Leaves in the Wind

Leaves in the Wind

I can see in my mind’s eye the leaves riding in gusts of wind, higher and higher over the rows of metal skips labelled for Paper, Cupboard, Garden Waste, Scrap Metal, Plastic Bottles, Hardcore, Timber and, if in doubt, Landfill. The clothes banks are dribbling with last year’s fashion and the bottle banks vomiting a cocktail of mixed-strengths joyfulness and sorrows.

The words on the pages are finally set free. Letters fluttered in the cold winter’s air mixed with putrid stench of the crushed rubbish and the damp sweetness of the decomposing leaves.

And what a strange sense of relief. It had taken me over twenty years to finally let go of the manuscript of my Master’s dissertation, and fifteen my doctorate’s. In this season of taking stock and counting our blessings, I decided to carry out my intellectual laundry. I see my younger self at different stages of my life, traversing strange paths and landscapes: from the blinding lights of the cities to the astonishingly clarity of darkness of the high mountains…. I was soaring above ordinariness and mediocrity. And it was only right that I believed that my words were my wisdom and my wisdom should be preserved…. 

We are so sure of our immortality. Each sound we utter, each word we chew over, each sentence we form, each paragraph we craft and each piece of writing we construct. We believe that they are our gift to mankind, gospel to be learned and to abide by. How laughable that notion seems now…. Our imperishable intellect. Our precious cleverness.

The wind turns over another leaf. It creeps along under the mighty scraps of metallic waste. But, you look up. Close your eyes and listen

the night skies are bejewelled with shimmering stones by the shy seamstress the many rivers tell the strangest of the tales in poly-tongues and glisten like silver wires holding the beleaguered wildernesses in one piece the ferns and moss that reassure the bewildered forests and the mantis that persists to threaten its imaginary challenger with hyperbolic gesticulations of its weightless machetes a single snow flake melting in a gloved palm

and the gentlest of the ebbing that coaxes the stubbornest rocks

The soldiers of our regiment. Words. Words. Words. The prisoners of our pride. 

I came home and set other inmates free

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Teaching Grit, Character and Resilience through Literacy

Also known simply as “check your work before you hand it in!”

As English teachers, we lament and resent the relentless repetition of highlighting basic literacy errors in our students’ written work. Yet, we never seem to be able to eradicate this accuracy deficiency. All too common is because of the amount of work we cover in our curriculum, compounded by the need to mark several pieces of work produced as a result. It is hardly surprising that under such time pressure, inadequate attention was spent on some “natural” part of the the writing process, checking, proofreading, redrafting, checking again, until the piece is free from glaring errors. Unsurprisingly, such rush to produce written work has encouraged some sloppy attitudes towards work in our students as a consequence. “The teacher will do it”. 

It is time we made time. Bring back responsibility, pay attention to details and start crafting.

And the way to do it is through checking basic literacy errors, proofreading, drafting and redrafting. Highlighters and pens of various colours may be useful, too.

This is how I have been doing since last year after some calculation of estimated time required to mark all classes as a teacher with a full teaching load across all Key Stages (3 – 5).

My basic principle is simple. I direct my students to check their extended writing tasks in English by means of a literacy checklist after their initial drafts. Instead of collecting their books in to mark straightaway, then we move on to complete another piece of writing, I slow down the process and reduce the number of tasks. I spend the next lesson or two, including homework time, to guide them through the process of checking, proofreading and redrafting.

The result has been pleasing. In this way, I am able to give more feedback on developing reading and writing skills, plus addressing some stylistic issues relevant to the individuals or the group. Less time is spent on correcting basic errors. 
I use these lists and I customise to suit the nature of the writing tasks.

My drafting and redrafting process:

Start with basic literacy skills required in almost all types of texts.

1. Capital letters at the start of each sentence (green, or whatever colour, pen in hand)

2. Capital letters for proper nouns (people’s names, place names, days of week, month of the year and the Bible, etc.)

3. Full stops at the end of each sentence (unless it ends with a question, exclamation or ellipsis)

4. Possessive apostrophe 

5. Common homophones: there/their, our/are, were/where/we’re, etc.

Then depending on the task, customise by using key skills in Assessment Objectives, scaling up to the top band.

Reading:

Check PEEAL – or PEDAL or whatever acronyms that are used – first (first draft) before using the checklist, then check…. 

