Analogue note-taking

First published 29 April 2013

A couple of months ago, I shuffled a bit further into the 21st century and got myself an iPad.   I’d wanted one for ages, but could never quite justify the outlay. An imminent trip to Australia gave me the excuse…I needed a way of being in touch with my life here that was more manageable, fun and portable than my laptop.

So, it came in the post, all shiny and new, and as I had been warned, I was soon in love.  Such a joy to use!  So responsive!  So much…yes…fun!  Soon, I was carrying it everywhere.

I had lunch with my lovely friend Caroline last week, and we talked about our iPad apps. We were like one of those awful old TV adverts, in which ladies who lunch bang endlessly on about washing powder or diet products. 

We even shared info on apps for dieting.  But Caroline also told me about a couple of her favourite notebook apps.  So, hungry for the next sparkling, exhilarating experience, I rushed home to try them out.  I’ve been looking for a more seamless way of organising my life for a while now.  Since leaving the Arts Council a few  years ago I’d reverted to a paper diary because I haven’t had a portable device that would talk properly to the calendar on my laptop.  Now, suddenly, thanks to iCloud, the iPad does.  Yay!  So I can wean myself off the paper diary again and take a step closer to convergence and seamless management of my life.

I’m also an obsessive note-taker and list-maker, and I cart a notebook with me everywhere.  I jot lists, take notes from meetings,  scribble down phone numbers and passwords, write down ideas that I want to follow up, make sense of my family history research before I commit it to the electronic family tree – all my life is stored in a series of battered notebooks, even more essential now that my middle-aged memory is letting me down.   Since the arrival of the iPad, the current notebook has been tucked into the cover and secured with a band – but, I’ve been wondering, could I find a way to do without the paper notebooks too?

What a lovely seductive thing the notes app is…the facility for task lists. The ability to make several folders for different areas of my life.  A section that lets you write on the virtual pad using luscious virtual ink in several colours, as well as type. Facility for uploading photos and other files as attachments. It can be a notebook, a commonplace book, a journal…

…but I can’t actually settle to using it.  I sat down and constructed a “to do” list on it yesterday, but it felt artificial. Clumsy.  It lacked the spontaneity of a scribbled list.

Today I began some research for a project.  I made some exploratory phone calls.  But I couldn’t make the notes from the calls any way except on paper.  I can’t be doing with the malarky of putting the phone on speaker while I type up my notes.  Ever since I was a journalism student, all those decades ago, research has meant a phone clamped to your ear with one hand, so you could really listen and concentrate, as the other person’s voice is delivered straight into your head, and a pen in your other hand, flying across a piece of paper.  I can’t type quickly enough if I’m taking notes while someone’s talking.  I’ve developed my own idiosyncratic shorthand for my written notes so that I can keep up.   Planning a project involves complicated diagrams, doodles, arrows, circles…I’ve downloaded a really seductive mind-mapping app, too, but it’s so complex it gets in the way of the thinking.

Oh, the disappointment.  I’m a pen and paper girl at heart.  I can happily think at a keyboard when I’m doing a straightforward piece of writing, straight from my head. I have done for decades.  But I can’t think at a keyboard, or on a tablet, when I’m planning something more complex, or have to write quickly to keep pace with someone or explore several strands at once.  The pointing and clicking, and saving, and calling up a secondary screen to add contextual information interrupts the thought processes.

And perhaps most importantly, I now realise, there’s no substitute for the tactile experience of the pen in my hand, the hiss and scratch of the pen on the paper, the smell of the freshly sharpened pencil.  These are essential parts of the process for me.

Should I just accept that in this respect at least, I’m a dinosaur?  That the link between complex thought and note-taking/writing for me essentially involves pen and paper, and that I should stick to what supports my thinking best?

