History teacher, facing a crisis of identity, seeks new planet to inhabit.

A few years ago, I had a group of students, the Last Breakfast Club, who were insistent that I should share my credentials in the personal ads of the Belfast Newsletter.  Don’t worry.  I didn’t agree.  They had many helpful suggestions?

Of course, as a History teacher, I rush towards every new interpretation.  We crave new understandings.  We are a rare breed!

Recently, I led a Mural Tour through Belfast.  Goodness.  I am so sorry for how bad it was.  Despite this, I inevitably thought about what the Murals mean to me.  To be honest, nothing.  The Murals, the Flags and the Symbols seem to say to the respective communities, ‘we are you and you are us.’  It all feels rather disturbing to me.  We used to say, “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who don’t understand, no explanation is possible.’  For those with vision, the whole conflict was not inexplicable.  It was a tragedy that everyone understood.  It was always a conflict that we all hoped and prayed would end.  I have to make this absolutely clear.  I have shed too many tears for those I didn’t get to know and those I could have known.  I have also shed tears for those I knew.

When we visited Corrymeela recently, with a group of our European friends, you wouldn’t believe how emotional that I was.  It felt like my heart grew heavier with every step.  Once again, I had to place a stone of remembrance at the heart of where reconciliation began.  I had to place the right foot before the left foot and tentatively move on.  Our heart, our love and affection, our actions, our feelings, encapsulate who we are.  We have to reach out.  We have to care.

We have to love.



Euroclio 2016. The informal evaluation.

The week began with a final look through the program with the Euroclio gang.  Let me thank the Euroclio folks for their absolute dedication to this project.  I think that we are all in agreement; Alan, Sinead, Sean, Peter and myself, that it wouldn’t have been possible without your drive and input.  There may have been more than a few frustrating moments.  Some of these moments were undoubtedly caused by me.  As we frequently say in these parts, ‘what are you going to do?’  It is important not to dwell on the past, or as the outgoing Minister of Education noted, running off script, ‘you can’t teach History.’  That was all a little puzzling?

Nevertheless, the initial City Cab driver did denote that it would be a lot better if we didn’t teach History.  ‘What a load of balls on the falls?’  Well, there is only one ball that welcomes you to central Belfast.  It is known as the ‘Westicle.’  I learned such gems, as I went out on a personal tour with Peter, a tour that gave me all the tools to lead a distinguished panel of guests around the Murals.  I made a notable mistake.  I located the infamous ‘Castlereagh Barracks’ in the wrong part of the city.  What are you going to do?  At least the story was good.  All things considered.  I think the tour of the Murals went well.  Thanks to Peter.

Then there was the whole workshop thing.  I worked on my workshop for the last year.  I was really freaking out that I would let Euroclio down.  Honestly.  There is no doubt that I am an absolute ‘history geek,’ but with Alan dressing up as Gusty and the gang and Lesley giving her inspirational Prisoner to Peace talk, I was really under pressure.  I enlisted as many friends and students that I could get.  Thank goodness.  Louise and Jamie kept me calm.  My students were amazing.  The perspectives represented gave a real picture of the multidimensionality that is Northern Ireland, the past, the interrupted future and the future that has yet to be determined.  Personally, it was a great pleasure to introduce Terri Hooley to some of the dedicated delegates, as he proved that there was never anything without a twist in the Northern Ireland that was.

I should mention the Pub Quiz.  Yes.  I did read the first 300 pages of a book to get ready for the quiz.  I tried to pick really obvious questions.  I failed.  Sorry about that!  What are you going to do?  One silver lining.  The Movie Section was a lot of fun.  I hope that everybody had a good laugh.

I forged great friendships.  People that will always mean the world to me.  I wasn’t being flippant when I spoke about the bus struggling up this and that hill.  It was a golden moment.  The bus struggling allowed me to chat endlessly to my new friends on the back seat.  (I should note that one of my friends on the back seat commented, ‘stop talking about all of this conflict stuff; tell me where to get a good Northern Ireland whisky?’  Or words to that effect.)  I really need to learn Spanish, because I am really impressed by the dedication and efforts that are going into next year.  Fair play.  It will be amazing.  If you need any help on the International Pub Quiz, it might not be a good idea to ask me?  Ha!!!

Action points.  Never judge a book by it’s cover.  (If you are preparing a quiz, make sure that you get to the end of the book!!!)  Embrace the fact that the comfortable ‘me’ needs to constantly embrace the ‘uncomfortable’ to make a real difference.  Work to ensure that Northern Ireland teachers get the opportunity to interact with the depth of opportunity and enlightenment that exists within a cross-cultural embrace.

The HTANI began as an abstract notion.  It is beginning to become concrete.

I will add no more commentary on the Easter Rising and the Somme.  You are the experts now.

One love.



The House that Jack built.

Life will always choose life.  Life will always move towards a maximised life.  Life wills survival.  Life expects.  Life takes.

I will look at the migrant crisis from two perspectives.  One is called the expectation of life.  The other is called the failure of life to embrace other lives.

