The Window Pane

A light shines through the perpetual glass
As the faithful come to sing and pray;
They take their seats and they then begin
On that eventful, Godly, sunny day.

The preacher speaks and intones
That they should look for balance,
In a world that seems to be without
All forms of challenge or chance.

So many panes of glass appear to me
As my gaze turns away from the preacher
And my gaze lights on the window pane
So alone, on its own, a very special feature.

The pane sits in the middle of fifty panes
All letting in the glory of the sunny days,
But this one is plain glass whereas the rest
Are stippled and ribbed, letting in God’s rays.

So many panes are all the same, all alike
In beauty, in simplicity, in gracefulness;
But there is one that is slightly different
In its silent confessional; ready to confess.

And I sit still and think of all the people there.
As I stare around the room, I see them all;
Sitting there, waiting to be blessed by the Lord
Contemplating the nature of their fall.

I am that solitary, single pane of glass,
Alone and bereft of the truth that I know
Is the message that the preacher will bring
That it is I who needs to think of where I go.

For my journey is not the path so easily trod.
Mine is the road less travelled by most
And as I stare at that single pane of clear glass,
I am reminded of the ultimate cost.

I think of the times when I have not shown the love.
I think of the times when I have failed the Lord.
But I know that in my weakest hour of need
I have held on to the one true and holy word.

I have chosen to walk a different path to many,
A journey with the Lord that only few can take.
Will you join me on that journey this day?
It will be the best decision you ever make!

Robert Johnson
March 2019

Drift Away – A Song Lyric

The following is for any singer out there who wishes to use this to record it. Just so long as I get the usual credits and royalties, that will do me. I wrote it to send it to Rosanne Cash.

Drift Away
Robert Johnson

In my dreams you’re near me.
In my mind, you’re so far away.
When I think of us together,
I still often wonder why.

Why did you leave me?
Why did you slip away?
What was it that I did
To make you drift away?

You’re everything to me.
My every thought of the day.
Your memory will never fade
But you still drift away.

Why did you leave me?
Why did you slip away?
What was it that I did
To make you drift away?

As I rise from my stupor,
And think of the coming day;
I hear your voice beside me,
As I plead with you to stay.

Why did you leave me?
Why did you slip away?
What was it that I did
To make you drift away?

I’m sorry for my temper.
I’ll try to change every day.
But there’s something about me
That makes you drift away.

Why did you leave me?
Why did you slip away?
What was it that I did
To make you drift away?

I wonder why you left me.
I wonder where you’ve gone.
I hope it’s up to heaven,
You’ll always be my only one.

Why did you leave me?
Why did you slip away?
What was it that I did
To make you drift away?

Mother, please don’t see me
Flound’ring my life away,
For your light shines forever
Even though you drift away.

Why did you leave me?
Why did you slip away?
What was it that I did
To make you drift away?

This was written in about five minutes, based on about three songs I was listening to at the time; George Jones’ famous love song, a song by Rosanne Cash when she sung at her father’s memorial, singing I Still Miss Someone and another one, which has slipped my memory for now.

Feel free to analyse, use, share or enjoy.

RJ. January 2020

Remains – Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage

On another occasion, we get sent out
To tackle looters raiding a bank.
And one of them legs it up the road.
Probably armed, possibly not.

Well myself and somebody else and somebody else
Are all of the same mind,
So all three of us open fire
Three of a kind all letting fly, and I swear

I see every round as it rips through his life –
I see broad daylight on the other side.
So, we’ve hit this looter a dozen times
And he’s there on the ground, sort of inside out,

Pain itself, the image of agony.
One of my mates goes by
And tosses his guts back into his body.
Then he’s carted off in the back of a lorry. 

End of story, except not really.
His blood-shadow stays on the street, and out on patrol
I walk right over it week after week.
Then I’m home on leave. But I blink

And he burst again through the doors of the bank.
Sleep, and he’s probably armed, possibly not.
Dream, and he’s torn apart by a dozen rounds.
And the drink and the drugs won’t flush him out –


What a poem this is!

It hits you where it hurts right from the off and ends in the same way. It is powerful, poignant, dramatic and vicious in places and for me, is one of Armitage’s more graphic poems from the anthology of poems he now has under his belt.

He probably meant this from one person’s point of view, having been abroad, presumably with the armed forces and having served a tour somewhere and then returned home with the resultant PTSD or Combat Stress. But it is possible to put this person anywhere in the world when it comes to the British soldier.


As I read, I place this man’s home here in the UK, but the tour of duty in Northern Ireland, for some reason. Maybe it is my age. It does not matter a jot if I am wrong, for that is my reading of this poem. It could easily be downtown Mosul, in Iraq. But the feeling I get is that the man has gone on a tour of duty, seen things we would not wish our worst enemy to see and then had to return home, where he sees these things at every turn.

