by way of explanation


There’s a story behind the grandiosity of ‘the great fogginzo’ which it would be well to have out of the way. This is it. As the English and Drama adviser for Calderdale, I got to visit all sorts of schools, some in the middle of old mill towns, some on moor edges, one tucked into the valley side where the trains that emerged from a tunnel to run over a viaduct came right past the staff rom window, feeling close enough to touch. There are small Victorian buildings in villages hidden away in side valleys, in deans and cloughs. Villages like Luddenden, say, villages that are like Haworth but interesting. Anyway, one winter (snow never closes these village schools) I  was supposed to do some kind of visit with a clip board and write a report about this school in a steep sided twisty valley. What happened was this. The Head, a 5 by 5 force of nature, greeted me. Don’t take your coat off, she says. We’ve not time for that. Come on. And she sweeps me off down a corridor and, with a flourish, flings open a classroom door.

Understand, this is a school of high ceilings and traditional virtues. These are the Top Juniors. (they can’t be doing with this Year 6 stuff). There are 34 children in proper desks with lids and holes for ink wells. Now then, says the Head. You didn’t believe me when I said he was coming, did you? She lets the silence hang a beat. The children of traditional virtues look at me and back at her. You didn’t believe me….ye of little faith. Well. She pauses just long enough. Here he is.

She turns to me. Fogginzo, she says. Fogginzo. They won’t believe me, but they’ll have to believe you. Go on. Tell them how you and I toured the circuses of Europe before the Second World War.

She knows that I know that she knows that I cannot back down and have any credibility. I am supposed to know about drama. She does. This is a small LEA, and all the Primary heads know each other. I have to tell the Top Juniors how me and Mrs. L. toured the circuses of Europe before World War Two.


So I do. I tell them, in my halting heavily accented English (for which I apologise…I am Hungarian, you understand)  how their stocky little Headteacher danced on the high wire, like a jewelled dragonfly in amber spotlight, and how she broke men’s hearts with her fragile beauty. The children look at her for confirmation. She nods, yes it’s true, all of it.

I don’t do my clipboard inspection. It has been one of the best mornings of my life.

11 thoughts on “by way of explanation

  1. Wonderful! Enough to give Gove an embolism. (Gove does actually sound like an archaic form of ‘to give’). (Or a glove with the index finger missing).


  2. I have been horribly remiss…..still finding my way round WordPress, and forgetting my manners. So. Apologies for that, you four lovely people, and thanks. Because you certainly made my day xx


  3. Hi John,
    I have also made my living out of tricks and sideshows (see below)! What a fantastic blog. Love from one great circus act to another.
    Julie x

    The Great Antonio

    I tasted your sun, hot metal, the scrap yard
    of my youth, ate plastic, raw, spat out
    credit cards. I said, this is your language,
    my chest weighing like a barrel of grease.

    I said, I am a man in your language,
    and I will show you the crunch of Buicks
    with my bare hands, cinders of garlic
    under my tongue. Smell my words,

    such muscle I can lift a truck. My knuckles
    crack, make the sound of walnuts
    on the forest floor, where pigs truffle
    and make exceptional pork in my language.

    I went to the terminus, to catch a bus
    out of my life – nothing moved so I took a rope,
    pulled it through Montreal, fifty five passengers
    still on board. Nobody believed it.

    They said dumb bells, steroids. I said
    this is your language I don’t understand,
    took a deck of cards, ripped it in half,
    showed them who I really am.


  4. Hello, Julie M.! that’s made my day! And yet another of your totally surprising poems that I’ll read and reread. Poetry business tomorrow….are you off? As we say in the Heavy Woollen District


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