Monthly Archives: October 2013

Daily Hate

New hate today from the Daily Express. Today’s Halloween bogeyman is… immigrants.


“Britain is full up”, they say, echoing the rhetoric of the ultra nationalists, racists, knuckledraggers, scumbags and bastards of the BNP, EDL and other ‘patriot’ organisations. But look at the picture they’ve used to illustrate the article: a Romanian woman being ‘moved on’ by police. The implication is, I suppose, that there’s something criminal about being a Romanian. The SAY NO TO NEW MIGRANTS might be unsubtle, but the picture is a little more of a dog whistle.

The picture the Express used online is similar:


More faceless immigrants. We can only see the faces of some of them; the rest have their backs turned. Because their humanity isn’t important; they are just silhouettes; they are stick figures – somehow a little less than human.

This is part of how immigrants are depersonalised by the gutter papers as some kind of giant globular mass. They are a ‘tidal wave’, not individual souls with lives and families and dreams.

But under that picture is a sad truth: whereas once this kind of article didn’t represent the mainstream, now it’s firmly in the middle ground. The post-2010 Labour Party is just as miserably inept at battling this kind of rhetoric as the others; the arguments have been lost and it’s just not popular on the doorstep to try and argue that immigration is in any way A Good Thing.

In the meantime: blame the Bulgarians, blame the Romanians, blame the EU, blame everyone else.


You’ve just killed James Bond

I’ve been meaning to write about Diamonds are Forever for ages but I wanted to save it until I had enough time. There’s so much to say, so little space, and there’s always the chance that I’d end up writing about eleventy billion words about the desert chase sequence in the moon buggy – and that just won’t do, will it? I’ve had to try and restrain myself.


Here’s a behind-the-scenes photo which I think sums up DAF. It’s the lead-up to the crematorium sequence, a brilliant piece of claustrophobic action in which Bond is stuffed into a coffin by the gay hitmen Mr Wint and Mr Kidd and placed into an incinerator – a scene that goes on just that little bit too long to be comfortable. You know that Bond is going to survive – he always survives – but there comes a moment when Connery banging around in the coffin creates a kind of suffocating tension.

Another thing about that photo: Sean’s wearing a trucker cap that is anything but stylish. It’s clearly to contain the sight of his un-rugged pate, which had been covered in varying degrees of thatch ever since he took over the role for Dr No. By the time he made his comeback for DAF, though, it was a serious weave that sat uneasily on his mighty bonce, distracting attention from the rest of him – which is a shame. Why couldn’t Bond just go bald? No, Bond must not age. Connery was getting visibly older, but Bond would not be allowed to age, or show weakness by showing a bit of exposed scalp. He was fighting a losing battle.

The Bond of Diamonds Are Forever, then, was someone who was fighting his own mortality in several ways. He was placed in a coffin, he was buried again by the inept Wint and Kidd… perhaps there was some significance in these brushes with death, beyond the usual Bond defying the grim reaper. This was Connery’s last ever proper appearance as Bond (before the execrable non-canon Never Say Never Again, in 1983-4) and the signs were there that it would be his last. His heart just wasn’t in it. The films were moving on, too, and weren’t right for him anymore.


Let’s talk about Lazenby, then.

George wasn’t as wooden as the unkindest critics said he was. I rather like his performance – he handles the weakness of Bond extremely well. The film Bond of the 1960s had never suffered the heartbreaking betrayal of Casino Royale that would befall Daniel Craig’s incarnation – Dr No was preferred as the ideal first adaptation, moving on the timeline a little confusingly and eliminating a lot of the darkness in the Bond story that came from his doomed love affair in the first novel. So here was a character who was virtually indestructible, never vulnerable.

Until OHMSS. Lazenby’s Bond was the Bond who couldn’t save the girl, who lost in the end, who was defeated and crushed. He was the Bond who cried. (He was also the Bond who broke the fourth wall, chortling “This never happened to the other fella” when he ended up not getting the girl in the pre-credits sequence, a foreshadowing of what was to come).

Unfairly maligned at the time for Not Being Connery, time has been kinder to Lazenby’s one outing as Bond – and rightly so. Audiences, though, weren’t ready for a non-Connery Bond – Diamonds Are Forever would kill off Connery’s Bond in more ways than one, paving the way for Roger Moore to enter the role and make it his own in Live and Let Die. Moore was the man who saved Bond as a franchise – people accepted his camper, more postmodern, more “Look, I know this is ludicrous and so do you, but let’s bloody well go for it, shall we?” interpretation, since it fitted with the times, fitted with the actor perfectly and fitted with the way the character had been going.

DAF is essentially a Moore film with Connery in the role. Bond had always been about slightly camp old nonsense, from Goldfinger (which coincided with the death of Ian Fleming) onwards: watch the fight between Pussy Galore and Bond in the hay barn and tell me that wasn’t excruciating. Bond has cured a lesbian by having a fight with her! Terrible sound effects! Awful speeded up action! Bad, bad, bad. DAF took it to another level.

