Friday, March 31, 2006

Multiple intelligences and writing

Writing: writers and multiple intelligences

Robert L. Fielding

In the act of writing, the writer draws upon many facets of his intelligence; of course, we first think of his linguistic ability – his way with words – his use of style to express himself, and his vast vocabulary – the clay from which he fashions reality.

But we might equally well point to his logical, one might almost say mathematical ability that comes out in skilful writing. For a good writer, must exercise precision in his thoughts, focus upon his topic, explain quantities in ways that are unambiguous, only introducing ambiguity into his writing as another weapon in his armoury of devices with which to relate his tale in ways that absorb his readers, and finally, like all mathematicians and scientists, he must adopt a problem-solving approach to his work – starting out with a basic premise, perhaps, and then adding and subtracting from it to weave his web of intrigue and fascination for his readers.

It also goes without saying that a writer must be supremely adept in his ability to communicate; in his interpersonal intelligence – for this is his stock-in trade. He must know his audience – the one he has captured previously with earlier work; he must be able to use characterization to people his novel with real, believable characters acting out their part as the tale unfolds; he must know instinctively what motivates people – why they do the things they do, in ways that accord with a reader’s expectations of how people behave under certain circumstances. He must do this well, for if he does not, his readers will find him out in an instant, stop identifying with the protagonist and put the book down – the writer must be in touch with mankind’s movers and shakers, with how people express themselves to justify to themselves and to others the rationale behind what they have done or are about to do. Even idiots tell themselves they are acting sensibly, even when the reader can see that they are plainly not.

Calling on his intrapersonal intelligence – his self-knowledge – the writer finds voices, roles and a sense of purpose for the actions he calls upon his characters to perform in the pages of the novel. He uses broadly understood symbols for psychological truths – leaving readers to flesh out in their minds the inner workings of minds the writer has created.

Observing the world in which he dwells and writes about, the writer must ‘paint’ pictures every bit as realistic as an pre-Raphealite artist ever did on a broad canvas. To read Conrad is to know the sea, Dickens the chaos that was the London of his day, and Joyce the streets of Dublin. The world which his characters inhabit is every bit as important as the things they do and say, the scene is just one more character in the novel, acting upon everybody and everything.

In language as in music, harmony is everything – styles that are not in harmony are discordant and strike the reader’s ear as not rhythmical. Of course, discordant language can be used to great effect, but its author must be aware of what is harmonious to write something that is not.

Lastly, the writer’s own kinesthetic intelligence – his knowledge of his own space, his movement through it, and the workings of his own organic self must come through in his work. Michealangelo, the sculpture of Rome and Florence, knew the human body, and its functions – how it moved, what forces worked by what means, but a writer interested in portraying humankind must also know the physiological side of his characters as well as the psychological one. Joyce knew the physical constraints of his protagonist, Leopold Bloom – knew them intimately, and was thus well able to describe them in ways that shocked early audiences, not used to such graphic portrayals of formerly taboo bodily movements and processes.

The writer, perhaps more than any other artist other than possibly the composer of music, must possess the various intelligences in abundance if he is to call upon his readers to use theirs in the reading. Readers so engaged return again and again to those works, for in them they recognize their own innate intelligences and are thankful to have them pointed out and utilized by a skilful writer.

Robert L. Fielding

Multiple Intelligences

Developing thinking skills and using multiple intelligences
“True genius is a mind of large general powers,
accidentally determined to some particular direction”
Samuel Johnson

Thoughts and points - tasks and activities

From a workshop given by Mario Rinvolucri on 26th March 2006 at UAE University

Robert L. Fielding

It was fortunate that Hans Lal - a representative on the University’s Professional Development Committee - managed to persuade Mario to come to UAE University today to give this useful workshop on using multiple intelligences in the learning environment.

Clarity of thought and the ability to draw upon different facets of one’s intelligence is vitally important when it comes to making decisions that affect the country, and as today’s undergraduates may well become tomorrow’s professionals, leaders, and captains of industry; their ability to think critically and realize their full potential is indeed vital.

The University General Requirements Unit (UGRU) is about to embark on courses designed to develop students critical thinking ability; vital in the world we live in, as well as in studies at university. Mario’s workshop gave thirty teachers plenty to think about this evening.

Going through the tasks set out below might go some way to helping you realize that there is something going on in your mind or the mind of your children besides what is traditionally thought or expected.

Drawing upon the work of Dr. Howard Gardner, and applying it to teaching situations, Mario Rinvolucri illustrates the eight different intelligences proposed by Dr. Gardner by animated and highly instructive and enjoyable activities which ensure the success of the workshop as a learning experience for participants.

The eight different intelligences proposed by Dr. Gardner are:
 Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
This ‘intelligence’ is the one traditionally tested at schools, colleges and universities. Typically, students write essays or complete grammar exercises to indicate their ability in English or their mother tongue.

Task: ‘Mexican wave’ sentences
This activity needs several people – each person has to be a word, a punctuation mark or a phoneme (like the ‘s’ on third person singular verbs –
‘She likes ice cream.’)
Take a paragraph about Dubai, for example, and ‘act’ out your own part as the sentence unfolds – stand in a row with the others in the order of the words in your sentence. When it comes to your bit, speak, act, or do both. Enjoy language like never before – learn from your enjoyment – tell me you didn’t enjoy the exercise, the limits of the task, the physical act of becoming a word, and now think how you can improve your language – start with questions – what happens to word order in questions – start to sound like a native speaker, instead of mumbling your way through life – stand up, speak and move – enjoy and learn!

 Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
Here, a student’s ability to solve mathematical problems is tested, and it is this ‘intelligence’ and linguistic intelligence that are used to determine whether, for instance, a student progresses from high school into higher education. University entrance examinations the world over test students in these two areas. Should the following types of intelligence count for anything?
Task 1. ‘Meet you in the middle’
With a partner, count in turns down from 100 and up from zero – in twos, then in threes, fours or whatever you can manage. Feeling your way around numbers is one way not to be intimidated by them. How many of us have faltered at even the appearance of numbers on a sheet of paper. This activity is fun to do as well as being helpful.
Now invent similar games with other lists – stations on the Bakerloo line (or the Dubai line when it’s up and running), words in well known nursery rhymes or poems – make something up – share it – memorise and play – increase your memory, and the space you feel comfortable in – linguistic, numerical, spatial, intrapersonal – be inventive and creative – find out what you have a flair for, what your child is brilliant at – you’ll be surprised what you uncover – it’s always been there, it’s just that you haven’t ever been encouraged to look for it.

 Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
If your child shows some ability to draw pictures, or manages to find his way round shopping malls without your help, for instance, he might be gifted in spatial intelligence. Parents should encourage any talent they see in their children, and teachers too would do well to look out for students who show aptitude in this area. It used to be said that if you were good at art, you were not so good at maths – is that really true, or just a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy used by teachers and parents who do not encourage artistic ability when they see it?

Task: ‘Let your eyes remember’
Listen to the following words – draw something to represent each word you hear. Do it quickly and alone. After you have finished, compare your drawings with those of other people. You will be amazed to find you have a lot in common, but some drawings will be yours and yours alone.
Task 2. After you have compared your sketches, put the piece of paper away for several days. After three days, try to recall the words – think of the pictures you drew to help you if you can’t remember every word. This list of 7 very different words will be hard to remember – remember the shapes you drew, and you will recall the words. Use your Spatial Intelligence in a conscious way.
Everybody uses theirs unconsciously every day – if we didn’t we wouldn’t last out the day.

 Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
Ballet dancers, gymnasts, footballers, horse riders – all sorts of people who have the ability to be graceful in their movements may possess this sort of intelligence. Remember Billy Eliot in the film of the same name – boys traditionally play masculine sports like football and rugby, and girls take up lessons in ballet dancing, but does it have to be that way – always – for every child? A talent is something divine and should be nurtured, despite our more earth- bound prejudices about who can or should be good at what.

We speak, for example, of being "touched," "taken," "gripped," "led," "held." We "grapple" with difficult subjects, and have "gut wrenching" experiences. Our stomachs turn. Our hearts leap. Our breathing quickens. We may tremble, sigh, and be "moved." These responses are rooted in kinesthetic experience.

Task: Answer by demonstrating
1. I learn a skill by doing it.
2. I can't sit still long.
3. I like to move around when I am learning something.
4. I like activities that involve movement.
5. I like the rides at amusement parks.
6. I like to do things that are physically active.
7. I like to touch things.
8. I mimic other people's gestures accurately.
9. I am well coordinated.
10. I am animated and expressive when I talk.
11. I like working with my hands.
12. I would rather drive than ride.
13. I enjoy creating things with my hands.
14. I write things down to remember.
15. I often touch others when talking to them.
These statements indicate kinesthetic intelligence –
Task 2: Rank the statements in order of importance to yourself – compare your rankings with others – who appears to be more kinesthetically intelligent – how can you tell – write down some of the ways this type of intelligence is demonstrated:
 By yourself
 By people you know well
Compare your findings – what do they tell you about yourselves?

Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
If Mozart had not been encouraged in his supreme musical ability, the world might have been deprived of a true genius and his work may never have been written, played and enjoyed. Who knows how many gifted people have been thwarted in their ambitions because either a teacher or a parent did not say the right thing at the right time. You may say that true genius will always come to the surface, that truly gifted people will always get there eventually, but is that always true, and why run the risk of missing talent or more in your children?

The benefits of music include:
~ Extending the neural networks in the brain
~ Sound discrimination which leads to spelling success
~ Increased vocabulary
~ Abstract and spatial reasoning which leads to math success
~ Improved coordination
~ Better concentration skills
~ Sharper memory
~ More focused listening skills

Intelligence associated with musical understanding does not always relate to superior levels of achievement in other academic areas. Yet MI theory holds that the nurturing and development that takes place in musical learning is autonomous and on par with the processes that take place in studying languages, mathematics and the sciences (Potter, 1997)

Both scientists and educators are realizing that early, positive musical experience is uniquely effective in helping children achieve their full potential intellectually, artistically and emotionally.

Task: ‘Take up your instruments, ladies and gentlemen!’
This activity will help cure your inhibitions – they could be preventing you from discovering who you really are – but don’t worry – do it with your eyes closed first.
Imagine you are about to perform a piece of music you know and love. Close your eyes and begin – beat those drums like Ringo Starr, play the violin like Menhuin, cdance like John Travolta, conduct an orchestra like Sir Simon Rattle, do anything – nobody’s looking – enjoy the feel of the music guiding your movements – come alive – feel free and dynamic – laugh – everyone in the group will laugh with you – feel your power to enjoy music, movement and expression.

 Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
The ability to communicate with others is vital, especially in a world in which communication is everywhere and in everything. Again, the great communicators in our world have managed to reach the fore, but this ability is one which everyone can quickly and easily use, can still improve upon and excel in. In today’s world, success is driven by this ability perhaps more than any of the others. It makes sense to encourage everyone to talk to each other, to express themselves and to realize who they truly are or are capable of becoming, and communicating well is fun too.

Task: ‘You’re talking- I’m talking – Hey, we’re getting on so much better now!’
Send half the group out of the room – when they return, engagle them in conversation and speak at their pace rather than your own – feel their speed and speak at the same rate – feel how near you have become – they will feel it too – this is largely an unconscious exercise for one of you, but even for the one who knows what is going on, it will have unexpected results – you will feel different about that person. Agree with the man who once said, “I never met a person I didn’t like.” Try it with people you are not quite as friendly as you would like to be.

 Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
The ability to know yourself, to know who you are, what you are and what you want and are capable of is the key to unlocking the other intelligences within you. Health, both physical and psychological, is improved and maintained through self-knowledge – through the intelligence that allows us to instinctively know when things are going well and when things are otherwise with us.

Task: ‘Be where you want to be!’
Stand up – close your eyes – imagine you are looking out over a vista – where is it? – what is it? – you decide – smell the salty air of the Atlantic – the chill of the snowfields half way up Everest, the heat of the Kalahari Desert – the sounds of London’s Piccadilly – your own secret garden only you have the key to – imagine what you see- hear- feel – who you meet – what you become – what you achieve there!

 Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)
This type of intelligence is demonstrated by a child’s ability to use the world of nature. Showing an interest in animals, for instance, would indicate that a child has this form of intelligence.

Children possessing this type of intelligence may have a strong affinity to the outside world or to animals, and this interest often begins at an early age. They may enjoy subjects, shows and stories that deal with animals or natural phenomena.

Task: Hopping and naming
For this activity, you will need plenty of space – it’s best done outside where no one can get hurt. Place large circles on the ground (within hopping distance) – one person at a time hops and counts as they hop – then names an animal as they hop.
Others can cheer on the participant as they wait for their turn. Watch out for the child who completes the task easily and quickly, taking little time to think up the name of an animal before they hop to the next circle – adults watching could count and keep a check on the time it takes each child to get through the circles – this could easily be made into a team game – spontaneity is the thing to watch out for and encourage here.

A variety of activities in the classroom, on the sports-field, in the library, outdoors can invite anyone to ‘go into parts of the mind normally used to process things in other ways’ – to find out whether you or your children have hidden talents.

In Mario’s workshop, some teachers were initially somewhat perplexed by what was expected of them – why they were being asked to do certain things. However, once the activities got started, all became apparent and clear.

You don’t know what you can do until you have a go, and you might also imagine yourself in capable of other things prior to taking part – finding out is everything – in the classroom and elsewhere – try it.

memorable and, more importantly, to teach in ways that accord with the varying abilities of learners. Group members readily identified with certain points in the talk, recounting similar experiences that accorded with points made by the speaker.

In effect, Mario’s main point throughout the workshop was that there are other ways of teaching any subject - in conventional schooling, people who learn in ways other than linguistically and logically are not always catered for in recognized teaching methodologies and testing tools.

To illustrate points made, Mario demonstrated teaching techniques that utilize ability from the other six intelligences. Forms of irregular verbs, for example, were taught using body movements instead of words on the board, and it became clear that otherwise drab lessons on uninteresting subjects can be livened up to make them more

Finally, and urging teachers not to use symbols and learning devices and mnemonics, for example, that are culturally unacceptable or which fly in the face of conventional logic, Mario rounded off an enjoyable and informative evening with exercises designed to allow students to find out something about their own, preferred way of learning.

Everyone almost certainly came away knowing something more about themselves and how they best learn, and how to use this to teach in ways that exploit the multiple intelligences that may or may not be dormant in all of us, I know I did.

The Rogers Indicator of Multiple Intelligences at:-

Robert L. Fielding

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Workshop by Mario Rinvolucri at UAE University 28/3/06

Developing thinking skills and using multiple intelligences

A Workshop given by Mario Rinvolucri 26th March 2006

Robert L. Fielding

It was fortuitous that Hans Lal - a representative on the University’s Professional Development Committee - managed to persuade Mario to come here today to give this useful workshop on using multiple intelligences in the learning environment.

Clarity of thought and the ability to draw upon different facets of one’s intelligence is vitally important when it comes to making decisions that affect the country, and as today’s undergraduates may well become tomorrow’s professionals, leaders, and captains of industry; their ability to think critically and realize their full potential is indeed vital.

The University General Requirements Unit (UGRU) is about to embark on courses designed to develop students critical thinking ability; vital in the world we live in, as well as in studies at university. Mario’s workshop gave thirty teachers plenty to think about this evening.

Drawing upon the work of Dr. Howard Gardner, and applying it to teaching situations, Mario Rinvolucri illustrated the eight different intelligences proposed by Dr. Gardner by animated and highly instructive and enjoyable activities which ensured the success of the workshop as a learning experience for the participants.

The eight different intelligences proposed by Dr. Gardner are:
 Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
 Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
 Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
 Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
 Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
 Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
 Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
 Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

Each of the varied activities forced participants to ‘go into parts of the mind normally used to process things in other ways’.

Group members readily identified with certain points in the talk, recounting similar experiences that accorded with points made by the speaker.

In effect, Mario’s main point throughout the workshop was that there are other ways of teaching Mathematics, for example, than merely using numerical symbols to the exclusion of other items that draw upon students’ different intelligences, and this was held to be true for all forms of instruction and tuition.

The point was also made that in conventional schooling, people who learn in ways other than linguistically and logically are not always catered for in recognized teaching methodologies and testing tools.

To illustrate points made, Mario demonstrated teaching techniques that utilize ability from the other six intelligences. Forms of irregular verbs, for example, were taught using body movements instead of words on the board, and it became clear that otherwise drab lessons on uninteresting subjects can be livened up to make them more memorable and, more importantly, to teach in ways that accord with the varying abilities of learners.

Finally, and urging teachers not to use symbols and learning devices and mnemonics, for example, that are culturally unacceptable or which fly in the face of conventional logic, Mario rounded off an enjoyable and informative evening with exercises designed to allow students to find out something about their own, preferred way of learning.

Everyone almost certainly came away knowing something more about themselves and how they best learn, and how to use this to teach in ways that exploit the multiple intelligences that may or may not be dormant in all of us, I know I did.

Robert L. Fielding

Friday, March 10, 2006

Concordancers' uses

Concordancing for the English Language Teacher and Learner


Robert L Fielding


The case for using concordancing software in the classroom.

