Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Because You're Worth It

Phil Beadle is very cross. Last week on Can't Read, Can't Write, he was cross because he attended a lesson for English as an Additional Language, and found it boring. He felt the learners weren't learning anything. The woman who ran the course pointed out that they had results which suggested they did. Mr Beadle went off and smouldered.

Then he attempted to teach his adults and I became very cross. I became cross with his insistence that the school system has exclusively failed these people. Maybe it has failed some of them. But not Linda. Linda is old (46) and she is by turns truculent and weepy. Linda is the kind of person who, when she finally learns to read, complains that the world is full of words and she can't shut them out. Linda is a pain in the arse.

Phil spends the first episode dancing around Linda like a lovesick schoolboy. He gives her special learning tools - albeit pipecleaners - and tells her that her "barriers to learning" are not in her, but in the way she's taught. There are only nine people in the class, and yet Linda is getting taught on her own. In the second episode, Phil attempts to explain commas in a traditional "chalk and talk" sesh, and, rude as usual, Linda first interrupts and barracks the lesson, and then storms out to the accompaniment of Phil saying he's pissed off with "this" (which I took to be her behaviour). This viewer very much concurred.

When he visits her and eats humble pie she tells him that she lost all respect for him when he did that, as he should be the adult. It seems to have escaped Linda's notice that, at 46, (older than her teacher), she has long left behind the privileges of childhood. Being a learner does not mean you are supposed to be a social or emotional child, or a rude shithead. Still, what does it matter, as a calligrapher was despatched to help Linda at home, and a lesson of spacehoppers planned for her greater engagement.

Meanwhile, James, 28, whose mother won't help him and who has taken sick days off with stress about his failure to do his homework, is still sitting in his corner feeling confused. Because he is not a shit.

This is one of the things that pisses me off about the education system in this land; pains in the arse get more attention. Poor behaviour and vile manners are consistently rewarded. And this begs the question, well, are they worth it? I think not. Some people are just difficult and selfish, and as children they crap all over the learning of their classmates, and as adults they turn into self-righteous souls whose fault it never is. Treating them like little nuggets of gold does nobody any favours except them. Others, like James, make no trouble, and are marginalised and ignored as a result. Look who isn't learning.

I know that this is perilously close to talking about the "undeserving poor", but some people choose to be horrid, and why anybody owes them anything is beyond me. Teach the nice. The selfish should be sent off to think on their sins. Because if we have 5 million functionally illiterate people, and some are slow and some are just a pain in the arse, the odds are the slow ones are being held back, and the teacher driven to nervous breakdown, by the mouthy selfish ones (who are ALWAYS in a numerical minority, in my experience.)

And who's worth it? The utilitarian answer is surely to teach those who are willing to try and not those who aren't. Looking at Linda, it seems all they want is a wider consumer choice of grievance, and surely that they will find with or without education.

For further information - the link below deals with Euro-wide illiteracy. Quake with fear, Eurolings.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Love on a Knife Edge

This week I am besotted with Sweeney Todd - the film rather than the man, so you may relax; I shall not be going to get my legs shaved and returning legless below the knee, pursued by a short lady selling foot-burgers. ("Eat your own legs, Mrs?") Good thing too, for doubtless I would be quite unable to evade her, in my new semi-pinless state.

Anyway, it's been a long week of repeated viewings, because it's an admirable hairpiece. Of course it's pretty - it's Tim Burton - but it's also mordantly funny, with wit and a perfectly plotted tragic structure.

I myself think Mr Todd is much misunderstood; after all, he has had to put up with his own kidnapping as well as that of his nearest and dearest, false charges and imprisonment, deportation, the rape of his wife by the judge who framed him, and the fifteen year imprisonment of his daughter by said judge to boot. Obviously the whole family are quite mad, but encountering the moustache-twirling Judge Turpin would drive anybody to the edge. Much to my regret Mr Rickman did not sing in Latin about how bad he feels for letching after his ward while oggling her through a peephole in the wall, wanking and beating himself with a frayed and knotted rope - which I would have paid good money to see. (It's apparently in the original; I did not come up with that fine orchestration myself. Maybe I shall just pay good money to the New York Metropolitan Opera to see somebody else do it sometime. It's in the repertory.)

Unfairly, he metes out the same punishment to all; the innocent, the guilty of some small untruths, or the guilty as Judge Turpin, and this makes me feel a bit sad - although also shriek with demonic larffter as he does a lot of it while singing wistfully about how he misses his daughter.

And here is the true greatness of the piece; it is unreal. Some very serious things have been written about Sweeney and capitalism, social mobility and his failure to address his problems in a mature and 21st century way ("He has choices"). These rather miss the point. All very well to gloat on about how capitalism encourages people to poo on the heads of others, but it misses the point of what it does - which is tragedy. With a lot of dark comedy and sung counterpoint on the way. Really, you should see it.

This week has also been notable for its lack of Getting Out Of Bed and Getting On With It, so I am posting this just to prove to myself I'm still here. Apologies if it's rather pedestrian.

Monday, 7 July 2008

The Wrong Pants

Okay, anybody who Really Cares about sport is a bit nuts and probably a prey to their hormones (ie testosterone) because none of it actually matters one iota. Still, for the last week of June and the first of July in England, a lot of the population is nuts, and for once, including me. So I have something to say about the tennis.

I have watched Wimbledon with various levels of fervour ever since I was ten years old, when I went to tea with a girl so cool her television-making mum let her have people over with nobody else in, and we ate cucumber spread on white bread and watched tennis with the wonder of children still enraptured by the glory that was colour television, and the heady sense of adulthood that lone tea and tv inspired. I treasured the wins of Boris Becker, yawned and switched over from Pete Sampras, and fell asleep during Edberg; and for the last few years I have squeaked "Too good!" in chorus with commentators during many a Federer rally.

