Showing posts from 2012

The Kindness of Strangers (& Friends)

On the last day of 2012 all I can say is PHEW, THANK GOD I MADE IT. Well, I have as of 10.58 in the morning. I hate to sound like Eeyore or Neil from 'The Young Ones' but I don't take anything for granted anymore.

It looked dark there for a while, especially on that day in early summer when I was rolling around on my bed in the worst pain I've ever experienced, unable to breathe and simultaneously feeling like I'd been shot in the guts with an assault rifle. But I got through, thanks in no small part to the insistence of my partner Michelle that I go to hospital when she came home from work that night and found me walking all bent over, sweating like a man wearing a camel hair onesie in canopy jungle. And my hospital adventure would have been a hell of a lot harder without regular visits from Geoff and Jackie Lovesy, and Ian and Wendy Askew. They brought me food, they listened to my drug-induced ramblings, and they helped Michelle get back and forth to see me when …

A Step Away From Them

Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollack. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?*

RAVI SHANKAR, virtuouso sitar player, whose death aged 92 was announced yesterday. He is pictured here many years ago with his student and friend George Harrison. How bare the world sometimes seems when great men and women leave it.

Incidentally, can we stop, for a moment, referring to Ravi as the father of (S)Norah Jones? I think his achievements were significant enough to be considered in their own right.

*Frank O'Hara "A Step Away From Them".

You're Danger-What? Dangermouse, Did You Say?

These musings have not appeared in a scholarly journal and they have not been peer reviewed.

I keep hearing that people are dangerous when they're educated. Despite the fact that I am now, nearly, educated, I have to say something about this apparently widespread belief before steam comes out of my ears.

It's bollocks. And more to the point, it's snobby, class-ist bollocks, since even before the massive hike in student loans the number of students at university who'd come straight off the estates seemed pretty damn small. Now it will probably be smaller than the number of university bureaucrats who gave a shit when I talked to them about their relationship with China.

Every office of every politician in the land is filled with educated people; and not one of them is doing anything to change the world for the better. All they're doing is helping to keep a cruel, cancerous system running that benefits them and screws over the poor, the weak, the sick and the disable…

Cooking the Books, or How We Stopped Mithering and Jumped Up the League Table

As followers of this blog will know, I have been at university since 2010. I'm doing a degree in English. I didn't plan on doing one, but at the beginning of that year I walked out on my job, burned out after 15 years and pissed off with the persecution I was receiving from my manager because I didn't know how to kiss ass like some of the others. I had to do something or keep signing on indefinitely, there being very few jobs around at the time for 44 year old epileptics with left wing sympathies, a bad disciplinary record and no reference. So I chose university. It wasn't signing on or a job, after all; I got money for it too.

I'm coming to the end of my degree soon. I have six or seven months to put in and then I can retire from Academia. But before I leave I'm obliged, apparently, to fill in something called the National Student Survey. It's a nationwide customer satisfaction survey of higher education which (I think) somebody or other consults when draw…

Stage Fright

Tomorrow night there's another open mic at the newly-branded "Legendary Labour Club" in Northampton. The primarily spoken word Raising the Awen event. I've been there to read for the last two months but after the debacle of my brief slot in October, when I suffered some sort of psychological meltdown, I won't be attending this time. I'm going to my friend's house for the evening instead. Maybe dying my long grey hair purple at the roots.

Performance poetry is an art, and a very different one from writing poetry down. In the best poets the two arts cross over (Allen Ginsberg, Ron Whitehead, Jimtom Keith Thomas James). Some who write imperfect poetry can convince you they are wonderful because of the strength of their personality when they stand at the mic. That doesn't apply to me. I don't have the personality for standing up in front of a crowd and making them like me, or engage with anything I'm saying that's controversial or difficult. I…

When Death Came Knocking

It's such a long time since I sat down to write a post for S.P. I really ought to rebrand the blog as S.P. Volume 2 (or 3, or 6). But it wasn't just my habitual laziness keeping me away from blogging duties (I promise). In the immortal words of Kettering's J.L.Carr, "It's been a summer" - one I still haven't quite worked out the meaning of.

I nearly died in late June. From somewhere I caught pneumonia, which made my lung fill up with gunk. I also had something growing on the outside of my lung. I don't remember what the doctors said it was, but I do remember the description of it as thicker than four orange peels. The combination of the gunk on my lung and the gunk in my lung made it collapse one frightening night and within a week (I left it because I thought I'd got food poisoning!) I was in the worst pain I'd ever experienced. I'd also lost all control of my bladder.

