February 18, 2007

Baby–fied

You know how someone tells you that there’s a contagious rash going around and suddenly you feel itchy all over? Or you watch a documentary on spiders and find yourself checking the corners of your room? Well, I read this book on how we are all treated as big babies in society these days (Big Babies by Michael Bywater) and now the evidence is manifesting itself all over the place!

Bywater’s book has the effect of making you grind your teeth every time you hear the automated voiceover on the train say ‘please remember to take all personal belongings with you when you leave the train’ or see a yellow stand saying ‘cleaning in progress’ because no matter how much you try and deny it, there is an element of truth in what he has to say. The voiceover only needs a change in pitch and shrillness to turn it into your mother’s voice and the yellow stand is akin to, though perhaps more visually offensive than, the baby safety gate.

And the worst thing is that we are all becoming ‘baby-fied’ (new word courtesy of me) right here at university. Ever attended a seminar entitled ‘How to Write an Essay’? Or received a ‘courtesy notice’ from the library politely reminding you that you have a book due back the next day? We are being treated like babies, who have to do things a certain way because ‘mummy said so’. For some reason, we have to be reminded by the teacher at the end of the day not to forget tomorrow’s dinner money. When, of ever, will we be allowed to grow up?

But perhaps I’m being too harsh. After all, the respected library staff are only making sure we spend our money on more ‘important’ (yes, that fiftieth pair of shoes WAS important!) things than library fines, and attending a spoon-feeding seminar leaves more time for facebook – yay!

So why complain? I could end this article right now; go back to my playpen, have my nappy changed once in a while, and just goo-goo-ga-ga through life. Plenty have done it before me…

And yet, the grave danger lies precisely in the fact that plenty have done it before me. You see, each new generation becomes more and more baby-fied than the previous one. If our parents had pocket calculators to reduce their powers of mental arithmetic, we now have BlackBerrys to reduce our powers of mental just-about-everything. Not that I’m not in favour of technological developments but if it means that my child will be living on the moon and be unable to string together one grammatically correct sentence without reference to a screen of some kind, then I may have to qualify this.

Bywater concludes his book by giving us thirty-one actually ways in which we can stop ourselves being ‘Big Babies’. I, however, am going to do no such thing. What I will SUGGEST though, is that if you find yourself standing in front of a notice saying ‘no mobile phones’ with a picture of a red line struck through an archaic-looking phone accompanying it, and if, at that moment, by some fluke chance, this article comes to mind, then you might want to: firstly, realise you are being infantilised (can’t we, undergraduates at one of Britain’s top universities, de-code words without the picture accompaniment??), secondly, you may want to use your own discretion about using your mobile phone in that place rather than relying on the sign – and be grown-up about it! and thirdly, you may want to rebel in some way. I don’t mean vandalism I mean adult-like rebellion. Treat yourself and other students as you would treat someone whose brain has been developing for 20 odd years and not a mere 2. Don’t be afraid to turn right when your TomTom says left and then turn it off and discover the name of the road you are on by looking for it. It might lead you to great things. Who knows, you may even make up a new word, just because it captures what you want to say better than anything in the dictionary.


December 28, 2006

Allow me to quote…

The following passage is from Jorge Luis Borges’s essay entitled, ‘A New Refutation of Time’. I recommend the whole essay as well as most of his fiction, which reveals sudden bursts of pure genius from an ordinary mind. No Shakespeare or Kant, but arguably more readable because of it.

And yet, and yet....Denying the temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparant desperations and secret consolations. Our destiny (as contrasted with the hell of Swedenborg and the hell of Tibetan mythology) is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and iron-clad. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.’


December 02, 2006

My Daily Commute

Sometimes I pull my coat tighter around me; sometimes I ponder; sometimes I leisurely stroll; sometimes I’m moody; sometimes my face is caught in the wind’s embrace; sometimes I watch the world go by; sometimes I chat to someone I’ll never see again; sometimes I gaze in childish awe; sometimes I concentrate hard; sometimes I look but am not looking; sometimes I flick; sometimes I read; sometimes I listen; sometimes I cry; sometimes I pray more; sometimes I worry more; sometimes I smile and people wonder why; sometimes I run; sometimes I let them stare; sometimes I’m jostled; sometimes I’m inspired; sometimes I wait and wait and wait; sometimes I notice; sometimes I almost die; sometimes the rain can’t get me; sometimes the snow sparkles; sometimes I’m not alone.

All the time I get there and I get back. All the time I know that I’m being looked after. All the time it’s a new grape to ‘burst against the palate fine’.