6. Quotation marks

7. Hinge words/connectives/discourse markers

Writing (select features relevant to types and purposes of the texts:

6. Adjectives (use Dictionary app or online thesaurus to replace “nice” and “bad”

7. Adverbs

8. Similes

9. Metaphors

10. Alliteration

11. Repetition

12. Hyperboles

13. Oxymorons

14. Tones (humour, sarcasm)

15. Adverb sentence starter

16. -ing starter

17. Double adjective starter

18. One-word or a short sentence paragraph 

19. Imaginative paragraphing 

20. Full range of punctuation 

21. Statistics

22. Anecdotes

23. Technical language

24. Expert endorsement

25. Passive voice

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Case Sensitive: Teacher Alienation (with a link to questionnaire)

“Alienation is the degree to which man feels powerless to achieve the role he has determined to be rightfully his in specific situations.” John P. Clark (1959)

Alienation as an epistemological shift to an existential quandary 

To experience “alienation” is initially to recognise the “discrepancy between his definition of the role he is playing and the one he feels he should be playing in a situation” (Clark, 1959). The underlying emotion is that of powerlessness to eradicate such acute sense of frustration. In other words, alienation springs from “man’s feeling of lack of means (power)” (Clark, 1959). However, alienation is not purely caused by the lack of self-determination alone. Nettler (1957) has argued that “alienation is a psychological state of an individual”. He describes an alienated person as “one who has been estranged from . . . his society and the culture it carries”. Clark (1959) points out the transient nature of this psychological state: “at one time the now estranged person was not so or at least that he was not aware of the estrangement”. In addition, Nettler’s (1957) definition seems to suggest an epistemological shift (the “something” ((1959)) in Clark’s words) that gives rise to our realisation of feeling or being estranged from our particular social circumstances, mentally or physically, or indeed, both. Our psychological state can fluctuate from time to time depending on the result of our critical evaluation of our interactions with aspects of our social conditions. 

In addition to feelings of separation, Clark (1959) also includes “feelings of being manipulated and of meaninglessness” (1959). Moreover, Clark (1959) argues that feeling alienated can result in social isolation and “even of being a different person in his behaviour than the self he believes he should be were conditions different”. Such Kafkaesque haplessness and helplessness is a direct result of the doubt or loss of identity. A sense of total detachment from ones immediate social milieu and professional environment seems to be an inevitable outcome. Indeed, these feelings of not-belonging are instantly recognisable for many knowledge workers such as teachers; their existential crisis is inextricably linked to their moral quandary.

Schools as a social system

Drawing from the study by Nettler (1957), Clark (1959) cautions that situations in which one feels alienated are not always specific or representative of total social involvement. The more meaningful way of measuring alienation is a single unit approach, “selecting for study only those whom we can establish to be involved in a single, well-defined unit, for instance, a social system” (1959). A “social system”, as defined by Parsons, 1951), “consists in a plurality of individual actors interacting with each other in a situation which has at least a physical or environmental aspect, actors who are motivated in terms of a tendency to the “optimization of gratification” and whose relation to their situations, including each other, is defined and mediated in terms of a system of carefully structured and shared symbols”.

Educational organisations such as schools can be thus treated as a “social system” in Parsons’s sense. To ensure the equilibrium of such as system, interactions between actors with different agendas of optimisation of gratification are constantly subjected to frequent change of personal and circumstantial situations. Moral and functional boundaries are constantly negotiated between members and their organisation and between individual members and their counterparts. Tension arises from these negotiations; emotions are aroused and one of which is feeling of alienation.

One phenomenon characterising the current educational reform is a “national network of Teaching Schools” (Education White Paper, 2010). It’s objective is to develop a “self-improving school system” (2014) that allow schools to come together to form partnership, such as Teaching School Alliance. Department for Education so far has published a first phase interim report of the progress and initial findings from 18 case study TSAs in the “Big Six” priorities: 

1. Play a greater role in recruitment and training new entrants to the profession (initial teacher training);

2. Lead peer-to-peer professional and leadership development (continuing professional development);

3. Identify and develop leadership potential (succession planning and talent management);

4. Provide support for other schools;

5. Designate and broker Special Leaders of Education (SLEs);

6. Engage in research and development activity. (2014)

Clearly, staff response to such expansion of structure has not been one of the priorities. If teacher retention remains a major concern in education, then it makes perfect sense to try to investigate reasons behind teachers leaving the profession. Alienation may well be a underlining factor.