I have been a soldier. I have handled an old SLR rifle, of the 7.62mm full metal jacket variety and I have shot one too, but never in anger. The nearest I got to anger was when confronted by a thug and I made a movement to use the butt end on his head or in his gut. It deterred him from moving forward any further. So when I read this poem, it evokes certain memories in me, ones I would sooner not rise to the surface of normalcy, if you like.

The poem begins with the words, “on another occasion,” which suggest any other occasion that might be normal to us all but it also means that under normal circumstances, the soldiers would be sent out to patrol an area of land in a certain manner and at a certain time of the day. But this time they get “sent out to tackle looters raiding a bank.” I think this is why it makes me think of Northern Ireland when the so called “Troubles” were a daily part of life in Belfast and the likes. If you do not know this term, then you need to hit Google rapidly and find out, because if it is meant to represent that time and that place, then you need the information at hand.

One of the bank robbers “legs it up the road, probably armed, possibly not.” That is such a great use of language, or opposites in life. “Legs it” is an vernacular term for running away from something or someone. “Up the road” is something a Yorkshireman would add, as would most English people. But the juxtaposition of “probably” and “possibly” is very clever from the poet on this occasion, because we are forced to see what the man sees as the other man or men run away.

He refers to himself and the others in terms of “myself” and “somebody else,” preferring not to give any names. It all sounds like an account of an event in the life of a soldier and reminds me of when we write Free Verse, which this is not, in the sense that if you just write this out like a story, it would still do the same thing. Try to read it like that and see what I mean.

This is what you would get.

On another occasion, we get sent out to tackle looters raiding a bank and one of them legs it up the road, probably armed, possibly not. Well myself and somebody else and somebody else are all of the same mind,  so all three of us open fire; three of a kind all letting fly, and I swear I see every round as it rips through his life. I see broad daylight on the other side. So, we’ve hit this looter a dozen times and he’s there on the ground, sort of inside out, pain itself, the image of agony. One of my mates goes by and tosses his guts back into his body. Then he’s carted off in the back of a lorry. 

End of story, except not really. His blood-shadow stays on the street, and out on patrol I walk right over it week after week. Then I’m home on leave. But I blink and he burst again through the doors of the bank. Sleep, and he’s probably armed, possibly not. Dream, and he’s torn apart by a dozen rounds and the drink and the drugs won’t flush him out.

There are three soldiers who all “open fire,” which again, is a term for beginning to shoot at the men fleeing for their lives but the fact that these soldiers are shooting means they are either under orders to do so, or that they are acting illegally. These soldiers know what they are aiming at is another man and they know that if the bullet hits them, they will undoubtedly die. That much is a fact of life for a soldier on deployment. So, “three of a kind,” are all doing the same thing, the thing they are trained to do and firing on what they see as the enemy. But then we see an opinion being shared as the soldier stresses the fact that each bullet “rips through his life” so that he can see “broad daylight through the holes he is making in this man’s body. This is a grim business. He knows he has hit the looter several times and even uses hyperbole to claim it was “a dozen times,” by all three, resulting in the fleeing man now being on the ground, “sort of inside out.” Did they hit him that many times? I suspect not, unless using a semi automatic rifle or hand gun. The SA80 that the Army uses may have that ability. I am not too sure. It will be a semi-automatic at least, if not fully automatic.


By this, he also means that his body, ripped open by the bullets, now resembles something you might think to see at a butcher’s shop. Minced beef, or any other meat. He can see the “pain itself, the image of agony” as he calls it. The metaphor is not lost on the reader either as one of his friends walks by the man and “tosses his guts back into his body” in preparation for the now deceased body being carted off to the morgue or the crematorium. Someone will have to claim the body for burial.

So far then, this has been a remembrance of a grim event that took place on a regular basis in the life of a soldier, presumably, for me anyway, on deployment in Northern Ireland. But now he shows us that the body is “carted off in the back of a lorry.” That is again, a northern English use of language, a use of words that may not be typically Standard English, so we have to assume these are dialectal words used in the context of the Yorkshire dialect. With Armitage being from Marsden in West Yorkshire, his style of speaking does show itself in all his poems like this.

The soldier tells us this is “end of story” but we know otherwise, for we suspect something else is coming. This is an Armitage poem. He would not just leave it there, for that is too simple when there is so much more chance to add to the brutality of civil unrest that these soldiers are patrolling. The words that follow, of “except not really,” back this up as well and we begin to see that Armitage is taking us on a journey of understanding here as he shows us how the “blood-shadow stays on the street” each time they walk over that area again. It must be horrible to have to shoot someone, but equally brutal to have to go out on patrol again and again, knowing that this is the place where you did this to this man. There is little wonder soldiers suffer from PTSD when you read these words and these words are just fiction. Reality will be far worser than this, I can assure you.