With the advances in computer software, and in particular, with concordance software, and with the huge corpora of language that such software is able to manipulate and process, aspects of language that were once invisible, are now visible. Dave Willis, in his book, The Lexical Syllabus (1993), and the Collins Cobuild team working from the University of Birmingham, have outlined these aspects in detail. Willis states that, ’the fact that a lexical description depends on more powerful generalisations means that learners will have more evidence on which to base useful generalisations about the language.’ Willis (1993) Willis goes on to report the writers Selinker and Corder, both experts in Interlanguage Theory, who describe language learning as a process of continually forming, editing and revising hypotheses about the grammar of the language, going on to state that learners need a lot of evidence in the form of exposure to the language before they are able to reach stable conclusions about the grammar.

The main drift of Willis’ argument is that rather than having a syllabus based upon transformational grammar, a more productive syllabus should be formed with reference to lexis rather than structure. He points to the traditional way such structural items as the passive, conditionals and reported speech are traditionally taught, and contrasts them to the ‘reality’ of English in vitro, actual language as used by native users, rather than the English that is very often contrived to illustrate a grammatical structure. And while this is not the place to go deeply into such a debate, it would seem, from the findings of those with access to corpora of language in use, that “a new, thorough-going description of the English language, and one which is not based on the introspection of its authors, but which recorded their observations of linguistic behaviour as revealed in naturally occurring text,” (Renouf 1987) would help students make the generalisations they need to make far more successfully than recourse to contrivances in grammar based language teaching course-books such as the ones a present in use in our profession.

As teachers of English, we have been, and still are, deluged with ‘theories’: of learning, teaching, and of what our subject matter consists and how it works. Of these, the last named alone stands as evidential in an absolute sense; it presents us with data-driven information relating to authentic language in vitro, and bears out the position of Willis outlined above.

Like all revelations in any field, this one challenges our accepted thinking on what language consists of and how it is used by people using it for authentic reasons.

Changes in our ways of thinking about our subject matter should and will change how we teach it, and we can either accept it and go along with it, use it and get used to it, or we can bury our heads in the sand or behave like some latter day educational ostriches.

Introduction to concordancing: What is a concordancer?

“The most valuable contribution a computer can make to language learning is in supplying on demand and in an organised fashion, masses and masses of authentic language. The most powerful of these is a concordancer.” Higgins (1991) If we are to teach English to people who are going to communicate via that language, and through whatever medium, teaching has to utilise what we refer to as authentic language. To do otherwise would be to teach something that is ultimately useless, or in fact, worse than useless, since any misunderstandings that arise from using language that is not authentic is tantamount to using language that is not appropriate. Dell Hymes and others have coined the term ‘communicative competence’ to refer to ways of using language that are appropriate for the time, the place, and the people being addressed.

Given then that authentic language for authentic situations is what we are in the business of teaching, it follows that we should take advantage of the most up to date, comprehensive data on that language, and then use it to inform what we teach and how we teach it.

A concordancer is an electronic means of processing large amounts of language. A concordance itself is nothing new, of course, but an electronic one is a relatively new device.

Coupled with advances in this technology is the bringing together, in machine readable form, huge collections (corpora) of language from a variety of sources. The corpora accumulated and used by the Collins Cobuild Project at Birmingham University, and available via a concordancer on-line, consists of millions upon millions of words taken from authentic sources such as newspapers, magazines, journals, and the spoken voice. It is a corpus of real language in vitro in our present time. Of course, on-line there are many thousands of such corpora, and these come from all kinds of discourse communities, scientific and otherwise. “An extensive linguistic corpus is a gold mine of authentic language use that through KWIC (Key Word In Context) concordances can provide students with multiple contexts from which to learn new vocabulary.” Now, while it is true that a dedicated teacher can pull out words from texts and write them on the board for his students, an electronic concordancer processing a corpus of language can not only pull out the words we find interesting and worthy of teaching, but it can also pull out the immediate contexts in which such vocabulary operates.

A concordancer can isolate and render visible patterns of language that occur significantly often enough to make them worthy of our attention as teachers of English. Perhaps more importantly, a concordancer can do the same for students of English. While not pretending that such software is simple to use, it is sufficiently easy after a short time of perseverance and diligence; it is ‘user-friendly’.

Below, I have quoted such benefits to learners using this software.

1. With a concordancer, the teacher chooses the right corpus for particular learners. He provides his students with tasks according to his teaching objectives. The students work on their own, or in pairs, on authentic material or any kind other kind of teaching material.
2. The students can draw their own conclusions about the use of the given words by focusing on certain points in the contexts these words appear.
3. This provides learners with an opportunity to develop strategies which they can build on once the language class is finished.
4. It opens language classes to the use and interpretation of up-to-date and often authentic language even at lower levels.
5. They bring cognitive and analytic skills in students to bear on the manipulation of comprehensive databases for the purpose of solving real-language problems.
6. Why use concordancing in language learning?
i) It interjects authenticity (of purpose and activity) into the learning process.
ii) Learners assume control of that process.
iii) The predominant metaphor for learning becomes the research metaphor as embodied in the concept of data-driven learning (DDL).
7. It gives access to many important language patterns in texts.
8. They are the only way of providing students with a lot of authentic textual data.
9. Concordances are the only way to expose students to large numbers of collocations in authentic texts.
10. Help the inductive approach to language learning. Or the deductive approach – 1 of 3
11. “An extensive linguistic corpus is a gold mine of authentic language use that through KWIC concordances can provide students with multiple contexts from which to learn new vocabulary.”
12. With a concordancer the teacher chooses the right corpus for particular learners. He provides his students with tasks according to his teaching objectives. The students work on their own, or in pairs, on authentic material or any kind other kind of teaching material.
13. The students can draw their own conclusions about the use of the given words by focusing on certain points in the contexts these words appear.
14. This provides learners with an opportunity to develop strategies which they can build on once the language class is finished.
15. It opens language classes to the use and interpretation of up-to-date and often authentic language even at lower levels.
16. They bring cognitive and analytic skills in students to bear on the manipulation of comprehensive databases for the purpose of solving real-language problems.
17. Why use concordancing in language learning?
iv) It interjects authenticity (of purpose and activity) into the learning process.
v) Learners assume control of that process.
vi) The predominant metaphor for learning becomes the research metaphor as embodied in the concept of data-driven learning (DDL).
18. “If the top 200 or so most frequent words in English are systematically taught in all of their forms and in well-structured materials, they will carry with them most of the grammatical and discourse detail that the second and foreign language learners are ever likely to need.”
19. Louw has used concordances to study progressive delexicalization, the phenomenon by which words tend to lose their ‘dictionary meaning’; e.g. ‘take the money’, ‘take a bus’, ‘take a look’.
20. The most valuable contribution a computer can make to language learning is in supplying, on demand and in an organised fashion, masses and masses of authentic language. The most powerful of these tools is the concordancer. What the concordancer does is make the invisible visible.
21. Requires the notion that language learners can benefit from teaching materials promoting inductivity, authenticity and learner responsibility for learning. Particularly where technology is involved, there is much ignorance, misunderstanding and ‘indifference” tp putting into practice new approaches to language teaching while operating new skills in operating complex hardware and software. Although text manipulation is conveniently implemented and consistent with current language learning pedagogy, its benefits are difficult to intuit; hence the genre is easily misunderstood.
All 21 quotes above were downloaded from on-line sources that are listed in References below

The difference between and different uses of on-line concordancers (free sites)
and downloadable software such as ’Concordance’ (often pay sites).

On-line concordancers are plentiful and usually free to use. Of these, the one serviced and offered by Collins Cobuild is worth mentioning. Concordances of any word, or string of words, is available almost instantaneously. Some examples of these can be found below in the Appendices. The concordancer uses several corpora of both written and/or spoken language of a ‘general’ nature, which is to say that it is not subject specific. For example, the information from a concordance of the word ‘oxidised’ which although the term for a scientific process, and as such, a ‘technical’ word occasionally used in ‘normal’ discourse, in the press, for example, would not perhaps be adequate for a term paper outlining the process of oxidisation at a university. Nevertheless, much of what we teach is English of the common or garden variety, and so information on how more ordinary words behave and affect other in the context in which they are used would be very useful to both teachers and their students.

For more genre specific language use, one has to go to genre specific corpora, of which there are many on-line. The problem now though is how to process them, and that is where downloaded concordancing software becomes necessary and invaluable.

With ones own software, one is able to process whatever one wishes, be it from on-line sources, scanned documents or from students’ own efforts at writing English. Everyone, however, would have to be presented to the concordancer in a form it could manage. All this requires is the simple expedient of filing in TEXT ONLY, and then submitting as you would any file to a drive on a computer.

Now, the advantages and uses of such sources of language readily available for processing at one’s fingertips would be enormous.

Material from on-line sources could be chosen to represent the variety of language to be taught. Similarly, with scanned documents, one could scan current journals into readable forms, and with documents from students’ own efforts, one could use such data to inform a new syllabus, correct an old one, or offer remedial courses for students with more fundamental recurring difficulties expressing themselves.