After I was admitted to hospital things improved. I did get an infect…

Happy Father's Day

I've been writing about the old days recently for my next unpublishable book, My Hometown. Don't do it. Even when you don't get into anything too personal, as I haven't - not about anybody else anyway - too much reflection can be a horrendous experience. And what good is it, really, looking back on a lifetime of bad moves, relationships burned, friendships lost? You can look for justifications and explanations but everything you say will be from the perspective of the person you are today. And it won't change a bloody thing either.

I have been a shiftless, parasitical, pretentious, passive-aggressive, selfish, lying shit for the better part of my life. I have tried to change the world, castigating everything around me, but inside I've been as rotten as the last fruit at the bottom of the drawer, and as deranged as a hermit in a moth-eaten dressing gown crouched at my letter box shouting curses at the children playing football in the street. I don't like to …

Ads and Making Money

I don't know why I have ads on here. I thought I cancelled them long ago, after getting what the counter reported as several thousands of hits and making no money on them at all. Being a techno-dunce, however, I probably pushed the wrong button and doubled the number of them or something.

Now times are tough I should probably work out a way of making this page really attractive to readers so thousands join. Then I should slant the posts in such a way that they generate ads (it functions on some sort of key word principle) that people are going to want to click on. [By the way, butter; lamborghini; tennis.]

Yeah, right. I wouldn't know how to create a commercial product the best day I ever lived.

5 Becomes 4

To have only 5 members and then to lose one of them is quite an achievement, don't you think? I don't know what happened, but they haven't made the person yet that I couldn't offend without even trying.

Email to Richard Sanders. Unanswered.

Dear Professor Sanders,

As a mature student at Northampton preparing for a dissertation on postcolonial studies, I was most interested to read about the work that the Centre for Entrepreneurship, Enterprise and Governance has done with the Chinese Government.

I'm not sure if it's something I will be able to use in my dissertation yet, but I am particularly keen to find out what sort of ethical considerations a body like yours brings to bear on its dealings with a government colonising another country, as China is colonising Tibet.

As you will know hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, including those who've taken the tragic decision to self-immolate - the exact number of these is not known, but most calculations put it at around 30 since 2008.

Does your centre address these issues with its Chinese partners? Are concerns passed to the appropriate bodies before British expertise is shared? Or are these issues considered out…

For Those Who Need To See It


The Help That Never Came

Since the lecturers' union rep completely ignored my appeal to them for help re: the University stonewalling me on China, here's a slightly edited version of the email I sent him.

Dear       ,

I am a mature student (no. 10341251) at Northampton in the second year of an English degree. I have been advised to contact you about some concerns I have with regard to the university and its involvement with the Chinese Government.

In Tibet, approximately 30 people have self-immolated since 2009 to protest the continuing Chinese presence there; arrests and disappearances are commonplace; dissenters are sent for "re-education"; monks are made to denounce the Dalai Lama; the diminishing number of monasteries is subject to Government monitoring; Chinese citizens (Tibet is used as a population overspill for China) are paid to report on the activities of Tibetans; Chinese language textbooks are replacing Tibetan books in schoolrooms; and the rich natural resources are being scaven…

Rude Notes in a Den of Whores: The Truth About Northampton and China

Another week has gone by since I posted about a mysterious 'new lead' in my long quest to have someone at Northampton University engage with me over China and Tibet, and not surprisingly, I haven't heard a thing from him. Clearly, nobody in this place is going to talk to me, not even the lecturers' union - you know, those people who were supposed to care about these things.

In the meantime, on Thursday last week, the local paper - who wouldn't publish a letter from me on the subject either - announced that the University was expected to have the sixth largest fall in the number of enrollments for 2012/ 13 in the whole country. Which works out, apparently, at roughly 350 fewer students.

Of course, this had nothing to do with increased tuition fees, according to someone from the University, and was "in line with their predictions" (they used some management-speak phrase like that). And the Uni wasn't concerned because they were seeing a concomitant ris…

My "Tibet Thing": The Leads Keep Tumbling

I have a powerful feeling I'm heading for another disappointment with what even I have come to think of as "my Tibet thing" and Northampton University. I've been given another lead. Another chance to make my point. To get my voice heard. But it seems to be going the same way as all the others.