Why? Why couldn’t Bond stay steely cold and gritty? Well, it was a victim of its own success. Right from the original Casino Royale – a rather gloriously kitsch piece of psychedelia (in which ‘lysergide’ is a key plot point) involving an atomic-bomb-hiccuping Woody Allen and a nod to the chair-torture sequence that Craig would attempt at face value some years later – Bond was a thing to be parodied as well as enjoyed. Perhaps this is what I find most difficult to enjoy about the modern reboot: the books might have been steely-cold spy stories involving a rather unlikeable psychopathic protagonist, but the films always had a little bit of tongue in cheek (with the possible exception of From Russia With Love).

When DAF came out, Bond had a number of rivals – not least his own production team including Harry Salzman, who had successfully and comprehensively taken the piss in the anti-Bond Harry Palmer films. Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain in particular is a terrific romp and Michael Caine enjoys chewing up the scenery, barking cockney left right and centre as he is left helpless at the mercy of the idiots around him blowing each other up. Audiences would turn to Matt Helm and Jason King as the 1970s began, more silly and more knowing characters who were half-spoof, half-serious – the time was right for Moore’s Bond. Connery’s Bond, particularly in DAF, found it more of a struggle to walk the tightrope between action and camp.

I want to do the moon buggy. Can we do the moon buggy yet?


No, you must wait for the moon buggy. We’ll do the moon buggy in a bit. How about Mr Kidd and Mr Wint?


Oh, yes. There’s something brilliant about Mr Kidd and Mr Wint (something ‘problematic’, if I may use that word, as well, but we’ll come to that). Crispin Glover’s dad Bruce was Mr Wint (left), while jazz musician Putter Smith played Mr Kidd. What an odd couple they made, but somehow it worked. They were evil henchmen, they were just two very ordinary hitmen who happened to go around murdering people.

For me, Mr Kidd and Mr Wint were the first gay couple I ever saw on television or anywhere. You saw gay individuals (Mr Humphries on Are you Being Served, for example) but never gay pairs. Here they were, just taking part in a film, going around and murdering people, chuckling while putting on some nice music to burn James Bond to death to. There was something wonderfully banal and normal and warm about them, far from the icy pair portrayed in Fleming’s Diamonds are Forever book.

Perhaps their most brilliantly nasty moment is when they watch their victim Mrs Whistler, a primary school teacher, being dragged out of a canal in Amsterdam, and Kidd enthusiastically takes holiday snaps. “Mrs Whistler did say she wanted some photographs of the canal for the children,” he says breezily. They also bump off a dentist with a scorpion, an old-school Las Vegas comedian (“We need him alive” – “Oh, that’s most unfortunate”) with a trick gun (wisely edited out of the final cut) and Bond’s dalliance Plenty O’Toole, as well as trying to off Bond in increasingly ludicrous and silly ways. And that’s where the problem lies for some: Wint and Kidd are a little too camp in parts, a little too cartoony. Wint even seems to enjoy being killed by Bond in the climactic sequence because he gets his bollocks felt. Daft.

But would you get two such ordinary gay murderers in a film nowadays, despite all the problems? That’s what I wonder.

No, we can’t do the moon buggy yet. We’re going to do the more differently bad bits of the film.


OK, so Blofeld has murdered Bond’s wife Tracy at the end of OHMSS. Bond is pretty pissed, as you can imagine, and spends the opening few moments hunting him down. Eventually, he finds him, having plastic surgery done to hide his identity – and kills him. Well… well of course not. Of course Blofeld will have already had the plastic surgery done, and will pop up again later.

Which is fine, if Bond gets to get his revenge. But he doesn’t. There’s no climactic fight sequence. (There were a couple scripted, in which Bond and Blofeld fought to the death on salt flats, or alternatively battled in Vegas, but both were binned as Connery’s gigantic salary had eaten up all of the budget). The last we see of Blofeld is getting into his batho submarine just before the oil rig blows up (which we only see from one camera angle, as the explosives went off by accident during filming)… and that’s that. How can Bond feel his revenge has been sated when he hasn’t killed his nemesis? Why is he so happy at the end, having only dumped Wint and Kidd off the side of a boat rather than THE MAN WHO MURDERED HIS WIFE? It makes no sense whatsoever.

It would be left to Moore to metaphorically and literally dump Blofeld, when he coldly dropped an unnamed ‘wheelchair bound villain’ (who was obviously Blofeld) into a chimney at the start of his most faithful outing as 007, For Your Eyes Only. Which leaves the ending of Diamonds Are Forever as a bit of an anticlimax. Blofeld dies, then reappears, then… we don’t know if he lives or dies. Rubbish.

With Wint and Kidd on screen, you might have thought there was quite a lot of camp already in DAF, but Charles Gray provided that little bit extra as Blofeld, even turning up in drag at one point to capture Jill St John’s weedy nonsense of a heroine Tiffany Case at a casino. Again, with the two men face to face, there was plenty for them to discuss (notably “Why did you kill my fucking wife, you bastard?”) but Blofeld brushes it off with “It’s late and I’m tired (and I’m about to get Wint and Kidd to try and kill you in the most ridiculous way ever by leaving you in a concrete pipe from which you can easily escape). Gray, who had already appeared as another character (“It’s stirred, not shaken, I did get that right, didn’t I?”) in You Only Live Twice, adds a kind of dreary, wet evil to Blofeld that I like – but again, it’s not to everyone’s taste.

