Trying to cope with grief

For the last week, I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about Chris’ death. I think I’ve finally figured some of it out. Turns out that it’s a lot of mixed metaphors (of my own making) and a lot of poetry (the making of others). But it makes sense in my mind, so you’ll just have to bear with me. It’s not so much a thread of thought as a tangled spool. But hey, there’s a poem for that:

Separation – W.S.Mervin

Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its colour.

 

I was in Venice last week with my family and the last line definitely rang true. I think everyone should experience Venice at least once in their lives, because it’s such an extraordinary city. I kept thinking of things that Chris would enjoy: the random serenading gondoliers, the locks of love on every bridge, the lack of cars, the fact that wine is cheaper than water…and the sheer beauty of the place.

I kept thinking, “Chris is never going to see Venice”. And then, I kept thinking about all the other things Chris would never see. And how I would never see him again. And I didn’t understand.

Venice is a city of water and stone and glass, but it was the glass that made me figure things out, how I felt.

When you lose someone you love, it’s akin to that horrible moment when you drop a glass and it breaks. There’s that moment of sheer panic, when your blood slows on its way to your heart, and your muscles jolt, and you see this glass in slow motion, falling, and the moment of breaking. The word grief is the word shatter, translated, emotion made noise.

But the worst part is after the glass has shattered, because it is only then that the situation becomes irrevocable, complete, in the past tense. There’s the reluctance of clearing-up and throwing-away, the ritual of shard-searching, lest any minute piece of glass escape your attention. Did you ever see police combing a crime scene, in a long line, advancing together, inch by inch? That’s how I feel when I clean up a shattered glass. I’m looking for evidence, desperately trying to make sense of something. Maybe, just maybe, I can put it back together…This is how grief makes me. If I can find all the shards, they can be pieced, made whole again.

Memories of Chris come to me in bright fragments – but painfully, I cannot see where they fit into the whole. What did the glass look like before it fell? What was its exact shape and contours? How did it look when the light shone through it? Did I imagine Chris the way he is in my head, or is that how he actually was? Did Chris give me his last cigarette one time, or simply offer it? What were our first and last words to each other? Where does this shard fit? Why won’t it fit? How can someone be there one minute and not be there the next? Where did you go?

“Where do vanished objects go? Into non-being, which is to say, everything”

I still haven’t come to terms with any of this. I’m still not sure how I’m meant to move on when I don’t even know how to say goodbye.

I thought that by writing this I would find a way to finish it and therefore make sense of things, but it turns out that I don’t. I think I need other people to help me to make sense of things.

I wish I could remember what Chris’ laugh sounded like.

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/sep/09/andrewmotion.featuresreviewsImage

A quick note on NUS conference and self-care

selfcare

If you’re at NUS conference over the next few days, or know anyone who is there, please remember this: conference is really intense: it drains you emotionally and physically, you’re bombarded by campaign supporters, political parties, factions, fringe meetings from the moment you arrive. Conference floor is exhausting, as well as exhilarating. Debates, whilst largely stimulating and insightful, can often descend into petty name-calling and be (sometimes intentionally) racist, homo/bi/transphobic, classist, sexist and ableist. People underestimate the impact those kind of things have on others, and whilst folks are always eager to hop up to the megaphone and call others out on their bullshit, the damage has been done – to both conference hacks and conference newbies.

I’m only saying this to make a point: when you’re at conference, practise self-care.

My experiences at NUS conferences were some of the best moments of my time as a student officer, but they wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t practiced self care, which is a difficult thing to do. If you need to take ten minutes off conference floor, if you say that you need to go home rather than attending an election party then DO IT and do not feel guilty! It is far more important for you to look after your own health and mental well-being for a few minutes, rather than sacrificing them for the whole of conference. Respect everyone’s access needs, support each other, stay hydrated, eat, SLEEP (I’m looking at you Vicki Baars and Colum McGuire!), take time out if you need. Your impact on conference will be all the better for it.

