In a Free State, by V S Naipaul

Soon after my return from 5 years in Guyana in the early 1970s,
I submitted this piece as part of a bid to review books for the TLS or the TES.
In response I was invited to define the areas I would like to specialise in,
and foolishly uncertain which to suggest, delayed replying too long,
and let the opportunity slip…

In a Free State, by V S Naipaul.  
This novel takes the form of variations on a theme.  It is written in five sections: a prologue, three separate narratives, and an epilogue – and while these sections are unconnected in terms of plot or character, they are all consistent with the theme of the isolation and insularity of expatriates. Continue reading

The Poetry of Alain Grandbois

I wrote this appreciation back in 1967,  in my final year at University,
where as part of my degree in French and Drama
I studied French Canadian Literature.
Some of Grandbois’ poetry can be found in the collection
Classiques Canadiens“, as chosen and  presented by Jacques Brault.

In much of his poetry, Alain Grandbois appears condemned to a restless journey through night, rain, endless streets marked by the impotent illumination of street lamps, exclusion from the existence of fellow men, and the gradual disintegration of contact with a loved woman – to a “périple”  of perpetual solitude. In this nightmare, place succeeding place in a filmic progression, as he makes a desperate, misunderstood, unanswered cry for contact – with another, or with an ideal that will justify the chaos:
Une colonne d’allégresse
– he is obsessed with the evanescence of life, and the ugly manifestations of death among the living, and of decay among the dead:
“…ces trop beaux visages détruits”. Continue reading

On Hiroshima

This was written back in the 1970s
for a Hiroshima Memorial Day ceremony.
Every year people gather at the boating lake in Alexandra Park in Hastings,
listen to readings, sing peace songs,
and launch paper boats
bearing lighted night-lights onto the lake at dusk.

On Hiroshima

I have no enemies.
I do not hate the children of my neighbour’s race.

I have no wish to see their children burn,
I have no wish to hear their mothers grieve,
I have no wish to fling their ashes high
In mushroom clouds of genocide. Continue reading

Libya Inter Alia…

Events in 2017 led me to remember this poem, written in April 1986. 

While Wikipedia notes the event as occurring on Tuesday April 15,
I remember it as a Monday, and this is confirmed by a note in
‘On this Day’, BBC Home:

“Around 66 American jets, some of them flying from British bases
launched an attack at around 0100hrs on Monday.” 

The commons argued late last night;
They wrestled with their consciences
On something of immense concern
– While Reagan raided Libya…

And Thatcher gave the go-ahead;
“Oh, use your bases, take your planes
– We only keep them warm for you –
Why ask the people what they think?
Why ask the British Government?
– I am the British Government!
Besides, they’re sitting up all night
Discussing Sunday Trading…” Continue reading

The Woman Upstairs

Immediately above us lived a young couple called Sandra and Nige.  When they first moved in, still unmarried, I wondered how they could possibly be contemplating cementing a relationship which, judging from the frequency and volume of their arguments  (confined mainly to the small hours of the morning and the exercise of a certain adjective beginning with F) was far from idyllic.   But marry they did, and their arguments continued, thus sanctified, though admittedly with a temporary lessening of ferocity. Continue reading

Hidden Figures – 10; La La Land – Nil

Apart from a Hollywood mutual congratulation exercise, can anyone explain to me why La La Land got so many Oscar nominations – and awards?  OK, it was glitzy and colourful, but what was all the fuss about?

Story?  Uh uh;  Characters?  Uh uh;  Acting?  Uh uh.  Memorable songs? Uh uh

Whereas Hidden Figures was thought-provoking, shocking, gripping, moving, uplifting and life-enhancing – a story that needed to be told, and that was told brilliantly.

I rest my case!

Hastings Station at 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning…

Written back in the 1980s,
when I was a dedicated teacher of English to Foreigners,
and loved my students, I surprised myself one day
to realise that I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by too many
on an early morning train to London…

Hastings Station at 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning.

The newly-refurbished in flame-coloured plastic
Electronically  motorised doors glide aside
On a languorous blond-headed swarm of blue denim
Strewn on all surfaces:
– surrogate sofas in
Saccharine sugar-free tangerine Perspex
Ergonomically ordered
To cling to your body and stick to your thighs;
Round the concrete containers new-crowded with cyclamen,
Trailing lobelia and silver-tongued ferns;
The Florentine flooring in marble-chip marquetry
Scorch-marked and littered and grimy with ash;
Squatting on shoulder-bags, sprouting from window-sills,
Vibrant with chatter and frenzied with youth… Continue reading

The Gattegno Effect – my contribution

I was delighted to be asked to contribute an article to
The Gattegno Effect: 100 Voices on One of History’s Greatest Educators”,
which was published by Educational Solutions in 2011.

Here is the article:

For those unfamiliar with Gattegno’s Silent Way of Teaching Languages,
I’ll add a couple of details here to clarify references in the article itself.

(By the way, please note that the data shown in the diagrams below 
will be easier to view on a desktop than on a small screen…)

  • The Rods – these are a set of Cuisenaire rods,
    initially designed for teaching Maths,
    which Gattegno adapted as tool to represent words, phrases, ideas,
    and elements of grammar, syntax or pronunciation.


A series of colour charts:  Continue reading

Re. Eurovision Dance Contest, 2008

My original reaction to the screening of this show in 2008 appears under Reviews.
This is the letter I wrote in response to a reply from Ofcom:

Dear Ofcom,
      I was interested to receive your reply, and glad to know that so many other viewers had complained about the xenophobic commentary to the Eurovision Dance contest that you had viewed the programme to investigate the attitudes it embodied. Continue reading