There are other plot holes in DAF that don’t make any sense – partly due to the budget problems I’ve already mentioned, partly because of simple bad thinking. Most notable, though, is the murder of Plenty O’Toole.


It’s a great idea – Bond’s casino girlfriend finds Tiffany’s identity in her bag, goes to her house, wears her wig and gets murdered by Wint and Kidd – except the vital elements are deleted, meaning there’s no sense whatsoever in how she gets there. It’s a giant plot hole for such a big film. Partly it happened because Lana Wood’s scenes were chopped (as well as a cameo from Sammy Davis Junior) to save time, but it still makes no sense.

I’m making it sound like this is a really bad film, which I don’t mean to. I think it’s got moments of absolute class, a corking soundtrack, some great action sequences and an important transition of Bond between movie eras… but there’s so much wrong with it, it’s incredible. Shall we do Tiffany Case now, before we get to the moon buggy? I’m building up the moon buggy a bit too much, but still. Tiffany Case.


Yes, that just about sums her up. Here’s a woman who starts off as a diamond smuggler, unfazed by “Peter Franks” knocking seven shades of shit out of “James Bond” in a terrific elevator fight sequence (except to say “You’ve just killed James Bond!”) and motivated entirely by greed… and yet she turns into a feeble, useless load of crap by the end of the film, falling over when trying to shoot a machine gun and squeaking ineptly while Bond struggles with Wint and Kidd’s attentions, deciding that throwing a fucking cake at them will somehow be a good idea.

What a waste. With Plenty O’Toole’s role chopped to bits, Jill St John is the only woman of note in the film, and she seems to have been told to be as passive and weak as possible.

Moon buggy? Moon buggy.


Moon buggy! James Bond interrupts a faked moon landing which is being created on a film set in the middle of a desert, and drives off in a moon buggy! Come on, though, this bit’s tremendous fun. Not only does it mock the moon-conspiracy-nuts, but it’s Bond driving around in a bloody moon buggy! What more do you bloody well want?


I know, I know. For some of you, this is the apotheosis of awful in DAF; for me it’s a moment of genius. And I guess that’s where a lot of Bond fans part company. I love the bit in The Spy Who Loved Me where Moore deadpanly drops a fish out of his submersible car’s window – other people hate it.


So where, at the end of all this, does Diamonds Are Forever rank? I think it’s an important film to see from the point of view of how it provides a transition from one place to another – from the failed attempt at Lazenby to the Moore era, from the Connery era to the Moore era, from the 1960s to the 1970s. It is faintly ludicrous at many points, but at others it has moments of real joy, most notably:

  • The fact that the whole first act of the film is a total red herring. The goddamn diamonds are phonies!
  • Bond saying “That’s a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing” to Tiffany when he first meets her
  • The moon buggy. The moon buggy!
  • The elevator fight with Peter Franks and Bond
  • Bond’s fake fingerprints
  • Blofeld in drag
  • Q winning at the slot machines in Vegas
  • The soundtrack. The soundtrack!

Ah yes, the soundtrack. A lovely bass break, plus the knowledge that Shirley Bassey was told to imagine the word “diamonds” meant “cocks” makes it something special.

In many ways, Diamonds Are Forever did kill James Bond. Put him out of his misery and meant the stage was set for a new Bond, a reboot of its time that would see Moore more easily leading the character into comedy. I like this because the world of Bond is patently ludicrous – that’s half the appeal. DAF was the way of making sure the franchise could survive, by killing off the Connery era. It’s not a great film, but it’s one I really enjoy still nowadays.


Posted by on October 30, 2013 in Bond, films, Uncategorized


Burn her!

An effigy of a former reality television contestant is to be burned on a bonfire this week. I suppose it’s a step up from the balls-out religious hatred of whichever provincial nowhere chucks the Pope on the fire – personally I prefer my parish-pump autumnal weirdness in the form of those blokes in Devon who stumble around with giant flaming barrels of tar – but it’s a terrible, terrible error.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the person in question. This is for many reasons, one of which is that I find it hard to type her name without crying tears of blood at the pointlessness of it all. Another reason I haven’t mentioned her is that this is exactly what she wants. She craves this publicity. Her whole career – a successful career carved as a professional troll, coming out with surprisingly controversial opinions for money – relies on not being ignored. They might have been lying to you when they told you to ignore the school bully, but if you do ignore this person, she will go away.

(I understand, by the way, that by even writing this blogpost bind, not identifying the person in question, I am still drawing attention to her. I recognise that inherent stupidity of my endeavour, but to be quite blunt I’ve got this far in and I’m in no mood to delete all the words I’ve written so far. I might as well try and make something out of this futile nonsense.)

It’s true, she is an awful, awful person. It’s not the opinions she comes out with that I can’t stand, since they are either (a) completely made up in order to get herself on Daybreak making fun of fat former lorry drivers who haven’t got jobs now or (b) she really thinks what she’s saying. The implication of (b) is that this person is a horrendous, vile, sociopathic piece of shit who has zero empathy, and should therefore be pitied. But I don’t buy (b). It’s (a) all the way for me. She’d chuck herself on a fucking bonfire if it got her on the Jeremy Vine Show.