Being on deployment is not an easy action to take. Being shot at is scary. I can testify to that as well. It scared me to bits, I can tell you, when I had it done to me. But the reality of all this is borne out in your training, for you are taught how to cope with situations like this. What you are not taught is how to deal with them when you have returned home. You might walk past the place week in and week out, but then, when you are at home, it is all very different.


I can remember a former student of mine who joined up, went to Iraq and then came home. It was the beginning of November when he returned home. November 5th came round and the fireworks were being set off everywhere. When one rather loud bang happened, he put his hands behind his neck, took to the floor and shouted, “Take cover!” He thought he was back in Iraq, where some of his friends had died. He could not get over the horror of all he saw. The same is true here too, in this poem, for we see as we read, that he is “home on leave” and he blinks as if to take stock of where he is and the reality of it.

As he blinks, certain things begin to happen. He sees again, the man come bursting “again through the doors of the bank.” When he is asleep, he sees that the man is “probably armed, possibly not,” still uncertain if there is a firearm there in the scene and the scene is running through his mind minute after minute. It simply will not go away. Even in his dreams, he sees the man “torn apart by a dozen rounds.” (Have a read of Dulce Et Decorum Est and see something similar in that poem as well). Now that is an horrific thing to have to continually see day after day, in your waking thoughts and in your deepest dreams. That is true PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a thing that happens to most soldiers and others, who undergo something truly horrific to their sensibilities.

The truth of the matter, for this soldier, is that in all his dreams and waking thought, what remains as the truth is the idea that any amount of “drink” and “drugs” will not separate the ghost of the man from his heart or mind. It simply will not flush him away as a memory. He is stuck with this image in his mind and heart, until he gets therapy, which is why Armitage ends the poem with the dash “-” because he is making the point that life does continue and that life must go on. How we deal with that life after such events as this, is the stuff of therapy sessions.


This then, is one truly remarkable poem. How a man, or woman, can take so few words and show so much about the horror of warfare, the problems of PTSD, the dangers of drugs and alcohol, the pain and the suffering of being a soldier and the anguish that they must face from day to day, is quite remarkable.

Bravo, Mr. Armitage.


Hi all,

Apologies from me for the absence of posts on this site. I have been quite unwell and unable to work, so unable to post things on here for you. My illness has left me disabled now and so, there will be fewer posts on here from now.

But feel free to copy and paste anything you want from this site. If it helps, then it is a blessing to me.


Tissue – Imthiaz Dharker

Tissue: Imthiaz Dharker

Paper that lets the light
shine through, this
is what could alter things.
Paper thinned by age or touching,

the kind you find in well-used books,
the back of the Koran, where a hand
has written in the names and histories,
who was born to whom,

the height and weight, who
died where and how, on which sepia date,
pages smoothed and stroked and turned
transparent with attention.

If buildings were paper, I might
feel their drift, see how easily
they fall away on a sigh, a shift
in the direction of the wind.

Maps too. The sun shines through
their borderlines, the marks
that rivers make, roads,
railtracks, mountainfolds,

Fine slips from grocery shops
that say how much was sold
and what was paid by credit card
might fly our lives like paper kites.

An architect could use all this,
place layer over layer, luminous
script over numbers over line,
and never wish to build again with brick

or block, but let the daylight break
through capitals and monoliths,
through the shapes that pride can make,
find a way to trace a grand design

with living tissue, raise a structure
never meant to last,
of paper smoothed and stroked
and thinned to be transparent,

turned into your skin.


If ever there was a poem that used metaphor a lot it would be this one. It takes the idea of paper, something that on its own, is breakable, squashable, foldable and pliable enough to be damaged, broken, torn, or burnt to a cinder and it shows us just how strong paper can be in our lives; how much of a place it has in our lives each day.

Consider for a moment how many times you have touched something made of paper today. I wonder how many times it will be, from toilet paper, to newspaper, to cleaning tissue, to hand tissue to blow the nose, to magazine, photograph, or just a good old fashioned book. Paper has a major part in our lives and we seldom acknowledge that fact, which is what this poet is trying to do here in these verses of poetry.