November 14, 2006

Tribute to Moazzam Begg

‘Matchbox’, a new poetry magazine, recently published an article I wrote on Moazzam Begg. The reason I put it on my blog is not a blatant attempt at showing-off, but rather beacuse I think the issues that Begg brings up in his work deserve to be reflected on:

Poetry in Solitary Confinement
Saajida Mehrali

Most of us who write poetry like to be alone when we do so. Not necessarily alone in terms of sitting behind a locked door in the dead of night (though arguably an environment like this one can be very productive), but rather in the sense of being alone with the poem in hand. It gives us the chance to focus our ideas and pursue a line of thought without being interrupted or distracted. Of course, there comes a stage in the writing process when the poem has to be left alone. A diversion from the solitude becomes necessary and the distance created helps to view the poem with a fresh perspective when we come back to it.

But what if you could not move away? What if the night was endless and the door never unlocked? What if there was no way for you to get away from your thoughts?

I recently went to the Birmingham Book Festival to hear Moazzam Begg talk about his experiences at Guantanamo Bay, where he was illegally detained on suspicion of being a collaborator in the September 11 attacks. The occasion took the form of an interview followed by a Q&A session but Moazzam opened and closed the event by reading some of the poetry that he had written during his experience. The most striking poetry was produced while he was in solitary confinement, and an example of this is ‘Dark World’. His situation made it difficult for him to escape from his thoughts and in his book Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim’s Journey to Guantanamo and back Begg describes the effect of the imposed isolation and then quotes from the poem itself to articulate his feelings at the time:

‘I find it hard to describe the sense of utter desperation and claustrophobia I often felt during almost two years, isolated in a cell smaller than my toilet at home. I spent countless nights praying, crying, thinking…and regretting certain decisions in my life. When I finally did get to sleep my dreams were filled with strange and wonderful visions of life far away from US soldiers and concentration camps. In fact, I hated waking up. I wished I never woke up again. It was during that time I wrote ‘Dark World’. Some of its verses read:

Tormenting strain is at its height,
Darkness blotting out sunlight.
All has disappeared, but night,
Eyes have shed their tears from light

Awaiting anxiously respite,
The noose is closing in too tight.
Proceeding on ahead, despite
The guiltless beings they indict

Life is drained by parasite,
Inflicting pain as from a bite.
End is near, but not just quite -
My world is dark, and theirs – is white’

What follows is a paragraph about how Begg, normally very calm and collected, lost control. In light of this, his poem, with its tight structure and rhyme scheme strikes the reader as ironic. The form makes the poem seem like a cynical attack rather than just an articulation of emotion or frustration and this is enhanced in the racially charged word of the last line, ‘white’.

Individual lines in Begg’s poetry can often be difficult to understand, perhaps because he is more interested in the emotion conveyed by the words in any particular line, than of the line as a coherent whole. This aspect of his poetry makes it powerful even without the context in which it was written. For example, the meaning of the line ‘Eyes have shed their tears from light’ is ambiguous and open to interpretation, but the connotations and associations of the three key words, ‘eyes’, ‘tears’ and ‘light’ (which we already know there is a lack of), conveys more than a single coherent image would.

Begg made it clear very early on in the event that poetry had taken on a special significance and meaning for him during these two years of his life. Sometimes, in response to a question, he would come out with a verse or two of one of his poems instead of answering the question directly. Once he quoted from his poem ‘Homeward Bound’ (the first poem he wrote at Guantanamo), which expressed the importance of poetry for him:

‘Now ‘patience is of virtue’ taught
And virtue is of iron wrought;
So poetry is in motion set
(Perhaps with appreciation met)’

Poetry, it seems, gave Begg the hope and the strength of will to keep going. The allusions to ‘patience’ and ‘virtue’ are references to the story of Job in the Bible and the Qur’an that Begg was reminded of by a psychiatrist who came to see him. What is interesting though, is that Begg feels they are traits that can be developed by poetry. However, as his time in Guantanamo lengthened and his experiences became more and more bitter, Begg’s poetry also became less hopeful and less, it can be claimed, orientated towards an audience. In fact, Begg became the audience of his poetry, using it as a distraction from his solitude. He admitted that this was the reason for some of the funnier poems he wrote during his experience:

‘Vulgarity is not my style,
But still I have to say,
This occasion causes me revile
So f**k the USA!’


October 28, 2006

Thinking about thinking about thinking

An article that appeared in the G2 a while back (which I happened to re-read recently) reminded me of Immanuel Kant’s discussion on the public and private uses of reason. The article is about an air hostess who ‘freaked out’ during a moment of turbulence on a flight to Las Vegas, but the interesting part of the article comes near then end – Lucy Mangan writes:

“Part of me hopes that Wendy (the air hostess) will spark a trend for entertaining breakdowns among other professionals. Surgeons who look up halfway through an operation and shriek, “Have you seen this? I’ve opened up a body! I’m up to my elbows in someone else’s guts! I’m plonking things that should be encased in skin into shiny metal basins! What the hell happened? I’m out of here!” Barristers who grind to a halt in the middle of their oratory and say, “I’m sorry, I appear to be wearing a wig and talking in Latinate circumlocutions. I do apologise and wish myself to bog off. I’m going skinny dipping with ma honey.”