This person’s continued existence in public is evidence that we don’t like subtlety. It’s proof that we’d rather have two shouty polarised numpties chucking verbal poo at each other than some kind of nuanced, reasonable debate. Why find areas of common ground or recognise the uncertainty of things when instead we can book a couple of pantomime characters to get angry at each other for three minutes? It’ll make better radio / telly. It’ll make it ‘better’ in the sense that it’ll be more argumentative. I mean, it might not be realistic, or helpful, or intelligent – it might dumb down a sensible debate into something more useless – but fuck it, it’ll make good telly. And that’s what counts, right?

People like [this professional troll] feed a vast empire of hatred. People get to write columns (and yes, blogposts) about them in order to have something to say – sometimes something rather surprisingly controversial, for money. Who of us can’t say we’re a little bit like the bonfire effigy person? Someone somewhere is probably pitching a “[pro-troll] being chucked on a bonfire is symptomatic of how we treat strong, opinionated women, making them scapegoats for our wider ills like witches being burnt*” column. And so it continues. One of us says something, one of us says something else. It all feeds on each other. Lots of heat and light, signifying nothing. It doesn’t really do any of us any good.

Besides, there are far worse candidates to be chucked on a bonfire – people doing real damage rather than just angling for a bit of publicity. They’re the real villains; let’s go for them instead.

(Well why don’t YOU go for them?)

OK, I will.

* Yes yes, I know. No need to correct me.


It lives!!!

Yes, after all these years, Winterval is back! Just look at the URL:!

The PC Brigade have literally gone mad once again.

Sure, you might call it alliteration. You might say it’s simply something to go along with the W in Waterford. You might even say it’s a tongue-in-cheek nod to the publicity surrounding the yearly rumours about the secular evil of Winterval having replaced Christmas, and an attempt to gain more interest a rather ordinary Christmas festival.

You might say all of that, but I say: the powers-that-be, the bien pensant liberal-left do-gooding bastards who are sucking all the Christ out of Christmas, are deliberately making us all ashamed of Christmas, the most magical Christmassy and lovely time of the year.

So there.

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Posted by on October 25, 2013 in myths and legends, Uncategorized, Winterval


In praise of Sunny

Liberal Conspiracy is kind-of shutting down but not quite after eight long years. It’s a good moment to say thanks to Sunny Hundal, one of blogging’s big successes, and explain why it is I think he was (and is) such an important figure in left blogging. Here are the reasons I’ll miss him. (This sounds a bit like an obituary but I’m assured he’s very much still alive).

  1. He gave me a chance. You can wait a bloody long time as a blogger for someone to give you the slightest chance to write, especially if you’re a bit outre or annoying (as I was and am). It’s really important that the bigger players give the little people a chance to get a wider audience and develop their writing.
  2. He took on the Right. So many on the left are so keen to be polite, do things the right way, not stoop to ‘their level’ and so on… Sunny just hit the bastards back. It wasn’t to everyone’s taste but I, for one, was glad there was someone out there who would actually use the tactics of the Right against them. One such thing was lumping all sorts of folk together as ‘the Right’ and taking aim. Not everyone agreed; I enjoyed it.
  3. He kept going. A lot of left bloggers get absorbed into the commentariat, which while being lucrative and enjoyable, blunts their effectiveness and sees the thing they did best slowly dissipate. Sunny still managed to be himself even once he’d appeared on telly a few times.
  4. He had good advice for blogging. Keep it short and simple; don’t ramble too much. Make your points and leave the debate to the comments. Good general advice for us all, even if I still can’t stick to it today.
  5. He didn’t strike me as a hand wringer. It takes a lot of mental fortitude to be attacked by the left and right pretty much all the time, to be regularly called Scumdal and just block and get on with it. Sunny took it all with good grace and humour.
  6. He always had time to reply to an email. That’s something pretty important. You’d be surprised how many people in writing and blogging don’t. (I’m one of the worst offenders, in case you were wondering).
  7. When he did eventually turn up on TV, he didn’t go full commentariat. Always gave the impression of ‘actually wanting to put across an honestly felt opinion’ rather than ‘wanting to say something divisive and controversial so I can get invited back’.
  8. He bought me a pint once. And, you know, I’ll get him one back one day. In the meantime, there’s this.

Posted by on October 25, 2013 in blogging about blogging, Uncategorized


Blue eyed girl

This is where we are, then.


The Daily Star used the amazing technique of putting ‘Maddie’ in inverted commas the other day to describe a little girl who was found with a Roma family in Greece. The age of the child was wrong so it was never going to be Madeleine McCann, yet they said “Maddie”. You know “Maddie” in inverted commas, the way inverted commas mean “you can say anything you fucking want to inside, it doesn’t matter”.


