Monday, 15 June 2015

Magna Carta Libertatum

Today is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.

Last Friday I was a finalist with the Worcestershire Poet Laureate competition, which was won by the fabulous Heather Wastie.

It is worth noting, King John, the monarch who was forced to put his seal to the Great Charter of Liberties, is entombed in Worcester's cathedral.

I got through to the final with my poem, Magna Carta Libertatum, and it is perhaps appropriate today that I share it below.

Magna Carta Libertatum

Dear John,
You may not be remembered well,
For you were weak, ill-advised, greedy.
But you gave us all a gift,
For which we thank you.

Dear John,
Cowering, fearful of rebellion,
You came to Runnymede
And submitted to the Great Charter of Liberties,
Sealing your place in history.
The divine right of kings was no more.
They knew kings could concede.
In time, kings would bleed.
Largely now repealed,
Still powerful.

Dear John,
Do you know your Great Charter was the foundation of
So, so many great,
Yet somehow lesser,
Charters that followed?
The cornerstone of liberty, which spread to so many lands.
The American Constitution, a symbolic embodiment of freedoms,
Draws inspiration from the vellum and wax symbol of your downfall,
So small, yet bearing such weight.

Dear John,
We truly thank you for your gift,
Even though you did not want to give it.
In your final resting place
Within Severn’s sweet vale,
In Worcester’s hallowed cathedral,
Sleep well.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Worcestershire Poet Laureate competition 2015 FINAL!

Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2014, Fergus McGonigal
Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2014,
Fergus McGonigal
I am one of the poet laureate finalists!

I am happy to announce that I'm in the final for this year's Worcestershire Poet Laureate competition. Its truly an honour to have made  it through to the final again, and it will be exciting to find out who will succeed the excellent, exuberant and always explosively entertaining incumbent Fergus McGonigal as the Bard of the county.

My poetry has been appreciated far and wide, and it is my hope, if I am successful this year, to fly the flag for poetry across the West Midlands and beyond, not only in Worcestershire. Such vibrant events like this only go to show that the literary movement in Worcestershire is truly thriving.

The six finalist poets are (in no particular order):

  • Tony Shadforth
  • Heather Wastie
  • Suz Winspear
  • Damon Lord
  • Betti Moretti
  • Nina Lewis

I have often enjoyed the work of some of the other poets, and I truly know that I face stiff competition.

So, when are winners announced? You have to be there to find out! Come along to the Guildhall, Worcester High Street, on Friday, 12 June 2015 at 7p.m. for a 7:30p.m. start, for an amazing night of poetry and prose. Tickets are £5 per person, obtainable here.

P.S. You can read one poem by each of the six finalists here; can you guess whose is whose?

Thursday, 12 February 2015

How to learn a language - key language learning tools for successful learning 2

To get to the most out of language learning, your learning must serve a purpose. By identifying your purpose in language learning, the drive to learn will only be strengthened, and this therefore is a key tool. A sense of purpose is a highly important key tool, no less. It's worth sitting down and looking at why you may want to learn a language, so we'll go through a few reasons here to help define your purpose for learning.

The most obvious purpose for learning a foreign language is for a holiday. Many holiday destinations around the world can be enhanced by learning a bit of the local language, to improve relations with locals, build friendships, and learn more than you otherwise learn about the place which is not ordinarily accessible to those holidaymakers speaking only English. I always try to learn a bit of the local language, even if just a few words, as a courtesy.

You may find that, with the world getting smaller, there are members of your family or circle of friends who don't have English as their first language. To facilitate inter-cultural understanding, learning their language can help,  You may also wish to bring up your child to be bilingual. I am proud to count many people amongst my friends and family locally and globally whose first language is not English and who are bilingual or multilingual.

One of the first arguments against learning another language is that everyone apparently speaks English, but having travelled widely to countries on three continents, I can easily confirm that's not true. Even in countries which are popular tourist destinations for English-speaking people, once you take even just a few steps into a side street away from the beaten track, you soon encounter a wonderful world where English may not be spoken. By struggling with a few phrases of faltering French in a restaurant in a back street in the Montmartre quarter in Paris, we got better service than the British couple on the next table who insisted on doing everything through the medium of English in the middle of the Francophone capital. My wife and I have been able to get a far warmer welcome through usage of foreign languages. We have even gotten a better deal in some shops in some countries because we were able to negotiate prices at a basic level in the local tongue. We are usually able to learn more than we would otherwise have learned if we had only been bound by the limits of the English language and locals' capability to speak English.

One key purpose for learning a language is moving to another country. You may be moving to a country for a period of study, because the culture may interest you, your employer is sending you there to work, or you might be teaching English as a foreign language. Either way, you'll need to have some way to work out what the menu says when it's time to eat, or what the electric bill says when it falls through your door. I lived in China for six months during a gap year, and found myself having to pick up the Mandarin Chinese language very quickly!

