Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

China 2

Well, I have a little more time this evening and a keyboard that doesn't have half the keys sticking so I'll update you now.
To start with my luggage turned up and everything is going really well. There's so much to be optimistic about it's hard to know where to begin. It seems that I'll be teaching twenty lessons a week and if you suddenly went "Wow, that's a lot!", you shouldn't have because it's twenty forty-five minute lessons to twenty different classes at the same level. So that's preparation for one forty five minute lesson which I then get to deliver twenty times. The salary works out at more like 90 pounds a week than the 50 I was expecting but I'm told it will be impossible to spend it as almost every day someone or other will be inviting me out to eat - school principle, foreign affairs officer, head of Foreign Languages, parents of students and so on.
On the other hand it's clear that I almost certainly won't be working in Yangshou. That's just where I'm doing my training for a week. I could be literally anywhere in China! I'll have to let you know where later. The apartments that we have seen in the training material and the information I've had from talking to some of the existing staff about them also makes me pretty happy. In some cases people have had huge three-bedroomed apartments and fully-furnished apparently means exactly what it says.
Tomorrow I spend the whole day observing some of the other incoming group - some of whom have never taught before and then the next day I get my turn to be observed. It's a thirty minute lesson with a very set structure of warm-up/input/activity/review and it's a breeze. Took me ten minutes to plan.
Other plus points are that my section of the students' course isn't examined so there's no pressure, that there is a coursebook to work from if I want to (though it's optional), that I don't have to set or mark homework, that I don't have to teach ANY grammar, and that all I have to do is speaking and listening activities. It's impossible to imagine a lighter workload and impossible to find anything to complain about. (Though some have tries.)
And the good news just keeps on coming. The school holidays are frequent and long - altogether I have about four and a half months off and once my residency permit comes through I will be able to use those long holidays to fly off to other nearby countries at very low cost and have some great holidays. I'm already starting to plane where I'll be going.
As for being here in Yangshou, well it isn't really like being in China at all. Tonight, for example I've just been out for a curry in the local Indian restaurant - something I won't find anywhere else, I'm sure. Even here, in the heart of the most expensive touristy bit of China my curry, rice, naan, lassi and coffee cost about a fiver. Last night a group of us went to a rooftop bar and, once again in an expensive part of town, the beer (such as it is) was a pound a pint.
I've also bought a pile of new DVDs. I have a feeling they may not be entirely legal copies as both season three of Chuck and Season five of The Office show station idents in the corner of the screen and occasionally have "what's on after this program" info running across the bottom. The two boxed sets cost about five pounds each. Movies, including ones not yet in the cinema, are a pound each.
At the moment, there isn't much else to report but I will still have internet accesss in my new apartment so when I'm settled in and have my own computer I'll post regular updates - I may even use this as a proper diary - and I'll posst some of the pictures that I've taken.
I'll be in touch later.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

A New Poem From China

I'll post a new fiary entry later. meanwhile here's a new poem to be going on with - inspired by a less than successful Chinese lesson, yesterday.
Rebuilding Babel
The words tumble over each other
like surf breaking on a fractured headland
and have as much meaning
as the roar of the ocean
in a conch shell pressed to the ear.
"Yes, that's right!" she says as twenty people
offer twenty different prayers
to the God of confusion
and Babel is renuilt stone by stone
in the centre of the classroom.
More entries will be forthvoming soon(er or later).