Another latest development in education is Multi-Academy Trusts (MAT) that allows schools to expand and extend their influences. Though still in its embryonic stage, impact on staff feelings on changes cannot be ignored. Studies of alienation will help identify factors that govern attitudes towards the new structure. 

Measuring alienation

The “single unit” selected in Clark’s study of alienation is an agricultural marketing cooperative. An agricultural cooperative of this nature fulfils the requirements of the definition of a “social system” (Parsons, 1951). Clark’s study in measuring alienation felt amongst members of an agricultural co-operative can be a useful model to ascertain the degree of alienation felt amongst teachers within a school, TSAs or even MATs. 

Clark’s measuring method is modelled on Dean’s (1956) alienation scales from selected items of social interactions to arrive at a final alienation score. Interviews were conducted with a random sample of 361 of the 3000 members. The items selected are listed below. 

1. Interviewee’s statement of who actually owns the cooperative.

Farmer-members (0), Non-farm businessmen and others (4). 

2. Interviewee’s statement of how much influence he feels he has in the cooperative. 

Very much (0), Quite a bit (1), Some (2), Very little (3), None at all (4). 

3. Interviewee’s statement of how much “say” he feels members should have about how the cooperative is run.

Less say (0), About the same (2), More say (4). 

4. Interviewee’s statement of the extent to which he feels a part owner of the cooperative.

Very much (0), Quite a bit (1), Some (2), Not very much (3), None at all (4). 

5. Interviewer’s rating of the interviewee’s feeling of belonging to or identification with the cooperative.

Very much (0), Quite a bit (1), Some (2), Little (3), None at all (4). (Clark, 1959)

The possible total scores can range from 0 to 20. The statistical data collected is used to interpret the extent of alienation felt by the cooperative’s members – the higher the scores the more alienated they feel. 

Admittedly, Clark’s mix-methods methodology can be refined further to strengthen his findings. For example, whilst data collected through interviews can potentially increase its credibility and reliability, such method without means of triangulation is also liable to biased response. The bias issue in turn can be exasperated by the random selection of members in the cooperative. A focus group established through an initial questionnaire may have resolve the issue. In addition, the construction of scales is simplistic enough to yield uncomplicated numerical system whereby degree of alienation can be determined. However, translating complex feelings from narrative to numbers risk missing out more subtle aspects and ambiguity in human emotions. Finally, the first four items chosen to determine degree of alienation felt by members of the cooperative seek only to solicit subjective opinions from the members. The fifth item can cause significant criticism over reliability as the scores are based on the interviewer’s interpretation of the interviewee’s feelings. Without a vigorous process the demonstrate it reliability, the validity of the findings can be jeopardised. 

Imperfection notwithstanding, Clark’s research offers a useful model to measure alienation felt by teachers within specific school, cluster of schools, schools within Teaching School Alliances and even schools within the newly developed Multi-academy Trusts. A more sophisticated research design can be devised to produced reliable findings to inform the teaching profession of best ways to eliminate elements that increases the discrepancy between a teacher’s definition of the role he is playing and the one he feels he should be playing (Clark, 1959).
Why should we care about alienation?

It is no exaggeration to state that many teachers frequently assess and evaluate their professional situations. Many would reiterate that what we are doing is not necessarily what we think we ought to be doing to fulfil our role as teachers. What we appear to be doing does not necessarily define who we are and what we do as professionals. Professional identity should not be reduced to codified “standards” only. Besides, meeting standards fully does not necessarily guarantee good teaching. Having the power to improve is key. Having the self-knowledge of the limitations of a prescribed identity relies on acknowledging our feelings of alienation. Advocates of extended professionalism (Hoyle, 1970), new professionalism (Fullan, 1993) and activist professionalism (Sachs, 2000) all highlight the importance of teachers as change agents. Without taking a critical stance in evaluating ones own sense of alienation in ones profession, desire to change is almost inconceivable. 

Regardless of roles or status, sense of frustration is felt throughout the school structure, from Teaching Assistants to the Headteacher; from Business Manger to Midday Assistant. Causes of frustration may vary, the underlying feelings of “meaninglessness, powerlessness, belonginglessness, being-manipulated, social and self-isolation” can be overwhelming. Without understanding the underlying issues that cause our alienation, such personal predicament will only continue to undermine our professional commitment.