You may wish to explore your heritage and identity through language. In Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Ireland, Brittany and Scotland, people are learning the ancient Celtic tongues (or reviving them, in the case of Cornish and Manx) to preserve and promote their unique culture and heritage. Similarly, with genealogy, if your family comes from central Europe for example and you are researching your family tree, it may be necessary to learn the old family tongue from several generations back.

There may also be some information in a language which you may need for study which is not so readily available in English. A bit of language learning can open up new avenues to you for research that were previously closed due to the language barrier. I spent a week in the Sorbian region of Germany in the summer 2007 in various museums, bookshops and libraries for a research project I was working on. Apart from a paragraph on the English language Wikipedia website, there were no materials available in English on my chosen field of research, so using German (and a tiny bit of Sorbian that I picked up in the week I was there) was essential.

Even if you don't go abroad, language skills are highly marketable and attractive to an employer, particularly if an employer does business abroad or is considering expanding into Europe or further afield. When I worked with the insurance field in vehicle accident management, I often was appointed by colleagues to examine foreign language insurance documents and driving licences and calling abroad to get vital information, cases which normally would not have been resolved so easily without my language skills. Languages can also open up business opportunities in parts of the world your company may not have previously considered.

The best part, though, about learning other languages is that that my efforts to speak another language have always been appreciated, and with a few words, bridges have been built. Nelson Mandela, the late President of the rainbow nation of South Africa said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Writing casting couch.... I think I need to work out how to use Pinterest...

I definitely need to use Pinterest. As I understand it, it's a place to clip pictures from around the Internet, collate them in one place,an online scrapbook, perhaps.

Why do I need something like this? As I write, I like to put faces to the movie in my mind, and play Work In Progress casting couch. In my mind for my current work in progress about the period leading up to 1066, I have a vibrant BRIAN BLESSED (whose name must always be typed in capitals, because he's so loud) playing the part of Earl Godwin of Wessex, with John Malkovich as King Edward the Confessor.

I'd love to share my imaginary casting couch with you (I've got a perfect actor who I've cast as Robert of Jumièges, the Bishop of London), but what with all the copyright issues of photos on various websites, I'm looking for a way to bypass this. Would Pinterest do the trick, do you think?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

How to learn a language - key language learning tools for successful learning 1

Having now spent several months learning Dutch, I think it is time to review what I have learned is essential for learning, so I will no longer be focusing solely on Dutch, but rather on language learning that can be applied to all languages.

People often ask me for the best way to learn languages, and it's not something I've often considered. However, having thought back over my studies with Dutch, and looked back over my learning of other languages, I believe I now can identify several elements which are essential for learning a language, and I'll run through them here in an occasional series here on the website, so stay tuned for further hints and tips.

Today, we look at the enthusiasm that can be found with....


Love is essential for learning. By love, I don't necessarily mean you have to have a girlfriend, boyfriend, lover, partner or spouse who speaks that language (although it can help!), rather you must find passion within yourself to drive yourself forward to study it each week, to get you out the door in bleak and dreary November (presuming you're in the Northern Hemisphere), or on an even colder January evening to your evening class, to ensure you are getting the most from your learning. Without the love or passion for your chosen subject, you will not actually care if you progress, and without caring, there is little chance for actual progress. Love your chosen language, and embrace all that there is to learn about it, language and culture.

Love will also drive you to go above and beyond, to start looking at other sources for material beyond those prescribed by whichever book you may be reading, or whichever course you may be studying. When speaking another language, you would not stick to one speaker only, so why stick to just one text book or course? Your love for the language and culture will drive you forward to explore this. I currently dip in and out of several text books for Dutch, the Michel Thomas Dutch audio course, as well as studying an evening class with an enthusiastic, vibrant, knowledgeable, BRILLIANT teacher. There is, however, so much more I can do for my learning, and my love and enthusiasm will drive me to find more ways.

Right now, I'm listening to Dutch radio, thans to the website Just a bit of music in the background, it gets me accustomed to the Dutch language. They just played an advertisement on the radio for an internet supplier, and although I didn't catch many details, I'm rather pleased to have recognised what it was about, at least.

So, ask yourself, before buying the books, signing up for the course, or clicking online to download the MP3s, just one very simple question:

Will I still give a damn about this language in three months' time to still be learning it?

Be very honest with yourself. It might sound harsh, but only continue if the answer is:

Yes, I will still have the love and the enthusiasm for the chosen language.

If you've answered YES!, you have the right mindset to go ahead! Love will find a way, love will overcome.

Congratulations and best wishes in your language learning.