Finally, it’s often really easy to direct your anger at the people at the podium, or on the stage, or behind the scenes at NUS, or at each other. Just remember that there is a difference between holding someone to account and holding someone hostage for something that they did or didn’t do. I have disagreed with a lot of people at conference – but treating them like crap isn’t a productive way to unite a movement and I really hope folks at conference remember that every delegate – whether an NUS officer, sabb or student – is human. If you criticise someone, be productive about it. Ask yourself, “How can we move forward from this? How can I challenge this appropriately in a way that will make a difference? How can I support this movement?”. I’ve been guilty in the past of getting sucked into rhetoric about factions (I think everyone remotely involved in NUS has!) but it’s more valuable, in some cases, to build bridges where there is common ground to be shared. No one agrees on everything, but sometimes you will agree on something, and that’s valuable. Don’t forget that.

Although I’m no longer in the student movement (I’m still a student, but a full-time teacher!) I am invested in the power that conference has, because I’ve seen how activists change and shape each other over the course of a few days. That’s pretty powerful. Take care of each other and that power will be used to shape the future of education.

(cross-posted on my facebook account)

Equality and Equestrianism: some thoughts on my day at the Olympics

I was lucky enough to go to the Olympics this week. My family only applied for one event, which was really the only one we cared about enough to brave queues and public transport for – the cross-country section of the Equestrian eventing. We’re a horse-loving family (with the exception of my dad, who enjoys watching equestrianism but not on the same level as my sister, mum and me) so it was a no-brainer to apply for those tickets. It was a pretty great day out – despite Greenwich Park being far too overcrowded, and having to queue for forty minutes or so to get in, and then another half hour to fill up our water bottles.

However what really made the day special was the realisation, courtesy of the commentator, that the eventing is the only sport in the Olympic Games where men and women compete in the exact same event, under the same conditions, on an equal level. This made me incredibly happy, not just as a feminist, but as someone who has always loved riding (albeit I haven’t been on a horse in several years). Throughout my childhood and adolescence, when my sister and I were constantly riding at our local stables, in competitions and at Pony Club (yes, I know, I’m more upper class than a lobster bisque at a formal dinner), gender was never an issue. It was never “a girl’s sport” or “a boy’s sport”. When I learned to play football at my all-girls’ school, it was a different matter. I had it easy, by virtue of the fact that it was an all-girls’ school and so the girls who played football weren’t judged by our peers. But I still had this knowledge that womens’ football wasn’t really considered a “proper” sport for girls – it’s still the case in many schools that boys play football or rugby and girls do dance. Not that there’s anything wrong with dance – but you get my point.

So it was pretty awesome to see the eventing on Monday – not least because the GB team consists of one man and four women, one of whom, Mary King, is basically my hero: she’s a terrific rider and sportswoman, always keeps her cool and exhibits near perfect horsemanship at every event I’ve seen her at. The Olympics was no exception: she and the rest of the time rode exceptionally well and they deserve the silver team medal which they ended up winning.

Another thing which I loved about the Eventing was that, at the medal ceremony, Germany – who won the gold – invited England and New Zealand, the respective silver and bronze medal winners, up onto the podium. I don’t mean that they did this how many other champions do, inviting them to move closer for a token photo – they actively beckoned and helped the other teams squish onto the gold platform. It was a sight of genuine community and pride, something which has always characterised the equestrian community for me. Most of the large events I’ve seen (Badminton, Olympia and so on) have the same feeling. Regardless of the nationality of the riders, audiences at all equestrian events are surprisingly non-partisan. At the Olympics, it wasn’t really surprising that the British riders got the loudest cheers – but the spectators were unsparing in their applause for the other competitors. Ultimately, the sheer joy of watching someone exist in perfect harmony with a horse trumps patriotic instincts. The German team deserved their gold because their performances were superb, and I genuinely didn’t sense any hard feelings from the home crowd.