Our political masters apply pressure through policies based on unchallenged and “unchallengeable” “evidence”. Teachers have little freedom to shake off the shackles of ideological dogma often disguised in euphemistic terms and moral rhetoric to enforce compliance. We are all guilty of hypocrisy. Maybe that is the intrinsic devil in education. Nevertheless, as knowledge workers with an acute sense of a moral purpose, we must not simply accept such condition as an unalterable norm. We might be accused of being hypocritical; hypocracy needn’t be our destiny. Our moral purpose to our students, our colleagues and ourselves is ultimately our action to disrupt such a hypocrisy narrative from becoming a fixed moral, professional and personal reality. Only through our individual and collective struggle can we begin to seek to minimise the discrepancies between the role that we play and the role we believe that we ought to be playing in education. 

What is to be done to gain the power to rectify the situation? The solution is not just about power-gaining. We need to identify the kind of power that we need to minimise the discrepancies in areas of our professional work and life that causes our alienation.
If you would like to take part in my Teacher Alienation Survey, please complete a simple questionnaire by clucking this link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSff-CugwQOWKxZseD1CiVXw5Mkp9kZpD1cOf7jujIBmz10RBw/viewform

Thank you for reading and taking part.

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Not Singing from the Same Hymnbook

Image source: https://stanfordfreedomproject.com/what-is-freedom-new-essays-fall-2014/lu-xun/

Not Singing from the Same Hymnbook

We mustn’t attribute success in education “exclusively” to one particular culture or even race – people need to know the specific context of the popularity, and dismissal, of the Battle Hymn phenomenon. 

If Chua’s subsequent interviews were to be believed, she had NOT intended her book to be taken to polarise a East-v-West approach to parenting and education, and the Eastern way was the more successful of the two. Quite the contrary, she acknowledged that her belligerently pushy attitude to her daughters’ schooling was by no mean “exclusive” to Asian mothers like herself. Countless middle-class white American mothers, and indeed mothers of all races and backgrounds, were no less uncompromising as she was. 

It is convenient for people to borrow the Battle Hymn and to extract an abridged mantra to suit their agenda. I can see why nonetheless; it’s a simple logic. Chinese is synonymous with success in education; Battle Hymn is publicised in such as way as to consolidate and perpetuate that popular stereotype; success fits national agenda with, alas, perceived limited success (ironically) when championed by “home” educationalists; coupling a well-documented and “disreputable fact” with a runaway best seller from across the Atlantic therefore seems a shrewd strategy. 

The message is as loud as a tiger roar: if you want your child to succeed like the Chinese girl or boy next to her/him but you don’t trust British education (presumably the progressive approach), then Battle Hymn is your Bible. 

The unsavoury underbelly of this “Chinese success” is undeniable and has so far been overlooked by many. A cultural identity constructed around domination in education partly quenches the racial and national psyche of deeply felt humiliation of military defeats since the colonial operations in the Far East in recent history. If you can’t beat your enemies at sea or on land, then an alternative arena needs to be sought to bolster a nationalism under siege.

Founded in 1958, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) came to present an alternative battleground for the beleaguered Chinese nation following the split between Mao’s China in Beijing and Chang’s China in Taiwan. Wherever the bullets couldn’t reach, abacus was deployed to conquer. Since 2000, PISA has opened another testing ground without heavy weaponry. For many Chinese, it’s not so much about a more effective education system or pedagogy; it’s everything about construction of an ethnic identity as a more intelligent race. How many times was I given the message at school that “the Chinese are the most intelligent people” following success in mathematics and literacy in international testing? This construction is anything but benign. 

It’s a bit like claiming victory by quoting 100% in math whilst being knocked to the ground with a nose bleed by a bully in the school playground. The roar becomes a whimper. Just like the pathetic anti-hero, Ah-Q. 

Either IEA or PISA ranking is as effective as a plaster for a fleshing-eating wound. It covers an unsightly blemish whilst allowing the rot to continue.

The Chinese story of success in education is a far more complex issue than the simplistic headline news splashed around newspapers and flashed on the signages at school receptions. 

