Clip-Ons

A school not so very far away, a very successful comprehensive by any measurement, has a new Head who has felt the need to stamp his personal stamp and ‘improve’ it further, so like many new Heads desperate to – no, let’s just say desperate – he is introducing a new school uniform which will include a coloured blazer and clip-on ties. That will do the trick, I am sure.

It reminded me of my former school introducing the same a few years ago. I wrote about it then. I’m sharing now as my distaste for such hasn’t waned.

It’s not high art, by the way.

Clip-Ons

‘Clip-ons. Geeettttt yourrrrrrr cliiiiiiip-ooonnnnnns. Two fer two paunds; four fer three paunds. Clip-ons. Geeettt yourrrrr cliiiiiiip-ooonnnnnnns ‘ere!’

Two men stand at the entrance of the locked school gates next to a trestle table festooned with a row of school clip-on ties like an elongated spread of psychedelic piano keys. On its own, an individual tie is quite ordinary in its conventional stripes, but when laid out like this, the colours become an optical illusion that is surprisingly attractive.

One of the two men stands quite still, indifferent to the early morning gathering around him; the other is obviously energised by the sing-song elasticity of his salesman’s spiel. Apart from the incongruity of this surprise enterprise outside the school, the man enunciating his best early Eastenders’ Ian Beale patter is wearing one of the recently instituted new school clip-on ties and also appearing somewhat absurd in his jeans and denim shirt.

‘Good morning gentlemen. Can I interest both of you in our very special deal on these clip-on school ties?’ the chirpier of the two salesmen regales teachers Paul and Robert as they arrive together for work. ‘Ask your good selves, why should the boys be the only ones to benefit from these beautifully hand-crafted clip-ons now that male members of staff have been instructed to wear ties too? Just think of those extra essays you can mark or charts you can fill in before leaving home for work  rather than wasting time having to knot your own?’ he adds with a smarmy alacrity.

Paul is the first to speak as he walks straight past,

‘Go fuck yourself. Toodlepip.’

Robert stops and smiles politely. Years of being a genuinely amiable and kind person prevent him from behaving like his much more grizzled and caustic colleague. He walks over to the table and touches one or two ties as if to corroborate their existence, and in this tactile gesture of recognition he also feels compelled to engage in the proposed purchasing discourse.

‘I used to be a professional footballer,’ he begins tentatively – not because he hasn’t told the story he is about to tell before, because he has many, many times, but because of his pleasant inclination – ‘and I once met Brian Clough who always insisted that any players on one of his football teams wore a club tie.’

‘You are so right my good Sir,’ the chirpy one responds obsequiously, sensing his capture. ‘We sell a lot of these up and down the country as Academies recognise…’ he stalls whilst seeming to trance into a mental search-mode for an internalised recording of a more complex pitch ‘…the link between professional dress codes and target achievement acceleration…’ when just as stutteringly as he had switched to this prepared premise he reverts to his previous fruit’n’vegesque appeal ‘…and they are only two fer two paunds or four fer three paunds, and that’s a bargain mate!’

Robert pauses before replying, but then does so with considerable emotion,

‘I’m not your bloody mate,’ he swears surprisingly – not because he is swearing but because he isn’t playing five-a-side whilst doing so – ‘and I’m fed up with all of this nonsense. My actual mate Cloughie would never consider wearing a tie as such a shallow device, and wore his own green jumper with genuine pride…’

But before Robert can collect his thoughts to a more cohesive rebuff, Paul suddenly reappears and interrupts. His face is contorted in its usual contempt for the paucity of thought and creativity in those around him – and especially those notionally above him – and he is wearing a full length clipless school tie wrapped around his forehead and looking like John McEnroe playing Macbeth as he approaches the slaying of Duncan.

‘You tell these rascals!’ Paul acknowledges Robert’s outburst approvingly. It is at this point Robert notices Paul is carrying a wooden sword, the kind he used to thrust about histrionically on Shakespeare Days organised years ago in better times by his dear friend Ken who now spends his time organising whole school clip-on tie demonstrations where local employers come into school and advise students on the guarantees for academic success and jobs for life if they learn to wear their clip-ons with sartorial superiority, or a well-tutored approximation of this.

‘To clip on or not to clip on,’ Paul shouts as he approaches the trestle table, ‘and that is not a rhetorical question!’ he shouts even louder as he sends the neat row of offensive merchandise flying, flailing his sword up and down the display whilst also hitting with a wayward parry the quiet salesman who has continued lounging disinterested at one end throughout this brief encounter and whose newly smashed nose starts to bleed immediately. Paul turns to strike with intent the other noisy one, but he has already exited this impromptu early morning stage and is disappearing in unseemly haste towards the English block.

‘What have you done!’ Robert asks shocked but oddly smiling.