Appearing in the Appendices below, and linked into the PowerPoint presentation, of which this essay is also a part, are details of one such downloadable, affordable, concordancing software.

Here are some of the things that can be done with it.

You can:
• Make wordlists, word frequency lists, and indexes
• Make full concordances to texts of any size, limited only by available disk space and memory
• Make fast concordances, picking your selection of words from text
• Use multiple input files
• Make concordances straight from text in other Windows programs
• Make Web Concordances: turn your concordance into linked HTML files, ready for publishing on
the Web, with a single click

• View a full wordlist, a concordance, and your original text simultaneously
• Browse through the original text and click on any word to see the concordance for that word
• Edit and re-arrange a wordlist by drag and drop
• See the collocation counts for every word, up to four words left and right
• Lemmatise a wordlist - group together any words you choose.

Powerful Facilities:
• Support for many different languages and character sets
• User-definable alphabet
• User-definable reference system
• User-definable contexts

• Very flexible search, selection, and sorting criteria
• Statistics on your text
• Stop Lists let you specify words to be omitted from your concordance
• Word length chart

• Full print preview and printing, with control over page size, margins, headers, footers, fonts etc.
• Can save concordances as plain text, as a single HTML file, or as a Web Concordance

Comprehensive tools:
• Built-in file viewer can display files of unlimited size
• Built-in editor allows fast editing of files up to 16MB
• Tools supplied for converting from OEM to ANSI character sets and from Unix to PC files

High usability:
• Easy user interface with modern Windows features
• Context-sensitive help system with over 200 topics
Runs fast - can pick 15000 occurrences of a word from a 1.5MB text in under 4 seconds on a 600MHz Pentium III
• Entirely native 32-bit code for speed and stability



With what has been said here about the importance of vocabulary in allowing students to formulate, edit and revise generalisations about the language they are learning Selinker and Corder (ibid), and with our constant wish to change learning strategies from merely rote learning to more research based, experiential learning based upon evidence which students themselves are responsible for finding, with guidance from teachers, we as teachers would become more in tune with what should be our proper role in the language classroom; language consultants, facilitators and helpers rather than the sort of sources of all knowledge that sometimes make students too heavily reliant on teachers. Having concordancing software together with corpora of authentic language associated with the subject areas of students’ intended majors, and personnel trained in its use and able to pass this skill on to students would greatly enhance learning and teaching the English Language..
Robert L Fielding

Corder S.P. (1967) The Significance of Learners’ Errors IRAL
Gowin-Jones B (2001) Emerging Technologies Virginia Commonwealth University
Hill J. & Lewis M. (1999) LTP Dictionary of Selected Collocations LTP Hove England
Renouf A (1987) Corpus Development Collins
Vance’s ESL Home Text Analysis Inc.
Selinker l. (1972) Interlanguage IRAL
Willis D (1993) The Lexical Syllabus Harper Collins London

Environmental influences


Our city did not have a wall around it. It was so remote, so high, that nobody ever thought to build one.
Why do you want to build one, to keep us in, or the snow out, they would have said, if it had ever been suggested.
Our city was high in the mountains, although in summer it did not seem so. All around our city, which was built on a wide flat plain, were higher mountains, so that you could almost forget the city was nearly two thousand metres above the sea. Only the cold air in the night, and the wind howling from the lairs of wolves made you remember that this city was high, high, high, above the passes and the lakes, the frowning cliffs, and the black canyons at their feet.
In our city, the lives of the people were dictated by the seasons, by the constant preparations for winter.
In the springtime, when the first green shoots showed through the snows, we fertilised the fields with muck from our horses and our oxen, and with our own muck too, for nothing was wasted in our city. The muck was spread over the fields, still half covered with the snow, but the green shoots almost seemed to grow greener with every day that passed. When the snow finally melted, the plain became a carpet of many colours; the flowers and the bright mosses between them made it seem as if the city had grown up from a sea of flowers.
After the worst of the winter had passed, the days slowly grew warmer, although it was still too cold to do much after dark. Even on spring nights in our city, the streets and squares were empty, only those who had to go out on important errands were to be found outside after the sun had gone down.
The people, and the animals stayed indoors. We would have put the cattle out but there was nothing for them to eat, except snow and the green shoots of the first of the year's grasses.
Gradually all the snow vanished from the plain until the children ran out into the long awaited sunshine to play. The grass grew furiously then, but the hungry horses, sheep and cattle had to be kept off it until the grass grew long enough to be cut, piled to dry, turned every day, and tied onto the rooves of the houses, in a great sheaf of a pyramid, away from the hungry mouthes of the animals.
My task as a child, before I was big enough, or strong enough to handle the scythes the men used to cut the grass, was to take our animals up to the slopes of the mountains which surrounded the plains upon which our city was built.
My father came with me on the first morning, and I rode behind him on our donkey, which had no name. We were too earnest in surviving the winters to be interested in such things, and my father would have beat me if he had ever heard me talking softly down the long ears of our donkey.
As we got higher and higher, toward the spring pastures on the slopes of the green mountains, I watched my father as he looked around for the best place to graze his animals.
-Boy, he would say to me, for he never called me by my first name out of the house, this is the place, bring our animals here every morning, he pointed higher up the slopes, showing me the limit of where our animals were to eat. High up there, on the slopes of the mountain I could see the whole of the city below, and my favourite game was to squint down and see our house, and to watch if anybody entered or left while I was away.
If I thought I had seen someone go into our house, when it was time to go back down, I would make the animals run back down the hill in my rush to ask my sister who had called and what they had wanted. If my mother's sisters had been, I rushed to my mother to tell me what they had left me, or what they had been talking about.
Both my mother's sisters had been beyond the city, and were full of tales of the land down below the lake, where the people lived in warm sunshine all the year round. If my mother's sisters came in the evenings, I begged to be allowed to stay up until they came. My sister went to bed when the sun was going down, for she was younger than me, but I didn't go up sometimes until an hour had passed after the sun had gone behind the mountains.
As we sat eating, they would come, and I would rush to finish so that I could go and sit by the fire, and listen to them talking to my mother and my father. Always they brought something for us, and we waited with eager faces until we were given the something that they had brought for us. If we had ever dared to ask what they had brought us, my father would have sent us to our beds sad and hungry.
My mother's sisters knew we were waiting, and they knew, I think, our anguish and our excitement at waiting. This night, I was given a pomegranate, as I often was, and I ran to my mother's apron to seek out a needle to spike the small pockets of fruit, each with its own seed. I liked to eat them that way so that they lasted half a week, and then in the morning, after the visit of my mother's sisters, I could take the round red fruit up into the high meadows and spike at the yellow flesh until it was time to come down again. The animals liked me to get a pomegranate, because I was always so intent upon not missing a pocket of fruit, that I let them wander onto the higher ground where the tender shoots were just beginning to show through the last of the snow. My father would have beat me, but he never saw the sheep eating the green shoots higher up the slopes of the mountain.
The juice from the pomegranate slowly seeped into my cheeks and made me bunch my eyes at first, but then it began to grow sweet in my mouth, and I thought of the warm, soft lands where such delicious food could be plucked from boughs hanging heavy with ripe fruit.
I smiled to think that my mother's sisters had been there. As far as I knew, nobody had relatives who had been anywhere near the south, over the mountains, down, down, down to where there was no snow, not even in winter. There was not even a winter, my mother's elder sister had told us, and we wondered what life was like without snow, or cold, or without having to pile the dried grass on our rooves.