Success in education for the Chinese confirms also one other uncomfortable reality in British society – discrimination in other areas is still prevalent. If we use being in leadership positions in workplace as a measure, the Chinese success certainly grinds to a dramatic halt beyond (or even within) school gate.

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A day trip that inspires an adventure of a lifetime

A day trip that inspires an adventure of a lifetime

Three years ago, as a trial, I organised an Aim High trip to take a group of 12 GCSE students at my school to visit a Cambridge College. Having just graduated from my old College, Clare, in May after completing my MEd, I contacted the School Liaison Officer and set about planning for a day-visit in July before the end of the school academic year. Through a personal contact, we were also invited to visit Robinson College.

Three years later this afternoon, one of the students from that group came back to school after leaving the Sixth Form to say “thank you” to a few of her teachers. I bumped into her at the school car park and she greeted me with a bright sunny smile. We could have hugged. Amongst other comments about her excitement of moving into her College next week, she said, “I can’t believe I am actually going to study at Cambridge. The last time I visited Cambridge was when you took us on that trip. I just wanted to say ‘thank you'”. 

In fact, she is one of the two girls from that trip who actually went on to apply, received offers and achieved the grades to study at Cambridge.

I had set up the trip with the objective to inspire some of our academically most able students to try for Cambridge. In my statement, I explained my belief in “catch them young”. Three years later, the fruition of that ideal was incapsulated most touchingly by her broad smile and excitement about her new venture. 

Well done and have a great time at Cambridge!

PS. Since that initial trip, I have taken two other groups to Cambridge. Instead of Clare College, Gonville and Caius has been hosting our visits in 2015 and 2015. We are deeply indebted to both Colleges. Our gratitude is also extended to Robinson College which has been so hospitable in the past three years. 

Another trip in July 2017 has been planned.

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Teaching grammar through reading

Teaching grammar through reading

This year, I am experimenting with this simple reading exercise to increase my students’ knowledge in grammar.

I have always started my lessons with years 7 and 8 groups with “silent reading”. Students have been told to bring a novel of their own to read at the beginning of each of my lessons. This reading exercise quickly calm them down from change over, after break or lunch. In the past, I have given them activities to spot the use of punctuation to improve their own use of punctuation. This year, I shift my focus to grammatical terms – in a more systematic way.

Each week, I write the “Grammar Focus of the Week” on the white board. This week, my focus is Parts of Speech, with particular focus on nouns, proper nouns and verbs for Year 7; adjectives, adverbs and verbs for Year 8. If they have forgotten what they are, they can use their iPad to find out what they are again. 

When the students are reading, they use the back of their exercise books to record example of those parts of speech. 

After reading for 10 minutes, I would ask students to share results. I use this opportunity to award them reward points. 

I also build in challenge to double their points if they could identify different types of each category. For example, nouns to include concrete and abstract nouns, verbs can include dynamic and stative verbs, etc. Many of them live a challenge and extend their knowledge as a result. 

Next week, I can either change my focus or spend more time on any particular parts of speech that more consolidation is needed. 

By the end of this full term, I would like to have covered sentence, clauses, semantic field and cohesion, etc. A-Level English Language teachers will have spotted that I have used the Paper 1 Mark Scheme as guide to sequence my grammatical foci from the lower level to the higher in terms of sophistication of understanding required.

If you like the sound of it – give it a try and see how it works. I am certainly pinning my hope on it to help prepare my students to do well in their GCSE examinations. 

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Summer Time


You can argue that this is what happens when teachers get too much time on their hands. Nevertheless, this was what went through my mind at lunch time today.

On one of the very few occasions this year so far, I took a mug of coffee and 4 custard creams to sit in the sun in the quad during lunch time. A few of my colleagues were there, too. I took a bench, sitting away from them on adjacent benches. 

The wind was light; the watery sun tentatively touched my face like a timid dog uncertainly of my friendliness with its searching tongue; the noises of the children were distant. I sat in a pansies mood, not entirely unhappy or particularly elated, just meditative. 

“I’ve run out of energy,” I told myself. After more than 10 years of teaching, and nearly 10 years of churning out of excellent exam results year after year, I felt run down. I felt uninspired. I felt I could give up teaching if I didn’t have the pressure of paying off the mortgage, car loans and many other bills. 

“You are looking all very calm over there, Vincent,” a colleague noticed. 

“No, I was just thinking that I’d had enough of teaching.” They laughed. 

