Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Nature regains ground.

There is both loss and hope encapsulated in this image.

A factory gradually disintegrates.

Nature reclaims ground lost to industrialisation.

Setting our scene.

It is dark in the early morning, I couldn't sleep.

I am caught between night and mourning light.

Desolation and disorientation

There is a work-place that we have known with its reassuring certainty, clearly defined roles.

There is a ruin, that we are propping up, despite an uncontrollable erosion of its very foundations.

Nature regains ground.

There are faint signs of greenery pushing up between the cracks.

Loss and hope.

For some of us, there is only desolation in this scene.

For some of us, there is an impression of being at a loss.

For some of us, there is only a desire to return to order.

For some of us, there are grounds for hope.


I can imagine the hustle and bustle in the workshop.

I can imagine the tea-lady doing her rounds.

I can hear the banter around the clocking on clock.

I can glimpse the neatly stacked ledgers each one in its place.

I can hear the voices of supervisors each one busying his work-team.

Worrying complexity of nature

Where there was order, well-oiled machine-like activity, there is absence.

Where there was production line, there is an eery void.

There is a ghost-like quality to the space.

Organic growth appears unbidden, unordered, chaotic.

Retraining our eyes.

We are so unused to nature.

We are so used to cutting it down.

We are so used to making it into manageable shapes.

We were skilled at enclosure.

We are so ill-equipped for openness.

Behind closed doors.

All discussion was useless.

Sentence had been passed.

Fat reddened neck, sweat glistening, opened shirt collar, tie slightly to one side, beige suit,  I watched between my legs as he raised his arm high.

Time seemed as if suspended.

I was taken aback by the severity of the impact of the metre long bamboo cane.

Then he did it again.

My confidence in school justice took a hefty wallop.

My mates were pretty impressed at the heroic bruising which lasted two months.

I was one of the fortunate ones.

I met a fellow victim of gratuitous violence a few years on.

In retrospect, it is amazing that he survived.

Over a period of four years, the red-neck beat the child over 145 times.

I do not apologise for opening the door.

Heavy petting

There were a number of us who brought their pet rodents to school.

One even had a snake.

I must have been captivated enough in Latin class.

I called my gerbil twins Romulus and Remus.
They accompanied me in their cage to school.

I was somewhat envious of the kids who were invited on the boat in the Lake District.

I was one of the fortunate ones.

The science teacher didn't seem to go for me.

Pet grooming led naturally to heavy petting.

I do not apologise for opening the door.

Painting and decorating

The kids were not the studying types.

The kids were not keen apprentice painters or decorators.

They were docile, drugged and compliant.

They had, as far as their teachers' reports read, completed the English program.

They had, as far as their student exercise books read, copied the English program.

They had, as far as I could make out, understood nothing of what they had spent so many hours copying.

They had decorated the space.

There was one kid who always arrived late.

He appeared incapable of any sort of concentration.

He was blind in one eye.

He had problems of balance due to a deformity of his inner ear.

He clearly didn't have the slightest idea of what was going on.

Apparently nobody bothered to mention to him that being forbidden from climbing up ladders or on scaffolding might some day handicap any attempt of his at finding meaningful employment.

I gave up with English, we listened to the kids speaking Arabic, Portuguese, and Wolof.

They seemed to enjoy speaking their languages.

I didn't follow the copying program.

I was one of the untrustworthy ones.

English teaching seemed to be superfluous.

I don't apologise for opening the door.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Artful...as in Dodger.

A giant of a boy threw himself at what he considered to be the easiest route to the try-line.

The easiest route was...myself.

He took the wrong route.

He stopped short...

The bigger they are...the harder they fall and all.

I enjoyed tackling.

"Bravo that boy, very brave!"

I smirked, I admit to being not a little proud of that tackle.

Refereeing the match was a talent-scouting house-master who went by the name of Dracula.

A few months later, I was in Dracula's study.

"Tell me, Simon, what are your ambitions?"

"I would like to play rugby for England."

"Yes, yes... but what else?"

"Would you like to be head-boy for example?"

"No, I think it is ridiculous that older boys have power over younger ones, I think the idea that monitors are the only ones who are allowed to wear brown shoes is...ridiculous."

I liked the word ridiculous, particularly the stress on 'dic' and the  two last syllables, I liked the way the tongue moved to say it.

I embodied disdain. 

From that moment, I was marked as a nuisance, an annoyance, one not to be trusted.

Not even brown shoes would buy me, good heavens.

His final words when I finally escaped his clutches were:

"We shall miss Simon's way of... er making his position...er his disagreement...clear."

Prostitution Ring

"Are you prepared to prostitute yourself for this agency?"

I was a little surprised at the up-frontness of the interview question.

I figured that that was how they must speak in Public Relations.