I always longer for the warmer times, in between the winters. We seemed to live then. Everybody worked together to get ready. When the time came for the grass to be cut, every man who had any strength, and a scythe, helped to cut the grass, which never grew more than half a metre high. When the time came, the men would come around to sit in our house and talk. I think they came to our house because it had a room where they could all sit and talk. When they came, taking their rough boots off and leaving them at the door, deferential to my father, respectful to my mother, jolly to us children. My mother, and some of the other women who had come to help, made tea, and brought out the samovar into the middle of the room, and poured the tea from it.
Our people love tea, and will drink it whenever two or more people gather. If the men sit down to play cards, or tavla, they do not have to ask for tea, it is understood that tea will be wanted, and it will be provided. My mother had just bought some tea, which had come over the mountains, from the north, and she left the bag where everybody could see it, as if to say, this tea is fresh, it is new, and it will be good.
The men saw the bag, but took no notice of it. Tea was tea to them. They didn't care where it came from or who had made it. They were only interested in the taste, and an ever ready supply of it. It was not a man's job to make tea. I had never been taught how to make it properly, although I had seen my mother make it a thousand times. I had watched her show my sister how to make good tea, in readiness for the time when she was a wife, and had a man to make tea for.
My sister was younger than I was, but even now, when she came home from school, she would have her duties, and when my father came in after toiling in the fields, before he went out to talk and chew tobacco and drink tea with the other men, my sister brought him water to wash his face, and took his boots outside and cleaned them for the next day.
She was getting a sort of training. All the girls in our city had the same things to do, bringing water for their fathers to wash, waiting on guests as they sat and chatted, helping their mothers, until a young man and his father came one evening, and talked long to the girl's father, and a date was set for the start of a life together, on the plains of Erzurum, preparing for the winter, and preparing for the next generation, the continual battle against the elements, helped by Allah, doing everything within a circle of mountains, two thousand metres above the sea.
When the grass had stopped growing, the men started to cut it on the plain outside the city, and everywhere I could see men with long handled scythes, sweeping the flat ground expertly in broad semi circles, which showed lighter green underneath. Our mothers, and us children had our jobs too. It was my job to take the grey stone round to the cutters, so that they could sharpen the blades of their scythes. I took water to them too, which they drank in huge gulps, so that I was continually running back to the house for more.
My sister and the other girls, and some of the smaller boys, helped the mothers to tie up the grass in bundles, and lean them upright to dry out.
I loved to see the plain when most of it had been cut, although this took several weeks of hard, thirsty work. When the men had nearly finished, and everywhere looked like a green carpet, short and even, and the stooks of grass looked funny, standing a few metres apart, like soldiers watching over our land.
Then when the men had gone back to drink tea and rest, we played our games in between the stooks. We chased the girls until they screamed, and we jumped out from behind the stooks, in imitation of the Red Indians we had read about in storybooks at school. When the grass had dried, the women came again and piled it onto carts pulled by donkeys, or else carried it on their backs, bent almost double, walking back to the houses, an hour away under the weight of a sheaf of dried grass. There were long lines of women trudging along the tracks back to the outskirts of our city. The carts were piled high too, and they lumbered along at the pace of the child walking at the donkey's side, prodding it with a stick if it slowed its ambling pace.
Once all the stooks had been brought in, the men left their tavla, and their talk, and in twos and threes, helped each other to pile the grass on the flat rooves of the houses, and the rooves of the byres and barns, keeping the people, and the animals warm through the winter. The walls of the houses were thick, so thick that we could sit and play in the space behind the windows, although once the winter came that place was filled up with paper, rags, or anything to keep the cold out of our warm house. There were no windows in the byres of course. Cows and sheep are not interested in looking out at snow, but they need the warmth, and piling the grass tied in stooks, on the rooves kept them warm until the sun gave the earth some heat again. With food in our cupboards, charcoal stacked in an empty corner, and water in the well below the floor of our house, we were finally ready for the winter.
It came always within a few days every year. The days would steadily get colder, and the nights would already be freezing, then, when the wind turned and blew from the north, everybody stayed indoors, the snow came, and covered the tops of house and byres, and my father put on his rough coat and his leather boots, and cut a hole through the snow.
We were walled in by the snow, but the passage my father had cut served to let us out of our prison. He cut a way into the byres where the animals slept. He cut steps up to the grass on the rooves. The grass had been covered over with oily covers that my father had brought back from the men who sailed the sea, which I had never seen.
Every morning he cut his way to the grass on the roof, and took armfuls of it to the animals. I went with him, muffled up to my eyes against the bitter cold, and while I gave each animal some grass, my father dug deep into their dung, and threw it out of the door in a great steaming pile, to be used after the snows had finally gone from the plain.
Our lives were dictated by the winters, and the preparations to survive them. Everything had a sort of circular movement, so that before a child was old enough to read and write, it could sense the rotation of life, moving continually around the icy winters, through the summers on the high meadows, spying for vistors, spiking pomegranates, coming down to help get the grass in, and playing in and out of the stooks standing to dry, talking down the long ears of our donkey, who was older than men, and had seen everything that ever went on in Erzurum, the city without a wall.
Robert L. Fielding

Synesthesia and time passing



Robert L Fielding

They had discussed the thing rationally, and had both come to the same conclusion. It was better that she didn't know. She would only make herself worse. It was best.

The results of the initial tests had confirmed their worst fears. It was malignant, an ugly word, the two consonants in the middle forcing the back of the tongue hard against the soft palate for the 'g', and then immediately touching the hard palate with the front of the tongue for the 'n'. An ugly word formed by an action similar to vomiting.


The treatment was drastic, penetrating rays, invisible, ravaging through healthy cells and diseased alike. Destroying good and bad, malignant and benign, at the press of a button on a white console.


"We can only delay a malignant glioma, which is what your mother has." The doctor stepped back, as if the words he had just spoken would rebound upon him, condemning him to die a slow, painful death. His expression was openly sympathetic; only his eyes gave a clue to his real thoughts, and the nature of the reality the three people now had to face. His eyes were steely grey, impassive, unsmiling. He had vouchsafed similar news to countless sufferers, and to literally thousands of distressed relatives. This was one aspect of his work he had never been able to come to terms with. He had examined the cancer. He had scrutinised the guilty cells under a microscope. He had seen them, and now he could never inform either victim or relative without visualising the killer cells multiplying their way through so much human tissue like scythes through summer grass.
His eyes betrayed what he always felt at such times as these, and he turned away that son and daughter might not observe his distress.


Her life was nearly over. It had been a long one, but this fact made nothing easier to bear for son and daughter, who both knew that it was nearly time. She had had a good life, had brought up two children, and seen them in their turn,bear their own, and bring them up as she had done. The two little boys pulled at their granny's coat as she sat on a chair looking out over the garden she had helped Kenneth to tend, until he had passed quietly away. Now she found she solace in her two grandchildren, and in the garden, still in all its glory, sadly in need of tending. The drooping heads of the faded roses, white Peace, scarlet Harry Wheatcroft both in need of pruning, to make way for new buds that would burst into colour again and again until the summer was over, and the beeches at the far end of the lawn dripped in browns and duns.

But now, with the roses splashing colour in riotous splendour across the length and breadth of the front garden, she felt its glory, and she felt her husband's presence in the long, ordered beds of flowers, perennially sharing the spring and the summer of their lives, fading into autumn. She felt his absence too, remembered his long thin hands carefully rooting out the weeds that would have smothered the life of the healthy flowers and shrubs he had planted with care and diligence.

Merely thinking of her husband made here senses start, and she again noticed how memories evoked taste and smell, and the images of their life together in the garden, in the days before kneeling became too painful for both of them. The smell of the roses, and the rare whiff of tobacco from his pipe as he pondered his work, the taste of Assam tea smoking in the china set upon the white marble ballustrade at the edge of the lawn.

She had always had that, a peculiar ability to sense taste and smell, provoked by a phrase, a word, or a memory, and now she could smell roses, the tangy scent of newly cut grass, and the smell of ash from Kenneth's pipe as he knocked it out into a wet scoop on the top of the wall that surrounded their home.

She might have gone back into the house, to shy away from the senses that filled her nostrils and her mind. She might have tried to avoid thinking of a time that was past, but rather than forget, she breathed in deeply to smell, to taste a sorrow that filled her, hearing their grandchildren playing around her, seeing life continuing all around, the life her husband had bestowed on a thousand blooms, whose scent now reminded her of him.


Of course she felt a little ill, off colour was how she had put it, and so she had gone to see Dr. Waite.
"It comes to us all," he had said, "old age. It has come to me, and it has come to you." This was his way, feigning an absolute lack of any sympathy, almost trying to sound as if he couldn't care less. She knew different. He continued in like fashion.
"Why it only seems like yesterday when I would finish the morning surgery, take the car out, call for that husband of yours, then drive at breakneck speed up the A6, climb Coniston Old Man, and still be bright enough to take Evening Surgery as well, and maybe afterwards, think nothing of rounding off the day with a walk over to Lydgate for a drink or two with him. Yesterday I could do it, but today, why it takes me all my time to come here just the once, and have the patience to sit and listen to you villagers with your imaginery this, that and the other, and now this. You of all people, complaining that you can't get down to do the herbacious border."
He was in full flow now, and a stranger would have taken his mood for rudeness and ill temper. She knew him better, and listened.
"Let the damned borders grow wild, give the badgers and the foxes their land back. That husband of yours took it off them when he built the blasted place. It was always a wild and windy corner up there. It's a wonder you managed to get anything to grow there in the first place, let alone a fine young family, and the best display of dahlias every year. Away with you woman, and thank the Lord you've still got your wits about you, and your family to look after you, now that.." He could not bring himself to say what he wanted, and mumbled something as an ending. He had finished. He had worked it all out of his system, and he had a tear in his eye from remembering her family, and how she had met her husband. He remembered their courtship, their eternally walking along Winterford Road, arm in arm in all weathers. He remembered, as she did, and they both realized what the other was thinking, and quickly looked away from each other, the better to leave well alone. He turned back to her, a look of compassion uncharacteristically flickering across his face.
"Window boxes." She looked puzzled. " You could try window boxes for your blessed flowers, if you must have them." Then he added.
"Get that son of yours to knock a few together for you. Then you can have your herbacious borders at eye level, instead of kneeling down in wet grass. There's your answer." She left quickly, only giving him a nod for thanks. He returned the nod, as he had always done, and it meant more than words. It meant sharing a time, and a place. It meant a shared experience of life, undefined, and probably incapable of being defined, yet tangible for those who shared the same unspoken knowledge, whose feet had stood in the same soil. She left, comforted by familiar affections that had the power to overcome the unfamilar sensations she had somewhere deep inside her self, where her dead husband still dwelt.