I’ve always fetished stationery, especially beautiful notebooks. I have drawers full of them.  When I get to the final page of one I have to choose another, and I spend ages, touching, gazing at, smelling them to choose just the one I want to have as my next essential life companion.  But oh…those lovely, lovely apps, that I’m desperate to find a use for.  All new, and full of promises they can’t deliver for me.  I so wanted to go completely digital.  Never mind.  I’ll tag and upload this, post it to Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, then pour another glass of wine, draw the feint-ruled notebook towards me and scribble a few more notes about this project I’m planning.

Been busy…but must blog better

First published 16 February 2013

I’ve been a bit slack with my blogging lately. Must do better.

Meanwhile, the things that are keeping me busy include the two arts boards I’ve joined, at Site Gallery and the Holmfirth Arts Festival.  I also recently had a fabulous weekend at a Guardian Masterclass in Feature Writing, and a really interesting day in Birmingham at a blogging workshop run by Kate Feld.  If you’ve ever considered doing a Guardian Masterclass I’d say, Do It!  I’ve also seen some fab theatre in Northern Broadsides’ Rutherford and Son and the Manchester Royal Exchange’s Accrington Pals. Neither of those two productions, which we saw on two consecutive evenings, is exactly a rollicking, laugh-a-minue night out, but both are must-see pieces of riveting theatre.  And in two weeks time I’m in London for Merrily We Roll Along. Lucky Me

And I’ve added to my family history research, courtesy of distant cousin I’ve just discovered in Australia, and I’ve been rocking in despair at the recent antics of the people who purport to govern us.  But as a staunch supporter of Ed Miliband, I’ve been cheered by Labour’s poll figures, the highest in ten years, and by Ed Miliband’s speech on Thursday on rebuilding the economy. Polly Toynbee and Deborah Orr seem encouraged too.

So, I suppose all this means I’ve been actively engaged in the things I seem to blog most about – writing, the arts, politics, genealogy – rather than writing about them, and I will get back to blogging soon. I must!

Loving Gladly

First published 26 November 2012

No, this piece isn’t, as the title might suggest, about how we should all embrace our fellow human beings with joy and without reservation, especially at this time of the year; it’s in fact a light-hearted skip through the fun to be had from words seeming to mean something other than intended – especially when heard rather than read. There’s the old Christian joke about children thinking that Gladly was an ursine creature with an ocular irregularity, rather than an offer to shoulder the burden for Jesus on his way to Calvary.  

Songs and hymns and prayers, which we learn aurally rather than via books, are great sources for this confusion, and the resulting amusement and apocryphal storytelling.  My mother insists that for her and her class mates at her Catholic boarding school, Jesus suffered under a bunch of violets and was crucified, dead and buried, every morning till they were old enough to read the English version of the Nicene Creed. The fact that the creed was recited in Latin at mass and chanted in English in catechism classes didn’t help, she claimed.  And at my school many a lad beat his breast swearing to “be a cowboy, be a cowboy, be a Mexican cowboy”.   Then of course, there was Hail Mary, full of grapes…..

 Now, these have entered the Christian joke canon along with Gladly, and it’s hard to tell whether children really did make these howlers or had heard the old jokes and gleefully played along with them. Just because something is in “daft things kids say” popular circulation doesn’t mean someone hasn’t actually experienced it for themselves – and sometimes, as the Australian national writing treasure Elizabeth Jolley once said, expressions become clichés or enter the popular lexicon for good reason, and someone said or thought them first.

But some mis-hearings I can vouch for personally. One Advent, mumbling my way through the final line of O Saving Victim, Opening Wide, “In our true native land with thee”,  I was startled to hear Bridget O’Neil beside me declaring “In our time, nature lands with thee”. With a thud, presumably, from the way she was singing it. Mind you, so tortuous is the rhyme and scan of your average hymn that the alternative version makes as much sense as the real one. 