"Of course."

I said it, convincingly enough for them to move onto the next question.

"Would you like to drive a BMW? All our executives get to drive BMW's."

I wasn't too sure about the BMW.

The serial car-incidents flashed before mine eyes.

  • My father's Austin - Gate post.
  • The vinyard's Citroen Van - Dangerously close to tumbling down a valley near Beziers.
  • The boss's Morris - Ran out of petrol in rush hour in Oxford Street.
  • The boss's Citroen - Break-down in Camden
  • The boss's Transit Van - Scratched before exiting car-dealers.
  • The boss's Taxi - Abandonned while driving itself in Drive.
  • The four driving tests - FAILED.

I reckoned that the BMW could probably wait.


I was invited at the weekend for a coffee.

I thought that that was a little suspicious.

It appears one always gets offered a cup of bloody coffee when they give you the sack.

"Thank you for giving me the sack, that way I will not have to put up with any more of your stupid jokes and I will be entitled to unemployment benefit, as otherwise I would have had to have  resigned."

Those were the words that I remember spitting, or words to that effect.

Trust me. It's Official.

As we are talking about TRUST this week here in Connected Courses, I feel the need to come clean.

I love working in a team for a cause that I can embrace, fully.

I enjoy being in a band of imagined villains, pirates, outlaws.

I am terribly uncomfortable with badges, labels, official sort of stuff...

Unless of course it is part of a piratical plan.

If that's the deal, "Ahoy mates!"

The Academy won't save us. 

Oscar might come in handy.

I am brought back to a book of one of my favourite authors Joe Simpson - him of Touching the Void.
He never really comes to terms with the idea that one day he will not be a marginal climber on the dole.

I am, I suppose, like my friend Terry Elliott, an outsider.

I reread his article this evening: Iconoclasty 101: Outsiders in Academe for reassurance.

The Academy won't save us!

I want to enable us to have a space where it is difficult to distinguish facilitators from facilitators.

I want to us to have all sorts of biographies, all sorts of photos of unknown urchins with whom we may connect.

Artful then?

I am not sure how possible it is for me to be other than....


Pulling here, pulling there and giving a broad grin to a band of fellow urchins.

For Mia, Howard, Claudia et al.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Out of the box.

The small print in the small ad in the Manchester Evening News said nothing of the nature of the contract.

There were no prospects of advancement mentioned.

I had no choice.

I had no means.

The door of the flat had been ripped off by thieves, the possessions taken.

I was left in my doorless empty box, with a giant jigsaw puzzle.

It was all that I could do to put the pieces together on the carpet.

I have no memory of whether I finished the puzzle.

Expertise in jigsaw puzzling didn't pay well. 

I opened the door to the Victorian office block and prepared myself for interview.

There was no interview.

He cared for nothing about my story.

He led me to a melamine walled box.

Inside, there was no sign of  a person having spent any time there.

There was a grey dial phone, a scruffy copy of the yellow pages, a script in small print on one plastic covered piece of scruffy A4.

"If you sell two ads in this magazine for civil servants, in the next two days, you have a job."

"Small basic salary, the rest commission."

I looked around the confines of the box. 

There was nothing. I was nobody.

I resolved myself to make the box a job.

To my utter amazement, there were people on the other end of the phone who would buy this crap.

Cold calling, no product to see, contract sent in the post as soon as they said 'Yes' at the appropriate moment.

Objections overcome, job I had.

For the next eleven months, I dialled the dial on the grey phone one hundred times per day, to make two sales.

The boredom was such that I decided to colour the numbers black with a Bic biro to make dialling more of a challenge.

I was proud of my prowess of dialling cold, blind.

The people on the other end were targets.

They were nothing.

They were nobody.

Drone central
For the next eleven months, I was deafened by the drone of a robot.

Every twenty minutes or so, the robot would stand up with a pre-contract and head off down the corridor to notch up a new sale.

He specialised in car-dealers.

I never spoke to him.

Robots are not good company.

For the next eleven months, first thing Monday morning, I listened to the moustachioed sales manager reeling off the figures before disappearing into his office.

Each week, there were those whose heads dropped...

There were those whose heads dropped over a period of two or three weeks consecutively...

There were those who would suddenly be absent...

Box to fill
There would suddenly be a space in a box to fill.

To my utter amazement, on experiment with various 'sales pitches' to various 'client streams', I realized that what sold was not the script but the connection of excitement, the acceleration of a heart beat, the comic tone, the sudden absurd eruption in the life of another.

Back to the presence
I suppose this is what Maha was talking about as "3rd Discourse"? 

I would never have been able to call it other than:  'people buy crap'.

Numbers game.
I never regret the eleven months which hardened my resolve, to go beyond 98 'Nos' to get to the precious, unexpected 'Yes's'.