I wanted to write this because, in a week when Jan Moir (an utterly vile woman and a poor excuse for a journalist) called the cyclist who beat GB’s Lizzie Armistead “some bitch from Holland”, and the U.S.A swim coach’s knee-jerk response to the Ye Shinwen’s storming victory was to accuse her of drug abuse, it’s nice to remember that sometimes the Olympics – and sport in general – can genuinely focus on the sheer talent and grit of the athletes. My only wish on the equestrian side of things is that it will start to be seen as a sport that more people can access, as opposed to a pastime for the upper classes. Much of my childhood was spent on horseback and in stables, through which I developed independence, responsibility, respect, compassion, and the capacity for hard work. I was, and still am, economically privileged – and whilst there are some stable yards that will go the extra mile to include less privileged kids, more needs to be done. Riding is such an excellent sport and one which, as I mentioned, isn’t predicated on the perceived capabilities or strengths of different genders. If the Olympics is truly to “Inspire a Generation”, where better to start?

Note: I was going to write about feminism and the Olympics, but as per usual, The F Word has done so far more succinctly and effectively than I could have done with this lovely round-up. There is also an excellent article on women inspiring girls to take up sport here.

Back to the (very scary) drawing board

At 4:30pm today I was hot and irritable, and running late for a workshop through no fault of my own. I hate being late – and in this case, it was for a workshop that I really needed to get the most out of. When I eventually got there, half an hour into an hour long session, I wasn’t exactly in a great learning mindset.

The workshop was on interactive whiteboards. I got there in time to see a fair few demonstrations of how you could use it, coupled with Active Inspire (which is used in my school). When the other people in the group started practising those skills, those of us who had been late were given a whistle stop tour of the techniques.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I got anything out of the workshop. My irritation at being late exacerbated an underlying worry that really got my head in a spin and left me pretty closed off in relation to the learning process. The thing is, I really don’t like ICT. I was never great at it in school – I wasn’t terrible, but it was never something that particularly interested me. Unlike a lot of my peers, who were always thrilled when we had a lesson in the computer rooms, I didn’t thrive in front of a screen. I still don’t, to be fair. I spend far too much time on social media and news sites, but actually I prefer it when I don’t have access to a computer as it takes away those distractions.

When I was in school, it was still pretty exciting if a teacher had prepped a power point. Smart boards came in a few years before I left but I never really saw them used a whole lot to the best of my recollection. However when you go into schools today it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see a lesson in which ICT isn’t used in some shape or form, whether that’s in the form of a simple powerpoint or a snazzy interactive smartboard presentation. Ofsted like it, and after all we’re living in a technological age, so at face value it makes total sense.

The truth is, the use of ICT in schools, particularly interactive whiteboards, makes me so angry and worried that in class today I was on the verge of walking out in frustration. I’ve been told that the research and anecdotal experience says that kids learn well with interactive whiteboards. This generation is very tech-savvy and computer literate, even if they come from deprived backgrounds, because they have access to shiny equipment at school. The problem for me, especially as an English teacher, is that I think they simply have too much ICT in their lives for it to be of much or any use or interest in a classroom situation.

To put it another way; my professional tutor told us a couple of weeks back to look at the “diet” that pupils were being fed in terms of lessons during our school observations. I’m pretty sure over the three days I didn’t see a single lesson that didn’t involve ICT in some way.

We talk so much about kids being unable to spell, read, write, add up, concentrate, engage. Is it any wonder, when they have been born into a world where a machine will spellcheck everything for you? Why concentrate when you know that the answer is just off-screen, waiting for a click or a dragging motion? Why bother to inquire or be curious about anything at all when all you need to do is type a few words into google?

I’m frustrated because I think it is very easy to use ICT for the sake of using it, and not because it is meaningful or increases the rate of progression in kids’ ability. I’m frustrated because I’ve got to include ICT in my lessons, and I never learned to love literature or language or anything for that matter through a series of slides, with a glaring backlight.

