Changing the world …

It’s an intriguing and at times nerve-wracking business being involved in a journalistic event such as the guardian’s disability diaries and the accompanying interview by Frances Ryan. One of the reasons for this is the fear of the comments section. It’s some irony that my contribution revolved around the articulation of how it feels to be fundamentally invisible in disability terms, and several comments seemed to have completely ignored both my presence and that of Craig: Continue reading

Who you calling an asshole?

Things are getting rough on the interweb. The problem is, opinions are morphing into threats are morphing into actions such that people, such as Dan Hodges, in this rather disturbing but, I must say, refreshingly honest piece, are becoming afraid to post opinions or, what is worse, hold to their convictions for fear of retaliation. Dan begins his piece, naturally surrounding the Charlie Hebdo massacre, with these words:

Just before I started this piece I was about to tweet the picture of the cartoon of the prophet Muhammad published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. I was going to do it “in solidarity”. And then I stopped. I stopped because I was scared. Continue reading

A book in hand …

Ok, so I published another book – Black Box, a collection of short stories from the dark to the whimsical and back again. It’s available as an e-book and as a c-book (c for carboniferous), just like my last book, Slender Threads. I’m not so interested in their relative subject matter as I am in their formats, and how they’ve fared in the (relative) marketplace. Continue reading

Shakespeare, education and independence

I, along with many, many others, have done and do still bemoan the state of preparedness of students when they rock up to university, clutching their brace of braces, their four poached A*s.

Obviously, it depends on the tutor they end up with, but should they alight on one such as I, they tend to get one hell of a shock on receipt of their first essay mark. ‘But, but, but I always get As’, they say, staring in disbelief at the steaming C grade which rises from the page like an indoor firework, promising much, delivering sweet FA.

Just to give you an example or three, here are some real (and I mean real) lines from real essays:


‘I have insofar presented observations of kate’s convincement …’

‘shakespeare might not have anticipated an audience of 2009; therefore he cannot be held accountable for our distaste’

‘our youth is fleeting and spent in poverty and old age,’


It seems odd that not one of these students chose to read what they had written before submission – and these are by no means the worst offenders. They were simply the first ones I found that I’d noted down. I’m not sure which is worse, their writing or their reading. Too, too often I hear the fateful words ‘that wasn’t what I meant’, and my heart sinks.

Many moons ago, I was studying music in Los Angeles and was in a class run by Scott Henderson, one of the fusionistas of the day. He recounted that when he was recording with Joe Zawinul, legendary keyboard stroker of Weather Report fame, he recorded a solo and immediately asked if he could re-record it. ‘Why?’ he was asked. ‘Because it’s not what I wanted to say’. ‘So why did you say it?’

It’s different with writing. You write. You read. You edit. You polish. It works. Oh, ok. The point. The point is simple. Almost as simple as the essays too often delivered. These students are brought up in a culture where they are taught to test. They are simply not taught to read. They don’t have the time, for starters. They are given lists of what thou shalt write.

A student, and a bright one, on my asking her why she kept using such poncy phrases – you know the ones, those cod-academic words and formulations which scream ‘I have no fucking idea what I’m doing but I think I can fool you if I write lexis often enough’ – said simply ‘we were told that academics never say word, they say lexis’. I sighed and pointed out that it didn’t work in her essay and it sounded poncy and what’s wrong with just saying what you mean. She just repeated her maxim. I asked who told her this, and she said ‘my 6th form tutor’. Ah, I said. Answer me this. Who am I? ‘My tutor’. Yes, but more generally? ‘An … academic?’ Bingo! Did your 6th form tutor have a phd? ‘No.’ Did he/she ever teach at university? ‘No.’ And yet you take their word on what an academic will write over mine? Silence.

Everyone likes to be given simple instructions. Do this, and this will occur. Cause – effect. But the study of literature simply is not like that.

To study literature you need to do one thing above all others – read books. These need to be real books, not books about books. And yet there is increasingly no need.

The Guardian has launched a set of resources for teachers. They are designed, no doubt, with the best interests of both teacher and student at heart. But, like york notes, spark notes and all the rest, the fuck children up. And Universities will increasingly do the same, as parents demand their darlings be drilled rather than educated. Fucking idiots.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad

But only when they attend to your every need. Ignoring the fact that the Guardian may put these cheat books out of business, the real problem is that they replace the one great need for students. It is no longer necessary to read the text, so by the time they’re at university, they have forgotten how to. To add insult to injury, they then proceed to expound with no little eloquence on one text. Impressed at their sudden ‘getting’ of it, you ask a question, or, more daring, pose one.

Suddenly, you’re stuck with Nigel Tufnel being asked the fatefull question, ‘why don’t you just make ten louder?’

‘But … this one goes up to eleven …’

And, once more, you hold you head in your hands. Stop it, Guardian. You’re not helping. In fact, you’re making it worse. This may well be why so many of your bright young journalistic things write such egregious tosh. It’s not because they don’t read, but because the can’t – they see the words, but no meaning reaches their dull little brains. And when they read it back, they don’t think to themselves ‘what a load of shit’. They just smile, and wait for the credits to appear in their bank accounts.

They may not be able to read, but they sure can count.



Semiotic trichology

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of greying hair does not want distinction. Women, on the other hand, tend to treat the first indication of silvery whisps with horror, as if they are usurping threads deserving only of immolation. Well, maybe just dying. Or ought that be dyeing?