The bleakness of the winter had passed, and the beeches at the end of the lawn were slowly drying out. The time had come to plant out the seedlings from their little pots in the shed. The children had done most of the work, although they had rushed a little in their impatience to get out into the sunshine again. Still, the seedlings had appeared, and now they were reaching up, pale green, searching for the light.

The new window boxes lay in the corner of the shed, oblong boxes of pinewood, just long enough to fit in the windows overlooking the side garden. They would get more sunlight there. She moved one of them, and slowly picked it up and put it onto the low wooden bench in front of her chair. The wood was new, still green in places, and distorted because it had been cut early. She lowered her face to the green and yellow pinewood. She smelt it, and breathed in deeply. Images grew out of the fragrance of pine that filled her nostrils and her mind.


The bags of peat lay waiting. The window boxes would have to be filled. She could do it. She had done it a thousand times. She looked at her hands, her fingers were bony and stiff, gnarled by the arthritis. She knew that holding wet earth would hurt her for days. She picked up the green and silver trowel, feeling the familar smoothness of its handle. The varnish had worn off most of it, but it was still warm and smooth, even on cold days. She opened one of the bags. The string threaded through the top to keep it secure had been cut, and it was easy to unfold the top to see the brown peat in folds, dark, within the thick brown paper sacking.

She plunged the trowel deep into its softness, and brought a lump of it out. It had the fine, delicate structure of sphagnum moss running through it, and it reminded her of the leaf patterns on chinaware. She thought of the peat cutters standing in their square cut trenches, troubled by the wind and the rain that tore at their poor clothing. She brought the lump of peat up to look at it more closely. It smelt of bracken in the wet, and reminded her of journeys time had overlaid, like footprints under snow. She uncovered them.


The peat wasn't as firm as she would have liked. She knew it needed to be firmer, but she hadn't the strength, either in her arms or her hands to push it down any harder. She was tired out from the exertion of filling the box. The seedlings would be smothered by the sphagnum peat, and so she looked for the bag of sand. It was away in the corner, out of reach. She got up and felt its deadweight, and rather than try to move it, she thrust the trowel down into it. She sprinkled sand over the peat. It glinted in the weak sunlight as it fell from the trowel's rounded edges onto the peat below. She closed her eyes. Memories showered down like sand through an hour glass, and every sparkling grain that gaily peppered down onto the conical pile of her days brought her long life nearer to its end. Her eyes were closed, but the glinting sand had burnt an image into her eyes, and the shining points of light stirred her.


The boxes looked lovely. They made the house somehow lighter, and the fragrance of the flowers filled the hall and stairs. It percolated up to the bedrooms, and strangled the smells of cooking which emanated from the kitchen. The whole house had become a garden. She now kept the lounge door open. She loved even a glimpse of greenery, and through the long evenings when she did not feel like going out, she could still imagine and enjoy her beloved garden, to which the badgers and foxes were beginning to return.

It was becoming neglected, and although her son and her daughter, and the children came up at the weekends to help, it was still sadly not enough. The most that could be done was to ensure that the grass did not get overlong and that the borders, full of the shrubs and roses that Kenneth had planted, were not overcome by rank weeds and grass.

As she sat alone, reading the evening paper, or listening to the radio, she could sense the life in the boxes of peat and sand. She thought of the growing plants in the window boxes taking in the air she was breathing out, and using the carbon and the oxygen to provide her with new air to breathe in. They were all together in the house, in a mutual life support system. She knew the flowers would not fail her, and so she tended them carefully, watering them regularly and giving them the nutrients they needed to grow. They were her plants, and so she took care to give them what they needed to flourish, and give her joy. She thought of her life, she had given nourishment and love, and most of all, she had given life to the souls that had filled her life. Now Kenneth had gone, but there was still her children, and her children's children, and the plants that surrounded her. They had all given her so much, and they were still giving, and accepting what they needed to survive when she would no longer be here to look after them.


"Malignant is," the doctor paused," an ugly word, but as you both know, what your mother has is malignant, and," he paused again, "your mother's glioma is in its advanced stage."

Both son and daughter hung their heads while the doctor pronounced his sentence. He continued after a period that seemed too long.
"Although now there is no hope, I can tell you that she is not in any pain. She will feel no discomfort, other than the cerebral discomfort of knowing that she must leave.." His voice petered out, and a soft gurgling noise emanated from his throat, as if his vocal chords would not permit the words to pass into audible sounds.

His memories stirred in him, and he coughed to disguise his emotions.
"Her life has been a good one," his voice was still wavering, but it was steadier with every word.
"Your mother, and of course, your father," he coughed again, "were, erm are er both very good friends of mine." He paused again, looking down at the floor. He didn't really know how to continue. He knew what it was he wanted to say, but he could not find the words, and almost gasped at the enormity of what it was he wanted to say but just couldn't. Stuart could feel the doctor's plight, and eased his way.
"We know, Doctor, we know," and he smiled to reassure the man, that they did indeed know. He remained confused and silent.

They left, and only the memories remained, inscribed indelibly on the minds of son and daughter, grandchildren, and friends. The hourglass had only a few grains of sand, and those were about to run helter skelter out onto a little conical pile.



The doctor's words rang in his ears.
-Six months...nine....twelve at the most. Then...well.
-A virus..nobody's known cure..nothing to be done.
wait, wait and prepare.
Margaret was helpful, understanding,loving and patient
She would be his eyes, help him to manage, help him to get through
wouldn't she?
She didn't understand. How could she? How could she know what it was to be deprived of the one thing that is taken for granted by everyone, from birth to the grave, to only stand and wait? She shut her eyes tight. Some light still got through. Eyelids are ever so slightly transparent. She knew that when it became too difficult, when she stumbled over things that she knew would be right there in her path chairs, the table, not the unexpected, a bicycle, the windowcleaner's bucket, a child's toy left forgotten in the space, between the backdoor and the dustbin, she knew that when it became too difficult, she could open her eyes to the blinding light that she had so easily denied herself so that for the time being as long as it suited her, she could try the experience of being blind. The knowledge that she could put an end to it the instant it became too much bother, too much trouble; the knowledge that she could after all, open her eyes again and see, that knowledge prevented her from really knowing what it was really like to live in a perpetual night that is blacker than any night on the face of God's Earth, that knowledge saver her. Margaret was helpful, but couldn't understand.Joe was blind, and she could only sit and listen without really understanding.
Right away, as soon as he knew, as soon as he was blinded by the virus, something that could invade a pinhead without being seen by the naked eye, a minute organism that had managed to do what a battery of guns had failed to do, a minute being that God had created, had struck him and left him unable to see his grandchildren, although he could hear them playing; as soon as he was blinded he made the most of his life. What else could he do? It takes more than even blindness to alter a person's way of doing things....of seeing things. Joe made the most of his life. He did all the things that he had ever done. He did them slower, much slower than before, but he did them. He didn't read, but he listened to Margaret reading. She read from the bookshelf, familiar stories that he knew and loved. She read from the Bible, and the familiar became fresh and new through her voice. He listened and understood the stories that he had heard from his childhood. The words took on new meaning through their being spoken. Words that had lost some of their value, some of their significance through usage, became new again, revitalised, refreshed, and were once again understood as a child understands before the world taints and wonder turns to cynicism. One day, a day like any other in this early time of their new life together, Margaret called him. He did not answer. She called again. A faint voice came up from what seemed like the depths of the house. She listened. Her name was being called out from somewhere below her feet. There was a knocking, then her name, then more knocking, until she was following the sound of her name, and the knocking.
She stood at the door to the cellar steps, and listened. A sharp draught of cold, musty air caught her throat, and she coughed. He had stopped calling her name, but the knocking sound continued steady. She stared down into the blackness of the steps that went down to the dirt and the cobwebs, and Joe. He was chopping firewood. He had always chopped the firewood in the cellar, and he saw no reason to stop doing it now.
He had tried the lightswitch, tried it and laughed silently, tried it and turned it off. He hadn't remembered to get a new lightbulb. The steps were easy with arms outstretched, hands and elbows touching the whitewashed walls, dusty on either side. He had searched for the axe, and found it where he had left it, it's sharp blade embedded in the round block that served as a solid base on which to chop. The wood was heaped at the side of the block. He began to chop the wood. It was slow work at first. He caught the side of his hand, and his thumb, before measuring his stroke, and holding the short pieces of wood at right angles under the sharp axe. In between the strokes, he heard Margaret calling down to him. He called back. Margaret stepped carefully down the steps. The blackness smothered her. She held her hand in front of her face, but she couldn't see it. She moved it in front of her eyes. She saw nothing but black. Joe chopped steadily on. She wondered, and she understood. In the black that was as thick as the coaldust that covered the walls of the cellar he was at home. He could chop firewood without chopping his fingers off to lie black and bloody in the dirt of the cold stone floor. He could do what she could not. She was helpless in the pitchblack. She stumbled over the old pram that had held the twins. It had been there since they were old enough to walk, full of coke and firewood. It had always been there but she fell over it. Then she understood, and was full of sadness, full of joy. She could walk back up into the light, back up the dusty steps, to a world she could see. Joe could not. The blackness of the cellar came with him back up the steps into her world of light.
She understood, and was sorry. Robert L. Fielding