There’s something especially despicable about newspapers exploiting a missing child to flog a few copies; there’s something even worse about it when they think they can justifiably say “Maddie” in inverted commas to mean “any missing child”. It’s as if “a Maddie” is now shorthand for a missing child. What a lame, miserable, dirty little shambles. What a disgusting, tawdry, sick joke. Perpetrated by amoral fucks to try and sell a few sleazy inky rags.

Oh, and by the way, the “Maddie” found in Ireland wasn’t “Maddie” (or even “a Maddie”). It turns out the blue eyed child of Roma parents was… the child of Roma parents. “SHOCK AS BLUE EYED GIRL FOUND WITH ROMA PARENTS”. Shock! How dare they have a fair child! They must have STOLEN it. Except… they didn’t steal the child. It was their child all along.

But this is where we are. It’s fair game to shop Roma families to the cops if the child they haven’t isn’t dark enough to satisfy our prejudices. Fair enough for newspapers to report wild speculation as fact. “Maddie” found in Ireland. Except it wasn’t Maddie. It wasn’t a missing child. It was a couple’s own child, taken from them because of racism. Go on, Daily Star. Fucking report on that and how you enable that kind of prejudice to thrive; I dare you.


Writing about writing

I started writing again properly this week. Up until now I’ve done bits and pieces – and a book, of course – which have kept me busy. But it wasn’t writing writing. It didn’t feel like fun.

Writing is fun. For me. And it was a desire to bring back that fun that led me to start doing this blog. For a while I’d felt something was missing; sure, I was putting words together, and I was writing, but I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing. When I started blogging, in 2007 – six bloody years ago, if you can believe that – I felt the words fall like rain onto the screen. It was a cloudburst. It felt like it had to happen. This was a release of energy, or thought – blogging was like writing poetry, or painting; it was a way of ‘getting it out’ – whatever ‘it’ was.

As I became more successful, I found it harder and harder to write. It shouldn’t have been that way, but it was. I struggled to get the words onto the page. I began to dread everything I wrote because I knew how many people were going to read it and comment on it and automatically tell me I was wrong about everything because they knew better. I anticipated all of that and began to try and write with that in mind. It was like I was trying to think about defending myself rather than asserting myself. It wasn’t great writing, most of the time, although I am still proud of a lot of it.

Then, this week, I got back to the page. I got back to blogging blogging. Think – write – publish. Go, go, go. No hassle. No ruminating on what you should be writing or who you’re writing for or what you ought to be saying or who else has written something different. Just write.

The words fell like rain, again.

Writing is one of the most amazing things in the world. These 26 characters dancing around on the screen or the page, telling a story, perpetuating the thoughts in your head. It is a joy, a triumph, a spectacular thing.

It’s made me think about how children write and how we teach them to write. And I had a look at some work by a Year 5 pupil that interested me quite a lot.


One thing I really like about that book is the title: “creative writing”. It’s something that makes me smile. Creative writing. Such a lovely thing. Not a ‘literacy’ book but a creative writing book. Here’s where we’re going to create.


I quite like that writing, you know, but a couple of things strike me about it. I can remember struggling over the handwriting, and the handwriting, and the handwriting, and the handwriting. I still struggle with handwriting nowadays, as it happens. I remember labouring over each loop and each join, every letter in every word. It wasn’t until later, when I managed to find a typewriter (ask your grandad what one is) that I found a way of writing at a speed and with a freedom I could really enjoy.

But there’s something else about that teacher I should tell you, and it’s quite significant I think. When we had free time in class, some children wrote, drew, some children did computers (we had BBC Micros and ZX81s) and some children played games. I wanted to write. “Can I write sir?” I said, and he gave me some paper, and said I should write anything I wanted. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. You might think “So what?” but it’s carried on into my teaching that I do today, when I have the chance. Sometimes, when someone wants to write, let them write. Don’t tell him to read if he wants to write.

As a teacher, you’re told that you should ‘model’ the enjoyment of reading to children; but we’re never told to model the enjoyment of writing. Writing is business time; reading is recreation. I think that’s bollocks. Writing is more fun than reading for me and it always has been. Here was the first teacher who’d ever actually understood that.

In classes, you teach children to write in a variety of ways. A lot of it is quite dry and I’ve seen a lot of children’s heart sink when they take up a pencil and have to put it to the page. Sometimes it’s because of the handwriting and sometimes it’s because of the content, which they find unappealing or tedious. Sometimes it’s because of the expectations – knowing a teacher will mark it or judge it, or knowing that you have to include Assessment Focus 1, 2, 8 and 9 in order to try and improve your level. Which reminds me of why my own writing dried up into an unlovely husk. If I can’t do it, why should these children do it?

Different things work for different children. I remember trying to structure pieces of writing and hating it, loathing it, despising it; I remember trying to write like bullets from a gun and finding it wonderful. As ever in education I think there needs to be a variety of different strategies employed to try and gain the widest possible success – some children will thrive on Talk For Writing and others will want to curl up and cry every time they have to do a silly action for the word ‘meanwhile’. We’re all different, as adults and children; it’s all about finding the way to the goal that gives you the greatest success – and the greatest enjoyment. Let’s try not to forget enjoyment in all of this.