I was nobody, I was selling nothing, I could be nobody selling anything.

Keep on, keep on, never give up.

Half a life later, I am investigating those elements which connect us to the other, which enable us to journey a while with a fellow learner.

I have nothing to sell to anybody.

I am becoming aware of the prosthetic aspect of language, of digital technology.

We are as if amputated from those that we attempt to communicate with.

What does this say about our desire to connect, to search for meaning?

We appear at times paralysed to overcome the obstacle of screen, keyboard, interface, distance of time, distance of culture.

We must investigate how to overcome our disabilities, our reduced frames of reference.

My distant close friends are my fellow explorers in these new spaces of humanity.

We are connecting via emergent CLAVIER picnics, exchanges of blogging, of sounds, of images, of tweets.

We experience the awe of connecting dawn with midday, city, with countryside, office with home, idea with emotion.

We are experiencing the extraordinary joy of connection of empathy.

We are experiencing the extraordinary dissolution of self into simulataneously distant contexts.

We are reimagining our experience of place, of friendship, of co-learning.

For all the tweets, for all the apparently aimless searching, there are people out there waiting to open their arms to our dreams, to welcome us as fellow travellers.

There is trust, there is respect for our differences.

They appear able to forgive our short-comings.

They are worth all the time spent struggling to overcome the boxes which artificially separate us.

We must rewrite our relationships, our social contracts together.

We are not robots, we are sentient, caring beings.

Here's a flower to Maha and to you all.

At heart.

How do we perceive a heart beating?

There is a space which keeps us breathing, breathing together.

How does together feel?

How do we express together?

We are as of one.

We are embryonically aware of being contained.

We are precognitively aware of being connected.

Air cries out.

A light.

A cry.

A limb stretched out.

A hand grasps.

How does out feel?

We are babe in arms.

Familiar heart beating.
Beats aside of ours.
We are babe in arms.
Foetus no more.

Hunger, pangs of thirst, fear.

How does hunger pain us?
How do we express thirst?

Away from us...

How do we fear movement away?
What is away?

I am apart

How does singularity feel?
How do we express being a part, being apart?

I am desire.

Hunger  to move?

Thirst to know?



How do we feel to?
How do we know to be away?
How do we move away from us?

I feel I am, I recognise I am.

There is fear of being singular.
There is desire for being a part.

Recognise my singularity.
Recognise my longing.

I explore, I stretch out.

How far am I?
How far am I from the edge of my reason?

I take courage, I feel fear beaten.

I am, it is, we are, as if self-contained.

I grasp for meaning.

I stretch out my hand.

I feel your presence.

I am connected.

I am one of yours, my friends.

Your company keeps me safe.

Fear not.



For my friends

Saturday, September 27, 2014

No laughing matter.

All buttoned up and spick and span for Sunday family service.

The seriousness, the holiness of the occasion, the advanced age range of the terribly proper congregation, all contributed to building up the conditions for mass hysteria.

It had started fairly normally: "Our Father, who art in heaven", "those of us who move in Sundry places", (I always thought it was Sunday places, or perhaps something to do with ice-cream)...the first hymn.

All things bright and beautiful.

Then it all went pear-shaped.

It was my sister's fault.

She responded to my suffocated giggling, with a wide grin and gasps of withheld laughter.

"Shh, shh, shhh.....', my mother attempted to keep the tension under a lid.

"Shh, shh, shhhhhhh....."

We were as if contained in a pressure cooker.

"Shh, shh, shhhhhhhh....."

Then.... we got to the wretched chorus.

"Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God, Almighty."

The spectacularly tone deaf warbling was too much for us.

"Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God, Almighty."

"Shh, shh, shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh."

Our father, on holiday from being the main man, was feeling rising embarrassment.

How could his children, his children, his children of the cloth, behave so badly, in a.....holy place?

God's house?

God knows, but God it was funny.

"Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God, Almighty."

How many more bloody times would she sing the chorus?

It was aural torture.

By the third repetition, we were rolling around in our pew, our sides splitting with manic hysterical laughter.

The congregation, continuing the hymnal massacre, were beginning to  glance back, giving us, and by association my father, dirty looks.

Oh, the shame, the shame!

I was picked upon (as usual) as being the instigator of the outbreak of giggling.

I was dragged out of the church, down the aisle, looking back in triumph at my elder brother and sister left to the mercy of Our Father in Kingdom Come.

I took a few deep breaths.

I felt a whole lot better.

No laughing matter.

And yet, and yet, it didn't stop.

At school, it appeared that I was in a sort of church.

We were sat in congregation for delivered sermons, lectures, instructions, drills, exercises.

This was no laughing matter. 

This was serious education.

We were told to turn to page 46, 57, 79, 987 and we did it as one.