Does life itself determine that all should hold an expectation of a satisfied existence?  That seems highly unlikely, as the majority holding in the life stakes has already determined that life is expendable.  It is seemingly unnatural, but to be expected, that life should perish whilst seeking to live a maximised life elsewhere.  There is an absolute failure of life to embrace other lives.  Interestingly, what equates to my planet also equates to your planet.  What life I have may influence, deter or fascinate you.  What is equally clear is that life will continue beyond me.  It will include a lot of those that I tried to ignore.  Life will always choose life.  Life will always move towards a maximised life.  Life wills survival.  Life expects.  Life takes.

It is about time that we all helped.  Unless we collectively will that the House that Jack built should fall?


The Zenith and Nadir of life.

I reached my personal nadir one generation ago, although the beginning of that generational shift still feels like several seconds ago.  The gravity of life pulled me through the Earth’s crust and towards the centre of myself.  A centre that was not exactly rounded.  Meltdown.  For a long while.

When I fixed my face skyward again, I didn’t exactly jump.  I bumped along.  For a long while.  I then realised that I was looking down on the earth again and that life can have an upward trajectory.  A zenith.  I haven’t reached it yet, but I am trying my hardest to get there.

I am not trying to comfort anyone.  I just offer hope to everyone.

Life has several million possibilities and only one nadir.

I promise.



Conference notes.

‘Circumstances give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing color and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.’

If I declare that I am aware that discrimination is likely to happen, then it must follow that I am fully aware that my declaration will be subject to legal challenge.  If I act in good faith, carefully instituting a cost/benefit analysis to bolster my decision, it makes no difference, if I am aware that discrimination is likely to happen.  The circumstances of the day will always question if my carefully cost benefited analysis will be beneficial or noxious to mankind.  Circumstances do not create the zero sum analysis.  That rests on the decisions I make, decisions that should be based on a real understanding of the best available data, information that will ensure that I act in good faith, in all things, to ensure that I do not make the wrong decision.

What could be is no more abstract than what might be.  If I hold in my hands the ability to threaten with what may be coming, I hold in my hands an equal ability to institute transformative change towards what should be.  It makes no sense to govern through zero sum analyses.  Anything and everything is possible, if we calculate carefully and start scribbling together on a new page.






Globalisation and Air Filtration

Many years ago I spoke to a student on the not too far away eventuality that governments will create a charge for air.  This was based on a simple and logical extrapolation from water to air.  The air test boxes are installing in a city near you, testing for sulphates, nitrates and all the other nasties that exude through tyre burn.  If there is a way of creating a new charge that is based on air quality, it will be found.  Test emissions.  Fine those outside guidelines.  Get to work on imagining an inbuilt charge that will cover the cost of the boxes that we are installing in a city near you.  It seems pointless to depend on fines.  The air quality is obviously rubbish.  What if we installed a filtration system that helped to deal with those nasties?  We will call it the ’emissions’ charge?  Or the ‘environment’ tax?  Every human breathes air.  It seems only fair that they should pay a charge for the lack of oxygenated air that the centuries of human existence has created.  We could call it the ‘tree’ tax?  A tax that will allow us to replant trees after the globally shared tree diseases finally kill our native elms, oaks and ash.  Of course, it will also allow us to put up those boxes and filtration systems, in readiness for the next taxation push.

Globalisation allows us to import trees and tree diseases and it therefore follows that we should be able to charge for air quality.  Dutch Elm disease, for goodness sake!  This should be discussed at a European level.  We are a little bit worried that the Eurozone has not yet set up adequate air-sulphate detector boxes in European cities.  The UK Parliament should be totally sovereign on all UK air quality matters.  Dispatch the Prime Minister.  The UK has always taken a lead on this.  It is absolutely essential that we hold a veto on this matter.  QMV is not acceptable.

The truth lives above the UK preoccupation with ‘parliamentary sovereignty’ and above the Eurozone’s alleged preoccupation with ‘ever closer union.’  Globalisation always was a two sided coin.  On the one side, capitalism, exploitation, supposed democratic values and a shrinking world to exploit.  On the other side, destitution, desperation, whatever despot is the order of the day and a shrinking space to inhabit.  As the world grew smaller and the communication channels opened ever wider, both sides understood each other and a dynamical shift occurred towards equity.  Accidental and powerful enlightenment.  The void between what exists and what could exist was crossed.  We all breathe the same air.  We are all intrinsically human.  Globalisation allows life to move where life can live.

How we deal with this truth will define the next one hundred years.


Is there anything holding us back?

The universe has been speaking to us for our whole lives.

We are all contorting across waves that pull us this way and that.

Waves in the middle.  Waves at the start.  Waves at the very end.

I think that the key message that Einstein and the universe has taught us.

It is important to make waves.



Far’s syndrome.

I am not talking about the similarly named Fahr’s syndrome, a rare, inherited neurological disorder characterised by abnormal deposits of calcium in areas of the brain that control movement.  I am talking about Far’s syndrome; a rare, genetically dominant, inherited neurological disorder characterised by abnormal deposits of calcium in areas of the brain that control movement.  There is a difference.