Music, not money, makes the world go round



Robert L Fielding

It was a warm summer's evening in August, and I was walking up Lothian Road in the heart of Edinburgh. My destination was the Usher Hall, a superb Victorian building, which on this particular night was the venue for a performance of the aptly named Symphony of a Thousand, The 8th Symphony by Gustav Mahler. As I was walking up towards the Usher Hall I started to think about the composer, Mahler, who had been a hugely successful conductor in Vienna many years earlier, before his untimely death. He must, I thought, have walked to many such magnificent halls in Vienna on just such lovely evenings as this one. Thinking about Mahler, and the music I was about to hear, I began to whistle the opening bars of the symphony as my pace quickened.
I whistled away, oblivious to the noise of the traffic, and perhaps my whistling grew louder in response to the hooting of car horns and the revving of engines. Suddenly, I heard a voice, a woman's voice at my side.
"He's whistling our tune," she said to someone behind me. I looked round to discover that I was surrounded by women in long gowns.
"Your tune?" I enquired.
"Yes" said another to my left, "we're singing here tonight," she said, pointing at the grand building in front of us; the Usher Hall.
These were some of the thousand performers about to take part in the musical evening.
They had surrounded me, and they told me that they had all come down from the Granite City, Aberdeen. I asked them if they had rehearsed it up there, the thousand performers.
"Oh no," another woman said, "we rehearsed our bit of it, and other groups in other cities, Perth, Dundee and Glasgow, they did the same, and last night we all rehearsed it together for the first time." The performance I was about to hear was only the second time that they had all sung and played together under one roof. They laughed gaily, and told me how nice it had been to meet the other performers for the first time last night, and they laughed again when I asked them how on Earth they had managed to rehearse only their own part of something so vast, so grand and so long. They couldn't really answer, but one of the women said, "You'll see." They said they had all thoroughly enjoyed taking part in something which had to be built up bit by bit, and put together in one live performance. They asked me where I came from, and I told them that I had traveled two hundred miles to hear the piece. They had traveled down from all over Scotland. We had come from all over Britain to be there, to take part in one glorious evening of live musical entertainment. Music really does bring people together.

Robert L Fielding
Edinburgh – At the Festival

From the poem



R L Fielding

The gentle lap of the river on the boat's sides kept pace with the splash of oars as Clemency, the sun shining on her young face, pulled gently at the smoothed handles. Moorhens darted under overhanging banks as she approached. She pulled the boat into the middle of the stream, feeling the stronger currents, and thought of them as friends, so familiar were they to her.

Looking downstream, first to the right, then to the left, she saw the waterside life returning. The moorhen resumed its pecking, blackbirds returned to long boughs to continue their courtship displays, and the surface of the stream regained its serenity, hiding the currents that Clemency knew.

A few pulls on the oars brought Mrs. Fairclough into view, sitting, daintily sipping tea at the gleaming white table that was always set for two. Clemency didn't know who the other place was set for. She thought perhaps it was prepared for somebody Mrs. Fairclough was expecting, but who never seemed to arrive.

Clemency was gone, and with her Mrs. Fairclough's only distraction from the lonely reaches stretching away in front of her. She was thinking about her husband, and her memories of him brought soft tears to her delicate blue eyes. Her loneliness crushed her. Dark fingers of melancholy probed her mind, and her grief left her weak and forlorn.

At this time of the year, Gerald would have been tending the seed beds, a hoe in his long, sensitive hands, or else he would be kneeling as if in prayer to the red earth of the garden he loved.

She would call his name softly, and he would come to her, and sit with her, his face reflecting her happiness. Looking up from their tea, smiling, they would see the scull slowly passing, and Clemency, her father's eye patch over her right eye, sailing the Spanish Main. She would pass, and leave them to think of their own dear daughter, and to drink their tea, and look into empty cups rather than at each other.

Mrs. Fairclough wept a single tear that ran down her cheek to the corner of her mouth. She quickly sipped some tea from the flowered china, sweetness dissolved the taste of sorrow, and left in its place an emptiness that, with the sound of the stream lapping at the green bank, made her feel cold and alone. She returned to the house, pale and wan, chilled by the breeze, saddened by the water, not wishing to see Clemency return.

Inside the house she felt her husband's presence again. His pipe lay on the bureau, his slippers beneath it, a volume of poetry lay open on the chair where he used to sit. The flowers that he loved to look at, stood in a vase, fresh and green. The gramaphone, if switched on, would have played the overture to his favourite opera. The man himself was missing. Mrs. Fairclough sat in the failing light and waited. He did not appear, and she sighed gently and slipped quietly into a sleep from which she did not awake.

I wrote this after reading a poem by our Poet Laureate.
Robert L. Fielding

Wednesday, March 08, 2006




Robert L. Fielding

My father in law got out of the car.  It was a hot day. The drive from Magusa hadn't really been a long one, just about an hour, but the temperature had been soaring continually.                                

The heat was almost unbearable, the outskirts of Lefkosa were as dry and hot as the city itself.  Salamis had been pleasant, setting off at half past nine, already warm, but kept fresh by the breezes off the glinting Mediterranean.  Fifty miles or so inland, under the backdrop of the coastal ranges of Northern Cyprus, it was different.

Erdogan looked up and down the dirt track.  He looked up at the hills to the north, the Turkish Cypriot flag, massive on the hillside overlooking Lefkosa.
"I can't remember it exactly", and he motioned to his wife.  We had gone round the same roundabout twice.
"It is difficult.  It was a long time ago", he said.
We had seen the sign for Kyrenia, Girne now, and had decided that Gonyela must be further along the road to Guzelyurt.

The line of the mountains to the north was unchanged.  He recognized those alright.
"That is new", he said pointing to the star and crescent of the Turkish Cypriot flag, white against the brown sides of the mountains, more akin to the white horses of Wiltshire than to a symbol of treasured nationhood, jealously guarded.  It served its purpose, a focus for the citizens of Lefkosa as they sat on their balconies in the cooler evenings.        

Erdogan strode purposefully along the road.
"Of course this wasn't here then", he said, standing in front of a block of apartments, as yet only three stories high, unfinished, perhaps an even better symbol of a nation living a perpetual life of uncertainty as to its future, but firmly rooted in its foundations of courage and truth, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

I had my doubts as to whether he would be able to find what he was looking for.  He turned back to the centre of the road.  The women were already lagging behind, not having the memories of this place to drive and sustain them.
"Dogan, It is hot", cried his wife Sahure, but he had seen something, and carried on walking.  He had found a spot, greatly changed no doubt, but he had seen a point from which he could fix everything.
"Over there", he pointed to a ditch, overgrown, looking like it had been the cornerstone of a house at an earlier time.
"We stayed there."  His daughter Nazan, my wife, had reached her father's side.
"Baba", she took his arm and hung to it.  Her eyes had become moist, more beautiful.
"You stayed here when I was."  Her voice was lost on the breeze that rustled the few olive trees that still stood astride a few feet of old concrete and brick.

Both father and daughter lost themselves in that time; playing with her dollies, asking her mother when their father would be coming home again, rocking baby Levent who always cried at the word, 'Baba', for a father he had scarcely seen.

Their mother was serene, severely troubled in her serenity that she preserved that the four children would not become afraid, to reassure them that their Baba was coming.
"Geliyor, geliyor", she said softly, "he is coming, he is coming."
They sat together by the fire, against the cold of an Ankara winter.  
The photograph of a husband, a father, and a soldier sustained them through the long months, when their only contact was a short clipped message on a frequency that was difficult to find on the crackling radio.
"I was here my love, looking after my brothers, while you, my babies were sleeping far away, looking at that photo, listening for me on that old radio.  You remember, don't you?"
"It was good, looking after your brothers."  Nazan leant on her father, as she had done as a child.
"That is right," he looked again at the huge flag on the brown hillside.      For several minutes, father and daughter stood looking at the place that had kept them apart all those years ago.
"Now they are safe, your brothers and sisters, he stroked her dark curls.  He remembered too.