We stifled our yawns our enthusiasm.

This was serious. 

We religiously filled the space in boxes.

We follow the ritual.

"Shhh, shhh, shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh."

All together now.

The Life of Brian

"Regardez l'image page 9."


All together now, in Italian...


Courses are serious, very serious, serious.

"Have you finished yet?"


"You were very badly behaved."

"Sorry, but it was just too funny."

"This is serious. It's no laughing matter."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Our nature.

It is the tranquil immersive nature of this image which captured my attention.

I shall sit here a moment.

I was up early this morning, I saw the beauty of the sunrise behind the Puy de Crouel.

I captured it, I tweeted it, I saw it favorited by someone in Illinois.

Where is Illinois?

I haven't quite got used to the rythm of Thursday mornings.

I am unused to having time on a Thursday morning.

I am savouring the freedom of emerging connections which slowly spark from some place somewhere.

There were the early morning exchanges with Maha and Maxime, on their blogs, the shock of Susan's story of a twelve year old boy.

I am taken into this deeper pool of empathy.

I am learning quietly, but apparently with little constraint.

Terry and Keith and a rooster are speaking to me from a moment last week. 

I can feel my mind wander from time to time with the rhythm of our conversation.  I dip into the stream.

I am catching my breath, what was that? What was that I hear myself say?

"Time is short."

"What will be our message at the last clap?"

 "What can we acquire?"

We are talking of, we are talking of...


How on earth did I ever hear myself say that word, live?

I was live on air, on Youtube.

I have that tendency to run ahead of myself, I lose the signal.

I recognise my lack of patience, I recognise my hastiness.

"I am hasty, too hasty chaps."

It's a Thursday morning I have a moment to shut up and listen.

This reminds me of Mariana Funes and our exchanges.

We are speaking, we are connecting now in silence.

Terry captures angels so well.

I want to tell my captured self to shut up and listen to Terry.

Being connected to angels, all these guardian angels around us, watching over us.

It is a great image Keith, a great image. You are right.

Am I lurking now, am I lurking next to tranquil pool, on a Thursday morning?

Are we children of eternity?

How are we to be framed?

Terry reminds me of a poem I wrote to a Tunisian friend and poet.

He is right, he is so right, we need to feel the sides, the constraints, our cultural frames.

I know this.

I know sitting here.

I am being written by my friends.

I am being written by unknown people I will never see.

Our nature
This has meaning for me, now, sitting by a pool.

I see my life flowing out, flowing past and I am content.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Nothing very much.

Twenty seven seconds.

Twenty seven seconds.

It took twenty seven seconds of singing Happy Birthday and then it was done.

They thought nothing of it at the time.

Nothing much, they didn't do anything much.

By the time the twenty seconds had been tweeted around the world, it was already too late.

It was a pretty simple meme, nothing to write home about.

It was sufficient to make a message clear.

They were not alone in the room.

There was a wider meaning to their actions.

They had had an effect on a real person.

They had done something with their time.

There were tears in their eyes as they listened to the heart-sang reply.

Extraordinary how such a simple meme can move people to tears.

Thank you Maha.

Thank you Kevin.

Thank you Terry

They now know others care about them.

Twenty seven seconds is nothing.

Twenty seven seconds is all it takes to change someone's life.

Thank you Maxime. 

Thank you is a powerful meme.

This is just the beginning.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Stillness in frenesy.

Crowd scenes

It is a cinematic standard, a lone figure, caught up in a chaotic crowd, moving in the other direction...

It is the noise of Twitter streams, thundering down the valley, while we cling onto a branch struggling, for dear life, not to be swept away to drown.

It is the noise of hardly understood French in an echoing restaurant.

As the evening continues, the speed of banter accelerates, the volume increases, the people around the table speaking...or is it yelling simultaneously?

It is the crowd of unknown people at a conference, a party, a disco, a market,  apparently all following well-tread paths to meet up with their friends, colleagues, partners, loves, accomplices,  while you are left to gape dimly from the wings, dumb to their well-rehearsed performance.

It is the gap separating cultures, separating generations, unwilling or unable to adjust to the noise, to the speed, to the mode of communication, to the language, to the music, to the ways of performing identity, to the ways of making sense.

How shall we be connected together my friends? How shall we learn to respect silence, to respect noise? 

How shall we reach out to save the drowning soul? How shall we realise we are the drowning soul? 

How shall we dissassemble our cliques, our countries, our clubs, to let in new blood?

How shall we see we are part of a whole? How shall we pause to make sense in this chaos...together?

Silent Movie Stars

How did the Silent Movie Stars react to the arrival of the talkies?

Chaplin aside, many would sink bitterly without trace, unable to adapt to a new medium.

