Bumpkin Soapbox
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The Private Memoirs and Confessions of A Justified Bumpkin

Dear Lindsay Johns,

I am writing in response to your recent talk ‘Language is Power’ broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Before I continue I would like to stress that I agree with you on the importance of literacy. Every child should have the chance to learn how to read and write, standing in them in good stead for the rest of their lives. I also volunteer as a mentor, at the Ministry of Stories in Hoxton. What I disagree with you on however, is the outright rejection of street slang. Code-switching is not a problem for the children I work with and I do not find ‘street slang’ any more impenetrable than Scots or Geordie dialect. Should Scots also be discouraged because it differs from standard English? According to your logic, it should be.

To suggest that street slang should be eliminated is in essence linguistic eugenics. English has grown over the ages, incorporating the languages of every wave of immigration from the native Celts to Anglo-Saxons, Danish and Norwegians, French Normans. You cite Chaucer as a great piece of English literature but in its time this would have sounded like ‘street slang’. The elite, the educated, those in power at the time spoke Norman French or Latin. The layman spoke Germanic-descended dialects. Chaucer combined these two forms of disparate English separated by class. How is this any different from the combination of Hip Hop and Shakespeare that you so revile?

You blame hip hop artists for encouraging poor English without nuance or expression. I challenge you to listen to the grammar and vocabulary Saul Williams and Scroobius Pip and tell me these men do not know how to use language to communicate. You will find many words along the lines of ubiquitous and judicious. I also challenge you to go to any spoken word event in London, to RichMix in Shoreditch or The Albany in Deptford and listen to the ‘inner city youths’ have no struggle in combining the local vernacular with high poetry.

You criticise plays at The Royal Court and Channel 4 drama Top Boy for using street slang. The purpose of art is to represent and if a piece of art is set in a location where people speak street slang, it is only right that the art uses street slang. Forcing RP into the mouths of these characters would be jarring to say the least. Slang and the vernacular has been used in culture for centuries from Chaucer to The Colour Purple. As street slang has been so widespread across the media, more and more people are not finding it as ‘impenetrable’ as you make out. It is also not any more grammatically lacking than many other dialects.

You mention the phrase ‘you get me blood?’ repeatedly. The Oxford dictionary includes both the verb ‘get’ as a synonym to understand and the noun ‘blood’ to mean kinsmen. The only grammatical grievance here is the omission of ‘Do’ which is surely no worse than asking ‘Tea?’ instead of ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’.

In terms of double negatives, according to The Oxford Dictionary “The double negative was normal in Old English and Middle English and did not come to be frowned upon until some time after the 16th century”, the century in which Shakespeare lived most of his life and whom you hold so highly.

'Innit' is also in Oxford Dictionary and when it comes down to it, is it really any worse than 'ain't'?

As I stated above, words from other languages and vernaculars are absorbed into English. ‘Tote’, ‘Safari’, ‘Boogie’, ‘Jive’ and even ‘Okay’ are derived from African languages but because of the passing of time these are no longer considered slang or street talk, just like the Yiddish-derived ‘nosh’, ‘schmooze’ and ‘spiel’.

Cultural Relativism is founded on the tolerance of different cultures, a policy which all major parties in the United Kingdom follow. To stigmatise the language of certain cultures is contrary to this policy. You are correct in observing that our youth are not living in ‘Timbuktu or the South Bronx’ but this does not mean they have to reject their cultural heritage outright. Language is power. This is absolutely true, but why does that mean those in power should force those who speak a little differently fit into that mould. You also fail to point out that ‘the elite’, those who attend the educational institutions you want your students to gain access to, also have there own slang. Eton College, Oxford University and Cambridge University all have their own slang. Is the code-switching between college slang and standard English any worse than street slang and standard English?

Finally, you talk down to security guards, cleaners and tea boys. What is wrong with these professions? They make our lives safer and more comfortable and in some cases, such as in hospitals, they save lives. It is shockingly classist to deride such careers and focus on aiming for ‘the elite’ as the only viable career trajectory.

Slang and ‘standard’ English have co-existed for centuries. Do not patronise our youths by saying they are any more unable to speak both than a bilingual diplomat.

Thankyou for taking the time to read my letter. I wish you the best of luck with your future mentoring.

Kind regards,

Matthew Reynolds

4 notes

Jay and Tee sit below an elm tree. Jay has constructed a sculpture of a bee.

JAY: A bee! See da effigy?

TEE. Hi Jay…’kay.

JAY. Elm, nope?

Cue heiress.

HEIRESS: Tee you’ve…double, you eggs! Why’s…?

The tree is struct by lightening.

Some things I learnt recently whilst being a runner. 17 hour day. Gotta love it folks.