She begins with the idea of thinness, of how paper can let the light in and how it can “shine through” the leaves of a book or a magazine. Open the page of a book and hold it against the light and you will see. But she thinks that paper can alter things too. Is she right? Can this paper “thinned by age and touching” shed so much light on the world or even a life? She seems to think it can because this is the kind of paper that “you find in well-used books,” where there has been plenty of notation and thumbing. When I think to one of my books that I own, the back few empty pages have so much notation inside in pen from when I had to sit an open book examination and was allowed to add any notes I wanted. They could not be full sentences, but you can imagine what it looks like. It is a church service book just like the “Koran” that is mentioned in this poem, “where a hand has written in the names and histories” of the family who owned such a special book. The family Koran is just as valuable as the family Bible is to Christian families. Some of them have lists in about who was born and when, of “who was born to whom,” as well as their “height and weight” and then, “who died where and how, on which sepia and faded date in time within that faded family.”

This is all something about how paper plays a part in all our lives. We all have these books, or photo albums, where paper is used. I am currently working on a family album of myself and my wife. As we get older, we begin to think of what we leave behind us, so we are making this for our children to add to in our later, more infirm years. Each page will have a single photo in of the both of us, beginning with the earliest, the baby one in my case and the early school one in my wife’s. Then, we shall see our life pan out as we turn each paper page, as we look at those “pages smoothed and stroked and turned, transparent with attention” at the touch of our hands. This is the power of paper that she is writing about here.

Dharker seems to write in terms of pictorial imagery, where she sees paper as being as powerful as the buildings around us. When you think about it, we write on paper our plans. If we are building a house, we write and submit plans, usually on paper, even today. Technical drawing creations of differing views of the proposed house have to then be submitted to the local planning department for the idea to be given the all-clear. When that happens, more paper finds its way to us and we then begin building. Paper. It is everywhere and it dictates what we do each day. “If buildings were paper,” says this poet, we “might feel their drift, see how easily they fall away on a sigh, a shift in the direction of the wind.” The imagery there of a tall building swaying in the wind is an interesting one because it depicts things like skyscrapers and makes those images enter into the mind. It makes me think of a friend’s flat he lived in years ago, which was one of those fourteen story ones; massive, tall, and that thing swayed like mad when there was a large enough wind and you lived on Floor 13.


There are so many times we can use paper. One of them is when we use a map. I am an old fogey. I admit it. I do not like SATNAVs and haven’t done ever since one of them took me to a destination and then said, “now go straight on and you will reach your destination.” If I had done what it said, I would have driven over a 140 foot ridge, to my immediate death. Maps too, are important to us all and I prefer the paper ones. A few weeks ago, I landed into the UK off a ferry from the Isle of Man, in Heysham. I knew I wanted the M6 north and went for it but ended up lost, heading south. My phone had died on the way over and I needed a map, pronto! I stopped, bought an A-Z, found out where I was and then planned my long route home. This is the brilliance of things made by paper. They last through all sorts of adversity. The sun shines through the paper, through “their borderlines, the marks that rivers make, roads, rail tracks” and they leave us with a sense of ease because we are so used to them. All this from a part of a tree.

Then the poet makes us think of another image; the receipt we get from the shop when we buy something, but the problem is today that we use a form of payment called “Contactless” and we get asked if we want the receipt or not. I always ask for the receipt, mainly because I trust no one with my money but me, but once again, the power of paper in our daily lives, from “fine slips from grocery shops that say how much was sold,” to examples of paper that tells us “what was paid by credit card” in the last month are being written about here. If we were naughty and overspent, then we pull back and be more careful the next month. This is the power of the paper in our lives.


Finally, the poet uses images of “paper kites” which can be flown in the wind or how an “architect could use all this” for his or her benefit, of how such a person can use layers of paper to change the world around us. Just imagine, she is saying, if we stopped building with bricks and used paper instead. If we did, then we could “place layer over layer, luminous script over numbers over line and never wish to build again with brick or block.” Would the buildings be as strong if we used paper? The answer to that is quite possibly yes, because it works on the age old principle that is used with string and cord. One thread on its own is weak. Weave three together and then try to break it and see how strong it can be. Likewise, with paper, its strength and power is there for all to see because it is a “living tissue” that can “raise a structure never meant to last.” In its transparency, in its weakness, on its own, it is nothing, but blend it into card and it becomes thicker, harder, tougher and more durable and then, that paper can become more like the skin we have on our bodies; more able to be strengthened by the advancing years of age and strength. Paper then, in this instance, can be seen as a metaphor for something as supple and thin as our skin, yet such things have layers upon layers of epidermis. It is not just one layer and then sinew and bone. The strength of the skin is the same as the strength of paper; thin enough to be “transparent,” but strong enough to withstand all sorts of forces that are set against it.

The last thing to consider is why she would even write about paper in the first place. I have never asked her, but sometimes, writers think to themselves Now, what shall I write about today? Then they stare at the paper in front of them and if the mind goes blank, all they see for an age is a blank piece of paper. I can just imagine Dharker doing this and then seeing past the blankness of the page and into the more metaphorical, to the fact that paper serves so many purposes in our daily living. Then she begins to write some ideas and some verse down. It may well be that there is another more valid reason. I do not know. I do not search other websites, [usually] for when I write these analysis pieces. I just write what I think based on what I see on the page in front of me, itself made of just the thing the poet is writing about; paper.