For a time, the two genres would live on side by side, until the public voted with their tickets for their preferred entertainment.

How should we preserve the silent master-pieces of another age?

A Gold Rush 

How do pioneers respond to the arrival of a Gold Rush mob ?

Comfortable in their virgin wilderness, the first settlers respond grumpily to the influx of new adventurers who are hungrier, perhaps more desperate for unearthing that rare nugget.

The old-timers mutter amongst themselves, reluctantly pack their belongings and slip away to escape the harranging crowd, that ragged, uncouth rabble.

A place of worship

An Anglican lower-church clergyman is cinematically transported to Harlem, to a Harlem gospel church.

He kneels, takes out his book of Common Prayer , sighs and starts to indulge in silent contemplation.

Deep in prayer, blissfully caught up in his quiet-time, he is suddently blasted off his lowly hassock by a congregation of full-hearted charismatic soul.

A library reading room

There is a feeling of quiet communion in a cathedralesque library reading room.  We are together, we feel connection, we feel peace to study, to savour knowledge...together.

Is there still a place for quiet refuge, for the unsaid, apparently unacted, bond of being one with learning?

A bustling coffee shop

Unexpected encounters, noisily shared ideas, banter, jokes, excited movement, clustering, grouping, whispering, guffaws of laughter. 

We are in the heart of a city, at the hub of intellectual energy, of serendipity, of innovation.

A global village?

Brave new world, shrunk to manageable proportions. 

Web 2.0, a participative promise of prosumer paradise.  

We are caught up in the glory, or might it be mirage, of global-reach. 

Whose artificial limbs are we using? 

Will those limbs be ripped away from us the moment we learn to run faster on our own?

A whole world, becomes a click away. 

What shall be our message? Where shall we speak?

Connnecting courses

It's all so straight-forward, connecting courses. 

We have a  simple bundle of hashtags, a familiar friending on Facebook, a conversation circle on a Google hangout, a glossy website.  

OMG we all feel that longing to be closer. We revel in an illusion of harmony.

Closer to what? Closer for who?

Will we introduce rave-parties into temples of contemplation, money peddlers into temples of worship? 

Will we have to fight to be heard in the town square, while facing up to a mob going in the other direction? 

Will we fight for the right to be badged with a hashtag? 

Will we be the pioneers overwhelmed by the prospectors? 

Town planning?

Shall we set out plans for private dwelling, for public assembly, for drinking and dancing? 

Whose plans should we adopt? To what extent will our voices be respected? 

Down to earth

I am taken back to images of dulling routine, swimming, or is it drowning in water. 

Shall we glory at our lot on Youtube?  

Accept your lot, love your enemy,as yourself... 

Angry thrashing of a drowning man

Is it enough to accept? Is this really water? Is this water not contained in somebody's aquarium?

I am not ready to swallow the bait whole. 

Why don't we thrash this out together?

Shall we not imagine new spaces in which to express our diversity, our laughter, our soul, our belonging, our learning, our connection? 

Lost in a jungle

It would appear, for the moment, that we are lost together in a jungle, where all recognisable calls are cause for reassurance.

Beware the wolves.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Spaceman Episode.

Where was I now?

I go to the costume shop, and as if by magic, the shop-keeper arrives. Good Morning [afternoon] [evening][night] (choose appropriate) Sir, how can I help you today?

Each day I go into the changing room, I take off my bowler hat, and then all at once I am attired in a new costume.

At the back of the changing room, I open a door and suddenly find myself in a new country/[planet]/[town]/[village]/[landscape] (choose appropriate) and embark on a new adventure in which I will meet the inhabitants and learn to adapt myself to their/my/our? world.

These scenes come from my favourite TV program (or at least my favourite TV program when I was 6) Mr Benn.

Costume changes
Clearly Mr Benn had a big impact on my imagination because, I only had one ambition as a child and that was to be Mr Benn.

I wanted to have adventures, change costumes and live many lives.

I shall attempt to synthesise:

I have been unemployed, a factory worker, a waiter, a salesman (on phone and door to door), a probation officer, a counsellor, an agricultural worker, a labourer, a taxi-driver, a van-driver, a production assistant in the media, a journalist, an actor, a public relations executive, a translator, an interpreter, a writer...(now, I come to think of it, I could say that now, I had never assumed that costume before)

I have been a teacher: of farmers, factory executives, secretaries, technicians, scientists, teachers, unemployed, computer analysts, sports-people, world-record holders, builders, painters, sculptors, soldiers...

I have been a researcher as long as I can remember.
Now they say I am a researcher. (what took them so long to recognise me?)

I have been almost completely British, I am now perhaps half French.

Oh you get the message.

I have indeed succeeded in my ambition, I even referred to Mr Benn in a conference I did in Plymouth in 2011 entitled "In Search of Nomad's Land".

