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)

Curriculum Noir II: The Gove Legacy

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 15.10.23In his All Change Please! Guest Post Curriculum Noir last May, Philip Marlowe recounted the story of how he had searched in vain for the Arts in schools, discovered they were now only available in the local PaintEasy, and pleaded for the Blob to somehow find a way to overcome the Mob, led by the notorious Big Mickey Gove. So what’s happened since? Marlowe picks up the story…

I remember the day it happened – who doesn’t? There we all were outside Number 10 expecting maybe one or two of Gove’s henchmen to be taken out, when all of a sudden a big black van marked ‘Toxic Waste – Please Dispose Of Carefully‘ drove up and suddenly Mickey Gove was gone. Most teachers just stood there in silence, not believing the news. But as the day wore on, incredulity gave way to singing and dancing and lots of other things that Gove would not have approved of. No-one knew where he’d gone, and even fewer cared.

Then just a few days ago there was a knock on my office door and a tall, elderly gentleman entered. I recognised him immediately. It was the notorious, well past his retire-by-date, Lieutenant Wilshaw of the Flying Ofsted Squad.

“Marlowe”, he said, “My apologies for this no-notice visit, but I’ll come straight to the point. I’m worried about Mickey Gove. It’s been two months now and no-one’s seen him since the day he was taken. He seems to have just disappeared off the face of the earth.”

I wasn’t really listening to what he was telling me. While I waited for him to engage my interest I tipped back on my chair and texted a message to my secretary whilst gazing out of the window, but my attempt at low-level disruptive behaviour didn’t seem to put him off. Even lighting a cigarette didn’t get a reaction. I got the distinct feeling he wanted me to call him Sir all the time, but I had no intention of doing so.

“I’m concerned he’s been brainwashed in some way and is just walking the streets trying to work out who he is, or rather was. I was wondering if you could maybe find him for me?”

I remained silent, wondering why I should agree to take on such a task.

“I’ll pay you of course” he said, anticipating my thoughts, “or even better I could speak to someone who would make you chairman of a large academy chain. Or perhaps you could open a free school, if that’s what you’d like?”

That sounded a lot more tempting, but I still wasn’t convinced.

“It’s just that ever since the start of the new term the teachers have become very confused.” he continued. “Without Gove dictating what should be taught and when and how, they don’t seem to know what to do next. And now there is nothing to fight for anymore they are just aimlessly walking around the school corridors like zombies.

“OK”, I said, reluctantly. “In that case I’ll see what I an do”.

“Thank you Mr Marlowe. That’s a satisfactory response. Good of you to help. Very good – in fact, outstanding. Use any special measures you need to. You must excuse my limited vocabulary – it comes with the job. Err – you will keep me fully updated, won’t you?”

I thought I’d begin by checking up on Delores Anass and find out how she was settling into the new term, and whether or not she’d turned into a zombie. Arriving at the school I walked passed the dance studio where Edward (AKA Sir Ken) Robinson was in full flow, giving another of his motivational lectures. Then I came to the IT suite where the ICT co-ordinator was desperately trying to learn two coding languages just in order to keep up with the kids. Meanwhile outside on the school field someone was quietly stringing together a Daisy chain of academies.

Delores was looking as stunning as ever – like she’d just stepped off the cover of a glossy school prospectus.  She could sure keep me in detention anytime she liked. But I could tell she wasn’t happy.

“I don’t know what to do about the new KS3 curriculum.” she said. “I’m trying to deliver it as required but the children don’t seem to have any idea what I’m talking about. It’s almost as if they just haven’t yet covered the much higher demands and expectations of KS2 in their Primary schools, so that makes it quite impossible. And as for these new GCSE grades, well they’re so much nonsense, aren’t they? It’s just replacing letters with numbers and adding a 9 to fool people into thinking somehow that makes it louder. Perhaps next time they’ll use colours instead – for example, you could have Green for ‘Pass’, Yellow for ‘Get Ready To Pass’ and Red for ‘Stop and Repeat’. That would be much better, wouldn’t it?”

I looked around and checked out the notorious art room sinks, but in this case they were gleaming white: this was clearly a clean sink school. On her desk I noticed a cracked, not-so-young Toby jug crammed full of bald paintbrushes. I wandered towards the art storeroom door, but noticed Delores suddenly seemed uneasy, as if she was trying to hide something.

“No, Marlowe, No.” she pleaded. “Please don’t go in there. It’s not safe. You might not like what you find. It’s – where I keep my whips, if you get my meaning.”

I wondered if this was a side of Dolores I didn’t know about, or whether she perhaps just had a penchant for Walnut Whips, but then I made the connection. I had my hunches about what, or rather who, might be in there, but I decided to let sleeping dogs lie. If that’s where Gove was, he couldn’t do any further harm.

Back at the office I rang Lt. Wilshaw. I told him I thought I’d found Gove and he was well out of harm’s way, but I was afraid I couldn’t reveal his whereabouts. Wilshaw sounded relieved, but still not happy – I guessed perhaps he’d really wanted to get to Gove himself so he could finish the job off properly. It could only happen in education.

The bell to signal the end of school for the day rang somewhere in my head and I decided it was time to head for home. Gove may be gone – for now at least – but there’s no doubt his legacy will live on for some time. It’s going to be a while before the Blob manage to take control of education again, and Big Mickey’s Mob are never going to be far behind. I wasn’t feeling human tonight, but at least I hadn’t turned into a zombie. Not yet, anyway.

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Lower image credit: Flickr/emiliano-iko