War Photographer – Carol Ann Duffy

War Photographer – Carol Ann Duffy

In his dark room he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.

He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands, which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.

Something is happening. A stranger’s features
faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man’s wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.

A hundred agonies in black and white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.
From the aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns his living and they do not care.


I love the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy, from Salome to Miss Havisham, she is always there with a point to make and a certain style in which to do it. This poem is no different either.

It we adopt a title theory attitude to it, then we see the title and we expect it to be about a man or woman who has seen war torn situations and has come home and is getting to grips with life back in civilian homecomings. Or we expect it to be set in a war torn situation, mentioning bombings and the likes, the brutality of what they are photographing. If you watch Full Metal Jacket, although for the younger audience that might be a bad idea just yet, then you will get the idea.


But then we get to the poem and we see the setting and the brutality all rolled into one short and quite poetic style. Following a rhyme scheme of abb abb and a certain flourish of the pen, what Duffy writes about is a man who has returned home from a war torn place and is finally in his dark room. That dark room in line one is symbolic, in a way, of safety. It is the only place he feels real safety because of his job. It is the only place on the planet where he feels totally in control with the elements and liquids needed to create the quality photographs he does.

The poem shows us that the man is in his dark room, alone. It is a solitary lifestyle, the life of the old fashioned film developer. It is different now because we use digital cameras which can upload onto the internet straight away, but back then, in the glorious days of the 35mm film that you had to be extra careful with, you had to be in the darkness with “spools of suffering” in his case, spread out before him. Each photograph that such a man or woman takes is likely to be one that shows the horrors of warfare. It is certainly a job I would not want and I am a keen photographer myself and a former soldier.

The fact that there are “ordered rows” shows us that here is a man who is meticulous in what he is doing. Red light softly glows around him and the image of the priest in church is not lost on this reader, because in church, at times, we use lights to signify certain things. It helps to create a mood of sombre reflection to use tea time candles, for example. In this case, the red symbolizes blood that has been shed as he has captured the image for posterity. He is in a way, performing his macabre mass over his bench where all these liquids are laid out in trays ready for use.


The use of the city names of “Belfast. Beirut” and “Phnom Penh” are all meant to reflect something of the horror of modern guerrilla warfare. For those not in the know, Belfast refers to the ‘Troubles’ that were had there between Catholic and protestant at the time in Northern Ireland when the British Army tried to maintain peace, only for terrorist bombings to take place in Belfast and elsewhere on a regular basis. The use of Beirut as a reference shows us an image from a time in the Middle East when the troubles they had were based, for a time, in that city, where Arab fought Jew and Muslim fought Jew and Christian together. The atrocities carried out were regularly photographed by war correspondents.

The title itself, of this poem, speaks for itself. This is a man who “has a job to do.” That much is simple for us all to see and what we see as he does it, using his “slop in trays” is a man who is focusing on what is before him, rather like he would when taking the photograph in the first place. After all, when we frame a photograph with our camera, what do we do? We lift the camera or the phone to our eye height, make sure everything we want is centred and in view in the frame and then we press the shutter to get the best picture. We make sure all is not blurred and we make sure that the final product will be a memory for us to remember. This is what I did recently when I went to the Isle of Man for the TT bike racing. I have lots of memories now, to keep looking at, but this man’s memories are ones that are far more violent and malevolent than mine.

He, like me, is “home again” in “rural England” where the only pain is the “ordinary pain” that we face from day to day, but he has to live with that which he has seen through his camera lens. That cannot be easy, when you think about it. The places he goes to when he is home do not “explode beneath [his] feet” or cause him the kind of “nightmare heat” that he is now used to. This reaction in him is what we call today, PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and requires intensive therapy to help you get over the grief or horror you have witnessed.

Let me give you an example from real life!


Imagine coming home from a war zone like Iraq. Imagine it being near to November 5th. Then imagine sitting in your Mum and Dad’s house, aged 23 and an almighty great firework goes off with a terrific bang outside. What would you do? One of my ex students hit the floor when this happened, put his hands over the back of his neck and shouted, “take cover” as if he was calling to his comrades. His reaction was instinctive. Now, in the poem, we see the photographer doing the same thing as something begins to happen and “a stranger’s features faintly start to twist before his eyes,” as if he is seeing some “half formed ghost.” This is a vision of horror akin to that of the men in the poem, Dulce Et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen and shows the nastiness of warfare in all its grievous evil. Not one of us would survive the hell that such an image would bring. We would all be affected in one way or another.