‘I’ve made a statement for two teachers who are soon to retire and shuffle off from this educational coil and toil,’ Paul responds pompously and theatrically, his robustly righteous yin to Robert’s equally honourable but calmer yang. ‘What can they do, sack us?’ he adds with a riotous guffaw, ripping the tie from his head and trodding it into the ground as he and Robert enter the school’s front door arm in mutual arm, both heads held as supremely and serenely high as only years of truly tieless professionalism can achieve.

Italian Lessons – Ian Seed

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If you have read Ian Seed’s poetic narratives/vignettes before [and you can read two reviews and reflections of his previous work here] you will know what to expect. And if you have read his work before you will know that you should not expect.

Italian Lessons fulfils such certainty and uncertainty. This is a short but complete story, and diverges from the randomness, surprises [absurd, comic or disturbing] and dislocations of place and experience that feature in the vignettes readers of his work will be used to. The setting in Italy is, however, familiar, as is the graceful simplicity of description and setting of tone. The mysterious, as thematic echo, is far less evident as this reflection on a ‘young Englishman’s first weeks of living, working and falling in love in a foreign country’ is quite conventional as storytelling.

But there are shifts in time and shifts in mood and shifts in what we as readers might expect and/or hope will happen. As with his other writing, that is for the reader to experience rather than reviewer to reveal.

As the blurb tells us, this is a ‘bittersweet’ tale and I think it is most apt as summation of mood. Characters are quickly sketched but real and worth caring about, especially their engagements with one another, as with Anna and our first person narrator Ian – so there is this personal anchoring. Elements of the spoken broken English, the teaching of English, and the spoken Italian with, thankfully, repeated English translations have a simple but affecting way of establishing a natural and authentic setting.

It is a warming read at one sitting of absorbed and gentle empathy for the experiences we have when younger and which define us.

Italian Lessons is published by Like This Press. It is worth mentioning because with this small private press there is and always has been a production ethic, and that is for ‘publishing high quality, beautifully designed, and largely handmade books that do things just a little bit differently’ which I fully endorse – earlier publications included boxed editions, for example Rupert Loydell’s Tower of Babel, still available, with postcard paintings inside the box with its poems. Italian Lessons is a ‘hand-bound paperback with French folds’ and recommended, obviously, to read and have both as pleasingly palpable experience and object.

For more details and to order, go here.

Predicated on Belief

I don’t want to come back to this. It’s late for one thing. I’m also trying to watch an episode of West Wing. I’m well through series 1 of a box set and it has been a fascinating contrast of its original rose-tinted and liberal romanticism, dramatically heightened with comparison to the now of Trump’s Presidency.

Did I simply say ‘dramatically’?!

But I did catch a snippet of a BBC post-Trump-Florida-speech discussion with an American journalist/pundit working in England. His observation was how Trump had delivered a ‘masterclass in communication’. He wasn’t endorsing the message at all, but [similar to aspects of the West Wing] he contrasted Obama’s consummate oration with Trump’s plain talking directly to the people and stated how effective the latter’s was.

I can see the point. However, I would have to believe that Trump believes in and understands fully what he is talking about to call it effective or anything remotely positive, and I simply don’t. He has said too many downright nasty and dumb things for this to be the case. I don’t believe his backers and puppet-masters, like Bannon, have the interests of the ‘ordinary joe’, as the journalist/pundit put it, at heart at all. Far from it.

Ok, back to Jed and a world that will and never has happened, even under Obama.

Trump of the Absurd

The theatre of Trump is beyond explanation, and beyond satire as it ridicules itself.

His speech in Florida tonight genuinely beggars belief, from the reality of the hired help in the audience behind him, and knowingly oblivious [excuse the paradox] in particular by one guy who was staring directly into the TV camera whilst on his mobile and blowing kisses to whoever he was speaking to – quite clearly utterly uncaring in what Trump was saying – to the unbelievably banal but propagandising rhetoric that had been written for the President to deliver in a sweaty and gobsmackingly inept speech.

At the end of this surreal slice of sheer performance above anything of substance, the Rolling Stones’ soundtrack repeated its line you can’t always get what you want, and the spiral of ironies within that kept digging the deepest of holes – for all of us.

The crowd of clowns who had been assembled and waited in the hanger for Air Force One and The Donald to arrive had been serenaded by Free’s Alright Now which added yet more bizarre musical layers of the absurd to the whole frighteningly nightmarish reality.

I have nothing clever or particularly informed to say but I had to express something in my disbelief.

Lessness – Samuel Beckett

If you simply want to read Beckett’s short story Lessness, skip this personal preamble. It is well worth a read if you have never previously encountered. Or, of course, if you have.

I thought I first came across this potent story around 1969 when I heard a performance/reading on the radio. I was convinced I recalled exactly where I was at the time and thus knew the date. I was wrong.

