  I have enjoyed the banter, the poetry, the intellectual gymnastics. I am getting a much clearer view of my own limits and strengths. I am reinforcing my learning of the lie of the land, the dynamic topography of Twitter compared to Google Plus, Facebook and P2PU's platform.  I am beginning to meet new potential allies.

Watching the unhangout from week 4, I am struck by the sensation of reaching a watershed...we are now beyond the book, beyond the page, beyond the word.

This is war.

When I think of my children, your children trying to negotiate their lives with book-bound adults, I am intensely unhappy. I am unhappy at my/our own impotence.

We have a new opportunity. We have a small window of opportunity.

We don't, they don't really know what we are doing at the dawn of a revolution which is far greater in its potential than the printing press which brought the renaissance.  We have the tools to enable our learners to develop real life skills using the leverage of globalized community. We have the means to overturn the times-tables which are keeping them down.

We live in uncertain times. We must be certain that we are able to meaningfully lead learners to connect beyond their constraints to build a new future together. At the heart of this are the literacies that we ourselves are toying with. Let the play-ground be widened.  This is a co-creation, a co-operation, a coincidence. This is our time.

"Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it."


Monday, February 3, 2014

Book ends...

They were my friends, my love, my mirror, my culture, my home. Years haunting libraries, book shops, leafing through forgotten treasures...sold by the kilo at the flea-market.

"A room without books is like a body without a soul." Cicero

The process was gut-wrenching, I had been so familiar with the arrangement of the titles, the orderly bindings on the shelves. The secrets hidden behind the first row of books.

Death reduced their combined magic to a logistic burden.  Who would be interested now in poems by Walter de la Mare, in the pre-war adventure of Bulldog Drummond? Christ what does anyone do with the 'Complete Works of Titus Flavius Josephus'? One by one they ended up in detergent boxes from the Coop. How does one desacralize a life? Never underestimate the emotional tie of a book collection.

"Why did you miss exercise 5 on page 46?"
Well frankly I thought he was joking. No, he was serious, he really was concerned that I had flitted by the essential relative-pronoun gap-fill at mid-point of the lesson. Who was I to question such instruction? He was very nice about it in a stern, school-masterly sort of way but his intent was firm. I was the solemn executor of Cambridge 2's will and heaven forbid that I should forget my place. The teachers' book was jovially insistent, after reading the excruciating exciting text extract, I was to embark on filling gaps.. (religiously).

Living by the book
There was fun, silly songs on the cassette, beautifully tabled grammar, a rather impressive table of up-dated contents. What was there not to be happy about? As a keen, conscientious, lively teacher, I could photocopy a few supplementary activities from the reassuringly jolly  Cambridge, Macmillan, Oxford, photo-copiable resource books. God, how generous they were to make us feel that we could finally rip their books without guilt. I don't miss them. The books were taken unceremoniously last week to the university in a box for detergent. Long may they lie in peace to rot.

The Good Book
It's still sitting there glowering on a shelf, holy dustily unwelcome.  I am an atheist God-damn you! I still feel a visceral fear of that Holy nonsense. Years of conditioning, of common prayer, of fearful threats. Jesus died for you.

"I wouldn't like to think that you were not going to be in heaven with me, with us." 

I will take my chances. Bloody dinosaurs existed, that's my belief. I saw the skeletons with my children in the natural history museum. God created the world in seven days and Genesis forgot to talk about the afternoon when the brontosaurus met its asteroid. Bloody stupid oversight if you ask me.

Burn their books, for without them they are but a sot like I.
Open to interpretation, if you ask me. I fail to understand how they are all getting so excited about their damned holy books. Desacralize them. Their power is a chimera.  Are they incapable of taking a few steps back and seeing the nonsense for what it is? Joseph Smith, got his book of Mormon and then lost his specs. Well Joseph, now I can relate to you. Without my glasses I am a sot like you. Unplug the photocopier. Feel the space. Strikes me we have a wholly unwelcome attachment to books.

What are you saying?
The Zen master Mu-nan had only one successor. His name was Shoju. After Shoju had completed his study of Zen, Mu-nan called him into his room. "I am getting old," he said, "and as far as I know, Shoju, you are the only one who will carry on this teaching. Here is a book. It has been passed down from master to master for seven generations. I also have added many points according to my understanding. The book is very valuable, and I am giving it to you to represent your successorship.""If the book is such an important thing, you had better keep it," Shoju replied. "I received your Zen without writing and am satisfied with it as it is.""I know that," said Mu-nan. "Even so, this work has been carried from master to master for seven generations, so you may keep it as a symbol of having received the teaching. Here."The two happened to be talking before a brazier. The instant Shoju felt the book in his hands he thrust it into the flaming coals. He had no lust for possessions.Mu-nan, who never had been angry before, yelled: "What are you doing!"Shoju shouted back: "What are you saying!"

Saturday, February 1, 2014

From mobs to communities.

Beautiful, terrifying mob, pops up when you are unaware, propagates unpredictably, virally, leading you here... or there?


active isotope, a radiating brand, a pin-prick.

"What brings you here my friend?"
Strong feelings?  Passion? Anger? Excitement? Hunger? Thirst? Curiosity? Navigation misplaced, mouse mistaken?

Massive, Awesome, delighted, enchanté to meet you thus!

Read with me a while, if you will. My sense will only be written forwards but understood long afterwards, backwards.

My apologies, I offer no sensible solace, only light entertainment as my passion dawns on us.

"Man is in love and loves what vanishes, what more is there to say?" Y.B. Yeats

We will be long gone in the ether and without a care in their world.  I have enjoyed much good company, have shared some laughter but when all is said and done are we just a non-event?

I prefer myself  in movement, in action thus.  This much I can do. We have curious work to do my friends. Still Hungry? Chaos is a lure for gaze but hard to digest.

Had enough? 

What do you do now? Who do you speak to for what reasons? For light entertainment to pass their time? Your time is their money.

God we need fun, what more is there? God we need poetry, when they only give us time for prose.

Don't dream too long.

Fear, breeds fear. There are terrifying people who have terrifying dreams who care not for you or I. They are darkly entrained in a time of uncertainty. They will give you all the damned certainty you care for. Rules, regulations, rewards, punishments, purges, the eternal life meme. These people, these chief Ants are on the rise my friends, they sense their time is coming once again. They will stop at nothing. Flee not from freedom.

#Rhizo14 is carnival.

This event, these few days are joyous, a moment to dream, to discuss, to...alliterate. Marginal rather than massive, open ended rather than open, on-line is not enough... for courses run their course. The carnival is illusion, we dress up, we turn the world on its head, we celebrate and then we go back to the drear of their deal. The new deal they have for us is un-negotiated, unread, undemocratically, but minutely detailed in their (our) small print. They have a lesson plan: no child left behind. Behind what? The Jesuits were always right. Get them when they are young, malleable. Mad yet? Have you no thirst for adventure, the wide open spaces? Stand up! Buck their trend, our chaos is their corral. 

Excited? Take a space, deconstruct their ranch, organise together a new reality. The instructions will be stolen from our reality TV. Cheat their certainty. Sing, dance, skate, build, design, haggle, imagine a community in which you would care to live. School is out, let us put away childish things, childish fears. Organise.

They fear a mob. 

People care, people are generous, they would love a better lot for them, for us, they are awaiting a lead not a promise. We are not all maggots.

#Rhizo14 was a network

Some one, somewhere set it in motion. We did much together but let it not stop at this. He made some sense of this chaos. He didn't do it for them. 

Build the communities in which you can be free when the carnival is over. I look forward to your news my friends. 

My time here is nearly at its end.