Then the memories kick in and he begins to hear “the cries
of this man’s wife,” as she sees the horror of the moment and how she seeks “approval without words,” in silent movements of the arms to do something for her dying family member who is at her feet, blood stained in the dirt of the day in a “foreign dust.” This image is one that is full of colour; the red of the blood, the brown of the dirt, the colour of death; black. And then there is white, the colour of peace, but this image is flipped and subverted by the writer as she makes her war photographer [and us] see “a hundred agonies in black and white” all hanging there in photographic form. Life and death in monochrome. That is what he has captured.

There is one more thing that the photographer and the editor has to do, if they are not one and the same person and that is to choose “five or six for Sunday’s newspaper supplement.” Just how do you look at photographs such as this and then choose one for use in a magazine? I suppose in time, the editor and the photographer would become immune to the horrors. The more of these they see, the more blase they would become about them. The more they see them, the more they would think to use the next ones which are worse than those that have gone before them. In this way, when we see them in our magazines, our “eyeballs prick with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.”

We tend to view photographs such as these nowadays as just another thing to view in the harshness of life, but what Duffy is doing here is writing a poem that shares the idea that when these people go to these places and take these photos, there is an element of danger, in taking them, as well as in seeing them, in producing them for public consumption. The man “earns his living” and the “they” who “do not care” is us, the consumer who voraciously seeks after one image or another in the desire to read about the next fight that has taken place. In this way, the writer is making a social comment about our need to rubber neck when there is something horrible to see, using the image of war and a photographer to bring the idea home to us all.


When we see the photographer, we are meant to see ourselves. When we see the images of war, we are meant to see our need for titillation. When we see the horror, we are meant to see our need to see even more. This is what we are like as human beings! That is the power of this poem, for she allows us to see into the soul of our conscious thinking about how we treat others across the world.



Being Creative – Changing Context on An Exam Task

One of the things that gets set in an examination is an extended piece of writing where they usually give you a title, or sometimes, a final sentence and you have to create something than ends with that sentence.

One year, three or four years ago now, an exam board set a task that asked each GCSE student to choose a season, such as winter, spring, summer or autumn and then write something about that. In a setting where 300 students are sat in rooms across a High School, with 200 or so of them in the main hall, all sat in rows at individual chairs, these tasks are the ones that can be terror inducing to most students, but the advice I give to all my GCSE students is that when you get one one these tricky tasks, where you think you are forced to write about flowers budding and snow and ice freezing everything to death, the trick is to change the focus in a way that is new and ingenious, for that is what the examiners are looking for.

Imagine being the person who has to mark 300 exam scripts and all are the same task; write about a season you like the most. The trick is to think about the title and then add some subversion into it. One student chose to do this and scored an A grade for her efforts. She chose to focus on the word Summer and then go off on a tangent and write something extremely creative, resulting in an examiner seeing it who had most likely see 245 others are had imbibed a gallon of coffee to stay awake and then, saw this one below.

Have a look at it. She is now an A Level Literature student of mine, going through all sorts of poems, stories, plays and the dreaded Mr. Shakespeare. I think this tack is a good one to take, if you have the imagination. The trick is allowing your imagination in these exams to take off and so long as you keep to the task, write something highly original. It is simply called Summer.



I met her at a bonfire. The flaming tradition for the new season. I only knew her for a few weeks but at the time, it felt like forever. As the hot sand squished between my toes, and the roaring sound of countless people singing around the flames rang through my ears, I saw her; Summer. She seemed somehow brighter than the fire, and I could barely look straight at her. The glow from the flames bounced off her sun-kissed skin, and later, as the fireworks threw colour across the sky like paint from an overexcited child, the girl who made heads turn as she passed, and seemed to shimmer with golden energy sat beside me and my friends, and we decided to spend the summer together.

At the beach, Summer was the way we danced across the hot sand like burning coals. She was the feeling of diving deep in the sea to cool down, hair flying out smoothly like a mermaid’s, sounds echoed into warbled noise; a world of our own for as long as our breath would hold out. She was the way our swimming costumes clung to our body after we resurfaced, like a new skin. She was melted vanilla ice cream dripping down the cone and onto our fingers. She was the way we fell back onto towels for the sun to hit us, and when she let out her musical laugh, we were reminded that we were free from the shackles of everyday life- there was no obligation, no stress, no worry.

One thing she both loved and was, was an adventure. Standing in the back of a truck, arms out, and screaming with laughter, she was the closest to flying we could get. Climbing rock faces, rock pooling, and crashing stranger’s barbecues with the smell of tender steaks floating through the air, all in cut off shorts and floaty tops. They were the ‘big’ ones. But she loved the little ones just as much. Forcing us to get up early, our futures were as free as the kites we flew; swirling through the sky with freedom, but still light enough for us to control. The days were golden.