Then our conversation turned into one of those that we’d been having over the years, year after year, and always concluded with no real actions – running a bookshop-cum-cafe-cum-whatever. I always got the job as front of the house. 

“If I could get a fully-funded PhD at Cambridge with a bit of teaching for their teacher training courses, I would be happy to return,” I shared with thought with them. “Oh, I am not clever enough,” they chimed, one after another. Then we returned to the idea of bookshop-stroke-coffee shop only to rethink as Amazon was killing off bookshops.

This afternoon was no exception, as we were reheating the old recipe, the bell pierced straight through our lukewarm daydream and snapped us back to reality. 

“What you’ve got now?” 

Then we dutifully filed back inside the building.

The wind landed on the flowerbed in the middle of the quad where here used to be rose blossoms but now covered in wood chips. A lone red poppy limped on the edge of the border. I looked at the cherry tree, now in leaf, and noticed the thickening trunk of the young silver birch. 

It’s summer time, and after years of inspiring young people, I was feeling uninspired.

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Letter of Resignation from a Party Leader

Meanwhile in a parallel universe

Dear Britain, Europe and the rest of the world,

I am sorry, I have lied, I didn’t even want the result that we’ve got. Still, life at large is indifferent to our predicament and I must do what is right. So here it goes.

Yes, we have made promises that we knew we had not meant.

And yes, we have made promises that we had no intention to acknowledge.

And yes, we have misled many so that we could amass the Leave vote.

Then, when the result was confirmed, instead of a genuine hope and optimism for a brave new world, racial attacks and xenophobic abuses were unleashed in many parts of the country. Instead of building our national pride, we lash out on innocent strangers who don’t look like us. Instead of unity, we woke up to find our country divided more than ever. 

All these happened because of our selfish ambition, our power craze and our sense of entitlement. 

I am truly ashamed of myself, and I want to apologise unreservedly on behalf of my party.

I admit that I do not know what the best way forward is because we haven’t a plan. What I can at least do is resign from my position in the government. 

Before I go, however, I will try to make amends:

Firstly, whichever way you have voted, remember unity is our only hope to create a better future for our children and grandchildren, a prosperous future that is only possible through openness, cooperation and, ultimately, honesty with each other and our international friends. We may be divided by geography, but politics should help bring us together. 

Secondly, I will offer my service to, hopefully, a cross-party working group to draw up plans to take the nation forward following Brexit. I urge all party leaders to set aside personal and party differences to place our national interest first. 

Then, I need to check my privilege by offering my service to work in one of our most deprived areas with some of our most disadvantaged communities to learn what life is really like outside the Westminister champagne bar. I may actually learn a thing or two, though I don’t know what yet.

And for those who are using the Brexit result as a mandate for any racial attacks or xenophobic abuses, I will make it my personal responsibility to make sure that your actions will be met with the toughest sanctions the law of the land can dish out.

For now. I want to apologise to my country, Europe and the world. I have deceived you. Please, if you can, I hope you will find somewhere in your heart to forgive me.

I remain forever your humble servant.

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Leave or Remain?

To the person who’s asked me the question, I thought I would reply as an open response:

Sovereignty and immigration are genuine issues; no one is denying it. However, undeniably, elements of bigotry and xenophob underpins some of the Vote Leave rhetoric by the politicians. 

The question for you and me is how much can we really believe in such rhetoric that makes promises that they either not in the position to make in the first place or cannot conceivably keep? Do you think that Gove, Johnson and Farage really care about “taking back control” and “getting our country back” for the ordinary folk like you and me?

Both slogans, “Take back control” and “we want our country back”, are designed to whip up the latent bigotry and xenophobia simmering away in an under-sieged mentality – the emotions of fear and distrust of which both you and I are capable and equally vulnerable to demagogic incitement. 

Make no mistake, the unequivocal imperative may sound attractive. Gove’s and Johnson’s fervour lies only in wanting to take back their political control – for the advancement of their political careers, they have little or no intention of guaranteeing better public services for you and me.

When Farage uses the first person plural “we”, he doesn’t mean an all-inclusive collective. “We” denotes a group of individuals who meet his personal and arbitrary criteria and political agenda. You and me are not necessarily included. Furthermore, “want our country back”? Two questions: ask him to describe what kind of country he has in mind? And secondly, whom from, what from? Don’t forget, the question we need to ask ourselves is, have we really lost our country? Lost is a convenient and emotive claim. What does he mean by “lost”? Then, the question is, is the EU and EU alone really to blame? 