One of the best things we’ve done so far this Summer Institute is learn about Active Shakespeare, a way of exploring Shakespeare as a class, on foot, orally and physically. Although I am not entirely certain, I’d still be willing to say that this was the only session I’ve had that was “sans powerpoint”. And if I’m being entirely honest, I think I remember more about that session that I do about most others, although they’ve all been great. I’m not a purely kinaesthetic learner – I actually learn best visually, reading words. So it says something about my ability to view ICT as a useful tool, since I don’t think I have ever been able to learn from it myself.

I’m fully aware that a large part of my rage and sadness today was to do with insecurity and personal capability – because I am not good with ICT, I am really terrified of having to use it to facilitate learning on so regular a basis. Interactive whiteboards honestly put the fear of God into me. I don’t know how to use them, and I don’t particularly want to use them.

I can see the useful side of ICT – it is so much easier to not waste time writing instructions on the board. For SEN pupils (of which I will have many in my classes come September), simple and short instructions on a single slide, with images, are much more effective than oral instruction. I will use ICT when I think it is useful, when it is going to be best for my kids. Despite my lack of computer literacy, I do have some very strong opinions when it comes to good powerpoints; the anger I feel when I see a cluttered slide with clashing colours and difficult fonts is only equalled by the genuine anguish I feel when people misuse apostrophes.

I think if I manage to get some substantial time with an interactive whiteboard, and if I can familiarise myself with the Active Inspire Software over the few free days I have in August, I’ll probably survive. However I still think it’s worth bearing in mind that it may do kids good to have  a break from technology in the classroom whenever possible. Outside of class they are constantly on phones and computers, or watching TV. There’s nothing wrong with the written word, with tactile sheets, with pen and ink. It just takes a lot of guts to go back to basics, guts I hope I’ll be able to hang on to, if only to prove that the book is mightier than the slide.

Ps. Roald Dahl takes a somewhat more extreme view than me, but I still think he may be right.

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust” – late night poetry

I learned a wonderful way of writing poetry the other day, from the founder of First Story, a really wonderful organisation that runs creative writing workshops in UK schools. I’ll try to write about them at more length at another point, but I just wanted to have a place to put my first attempt at using the technique up here.

The basic premise is making random combinations of abstract and concrete nouns, and using their definitions to make a poem. I cheated a tiny bit by not always using the dictionary definitions – but that’s kind of the point. I used an online randomiser to generate the combinations and these are the two poems I came up with.

1. Pain is the organ that keeps you alive,

A daffodil is a strongly felt dislike,

Bravery is a device that keeps you dry in rainstorms,

A candle is the grief of losing someone you love,

Happiness is a clear glass container that holds the cure for dry throats,

A gun is the belief that that person over there is dangerous,

Anger is a piece of cut metal that opens a lock,

Betrayal is a  colour that exists between red and blue.

2. A window is the state of being alone,

Faith is a reflective surface,

A diamond is the quality of being considerate,

Loyalty is a material pulped from trees,

Ice cream is a feeling of exultant contentment,

Love is an ornament worn around the neck,

Coffee is placing your confidence in someone.

It is a LOT of fun to write and makes you realise more than ever the potential magic of words. I can’t wait to teach it to my kids this September!

Concrete nouns used (in no particular order): gun, window, heart, candle, bottle, necklace, coffee, mirror, daffodil, umbrella, paper, key, ice cream, purple, diamond

Abstract nouns used (in no particular order): love, pain, loneliness, happiness, trust, bravery, fear, hatred, faith, anger, joy, loss, loyalty, kindness, betrayal.

In which I compare the British Education system to “The Hunger Games”, because I can

I’ll readily confess that when I first heard tell of The Hunger Games (thanks twitter) I thought it was some kind of extreme pie eating competition. Imagine my disappointment when I found out it was a best selling trilogy with a rabid fanbase. Naturally, I ranted and moaned for a while about “popular literature”, lamenting the conspicuous lack of Austenmania in today’s youth, before actually reading the books and finishing the entire trilogy in about 6 hours. Turned out it was quite good. After all, anything’s better than Twilight. Anything.