On the quiet days, we’d walk around with the pavements melting under our bare feet, and Summer would look over her shoulder, flashing a dazzling smile. She was the children running around in bright yellow sundresses, the farmer’s markets that would offer free samples of fruit so fresh the flavour exploded across our taste buds, and the feeling of fresh dirt under our fingernails as we planted beautiful flowers to replace the ones we’d picked and were now dotted in our hair. She was the sound of ice clinking in our glasses of lemonade, of birds tweeting as they flew overhead, and of tennis rackets hitting balls in gardens we couldn’t quite see.

Not every day was so wonderful, however. When she wasn’t so full of bright energy and screaming for adventure, she was the opposite end of the scale- lazy, and making our energy sap out of our bodies from nothing. Waking up from long lie ins, then tempting us to do nothing for that day, that week, possibly forever. She could be sultry, and seductive, but then oppressive and in your face; one moment the sound of nothing but flies buzzing by, the next with words that stung like a wasp. These days were in the minority, but they still burned in our mind.


Overall, she was glorious. It felt like it was going to be the same for the rest of our lives, but as all good things do, it ended. She was there, then she was gone, most likely to brighten some other lucky people’s lives. Thanks to Summer in summer, we felt limitless. Whenever I smell wildflowers, see people running through sprinklers, or taste perfectly cooked smores, when I smell the freshest summer air, or see someone’s eyes shining and sparkling, I think of her, and those weeks, when we had the time of our youth, and perhaps the time of our life.

O. W.

Now, what elements of that would you have never thought of? The answer to that is something that you may get the chance to add in the forthcoming examinations. If you get the chance and can pull something like this off, then my message to you is simple; go for it! Be brave. Be bold. Be strong in your convictions that you are making the best possible effort to write something truly unique.

As a side thought, now choose one of the seasons yourself and try to do the same thing and see what you can come up with. Writing should be fun. It should be something that you do out of love, not out of exam necessity.

AQA GCSE Exam Task

In a recent examination, the following task appeared and threw a lot of people who took it, because they were not used to writing a speech. So I thought I would address that issue right here and show you what happened with my students.

I mentioned it when teaching and how the previous year, whichever year it was, had goofed up on this task. We then had a look at how to write such a thing as this. Take a look at the exam task that was set first. It was this, found in Section B of the second exam, I believe.

Education is not just about which school you go to, or what qualifications you gain; it is also about what you learn from your experiences outside of school.’ Write a speech for your school or college Leavers’ Day to explain what you think makes a good education.


The students had just answered questions in Section A all about education from differing perspectives, from a picture of all things and text below it. If they did not know how to pull apart a picture, or a piece of art, a corner quarter at a time, then they were lost and would miss something out, like you do when you watch a TV show episode for the second time and think hang on, I missed that last time round. 

The question on their lips to me, was one of how do you do something like this? So I gave them some ideas and asked them to complete it for a homework, to see if they had understood my instruction. I also said, rather densely, that I would write one also and post it here, so here it is. See how many stylistic devices I am employing here.

Education is not just about which school you go to, or what qualifications you gain; it is also about what you learn from your experiences outside of school.’ Write a speech for your school or college Leavers’ Day to explain what you think makes a good education.

Good afternoon all.

Can some of you remember that time when we were in Mr. May’s class and we reenacted the Battle of Hastings?

Can you remember the fun that we had preparing for this and learning all the facts? Can you remember how nervous you were, for all those of you who were taking part?

It was epic!


It was great and it showed me three things; that education should be fun, education should be challenging and that education should be enriching. All these things make for a good education, but what do I mean by that? What does it mean to us, who are leaving this school today?

Some of us are leaving in the hope that we might find suitable work. Some of us will get those jobs we want and never need to go on to get A Levels and Degrees. We will make our own way in life. We will make lots of money and gain lots of friends. We will hopefully become successful and have all the things that we want out of our life.

We will be a success!

But there will be some here today who are not so fortunate. There will be some for whom Universal Credit becomes a nightmare. There will be some here today, who see the future and cringe at the very thought of it. To those and to those who will go on from here, into further education, we say to our teachers, “Thank you for all you have done for us whilst we have been here.” We say thank you today because you have always tried to make our education something we can call fun. Whether it was Mr. Johnson and his crazy impersonations of students and the way they walked down the corridors, or whether it was Mr. Sanders, who brought Science to life in such ways, showing us flaming Magnesium, who always seemed to have a smile on his face when disecting rats and frogs, what has been important is their dedication to service. When I think of the day when Mr. Sanders cut open that cancerous lung, which made lots of us sick that day, I still shiver. Or even, good old Mr. Sykes, who somehow made Religious Education come alive because of his own faith, what we have seen whilst we have been here is a group of teachers who have tried to make it fun for us.


