Found in Rees-Mogg

Individual

Perfectly, the rights
of the individual
allow you to
crush individuals

because the state
believe that I
am to be protected
by the government

and I do not believe
that a nation in the
interests of an individual
is built on a collective –

this is socialism
more convenient
for valuable and
important things

[found in Rees-Mogg speech today to ‘Open Europe’ think tank]

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Matthew Sweeney’s Storytelling

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It was sad to read yesterday others commenting on the news that poet Matthew Sweeney is suffering from motor neuron disease, as reported in Monday’s Irish Examiner.

I don’t know him personally and/or had the pleasure of working with him as some of those commentators have –  expressing their love and respect for Sweeney and his writing – but I have enjoyed immensely the poetry of his I have read and additionally recall with great fondness using his storytelling poems with students.

I offered these up from Sweeney’s four collections Cacti, The Bridal Suite, A Smell of Fish and Sanctuary where students could select and use his poems as stimulus for their A level Text Transformation writing projects. The surreal and open-ended narratives of so many of his poems offered students considerable creative opportunities to, firstly, be stimulated by the magic of their inventiveness, and secondly, use this as prompts for their own writing – taking his ideas to their own imaginative places.

I was prompted to share this reflection because of the following and concluding Q and A from the IE report:

What will be your legacy?

Mostly what awaits the poet is posthumous oblivion. Maybe there will be a young man in Hamburg, or Munich, or possibly Vienna, for whom my German translations will be for a while important — and might just contribute to him becoming a German language poet with Irish leanings.

Certainly one thing that’s pleased me in recent years was a suggestion in a review of my last book that I may be responsible for some younger poets venturing into the weird, more surreal zone. That would be something.

It is a self-effacing, amusing and touching response from Sweeney, and I know from experience he definitely did impact positively and inspirationally on younger writers because I will never forget their engagement with his writing and ideas and how this fuelled their own creativities.

Journalism Must Do Better

Whilst I endorse any journalism that shines a light on the wide problems inherent in SATs, I would turn the headline of this article back on that journalism itself and suggest it ‘must do better’.

Examples of SATs ‘cheating’ have been on the increase over recent years, apparently, and this is by teachers/Head teachers rather than examinees. This is obviously wrong, but it would also be wrong not to expose the pressures that push teachers to this extreme reaction – this ‘pressure’ itself one of the key elements for opposing SATs, as mentioned in this article when referring to another boycott by parents in May of this year.

So that’s cheating and pressure [pressure on staff and students to be clear] as key reasons for boycotting. Then there’s this rationale: ‘Unlike GCSEs and A-levels, Sats [sic] have no bearing on a child’s future.’ So cheating and pressure and no bearing on future of students.

This is a well-meaning focus but it does seem lazy journalism to me. The assertion of ‘no bearing on future’ is obviously inaccurate in that the ‘pressure’ already acknowledged will have an impact: the judgements made in secondary schools when students enter with their SATs ‘grades’ leads to expectations and demands and targets – and yes – pressure!

OK, that may seem like a nuance, but in the context of failing yet again to tackle the key reason for challenging the existence of SATs – which is in their lack of educational value – this is actually an important clarification to raise. That’s their education value as a means of fostering effective teaching and learning and then the assessment of this.

Once more with my caveat that I can only speak knowingly about the woeful purpose and effect of English SATs [but I think one can fairly extrapolate], national journalism, especially in The Guardian/Observer, needs to do better in also highlighting these fundamental questions about purpose and effect. As an educational tool they are on the one hand utterly meaningless, but on the other they are precisely that: a tool. A tool for successive governments to claim they have created and implement a rigorous assessment of national standards.

No they don’t. It is a sham [and most countries do not implement similar at this age]. My own rationale for exposing this sham is well-documented on this blog here, for anyone really that interested [perhaps not that many, and probably not on one more, at least, sunny April day!].

In the article I am challenging there is much sensitive and empathetic reporting about the detrimental effects/impact of SATs, not least on narrowing the primary school curriculum, so I do acknowledge that. But I would like to see more of the teaching and learning argument against them reported. I think readers can absorb this. That’s all. And this has been my teacher’s detailed advice to flesh out the otherwise scant feedback of ‘must do better’.