Researching last night, the recording was on BBC Radio 3, 7th May, 1971 at 9.25pm. So I was lying face down on a bed in a different bedroom and house than the one I had [erroneously] remembered for years. It was a long time ago.

But it makes sense. I was 17 in 1971, studying A levels at College. I think I had seen the film of Not I, though the timeline is sketchy, and I had certainly seen a performance of Krapps’ Last Tape at the drama club I attended occasionally. I recollect the banana.

What I do remember vividly and without question was lying face down on my bed listening that evening and being so deeply affected by the language and atmosphere created by the reading. This was significantly enhanced – spookily, is perhaps the best word – by the radio reception which drifted in and out, so the relentless wording and generating of a feeling of loss and lessness was heightened by the disappearing and returning of the sound itself. I couldn’t find out today what waveband BBC Radio 3 would have been on in 1971. Whatever, it wasn’t very stable in Ipswich, Suffolk then.

Originally written in 1969 in French and titled Sans, this was the first performance/reading in English I believe. My grasp of French is paltry, but I do know, and use, sans to mean without and/or an absence of. One definition I came across this morning was wanting. For me, the translation to Lessness is one significantly different and wholly apt – but perhaps that is because I only know the English whole, so one reflects the other. But I do know that the implication of lessness, and that precarious radio reception – and the palpable readings by Donal Donnelly, Leonard Fenton, Denys Hawthorne, Patrick Magee, Harold Pinter and Nicol Williamson – left a profound and lasting impression.

So much so that this current recalling was prompted by my using the word lessness in a recent found poem in my sequence based on the Great American Novel, American Finds. I’ll put it at the end.

One further contextualising. I think I taught Beckett at A Level, certainly Endgame, either as a coursework text or a set text, and I do suspect it was the latter. I am still proud to have taught/shared Waiting for Godot with GCSE mixed-ability groups for coursework assignments on Twentieth Century Drama. It is challenging, but all the more engaging for this. With plenty of reading, sharing and watching as well as discussion and prompts and support, the written assignment was an obvious one based on whether students thought the play was hopeful or hopeless – positive or negative – and we used the play’s focus on interpretations provided by the four gospels on the story of the two thieves.

Students also devised their own WfG scenes to perform for Speaking and Listening assessment. This was wonderfully and dynamically freeing because they could be as absurd as desired, and they were.

Lessness

Ruins true refuge long last towards which so many false time out of mind. All sides endlessness earth sky as one no sound no stir. Grey face two pale blue little body heart beating only up right. Blacked out fallen open four walls over backwards true refuge issueless.

Scattered ruins same grey as the sand ash grey true refuge. Four square all light sheer white blank planes all gone from mind. Never was but grey air timeless no sound figment the passing light. No sound no stir ash grey sky mirrored earth mirrored sky. Never but this changelessness dream the passing hour.

He will curse God again as in the blessed days face to the open sky the passing deluge. Little body grey face features slit and little holes two pale blue. Blank mind.

Figment light never was but grey air timeless no sound. Blank planes touch close sheer white all gone from mind. Little body ash grey locked rigid heart beating face to endlessness. On him will rain again as in the blessed days of blue the passing cloud. Four square true refuge long last four walls over backwards no sound.

Grey sky no cloud no sound no stir earth ash grey sand. Little body same grey as the earth sky ruins only upright. Ash grey all sides earth sky as one all sides endlessness.

He will stir in the sand there will be stir in the sky the air the sand. Never but in dream the happy dream only one time to serve. Little body little block heart beating ash grey only upright. Earth sky as one all sides endlessness little body only upright. In the sand no hold one step more in the endlessness he will make it. No sound not a breath same grey all sides earth sky body ruins.

Slow black with ruin true refuge four walls over backwards no sound. Legs a single block arms fast to sides little body face to endlessness. Never but in vanished dream the passing hour long short. Only upright little body grey smooth no relief a few holes. One step in the ruins in the sand on his back in the endlessness he will make it. Never but dream the days and nights made of dreams of other nights better days. He will live again the, space of a step it will be day and night planes sheer white eye calm long last all gone from again over him the endlessness.

In four split asunder over backwards true refuge issueless scattered ruins. Little body little block genitals overrun arse a single block grey crack overrun. True refuge long last issueless scattered down four walls over backwards no sound. All sides endlessness earth sky as one no stir not a breath. Blank planes sheer white calm eye light of reason all gone from mind. Scattered ruins ash grey all sides true refuge long last issueless.

Ash grey little body only upright heart beating face to endlessness. Old love new love as in the blessed days unhappiness will reign again. Earth sand same grey as the air sky ruins body fine ash grey sand. Light refuge sheer white blank planes all gone from mind.