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DO wear practical trousers with big pockets

DON’T wear skinny chinos

DO have a spare wallet for money and receipts

DON’T screw up receipts in a ball at the bottom of your pocket then lose them

DO print off a copy of the call sheet

DON’T rely on someone else near you to have a copy

DO keep some walkie-talkie batteries charging

DON’T have three dead walkies at once

DO turn up your walkie to ear-splitting volume

DON’T communicate through flailing arm semaphore charades

DO eat food when the producer’s not looking

DON’T make them think all you’re doing is scoffing

DO have a little cash on you at all times

DON’T run around for the cashbox like a headless chicken

DO have pens, gum, tape and a lighter

DON’T forget this stuff

DO buy chocolate for the crew

DON’T just bust fruit

DO buy some fruit

DON’T give the crew scurvy

DO learn to drive

DON’T wait

DO be usefull

DON’T be useless

DO walk fast

DON’T run (despite the job title)

3 notes

Poppins - The Great Exception is a 2013 British fantasy film directed by Terry Gilliam. The screenplay was written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and inspired by the work of P.L. Travers.

Plot

Born into a sadistic workhouse orphanage, young Mary (Emily Blunt) struggles to stay alive. The children’s belief in magic is what keeps them hopeful but as the boys turn to bulglary and the girls turn to prostitution, one by one they lose their magic powers. But Mary chooses to believe and wishes at the window that someone will help her. A boy dressed in green flies down from the sky and beckons her. “But it’s raining!” She cries. “Take your umbrella”. Mary tries to persuade her best friend Oliver Twist (James Buckley) to come with her but he is too scared. She promises to come back for him.

Peter Pan (Aaron Johnson) bestows upon Mary the gift of eternal youth and flight by sprinkling her umbrella with fairy dust. Peter bids farewell as he has to fight Captain Hook and refers her to a friend of his, Doctor Doolittle (Richard Griffiths) who gives Mary a job as a clerk in his doctor’s surgery and teaches her the ability to talk to animals. Mary soon grows tired of her administrative role and ventures outside. When she sees the plight of the street-children and those back at the workhouse, she can’t stop herself helping them with her new powers.

Mary’s altruism soon attracts the attention of the uncompromising child labour advocate and slave-driver Isambard Kingdom Brunel (Christian Bale). He employs his spy, Fagin (Eddie Marsan), to find out how Mary his doing this and reports back with her magical activities. In order to fight fire with fire he sets a trap to gain entrance to Neverland, using the desperate Oliver as bait. Once inside, Brunel makes a deal with Captain Hook (Steve Coogan), that if he helps defeat Mary he will provide unlimited cannons to finally wipe out Peter Pan.

Oliver escapes, finds Mary and apologises for giving Brunel access to Neverland. At that moment Captain Hook breaks in and challenges Mary to a sword-umbrella fencing match. Mary loses but manages to persuade Hook that love is all he needs and sends him back to Neverland with a whole new outlook on life.

With child-reform back on the agenda, Brunel must find a more powerful more heartless ally. He orders every farmer in the country to set rabbit traps in their gardens. As he expected, one farmer finds a well-dressed rabbit with a pocket watch. Brunel descends down the rabbit hole to Wonderland and meets with the Queen Of Hearts (Diane Kruger). Brunel promises the throne of Great Britain, as Queen Victoria cares far too much about the working man and losing her touch. Alice The army of hearts pour out of the rabbit hole into England but they are soon met by Captain Hook, the pirates and the lost boys.

As the two sides are about to collide, Mary descends onto the battlefield and tells everyone to behave themselves and go to their rooms. They do as their told. Oliver suggests to her that maybe she should seek employment as a nanny.

(This is what went through my head at the Olympics opening ceremony)

1 note

FAUST IS DEAD by Mark Ravenhill

GRADE: C for Countercultural

How quickly the world changes. In 1996 (a year I barely remember), grunge and the dawn of widespread internet were in full swing. At the time this play would have been current and no doubt very relevant to the audiences watching. Alas, reading it off the page sixteen years later it didn’t quite strike it with me. It may be because the character Alain’s ramblings reminded me of the media theory I had to read for my degree, Baudrillard, Jameson, Deleuze etc etc I found it hard to fully engage with the huge number of themes being thrown about.

BUT the character of Donny, a sensitive yet self-destructive manchild with a liking for slushies really struck a chord for me, despite only appearing briefly. Proof if anything that good characters, more than topical comment, stand the test of time.

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Next up: Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan

Bumpkin’s back in bumpkinshire so he’s going to do a big hunk of reading and feedback to all of you…*tumbleweed*. I’ve started out with writers that I recognise. Yes, they’re all men but the last five plays I read were by brilliant women (Sarah Kane and debbie tucker green). Feel free to give suggestions for my next batch. The lottery part involves the dice on top…I roll the dice once to choose the book:

1-2 for Beckett (because a mahussive book and rather strange)

3 for Brecht (political)

4 for Bond (ditto)

5 for Ravenhill (sweary but deep)

6 for Ridley (childish but freaky)

Then I roll the dice again to see which play/s I read…

Today I shall be reading…Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. The first play of the first book, somewhat predictable but I shan’t argue with the dice.