There’s a patriotic Australian song that every primary school child learned to sing in the 1960s. A dreadful thing, in which you had to bellow the last line of the chorus, Australia, Australia, Australia. A few years ago I was on the phone to a very good writer friend and were discussing the title for a novel she was working on, which referenced 1960s Australian childhood quite significantly. This was also a time when, in hot, humid classrooms, we studied the political atlas of the world, spinning the globe to make the colours whirl. When it came to rest, there was the distinctive pink shape of our country – also a continent in its own right, we were told – and above it sat Asia, that vast continent full of countries, in different colours. “So what will you call the novel?” I asked. “Asia Bright”, she replied. “You know, ‘And all above is Asia Bright’.” There was a long silence on the phone while I plucked up the courage to tell my clever and linguistically nimble friend that I was pretty sure the line referred to the deep colour of the vast, blazing space over our own heads. Azure bright, sung in an Australian accent.

Mind you, I’ve always loved her story of how she and her classmates used to wonder who Ray Norverous was, and why the Queen, being happy and glorious, should long to him.

I hope this has got you smiling; and perhaps you have examples of your own – real or apocryphal. I just thought, after months of horrible news and in the midst of atrocious weather, we needed something light-hearted, and I wanted to remember how fond I am of Gladly, the cross-eyed bear.

Getting familiar

First published 7 November 2012

To get myself through another period of chronic insomnia, I’ve been re-reading the American essayist Anne Fadiman, because she’s entertaining/popular enough for middle-of-the-night reading, yet a lovely writer with enough rigour to be satisfying. And the essay form doesn’t require the long-term commitment of a novel so if you do fall asleep again it’s not too disruptive to your reading flow.   

One grey dawn, feeling guilty about my neglected blog, and while my thoughts were perhaps not the most coherent, I got to pondering the relationship between essay writing and blogging. Is blogging, I blearily wondered, creating a new form of essay-writing? Or is that too grandiose a notion? Is in fact, blogging debasing the essay? Perhaps blogging is more akin to commonplacing? There are, certainly, several different forms of the essay genre, all with subtle differences, including critical, descriptive, narrative, personal, the more hard-edged essay form used in philosophy, the dialectic essay… and the one Anne Fadiman claims to prefer, the familiar essay.  

She defines the familiar essay as being a subset of the personal essay, written as though the author were speaking directly to a single reader. Although familiar essays are written from a subjective point of view, they are not just about the writer – they refer to subjects that the reader might be interested in  – that is, familiar topics – and which often require some sort of research.  “They are autobiographical, but also about a subject”.  She says that critical essays employ more brain than heart, personal essays more heart than brain, but familiar essays contain equal measures of both.  

The word “essay” comes from the French, and means “to attempt” or “to try”. So perhaps you can argue that bloggers are trying out their ideas on their readers, just as essay writers explore their subjects? 

I decided to see if I could find any reference to Anne Fadiman’s own views on the relationship between essays and blogging, other than the references in her books to using new technology.  It seemed pretty likely that she had either been asked for her views on this, or explored them herself somewhere. And, in a radio interview on American National Public Radio to promote the publication of her 2007 essay collection At Large and at Small, she was indeed asked by Rebecca Roberts whether, in the light of her view that the familiar essay is an evolving genre, she thought blogging was a form of it.  

Her answer: “I don’t know that it’s a form of familiar essay – but it’s an interesting literary genre… There are a lot of terrible blogs, because they don’t go through the usual filters… But many bloggers write beautifully and there may be some advantages to not being filtered through the editing process…a lot of bloggers I read do just one thing or just the other (ie, ‘regurgitate their innards onto the page’ or just write about the world), but not many combine the two”.  

Ummm. I think I agree with her up to a point. But a lot of the bloggers I read regularly –such as RSA Chief Matthew Taylor, Mark Robinson and his Thinking Practice blog – and Alastair Campbell on a good day – seem to me to combine the personal and the universal very well. Mind you, this interview is about five years old, and Anne Fadiman has been cheerfully self-deprecating in her essays about her tardiness in embracing technology and electronic forms of communication, so maybe she wasn’t terribly immersed in the blogosphere at that time. Or maybe blogs have become more sophisticated in the last few years? Anyway, you can listen to that interview in full here.  