An absolute obsessional identification, I would say. I am Mr Benn's stand-in.

Space changing
In recent months, it has become apparent to me that Mr Benn's world is becoming outdated as a metaphor for my life. It started with my working with the UK for the CLAVIER project, and then it accelerated.

Today as a teacher I am working with the UK, Poland, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Japan, the USA, Brazil, Cameroun.

5 years ago, I was only concerned with a room of twenty five students at one moment, today I am concerned with perhaps something over a 1000 or more students and teachers who are all over the place.

Things are going haywire
As another term starts, after only one week, things are going haywire. First day in class, we had students chatting with a friend of mine working on a Ski Resort in Australia, during the week we had students reading my blog, seeing their snow hat from last winter being commented on by people all around the world and retweeted by Rihanna (a robot - I kept that quiet not to spoil the effect) on Twitter.

Happy Birthday
Then it was Maha's Birthday, why don't we sing 'Happy Birthday' I thought, - well why not?

In thirty seconds, their singing was on the internet winging its way to Egypt, and the USA, and Brazil, and Australia...well wherever.

Pretty quickly, Kevin had remixed their song, Terry had Zeega'ed the birthday meme in Arabic, Maha had blogged on it and sent back a sung response to my students (they are unaware of that for the moment unless the one Tweep has done his job for the masses and sent it viral in Clermont Ferrand STAPS).

Out on the town with mates
Yesterday, I started the day with a blog post entitled 'In the Tribble Valley' inspired by a series of tweets between people who I had never met (I did see @heloukee from afar in Plymouth in 2011, I seem to remember, I detected a familiar accent and demeanor). These people are living in completely different contexts, in completely different time zones, from completely different cultures.

My only way of assimilating what was going on was to imagine a fictional environment in which these characters met, interacted, and played. I am pretty sure that this environment would be completely different for each person involved in my Tribble Valley Saga.

This is clearly not Second Life or the World of Warcraft but a space much more liminal, much more fluid, much more powerful.

It is a shape-shifting space.
Yesterday, I continued the day with a picnic, a #clavpicnic at for me lunch-time. When I arrived at the picnic spot (a hangout) nobody had turned up.

No matter, I was preparing myself for a presentation with my friend and colleague Marcin Kleban in Krakow.

I was in the room with him from my learning space in Clermont Ferrand. I could hear the bad acoustics of the room in which he was/we were?. We were sharing the slides on the screen in Krakow inside the slide share of our hangout on air. which was simultaneously being broadcast to the world. After the first three slides, I chatted noisily (you can hear it on Youtube) to Keith in Florida who had turned up in the picnic.

He told me he would go and get a coffee. He had had a hard night.

(I shall make a mental note for next time not to forget to mute the headset - metaphor to remember - it's just like the translator's cabin that I used to work in for the Short Film Festival in Clermont Ferrand REMEMBER to MUTE)

We had never done that before, we only tried it out the day before.

There will be a few tweaks to be made after a debriefing, but the immediacy of being in a room in Krakow, from a room in Clermont Ferrand was absolute, to the extent that I was able to butt in to respond to questions from the people attending our conference..in Poland.

Connection embodied
Marcin and I's relationship has no doubt been enriched by visiting each other's homes and countries this year, a dream for many people who have extended online personal networks and the ties which bind us I feel are profound - perhaps because of the distance.  There is a part of Poland in me now.

Picnic in space
Meanwhile back at the picnic spot, Terry and Keith had turned up. It was six and seven o'clock in the morning for them and they had dropped everything to spend a little time at a picnic to chat with friends.  The picnic was clearly not in the Tribble Valley as the cockerels, (roosters  as Terry says) were calling in dawn, Keith was sun-tanned in Florida, Terry was all backlit Dutch painting.  I was in a learning space in Clermont Ferrand after having finished my spot in Krakow. I am not at all sure where we can say we are? I have the impression that it is like being 3 spacemen in spaceships on journeys through the universe who are desperate for connection to others who have meaning for them.

Space communication
A light lit up on the Spaceship's dashboard. It was Susan. Could she connect too? I have no means of picturing Susan's space at the moment she asked that. I scrolled through Susans desperately seeking Susan. No time to find Susan amongst the world of Susans. I get back to Terry and Kevin. There was one of my best friends Blaise, in Cameroun who spent last Christmas with us. Could I connect him up? I frantically flicked a few switches on the dashboard. No means of connection, frustration felt and noted.  I shut down the picnic transmission. I noted other Spacemen, Arthur, Ronald perhaps who had been listening in to our conversations, unknown to us while we were travelling through space connected by some virtual, umbilical tube.