Top Fifty 23: Teddy Thompson – Separate Ways, 2005

[Originally posted October 2011]

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Teddy Thompson is my favourite contemporary solo singer songwriter, and that pits him against other greats, for example Ryan Adams who is significantly more famous on a global scale, and a significantly different artist. Teddy Thompson is quintessentially English: self-effacing, utterly ironic, lyrics lacerated by sardonic wit, and possessing the most exquisite voice. He could perhaps be seen in the Ray Davis songwriter lineage in terms of his lyrical humour, though it is more introspective than being interpretive of an English way of life.

Teddy Thompson is and isn’t a star. He is critically acclaimed and has a stalwart fan base. He is popular in the States, but again on the critical rather than stadium circuit – not that singer/songwriters commonly attain the latter, but it’s an illustrative pole. His latest album Bella was clearly targeted at widening that audience with its lush production values, but whilst it garnered a broad focus on release, I don’t think it achieved its purpose. It is an album I like though it doesn’t for me compete with my chosen one here Separate Ways, or A Piece Of What You Need. Indeed, its production detracted from the essence of his craft, though album songs played live and acoustic burst through with their innate and core excellence. It was, by the way, a little difficult to choose my ‘top fifty’ between these last two mentioned albums, his second and third releases, as both are excellent. Separate Ways gets the nod for reasons to follow, and it is his breakthrough collection, released in 2005.

Separate Ways contains in its title track my favourite single song of his. It is a stereotypically gentle and calm number, the tensions that create drama placed in the lyrics. Musically, it is simply but cleverly layered – the whole song, with a single strummed guitar and mirroring brushed snare at its centre [and shimmering, uncertain strings], rises throughout to its ironic chorus And I don’t care about you/If you don’t care about me/We can go our separate ways/If you want to, and it is that fourth line that bristles in its honest shifting of the blame, reinforced later by the pathetic repeat of his vulnerability The ties of love are strong/But they can be undone/And we’ll go our separate ways/If you want to. And it is this vulnerability that also rests at the candid core of much of Thompson’s sarcastic self-effacement which seems to me to be wholly English. This sentiment is reinforced in the next song on the album Sorry To See Me Go where the litotes of its narrative reveals his true feelings I might be leaving soon/Away with the new moon/Just wanted to let you know/In case you might be sorry to see me to go. The classic Thompson caveat is in the In case – he so often yearns for someone else to retrieve him from his woes. The honest confessional of the whole album gets perhaps its most directly honest comment in Think Again where the presumably real break-up of its storytelling is laid bare in Walking away I feel ashamed/Thinking on what I’ve done/She was naïve and I was a sleaze/Some things can’t be undone.

Musically this album shines bright throughout and did ironically bring Thompson some of the attention he so caustically ridicules about stardom in opener Shine So Bright with the lines I wanna shine so bright it hurts/I wanna be death bed thin/Never realise the state I’m in/Walk with my head in the clouds/And be followed around by crowds. Second track I Should Get Up provides the first of two rock numbers within the otherwise balladic whole, and Thompson’s guitar playing is accompanied by famous father Richard. Teddy is a fine player himself, and this is witnessed when he plays live – his acoustic touch being superb. Everybody Move It sees Thompson at his most simply humorous, poking fun at party dancing. The call to boogie begins with the opening comic if ungrammatical line Sat in the corner you could pass for dead and continues with Bump and grind, have a good time/Free yourself and lose your mind/Now the party’s pumpin’ and the groove is on/Grab the nearest body and move along. Hard to imagine Teddy letting his hair down like this without being terribly self-conscious. The comic sentiment is picked up a little more aggressively in the other rocker That’s Enough Out Of You with the line Being happy is easy if you’re dumb. This is a telling quip for someone who does seem to suffer his fair share of maudlin and mellow thoughts.

The closer Frontlines provides examples of Teddy’s beautiful vocal, occasionally moving into his perfect but never overdone falsetto. This song too rises slowly, letting the voice take the fullness of its charm to superior heights. Hidden track, The Everly Brothers’ Take A Message To Mary, is sung prettily by Teddy and mother Linda, this straightforward duet providing yet another uncluttered platform for Teddy Thompson’s vocal to reign. I have read reviews where his voice is rated yet not necessarily praised, but a sublime example of its prowess and emotive clarity is in his duet with dad on the latter’s song Persuasion. Not on this album, but worth having to cherish.

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