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

China Diaries #1a

Finished chatting now...
The best news of all, of course, is that everything I want to do on the internet seems to work!
There appears to be no downside.
The manual provided by the school about teaching in China contains some odd advice about coping with homesickness that would certainly get you fired and probably locked up in the UK. It suggests that you make friends with some of your students and go for long walks in the country with them. they will, apparently, be honoured to help out their teacher. Can't see that being a good idea in the UK.
Riight now I'm off to lunch. I'll be back later.
And suddenly this blog is looking like... well like a blog.
I will be resuming my normal, more poetical posting later,

China Diaries #1

Well I'm finally awake, alert and in a clean shirt having woken from a very sound night's sleep, albeit on the hardest bed in the known Universe, to find my luggage had caught up with me. A quick shower, a stroll down to the college for some breakfast and I was feeling very happy with the world. I decided after breakfast to take a stroll up to West Street where all the touristy things are and there I sat outside a cafe for an hour watching people go by in the rain. Life, I am sure, doesn't get much better than this.
For those who don't know let me tell you a bit about Yangshou - not actual facts you understand, because you can get those from the internet, but rather feelings and impressions. I have of course been here before and it's a very tourist-centred place. Well, West Street is anyway. It's a beautiful part of China and it's great to be back. I pottered around for a while before and after that coffee, bought a couple of (probably overpriced) notebooks for my journals and poetry and a (definitely overpriced) umbrella.
I've definitely made the right choice in coming here again.
I saw...
three girls with umbrellas, taking turns at photographing each other, singly and in pairs, avec et sans les parapluis, in the rain...
a Chinese family with two toddlers mumified in transparent ponchos, one yellow, one blue
a girl on a bicycle vainly tring to steer and hold down her (white) poncho as she went
a tall German guy trying to negotiate a better rate for a room at the cafe across the street
a dozen street salesmen trying to sell me umbrellas, books, photographs, T-shirts, flowers and other random paraphenalia.
I strolled past empty restaurants with their forelorn chairs and tables, too early for the main tourist rush and too wet for the casual breakfast trade.
More lately - a friend just came on line and we're chatting.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

I think this baby might fly

Well, friends, it seems that this might ork after all. I just posted a test message using my remote blogging option and got the confirmation straight back.
Can one of my multitude of loyal readers please email me nd confirm that this rather longer message displays properly on the blog, please?
Anyway. This is the story so far. After a couple of days with my brother I caught a flight to China - well to Amsterdam actually but then on to China. Unfortunately my luggage didn't make it all the way with me though I am expecting it later tonight. Expecting may be too strong a word. I, on the other hand arrived safely in Yangshou and have even found an internet cafe to write this entry.
Yangshou has changed in only minor ways since I was last here ten years or so ago. The plethora of CD shops seems to have disappeared, for example - I could only find two this evening.
The heat is killing. It's seven fifteen in the evening and absolutely sweltering out, hot even here in an air-con cafe.
Tomorrow I am free to explore and take pictures and then the hard graft begins. I'm looking forwrd to it all though. Should be fun.
Once I'm 100% sure this works I'll post more but meanwhile, here's a little observtion from my few days in Eastbourne. It really belongs on the other blog but I didn't set up a remote user for that one.
An Eastbourne Moment
He races along the street
on a mobility scooter;
white haired and ancient;
wearing a stetson
and blowing Dixie on a harmonica.
I hadn't realised that The South
was the south coast.
Don't forget, confirm how this looks for me.

Just a quick test message


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Last Post?

Well. It's come around much quicker than I ever thought it would. It feels that way, anyway. The six weeks of summer school have come and gone in the blink of an eye and in only five days I head for China to start my new life.
At the moment I really have no idea whether this blog will continue because I have no idea if my email posts will work from there or not. I will certainly be blogging in some form or another and I hope it will be here, so don't go away. It may take me a while to get sorted out.

Meanwhile the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that there is a note at the top of the page that says comments are now disabled. I know that I won't have blogger administrative functions in China so I've turned off comments. Sorry if you had something urgent to say but there really isn't much choice.

I woke up this morning feeling rather nervous at the prosect. I've been really busy for six weeks so I haven't had time to be nervous but today all classes have finished, I had nothing to do and finally started to get the shakes. I'm sure it will be fine. It will most certainly be different.

Keep watching. I will be back.


Thursday, 11 August 2011

Politicians of the Future

I have a standard activity that I use with intermediate students. I put them in groups and give each person a local Government job - education, health and so on. I tell them what they need to spend money on next year and then I give the group a budget too small to cover the costs so that they can discuss what to do about it.

