Monday, September 29, 2008

st werburgh’s arts trail

Very much enjoyed the arts trail in St Werburgh’s yesterday (where Hannah+Fee live). Perfect weather and lots of smiling people. Some beautiful art, good music and amusing story-telling/street theatre.
Photo: street musicians in the tunnel.
PS: I spent some time “exhibition-sitting” for Hannah while she got out to view some of the arts trail for herself. In between chatting to visitors, I read a little of “A Winter Book” by Tove Jansson - rather beautiful and uplifting. I came across this in the “Parties” short story and it made me laugh out loud (not sure it applies to anyone I know, but I still found it amusing): “All men have parties and are pals who never let each other down. A pal can say terrible things which are forgotten the next day. A pal never forgives, he just forgets, and a woman forgives but never forgets. That's how it is”.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


I’ve never yearned to be rich.
Living “simply” (in Western terms at least) has always seemed to be a reasonable goal. Running an architectural practice for nearly 30 years meant that I had successful years, in financial terms, and years when I literally had to subsidise the practice. As a result, I have often joked (Moira hasn’t been amused) that I can only afford to live until I’m 70 – not long to go then!
The extremely volatile global financial climate of the past few days/weeks/months might mean that I have to recalculate my end date! For years, I have bemoaned the huge annual bonuses paid out to City high-fliers. A financial system where speculators, or "financial vandals" as I've recently seen them described, get massive rewards for taking risks with somebody else’s money (apparently with ONLY large rewards if they fail!) seems fundamentally wrong. I’ve read some wonderful descriptions recently, such as: “rich kids in bright shirts in London, New York and Tokyo who are making money at our expense” and “an irresponsible game of financial jenga”!
The root of the market collapse is the fear that banks and other institutions still hold too many “toxic assets”, which are based on mortgages that are now going bad. Should we be surprised by this - when young couples are offered mortgages on, what seems to me, ridiculous terms? Doesn’t anyone remember the non-boom times (high interest rates/high unemployment/stalled housing markets)? Short-selling (hedge funds being the main players) has now been banned in the UK for some specific financial shares – well, at least until January. It has been held partly responsible for undermining confidence in the UK's biggest mortgage lender HBOS (recently acquired by Lloyds TSB). The Green Party’s Patrick Harvey reckons that the “root cause of the problem is the culture of deregulated and buccaneer capitalism which all the other political parties have supported, celebrated and even courted."
I think he has a point!
Photo: I fear that this concentration on the “global slowdown” will result in eyes being taken away from the Climate Change agenda. It therefore seemed somewhat ironic to pass the Lloyds TSB building in Bristol last night with ALL its lights on!

Monday, September 22, 2008

tobacco factory market

As we often do, we went along to the excellent weekly Tobacco Factory Market yesterday morning. The sun was shining and there were lots of people about (it also coincided with one of its monthly street parties) and there was a real community “feel”.
Amazingly, I bumped into an old work colleague Neil Foreman (he’s a chartered surveyor with Hicks Baker) from Oxfordshire who just happened to be visiting his daughter in Southville. Great to see him again (after more than 5 years).
PS: can’t quite believe this, but we’ve eaten outside twice this weekend!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

ed balls

I’ve written to Ed Balls (Secretary State for Children, Families+Schools).
This followed an encouraging interview he gave to “The Guardian” yesterday in which he vowed to win the “hearts and minds” of school staff. He pledged to ensure that schools and education authorities guaranteed that teachers spent 10% of their time outside the classroom (preparing+marking) and to roll out a system of masters for teachers to give them the same professional status as doctor and lawyers. Crucially, from a personal perspective, he also vowed to create a statutory independent chair to ensure that more than 300,000 teaching assistants and support staff are paid fairly.
As many of you will be aware, I work in a secondary school as an Assistant House Head. The scope of the role is wide-ranging and carries a high degree of responsibility – we are dealing with staff, pupils, parents and outside agencies as well as liaising with individual teachers, departments and faculties in relation to behaviour and learning for both individuals and groups of pupils. As non-teachers, we represent the key point of contact for parents throughout the school day.
This new role at our school has been very successful (I would say that wouldn’t I!) - it has been readily welcomed, respected and appreciated by all tutors, teaching staff, pupils and parents alike. Critically, one of the key benefits of the role has been its effect on the teaching staff – it has certainly enabled “teachers to teach”.
I am convinced that this type of role in schools is absolutely crucial – and will become increasingly important over the coming years. As things stand, with the job’s current low level of pay and high levels of responsibility, it will become impossible to attract suitable candidates for the role. At present, there is no career structure for this or similar positions – all too often (and exactly the same comment can be made about jobs for teaching assistants and support staff), non-teaching roles in schools are regarded as being for the “secondary earner” in a partnership (even an appalling assumption that it will be mainly mothers taking up such positions “so they can look after their children in the school holidays”!)!
Clearly, I did not take up my present role for its financial rewards (my current salary represents just over one third of the money I was earning when I retired from my architectural practice in 2005)! However, for the sake of people taking up similar positions in the future, it is absolutely essential that such roles are properly recognised and that schools+education authorities do not continue to see them as “enabling education to be provided on the cheap”.
Here ends this morning’s sermon…..

