A Fountain in Berlin

In her National Book Award acceptance speech, Ursula K. Le Guin said: ‘Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Et9Nf-rsALk

And that was the final thing I needed to hear on my internal debate on what to do with my third novel. So I have taken the step and simply made it available on Kindle and Lulu, rather than ‘publishing’ it in any way.

So, what is this novel about? It’s called A Fountain in Berlin, by the way.

It is about living with hope and kindness in a terrible world. And so it is about: the imagination, which makes that possible. The imagination sets us free, because that it how we create a world that is different from the one we live in, we imagine better ways to be, better ways to treat each other better ways to live in kindness and hope – we imagine freedom and then we find it and live it.

I cannot think of anything that is more important in the world today, or anything that is more under threat – right here in the so-called free world that is rapidly enslaving its people to commerce and a frighteningly gormless pursuit of leisure, which costs us our lives, our individuality and too often our integrity.

In the world of the novel, which is mostly the world we live in too, the imagination takes the form of music. And the main characters are a young girl and her traveller grandmother in Nazi and then Cold War Berlin. There is also a clarinet.

Le Guin finishes her speech with: ‘We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.’

A Fountain in Berlin I am hoping is my first step into that freedom.

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Word subterfuges

One of my many long-suffering colleagues was working on a document today called a ‘staff capability policy’ and I felt quite strongly that the words ‘capability policy’ were an oxymoron – or at least to some extent contradictory. I am not sure exactly why this should be. I have an abiding and deep-seated suspicion of the word policy and really do think it capable of all kinds of subterfuge and camouflage of less than savoury ideas.

The word seems to be invoked when actions need to be justified about which the perpetrator feels uncomfortable on a human and humane level – the policy is then used to explain the apparent necessity of the action, e.g. cutting someone’s hours or letting them go. Despite its lofty origins from ‘polis’ city via citizen and prudent conduct ‘policy’ has still now landed on ‘a written statement of a contract of insurance’; and with that falls squarely within the remit of cowardice. It becomes all too clearly something to fall back on when humanity and indeed capabilities have failed!

‘Capabilities’ on the other hand is a happy confident word, suggesting cheerfully power and skills and resources. 

One clearly does not need a policy for capability; one needs it for incapacity and therein lies my sense of the contradiction lurking within the deadening power of such official euphemisms.  Staff Capability Policies are not for capability but for incapability but are, in that bureaucratic way, too cowardly to say so.


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Lies, damn lies

Lies, damn lies.

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“Teaching read…

Literacy at the school where I teach is a hot topic currently: we’re not very good at it: below national average apparently on various yardsticks of reading proficiency.
What to do about it?
At secondary school, few teachers are equipped to teach reading explicitly – and as Louisa Moats says: it IS rocket science. Because teaching reading is teaching thinking, is teaching the interpretation of the world and all it throws at one – and there is no ‘just’.
There is no ‘if they could just learn spelling/verb constructions/punctuation/word recognition they would somehow magically be able read.
There are so many aspects of it – and if it has been neglected there are years of frustration to combat, too.
How can we give back to these children the joy, the power and the freedom of being able to read?
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It’s March

when willows green yellow

and casual grace throws white

round naked branches

when almost is a yearning earth

of never quite forgotten

urgent  hugely returning

delicate surge

of  pulses quickening



waiting and aching


how brief the blaze

of almost

must be

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For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

Song of Solomon


a mistranslation – it seems – for turtle-doves

and a smug glee in scholars

till curiosity leads to

creaky quacks    grunts    squeals

and oddly plaintive trills

by which these carapace-d ancients

call from their solitary habits

for yearly company


and after the anxious blind scramble through warm-dark sand

turtle-song is not in sound but sea

the pulse of plankton-surge

diving  and  swelling  in  weightless  chords

to doze long days in the contented

wordless companionship of birds



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Reading Homer

I dreamed of Ithaca I think

and knew it not

after much swimming    in circles

round a famed-for-wonders city without gates

through rising speeding water full of

small and slimy things

terribly dangerous


on the seventh round

I saw perilous alps and caves of startling blue

where couchant lay a giant snow-white goat

on slopes too steep for horses

serenely licking ice

as my father’s wildebeest

once licked salt

its face was human

and his place was home


I could not go to him

swam on    dream-driven

then woke

and dared to name

where I had not quite been