I’m not used to Dickens doing Northern accents. It’s usually cockney which is straightforward but Hard Times takes place in Coketown which I assume to be based on a place like Bolton or Rochdale. Dickens’s northern dialogue is like Dick van Dyke’s cockney but harder to follow. To make matter’s worse, one of the characters has a lisp. Coming straight after Jude The Obscure I was yearning to read something which had a telephone, a car or an aeroplane in it. But Hard Times was there on my bedside table and it seemed to have a sign on it saying ‘read me’. So I got grim factories and lots of chimneys.
One of the themes Hard Times touches on is education. People get so het up about this subject. Dickens is clear where he stands and Hard Times acts as a morality tale on education that puts the accumulation facts before having fun. Mr Gradgrind is a teacher. He is an extremist version of the old-fashioned sort. All facts, no fun. Mr Gradgrind had no sense of balance. He had an idea, and like lots of stupid people with ideas, he could not see that it may have one or two downsides. Well his children saw it and they didn’t turn out as planned.
Dickens could have taken the opposite view. He would have called the book Soft Times, and the teacher, Mr Gradfluff, would have told, sorry, suggested, to the students that they go walk in the woods and smell the trees. Then the children would have suffered in a different way by being emotionally well-balanced but unable to do a cushy sitting down job.
There seems to be a lot of discontent in the teaching profession and the root of of it is the obsession with qualifications. Teaching is an art, more akin to writing and singing that to accountancy and dentistry. But teachers have longed to occupy the second category because they perceive that there they will win greater respect and hence renumeration. No-one checks the credits of a CD to see if a musician is ‘qualified’. Teachers need to think more like artists.
But what do I know. I don’t have any educational ideas of my own. Occasionally I come up with one but start thinking about other things and forget what it was. Being an instrumental teacher, the furthest I’ve got is giving a twist to the carrot and stick approach. If a student doesn’t practise I hit him on the head with a stick, and the following week if he still hasn’t practised, I hit him on the head with a carrot. I’ll be writing a report on this experiment in due course.
Chico Chica will be going into Cowshed Studio, London to make a start on the second album. I know I’ve said this before but stuff happens which caused it all to be postponed much to our frustration. For this session we are enlisting members of Roberto Pla’s Latin Jazz Ensemble – we can’t afford the whole band but, there will be enough to give the proceedings a distinctly salsa vibe. I can’t wait.
Chico Chica will be playing at 8.30pm, 2nd October 2014, Bull’s Head, Barnes, London SW13 9PY