Flatness endless little body only upright same grey all sides earth sky body ruins. Face to white calm touch close eye calm long last all gone from mind. One step more one alone all alone in the sand no hold he will make it.

Blacked out fallen open true refuge issueless towards which so many false time out of mind. Never but silence such that in imagination this wild laughter these cries. Head through calm eye all light white calm all gone from mind. Figment dawn dispeller of figments and the other called dusk.

He will go on his back face to the sky open again over him the ruins the sand the endlessness. Grey air timeless earth sky as one same grey as the ruins flatness endless. It will be day and night again over him the endlessness the air heart will beat again. True refuge long last scattered ruins same grey as the sand.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Face to calm eye touch close all calm all white all gone from mind. Never but imagined the blue in a wild imagining the blue celeste of poesy. Little void mighty light four square all white blank planes all gone from mind. Never was but grey air timeless no stir not a breath. Heart beating little body only upright grey face features overrun two pale blue. Light white touch close head through calm eye light of reason all gone from mind.

Little body same grey as the earth sky ruins only upright. No sound not a breath same grey all sides earth sky body ruins. Blacked out fallen open four walls over backwards true refuge issueless.

No sound no stir ash grey sky mirrored earth mirrored sky. Grey air timeless earth sky as one same grey as the ruins flatness endless. In the sand no hold one step more in the endlessness he will make it. It will be day and night again over him the endlessness the air heart will beat again.

Figment light never was but grey air timeless no sound. All sides endlessness earth sky as one no stir not a breath. On him will rain again as in the blessed days of blue the passing cloud. Grey sky no cloud no sound no stir earth ash grey sand.

Little void mighty light four square all white blank planes all gone from mind. Flatness endless little body only upright same grey all sides earth sky body ruins. Scattered ruins same grey as the sand ash grey true refuge. Four square true refuge long last four walls over backwards no sound. Never but this changelessness dream the passing hour. Never was but grey air timeless no sound figment the passing light.

In four split asunder over backwards true refuge issueless scattered ruins. He will live again the space of a step it will be day and night again over him the endlessness. Face to white calm touch close eye calm long last all gone from mind. Grey face two pale blue little body heart beating only upright. He will go on his back face to the sky open again over him the ruins the sand the endlessness. Earth sand same grey as the air sky ruins body fine ash grey sand. Blank planes touch close sheer white all gone from mind.

Heart beating little body only upright grey face features overrun two pale blue. Only upright little body grey smooth no relief a few holes. Never but dream the days and nights made of dreams of other nights better days. He will stir in the sand there will be stir in the sky the air the sand. One step in the ruins in the sand on his back in the endlessness he will make it. Never but silence such that in imagination this wild laughter these cries.

True refuge long last scattered ruins same grey as the sands. Never was but grey air timeless no stir not a breath. Blank planes sheer white calm eye light of reason all gone from mind. Never but in vanished dream the passing hour long short. Four square all light sheer white blank planes all gone from mind.

Blacked out fallen open true refuge issueless towards which so many false time out of mind. Head through calm eye all light white calm all gone from mind. Old love new love as in the blessed days unhappiness will reign again. Ash grey all sides earth sky as one all sides endlessness. Scattered ruins ash grey all sides true refuge long last issueless. Never but in dream the happy dream only one time to serve. Little body grey face features slit and little holes two pale blue.

Ruins true refuge long last towards which so many false time out of mind. Never but imagined the blue in a wild imagining the blue celeste of poesy. Light white touch close head through calm eye light of reason all gone from mind.

Slow black with ruin true refuge four walls over backwards no sound. Earth sky as one all sides endlessness little body only upright. One step more one alone all alone in the sand no hold he will make it. Ash grey little body only upright heart beating face to endlessness. Light refuge sheer white blank planes all gone from mind. All sides endlessness earth sky as one no sound no stir.

Legs a single block arms fast to sides little body face to endlessness. True refuge long last issueless scattered backwards no sound. Blank down four walls over planes sheer white eye calm long last all gone from mind. He will curse God again as in the blessed days face to the open sky the passing deluge. Face to calm eye touch close all calm all white all gone from mind.

Little body little block heart beating ash grey only upright. Little body ash grey locked rigid heart beating face to endlessness. Little body little block genitals overrun arse a single block grey crack overrun. Figment dawn dispeller of figments and the other called dusk.

  • Translated from the French (Sans) by the author.

[second poem] from Invisible Man – Ralph Elison

Lack of Color

Colorlessness.

Seriously?

The word colorlessness?

In America?

In white tyrant states?

Whence this passion
towards woven strands
of colorlessness?

Whence this conformity
to the many parts
of being invisible?

Color is.

Diversity is.

Think of what
would happen,

to end by
not a color
but the
lessness.