Look at that piece of writing in that Year 5 child’s book. Has he used speech marks? Has he used long and short sentences to vary sentence length for effect? Has he written for purpose? Has he shown a range of punctuation? Is the main purpose of the writing clearly and consistently maintained? Did he plan and revise and check and proofread and improve and polish his work using his Special Polishing Pen?

What I do know is that he had fun doing it.

What I like to do is just to get writing down. Just write because you can and because you do. Just write. Write a poem. Write something. Express something, a thought, in words, and make those words explode onto the page. Get away from that headache about The Big Write and the perfection of every paragraph, and the levels and the expectations – just write because it’s great. It’s one of the most amazing things you can ever do – and everyone can do it.

It’s not always a popular strategy – in one of my many failed teaching interviews, a very friendly and pleasant headteacher seemed quite angry that I had done a poetry lesson with children. “I couldn’t see what the point was of writing a poem,” he said, quite offended, as if I had told the children to smear their own shit on the page. That was me told off, then.

A few people, like the avuncular Pie Corbett (yes, Pie) have found ways to try and liven it up a bit, by explicitly linking the path between talking and writing – and that’s great. But there’s another way too, I think. Write yourself. Be a writer. Do it because you enjoy it. Don’t do it because you have to write, or it becomes a chore, or task, and it will only potentially attract those who already have some kind of flair for it.

Each letter should be a joy, each word a thing that sparks enjoyment and creativity and life. It can be and it will be. Writing isn’t just a means to an end. It’s not just a way of making you gain some marks. It is a pleasure in itself, and if it isn’t, you’re doing it wrong, or you’re being told to do it wrong.

I realise that now, especially this week, starting my own writing again. I remember now why that Class 3 Steven Baxter wrote, and wrote, and wrote. And why he writes now.

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Posted by on October 19, 2013 in Uncategorized



Since May, I have lost twenty-three pounds. That is quite a lot and quite a little. It’s a lot because, well, try carrying around two five-litre bottles of water around all day and see how many chuckles you have. It’s a little because there is a lot still to go.

I know a lot about being fat – I prefer the old playground term of abuse to the more medicalised, impersonal term of ‘obesity’ – since I’ve been that way for all of my adult life. As it happens, at nineteen stones and three pounds, this is the least heavy I have been since I was a teenager. Put it down to being on a diet; put it down to doing Wake And Shake as a teacher; put it down to the ton of stress I’m under right now – whatever, I’m losing weight, and I’m quite pleased about it.

I find it interesting, then, as a self-confessed fatty, to hear people discussing whether NICE should tell people that fatness is their own fault or not. Most of the people doing the finger-pointing are professional trolls, continuing in public a trend of fatty-bashing that most of us learned through a haze of tears school and have had continued through the workplace and through most of our lives through snide comments and – shield your eyes from this next word – “banter”.

You know, when it’s someone’s birthday at work and you go to reach for one of the communal pile of doughnuts and you can see people watching you to see how gluttonous you are; sometimes some wag might offer “Haven’t you had enough of them already?” to make you feel that little bit more confident about yourself. That sort of thing. Or someone you’ve never met before coming up to you out of the blue in a pub and saying “You’re a fucking fat cunt, aren’t you”. Or the more subtle comments that come as a kind of helpful-sounding advice, where colleagues worry aloud that you might ‘squash’ the children you work with. Ah, yes. We fat folk have to enjoy such larks. That’s why we’re so fucking jolly all the time like Santa Claus.

When you see people in the media – not just the trolls, or people like What I Had For Dinner Correspondent Giles Coren – saying that we should shame fat people, you wonder if they’re doing it out of a genuine concern for the health and wellbeing of those folk who are putting a strain on their organs, or whether they’re just being the kind of bullying bastards you’ve encountered throughout your life. Pick on fatty. Why not? If they run after you, they won’t catch you, ho ho.

It’s part of the School Of Hard Knocks school of thought; that all that anyone needs is a kick up the arse rather than any kind of meaningful encouragement; that negative reinforcement is always better than anything else; that people must be given shame, and self-loathing, to succeed.

One problem I can see with that: shame is what got a lot of us fat in the first place. Shame and guilt can be easily transformed into feasting on sugar or carbs or fat or whatever you can get your hands on. Just as smokers (and I was one once) can light up at the thought of a painful memory, people who eat too much can reach for something unhealthy when they’re feeling low. We can comicalise it by references to Billy Bunters and cakes and pies, but it’s the same kind of self-destructive sadness – make the misery go away through something that gives you a little boost of chemical joy.

Perhaps the NICE advice is pragmatic more than a desperate PC-gone-mad attempt to avoid offending chubby folk. Telling that kind of person that they’re worthless and pathetic isn’t extremely likely to make it better – and might even make it worse. So what? you might think.These people should suffer; it’s their own fault they got where they are; they should sink or swim. It’s no coincidence that the type of person who enjoys picking on the fat is the kind of person who also likes hurling abuse at the ‘lower orders’ for being poor; it’s part of the same mindset, a fair-world fallacy in which everyone else experiences the world exactly like me, and has exactly the same chances and me, and I just happen to have ended up with a better time than them. It’s an inviting way of seeing the world, because it means we’re responsible for 100 per cent of our success, while the people who would say they aren’t as lucky are entirely responsible for their failure.