Thinking about this some more over recent days, I have decided that, as I think that some blogging can be a modern form of familiar essay, although it has elements of commonplacing in that the best blogs contain links to electronic references the writer is blogging about, probably it’s Facebook that is the really the modern commonplace book. It’s the place where we are more personal – where we tell the world we’re having a bad day on the train, but just like the commonplace books of old it’s also where we collect and post the links to the articles, quotes, websites, news sources, books and opinions that matter to us, and help define us. (That’s why Facebook is so useful to advertisers.) 

But what about columnists in newspapers and magazines? Are they writing familiar essays too? I think some of them may be, but perhaps that’s a subject for another day.

My sources for this blog have been Anne Fadiman’s two collections of essays, At Large and At Small, Confessions of a Literary Hedonist, Allen Lane, 2007; and Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader, Penguin, 1998,as well as the radio interview embedded in the link above.

The universal sticky beak

First published 13 September 2012

What makes Who Do You Think You Are such compelling viewing, do you think? 

I pondered this, wedged on the sofa between my cats, glugging wine, and gobbling up last night’s episode (the perfect Yorkshire winter night’s viewing). Leaving aside the fact that I am one of the millions researching family histories, which creates a natural interest, I think there are several things going on.

Firstly, the producers pick people whose ancestors tell a good story; every editor knows that what used to be called human interest stories when I was a journalism student are media gold.   You might be a celebrity, but if your ancestors had humdrum lives,  you won’t be invited on the programme!

Linked to this is the voyeurism factor; we love peeping into other people’s lives, via letters, diaries, photographs. We’re all what the Australians would call sticky-beaks.

Then there’s the link to a broader canvas: researching the lives of our forebears brings text-book history to life, so suddenly we’re learning more than perhaps we ever wanted to know about the first world war, or the holocaust.. And watching WDYTYA we can’t avoid the fact that sometimes unspeakably awful things really happened to people who were the family of people we feel we know (because of course the subjects are always celebrities).

Then there’s the quest narrative – the mystery…the programmes are constructed so that as people search for answers, and try to fill in the gaps in the stories of their forebears, they might make false assumptions – like the episode featuring Greg Wallace. The story of his forebears took several twists and turns before he emerged with what he accepted as the right picture. Or they might draw a complete blank.

And then of course, there’s emotion. If you watch this programme, how often do you well up?  If you research your own history, the discovery of the details of the lives of our ancestors provides several “pause for thought” moments; moments to reflect on where we’ve come from, the hardships our forebears had to endure, how little we know of what life was like 100 or more years ago … and, perhaps what shaped the people we are.

Reaching back a generation or two past those we knew – typically our grandparents – we can begin to understand, occasionally, and dimly, why our grandparents behaved or thought the way they did, because suddenly we can glimpse the influences of their pasts upon them.  And when we see this happening to our celebrities on screen, it’s very powerful. 

And finally, I suppose, the programme simply taps into the current appetite for nostalgia television.

What’s interested me in the more recent series is an increase in the celebrities doing their own on-line research. Yes, there are still the white-gloved historians, solemnly handing over documents they’ve retrieved from some archive that we mere mortals can’t access. In previous series these professionals have provoked in me a fierce researcher-envy:  “Well, it’s all right for (insert your favourite celeb) to sashay into this or that library or museum and have his/her past handed to them on a platter, without it having cost them a penny to get there”. Oh yes, tracing your family tree can be expensive.  But perhaps sensing that research envy could alienate a core audience of amateur genealogists, the producers now also show their subjects looking up such things as war records on line themselves (using the tool of the programme’s sponsors, of course!)