Today group one made all round cuts as fairly as they could. Group two made savage cuts and embezzled what was left of the money. Group three were the real stars, though. They borrowed money from next year's budget and paid for everything, reasoning that they wouldn't get re-elected anyway so someone else could worry about it later.



I've been experimenting with my new camera. I considered putting these pictures as a series on my photo blog (see links) but decided that as that wouldn't be for some time I'd put them as a special post here.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Random Remarks From Strangers' Conversations

As I was sitting waiting for one of last night's poets to make his way to the stand, I heard someone a few seats behind me say, "I haven't got a copyright on owls".

Poetry Unplugged:

So, the television is filled with images of rioting youth across the country. Gangs are raiding and looting shops. The Metropolitan Police have put three times as many officers on the street. Across London trouble is expected almost everywhere.
And me?
Well, it's Tuesday night and my last chance to visit Poetry Unplugged so I head off to Covent Garden to sign up for the best open mic in London. The streets are not exactly empty but they are certainly much less busy than usual. When I suggest to Niall, the organiser, that poets are made of sterner stuff he counters that we are just more needy, just more desperate for peer approval. And he's probably right.
Even so, it's a smaller audience than usual and there are only sixteen readers. On the positive side, at least I have the time and space to review the event properly, though of course it still needs to be brief and not everyone was introduced with a full name anyway.

So first up we had Nick who did a poem so new that the ink was still wet that was simultaneously about the riots and the fire in the cigarette bin outside the cafe.There were a couple of other humorous ones and rather grim, but very good, one about an abattoir from the cow's point of view.
Janice, who has been on at every performance I've attended started brightly with a poem about a pop-up Karma Sutra (which she had on hand to illustrate the verse), and followed it with a serial killer suburban housewife. Both were clever and funny.
Someone I hadn't seen before, Vanessa gave us a choice of two poems and went with the one that she'd described as a "fairy tale for grown-ups". She said later that she hadn't been happy with her choice but it was a fine recitation of a long and complex poem delivered in quick and confident style.
Brian Baker was next with a group of poems, some of which I'd heard him do before. The short Memory of a Conversation with a Jewish Girlfriend was especially pithy and amusing and Bob Rainey, who followed him, a Poetry Unplugged first-timer did a trio of very good poems that included a personal ad for an S&M magazine.
Paul Moore, making his second appearance, was also very good, but Just Because was a standout piece with each line making a contrast and the initial light-hearted tone gradually mutating into something much darker, a tone that was maintained by the next to the mic, Arthur Ray whose poems were a kind of anti-love song.
Next up was regular Donal Dempsey in a shirt that was louder than the sirens occasionally heard outside. He rattled through a cracking set of very funny short verses in a style that had the audience howling with laughter.

I opened the second half with a reprise of my Bilston Voices autobiographical set. People made the right noises in the right places and complimented me afterwards so it must have been OK. I. of course, am not best placed to make that judgement. I can judge Will Warren who came next - bravely announcing that he was opening with a poem about his favourite synthesizer. And that's what he gave us, a eulogy to a keyboard followed by a story of a strange chess game. His laid-back delivery perfectly complimented the pieces.
No one could accuse Stanley Neil of being "laid back". After a brief, but amusing pieced on the class system and a couple of haiku he shifted up a gear into a raging histrionic performance that saw him abandoning the mic and animatedly haranguing the audience. It was great stuff.

Anita was more subdued. She delivered a long and downbeat poem about death, apparently inspired by a random remark from the host at last week's group. It was a good piece, though a little confusing in places and the next poet, Yvone, to a degree, maintained the tone. She wasn't, I confess, to my taste. There was nothing wrong with either of her two poems and her delivery, though a little nervous, was fine. It's just the religious subject matter that leaves me rather cold. No matter how well done religious poetry just doesn't interest me.
Peter Doyle lifted things with a poem about how much he hated seagulls and the variety of ways in which he had fantasised about killing them. His description of their calls as "the pub singers of the avian world" was a gem in itself. His other piece, The Trees, was more serious but just as good.
The penultimate performer was Ray Blake who I enjoyed enough to buy his book. His opening piece about the Irish and the Scots was really very good but though the Irish in the audience may not have been so keen. His follow up, a piece about people who have half-hearted, wimpish tattoos, pleased everyone though.