Robert L Fielding

  Sarah remembered her fortieth birthday.  'Life begins at forty', they had said.  And it had, in a way.  Peter had bought her an Amstrad Notepad Computer.  So she had had her own word-processor, portable too.  That had started it all.  Until then she had thought nothing could be changed.  


   "But why a computer", she had asked her husband, you know I can't work them, and feel threatened by them.  She realised how ungrateful that sounded.
   "But it was nice of you", she added, kissing him. Peter smiled  at her reaction, which he had anticipated.  
   "Darling", he said, tenderly, but insistently, "this computer will change your life, I promise."  She wanted to believe him, but she remained unconvinced.              


  She remembered the doctor's words.  One year, two at the most.  It was October; nothing had changed, except the thought of leaving Peter, which weighed on her heart like a stone.

  She liked the computer, it seemed like a beginning.  She had resisted computers, preferring to rely on her own mental ability, but she would try to use it.
   "I will", she said, "I promise", and she had kissed him again.

  She sat down with it.                        
   "I could use it as a diary", and she started to write.  At first, she wrote very little, but as time passed she started a dialogue; communicated her innermost thoughts.
  "But machines can't communicate", she said to herself, but she continued, and slowly she began to understand her condition.  Her doctor had said it would worsen, until...  She stopped thinking about that day.  She wrote and wrote; it drew her out.  She wrote about her life.


Just before she was forty, she had received news which had shattered her.  Since then she had hardly had a minute free from the agonising recollection of Doctor Gilbert's words.  He was an old friend of the family, and had acquainted her with the realities of her ailment, in his matter of fact way, which she found comforting.  She had complained of an ache over her left eye, and above her temples.  She thought it meant that she needed glasses.  She said so to Peter.
  "You'll look terrific", he had said, unconvincingly.  But it wasn't her eyesight, and so Doctor Gilbert had sent her for tests; routine at first, and then, when it became clear that it was no routine matter, to a neurologist.      


  Doctor Gilbert explained in the voice of paternal consideration.
   "The brain", he started, "is like a computer, but it is much more complex." He had touched her forehead as she listened.            
   "The cerebrum, the most developed part of the brain, has two hemispheres", he stroked her temples.  It eased her.
  "The right hand side contains those systems concerned with the development of language, our cognitive side, while the left side deals with our creative, artistic nature.  Between the two is a nerve fibre, the corpus callusom, and that is the communicative link between them.  You complained of headaches, of a loss of memory."
   "I can't remember simple words, Doctor, my mind goes blank." He stopped her.
   "Information is transmitted from the different parts of the brain, to parts of the body, by neurons, of which we know very little."  
   "Electric impulses sent through the branching mass of dendrites to all parts of the body, the ear, the, eye, and so on."
   "There is a break, in your nerve fibres, and so information is not getting to where it is needed, hence your loss of memory, forgetting even the simplest of words."  He now looked at her carefully, to guage her reaction to what he now had to say.
  "We have no way of repairing that break", he paused, still looking at her.  
  "Your condition will worsen..steadily..until."
  "What will happen to me?"  She had to know.
  "You will start to forget more and more, and your vocabulary will deteriorate as the reticular activity slows and the  limbic systems break down, the right hemisphere."  She remembered, and nodded.
  "The cognitive side."            
  "That will stop functioning as it becomes deprived of stimuli,  and you will lose your language."
  "Will I die, Doctor?"  she asked, looking into his eyes for his answer.                                  
  "You have one..maybe two years.  No more."


  She remembered, even though she could not remember his name.  She looked at the computer entries.  She returned to the first entry, written on her birthday.  It was simple; 'How nise of Peter.  She looked again.   She had spelt nice with an 's'.  The children had went to the zoo.
She was astounded.  'Had went'.  She paged on and on, scanning for errors.  They were numerous, too numerous at first, but then they seemed fewer in the later entries. She paged down to the day before, and re-read the entry.            
'Peter had migraine this morning. He must go the doctor again.'
She had only omitted the indefinite article, and a preposition. She was relieved that yesterday's entry had only minor faults, and in fact she wasn't even sure they were faults.  She often wrote a sort of clipped diary language.
  "Lots of people do."  She stopped, and shouted the words aloud.
  "Peter had a migraine this morning.  He must go to the doctor again.  How nice of Peter."  She was shouting the words she had written.
  "The children went to the zoo."  She looked at the screen.      
Her forgetting to use articles and prepositions only seemed to occur in her writing.  She remembered the doctor's words.            
  "Your condition will steadily worsen."  She paged down again, wincing at the errors, the more so because she had always prided herself on her English.
  "And now this, 'had went'."  She went down through the entries.  There was no doubt about it.  It was quite appalling, and the worst thing was that she hadn't known she had been writing such terrible English, until she had re-read it.  The computer had given her the chance to re-read every line, which was something she never did.  She wrote her diary, but never re-read it, preferring to leave it for Peter, when he found it lying open.
  Now she had seen the changes with her own eyes, she could assess the extent of her...she did not even know what on Earth to call it, her illness.  It was hardly that, for she couldn't really say that she felt any physical deterioration.
  Sarah was frightened.  She looked around at the apparatus, which meant nothing to her.  She felt alone.  She wanted to be with her husband Peter.  She wanted to live. She felt angry, and helpless, in the hands of strangers, and machinery, the white octopus machine that enveloped her in wires.

  "The electroencephalograph", the doctor began, "is a mouthful, so we call it the EEG."
Sarah was still scared.                  
  "It is an incredible machine, and it looks incredible, but", here he turned to look at her face, "it will not hurt you."
  "You will feel nothing, nothing at all."  He moved to the console to begin.  


  "You have heard of brainwaves?  This machine helps us to  study them.  You have brainwaves, we study them.  We look at the workings of the brain, by analyzing its electrical activity.  We study it, and we see what is working and what is not."
  "And now", he placed his hands either side of her face,his thumbs below her ears, and his first and second fingers on her temples.  She rested her head, and closed her eyes.  She felt....nothing.                                  


  She had dozed off.  It was over. The doctor was looking at a graph, which he held out at arms length.  She had momentarily forgotten, but a dull ache in her heart reminded her of the situation she was in.
  "The human mind", he said, inspecting the graph, "is a wonderful thing."
  "You agree?"  She was numb, could only mumble.
  "I have this picture of your mind working, even as you were sleeping.   And now I can say how, just on the basis of these lines."  He held up the graph.  It was incomprehensible to her.
  "Intelligence is, they say, a matter of reaching sensible conclusions on the basis of incomplete evidence, and even here, that is all we have, these lines on this graph.  I have not seen into your head, but I can now say that everything is fine."  He put the paper down on and moved towards her.
  "Scientists have always been impressed with the similarities between computers and the brain.  We have built models, and we have theorized when we did not know, and reshaped our model when we proved our theories wrong." He breathed in.
  "That is the way science progresses, not by startling discoveries, but by disproving theories, and moving on, until the model is unable to accommodate the findings."  She wondered what was coming next. " Then we construct a new model, and start again."  He was intense, and she was scared.
  "You have helped us to disprove some of our theories about how the brain functions.  You have been working with symbols", he turned away from her, "with language?"  He faced her again.
  "You can answer, we have not taken your tongue."
She stammered a reply.
  "Yyes, with language, a computer."
He spoke again.
  "Language is basically computational in nature.  It ascribes symbol manipulating processes to the psychological system. What you have been doing since we last saw you, has achieved the impossible, or what we thought of as impossible until now."  He was excited.
  "You were told", I think, "that you had a break in a nerve fibre.2
  "Yes", she replied.                  
  "And that nothing could be done to repair it?"  She nodded.
  "And that is still true, it cannot be repaired."  His eyes were animated.

  "You, my dear lady, have gone another way, literally, your reacting to symbols on a screen, letters, has forced the electrical impulses of your mind to find another route to that other hemisphere, and you have done it yourself, you and that computer you have been working with.  You must have been looking at it for a long time.  You must have manipulated those symbols, re-arranged them, perhaps there was something wrong with the language you used."  She nodded, thunderstruck by his words, unable to speak.  His elation knew no bounds.                                  
  "Somewhere it is written, Go and seek our own salvation, and that is what you have done my dear lady.  You have sought and found your own saviour, in that computer.  Go and sing it from the rooftops.  Go and reassure those people who find technology threatening. Go and spread the word."  
   "And she did.  I know. I bought her the computer."
                                                                                                                               Robert L Fielding