Wednesday, July 29, 2009

today : hospital break

I know I have at least 3 regular readers. So for them, I am taking another hospital break. Could be a few days: could be more.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

today : on John Hartson

It's not looking good for former footballer John Hartson. I do hope he manages somehow to beat the cancer that has struck him down. I always liked him, especially since he was the cause and recipient of my only descent into football hooliganism.

I'd got free tickets to see Bradford City play Wimbledon. It was a real relegation crunch match - the second to last game of the season. It was Bradford's first (and penultimate) season in the Premier League. Wimbledon had been around, defying the odds for years.

So there I was watching the game. I am not a Bradford supporter, but have had antipathy towards Wimbledon from their non-league days when my Dad took me to see them play my team Leeds in the FA and they beat us 1-0. It was one of the first matches I'd even been to and the
experience of losing must've scarred me.

Hartson was the kind of player that you hate when he plays for them but you'd want him on your team. His brand of football was full of old-fashioned physicality, aggression and never-say-die spirit. In short he was a perfect member of the crazy gang, even though the late 1980s 'gang' itself had long since broken up and moved away.

We were seated about six or seven rows back, between the goal and the players' tunnel. Bradford were awarded a very generous penalty in the first half, and were winning. But the tension was palpable. After all, 'we' were only a goal up with a player like Hartson on the pitch. All he did to get his two yellows was jump, run and tackle harder and with more desire than anyone else. You could sense his personal desperation to rescue his flailing team, which had been on a disastrous run and obviously had that relegation momentum - a mix of frustration, bad luck, trying too hard and inadequacy - that teams sometimes get. They were on a downward roll. For Wimbledon, their only chance of survival as a club was to stay in the top division. We all know what happened when they did get relegated...pouff!...they disappeared.

As Hartson trudged in front of us, he stopped and turned to dole some verbals to the ref. The Bradford goalie started having a go at him and he shouted back. For reasons that I still don't understand, this got me out of my seat. I skipped the few steps down to the front where one or two people were already standing at advertising hoardings jeering and gesturing at Hartson, who was about 5 yards away. As he turned away from his arguments, I let off a volley off horrid abuse which contained negative references to his weight and hair colour, as well as aggressively attacking his race, and questioning both his relationship to animals and his parentage. I used lots of swearing. Head down, Hartson had begun walking towards the tunnel. But then he stopped for a moment and turned his head, looking me right in the face. His eyes were filled with tears.

Whether he had even heard my abuse, or had turned to actually look at me I have no idea. Similarly, it's probable that his emotions were nothing to do with the crowd but with adrenalin, the anger and disappointment, and the realisation that he might have cost his team the game; the flipside of the committed way he always played. Either way I suddenly snapped out my bizarre state of hooliganism. What the hell was I doing? I would no more indulge in this kind of behaviour normally than join the Conservaive Party and campaign for the beatification of Mrgaret Thatcher. How did my temporary and relatively disinterested support for a team that isn't even close to being my team lead to this? The rest of the stand - committed Brantams all - continued with their jeering and gloating. Hartson's perceived tears made their baying and shouting even worse.

I went back to my seat and watched the rest of the match in a state of embarrassment.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

today: the lesson

I talk quite often about teacher stress. Recently I have posted about bullying and death. And now this.

Obviously there is no way that murderously attacking someone (if that is what happened here, we always have to take into account the fact that everyone is innocent until proven guilty by law) is a correct response in any situation, especially in loco parentis.

But the surprise is that this kind of thing does not happen more often. In a profession which suffers epidemic levels of stress illness, meltdowns that result in violence are seemingly rare. Without having any recourse to statistics, I imagine that in wider society they are not as rare.

Teachers often put up with intense levels of violence, threats and abuse. Perhaps not in every classroom but if there are even one or two pupils prone to violent behaviour it can induce immeasurable and protracted problems.

