The Maids


Yet again politicians are messing around with the school examination system. Michael Gove, who seems to me an utter fool, but more frightening – an utter fool with a fundamental religious and political cause, who could well be a future PM, and who wants to take exams back to a dark age.

Everyone, especially males over 40, think that the system they were educated in was better and harder than children get today. Have people like Gove actually studied or worked in the exam system in the last 30 years?

I doubt it.

The exams are not perfect and need some work on them to improve them. The best people to do this are the teachers and academics who currently work on them. Too many seem for instance to be able to study the same book or play twice, the rise of the Nazi’s seems the main topic for history, but these are minor adjustments.

Gove and his supporters want everything to depend on the 3-4 hour examination. This is not real life, does he make decisions and stick to them after just a few hours? Perhaps he does, but sane people discuss, look at other options, investigate.

I am 59, so took a timed exam, everything depended on them. The course work hardly mattered (except oddly in art), and this suited me. I was very lazy at school, I found exams easy, I didn’t bother with any revision, I always had a belief that if it had gone in, it had – if it hadn’t, it hadn’t. I did OK getting top grades in a few subjects I liked, and low grades in the ones I didn’t. I was not a good student, until I left school and went to art school/college, then I worked very hard and diligently.

In the time I took exams and until the present system came in the worry was that girls/young women did not do well under the pressure of the timed exam, considerable resources were put into dealing with this, the present system partly came out of that. Now boys don’t do well and resources are pumped into reversing that.

About 10 years ago I went to the local college and started an ‘A’ Level Drama course (I was nearly twice as old as the teacher!). This was examined through a combination of course work and a written exam. It was much broader than my old exams, from the first week we were expected to keep notes and do work towards the final stages, in my school days I would have hated it, but as I was doing this for ‘fun’ it was hard but enjoyable work, I couldn’t just amble along and trust to my genius in the exam!

As an aside we did a performance of Genet’s The Maids and as only males (mainly 17-18) were left on the course, I suggested we do it in prison uniforms, as if it was done when Genet was in prison, some of the others wanted to do it in drag, but after discussion we went with the uniforms and made the set very simple, and I played Madame which was a sight to behold. I’ve always liked Genet and my understanding is that he wanted The Maids played by an all-male cast.

So Mr Gove, what is needed are exams which can show people know the facts and theories, but also mirror the real world of collaboration, research, understanding. You and the other politicians need to allow those who really know about education to decide on how we examine the different abilities of children, which needs to be realistic along with pushing the breadth of what they learn. I do not want to see people discarded at 11, 16 or 18 just because they did not do well for three or four hours in their life.

Today’s photograph on a mild cloudy day is of part of a disused kiln factory in Tunstall, which thinking of The Maids would make an interesting stage set.



Father’s Day


An e-mail was in my box this morning from Pinterest to encourage me to get my father to make a ‘wish list’ for Father’s Day. As I don’t believe in ghosts or the afterlife that would be rather difficult as he died in early 1980, he was 72. So I am putting together a Pinterest board for and about him ( which I will add to as time goes on.

I have written a few things in my poetry about the grief I felt at the time (click the link on this page). There is no sadness now after all he would have been 105 this year! For me it was more a case that at 25 I had only just grown up, gone was the teenage rebellion and a more considered rebellion stirred in my head. I hadn’t really talked to him, for instance about why throughout his life he had been a vegetarian, and I think we all regret not talking more to our parents, when they die we have so many unanswered questions. I knew his love of music, especially Bach and his considerable ability not only to play but compose, he could write music without hearing it and know a piece of music from a score; his painting and drawing; walking and climbing; a love and detailed knowledge of organs, railways, astronomy, maps, sailing ships. He had been a lecturer in Maths and was a brilliant student going to University even though his father worked on the railways, unusual in the 1920’s. He was quite stunning in his mathematical ability, that is not just a son talking, and was able to do considerable complex calculations in his head. I don’t know if it was showing off, but he beat the early computers in calculations and used to look at car number plates and tell you all sorts of mathematical things about the numbers and letters.

There was a distant side to him and an inability to appreciate newer music, art, film and I never knew him to read a novel. Things were facts. However he encouraged my working in art and the abstract questioning which came through that, and I remember the pride he had when he came to Cardiff College of Art for my degree show. 

Father’s Day wasn’t really something that we did, it seems to have become a big thing in the past ten years or so, another way to sell trash and cards. I often think that with his abilities he could have done more, he taught in schools before going to the Technical College which then morphed into a Polytechnic and is now Staffordshire University. But he was devotedly happily married and keenly pursued his interests. I remember how good he was as a musician, he played a few times as accompanist to Kathleen Ferrier when she performed at the Victoria Hall, and played the organ every Sunday at church, putting together a considerable body of music following the church calendar. So he did what he wished, his teaching gave him the resources to pursue maybe what he really wanted to do, he could easily have worked in ‘The City’ and made a fortune, but he played his music, studied trains, painted his watercolours and even had his own pipe organ at home, so maybe that is the lesson he taught.