And so we come to the final performer, who billed  himself as Namanagra... er.. Granma Ana... er Ananagram. It's always best to save the completely bonkers ones till last and Ananagram was about as completely bonkers as you can get without becoming a villain in a Batman movie. His single long poem was an apparently extemporised piece about all the poets he'd seen in the preceding couple of hours. Everybody got name-checked as he strode about the room like a poetry stormtrooper, climbed on the furniture and enthused everyone with his manic energy. For a poem that couldn't possibly have existed two hours ago it was a tour-de-force and a brilliant way to end my short run of visits to what has very quickly become my favourite way to spend a Tuesday night. It's even better than rioting.

Poetry Unplugged takes place every Tuesday at the Poetry Place in Betterton Street in Covent Garden. It starts at 7:30 with a sign up between 6 and 7.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

As promised, a few more shots of work from the current Saatchi Gallery exhibition, The Shape of Things To Come:New Sculpture

Kris Martin: Summit

David Altmejd: The New North

Berlinde De Bruyckere

David Batchelor

Friday, 5 August 2011

It vexes me.

A strange little red blobby thing has recently appeared on my RSS feeds. It marks a couple of folders which are, as far as I can tell, in no way different to any of my other folders. It vexes me. It does not appear in any way whatsoever to affect the functionality of the feeds or, indeed, to do anything at all, nonetheless it vexes me because, in my perhaps naive way, I believe it must be there for a reason. The people who wrote the feed aggregator surely haven't just decided to add a random little red blobby thing simply to vex me and therefore it does vex me.
This kind of thing happens to me rather a lot.
Web sites that I visit regularly will suddenly have a new look, or a new feature, or a flashing icon, or an indecipherable message or a little red blobby thing and, whatever it is, it will have appeared without warning and without explanation (that I have seen anyway).
I will puzzle over it for a while, perhaps try to find out from the help screens what it is, and almost inevitably be unable to work it out.
And then, just as inevitably it goes away.
And that vexes me too.
I lead a very vexing existence.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Summer School Haiku (3)

After Summer, Winter:
Wishing the snow would not fall
Is wasted regret

Summer School Haiku (2)

Nervousness shaking
Like leaves on autumnal trees:
Seasons always end

Summer School Haiku (1)

Andrew: Summer school -
Craves puppy-dog attention.
This year, this is it

(Remember Haiku is more than just syllable counting.)

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Arty Bits

I went again last night to Poetry Unplugged in Covent Garden, my third visit in four weeks, and once again was astounded both at the slickness of the organisation and the uniformly high standard of the performances and the poetry. In three weeks I've now seen about ninety performances from about fifty different performers and have yet to see a bad one. Next week will be my fourth and final visit. I'm looking forward to it already.
I really can't recommend it highly enough if you are a poet visiting London on a Tuesday evening who wants to have a go at an open mic.

Of course Now that I've left the Midlands there are other regular performances that I can't make. My reviews of Bilston Voices have, of necessity, ceased. Do not despair. The latest one has been reviewed by Gary Longden over at Behind The Arras. It sounds as if it was another great night.

Before I went into Poetry Unplugged I paid a second visit to the "Shape of Things To Come" exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, this time with my camera. I'll be posting more pictures later, but here's one to be going on with - Fokert de Jong's "The Shooting Lesson".

And while we're on the subject I can also recommend the current exhibition of Doctor Who as represented in comics which covers everything from the old TV21 days right up to now. It's at the Cartoon Museum in Little Russel Street.