There’s been an exponential growth in amateur genealogy. More and more of us want to preserve our family stories for future generations, and place our family histories in the context of broader world events.  And the satisfaction of solving a family mystery, or rounding off a good story, is utterly addictive.  

I recently contacted a solicitor’s office in Leeds, on a whim, because I had discovered that they had once held some records that might help prove or disprove a theory I had about my grandmother’s cousin.  I thought the conventional family stories about him didn’t fit what I was finding via my own research. And who knew that the solicitor’s office secretary would be an amateur genealogist, too?  “No, you don’t owe us any money”, she said, handing over several fascinating old documents they’d had mouldering in their archives (she did establish my bona fides first!). “I’ve done this in my lunch hour, because I got so fascinated by him.  I love a good family mystery, me. I don’t know if I should say this, dear, but you do know he may have been illegitimate, don’t you?”  Bless her, I did; and what she gave me was absolutely fascinating –  and supported my hunch.

This is my great uncle, John Cawkell, who died at the Battle of Festubert in 1915. He was 20. Look at that face…I can’t bear it. Years ago, in my family papers I turned up a yellowing newspaper clipping announcing his death that my grandmother had tucked into a black-edged envelope, along with another envelope that contained a lock of his baby hair. The grief she must have felt as she put these two artefacts together and filed them away was palpable.  It made my own hair lift on the back of my neck, and I had to go and have a little lie down.

Right, better stop now.  I need to get back to the knotty problem of where another of my grandmother’s cousins was between the last mention of him in the 1901 census, and a letter he wrote to Nanna in 1939. There could be several reasons for his invisibility – was he ever in prison, I find myself wondering?  I’m troubled a bit by the idea that he could never have known that his sticky-beak great-niece would be grubbing about in things he may have wanted kept hidden…but I brush that aside, because I can’t bear the idea that there’s an irritating gap in the records …. 

Feeling Thankful – thanks to the Unthanks

First published 12 September 2012

Phew. Taking a break from obsessive Olympics and Paralympics viewing to return to my blog. In the last couple of weeks, in between gasping in awe at the feats of the world’s Olympians and Paralympians, I’ve seen some fabulous cultural offerings, all outstanding for different reasons.  

Most recently there was the astonishing York Mystery Plays, set in the Museum Gardens in York. The mediaeval cycle of plays, telling the stories from Creation to The Last Judgement, has been performed by the people of York for centuries. This production, from  York Theatre RoyalRiding Lights Theatre Company and York Museums Trust, was one of the most ambitious since the modern revival of this tradition in 1951. Created by over 1,000 local people and professionals, it showed 32 of the 48 plays, with a cast of about 250 community performers and professionals, led by Ferdinand Kingsley as God and Jesus, and former Corrie baddie Graeme Hawley as the devil. I saw the final matinee on the bank holiday weekend, and it was amazing for the sheer spectacle, the emotion and power in the performances, the ingenious, minimalist but very evocative staging, making great use of the setting among the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, and the wonderful language.  During the interval I heard some people discussing the fact that the language was difficult to understand but they were engaging with it, and because these plays were born from a tradition of storytelling that was as visual as it was linguistic, their meaning is clear, even if you weren’t brought up on bible studies. This production was adapted by York writer by Mike Kenny. Part of the vision for this production was “To create a bold, exhilarating piece of story-telling theatre on an operatic scale and to re-invigorate the tradition and the language and make these plays accessible to a modern audience”, and they succeeded in spades.  The reviews were almost all ecstatic – here’s what The Guardian had to say – and the enthisiastic momentum generated by the twitterati, piling superlative upon superlative, meant that this was pretty well a sell-out season despite the weather. 

But the GREAT news is that, if you missed it, or even if, like me, you’d like to revisit it, you can, from this evening, on the BBC/Arts Council website The Space.  But you don’t have to watch it in whatever static way it’s served up to you – you can create your own edit, from six different cameras, in a ground-breaking offering from digital partners Pilot Theatre and Kinura.  Check it out and be astonished.

