Tuesday, 22 October 2013

An attempt to raise educational standards, spurned.

My dear lady wife - whose name momentarily escapes me - dedicates her days (and indeed unreasonably large portions of  her nights, weekends and holidays) to attempting to teach English to the slack-trousered ragamuffins littering the less salubrious parts of the largest nearby town, in aid of which she frequently slides teaching material in my general direction to check for typos. The other night, the forlorn teaching aid presented for my perusal was a story-planning sheet, an A4 sheet of paper with various boxes, numbered and linked with arrows, to help her pupils gather their addled, scattershot thoughts together in the pursuit of meaningful and engaging narrative.

In an unnecessarily pedestrian manner, the guidance in the boxes was something along these lines:
1) Describe a character or setting
2) Introduce a problem
3) Describe how the problem develops
4) Describe the character's attempts to solve the problem
5) Describe how the problem is solved.

Her pupils still had trouble engaging with this dumbed-down advice, so she had suggested to one less able boy "Imagine that one of your friends tells you about a plan for a terrorist attack on the school", upon which he goggled at her and said "What, Jamil again?"

"The problem is you need to give them a bit more concrete guidance" I opined last night over a modest supper of salmon-en-croute with seasonal vegetables.
"Well, what do you suggest?" she said, inevitably.

I gathered pencil and scrap paper, and within minutes had produced an improved version, the linked boxes of which now read:
1) Describe a character and a setting.
2) Describe how the setting, and indeed the whole of Planet Earth, is imperilled by an imminent invasion from an alien fleet.
3) Describe the character's efforts to resist the alien scourge.
4) Reveal, in a surprise twist, that the character and setting - not to mention the alien fleet - are actually figments in the imagination of a lonely, socially dysfunctional woman named Beryl living in a seedy bed-sit in Kidderminster which she shares with 197 stuffed toy dogs.
5) Describe how he police arrest Beryl and charge her with spreading panic and wasting police time.
6) Narrate Beryl's inner monologue as she sits alone in her police cell, in which she reveals that her toy dog obsession and her inability to form lasting human relationships stem from a traumatic incident in her childhood during which her beloved Labrador puppy Benji - the only thing she ever truly loved - disappeared without trace.
7) Describe how her court appearance is interrupted to everyone's surprise and shock by the appearance of an fleet of Intergalactic Zargon Battle Cruisers, led by a four-legged alien who takes his helmet off to reveal that he is in fact Benji, who was a actually a Zargon Prince genetically modified to look like a Labrador puppy and placed on Earth in Beryl's care by his father, Lurprox, King of the Zargons, so that he would be safe from the rebel Kra'aka'ars. Having grown to manhood (or at least Zargonhood), defeated the Kra'aka'ars and punished them by removing the extraneous vowels from their name, he has now returned to rescue Beryl and make her his queen. She accepts the offer happily and vaporises the judge, yelling "TAKE THAT, WIGGY!" as she does so. And they all live happily ever after.

There was a pause.

Guthlac pronounced the story "Awesome, except for the bit about the woman."
At length, my wife replied "I think I'll stick with the original version, but thanks all the same."

Monday, 17 June 2013

The ingratitude of youth

Djangolina is struggling with her English homework, and making unhappy noises.
"Daddy, can you help?"
"Depends. What's the problem?"
"We're studying Tennyson's 'The Lady of Shalott', and have to write a stanza in that form. I can't do it."
"Well, let's have a look..."
We analyze the form a bit. After cogitating for a while, I come up with the following:

He ready put his sharpest knife
For dinner - ordered by his wife - 
By cooking would avoid he strife 
In many-towered Camelot
Once gnocchi pot was on the boil
And sea-bass fillets wrapped in foil
He chopped, and fried in olive oil
The ladle of shallots.

"Er, thanks, but I think I'd better do my own. Properly."

Monday, 22 April 2013

A counterblast to Amanda Palmer

Many people - rightly - have been substantially offended by a toe-curlingly awful 'poem' on the fate of Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by a lady named Amanda Palmer (whom I freely confess I was hitherto unaware of). Some have felt moved to hurl abuse at her via twitter, or mocked her unmetrical, non-rhyming glurge via Facebook. Fair enough.

I feel stung into responding with a proper poem about the event, in a proper verse-form, and staying somewhat closer to the known facts. I stand by it on the grounds of accuracy, and stress I mean no offence to anyone in Boston or otherwise affected by the terrible events of last week (the only word I have reservations about is the 6th line, but the form demands a 6-syllable double-dactyl at that point and I couldn't think of one which better reflects the courage and tireless devotion to duty of the Boston PD). I merely wish to provide a literary alternative to Ms Palmer's poem which avoids being overlong, sloppily written, vomit-inducingly self-regarding and misplaced in its sympathies.

A Poem for Tamerlan
Higgledy piggledy
Tamerlan Tsarnaev
Set off a bomb
At the finishing line

Afterwards uniformed
Overenthusiasts
Shot him.
Bostonians felt that was fine.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The dishonesty of literature


Poets are not famous for writing what's actually in their heads. The chief function of poetry being for bespectacled geeks to get off with girls, they write what they think people want to hear. Take Yeats, for instance, who famously wrote:

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

One knows in one's heart that the reality would be, rather:

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would sell them to a market trader of dubious repute
Spend all the money on beer and then
Lie down to recover under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my head.

