Tag Archives: Whizz for Atoms

Can we provide an excellent cultural education without involving schools?

As Nigel Molesworth might have said in Back in the Jug Agane ‘any fule kno’ that trying to involve schools in anything but their core business of delivering the national curriculum like milkmen used to deliver the daily pinta, teaching to the test, climbing up the league tables, providing full wrap around care 247, being the complete corporate parent, struggling to make their budgets balance, and avoiding, adapting or falling for the next policy imperative is a pointless task these days as they’re pretty busy already. Never-mind adding in things like additional sport, additional support, additional lunchtimes and additional adding up sessions. No wonder there’s no room in the school timetable for anything remotely cultural.

Most arts organisations experience schools ultra-busy business with something approaching despair which sometimes gets transformed into some ingenious ruse designed to get an artist in front of some youth come hell or high water.

But it’s no longer enough for a theatre company to promote themselves as having a riveting production of Pirandello’s 6 Characters in Search of an Author which all young people should experience before their hormones kick in. These days, any theatre director who wants to introduce young people to the work of Pirandello and simultaneously demonstrate their cultural education credentials, has to ensure their production of Six Characters in Search of an Author isn’t just a riveting theatrical experience, but that it meets many different curriculum objectives not only in literacy but also in numeracy, bio-physics and what was fondly called back in the day, domestic science aka cooking and ironing.

Not only that, but the riveting theatrical experience will probably have to accommodate a sponsored trampoline bounce half way through act one in order to generate the funds to pay the costs for the aforesaid riveting theatrical experience.

Budgets being what they are, schools can’t even begin to think about taking their charges out of school to experience riveting theatrical experiences in their natural homes i.e. theatres, let alone invest in the military logistics required to bring the outside world through the hallowed gates, hostile gatekeepers, barbed wire and booby traps that await any unsuspecting AOTs (adult other than teachers) who find themselves on school premises harbouring the delusion that a school might be delighted to have a theatre company join them for the day to help engage and shape the lives of the young people in front of them.

No, these days, the notion that a quality cultural education should be left to schools is something that has been well and truly buried by an age of austerity, academisation and neo-liberal accountability which knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

The sooner our producers of Pirandello realise this and generate some other ways to engage with the cultural life of the child, the happier they and our young people will be. Schools will also be relieved to get on with their core business of implementing government policy and will be much the better for it.

A Waiting story: The Unwilling Soldier

Sun rise. Summer mist hovering over green Cheshire fields. Motorway ribbon trails lazily around the contours of the county. HGV, number plate from indeterminate home rolls onto expansive service station forecourt. Small bundle falls from its belly. It rolls out onto the tarmac, dusts itself down stumbles across the tarmac, avoiding the lorries which lumber towards it, sidestepping the coaches and tourist stares. He slips into the service station, fumbles in his pocket and finds a few euro, an old crucifix and a bright new sellophaned copy of the Comedy of Errors.

He really shouldn’t be here. His uncle gave him a strong cup of coffee, told him to wait at the station and that he’ll be back in 10. Not sure whether he means minutes or years. “We’re on a war footing young Adek” echoes in his ears, the slap of rifle shots whistling merrily by. Next thing he knows, everything has gone green, the rushing of wind in his long hair, memories of his mother, his aunts and stray dogs in streets. He’s strapped to the underside of an articulated Volvo and over time he develops a detailed knowledge of it suspension mechanics, the oil and water smeared floor of a roll on roll off ferry, the asphalt of Dover and – after a long sleep – the littering MacHabits of the good burghers of Cheshire.

Two crimson black crows stare horizontally across the tarmac plain at him, scaring their cousins away from the food bonanza. They outstare Adek. Her averts his gaze to the book. His stomach seizes and he groans. What’s the book worth? A couple of meals? A ticket home? He stares back up the motorway. A large white van rolls slowly over the horizon, down onto the forecourt. Side door opens, steps lower. Young man sits on steps, smoking a long awaited cigarette. Flicks ash down between the steps. Adek steps around him into the van. Shelves of pristine books in neatly regulated rows cry out for attention.

“Look at me! Read me! No, me! Over ‘ere son! On your ‘ead! Offside! Referee! Take me, no, take me!” He stacks up 12 books, the driver nods at him as he steps off the mobile and packs his books into his small rucksack. He strolls towards the service station, the books continuing to shout out from the rucksack. Children gather on the grass in front of him, falling out of the bushes, climbing out of the drains, shinning down from the trees, they follow Adek and his new model army of quarrelsome books in singles, in pairs, tattooed, made up, bones broken, arms in slings, heads and hearts bandaged.

They stare at Adek, he passes out the 12 books from his rucksack to them: Spiderwick, Harry Potter, The Midnight Fox, The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe, Swallows and Amazons, Jennings Goes To School, My Family and other Animals, Whizz for Atoms, The Little Prince, Tiggers Story, To Kill a Mockingbird, Kes. The bandages fall from the children’s limbs.

The children keep coming and the rucksack refuses to empty. Adek issues Shakespeare to babies, Chekov to teenagers, Wilson to grandparents, Grays Anatomy to star crossed lovers and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to Ulster Unionists. The rucksack finally ties itself up. The unwilling soldier steps aside and the children melt back into the service station, their books muttering, chattering and whispering to their new owners.

Adek places his Comedy of Errors to his ears, listens, smiles and sits in the sunshine, waiting for his next story to begin.