Obviously, we don’t wish it to happen at all as the poor guy in the operating theatre would probably die (literally), but the fact is, as Kant argues, very few people use private reasoning as opposed to public reasoning anymore. The use of public reason, according to Kant, is when one is reasoning or thinking within a profession, so the doctor uses his reason and intelligence to work out what decisions he has to make with respect to a particular patient’s problem. The private use of reasoning is when the same man thinks about things completely outside of his profession, so for example, the doctor logically reasons through matters of philosophy, takes an interest in astronomy AND is able to form a complex political argument. Yes, I know people would complain that this is an unfair expectation since there is just not enough time to achieve it all, but that’s precisely the point…


June 11, 2006

Exams are a form of oppression

It has got to the stage where people are afraid to talk to other people because they dread encountering something they can think about. You see, it may distract them from their revision and other exam–orientated thoughts. Well now, if the musings of the mind are being curtailed, can it be called anything but oppression?

May 14, 2006

Next time you want to change your ringtone, think twice!

Whoever invented mobile phone ringtones was OBVIOUSLY not thinking about the potential consequences of what s/he was doing. I mean didn't they realise that being called with certain ringtones would cause massive fights among even the most professional and infuential people??

Shia Ringtone Sparks Scuffle in Iraqi Parliament


March 29, 2006

At least I didn't get BORED!

For those of you that don't know, I've been working at a school in Coventry for the past three weeks and I feel that I have a responsibility to pass on some of my experiences to the general public so that they can fully appreciate the good work that our government is doing with the schools on their 'Special Measures' list. I won't name and shame the school out of respect for those associated with it and also because I know it is not a singular case.

Ok, just a quick calendar of events throughout the 3 weeks:

Monday 13th March: The Students' handbook called it 'shadowing' the pupils called it 'stalking'. Someone also took pretty good aim at me with a basket ball.
Tuesday 14th March: Pupils locked a teacher in a classroom
Wednesday 15th March: One pupil decided he wanted to wee in the main hall…
Thursday 16th March: My partner was told she was a silly b* * * * by a 14 yr old.
Friday 17th March: One of the teachers dressed up as a viking for a class that was studying Beowulf, which is all fine, until we realised that he actually IS a viking and goes boar–hunting (axe and all) at the weekends…

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY: Brief return to reality!

Monday 20th March: My first lesson…ok, how about we don't go there, yeh?
Tuesday 21st March: A pupil threw an orange at a teacher and was suspended for a day because of it.
Wednesday 22nd March: Some boys tried to get in the taxi with me, then stood in front of it so the driver couldn't move off and then kicked the side of the taxi when he feigned a move towards them.
Thursday 23rd March: A girl tried to set an aerosol bottle on fire
Friday 24th March: Boy was told to put his bag on the floor. He didn't follow the instruction and when it was repeated he got annoyed, as you do, so he threw his bag out of the window, again, as you do.

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY: Ahh, so this is what sanity is like?!

Monday 27th March: Was addressed in the following manner by a 13 year old "Miss, I'm taller than you!" and to add insult to injury, WHACKED ROUND THE HEAD WITH HER EXERCISE BOOK! – All for being a bit short?
Tuesday 28th March: Boy got so angry he threw something at a window, which shattered into the corridor below.
Wednesday 29th March: Discovered that Year 9s don't know that 'see' is not actually spelt 'c'

…uff – do I have to finish the week??

If you want to lose weight, hair and good sense, then become a full–time teacher at a school like this one.
If you think you can change the face of teaching, then start with a school like this one.
If this all seems unreal to you…then good.


Allow me to Quote…

This time my 'quote' is from Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. The 'perplexities' referred to are actually completely irrelevant. Read the book when you've got lots of time and are prepared to concentrate on light-hearted writing…. yeh, precisely…

'What these perplexities of my uncle Toby were, – 'tis impossible for you to guess; – If you could, – I should blush; not as a relation, – not as a man, – nor even as a woman, – but I should blush as an author; inasmuch as I set no small store by myself upon this very account, that my reader has never yet been able to guess at anything. And in this, Sir, I am of so nice and singular a humour, that if I thought you was able to form the least judgment or probable conjecture to yourself, of what was to come in the next page, – I would tear it out of my book'


February 21, 2006

Hmm…

It's been a long time since I've updated my blog so I really feel like I should write something, but I'm not quite sure what that something should be. Something along the lines of 'the world is a strange place'? Hmm…not quite. How about 'the people in this world are strange'? Yes, that's more like it…'the people in this world are strange'. I'll leave it to the reader's discretion to determine whether or not that includes me :-p

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