The Long Haul of Roger McGough

I recently wrote about Penguin’s 1967 poetry collection The Mersey Sound and the BBC4 programme Sex, Chips and Poetry: 50 Years of the Mersey Sound here and it is this which prompted me to recently purchase a superb haul of Roger McGough’s largely earlier poetry books to add to my existing collection.


It isn’t that I needed reminding what a wonderful poet he is, and wonderful poet to read [there is a distinction], but nonetheless I was galvanised to seek out and buy some ‘originals’ to experience his work in its first contexts.

In my blog post referenced above I also direct any interested readers to my two reviews of McGough poetry books, but this post now is quite simply to reinforce how they are all worth having.

There is so much fun in reading his work. And he is a funny poet, but he isn’t an exclusively humorous poet. He is an accessible poet and he is witty. His work is at times playful rather than experimental, but that doesn’t mean the latter won’t apply. I’m not going to mention that he is also a deeply serious poet because that would be a platitude, though a good one. [Yes, there are bad ones. Like that one].

watchwords, 1969, is his most playful in so many ways, but especially in the poems’ presentation acrossandalong and upanddown the page. Yes, I have. Emulated. I lovethat in his writing but am going to stop now. If I were Poet Laureate makes me wonder why he hasn’t been and isn’t.

after the merrymaking, 1971, is occasionally experimental in an obvious concrete way, and it also contains the delightful section The Amazing Adventures of P.C. Plod.

gig, 1973, is a book I read in one glorious go, and I did enjoy the opening section about his poetry gigging and the towns/venues in which he stayed where the romance of being on the road is amusingly dismantled. I was also surprised to come across The Identification because I had forgotten about this [I know…], a poem I had used in my teaching and read aloud many times back in the 80s because of the power of its storytelling – and this is that wonderful original context in which to experience it, reading all that had come before because it is one of the final poems in the collection. This must have been anthologised in one of the many English resource books available in those days, when reading poetry for fun was common. Even though there were no tests on this.

holiday on death row, 1979, arrived this morning and I haven’t read yet. Everyday Eclipses, 2002, is another I haven’t read completely, but it does have the great In Two Minds which has fueled many a creative writing model for students, and me [e.g. What I love/What I hate…].

If you look next at my McGough Shelf, you’ll see the other books I have the pleasure to have. Note also how they are bookended by double copies of texts where I forgot I already have, a common occurrence with my record collection, though here the memory is worse and I sometimes have at least three of the same. I also thought it would be interesting to see McGough’s work bookended by Lemn and John because this proves I don’t alphabetise my poetry books in the same way I do my vinyl collection because that would be weird.


Lastly, I have also recently received my copy of the 50th Anniversary Edition of McGough’s Summer with Monica and its brilliant illustrations by Chris Riddell.





Ophelia’s Sun Haiku

Ophelia’s sun
is a Sahara dust orange
of October sky


Social and other media feeds were wonderfully rife yesterday with pictures of and speculations about the orange dot of a sun in the UK sky, framed so by Saharan dust brought up with the whip of Hurricane Ophelia’s waning but still powerful winds.

I quoted lines from Coleridge’s Hymn before Sunrise…, and the picture above taken at Ottery St Mary, on the Coleridge Memorial Trust Facebook page,

Thou first and chief, sole sovereign of the Vale!
O struggling with the darkness all the night,
And visited all night by troops of stars,
Or when they climb the sky or when they sink:
Companion of the morning-star at dawn,
Thyself Earth’s rosy star, and of the dawn
Co-herald: wake, O wake, and utter praise!

but this morning I also quoted there the following, with an acknowledgement to Malcolm Guite, author of Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, these apter lines he tweeted from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon


The Good Platitude

Amanda Spielman of Ofsted has of late made a number of platitudinous and therefore grating ironic observations about the damage done in schools when there is too much focus on exam ‘success’ and targets-chasing.

In a similar but significantly alternative way, there is an irony in the platitudinous correlation being sought for confirmation in research reported in Schools Week today by

…the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) announced five trials to test the impact of different “cultural learning strategies” as part of the ‘Learning about culture’ programme.

Surely this link is already well-documented and proven by both decades of external research and the overwhelming evidence of classroom manifestations, this latter by those who have bothered to practice and observe?

It is probably a part of the sub-headline which prompted my mild ire – new trials to assess whether skills like music, drama and journalism can boost their [children] achievements at primary school – because it seems to me the correlation between creative pursuits and learning in education is meant to be much broader than ‘achievements’ which are inextricably linked to testing regimes. Perhaps it is simply an inappropriate choice of words.

