I’ve edited a new Lit Zine, glove #1, which will be out imminently. It costs £3 via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org & here is some information about it…
Hands up if you remember Michael Gove? Hard to credit now, but about 9 months ago that appalling piece of worthless shit was considered to be a serious politician, with realistic designs upon top office. Now, in the post truth, post normality world that is 2017, Gove’s star has waned and he’s only known as a figure of scorn and derision, following his adoption of the role of a toadying Tory lickarse, hanging out of Trump’s hole, in the hope of a well-remunerated sinecure as the Four Horsemen get ready to saddle up and ride their ponies. Whether it’s waterboarding or water sports Trump has in mind for Gove is unimportant, as in point of fact, the only visible skid marks Gove has left on the soiled boxers of British society are the catalogue of administrative fiascos that were his education reforms. Free schools and academy trusts; they were a roaring success weren’t they? Sadly, the only real change of any note effected by the specky shitbag, has been to the exam system.
Gove, like all Tories, think that a balanced curriculum should consist of Latin grammar, English history, trigonometry, rugger, Scripture, public oratory, flogging, sodomy and Kipling’s poetry learned by rote; all underpinned by shedloads of prep, with weekly spelling and fractions tests. There’s no place for coursework in Gove-land; swotting and cramming the night before exams is back in style, which also seemed to push the buttons of Gove’s cretinously limited successor, the bovine Nikki Alexander, who is now also an ex-minister. Consequently students and educational professionals have the ogre of linear exams and the bizarre 9-1 results system to contend with. Most importantly, we have traditional British values at the core of every child’s education again, as the scourge of PC multicultural education has been slain by St Gove’s simple sword of British justice. How has this been achieved? By the brainwave of proscribing foreign literature of course! Now, in practice, this means schools up and down the country will be knee to throat deep in superfluous copies of Steinbeck’s no good pinko Commie tract Of Mice and Men, denying a whole generation of tall, thick lads from Dover to Carlisle, the chance to be nicknamed Lennie on the bus to school each morning.
Now, don’t get angry with me, but I can almost see Gove’s point. After endless exposure to the 136 pages of deceptively trite moralising in Soledad over almost 3 decades, I’m heartily sick of Steinbeck’s sentimental paean to male bonding, though I recognise many compassionate teenagers discovering the chaste Brokeback Mountain for the first time will continue to be deeply touched by both the plot and the characters. However, I don’t blame underfunded schools and overworked teachers for playing it safe, as the criticism lies elsewhere. I’ve long moaned the reductive nature of GCSE Literature syllabi since the Tories expunged the wonderful 100% coursework spec in 1994. For the first few years of my career I taught Larkin, Auden, Salinger, The Tempest and many other quality texts, safe in the knowledge that 100% coursework allowed time for understanding to develop alongside writing skills. I was teaching kids to understand and appreciate, not to memorise or regurgitate. Though I will admit I worked with a certain percentage of brain donors who felt their learners only deserved to be served up stuff like Buddy or Kes, or as it is properly titled, A Kestrel for a Knave.
Comprehensive schools all across the north were awash with copies of the Penguin paperback with Billy Casper giving a v-sign on the cover. Everyone taught it and I was no different. Indeed, at the end of my PGCE year, a few of us travelled down from Leeds to Barnsley with a couple of borrowed video cameras to make an educational film about the book. One of the blokes I worked with Nick drove us down to St Mary’s School in Monk Bretton, which was the location, used in the film, while the other one Dave, a former actor and Man Utd fan, donned a red shirt and a bald wig, then stuffed a cushion up the jumper, to play the part of Mr Sugden, the PE teacher. At the time, I’d only ever been to Barnsley once; to see Newcastle win 5-0 in May 1983, unaware that personal circumstances would dictate I’d spend most of the 1990s in the S75 region. During that time I found most Barnsley residents to be solid, salt of the earth types who couldn’t have been more helpful, unlike the caretaker of St Mary’s, who set his Alsatian on us as soon as Dave emerged onto the school field in football kit. We explained the purpose of our visit, but the caretaker told us to piss off and talk to t’Director of Education. We didn’t bother; we just skulked back up the M1 in a gloomy, deflated mood, as rain scudded across the windscreen.
I told that story to Ken Loach who directed Kes, when I met him at the 1999 Bratislava Film Festival. He was the guest of honour, where his monumental My Name is Joe was the star attraction. He was gracious and laughed like a drain at my story. I’d always liked his films anyway; from first seeing a repeat of Cathy Come Home to being passionately stirred up by The Wind that Shakes the Barley. However, I’ve not seen his latest and apparently most vital piece of work, I Daniel Blake, though I perhaps should have done on Thursday 26 January.