Even if we don’t believe that the successive UK governments have really tried to protect the interests of the country in all kinds of trade and political negotiations on behalf of all the stakeholders, should there be any failings, a soul-searching on the politicians’ part seems to me more urgent then blaming our trading or political partners.

Haven’t we been moaning about the corrosive nature of the “blame culture”?

So, before we cast our respective votes, I would say one thing. To me, the decision is an easy one to make – do I vote for a set of divisive and spurious claims and promises that are promulgated by politicians with dubious track records and questionable character, or do I vote for those who strive to create an environment that has helped, despite its other shortcomings, engender compassion, toleration and universal sisterhood and brotherhood? 

Too idealistic? Wasn’t modern democracy set up to uphold precisely just these values?

I know which side I am on. And I believe that democracy can achieve much more for the betterment for the ordinary people rather than the self-serving few.

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Bloody (Good) Foreigners


The biggest shock was not so much about the margin of the deficit. Yes, 6:25 was a crashing defeat on any day, but it happens. We know that. 

The real sense of incongruity only began to sink in slowly as the evening’s first Cup match progressed. I was Captain (I am the Vice Captain but the Captain was not available that evening) for my club of four teams of triples, playing away at a nearby club. It was a fabulous riverside setting at the foot of this Lower Dales market town, famed for its brewery and annual sheep fair. To my opponent, the whole situation must have felt a bit like waking up from Paul McKenna’s hypnosis session on stage in front of a packed theatre. At least, we both had the good humour to laugh it off. 

What could have caused the bemused indignation?

As Skippers, we chatted, as any affable Skip should do. After all, these are only Friendlies. Fair enough, this was a Cup match, still, winning friends was just as important as winning a match. 

“So, where’re you from?”

“Melmerby.”

“Come on, you know what I mean. Melmerby! Which country?” (Well, I could have been born in Melmerby)

I half raised both hands with my index fingers pointing skywards, then lifting my right leg with my toes pointing forward. We were holding three.

“Taiwan.”

“What do you do for a living?”

Their number two was trying to reduce the damage, but his second wood ran through by a yard.

“I’m a teacher.”

“What did you teach?”

“English.”

My opponent chuckled with disbelief. “A Taiwanese man came over here to teach Yorkshire children English!”

I laughed. “A toucher! Good shot,” I acknowledged my number two’s precision on the opposite side of the rink, bending down to spray a chalk mark on his Henselite bowl.

“I think they are all done. Our turn,” I invited my opposite number to walk down to take our position. 

“We might as well go home now,” he conveyed his frustration to his team mates as both teams walked past each other half way down the rink.

“Well played, guys,” I exchanged acknowledging smiles with mine.

“Early days yet,” I tried to encourage my opponent after picking up my first wood, polishing it with a tea towel smelled of Grippo.

But the rot had set in. The bias was against him; he couldn’t quite find the right line or weight, following me.

“Seven,” my number two mouthed from the far end, standing up after being on his knees measuring under the watchful eye of his opposite number. Their number one gathered together all the bowls with a trolley for the next end.

“Seven!” my companion moaned. “You are teaching us a lesson here.”

“Don’t give up. It’s not finished yet,” I tried to keep the atmosphere light.

We were the first rink to finish out of the four out on the green. I watched and did my arithmetic. All the results finally came in as the evening grew chillier and chillier under a dark cloud. The sky was blue over yonder though, over the south east. Both teams took two games, but we won on aggregate by 7 points – 65 to 58, to us.

Then, we retired to the Club House for super and raffle. The Captain of the home team gave his short speech and vowed to put on a better performance when they came to visit us for the second match in July. I stood up and spoke on behalf of our club. I thanked our host for their hospitality and a good game; we emerged “fairly unscathed”. As the applause began to subside, my Skipper partner announced, laughing, “Ey up, listen, he’s from Taiwan and he’s teaching us Yorkshire folk how t’ speak English. Now he’s teaching us how t’ play bowls, too.”

I smiled my inscrutable smile and we shoke hands one more time. 

I took that as quite a compliment, coming from an Yorkshireman. 

Bloody good foreigners.

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