Colours of the Alphabet – you must see this film @alphabetfilm

On Wednesday evening, I went through to Glasgow to watch this film. It was so wonderful, in so many ways, I just have to blog about it.

It was beautiful – beautifully shot, beautiful children, beautiful colours, beautiful subject.

It was moving – about families, about growing up, about education, about how people learn who they are and what their lives are for.

It was funny – watching little children at play, at work, just being their wonderful selves.

It was thoughtful and thought provoking – there are messages, overt and covert, in the film – about language, about poverty, about ambition, about how different life is or could be without today’s technology, consumerism and media influences.

It was great entertainment – so much to enjoy and so much to think about.

Watch the trailer here:

It was also educational – what is, or should be, the proper relationship between ‘home language’ and the language of education and to what extent should all languages, however small, be protected/funded/written. What are the barriers to learning associated with language (took me back in my thoughts, as so often in my teaching career, to the work of Bernstein, Class Codes and Control ( see here ) and more recently Michael Young’s restatement of the importance of ‘powerful knowledge’ (see below) and the work of Elizabeth Rata

“Limiting the curriculum to experiential knowledge limits access to a powerful class resource; that of conceptual knowledge required for critical reasoning and political agency. Knowledge that comes from experience limits the knower to that experience. The shift to localised knowledge fixes groups in the working class to a never ending present as schools that use a social constructivist approach to knowledge in the curriculum fail to provide the intellectual tools of conceptual thinking and its medium in advanced literacy that lead to an imagined, yet unknown, future.”

In the concluding discussion (as it was a premiere, part of the Glasgow Film Festival ,the producer, director and Liz Lochhead were there for a chat and questions afterwords, to give us some insight into the production and its meanings), it turns out that the first draft of the film ran for three hours featuring six of the children – I can’t wait for that director’s cut when it comes out on DVD (producer, please take note!).

Michael Young on the importance of ‘knowledge’:

also here:



Costa Short Story Award

What a fabulous surprise.. not only shortlisted but this year’s winner. You can watch a short video of the presentation event here:

and read or listen to the winning story – ‘Rogey’ – here

Now I have to ease myself out of education and start taking my creative writing seriously!

Watch this space!!

Maya Angelou – a great human voice

Maya Angelou








In the summer of 1972, I was working in the Merit Distribution Warehouse as a general dogsbody / janitor.  The warehouse had a low concrete profile at the heart of a web of railways, trunk roads and skyways heading into, and out of, Manhattan island.  I remember clearly leaning on my yard brush and the steamy summer sun glinting off the windscreens of the cars queuing on the Pulaski Skyway – even then it looked as if it had been assembled from someone’s giant Meccano set, striding across the edgeland of factories, warehouses and urban decay from which New Joisey’s  people serviced the needs of New York City.

At school in the late 60s and as a student in the early 70s I had devoured many of the civil rights authors.  Now, while living and working in the US that summer, staying with my Uncle John and his family, I was taking the chance whenever I could get it to read some more, to soak myself in the strange reality of American life.  Employment in the warehouse was strictly along ethnic lines – Jewish owners, white admin staff, Italian foremen in charge of the loading deck, mostly white fork lift drivers – every one of which knew their European identity.  Banter around the stereotyped characteristics, of the Polaks or Ruskies or whoever, was a major part of the conversation.   There was a Spanish motor mechanic worked on the lorries, and most of the lorry drivers bringing in the goods, or taking them away, were black.  It was hot sweaty work.  Dragonflies the size of blackbirds patrolled the skies.  I learned a lot that summer about how America worked but almost nothing about how America played – we lived and worked together but then went back to our very separate lives.   There were some other, American, students working there – Joey Brignola  Frankie something, one of the bosses sons as well.  They got to unload the Samsonite wagons off the railway siding at the back of the warehouse – an easier job.   In the weekends, they headed up to the Poconos to their family summerhomes, smoked weed and partied.  I read the  American press – McGovern’s campaign, Vietnam, Tricky Dicky.  I also read Maya Angelou for the first time and, like so many others, I was entranced from the beginning.

I know why the caged bird sings sang to me.   Eldridge Cleaver or Huey Newton or Malcolm X – they all had something to say, something to learn from.  But Maya Angelou spoke to the heart as well as the head.   In the 42 years since then, she has cemented her place in the hearts of millions throughout the globe who love her use of language, who have cried with her in her adversity,who have learned from her the true meaning of wisdom and respect.

I mourn her passing and celebrate the rich gift of her life, her writing and her teaching.

Some other links for Maya Angelou – go on, treat yourself.

Gary Younge’s 2009 interview

Reading her poems….

If you’ve never read I know why the caged bird sings, you should.


Chris and Bessie…. to a letter….

In e.mail correspondence with Bernard Barker, a friend and education colleague today, he told me that much to his surprise, his father’s wartime letters to his mother have gained recent literary success.  He told me that after his father’s death, he had …

“… deposited 500 letters (fully archived) at Mass Observation – they have been found and published in Simon Garfield’s To The Letter (see here ); and promoted assiduously in various ways. The reviews, from the Washington Post to the Guardian have celebrated my parents as wonderful writers and now there is talk of a freestanding book and an audio version with Benedict and Kerry Fox. I had envisaged the letters providing verite for second world war historians in years to come, the odd footnote; I had not anticipated a sensation. The experience is surreal but very exciting and enjoyable…..”

Here is Benedict Cumberbatch reading from one of the letters:

Here is a link to the reviews:


Washington Post

While there’s inevitably a slightly intrusive feeling about listening in on intimate conversation (unless it’s a publicity seeking celebrity), there is something about this intimacy that warms the spirit – it is a gift from those who have passed away to us who still live.

Thank you Bessie and Chris and and thank you Bernard.  Your sharing has enriched us all.

Old Long Syne – who’s heard it?

I loved today’s ‘Poem of the Day‘ in the Herald (see below)  – thanks Lesley Duncan!

I love Burns – particularly so after my recent visit to the new Burns Museum which, in among the instant amusement items such as the Burns juke box – choose your favourite song and a new one after five seconds, has some fantastic exhibits, particularly the letters, songs and poems in Burns’ own hand.  But today’s poem, which gives us a precursor to Burns’ most famous song, reminds us that all artistic genius comes from somewhere.

Here’s Lesley Duncan’s introduction, then the poem.

No, this is not a Morningside version of Burns’s global favourite but a precursor, by Sir Robert Ayton (1569-1638), a poet at the court of James VI and I.  Unlike Burns’s lines, which deal with friendship rather than love, this is an intensely personal plea and pledge, particularly the third verse.


Should old Acquaintance be forgot,

And never thought upon,

The Flames of Love extinguished,
And freely past and gone?
Is thy kind Heart now grown so coldIn that
Loving Breast of thine,
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old-long-syne?
Where are thy Protestations,
Thy Vows and Oaths, my Dear,
Thou made to me, and I to thee,
In Register yet clear?
Is Faith and Truth so violate
To the Immortal Gods Divine,
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old-long-syne?
If e’er I have a House, my Dear,
That truly is call’d mine,
And can afford but Country Cheer,
Or ought that’s good therein;
Tho’ thou were Rebel to the King,
And beat with Wind and Rain,
Assure thy self of Welcome Love,
For Old-long-syne.
Oh.. and a happy New Year to all our readers!