Federer is a funny faced little thing, with his squashy nose and hiding teeth, but I have warmed to him over the years - in spite of his tedious consistency - for two reasons. Firstly, he is invariably one of the gracious and the generous. It's hard to watch a Federer match without disquisitions on his charitable work (presumably to reclaim his reputation as he straight-set -squashes opponents on-court like so many flies). In interview he is polite and rather dull. He sets a good example for sportspeople, many of whom behave extremely badly - in some cases to the extent of sexual and physical assault. Not so Mr Roger. His recreations are mainly buying lovely new suits. Who doesn't love a man with nothing to prove?

Secondly because he is not only a brilliant placer of the ball - someone who can create beautifully unreturnable shots, exquisitely placed in the corner or on the line, who can move about and return shots that lesser players wave to as they go by, who can surprise the viewer with his ability to out-think somebody sitting on a sofa and find the time to do it - but because he moves with such elegance. He is a big teddy bear type bloke with a lot of body fur, but when he plays a backhand, he adopts a pose famous mainly in ballet (an attitude) and sculptures of Eros or Cupid. Ridiculously but truly, he is graceful.

For these reasons, I can forgive him an awful lot. And on finals day, he graciously wore white underwear, which was a relief. Nadal always does, but he is troubled by his mighty muscular beefcake bottom. He is a bull of a boy, with an arse too powerful to be comfortable in its trowsis, and the amount of time he spends picking his Nike plus fours out of his bumcrack beggars belief and sometimes holds up play. If I were Nike, I would be busy redesigning his shorts, but to be fair, his pants are serious and appear to be about the same size as your average Spanx Magic Knickers. Maybe they were magic, too, while plainly Mr F was not wearing his lucky pants. We saw them in earlier rounds, and they aren't white. Nuff said.

Which brings us to the deep disappointment of his loss yesterday. I accept that he would have to lose sometime, and there would be no other giant killer than Rafael Nadal - likewise a poster boy for good manners and charming behaviour, clearly the perfect escort for Miss Robson to the Champions' Dinner UNLIKE SAFIN WHO IS 28 DAMMIT - who could bring him down. I also accept that Rafael Nadal, who has been writing a delightful blog for the Times Online this year, in which his Home-Loving Charm has been on daily view, is probably a relatively nice person to be beaten by, and that the crowd just adore him. He is young, devoted to his family, works as hard as nails, and he deserves his victory; but I was not impressed by his fans' behaviour yesterday.

Federer actually blew the match by not challenging a couple of bad calls at psychologically key moments, and by dumping many many balls in the net, which he does not usually do. To some extent this was as much a match lost by Federer as won by Nadal. But he cannot have been assisted by the untimely shrieks of "Come on!" to Nadal in mid-stroke, or the calling of "Out!" during rallies. If the spectators can't behave, they can watch on telly.

I also didn't like the chanting of "Rafa! Rafa!" between points. For the first time, I felt the crowd at Wimbledon was ungentlemanly. I felt it a bit during Murray's matches, but frankly the Brits need all the help they can get, and since there is no prospect of them blundering into a final, it seems less important. (One hopes the will French shriek for M Gasquet at least as loudly should a re-match occur at Roland Garros.) Still - there is no need for it to turn into football. One should watch the tennis, as much as enjoying supporting the players. Especially when I (alone) am in a proper English manner supporting the underdog, without the aid of lucky pants.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Who Knows?

I am not enjoying the Three Part Finale bit of Dr Who as much as I have some of the heretofore. I wasn't even before I started fretting about the possible loss of David Tennant. I recognised its general slide in the his'n'hers episodes. The Doctor Alone episode was pretty good, but Donna's was quite a load of old poo poo. It was riddled with inconsistencies and liberal pseudo-political nonsense. It felt like Torchwooden.

And now all those Extra Characters invented for spin-offs have resurrected themselves and are running about Saturday PrimeTime like they have a right. We're all Extra Glad Owen and Tosh bought it at the end of Torchwood now. But still - have to put up with Wooden Faced Gwen and Scared Face Martha and monkey muzzled sex dwarfette Rose, whom I continue to loathe, even now she has been improved by the addition of a very big gun. She blew the head off a dalek, mind, and one feels a sneaking admiration for anybody who does that - allied to an indignant wish to know why she hasn't brought more of this fine arsenal to Arm The Whole Human Race. When she isn't atomising daleks or worrying about the end of the universe, she takes time out to scare off looters - it's all about priorities and compromise. I can't warm to her.

Fortunately, I have been happily engaged with Criminal Justice this week. I am pleased to note that some idiot high up in the legal profession is Very Upset by it, which proves that he does not have enough to do, and that the writer is doing something right. How ridiculous, to be upset by a bit of grainily lit telly. Thought Judges were clever - my mistake. Of course it's not an accurate depiction of everyday life in the legal system; it's drama. Entertainment. BBC1 at 9 o'clock for heaven's sake. Does the man think that Holby City is a transcript of a day in a hospital, or Hotel Babylon a true reflection of the hospitality industry? Ridiculous Gudgeon.

The most amusing thing about it all is Ben's runaway success with the Laydeez - more impressive with his current tootsie defending him against accusations of the last one's murder. Ben Whishaw is a very good pick for a lead, because where most of the leads one sees are so breathtakingly beautiful that it's like looking at an Armani suit - you know you'll never bring yourself to pay a four figure sum for it, and half the wonder is that you can never have it - Whishaw is more Miss Selfridge than Miss Dior, and you are pretty sure you could find one of those on the high street - or the pub - for three pints and a packet of jelly babies.

Don't know you'd want to take him home, mind.