Wednesday, 17 May 2017


                                                                                             Response given to 'Stage RAW':

I wandered into the Bootleg theatre on the recommendation of a friend and discovered a powerful combination of excellent writing, several hard-hitting performances and a couple of superb vignettes on the subject of this all too present issue. The 90 minutes flew by. I not only saw a well-observed relationship (tightly acted - auto-pilot clearly disengaged) which subtly revealed all the realistic awkwardness of a couple on the last legs of a relationship, but it was the accuracy of the friendship observed between the two female leads that blew me away - here we see all the tension, cut-throat competitiveness and surprise compassion between two female actors faced with an industry masterfully personified by a man in a Chesterfield.  To sum up that scene as 'fun' is a little simplistic in my view; in fact to say these issues have been addressed before is also a little reductive; so no more plays and films on 'the industry' and it's tribulations? 

It would be all too easy to create a play that focuses far too earnestly on its chosen issue, and I've seen plenty that do; but this doesn't at all. This is a story told with purpose, but what made it special for me was how it mixed this with humour, pace and a genuine subtlety of observation for the way people react in a competitive world.  I've no idea how such chemistry was created, but you really should witness this.


Thursday, 3 September 2015

New posts - my Acting stories - see below and the page to the right...

I'm going to post my acting stories online - feel free to comment - unless you're a h8ter...

Saturday, 2 May 2015

A week of teaching...

I get an email from middle boss after dutifully putting requested work on her desk - go see the boss please...  sounds ominous.

Okay so, the idea is to give you an insight as to why you don't hear from me very often and why, perhaps, I bleed from the ass on a regular basis and hey, just how are things with you lately?  Well, lately I don't go to many of those parties either so don't need to reply with 'bleeding from the ass actually...' amongst other things.

Amongst 'other' things being me frenetically trying to get all the coursework in at the college - that's 307 separate pieces of coursework accounted for, signed for, annotated with my red pen of wisdom, hole punched, cover sheeted and connected via those little green bastards called 'laundry tags' and - oh yeah - assessed for a grade that may ruin the next ten years of the students' life or enable them to move on with a degree, MA, Phd and house  in the country with two beautiful children and a people carrier.  So no real pressure here to get this done but let's just say I've been on this since the 1st April; phoning, emailing students who've forgot, didn't know, didn't realise, didn't care, didn't live on the same planet but are still very ready to point out where the blames lies when the big fat 'E' comes through their door on the 21st August.

Fuck 'em you say; yeah why should we bother?  Because if we don't get the grades then the college looks bad, gets less funding, less students elect to go here, they close the course, the college rationalises and I end up looking for work.

So, back to the boss.  With several piles of coursework surrounding me and trying to plan lessons at the same time, I head down to see what he wants.  The look is similar to one used if you're due a beheading, he calls in his fat, nodding assistant, also sporting the look of a coming execution.  Stay calm, think through your reply...

'I'd like you to explain what this is...'  miraculously the  work I gave to middle boss is now on big bosses desk - a set up!  And she asked so nicely.  You mean the Formal Assessments - that's what I have set this week..'   (oh, by the way, on top of the 307 pieces of life changing coursework and lesson planning, there's also the formal assessment needs setting and marking 'within one week please...' problem is I teach Film GCSE and AS, English Literature AS and A2 and GCSE English.  That's quite a few formal assessments - but hey - know what?  I got in ahead of the game and set them, marked them, stuck them on the computer all within the week - ah - wrong.

Seems like I set the wrong questions.

'Why did you not set the full exam like your manager asked?'  So that's why she asked for my exam papers and ran. His tie is multi coloured, his triangle of colour sticks from his upper lapel, his brightly polished brogues edge out from the garish blue of the made to measure suit.  He sends his kids to private school, wouldn't dream of trusting them to us.

'I didn't know we had to - I thought - as per all formal assessments - we set the question we think is proper and maybe, as the expert (he doesn't teach - tried it for two years and went into management)   we might be trusted with setting the right question suitable for the students at their stage of the course?  Which is section B, which is what they've been studying' (because I'm their teacher), because you don't teach, because you have no idea what stage they're at.

'Have some respect' says the fat assistant head, hands knotted across her stomach.  'Respect?' My voice is too high, my cheeks grimacing, my teeth are baring, all too much.  'Yes I taught IT for eight years and I know about workload', 'that's not the same subject, that's not nearly the same amount of coursework - why don't both just get behind us teachers instead of constantly finding fault?'  She narrows her eyes and takes an intake of breath - something she must regularly do with students but doesn't expect to have to with teachers; but then again, she's decided to go along with Mister No Experience across the room, she will come face to face with angry 'workers' like me.  Must me very annoying for her.

'Did you not read her email?'

Of course I bloody didn't.  Middle manager held such bad weekly meetings which descended into shouting chaos after thirty seconds she was told to send an email - the email was largely the same seven pages of generic crap every week with the odd hidden demand somewhere along para 37b.  Well, you know what?  Didn't manage to read it this week - she knew I wouldn't - the trap was set - I even collected the evidence for her; might have been something to do with 307 pieces of coursework, marking the formal assessments and perhaps even planning those pesky annoying lessons we're supposed to spend 1.5 hours on planning for every hour we teach.   I teach 22 hours, so that's 32 hours planning - 57 hour week before I mark the homework and coursework? - Yeah - don't be daft.

'So you want me to set a full exam - for every student?'

'Yes'  Assistant nods sagely to my left hand side.

'Not physically possible' My reply.

I calculate the existing 55-60 hour week and add a whole new set of Formal assessments into the bargain.

'Every other department has done it'

'Every other department doesn't need 25 minutes to mark each essay'

(It's gonna be a 71 hour week, by the way, I'm paid £28000 for this)

'I need to known when'.

The Sociology teachers pitch up, do not react quite so aggressively, explain like naughty schoolboys. It's like we've been called into the headmaster's office, the problem is that this is someone actively destroying what's necessary to help these students pass.

So... march out - set the new full exams.

Second year A level students on Monday?  They just do it - good on 'em.

First year students on Tuesday - eleven of them march out.  Tears, anger, depression, panic attacks. Yeah I know what you're thinking, get a grip etc.  But this is their exam, they've just lost two hours of valuable revision.  Their walking out the lesson maybe their own fault, but it didn't need to happen, it shouldn't have happened.

I don't report it, because she'll somehow turn this into a bigger problem and I just don't trust the witch anymore.

She puts an invite on my desk - 'come to my birthday...'

I decide that silently getting on with this mad workload is the answer - kicking up a fuss and saying I've got too much on will only make things worse with such arseholes.   And the ass is now bleeding on a regular basis.  Stress related they'll say.  You think?

Thursday - I plan my speech to the first year A level and deliver.  'Do not interrupt me for the first five minutes' I give them the talk about loyalty, I'm a loyal teacher but I expect loyalty from my students despite unreasonable, no-notice requests to sit full mock exams; that might mean an apology before walking away, an attempt at the paper, but not storming out, metaphorically flicking the Vees. Ironically as I give the speech I realise I'm explaining to fifteen people why I do this job; that I want to do it, that I used to have a better paid job, that their constant attempts at progress, at homework, at persevering; at politely listening to my tedious speeches and anecdotes for ten months... and then throw in an inspirational (practised in the toilet - fourth time that day) 'together we could be the highest achieving class in the country - if we could all just get a 'C' or above'. They get it.  I'm drained.  It's five minutes into the lesson, feels like Friday afternoon and I'm exhausted and ready to cycle home.

As I do a one to one interview with one of the students they say they knew I was being forced to carry out a stupid request and that it wasn't personal, but I realise it's hit home and I almost shed tears with emotional relief and have to turn away and wipe my glasses. They individually apologise because they're decent, intelligent individuals and I'm ready to lay down my life for them all over again.  But all this was an unnecessary trial which hasn't helped their preparation for the exam one jot, it's just got in the way.

Oh and the coursework?  Haven't touched it - 60 essays later this week and there's still twelve to go (that's a few hours marking), so what about the students' essential coursework?  It's forty per cent of their mark...  strange how the middle manager isn't about to answer such problems.  'Smile everyone' she'll say as she wanders in.

Bank holiday weekend - but the weekly memo (which I read from cover to cover) stipulates all mock exam results are due online by Tuesday, so you know what I'm doing this weekend - not writing this bastard blog.   I need to go to the toilet...




Saturday, 10 January 2015

Ode on a Documentary

My Dear Arena,
Icon of the '80s
Your pink neon sign
Beckons from the bottle
Like a disco welcome
From a Pompey Nightclub
Saturday Night

My Arts Education
Is down to you,
Drifting by, like the
Message in a bottle
On BBC 2
That I didn't notice
Then couldn't reach

My Dear Arena,
Thursday, late.
Just in from Air Cadets
I had other things to do.
I'm so sorry.
If only I'd picked you up