For me, I would always comfort eat as a child, as I had undiagnosed depression and found that I could use food as a handy way of finding a little pleasure in a world that seemed desperately dark. As I grew older, I continued to have that toxic relationship with food – sometimes it got better, and sometimes it got worse, when I was under times of extreme stress – and the results are around my belly right now. That’s me. Everyone’s story is different as to why they got fat. Most of us are trying to be not as fat – for health reasons, to look better, to be more attractive, because we just want to. In the meantime, there’s plenty of shame already and it comes from within more often than that; we don’t really need any more.

I think it says something about us as a wider society, the way we treat people who are ‘others’. We can see fat people as being like those on benefits (sometimes the fat people are on benefits and we can finger-point and judge with twice the self-righteousness!) and tell them that they are costing us our hard-earned tax pounds to fix. Or we can try and understand why they are how they are, how they got to where they are, and what might help. Just as no-one becomes homeless or poor overnight, no one becomes fat overnight. It doesn’t take one dodged salad, I’m afraid. It takes an awful lot of choices – wrong choices at that.

It’s the same thing that we as citizens always have to choose – do we try and understand, or do we try and punish? If fat people are going to be the new outcasts, then so be it: we’re used to being abused, and a little more is just another thing to add to the load. It says more about the people handing out the abuse than it does about us.


Posted by on October 17, 2013 in Uncategorized


Hey teacher

Teaching isn’t easy. I say this is someone who has gone from the relatively unprofessional profession of journalism and gone into education – with unfortunate timing, as it turns out, since every time you say “I’m a former journalist and now I think I know about teaching” you can see your face morphing into Michael Gove’s. 

Never mind; I’m a teacher now. I don’t have a permanent job as yet, but I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time. In the meantime, I make a living as a supply teacher, flitting from one school to another, sometimes from one to another in the course of a day, to try and give pupils the best learning I can deliver. 

I have it easy. As a supply teacher you’re detached from the hardest, most stressful bits of teaching: the planning, the coverage, the staff meetings, the (compulsory participation in) after-school clubs, the parents’ evenings, the safeguarding, the marking, the levelling, the assessing pupil progress, the drive for a minimum of three levels of differentiation, the taking work home, the staying in school till late and arriving early every day, the constant rules and regulations, the paperwork, the bureaucracy, the being told by non-teachers that you just tit around with poster paints and glitter all day… and so on, and so on. Sure, I don’t get paid during holidays, but hey, swings and roundabouts. I get to go home on time after a bit of marking and a tidy up. It’s a luxury really. 

My teaching colleagues and friends seem to be divided into two discrete camps by Michael Gove: some can’t stand him and are quite militant about it; some can’t stand him and are quite phlegmatic about it. When you hang around in staffrooms as much as I do, among the endless talk of diets and babies there often come conversations about how the profession’s going and whether it’s worth carrying on. The young folk, the 22-year-olds fresh out of university with their leggings, boots and Cath Kidston bags, are a bit less fierce about it all – they just want to get their heads down for a bit and concentrate on teaching. The older ones seem to have, on the whole, a more strident, more confrontational attitude; they’ve seen this sort of thing come and go before. 

What everyone seems to agree on, though, is it’s not a great time to be a teacher. Teachers face ever-growing pressure to perform – from parents, from colleagues, from Ofsted, from headteachers, from governors, from the constant observations, from everyone. Quite right, you might say, given that they’re looking after our children’s future.

True, but it’s what kind of pressure is exerted, I think; there’s something that goes above and beyond professionalism. Most teachers I’ve seen are extremely professional anyway. They stay late; they work hard; they stay through lunch to help the children who are a little behind on their achievements; they put their all into giving the very best to their class or classes. They don’t need a kick up the arse – they’re the ones doing most of the kicking. 

In any lesson, the balance continues, and I am full of nothing but admiration for my colleagues who deliver not only great teaching but great classroom management on a daily basis. despite all the other pressures. In any lesson, there might be two or three or four children who could be showing extremely challenging behaviour. One child might run out of the classroom. Another might be on the carpet, screaming, being restrained by another member of staff. Someone else will be in tears. Someone has hit someone. Someone else needs to tell you something really important that they can’t tell anyone else. It’s all happening at once and you are dealing with 30 tiny people who are the most important person in the world to someone, and you are trying to give them all as much of your attention as you can. Like I say, it isn’t easy. 

Above all this immediate pressure, there is other pressure: the pressure to deliver something that can’t, actually, be delivered. It’s the pressure to be everything to everybody. It’s the pressure to deal with huge variations in ability at all ages, while at the same time magicking up the constant improvements in performance which are required of the DfE and the Secretary of State. It’s an awful lot for one person to manage and juggle all the time. I’ve seen bright, intelligent, capable people struggle with it. 