The thing about The Hunger Games is that despite not being the most beautifully written triology of all time (I could rant for ages about the epilogue which almost equals The Deathly Hallows in its utter lack of closure and general sloppiness), it is the kind of story that gets into your head and won’t leave. Which is why, several re-reads later, I found myself walking home and all of a sudden thinking, “hey, our education system is kind of like a fight to the death in a world controlled by dictatorial social forces and constrained by poverty to the extent that it can be compared to a dystopian Roman Empire if a dystopian Roman Empire involved loads of puns about fire”.

Let me break it down a wee bit. For those of you who have been living on Mars, the premise of The Hunger Games is an annual televised competition, in which 24 children fight to the death in order to atone for the rebellion of their ancestors who instigating an uprising against the Capitol of Panem, the future America. One victor remains at the end of the Games as a reminder of the Capitol’s good will towards their citizens. The kids are chosen to go into the arena by a randomised ballot (supposedly randomised, anyway) – one girl and one boy, aged between 12 and 18 are selected from each of Panem’s twelve districts.

Here’s the catch: because of systematic oppression at the hands of the Capitol’s power elite, a lot of the districts are poor. Really poor – as in, don’t know where their next meal is coming from poor. Kids can get extra grain and oil for their family (“tesserae”) by putting their name in the ballot more times, which many of them do. So basically, the poorer you are, the more likely you are to get picked – and the more likely you are to die. Hold on to that thought for a sec.

Katniss, the protagonist and narrator, tells us that it’s usually pretty much a given that Districts 1, 2 and 4 will be the ones to have a victor at the end of the Games. The kids in 1 and 2 tend to train in an academy until they are 18 and then volunteer for a shot at the glory.  These kids are known as “Career” tributes. I don’t think it’s ever explained why 4 is on a similar level – but Districts 1 and 2 are closer to the Capitol, geographically and politically. The kids are clearly better fed and richer owing to the industries of their districts. This, along with their extensive formal training, gives them the upper hand in the arena.

By now it might be easier to see where I’m coming from with this comparison. But let’s put the education system into its social context for a brief second:

People living in the poorest neighbourhoods in England will die on average 7 years earlier than people living in the richest neighbourhoods [The Marmot Review / Department of Education 2010]

Remember what I said about poverty in The Hunger Games? It boils down to this: if you’re poor, you’re more likely to get into the arena, and you’re more likely to die than survive. The tagline of the trilogy, and of the Games, is “may the odds be ever in your favour”. In Katniss’ world, at least the authorities come clean about the fact that it is a game of chance. In the games, you may avoid murder at the hands of the other tributes only to die of dehydration.

In our world, in the education system, the odds are equally unstable. You may live close to an excellent school, but your catchment area may mean that you go to a much less good one. You may have superb teachers and support, you may not. You may get help with your homework, have parents who have been educated, live in an area with cultural opportunities and work experience options. But the odds are, if you live in a deprived area of England, you won’t have these things. The odds are not in your favour, because the single greatest indicator of how well a child will do at school in the UK is their parents’ income.

As inThe Hunger Games, this is not always a be-all end-all – after all, Katniss and Peeta are the eventual victors of the 74th Games, despite being from the poorest district, and some kids from deprived backgrounds will excel at school and break out of the cycle of poverty. But the odds of that aren’t great. Only 17% of kids on Free School Meals will go to University compared with 96% of their privately educated peers.

There’s more to be said about this comparison. In the arena, children between the ages of 12-18 fight to the death. Okay, maybe this doesn’t happen literally in schools – but think about it. Our education system as it currently stands is premised, ultimately, on how good one child is compared to the rest of their peers – in their classroom, school and nationally. In other words, kids are judged contextually rather than individually. This is not the same as acknowledging a child’s context in the sense of their background. Rather the system operates on a series of benchmarks which children either meet or fail – and in order for some kids to succeed, or excel at succeeding, other kids have to fail. Not everyone can be a winner. That’s why they are called winners. We talk about “healthy competition” – and maybe that’s okay, to a degree, when you want to motivate kids to do a task quickly, or strive to win points for their school house. But at the end of the day, what we’re actually asking them to do is not simply to be their best, but to be better than everyone else’s best if they want to really shine.