Another real treat was Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi in London, a birthday present from my beloved. Bloody marvellous. Bloody and marvellous.  The production is wonderful in its own right, but was extra special for me because Sweeney Todd has always been my favourite of Sondheim’s musicals, and I know the book and the score backwards, but I’d never seen it live; I’d only ever seen the badly-videoed original – but iconic – Broadway production with Angela Lansbury.  This London production, with Michael Ball as Todd and Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett, was much more thoughtful and thought-provoking than that more caricatured original;  this barber and pie-maker evoked your sympathies more, even while their deeds were horrific. The performances were more subtle and the characterisation more three-dimensional.  I loved it.

And in York again a few weeks ago – where have I been all my life, that I’ve never met The Unthanks? This folk band from the north-east is fantastic!.  We were at the York Minster to see the final gig in the tour that marked their fabulous collaboration with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass band, the national champions of Great Britain.  This evening was special because of the exquisite combination of the elements – the voices and harmonies of The Unthanks, the sound of the brass, and the setting and acoustics of the Minster.  It was an inspired collaboration in that, as The Unthanks point out, brass is a very compatible vehicle for telling folk stories, the stories of working people.  Here they all are with the The King of Rome, which they performed at the BBC folk awards this year. 

I love a good brass band, me, and the stage was given over to “Briggus” for two numbers – a very accomplished contemporary piece, and then, just as I was thinking, “Well, that’s better than the Floral Dance”, what should come but … yes, well…..but not like you’ve ever heard it before.  I suppose if you have to perform it because it’s a brass band staple you might as well give it some wellie and find your own version. I had a sneaky feeling they were sending it up, with all those flourishes and all that showing off, but they seemed to be enjoying it and the audience had a ball.  But the stand-out number of the evening for me was Rachel and Becky’s a cappella rendition of a Caribbean sea shanty, which was exquisite enough in its own right but which the acoustics of the Minster, with the most astonishing reverb, turned into something that could never be recaptured in another venue or a studio.  

So I’ve had a very lovely couple of weeks, and feel very lucky.  Right, back to the Paralympics on the telly…oh, and a look at Cabinet re-shuffle, which I might post my thoughts on later

Sculpture…hanging on

First published 4 July 2012

You know how experiences come in batches?  There’s a name for it, but I can’t bring it to mind at present.  Perhaps it’s just synchronicity.  Anyway, I’ve had a bit of a sculpture week.

I read in this morning’s Guardian about one of the Cultural Olympiad events, artist Richard Wilson’s installation on Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavillion, which you can read about for yourself  here.   (Wilson also did “Turning the Place Over” in 2008, in which a large disc sawn from the side of a building rotated from the edge of it.  It was commissioned as part of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations. ) In today’s article Wilson reflects that some people, including fellow artists, would call these works cheap spectacle rather than sculpture.  What do you think?

This past weekend we had a fabulous time at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is a heavenly jewel here in God’s Own County, if I can be so parochial for a second.  There was almost too much to take in.  First we went to Longside to see the Anish Kapoor Flashback exhibition, the first survey of Karpoor’s work to be held in the UK outside of London.  It features some stonking pieces, some of which are from the Arts Council collection, under the arrangement whereby sculpture from the collection is displayed several times a year at YSP.  The exhibition shows his early pigment work, his exploration of voids and his work with mirrored surfaces.  It was really well displayed, with just enough pieces to keep the viewer satisfied without the over-crowding that has happened to some of Barbara Hepworth’s pieces at the Hepworth Wakefield gallery.

Then there was the Joan Miro show, the first major UK exhibition of this significant 20th century Catalan sculptor.  I’ve never really liked his work, but I think that was because I didn’t fully understand the context in which he was working.  I’m not sure I’m entirely converted aesthetically, but the exhibition has given me a new appreciation of his importance.  Some of the works are in the Underground Gallery, but many are in the astonishing landscape of the park, respecting the artist’s view that “sculpture must stand in the open air, in the middle of nature”.

