Goves and Dolls

51BZN5STVRLGuys and Dolls was a Broadway musical first performed in 1950, and followed by the highly successful film version in 1955. The plot is based on a number of humorous and sentimental short stories written in the 1930s by Damon Runyon, in which the main character is often to be found eating cheesecake at Mindys in New York and trying to keep out of trouble while influencing events that usually involve gangsters, gambling or women, and often all three, from a distance.

Other regulars include characters such as Harry the Horse, Edward the Educated and Dave the Dude. An unusual and distinctive feature of the stories is that they are written in the present tense, have no contractions (e.g.’ he is’ instead of ‘he’s’) and reflect the New York underground gangland dialect of the time. This style and characterisaton is often referred to as being ‘Runyonesque’.

So All Change Please! is therefore proud to present its own Runyonesque, very short Christmas story entitled Goves and Dolls.

“One morning shortly before the end of the Christmas Term I am busy sitting in the school dining room minding my own business as usual, and reading a piece in the paper about how Big Micky Gove is still trying to influence education policy and not letting Little Missy Morgan get on with her job. Around the table with me are Duncan the Deputy, Alan the Author, Tony the Technology, and lastly Pearson the Prophet, with whom I should point out we do not regularly socialise as we do not like the future he foretells. We are very much enjoying our slices of the lovely Linda Lasagne the Dinner Lady’s cheesecake, which, this being the festive season, comes with a small sprig of holly and a merry paper napkin.

Then suddenly, and somewhat unusually for the dinner hall, everything goes quiet and I become aware of something large and red standing in front of me. I look up and to begin with I am much surprised to see a man all dressed up in a Father Christmas outfit. But I’m even more surprised when Santa removes his hood and white beard to reveal himself as none other than Big Mickey Gove.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your break-time” he says politely, because he is nothing if not polite, “but I believe you’ve been looking for me?”

Now I don’t want to be involved in any trouble, so I say “Who me? No! But I guess the person you are referring to is All Change Please!, with whom I do occasionally socialise through a certain electronic social media channel.”

But of course I do not reveal exactly how closely connected I am, for fear I will thought to be part of the infamous Blob he so despises and hates with all his heart and every bone in his body.

“Well”, says Big Mickey, “I wonder if you’d be so good to kindly inform All Change Please! that I don’t want it to start publishing any posts based on absolutely untrue and quite unbelievable stories that are recently appearing in the papers about me still trying to influence education. I’m still supposed to be in hiding behind the scenes, secretly meddling with things that are really none of my business. And then there’s my future media career to think of too. So unless it wants to find another world in which to live, please be so good as to tell it to desist its damaging diatribes.”

So I tell Big Mickey that sure I will pass on his message, but that of course I have no say in what actually gets published, and he wisely replaces his hood and beard and gets up and makes for the front door. Outside I cannot help but notice one of his little helpers sitting by his sledge looking cold and miserable, and because I see it is a character of a female persuasion, and naturally I have a certain soft spot for dolls, I find myself going over to ask if there is anything wrong and that I might be able to help with.

But here I am in for another big surprise because it turns out to be Missy Morgan herself.

“No, there’s nothing you can do.” she sobs, “All I want to do is be teacher’s friend, build bridges, mend fences, lighten their burden and many other somewhat simplistic and cliched metaphors. And I really didn’t mean to say studying the Arts was a waste of time the other day you know, it just sort of came out all wrong. And then Big Mickey is always calling me up or dropping by and putting pressure on me not to change any of his policies however silly and unworkable they are.

“Wait, maybe there is something you could do? I have heard that you have some influence with that sometimes slightly satirical All Change Please! blog? Perhaps you could ask it to write a sympathetic piece that will make me seem like a nice, kind, caring and sensitive education secretary?”

Well I can never resist a dame in distress and I am known to be a bit of a sentimentalist at times, so I tell her that next time I chance to have discourse with All Change Please! I will be sure to put in a good word for her. But as far as Big Mickey Gove is concerned he just deserves whatever is coming to him.

At that moment Gove shouts for her to get back on board, and he ascends into the sky, loudly cracking his government whip. Well he must be very busy at present as I guess he must have an awful lot of encyclopedias and King James’ Bibles to deliver to schools before Christmas. Anyone want to take a bet on exactly how many?

Any chance of some more cheesecake, Linda? After all I need to build up my strength in order to write this year’s Christmas Blogpost…”

You can download some of Damon Runyon’s short stories here, or enjoy an Old Time Radio Dramatisation below. (starts at approx 1.00 min)

Now this is what I call an Importance Statement

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The attention-grabbing building above, called the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, is in Shinjuko, Tokyo, one of the main centres of the vast capital of Japan. Completed in October 2008 and designed by Kenzo Tange, Japan’s most famous architect, it sits between the major railway interchange hub and a burgeoning business district that includes the impressive twin towers of the Tokyo Municipal Headquarters. The architect’s brief included the stipulation that the building should not be rectangular –  something that has very clearly been achieved.

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Now you might be forgiven for thinking that the building, with its 50 floors, is perhaps a luxury apartment building or hotel, or at the very least the headquarters of a multi-national company. But you’d be wrong, because it’s a University building. Described as a ‘vertical campus’ for 10,000 students it is occupied by three vocational departments – the Tokyo Mode Gakuen Fashion School, the HAL Tokyo School of Information Technology and Design, and the Shuto Ikō School of Medicine. It incorporates a 3-storey high atrium “to substitute as a ‘schoolyard’, called the ‘Student Lounge’ and multi-use corridors where communication can flourish.”

Tange’s design is intended to represent a cocoon, and as such symbolize  the academic care that is provided, and “Embraced within this incubating form, students are inspired to create, grow and transform.

It was awarded the 2008 Skyscraper of the Year by Emporis.com.

And it’s not alone. The Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers is a similar 36 story vocational educational facility just outside Nagoya Railway station, also completed in 2008.

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There’s no question that these structures make a clear statement of intent as to the importance Japan places on its vocational education.

Fast forward (or should that be backwards?) to 2012, and here’s Michael Gove defining the way forward for school buildings in the UK:

We won’t be getting Richard Rogers to design your school. We won’t be getting any award-winning architects to design it, because no one in this room is here to make architects richer.”

And according to the Guardian at the time:

“Design templates unveiled for 261 replacement school buildings also prohibit folding internal partitions to subdivide classrooms, roof terraces that can be used as play areas, glazed walls and translucent plastic roofs.”

The templates tell architects new schools should have:

“no curves or ‘faceted’ curves, corners should be square, ceilings should be left bare and buildings should be clad in nothing more expensive than render or metal panels above head height. As much repetition as possible should be used to keep costs down”.

In this case, there’s no question that these guidelines make a clear statement of intent as to the lack of importance the UK places on its vocational education.

 

Photos © Tristram Shepard