ImageToday’s photographs are of a black gate in Tunstall in the backs near my flat and a wall of a disused factory in Hartshill.


Sweets for my efforts


Yesterday I went to Burslem School of Art for the Prize Giving at the Open For All Exhibition run by Photographers Collective North Staffordshire. I had entered three photographs and was awarded Highly Commended which entailed a certificate and a very nice box of home made sweets. That was the first prize for anything I had received since I won the Leek Schools Art Competition in 1965, with a painting of a Port Vale player scoring a goal. So I was suitably delighted.


Two of the photographs have appeared in previous blogs and a third came from November of frosty leaves (above), which someone actually wanted and many seemed to like very much. Which again I was very pleased about.

What made this ‘competition’ special was that it was limited to 6”x4” photographs (postcard size), which meant it was open not just to those who had smart cameras and the money to pay for large prints, but to all. All three of mine were taken on my Sony Experia phone and cost nothing to print as I took up a special offer. Looking at mine, the one so many liked, it really needs to be larger, and I will look into seeing the quality if enlarged to A3, the others are smaller in detail.

It was an interesting show and the format certainly brought together a wide range of experience and abilities, it also, as Tony said, made people look closely, not just walk by. Photos could be sold but I put on mine that if people wanted one then send me an e-mail with an interesting reason, only the leaves has been ‘scooped’ up.

I’m not a fan of competitions, I remember being on the selection committee for the Raymond Williams Award for Community Publishing, which had a considerable financial prize. There were around 120 books entered, three stood out for me as worthy winners and fitted the criteria. When we eventually got together, all four of us had a completely different shortlist, in fact two had chosen books which I felt didn’t even fit the criteria. Eventually we agreed on a winner, a collection  from a writers’ group which none of us had shortlisted and we all felt was a compromise!

I don’t think anything like that happened in the Burslem event.

It’s an odd thing ‘winning’ or in my case being ‘placed’. I am not competitive, and yet I love watching sports which are totally competitive and desperately want to see my team win, or on TV teams I don’t like lose, it is often the only time I truly let go, certainly not when I am creating art, that just creates more stress, I do not really enjoy the process of writing or creating art, as it never comes out as I initially envisaged it, perhaps if it did I would not want to create again!




Looking Upwards

One of the lovely things about Spring is looking upwards from the base of trees at the new leaves shining bright green in the sun and the contrast with the trunk and branches. Today I took just a couple of shots as I was walking into Tunstall on a bright cloudy day, cool wind but mild. When I was getting them ready for this blog I looked at them in black and white as well, so I have put them in here as well.




Sunday Photographs




The top photo was taken at about 10.15am, the dandelions have gone through their first phase. The middle  is the wall by my kitchen. It is the only place in the ‘garden’ where anything grows as the remains of the potbank that makes up the garden are so bad. Around now either my neighbour or I start to clear this area on the top of the wall. This was taken on a sunny cool morning which should be getting warmer at 9.15am.  The bottom another taken at 10am and more bark!

Leek School of Art – memories revived


Yesterday afternoon I went to Leek and stopped outside my old college Leek School of Art, where I went in 1970 at the age of 16, and spent probably the most influential three years in my life. I stopped just to take a photograph outside, when I saw they had some of the plaster casts that inhabited the School in the foyer, I moved closer.


One of the current staff kindly suggested I go in and we had a chat about why I was there and my time there. I couldn’t stay long, so just took a few shots.

It was a quite overwhelming feeling, not of nostalgia, but of memory. I have previously written about the smell of oil paint which filled the senses when I first entered the corridor, that wasn’t there, but the quality of light in the old life room was.


ImageThis was late afternoon and looking at what I took there is a sense of pervasive calm and timelessness. In my time the cherub strangling the swan was next to the entrance door and in what I thought an amusing act of defiance I used to tie my scarf on it each day. I took little notice of these casts, they were left over from another era, and yet are still there overseeing the struggles of potential artists.


Leek School of Art was built in the bowels of The Nicholson Institute an Art Nouveau influenced building as can be seen on the gate of an attached building. The town was famous for textiles so design and arts skills very important. When I went most people were beginning a career in design or craft skills, fine art was less common then. The staff possessed very high quality technical skills and these they tried to pass on, I was not greatly receptive, I wanted a freedom of action, maybe not realising at the time that you can’t really have the freedom without learning the skills first, just look now at Damien Hurst.

I am reasonably pleased with these photographs and I asked to return to make more considered photographs. They will soon move and nearly 150 years of history will cease. But I hope the architects of the new building retain the qualities of light available to the students, it is so important, the large north facing windows offer a true light hard to find in new buildings.

The photographs were taken at 4.30 on a blustery bright afternoon.


These double gates were taken at a disused factory in Tunstall yesterday at about 7pm, the light was going but was adding to the colour. It reminded me of an abstract expressionist painting.


It also had a musical feel. It could be a score or stage set from the days when Cage and Rauschenberg were experimenting with Merce Cunningham. But it is just a 10ft tall rusting gate losing its paint but adding so much more!