Down to earth?
I come back to earth, I look back at Connected Courses home page and look at the blog/twitter feed. I note a talk between Mimi Ito and others I don't know. I start watching that, a bit distracted by my thoughts.  I click around, I see Gordon's Comment grabber. Cool work Gordon! I had seen his fantastic work on Rhizomatic Learning with Dave Cormier. I come back to 'Connected Courses' I click on units 1-6. I suddenly discover that this is really a course. That comes as a bit of shock. There are suggested readings, links, that comes as a bit of a shock. This is a course, I had forgotten what a course was. I make a mental note. Please try harder to remember that this is a Course.

Favourite TV programs
I start thinking about Mimi, and then wonder what ever happened to one of my favourite programs. A pretty recent program with three guys: Click, Link, Embed. Whatever happened to the three guys. I am already missing their program. I followed up their program with investigation of their blogs. I like their blogs. I like their comments. I like Spaceman Howard's hat.

I suppose I have to look up in the schedule to see when they are on.

Crap detection?
I identified immediately with their show. I reckon that this must be like Mr Benn. We need characters who somehow capture our imagination. We need to feel embedded in a culture. We need security of signal in a world of complexity, in a world of noise and nonsense. (Crap detection?)

There is danger here.

Who do children identify with? Superman? Spiderman? Ironman? Barbie? Gandhi?

I start thinking about how I navigate the blogs, how I navigate Twitter, how I smile when I click on recognisable avatars.

I am beginning to extend my circles of empathy, I am beginning to see that I am part of a much wider world.

This feeling fills me with hope for my children.

I am reminded of quotes of Einstein, the ultimate Spaceman:

Wow, how did that happen? 

I don't remember Albert Einstein appearing in the Spaceman episode of Mr Benn. 


Note to self: Children may need a new Mr Benn.

In Tribble Valley.

Monday, September 15, 2014

In the corridor...

In the corridor, being unconscious

I turned left out of the classroom and headed up the narrow corridor.

On the left and right, students were gathered in the corridor waiting for a teacher to arrive.

On the left they were standing and on the right they were squatting.

Those on the right appeared to have adopted the position of homeless refugees begging for money.

As I walked towards them I felt a growing tension in the air.

As I walked past the student pictured here, he suddenly stood up as if to attention.

His movement encapsulated a felt instant of embarrassment, followed by a seemingly Pavlovian reflex which catapulted him to his feet.

On another day, or perhaps in the past, I would not have paid attention.

This is a corridor down which I walk to go to a box where I spend a number of hours to get money to walk back down the corridor to my personal box (home) every day except weekends.

Fortunately and for reasons I could no doubt analyse, I have always felt a certain detachment from what appear to me to be curious rituals,which others seem to consider to be normality.

I get lost quite regularly, quite deliberately.

It gives me more time to observe, more time to think.

Today, I purposefully look to unearth the foundations of ritual embodied in institutional spaces (historical spaces), to understand the actions of teachers, students, cleaners, secretaries, professors, maintenance people (historical bodies), to note exchanges, positions, interactions (interaction order)

Over the past couple of years, I have been helped in this decontruction by the work of observers conducting critical discourse analysis.

If one is to enable transformation of a system one must first recognise its converging discourses.

My search for understanding has led naturally to the work of a number of researchers and their theoretical lenses, notably:
Coming back to our student-teacher exchange, in the corridor, I took the time to question the student as to why he had suddenly leapt up off the floor.

He responded to me rather suspiciously.

Particularly when I asked him if he minded me taking a photograph to collect evidence of our encounter.

I explained to him my research interest, and how his behaviour was only one of so many unconscious, drilled actions that students and teachers don't even realise or notice as strange.

On reflection, he explained to me that he realised that he must have been conditioned to behave in such a way in school and so unthinkingly he had continued it into higher education.

I spoke to him and his friends of how this was only one of many examples of a ritual edifice built of scenes of submission, of passivity, of  ever decreasing expectations.

"C'est nul." "C'est comme ça!" "Je suis nul." "C'est comme ça."

As I spoke to them the students became more animated, and appeared to come alive.

I suggested that they might help me help them understand how they had become as if undead in certain spaces.

I shared with them my observations of how students in the institution talk of waiting to enter what they term 'la vie active' (active life) some way, some time  down the corridor... 

They smiled as we talked of their student ritual of feigning presence, feigning engagement, of dissimulating their real life , and of the the hours and hours spent waiting in corridors...

I was brought back to Mike Wesch's students inspiring work

I immediately connected to his inspirational talk for Connected Courses

Why we need a why.

After explaining to the student pictured here, he was happy to participate and responded favourably to participating in further research.

He felt no longer embarrassed but empowered.

I thanked the students for their time and walked up the corridor.

In the corridor, being Mohammed

A few seconds later, I met a young Senegali student who had just arrived at the university.