In one of my Teach First Leading Self Workshops (yes I know, gouda with a side order of gruyere), we read an article about what kids bring to school in their metaphorical schoolbag – a love of reading, musical ability, parental support and so on. We went on to have a discussion about policy and whether or not current policy is working. Someone in the group made a really excellent point about how the education system is basically geared towards a certain “type” of kid, and they are the ones who are, from the moment they enter primary school, going to succeed. These are the kids who are read to in English – and have been encouraged to read in English themselves. These are also, generally speaking, the kids whose parents have been educated to a Higher level. The kids who are less likely to succeed may still have a lot in their schoolbag – the example in the article was a kid who spoke three languages (including English, but that wasn’t his first language), loved music and hearing about the history of his parent’s home countries. Yet he is more likely to fail because these are not the schoolbag items that are valued in the educational system, to the same degree as formal abilities sustained by cultural capital.

Going back to The Hunger Games, a narrative of survival, Katniss manages to endure precisely because she has unprecedented access to a skill set that is not usual for a District 12 tribute; her ability to shoot and hunt puts her on a level with the formally trained Career Tributes – although arguably it is her sheer grit which sees her claim the ultimate victory. If we put this model in the education system, surely we would see the same results – kids of all backgrounds have the potential and determination to succeed, but only some of them have the tools to be able to do so.

Despite the fact I’ve spent this time comparing The Hunger Games to the educational system, there are obvious points of diversion. The trilogy is finite, it concludes with the overthrow of the oppressive system and the destruction of the Games. This overthrow comes at a huge price (I won’t spoil it for you, read the damn books) but it still happens. And it happens because the Capitol’s regime has a figurehead, a power source; President Snow. The centralisation of power makes it relatively easy to pull the plug on it, in the end. Same with Voldemort and the One Ring; drain the sources of life, and you kill the centre of darkness.

For us, it’s not so simple. The education system that we currently have is so deeply embedded into our social structures that there is no simple crux, no turning or tipping point, no regulating factor – no horcruxes, no ring, no President. Sure, there are few things I’d like to see more than Michael Gove being trampled to death by an angry crowd, in the same way as Snow meets his demise, but apart from a fleeting sense of relief on my part it wouldn’t do much good for the education system. The means of control exerted by the Capitol is simple; not so for us.

So what do we do? Well, the good news is that we can all do something. One of the things I’m slowly getting used to is that Teach First is only part of a wider solution to this problem of educational disadvantage. It focuses on excellent teaching, as it should – but it is not an overtly political organisation, which is sometimes difficult for me, being the highly opiniated person that you all know and love. Yet we can have influence at a systemic level. Teach First’s Ultimate Goal in 10 years time is to not exist – it is the hope that by then we will have achieved enough as a collective organisation to become unnecessary. By setting the standard for teaching and learning, by driving our kids to raise their aspirations, improve their achievement, and gain access to life options, we may slowly see the system reinvent itself.

I’m pretty terrified of the challenges that lie ahead – and I guess my comparing the education system to a fantasy trilogy is just my way of coping, of mapping my thoughts. I’ve always done that; literature is my lens through which I can look at the world – that’s why I want to be an English teacher, to give other kids that perspective. I think that’s going to be my role in this narrative. It’s Katniss’ father that teaches her how to use her bow and arrow – even if she is the one who eventually leads the revolution. We all need someone to teach us how to shoot straight, after all.

Some people just want to watch the world burn

Twitter is currently spilling over with the news of the horrific mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. A man reportedly calling himself the Joker opened fire on an cinema audience as they  were watching the newly released Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises”. 12 people have been confirmed as dead.