The numbers are everything to some schools. They might tell visitors that they’re keen on seeing a holistic education and teaching the whole child; away from prying eyes, the kids are being carefully and rigorously coached on their exams to get the numbers up. Do you want to take on a child with a degenerative disease if it means they won’t make progress? Do you want to take a hit on your value added figures for the sake of not excluding someone who just won’t learn in the same way as others? These are questions that might seem unthinkable, but they aren’t. 

Amid all this, you have the dread of Ofsted. “Ofsted wouldn’t like that,” you’re constantly being told. “Ofsted say you shouldn’t do that. Ofsted wouldn’t agree with that.” (You want to say “Well, if Ofsted told you to jump off a cliff, would you?” but you think better of it.) It’s of course right that standards are maintained and parents have some information on which to decide which school to send their children to, but it’s another factor that’s brought into every lesson in every classroom. What Would Ofsted Think? You get a glimpse as a supply teacher into the sheer fear that it generates, and how this affects how things are done. (Let’s have a Book Corner! Does anyone use the book corner? Does it work? It doesn’t matter, Ofsted will like it!)

My friends and colleagues have had a tough decision today. Should they strike and take a stand? Should they stay in the classroom to benefit the children, especially the ones who need it most? It isn’t easy, and I have total sympathy for either choice. Whatever they chose, they did so in what they felt was the best interests.

Teachers who do strike are not a militant bunch of troublemakers who are out to irritate parents and make them miserable so they can have a day off. One day off teaching is a day that takes time to recover. It will take plenty of work. And all the teachers I know are people who are so professional that they will probably already have thought of ways to accelerate the learning tomorrow to catch up for today. 

But so many things are happening to teaching now. You’re a failure if you don’t get the numbers up BUT you have to deal with bigger classes. You have to be everything: carer, parental figure, mentor, educator, disciplinarian, inspiration, good cop, bad cop and everything in between. Sure, you get long holidays. You need them. I know so many people who are counting down the minutes until the end of term so they can have a week away from the storm next week. 

Before I became a teacher, I had some sympathy for teachers. Now I have more than sympathy; I have understanding. I see where the anger comes from. I see why the contempt of Government directed at this professional, dedicated and overworked group of people is so misplaced. It’s a constant chipping away of the job; it’s a constant demand that everything should somehow be always better, even when it can’t be. I can see why people are at breaking point. 

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Posted by on October 17, 2013 in Uncategorized


…and proud

There’s a documentary on Channel 5 next week called Shoplifters and Proud. It’s described as a “documentary following the lives of some of Britain’s most brazen petty criminals: those who unashamedly help themselves to whatever they fancy from the shops tell their stories.”

This week, the same channel screened another documentary about people who take what’s not rightfully theirs, brazen folk who unashamedly help themselves: it was called On Benefits and Proud. Shoplifters… people who claim the benefits to which they are entitled… pretty interchangeable really.

The channel’s own description tells you pretty much everything you need to know:

Both Emma and Sophie came to London as teenagers and both have been on benefits since becoming mums. Sophie wants a well-paid position too. Despite having no qualifications, she is not prepared to take just any job. She wants the state to fund further education, but only when her daughter has left state-funded nursery…

State-funded nursery! State funding further education! State funding things for people! The State is funding things and this is wrong.

It reads like a Daily Express editorial – which isn’t surprising, I suppose, given who owns Channel 5. Some people – including this dreadful idiot – even suggested that Richard Desmond couldn’t pander to Little Englanders given his desire to promote good causes such as the Health Lottery; prejudice-tainted hate pieces would toxify the brand, they thought.

Wrong. Channel Express is happy to demonise people who are ‘on benefits’ in the same way as shoplifters. Look over there! Look at them! They’re the ones you should be hating! Look over there! Get them! Bully them. Hate them. Don’t hate us; hate them. Don’t blame us; blame them. Blame their choices and blame their lives. 

People like professional troll Katie Hopkins make a career out of this kind of thing – hate the poor, hate the fat, hate people who don’t have jobs, hate everyone else. We’re encouraged to join in. Maybe if we take the bullies’ side, we won’t be so angry about ourselves and the ways in which we’re being manifestly screwed by the powerful.

There’s a whole raft of this type of programme nowadays, and this is just the latest example. It’s tabloid television, it’s crap and it’s happily shooting at easy targets while the real crooks, liars and cheats get away with it. Where are the programmes taking potshots at tax evaders? Where’s Tax Cheat And Proud? Where are the programmes talking about the huge amounts of people who don’t claim the benefits to which they’re entitled? Where’s Too Proud To Claim Benefits Even Though They’d Help?

No one wants to make them. Why bother? It’s easier to hate. It’s easier to press the same simple buttons in the same stupid sequence. Make you hate your next door neighbour, rather than the real bastards who are wrecking the country. And of course we fall for it, again and again.

Meanwhile, people are quietly having their benefits taken away. People are suffering. People are heading down the foodbank, tonight, in this country. Don’t look at them; look at the rogues; look at the outliers; look at the people we have decided aren’t good enough. They’re the ones who are really to blame for this, somehow.

Next week: Bad Journalist And Proud. We meet BRAZEN journalists who UNASHAMEDLY misrepresent people who are on benefits and fill an hour of television making you hate them. 


Posted by on October 16, 2013 in Uncategorized