He knew nobody. He was quite lost.

I felt that perhaps it was my role to accompany him rather than concern myself with the fate of the students who had already arrived in our open space to learn.

I reckoned my team-teaching colleague would look after them.

Accompanied by one of the students who was waiting for my class in the corridor, we set off into the unknown to find the mysterious classroom with Mohammed.

For just over 45 minutes I was given a glimpse of "being Mohammed."

My team-teaching colleague was beginning to worry that I had got lost.

We had indeed got lost.

We must have met at least 10 different faculty staff who reacted with varying degrees of empathy.

Certain of the people working for the university greeted my request for help with hostility, I dread to imagine how they would have treated this student if he had been alone.

He no doubt would have remained lost for a good length of time...alone.

As we walked aimlessly around the campus,  I was able to get to know first-hand and understand better some of the obstacles that these young students live on their way down the corridor to 'Active Life'.

The adventure that we lived brought us closer, connections were made, emails/phone numbers were exchanged.

Smiles capture the moment. Mohammed had made new friends.

In the corridor, being open
Back from my adventure with Mohammed, I arrived at my intended destination, I was greeted by other learners who may have found the learning space but were coming to terms with being lost.

They were beginning to understand that the question 'What do we do to get a good grade?" wasn't perhaps the most important question.

We began to talk of their dreams, their search for meaning in their lives, their natural affinities. 

We spoke to them of being in an open, connected space and how their actions would not only affect their futures but could also have a positive effect on others. 

They were beginning to see that others were perhaps on their side, that others needed  their help, they were beginning to see that their stories had resonance for others. 

They were being confronted with other questions:

Who am I?
Where am I?
Why am I here?
What do I want to do with my time?
Who do I want to spend my time with?
Who can help me find answers?
Who can I help?

I spent a curious time today wandering lost around the campus and being late for class.

The students forgave me, they understand this story only too well.

A connected course for me doesn't start with digital tools.

A connected course for me starts in the corridor.

Ailes du désir

Freeze frame, worrying static, silence difficult to decipher.

We hold our breath,

1, 2, 3, 4, 5......

No sign of movement.

Un ange passe.

Massive frame, frozen in Dutch master-piece, a dim light glimmers.

Impatience, gesticulation, fidgeting anxiety.

Be still.

Be attentive to that moment of connection.

Un ange passe.

Little by little a reassuring message can be detected, coming from afar, as if from down a well.

A well of longing.
A well of welcome.

Be attentive to that moment of connection.

Communication, established, we adjust our rhythm to the murmur of a giant.

Be still.

Little by little we become aware that we are in the company of a chorus of angels.

Some of them take human form and emerge slowly from the shadows.
Others, perhaps more shy of contact take only symbolic form.
Indiscriminately promiscuous in their shape-changing magic.

They are etched out in chaos.
They are axe-hatched in trees.
They appear in clouds.
They disappear above the waves.

Murmuring, murmuring, meaning.

Un ange passe.

We are.
We are my friends in AWE.

My friends there is sweet music in the air.
Open your ears, be still to hear.

For Terry, a giant. for Keith an angel-hunter, for Susan, an angel-seeker, for Kevin an angel-friend

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Alchemist.

Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose practitioners have, from antiquity, claimed it to be the precursor to profound powers. 

The defining objectives of alchemy are varied but historically have typically included one or more of the following goals: the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone; the ability to transmute base metals into the noble metals (gold or silver); and development of an elixir of life, which would confer youth and longevity and unimaginable wealth.

The alchemist.

Take raw materials.
develop some sort of pseudo-scientific method and attempt to create the conditions to capture the essence of life.

The raw materials remain inert.
Night after night, the alchemist prepares processes which will transform base metal into solid gold.

Centuries pass, ever more elaborate spells appear scrawled and scribbled in his books of spells.

Hope burns bright.

Maybe this time.

The raw materials remain inert.
In vain the alchemist's best practices?

Is there even a gleam?

He frantically turns pages in his collection of spells.

All his efforts for nought.

Maybe he is missing something?

A brutish form appears unexpectantly.

He stands aside the alchemist.

He speaks as if to persons absent:

"Why, as I told thee, ’tis a custom with him,
I' th' afternoon to sleep. There thou mayst brain him,
Having first seized his books; or with a log
Batter his skull; or paunch him with a stake;
Or cut his weasand with thy knife. Remember
First to possess his books, for without them
He’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not
One spirit to command. They all do hate him
As rootedly as I. Burn but his books."

We are magically transported to an isle of wonder:

The brute continues:

"Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,

Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices

That, if I then had waked after long sleep,

Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,

The clouds methought would open, and show riches

Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked,

I cried to dream again".

Clouds open, as if by enchantment.

We awake not.