WAITING FOR GODOT

GRADE: A for Anthropological

Hilarious, tragic, and I want to be in a production of it already, happily playing any of the four parts. People should read this as a reminder of how little you need to make a good play. It’s quite ironic that a play so minimalist is inscribed with so many different interpretations and meanings. Beckett himself said it was “all symbiosis”, a relationship of mutual benefit, and I’d have to agree. In my opinion, it’s simply about human’s inevitable need for company and the fear or being alone. Love and friendship is reduced to a biological instinct.

Well there we go then. 

Next up is Faust Is Dead by Mark Ravenhill. Ooh!

When the world is threatened by The Demon Headmaster, Archie from Balamory, the head C.B.B.C.I.A assembles a group of kids TV heroes…

BERNARD 

Billionaire and genius watchmaker with the ability the stop time. But try as he might, he can’t turn back time to stop the Teletubbies killing his father.

HARMONY 


Gambling addict whose powers derive from rubbing the Queen’s nose on her fifty pence piece. Highly trained by C.B.B.C.I.A before she turned rouge on a vendetta against Dick and Dom, but now they need her back.

BODGER AND BADGER

Bodger’s private menagerie seems calm enough until potato gets involved. Badger…gets…angry…

THE CHUCKLE BROTHERS

Barry The God of War, and Paul The God Of Mischeif were cast out of The Riding of Valhalla for indecisively pulling a plank of wood and back and forth. But it will be The Demon Headmaster who will be saying oh dear oh dear.

2 notes

When the world is threatened by The Demon Headmaster, Archie from Balamory, the head C.B.B.C.I.A assembles a group of kids TV heroes…

BERNARD 

Billionaire and genius watchmaker with the ability the stop time. But try as he might, he can’t turn back time to stop the Teletubbies killing his father.

HARMONY 


Gambling addict whose powers derive from rubbing the Queen’s nose on her fifty pence piece. Highly trained by C.B.B.C.I.A before she turned rouge on a vendetta against Dick and Dom, but now they need her back.

BODGER AND BADGER

Bodger’s private menagerie seems calm enough until potato gets involved. Badger…gets…angry…

THE CHUCKLE BROTHERS

Barry The God of War, and Paul The God Of Mischeif were cast out of The Riding of Valhalla for indecisively pulling a plank of wood and back and forth. But it will be The Demon Headmaster who will be saying oh dear oh dear.

2 notes

When the world is threatened by The Demon Headmaster, Archie from Balamory, the head C.B.B.C.I.A assembles a group of kids TV heroes…

BERNARD 

Billionaire and genius watchmaker with the ability the stop time. But try as he might, he can’t turn back time to stop the Teletubbies killing his father.

HARMONY 


Gambling addict whose powers derive from rubbing the Queen’s nose on her fifty pence piece. Highly trained by C.B.B.C.I.A before she turned rouge on a vendetta against Dick and Dom, but now they need her back.

BODGER AND BADGER

Bodger’s private menagerie seems calm enough until potato gets involved. Badger…gets…angry…

THE CHUCKLE BROTHERS

Barry The God of War, and Paul The God Of Mischeif were cast out of The Riding of Valhalla for indecisively pulling a plank of wood and back and forth. But it will be The Demon Headmaster who will be saying oh dear oh dear.

3 notes

Everyone knows The Cupid

His magic smitten bow

His arrows made from dopamine

That lights the heart aglow

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But nobody knows the other

The mean and twisted one

The thing that steals your glances

And spoils your soppy fun

-

It thrashes on your heartstrings

And screams you full of doubt

Makes sure you see your lover

Is happier without

-

It rips you up with paper cuts

All sealed with spit and gum

Folds you in the middle

And scores your spine ‘till numb

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It tells them to not bother

To see their friends instead

You gourmet meal’s not wasted

'til tomorrow it can spread

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It lingers outside restaurants

In bars and picture shows

Tackles your date into an alley

And pricks them with a rose

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It waits inside your postbox

Between the bills of debt

Nabs the cards of red and white

All gathered in a net

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It calls upon your exes

And tells them where you live

Shouts curses through their larynx

That you cannot forgive

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Its nest is made of petals

And bottled jars of kiss

Sweet nothings tinned in syrup

And pints of tender bliss

-

And at the very bottom

Below the kindling pit

Is a bed of broken arrows

And bows all torn and split

-

The Cupid has a weapon

As much for self defence

From the fearsome beast of terror

As passionate offence

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Its name, it is a mystery

But they’ve been known to name

'The Bowsnapper', who in its own way 

Keeps all the love aflame

3 notes