But they have also tried to make it challenging as well. I remember those times in Miss Harper’s class, thinking through those times in English, when she asked us to think from another person’s point of view. I remember how we studied To Kill A Mockingbird and how he used those words of Atticus Finch about being able to walk around in someone else’s shoes for a day to fully understand them. That challenged me to think about how I behaved around others, both male and female.

Teachers do that, you see and good teachers do that even more, because they enrich our lives beyond measure. We might have times when we have thought to ourselves why am I even bothering to turn up today? But in the end, it is the likes of Miss Harper who get us to open the pages of our books and see life from a different point of view.

And now, we are here, on our last day. We are here, looking forward to what the future will bring for us. We have learnt a lot of things inside the walls of this school, but what we will learn out there will shape us and define us forever, so whatever it is, make it good, make it smart, make it perfect. Make everything you do in your life be worthy of the education that you had in this place. Make everything that you are be a signal pointing towards the quality of the teaching that has taken place here in the last five years.

And whatever it is that you do, take the words of the best teacher in this place; Mr. May himself, as your watchword for the days, weeks, months and years ahead. Can you remember what he kept saying to us all? His motto was always typed up on a card in his room.

“You are that which amounts to the effort you put into your life. So make it all good.”

Farewell. Thank you to all who serve here and may future students be as blessed as we are.


Thank you.



Which Ghost Has The Greatest Impact On Scrooge?

Which Ghost Has The Most Impact on Scrooge?

TS: GCSE English Student. Y11.

A young student called Terry came to me for help one day, with his essay on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, set by his teacher, a colleague of mine, so I offered him some extra teaching, to help him understand the question. He came up with this effort in two short sessions with me. He did it at home and then showed me his efforts. He was struggling at the time, with some quite specific special needs of his own, which were impacting his studies immensely. 


Each ghost in a Christmas Carol take Scrooge to a different time in his life. The ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to key points in his past, which brings mixed emotions such as pain and misery, but also happiness and excitement. The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to different places on Christmas Day, showing the poorest people being happy on this day. The Ghost of Christmas yet to come shows Scrooge his death by use of silence and gesture which is why this ghost has the most impact on Scrooge, because he sees what will happen to him if he does not change his ways.

The end of Stave 3 sets the tone for the next spirit with the introduction of “Want” and “Ignorance,” the two children hidden under the robes of the ghost of Christmas present’s gown. They are malnourished and in scraggy clothing. They are very similar in appearance to the ghost of Christmas Yet to come, with a bony scraggy look about them. Scrooge fears this spirit and everything about him. In the book Dickens does not even call this ghost a spirit at the start but a “phantom.” Phantoms have a very negative connotations with them. Dickens chose the word “phantom” to emphasize that this ghost should be feared and treated with respect, otherwise bad things will happen. Scrooge fears for his future increases as the ghost shows him his future because Scrooge pleads with the spirit to tell him if he “may change these shadows.” At this point you know Scrooge is a changed man because he has seen what has yet to come in his later life and does not want it to happen so he so he will do everything in his power to change it.

Scrooge begs and pleads with the spirit to talk and tell him that he has a chance to change his future but the spirit merely points, making Scrooge fear him even more. Scrooge asks the spirit “am I the man who lay upon the bed?” The phantom simply points at a gravestone in complete silence. Dickens uses silence to add suspense and creepiness to the spirit to make the audience as well as Scrooge, scared of it. The spirit shows scrooge a small and neglected tombstone with Scrooge’s name on it. The graveyard is described as being “choked up with too much burying “and it also says only weeds and grass grow there that has over run the place. In a sense, this is “a worthy place” for Scrooge to be buried and this is the phantom showing Scrooge just how unloved he is.

The spirit tips Scrooge over the edge by only showing him happiness from the result of his death. He starts by showing people he had done regular business with. He sees them joking about some poor man’s death saying things like they “don’t mind going if a lunch is provided.” This later turns out to be Scrooge who they were talking about, meaning that they don’t even miss making money out of Scrooge. The spirit does not speak; he just points at things, leaving Scrooge in a constant state of confusion because he does not answer any of Scrooge’s questions. This has a great impact on Scrooge, making him want to try to be happier, because he has nothing to really lose through it and can only gain.

The ghost of Christmas yet to come has the most impact on Scrooge because it makes him fear what has yet to come and makes him want to change in any way possible. This spirit also pushes him over the edge making him realise he has to change his ways to not end up like Marley; forgotten and alone in Purgatory. Therefore, Scrooge is mostly changed by the ghost of Christmas yet to come.