Reading and Thinking

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Reading and Thinking is a primary reader with stories and poems for all ages and ability levels from 5-9, with pencil illustrations. Paperback from Amazon: Here is the start of one of the more advanced:

Zoe and the Why Witch

It didn’t start out as a very interesting day. Zoe followed her father around the supermarket expecting to be bored. All week long he would add things to his Important Shopping List as he thought of them. Often, he added the same thing two or three times. Then he would lose the list and have to make another. Then he found the original list so he had to compare it with his new one to make sure he didn’t miss anything out. Finally, on the Big Day, they actually got to buy stuff. How exciting is that?

So, obviously, Zoe was bored by supermarkets, unless she could find an interesting question to liven up the experience. At first, when she was only a beginner, she would ask simple things like “Why do supermarket people have to wear uniforms” and  “Who invented cheese?” Her father would be concentrating on his famous List and give her some careless answer like “It’s a rule, about hygiene” or “The Ancient Greeks.”  If you asked him who invented anything he always said “The Ancient Greeks”. When he was busy trying to decide whether or not to have fish for dinner you could ask him who invented flying to the moon or picking your nose and he still said The Ancient Greeks. Once, Zoë said “Who invented the Ancient Greeks?” but her father had already moved to the bacon counter and wasn’t really listening. He always forgot something on his List and said it was Zoë’s fault for spoiling his concentration.

As weeks went by, Zoë needed more interesting questions. First, she tried “Why are grapefruit called grapefruit? Her father was not really listening and just told her to look it up when she got home. She tried the internet and discovered they grew in trees in big bunches, so people down below thought they looked a bit like grapes.

Zoë wasn’t sure that sounded very convincing, or particularly interesting. She often wondered who wrote all that stuff on the internet, and whether they really knew what they were talking about. If you asked the computer “who invented grapefruit” would it stop listening and tell you it was The Ancient Greeks? She tried, but it didn’t seem to understand her question and just gave her a list of recipes, so she went downstairs and made herself a sandwich of pickled onions and strawberry jam that made her feel sick.

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Quentin’s Big Adventure

q1Illustrated children’s book (about 5 years) recently released – paperback or Kindle.First page:

“Quentin was a bit fed up.

He spent his days on the bottom shelf of a messy room. Nobody had picked him up and spoken to him for ages.

He didn’t have a very good memory. Sometimes he would decide to do something interesting. Then, before he got round to doing it, he forgot what he wanted to do. But he did remember that nobody had spoken to him for ages and ages, so he was fed up with sitting on the bottom shelf on his own, where nothing interesting ever happened.

Even though he had a bad memory, he could remember that his name was Quentin. He remembered that nobody ever called him Quentin. They called him ordinary, uninteresting names, like Mr. Bear. That didn’t seem right at all. So, after thinking about it for a long time, he decided to go outside and See The World.

He would have gone earlier, but he wasn’t quite sure where The World actually was. This time, he was so fed up he decided to go outside anyway and see if it just turned up.

He pulled on his blue bag, with some useful things inside, and followed a sign that said “station”.”

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Reunions are suddenly big business. The next telephone call will not be to sell you double glazing, but your own past. Should you buy it?

Reunions used to be simple things. They were organised by schools and universities who needed funds to balance their books or restore the crumbling West Administrator, who hoped to put their inky fingers in the pockets of Old Nostalgics rendered receptive by the site of those adolescent initials still carved in the tapioca. The experience ranged from depressing to hilarious, often simultaneously, and once was usually enough. But that has all changed.

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If you think rap is too violent read this (or get a slap)

It is a cliché to argue that rap is nothing more than a noisy, misogynistic,
homophobic rant. But compare it with the cultural inheritance of the Anglo-Saxon
groups. This is from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowolf (Faber 1999), which
includes macho advice on the low value of life and the importance of having a
reputation in the hood:

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wot is poetry? (three answers for the price of one)

1 -The Conundrum of the Workshop

What is the difference between a good poem, a bad poem and something which is not poetry at all?

There is no simple answer, but there are a few simple responses which can render the question less problematical. First, it would help to try to see the matter in historical terms. Each succeeding age has its own notions of what poetry is for and how it should work. It has its own view of what is real or valuable, and seeks to find new ways to express itself.

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Does poetry have rules?

Does poetry have rules?


But yes.

But no.

Each generation or new movement breaks away from old routines, habits and restrictions to create a new way of making poetry. That is how we develop and keep it fresh. Often,
readers or audiences will not know how to deal with this new wave. They don’t know how it works or how to appreciate it. They don’t know ‘the rules’.

It is, of course, a poet’s job to create the taste by which they expect to be appreciated. If
they write something strong enough they succeed and the public will learn. Then they
fashionable public will demand nothing but the new stuff and in no time at all it becomes
the new orthodoxy. So we get bored with the same old stuff and some new radical voice will break away again. Ted Hughes is a school syllabus, Che Guevara is a face on a T-shirt, Johnny Rotten advertises butter and we need something new. Something of our own.

Rules are merely the expectations of the most recent majority. By the time they form a
majority they are already out of date. So poetry does not flourish by keeping ‘rules’ in that

What it does have is discipline.

Some years ago I lent a theatre space to a group of anarchists. They wanted to put on Rob
Newman to raise funds for their work and I was happy to see the show (and take a
percentage plus the bar profits). The uninformed, associating anarchy with chaos, thought
they would wreck the place. In fact, their philosophy was that society would not need to
impose rules on us if we behaved with self-discipline and consideration. So they kept order, tidied up afterwards and asked for a dustpan and brush to make the place spotless. Had they been sloppy, lazy, self-indulgent or disorganised it would not have worked.

Poems work by control. They need structure, organisation, editing. What kind of order you
impose is up to you. If you use some new principle or style we don’t recognise or
understand you’ll have to show us how to read it. Or wait until you’re dead before we come
round to it – like G.M. Hopkins. You can borrow a traditional format or genre or set of ‘rules’ or not. Your choice. What the words must have is some kind of power or tension or interest or effect. A poem is not a diary for your therapist or a jigsaw puzzle with no straight edges. It is not a piece of tired old elastic with no spring in it. If it is just self-indulgent it needs rules to make it behave.

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Fruit entry one

Risible and risqué, the banana is never safely handled. They are fundamental to smoothies, but lost Smooth David the leadership of the Labour Party when he was caught like a chimp limply hanging it from his wrist and mocked in the morning editions. You can’t take anything seriously when associated with it, and a banana republic is always ignorable, yet bananas fuelled the longest running trade war in Europe. Unexpectedly, they are produced even in Iceland but nowhere can they be safely be stored in a trouser pocket. Banana Equivalent Dose is a formal measure of radiation exposure. Avoid them. More warnings will follow, kum quat  may. Beware the wrath of grapes.

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