In ten years of teaching (admittedly in challenging inner city schools) I have been punched, kicked, scratched, bitten, shoved from behind, pushed downstairs, headbutted (broken arm), run into (another broken arm), shoved over (broken glasses and sprained knee), stabbed with pins and had furniture thrown at me.

This is just the actual assaults and violence. We can add to this the theft of property, sabotage of classroom work, vandalism of property, threats to my home, stones thrown at the car, threats to damage and/or steal my car, violent encounters with parents, verbal abuse and threats issued in places like supermarkets, pubs and on the streets, as well as an almost constant strain of verbal abuse in the classroom and around the school.

I lost my temper twice. Once I took it out on a table, slamming it to the floor and breaking the top from the base. Another time I took a five minute time out.

But I ended up quitting - caught in a spiral of stress illness depression, panic attacks and disillusion. What might happen if I and my colleagues didn't routinely internalise the violence?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

today : On the death and life of Michael Jackson

And so that was it.

Michael Jackson died from what was effectively a heroin overdose. I cannot understand why some people seem so surprised. It was never going to end well was it?

I personally thought, at the time of his trial, that suicide would be a good way out for him. It's extremely cynical, but it would have been the PR coup of the century, upstaging everything and keeping the legend intact. As it was, he won the trial. And although people aren't talking about it now, the portrait painted was of a person who might not have done anything proven in court to be criminal, but certainly did things that were on the very edge of suspicion, and way over the line that reasonable people would draw
(Whatever my suspicions I have to assume that he didn't do anything illegal vis-a-vis any children, given that rumour was never proven legally)

I used to think that it was all too easy - to paint Jackson as a victim and use this victimhood to excuse his questionable behaviour. I used to think that if he really wanted, he could have bought anonymity, focus on working out his problems and forget about the spiral of fame and misfortune. I still think that to some extent. Part of this was predicated on my annoyance at the hype. Floating statues of yourself down the Thames and demanding to be called the King of Pop is one thing. Everyone seemingly following and thinking this was normal is another.

I never thought Jackson was, as an artist, as great as they told me. Out of his whole career you could probably squeeze a terrific single CD of music. And the show I saw of his at the height of his megastardom was quite overblown, remote and curiously unemotional. As if they assumed that just seeing him was enough. The crowd went mad, but mainly for the jet-packs, the disappearing tricks and the moment when, after teasing us for an hour, he finally did the moonwalk.

But I think his predicament was more complicated than I liked to believe. When you are the factory, the salesman and also the product it's a pressurised position. Everything depends on you. At the age of six this is hard to imagine. I could barely write my name at the age of six, never mind be the central figure in a huge money making organisation. For Jackson, this all happened before he had the chance to develop a personality and maybe this was why he never had the strength to stop the carousel and get off. And if all the stories and the evidence is to be believed Jackson was the classic case of someone with outstanding talent who suffered rock-bottom self esteem.

And this is the key. One of the main symptoms of low-self esteem is the desire to please others and get their validation. It's even more difficult to step off the carousel when your world is filled with people who make a very good living from what you do. But if you are also crippled with the desperate need to please them then you'd never take the chance of alienating those around you. Even if they are parasites whose opinions actually count for nothing. They know this and use it to trap and control their cash cow.

So, trapped in what is clearly an extremely pressurised and unhappy place - perhaps facing the daunting prospect of the public gaze, Jackson did what many millions of people do. He self medicated. We (the little people) take illegal drugs, drink too much, gamble and indulge in mindless hedonism. Anything for a high, an altered state, escaping our terrible, mundane lives. Some of us go to the doctor and get Valium or Prozac or Temazepam.

Jackson didn't go to a dodgy house in a seedy part of town or cruised the corners for a hit. No, he's no Bubba. With half a billion dollars in the bank you can afford a private doctor who'll prescribe you the drugs you want. But the effect is the same. If you don't learn to live without the medication then sooner or later it'll kill ya.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

today's rockin tune

look up 'killer chorus' in the dictionary and there's a chance you'll find this.