There have been truly magnificent compromises going on behind the scenes among the fanbase at Newcastle United, which has resulted in a cordiality not previously known breaking out between NUST, the club and NUFC Fans Utd; indeed all 3 organisations are working together, and not just in the Fans’ Forum either. Although I’m still disappointed that there isn’t a place reserved for a specifically LBGT member, rather than just an “equality” representative, I won’t create a stink about this. More importantly and most significantly, this triangulation of congeniality has coalesced to support the work of the Newcastle West foodbank, on whose behalf the showing of I Daniel Blake took place at the Tyneside Irish Centre. As any sane person knows, foodbanks, soup kitchens and all the other voluntary organisations, running on donations to plug the gaps where the Tories have ruptured the cradle to grave concept of the Welfare State, should not exist in 2017. The fact that they do, and provide such a vital and lifesaving role for the vulnerable and impoverished, are a shameful stain on those entrusted with running society. However, I am a pragmatist; I may disagree with the concept of charity, but I won’t let people starve or suffer in despair if I can help it, so I’m donating to this cause. No quibble, no argument; this is one initiative that is beyond criticism.
The main reason I wasn’t at the film was sheer exhaustion after work; the older I get, the more of a toll education takes on me. I’m not complaining; it’s an honour to do the job, but it does deplete my energy levels. It may not be much of an excuse for my non-appearance, but it is more of a one that simply not being bothered, which is why I won’t be at Newcastle’s home game against QPR on Wednesday 1 February. There are plenty of tickets left and I really should be there to firstly support my team and secondly to try and flog the last few copies of issue #14 of The Popular Side, but I’m probably just going to watch it on the telly, hopefully roaring the team, the manager and any new signings, on to victory, as the promotion race gets very interesting indeed. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not an antagonistic gesture of disaffection to stay away. I was at the Birmingham replay with Ben and Ginger Dave and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the latter part of the first half. I’m simply reflecting on my age and other priorities that are better served by not spending £30 on a ticket and possibly a similar amount on gargle.
You see I have a new project on the horizon; early February will mark the launch of glove magazine, whereby by long-harboured ambition to produce a lit zine will be realised. I’ve managed to persuade 20 of the finest contemporary poets and short fiction writers on both sides of the Atlantic I know to share some of their work in this venture. We’re talking: Michael Keenaghan, Gwil James Thomas, Terence Corless, John Grochalski, Christopher Iacono, Josephine Allen, Jason Jackson, Jim Gibson, Joe England,
Mark Beechill, Ian Parris, Martin Appleby, Ford Dagenham, Anna Wall, Emily Richards, Rob Plath, Ron Gibson Jr, Jared A. Carnie, Wolf Orff and Chris Milam. Small steps at first though; I’ve only had 120 published. That’s costing me £150, so plus the postage for the contributor copies, I’m looking at an outlay of £180, which is why I’m selling glove at £2 from me in person, or £3 via PayPal to email@example.com Because the margins are tight, I can’t give free copies away as, if I don’t break even, it’ll be a one-off issue, never to be repeated.
Obviously I’m not giving up my non-literary writing activities; this blog will still be updated once a week, I’m intending to edit the Benfield programme until the end of time and I’ll continue to write for any fanzines that will publish me. However, one publication I’m going to take a back seat with is The Popular Side. I’ve compiled, edited, advertised and sold all 14 issues of the fanzine since August 2014, publishing 85 different writers in that time. I’m going to do the final issue for this season and then hand over control to someone else. This isn’t a kneejerk decision or one bound up in bitterness, though I must admit Biffa from www.nufc.com refusing to mention the fanzine on the website, because he doesn’t regard it as a Newcastle United related publication, was a massive metaphorical hoof in the bollocks. I don’t really mind the fact that hardly any of the contributors are interested in selling and only a few, notable exceptions are prepared to take some to distribute (for which I’m eminently grateful). A load of folk seem only concerned with getting their name in print and a copy through the door, which has always seemed selfish to me.
That said, they aren’t the reasons for my imminent departure. Basically, I’ve used up all my energy and I don’t think I can take the magazine further forward. The founding principles of an A5, cost price, no advertising and no website old style fanzine are well established and I’m sure there are people out there who can do a better job than I could, so they are welcome to try. I’ve already got a couple of names in mind.
Personally, I know I won’t be missed by the overwhelming majority of NUFC fans, as they’ve never heard of me. If everyone is getting along fine and the club are doing well enough on the pitch, nobody needs an instinctive contrarian around to muddy the clean waters that the rest of folks are plain sailing along.