Over the coming days I will no doubt feel anger, as the right wing media inevitaby defend gun possession and refuse to call the shooter what he is – a terrorist – because he is white. I will probably see a lot of people being very opiniated about gun crimeand gun posession, and the effect of violence in films on those who watch them, and calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty. We will no doubt see comparions to Columbine and the Norwegian massacre at the hands of a white supremacist. We will see all these things, and we will try to understand them.

My greatest fear is that we have already seen all that we will know – that a young, university educated man with no reason to hurt or kill anyone – let alone innocent strangers – did so simply because he could. Because he wanted to watch the world burn.

For now, as always, I’m trying to make sense through prayer, and poetry, above all.

From “Killing Time”, by Simon Armitage

Meanwhile, somewhere in the state of Colorado, armed to the teeth with thousands of flowers, two boys entered the front door of their own high school and for almost four hours gave floral tributes to fellow students and members of the staff beginning with red roses strewn among unsuspecting pupils during their lunch hour, followed by posies of peace lilies and wild orchids. Most thought the whole show was one elaborate hoax using silk replicas of the real thing, plastic imitations, exquisite practical jokes, but the flowers were no more fake than you or I, and were handed out as compliments returned, favors repaid, in good faith, straight from the heart. No would not be taken for an answer. Therefore a daffodil was tucked behind the ear of a boy in a baseball hat, and marigolds and peonies threaded through the hair of those caught on the stairs or spotted along corridors until every pupil who looked up from behind a desk could expect to be met with at least a petal or a dusting of pollen, if not an entire daisy chain, or the color-burst of a dozen foxgloves, flowering for all their worth, or a buttonhole to the breast. Upstairs in the school library, individuals were singled out for special attention: some were showered with blossom, others wore their blooms like brooches or medallions; even those who turned their backs or refused point-blank to accept such honors were decorated with buds, unseasonable fruits and rosettes the same as the others.
By which time a crowd had gathered outside the school, drawn through suburbia by the rumor of flowers in full bloom, drawn through the air like butterflies to buddleia, like honey bees to honeysuckle, like hummingbirds dipping their tongues in, some to soak up such over-exuberance of thought, others to savor the goings-on. Finally, overcome by their own munificence or hay fever, the flower-boys pinned the last blooms on themselves, somewhat selfishly perhaps, but had also planned further surprises for those who swept through the aftermath of bloom and buttercup: garlands and bouquets, planted in lockers and cupboards, timed to erupt either by fate or chance, had somehow been overlooked and missed out. Experts are now trying to say how two apparently quiet kids from an apple-pie town could get their hands on a veritable rain-forest of plants and bring down a whole botanical digest of one species or another onto the heads of classmates and teachers, and where such fascination began, and why it should lead to an outpouring of this nature. And even though many believe that flowers should be kept in expert hands only, or left to specialists in the field such as florists, the law of the land dictates that God, guts and gardening made the country what it is today and for as long as the flower industry can see to it things are staying that way. What they reckon is this: deny a person the right to carry flowers of his own and he’s liable to wind up on the business end of a flower somebody else had grown. As for the two boys, it’s back to the same old debate: is it something in the mind that grows from birth, like a seed, or is it society that makes a person that kind?

Education for Leiure – Carol Ann Duffy

Today I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,
a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets
 
I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
we did that at school. Shakespeare. It was in
another language and now the fly is in another language.
I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.
 
I am a genius. I could be anything at all, with half
the chance. But today I am going to change the world.
something’s world. The cat avoids me. The cat
knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself.
 
I pour the goldfish down the bog. I pull the chain.
I see that it is good. The budgie is panicking.
Once a fortnight, I walk the two miles into town
For signing on. They don’t appreciate my autograph.
 
There is nothing left to kill. I dial the radio
and tell the man he’s talking to a superstar.
he cuts me off. I get our bread-knife and go out.

the pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm