This should have been posted yesterday.
Devon is glorious in the Spring. Two months ago the first camellias made an appearance, and some of them are still only now coming into full bloom, with their blazing scarlets and deep reds. I even spotted one with yellow flowers.
Thousands of trees are in blossom, with the first slight appearance of the brilliant white blossoms of flowering cherries this week. Can’t wait to see the cherry blossoms in the gardens of Japan next week.
Meanwhile, in Devon, daffodils and narcissi are everywhere in full bloom, plus the first tulips, and the hyacinths, with their incredible fragrance. There’s also the brilliant yellow of the forsythia and the yellow pom-poms on the shrub whose name I’ve never known.
There’s masses of wallflowers, primroses, and humble white daisies. The first delicate green and red leaves of Japanese maple have started to unfurl. Strange that these fragile-looking acers come into leaf before our more robust native trees, most of which still have their winter bareness. It must be the longer daylight hours that trigger their buds.
There are tiny blue flowers on the rosemary shrubs, and small purple ones on the heather. The gorse is studded with bright yellow. The periwinkle is a mass of purple and dark blue. There are some magnificent magnolias full of creamily exotic flowers, which have always struck me as almost unreal.
By next week there will be the first clematis and a lot more tulips. Still to come are the magnificent blues of the cyanothus trees and the wonderful reds and scarlets of the rhododendrons and azaleas.
Arguably the Spring is even more glorious in this country than the summer, especially if you happen to appreciate blossom on the trees more than green leaves, and if you prefer the varieties of Spring flowers to those of the summer.
This particular Spring has been more glorious than any I can remember. Parts of England have had thirteen consecutive days of bright sunshine and blue skies, as the high pressure system continued to hang around and shield us from the usual cloudy and wet westerly anti-cyclones and the northerly gales.
Zen tells us to pay attention to nature and to learn from nature. Nature, the natural world, has the power to inspire awe and wonder, and through this power to lead us along the Way towards better living, to character development and enlightenment. The mere observation of incredible beauty in both form and colour refreshes and recharges our jaded spirits.
Thanks to the weather and the wonders of Spring it seems to me there’s a change in most people out in the streets, which seem weirdly calm and quiet. And not just in Devon. Last week in Broadway Market in the East End there were masses of people out enjoying the sun, even people picnicking on the grass in London Fields. In March!
Last winter was the best in living memory as well - the coldest overall for a century, but many more bright and sunny days than normal, and the best and deepest snowfalls for decades.
I think it’s more than coincidence that my journeys along 700 miles of motorways and city streets this week, travelling between Devon, London and Hastings, have been as pleasant and hassle-free as I’ve ever known. Well done the drivers of England! Long may it continue!
Year of the Ox
So far the Year of the Ox is living up to expectations.
Last year’s Rat year began a new cycle, and was seismic in many, many ways. The sense of breaking with the past was immense. The near-collapse of capitalism, which has been shaken to its very foundations, echoed the collapse of communism in 1989/90. Huge sums of public money have been poured into repairing and propping up what's left of the old financial system.
The Year of the Rat brought about the beginning of vast numbers of people starting to question old assumptions about values, money, economics, the way they live, and their quality of life.
There was the rise of Obama and the demise of Bush and Cheney. A truly seismic event if ever there was one. The felling of those two arseholes, those twin towers of evil. The World Enslaved Centre, or the World Corrupt and Depraved Centre. The Project for the New American Century! Ha! What a project it turned out to be. The ‘Washington Consensus’ is well and truly a pile of rubble.
Clearly the Ox year is about building on last year’s beginnings, and recreating our world, re-imagining our lives, taking a fresh look at politics, economics, finance, business, social policy, equality, climate change, sustainability, education, etc. Those that don’t participate don’t deserve a say. No play, no say.
Next week, dammit, Oxzen is going to be away on the other side of the planet just as huge events unfold in London - the meeting of the G20 and massive demonstrations in the City and elsewhere, when people will at last take to the streets in an organised way and make clear their demands to what is the nearest we currently have to a World Government. It’s going to be very interesting.
My advice is to book a day’s holiday, wherever possible, and either join in the various demonstrations, or stay at home and watch what happens live on News 24. Or possibly do both. Hopefully the BBC’s coverage of events will be re-run throughout the evening on News 24. There’s bound to be plenty to watch and to think about. There’s a hell of a lot of anger waiting to be expressed, and a hell of a lot of demands to be voiced. This is the Big One.
There were two very good pieces in the Guardian on Monday on pages 24 and 25 under the headline, Grave new world: hard choices leaders face to solve the crisis. It behoves everyone to read carefully and to form their own opinion.
Larry Elliot, the economics editor, “suggests five areas for leaders at next week’s G20 summit to focus on”, in which he describes the need for a new economics, reform of the IMF, tougher global regulation, etc.
Aditya Chakraborty, under the heading ‘The pursuit of happiness’, says: “Forget growth: let’s focus on wellbeing”. Some interesting thoughts there on The Art of Living, which is probably worth a google as well. We’re talking here about rethinking our entire attitude to who we are and why we do what we do, as well as re-making the entire global web of economic and cultural relationships.
Katharine Ainger wrote a good opinion piece in the Guardian this week - on the G20 and 'global social movements'.
Dr Jonathan Sachs
His Thought for Today focused on the transformations that are due to global communication technologies. Are we equal to the challenge of thinking in global terms, realising that we share a common fate? Only by turning outward can we create a movement for change. Moving from national pride to a new age of global responsibility.
More headlines this week about the Primary Curriculum Review and its implications for schools - more right-wing commentators getting hot under the collar about the possibility of teaching kids to use Facebook and Twitter, and dropping the teaching of history. Hilarious. Those bastards sense the beginnings of a fightback against all they’ve done to diminish the rights of children and to destroy the work that had gone on over two or three progressive decades to make education and learning in this country fit for the needs of children in the 21st, and not the 19th, Century.
Not that it was ever fit for purpose, even in Dickens’ lifetime, when the first national network of state-run schools was constructed. Children should NEVER have been so inhumanly treated. They should never have been made to sit passively and silently focused on a teacher who saw his/her role as doling out imperial gallons of facts, and been punished if they failed to do so.
This morning we hear that the NUT and the NAHT have got together to formulate motions which they’ll put to their respective annual conferences this Spring demanding that this year’s KS2 SATs will be the last of them. Leaving aside the fact that these two large and potentially powerful organisations should have done this a decade ago, in fact prior to the imposition of this evil idea, this is incredibly positive news. My flabber is ghasted. This is seismic. I really didn’t imagine, after all this time, that they were up to such sensible collaboration.
Having given the government notice that they’ll no longer collaborate with such anti-child, anti-teacher evil fucking nonsense, it will only remain for their members to have absolutely no further truck with either coaching kids for the tests or indeed implementing them. What’s the government going to do? Sack them all?
Gandhi said this about chasing targets and results:
"He who is ever brooding over the result, often loses nerve in the performance of duty. He becomes impatient and then gives vent to anger and begins to do unworthy things; he jumps from action to action, never remaining faithful to any. He who broods over results is like a man given to the object of senses; he is ever distracted, he says goodbye to all scruples, everything is right in his estimation and he therefore resorts to means fair and foul to attain his end".
If that sounds like New Labour and the majority of Westminster’s political establishment, and their obsessive whipping of public servants towards often unattainable targets and results, then so be it. Ed Balls’ instant repost to the unions’ statement was to the effect that headteachers had better not get involved in any test boycotts because they’ll be breaking the law. Tough talk, Mr Ed.
I wonder what’s better, and which is right - breaking an immoral politician-made law, or doing what’s right for children and teachers? Gandhi would have known. Gandhi took on the whole of the British state and its empire, without resort to arms or violence, and won. He was thrown into prison for his beliefs, and still stuck to doing what he knew was right. Is it too much to expect for headteachers to do the same? Especially if they have the vast majority of the public and parents backing them and urging them to do what is right.
Never mind a ballot of their members for a SATs boycott. The NUT and NAHT need to launch a major campaign against the vile SATs and league tables’ terror and then ballot the English public. No need to bother with Scotland and Wales - they have no truck with SATs anyhow.
Public Sector Workers Unite Against Blunkett!
The Blunk lumbered into action this week with a Guardian column expressing astonishment that the bloody ungrateful public sector workers are telling pollsters that they’re not going to vote New Labour next time. His point is that under a Tory government many of them will lose their jobs through budget cuts, and the bastards should recognise how much the public sector has been expanded under Blair & Brown.
The world’s most hideous politician, (after Hazel Blears - what is it with these Northern twat politicos?), ought to take a moment to reflect on the fact that the public sector workers care more about the people they serve and being true to their own professionalism than they do about looking after their own job security. For that they deserve applause.
Cameron has said that the NuLabour targets regime is vile and must be scrapped, and professionalism and local autonomy must be restored to the public services. So why not vote for him? What’s not to vote for? Blunkett, of course, as a dinosaur trade unionist thinks only in terms of how many jobs he can create or preserve for ‘the workers’ - what he sees as operatives in miserable results factories.
He can’t understand either that many of us have very long memories and we still hate his guts (and Blair’s, and NuLabour’s) for what he did to education post-1997 - not only retaining Woodhead as his stick to beat the teaching profession, but going even further than the Tories would have done in micromanaging education through central diktat, publishing league tables, making Ofsted even more nasty and vindictive, payment and promotion by results, focusing exclusively on test and exam data, etc, etc.
We remember well his words to those who work in the most challenging schools - “No excuses for failure.” We’ll never excuse his failures, or those of NuLabour, through over 10 years of nasty neo-conservative dictatorship.
The only way we’d vote for his party next time would be if they came out and recanted, admitted that they’ve done all the wrong things, and declared their intention to reverse all their policies on running the public services, including privatisation and marketisation.
But that won’t happen. As the Blunk says in his column, “The government has to avoid blinking”. So carry on Blunking. Blinking is something the Blunk will never do. Never has, never will. His belief in his own infallibility is absolute. And he pays no attention whatever to what every sane, intelligent person had been saying for years.
His, and NuLabour’s, approach to improving public services has been entirely on the Soviet model. Invest in setting up more and more collective farms and tractor factories. Install compliant managers who agree to chase output targets. Give them precise directions as to how to achieve their targets. Punish them ruthlessly if they fail to reach their targets (No excuses for failure), and then wonder why the bloody ingrates hate them and rebel against them, plus the tractors are rubbish and crop production generally diminishes. Animal Farm indeed.
This week sees the reopening of the newly refurbished and extended Whitechapel gallery. A full-sized tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica, which normally hangs in the United Nations building in New York, is the centrepiece of the first exhibition of the gallery. This is clearly a must-see show, and it’s brilliant that the gallery has had these improvements.