Hair, wherever it is found (and yes, the pillow counts, too) occupies an uniquely interstitial place with regards our identity.

The body is, give or take a few gym sessions, stable. It is rare that it can shift far or fast enough to materially affect either our sense of self, or others’ sense of us. Yes, it’s true to say that there are corporeal changes which can radically adjust our sense of self, but these are generally deeply traumatic, or involve the mere giving of a name to a problem which already exists. The assignation of an emotive word to a purely physical problem invariably causes problems. To whit a recent headline in the Guardian:

Comedy is a way to survive

Laura Linney on TV after her father’s cancer death

Now, there are several problems with this – and, note, it was an article serving as PR for the aforementioned actress’s new vehicle, The C Word. I’ll maybe bleat about that soon.

The first is the rather dreadful phrase ‘her father’s cancer death’. As was pointed out to me, this rather implies that this was merely one of his deaths. Presumably it was the final, fatal one.

I also wonder about ‘Laura Linney on TV’. Does this mean that for her TV has been changed by his death, or that she’s, er, on TV after his death (in a sort of temporal sense)?

[disclaimer – by the way, I’m talking about the headline and standfirst. I cast no aspersions on either the actress or her late father. If you misconstrue, then it’s you, not me.]

Perhaps the most pernicious is ‘Comedy is a way to survive’. Now, I don’t know about you, but when you have the words ‘survive’ and ‘death’ in the same construction, it suggests to me that they are connected. Plainly, her father didn’t survive. Just as plainly, the actress did. I presume Ms Linney was never in any danger, so comedy didn’t make any difference to her. I also presume that she has not been at death’s door since. It certainly didn’t help him in the survival stakes.

[I refer the hyperventilating reader to my previous parenthesis].

So, utterly fucking stupid bit of subbery. Don’t use survive as a metaphor (it’s crap, anyway) for ‘cope’ when you use death in its literal sense (that is, death) immediately afterwards.

So, adding the word ‘cancer’ makes people feel much, much worse (and those around them much, much more mother Theresaish.

So. the body can change things, but only slowly. The speedy change comes verbally.

Clothes can effect instantaneous change. But clothes are an accoutrement. They are not part of us, but a facade erected in front of our us-ness to enable us to assert ‘what we want us to be-ness’. You are most certainly are not what you wear. You merely wear it.

The hair, however, is very different. It is simultaneously part of us and a facade. Simultaneously us and not-us, real and contrived. If you meet a woman you haven’t seen for a while, you automatically compliment her on her hair. It’s practically foolproof.

There is nothing quite like the hair for allowing instantaneous and radical changes to both our sense of self and that of others. Shaving off one’s beard, for example, completely changes the way you feel, and how people look at you – especially if, like me, your beard is speckled with grey. It’s especially effective if you’re a girl, of course … consider how many looks a girl can rock. She can go from slut to sophisticate, from chav to cheltenham ladies college in half an hour.

The simple quantity of elderly men who rock the 50s rocker’s DA is astonishing. Old habits, and old signs of tribal allegiance, or perhaps simply old projections die hard. (with or without comedy). Style your hair as you did when you were 18 and you feel 18 again. If only for a moment.

Styling one’s hair changes your mood. If you have long hair you can wear it down, or up … it changes your mood completely. And for those of us with long hair, considering chopping it off is utterly terrifying. It’s saying goodbye to one’s youth. One’s youthful identity.

Fuck. It’s growing up.

Next time you visit the hairdresser, don’t tell them how you want them to cut your hair. Just tell them how old you are, and how old you want your hair to be.

And if that doesn’t work, there’s always comedy.

Oh Helen, Helen … please fuck off

‘Oscar winning actress calls for a revolution in attitudes to the degenerative neurological condition’ screams the Guardian … well, wimpers the Guardian. Now, just in case you haven’t spotted it, I suffer from PD, and so notice stuff. So, part of me cheers as I know exactly what she means. I see sufferers everywhere and know that most don’t. So. I read.

It’s all super and splendid and (I know, I’m ranting, but … dammit, I’m angry) … a good friend of hers and yadda yadda. ‘People with Parkinson’s are not some weird people on the edge of human experience’, she notes. Well, really? Actually, there’s an argument that anyone suffering from a degenerative, incurable condition are on the edge of human experience, but indeed, they’re not weird.

So, why am I so angry? Christ, it’s simple. The piece is effectively an advert for the Nintendo Wiifit. A new study at Queen’s University Belfast is being conducted into ‘whether sufferers can improve their balance, co-ordination and mood by using Nintendo Wii games consoles.’

Sorry, but it’s not Nintendo. It’s bloody doing stuff. People often ask me whether the martial arts, sports and fitness work I do keeps it at bay. Plainly it doesn’t, because my basal ganglia don’t give a fuck if I can punch someone in the face, kick them in the head, play an elegant on-drive, or bench-press my weight. It makes me feel better, it improves the way that my muscles hold my body together, and helps me make the best of what I’ve got. It’s like anyone.

So, now people are going to tell me to buy a Nintendo. I’ll be telling them to fuck right off.

The study may well help establish what any sufferer knows, that keeping the mechanical parts of your body together helps to counteract the fact that the nerves get more and more confused. If the onl way you can get this is through a Wii console, then great. Plug the bastard in. Just don’t let someone who represents Nintendo start preaching Nintendo as a Parkinson’s treatment. It’s fuckwittery of the highest order.