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Battle of Richard III - a brief summary

Since no normal person would want to have to read all the media coverage of the current row between the cities of York and Leicester over the reburial of Richard III, I here provide an accurate, impartial and - most importantly - concise summary of the whole rigmarole so far:
-----------------------
Leicester: I say minister, we're getting rather bothered by this mad woman from the Richard III Society who's convinced Richard III is communicating with her not merely from beyond the grave, but from under a council car park. And she's offered to fund a dig, and the archaeology department look like they could do with a day or two in the fresh air.
HM Government: Righty-ho. If you do find any bodies, bury them again as close as is reasonably possible. In any case, wasn't Dicky dug up and chucked in a river?
Leicester: Quite possibly.
------------------------
Leicester: Well bugger me - look what the spade's hit! WE'VE FOUND HIM LADS! Except for the feet. And look at that - he was a hunchback!
R3S lady: Shite.
------------------------
York: 'Appen lads - Leicester ave found t'tourist attraction. Could be brass in that t'muck!
Leicester: Fuck off.
York: As t'name 'Richard of Gloucester' suggests, 'e were a Yorkshire lad!
Leicester: Fuck off.
York: And you lost him for 500 years
Leicester: Fuck off.
York: And some folks as says they is related to 'im want 'im in t'Minster.
Leicester: Fuck right off.
York: And us beloved Minster, jewel of t'North and spiritual 'ome of t'Northernness should rightly 'ave 'im.
York minster clergy: Actually we think he should stay in Leicester.
York: DIE, SOUTHERN PONCE!
York MPs: And we wants talks with t'Leicester MPs in t'commons.
House of Commons: Fuck. Off.
York: And talks with t'mayor of Leicester.
Mayor of Leicester: FUCK OFF!

[To be continued...]

I suggest we settle the issue in a way which Richard III himself would have understood and approved - York and Leicester councils should send out commissions of array, gather their forces, and do battle at a convenient mid-point (say, Mansfield - where any collateral damage would barely be noticed anyway). Not only that, but we'd probably end up with some spare feet to donate to his Majesty's remains. You know it makes sense.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Curse of Byard

I have, as some of you may know, recently returned from a business trip to Egypt. When I landed the country was a little on edge because of the unpleasantness on its northern border; by the time I left a week later the president had assumed dictatorial powers, Tahrir Square reeked of teargas and quite a lot of things were on fire.

This isn't the first time I have done this to an unsuspecting country. I visited Uzbekistan, and shortly afterwards Andijan erupted into large-scale unpleasantness. I visited the Caucasus and the Russians and Georgians marked my departure by kicking the crap out of each other.My visit to Bangladesh heralded a major mutiny of the country's border force, in their barracks just down the road from the office in which I had been working. When I left Thailand a few years ago, all hell broke loose on the street between red- and yellow-shirted partisans of assorted political factions.

The evidence is in - whenever I leave a country, chaos ensues. As yet, Gyppologists are unable to say whether this is the soul of a nation pining for me as I flit away, or whether the removal of a critical quantity of existential lucky heather tips the balance, but a causal link is now hard to deny.

I am now willing to offer governments and regional organisations two ways in which they can benefit from this unusual talent of mine:

1) Any country wishing to avoid unrest may pay me an annual retainer not to set foot in it. I suggest a graduated pay scale depending on population, say £1 per year per thousand inhabitants.

2) Any country wishing to stir up trouble in someone else's patch can give me a return first-class air ticket and an all-expenses paid fortnight in a five-star hotel in the capital of whichever nation they wish to destabilise, except in the case of the UK wishing to safeguard the Falkland Islands (or, for readers in Argentina, THE FALKLAND ISLANDS!) by messing up Argentina, in which case my patriotic sense of self-sacrifice will prompt me to lower the rate to business-class and one week in a four-star hotel).

Serious offers from cabinet-level ministers only please. Leave a private contact in the comments...

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Surrealism at home - 4

"Help!"
"What is it Guthlac?"
"I'm slipping down the stairs." (I can believe this. Moments earlier he had been lying full-length on them.)
"I'm sure you'll be alright. In any case, it'll have to wait until I've finished shaving."
"Help!"
"Look - I have to finish shaving. You're not in any real danger. If you were, for example, being pursued by a hammerhead shark armed with a crossbow, I would rush to your aid."
"Am I?"
"No. And here are three good reasons why not: Reason number 1 - Hammerhead sharks cannot breathe out of water. Reason number 2 - Hammerhead sharks haven't got hands and would therefore find picking up, aiming and shooting a crossbow difficult. Reason number 3 - Their eyes, being at the extremities of their eponymous heads, are ill-placed for aiming correctly.
"What's reason number 4?"
"Are the first three not enough?"
"No."
"OK, reason number 4 - to span the crossbow requires that one puts one's foot in the stirrup, another movement which hammerhead sharks find bafflingly difficult owing to a lack of feet."
"How about reason number 5?"
"Hammerhead sharks have delicate skin which would be terribly chafed by the taut string of a crossbow."
What's reason number 6?"
"I've finished shaving now."
"Awwwww...."