Far determined that there are several early warning signs that lead to indeterminism, diminished mobility and failure to take decisions.  The first Far factor is the so near, but so far away symptom, also known as the perspective test.  The calcification of the brain leads to an inability to move beyond the first step, demonstrated by slow movement, stumbles and occasional collapse and a diminished capacity to judge distance travelled.  The second Far factor is the so far behind factor, also known as the generational shift test.  The calcification of the brain leads to involuntary movements, foot shuffling and an inability to move beyond today.  The third Far factor is known as the prediction test, also known as the, ‘how far can you see test.’  Some distinguished neurosurgeons call it the final ‘Zombification’ test.  Worst case scenarios result in an inability to recognise one’s own feet.  Understandably, in this case, distance is an irrelevance.  Rapid calcification results in decay and rapid deterioration.  Movement disappears.  Concretisation is impossible.  What was, is gone; what is, is lost, and what could be, is never fully explored.

Far always hoped that the necessary funding would be made available to ensure that the necessary research would, one day, result in a breakthrough.

The end of ‘Far’s Syndrome.’

‘Zombification’ thwarted.





That 2016 feeling!!!

I know.  It is 2016.  We had better start commemorating.  I am buying The Revolution Papers.  I have no idea why?  I guess that I don’t want to miss out.  I could go to several lectures on this and that.  Bobby Hamilton and the ‘gaffer,’ Alan Marsh, took us all on tour in 1991-92.  I have touched the bullet holes a few times since then.  Of course, I have been to the Somme and have noted the unbelievable sacrifice of our fallen ancestors, very movingly denoted by the protestant and catholic students who found their relatives on the Thiepval Memorial.

2016.  What does it really mean?  Everyday, I am amazed by the technology that now exists.  Laser printed kidney blueprints, MS defeating chemotherapy and apps that allow you to listen to personal testimony as you walk by monuments of historical significance.  We live in an unbelievable world, a world that we didn’t imagine in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s; a fitter world, where everyone is engaging in personal fitness challenges.

Is 2016 the year when we start to look forward as a society?  A big election looms.  Can we respect our respective commemorations and move on?  2016 is worlds apart from the society that existed in 1966, universes away from 1916.  We should celebrate our society’s progression between 1998 and 2016.  We should reflect on what we have learned.  We should imagine what we can achieve.  We can’t revisit 1916, 1926, 1966, 1976, 1986 or 1996.  It is time to start planning for 2026 and 2036.  That is what 2016 means to me.  I want to respectfully commemorate all that was and move on.

2016 is also my brother’s 50th Birthday.


The amazing journey through time.

We are all time travellers.

Once upon a time, I visited 1970’s world.  There were boys with prams and buildings going up.  One young lad had to shout through the vent in the pantry to invite the builders to tea.  That vent was out into the new utility room.  The new utility room has vanished into the midst of time.

Once upon a time, I visited 1980’s world.  Books and pamphlets stood above my mother and father’s bed.  Sickness.  I had a wee look at the pamphlets.  Ice Ages combined with the occasional asthmatic panic.  A panic brought on by the Wizard Merlin.

Inevitably, there were spuds on the go and everyone fought about who had to turn on the dinner.  In my mind, Gareth never turned on the spuds.  He was always busy?  However, all of us combined to create the perfect Vesta Curry.  For dessert?  Gareth ate the jellies from the packet.  He also came up with the Custard Challenge.  It all revolved around the idea that waiting for custard to heat is boring.  Why don’t we put some custard powder in our mouth and swill it with a wee bit of cold milk.  Perfect.  I had so much fun doing the Custard Challenge in the Old School.  I will never do it again.

All of the certainties and uncertainties of 1980’s world now seems like a distant planet to me.  Several caveats.  Every step I took through school and the friendships that were forged there.  I remember every inch of that school.  The shop where I worked.  I can click my fingers and transport myself back to many formative moments, like buying T-Rex records in Portstewart.  An extremely important memory.  The dark and dismal elements of that decade, with Paul Clark delivering the news on this and that attack, with soldiers landing in the car park and helicopters hovering, definitely feels like a distant world to me.  Thank goodness.  There was, of course, the lighter moments, like the time that the soldiers knocked at the window and asked for a cup of tea.  Gareth was busy.  I was over the back wall as fast as possible to see what the ever dependable May would recommend.  She said, ‘Send them around to me.’  She had trays and teacups waiting.

And if time itself would reach into the furnace of future possibilities and point to a direction, I imagine that it would indicate the following; ensure that that the young enjoy their formative years.

I had the most amazing class today.  The Year 8’s were sooooo happy.  I have no idea why?

I have one answer.  They are all time travellers.  Their journey has just begun.

The baggage they hold is a lot lighter.

Tomorrow awaits.

They have every chance of success.

And if time allows you to conquer and hold one second, try and remember the journey that has propelled you through time.