And if all that wasn’t enough, there were still the favourite pieces in the permanent collection to visit, dotted around the park, and a few new ones to discover too.  I said about four times to the people I was with, “We are so lucky to have this, on our doorstep”.  Judging by the number of people – many families – there, hundreds of other people think so too.

And this time last week I was in Italy.  Showing a friend around the remorselessly touristy but still gorgeous San Gimignano, I came round a corner to find Anthony Gormley.  Well, not really Gormley, but then again, almost him – one of the body-cast pieces that feature in so many of his projects.  And there was another one in the next piazza – and look, another one on top of one of the towers (a bit of a Gormley signature as we’ve seen in many of his projects, notably Event Horizon in London in 2007).  I discovered later that the outdoor pieces were associated with his exhibition Vessel at the Galleria Continua which runs until 20 August. San Gimignano takes art seriously, if you look beyond the tourist shops.

So – some huge works of statement, and some smaller, more intimate works this week. Sculpture, which I confess I used to dismiss as cold and remote, has the power to amaze, move, and provoke thought.  And repel.  But that’s fine. 

And despite my reservations about  the display in one of the rooms at the Hepworth in Wakefield, it’s still an amazing space, and well worth several repeat visits.  And here in Yorkshire, if the YSP and Hepworth weren’t enough, we also have the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.   We are indeed fortunate.  And let’s hope we can hang on to them during this time of austerity, because the public, certainly, is voting with its feet.

Stealing people’s dreams

First published June 2012

I came late to blogging.  Friends and colleagues would probably say that I’ve never been short of an opinion, but I’ve not really felt I’ve got much to say, or much authority to say it, since I left the Arts Council a couple of years ago.  Actually, I sit here reading the Guardian every day (thank God, or someone, for  the Guardian), snorting in fury at the antics of those who purport to govern us, hurling shouts of despair at the television news, and I do share things on Facebook, and tweet occasionally, so I thought it was perhaps time I joined the lay commentariat with a full-blown blog.   

Today I find myself preoccupied by a couple of issues in the education supplement of the Guardian, including one by Fiona Millar about the need for a middle layer between schools and government to drive school improvement.  Hmmm. Any guesses as to what might fill that role?   It’s already drawn quite a bit of comment on the Guardian’s website.  Check it out at http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jun/18/schools-local-education-authority-control

I’m not sure why I’m so exercised by what Michael Gove is doing to education.  It’s probably the time I spent at the late-lamented Creative Partnerships programme at the Arts Council. I don’t have children of my own, but I really worry about young people’s future.   At the Yorkshire regional Labour Party conference a couple of weekends ago, I asked Ed Balls, in a session on the economy, for his views on the link between education and the economy, and the need to get it right – and now.  It’s obvious that a generation of young people whose education allows them to be creative, confident and aspirational will be significant players in the economy of the future.  Ed Balls responded that when he went into schools and asked particularly switched-on heads to take him into a couple of classes that really mattered, they’d typically take him into a science class, and then they’d take him to a dance or drama session, and insist that these classes were giving young people all the skills for fulfilling careers. Ed Balls said that for political reasons, tackling Michael Gove and the mess he’s making of education is not the right thing to do just now; there are other things that have to be put right first.  But they will, they say.  

In the meantime, I’m reminded of a line from a novel by Australia’s national treasure Elizabeth Jolley.  In The Newspaper of Claremont Street, the main character Weekly, a cleaner, is upset about those who keep other people awake at night.  “Them’s stealing people’s dreams”, she says.  Well, that’s what I think Michael Gove is doing, too.

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On arts and culture, writing, social history

madeleineirwin

Blogging about researchful leadership, young people's development, well-being, and drama

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Write, retreat, relax ... creative writing in Italy

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A Writers Retreat in Cornwall

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