I've been stonewalled by the powers that be here for so long now I wondered for a while if my emails were even getting out. You look for reasons. Rational, if paranoid, explanations that might justify the total lack of engagement by anybody in authority with your complaint.

Here's a simple one: they don't give a shit. There's just too much money involved in the university having a high profile in the business community for it to risk being viewed as (excuse the expression) ethical. And there's too little money being made from my presence as a student here for my dissenting view to matter. Students aren't even supposed to have a dissenting view. People ar…

Shouting in an Empty Room: How Northampton Deals with Dissent

My email to the careers officer was, predictably, ignored. It seems to be the way Northampton University deals with dissent. I've just had a whole load more 'meet the employer' emails from the university delivered to my inbox.

I did have what looked like another chance to raise the issue of Tibet last week. Every year at the university - it's probably the same everywhere - they send out 'student satisfaction' surveys and these go back directly to the office of Nick Petford, the Vice-Chancellor. I'd had mine lying in my inbox for a few days and I'd done nothing about it. I don't, for the most part, believe these things are a legitimate exercise in improving the student experience. But when Mr. Petford failed to answer my email and the university's Facebook page also ignored me, I realised the survey might be a golden opportunity to get somebody to acknowledge my concerns. How naive could an old man be.

With all my usual flaming indignation I fil…

Email to Robert Owen, Northampton University, Careers

After being antagonized almost beyond the point of human endurance by Northampton Uni's refusal to engage with me on the ethical problems raised by Zhou Xiaoming's visit on the 15th, I received an email the other day from Robert Owen, the University's "Careers and Employability" man, inviting me to come and meet representatives from Graduates2China when they visit on Thursday. Apparently, if I'm lucky, I could come away with the beginnings of a plan to teach English to students in Chinese schools for a year. Very good for my cv, etc. etc. etc.

You might as well have thrown an aerosol can on a fire as send me that, especially in the wake of my arrogant treatment by the University hierarchy. Does capitalism have no morals at all?

Here's my reply:

Thanks Robert, but until China stops abusing the human rights of its own citizens and ceases the genocide against Tibet I don't think it's moral either for me to think about this or for the university to be …

Zhou Xiaoming: The Silence is Deafening

Shame, shame and shame again on Northampton Uni, who have ignored for six days the email I sent to them complaining about their decision to invite Chinese Embassy Minister Zhou Xiaoming to the University today. Does my opinion only matter if the University hierarchy can use it in some way to further their business profile or their position in the league tables? The bodies may be burning far away from England, ladies and gentlemen, but they are still burning.

Email to Nick Petford, Vice-Chancellor of Northampton University

on learning that Minister Counsellor Zhou Xiaoming will be visiting the University next weekDear Mr. Petford,As a mature student at the University, I was extremely surprised and disappointed to learn, from the newspaper rather than from the University itself, of the visit this coming Thursday of Minister Counsellor Zhou Xiaoming from the Chinese Embassy.

As you are undoubtedly aware, Mr. Xiaoming represents a Government whose record on human rights has been consistently condemned by other Governments and independent bodies around the world. In Tibet, which China has occupied illegitimately for several  decades, religious freedoms are severely restricted, the native language is being erased and as fundamental a freedom (from a fortunate Western perspective) as flying the Tibetan national flag will result in your arrest. (Mr. Xiaoming's Embassy even had the temerity to complain to the Borough Council because the Mayor was present at a ceremony in which the Tibetan flag …

Spirituality Vs Religion: A Holy War For The Secular Age

I've been hearing quite a bit lately - from friends and university lecturers - that spirituality is okay but organised religion isn't. We can have our own view on God, or Allah, or Krsna, or Buddha, so this logic goes, but when we align ourselves with any sort of group that shares the same views, we automatically become a crackpot.

I think people reject organised religion partly because they see it as angry and bigoted. They see Christians and Muslims telling us homosexuals are going to Hell, a woman's place is three feet behind her man's with her face covered and not in the church as a fully ordained minister. And those who look a little closer see ingrained inequality in Buddhism too (I don't know enough about Hinduism to comment).

On that score - the score of anger and bigotry - I sympathise with the sceptics. There is no place in a civilised society for the denigration of any of its citizens. But the bigotry just represents a direction that a particular religi…