What I did like [though again there is no fundamental need to ‘prove’] is the observation about how developing the skills of teachers as writers is being linked to improving students’ writing,

‘The craft of writing’ will meanwhile investigate whether developing teachers’ skills as writers improves year 5 pupils’ motivation and confidence with writing. The project, developed jointly by Arvon, the University of Exeter and the Open University, will see teachers working with professional writers.

I have followed this work in blog postings from tutors and teachers, but this has also been glaringly obvious to me for many years: English teachers in particular need to be writers themselves to fully appreciate how students become writers.

Is that too bold a statement? No, it is another platitude as far as I am concerned. But a good one.



Ophelia Coming


Somewhere in one of its many wars and perhaps
fearing death – or worse, celebrating its creation –
this floating terror had a skull tattooed on its
blue middle, faded and seemingly bullet-holed now
by years of travel and travail and then this beaching
in its own cessation. It’s a zooids’ presage for today’s
looming storm, Hurricane Ophelia floating up from
the south, misplaced like our Portuguese man and
a false steward to threats we usually just imagine

anyway. We are so safe. Here in the stones, on the
shore, on the pathways, and in our comfortable homes.
In this case, we are the more deceived. There is no
emblem but what we are sometimes pumped up to see,
here in the substance of froth; our skulls of real bones.

[picture by painter and photographer Nick Dormand]

Dunelm School Academy Programme

As reported in the DfE Ministerial Meetings for June, 2017, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System Lord John Nash met with Dunelm ‘to discuss potential academy sponsorship’.

This blog has attained an early draft of a visual representation of the discussion and thinking about how this UK’s major retailer in home furnishings and fittings might best apply its expertise to educational development for UK students and teachers:

dunelm academy

Give and Take


It is a small terrier, as near as I can place the type, and being walked on one of those extending leads where the owner can let it roam ahead in great arcs of sniffing and peeing. The couple with the dog are elderly, she using a stick and he keeping a matched slow pace, not out of caring attachment but because of his own lack of speed. The pet’s wandering is essentially random and free, the lead proving no more than an illusion of control.

That is evident when the mutt tries a bite as our paths cross, me overtaking the sluggishness of the couple’s strolling and the dog moving over from its lengthy slack.

‘Oh, I don’t know why he did that,’ she bursts out after me, the excuse of this being an abnormal action rather than an unreserved apology getting on my nerves immediately.

‘Bad dog,’ the man mumbles, seemingly unable to reel the pooch back in, a mechanism of the lead having lost whatever taut coiled spring is meant to oversee its existential distances.

I stop and wait for them to catch up. The dog is now sticking his nose into the grass on the other side of the path, its small mongrel’s aggression already subsided, or just forgotten.

‘I get this a lot,’ I say. ‘And I don’t know why,’ not angrily, but annoyed. Upset even.

‘But’s in not like our Charlie to do that,’ the lady tells me, unconvincingly.

‘There’s a woman who lived up the lane from me whose dog used to attack whenever I was out walking there. It was a Jack Russell and old and always came snarling and snapping at me.’

I don’t mention she also had a useless, variable lead or the fact she ushered her pet alongside a mobility scooter. If I did that, I’d have to add how she would gingerly step out to pick the mad thing up if it was becoming too aggressive, and this increased my disgust.

‘She’s moved away but I’ve not recovered from it. I’ve always loved dogs but that experience of meeting her nasty one a few times has got to me. I’m cautious now. Maybe also a little scared.’

‘Oh Charlie isn’t mean or aggressive,’ the woman says.

I give her a look of incredulity rather than trying to explain. The couple’s dog now saunters back over to me, tail wagging.

‘You see?’ the man asks.

‘He’s come over to say hello and sorry for being grumpy,’ the woman drools.

I bend down slowly, not entirely giving up on dogs. I raise my hand gradually, carefully, and then move it over the now friendly head, resting my thumb and a single finger behind each ear to massage gently in the way my border collie from years ago found soothing and comforting.

The man and woman look on smiling and appeased; comfortable as well.

The dog yelps – squeals, in fact – and snaps at me, but I have moved my hand quickly and am already striding away. I hear it snarling and the man snapping too,

‘Bad dog, bad dog.’

I think it is the woman who calls after me,

‘We are sorry. He never normally acts like that,’ I just catch her saying, but I am quickly beyond any clarity.

Whilst I don’t play all that much these days, the guitar fingernails are still long on my petting hand, and I stuck the index one hard and quick into the soft spot behind the dog’s right ear.

We can all be little shits at any point in any day, wandering out in our individual arcs of random give and take.