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Moira+I took advantage of our belated summer (well, a weekend at any rate) to spend this morning walking round Clevedon in brilliant sunshine. Unusually for us, the tide was in and we spent some time watching a group of swimmers (of a certain age!) stroking out to the buoy and back. Pretty impressive!
Coffee in a seafront café after our walk, then pottered along Hill Road past the shops (very sad to see that the “Magpie and the Mirror” gallery had closed down).
Photo: Moira in the excellent “Murray’s Food Shop” on Hill Road.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I awoke to red skies this morning and quickly took a photograph with my broken camera. The image quality isn’t brilliant, but it was amazing to watch the sky cloud over and the crimson dawn disappear within a matter of perhaps just five minutes. Unlike Moira, I’m not a great lover of Autumn – but one of the bonuses is definitely the season's dramatic skies.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I don’t actually think it has rained this weekend. If that’s the case, this must the first rain-free weekend in absolutely ages! Cycled to Pill first thing yesterday morning before entertaining Iris (or was it the other way round?) and walking into town. Later helped Andy celebrate his birthday at Illusions “Magic” Bar on the triangle. Absolutely beautiful blue-sky first thing this morning so Hannah+Fee joined Moira+me in a trip to Sand Bay/Sand Point. Unfortunately, as we set out, the sun disappeared behind clouds! Nevermind, we had a lovely time. Highlights(?) included Hannah+Fee finding an abandoned ball - which they decided to adopt (and named it “John”)!!
Photo: Felix, Moira+Hannah at Sand Bay.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

happy birthday jennie!

Moira+I travelled up to Nottingham in the pouring rain yesterday to help celebrate Jennie’s 60th birthday. Lovely to meet up with old friends again. Jennie and her wonderful, gifted musical/theatrical family were in great form. Roy Bailey (folk legend!) was also there as a guest (we mix in the very highest company you know!). Jennie’s mother, Sheila, died early this year and Roy sang “Cobweb of Dreams” at her funeral. The Heap family now regard this as their very special “family song” and Roy+the Heap children put together a CD as a special extra birthday present for her…. tears were duly shed! I actually had Roy’s original recording of it (on cassette!) with his wife Val on his “Business as Usual” album from 1994. Great words:

"I have been searching through the timeless past
Because of you, my love, because of you
Weaving a cobweb that will hold you fast
Because of you my love, because of you.

Oh sing again the song I heard you singing
The song that set the bells of Heaven ringing.
The song that surely told me
The grave could never hold me
Because of you, my love, because of you.

And now I know that love's a fragile flower
Because of you my love, because of you
So little time between the sun and showers
Because of you, my love, because of you.

Only by singing can I soothe my sorrow
Because of you, my love, because of you.
Today is gone, but there is always tomorrow
Because of you, my love, because of you".

Friday, September 05, 2008

god on trial

I watched “God on Trial” on BBC iPlayer tonight. It was quite brilliant – a wonderful, challenging, thought-provoking, moving piece of drama (written by Frank Cottrell Boyce) set in a dismal blockhouse in Auschwitz. A group of men wait to discover if they’ve been selected for the gas chambers and struggle to make sense of their existence – essentially asking themselves the question: what is the nature of a God that can allow so much suffering? Amongst an impressive cast, Eddie Marsan (who played the repressed driving instructor in “Happy Go Lucky”) is particularly outstanding.
If you missed the programme, I strongly recommend that you try to see it – it’s on BBC iPlayer until next Wednesday (I think).

happy birthday iris!

Iris was two yesterday.
Ruth+Stu had originally planned a picnic with friends in the local park but, clearly, this is the summer of 2008 and so it ended up taking place in our basement! The dress theme was “insects” so, when I arrived home after school, I was greeted by the sight of a basement full of bumble bees, ladybirds and spiders (plus various mothers+ fathers!).
All great fun, but I suspect that Ruth, Stu+Moira (+Iris) will need a “quiet day” today to recuperate!
Photo: moment of reflection for Iris as she contemplates eating her entire caterpillar birthday cake?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

morning in bath

Spent my last morning of the school holidays in Bath with Moira+Iris. Decided to take the train and enjoyed pottering around the city. By chance, we came across a small art exhibition in the wonderful Walcot Chapel (in Walcot Street). The artist (and I’m sorry I don’t remember his name!) told us that he’d rented the space for just a week. Well worth a look if you’re in the vicinity.
We intended to get the 1pm return train to Bristol, but arrived on the platform only to discover that the train was running some 40 minutes late. As we had Iris with us, we decided to get some food from the café on the platform while we were waiting. To our amazement, the café was shut and the following sign displayed on the door (without a hint of irony!): “closed for lunch – back in an hour”!!
Surely, someone seems to have missed the point?

Monday, September 01, 2008

former golfer returns

I drove up to Oxford early this morning to play golf (for only the fourth time in two years – quite outrageous when I think that I used to play every week!) with great mates Pete, Ken and Steve. Despite foreboding weather forecasts, we played under sunshine and blue skies! Perhaps it’s been summer everywhere except for Bristol? Not too surprisingly after playing so little, my “game” wasn’t exactly top notch but, fortunately, my partner (Ken) was in good form and we won with two holes to spare.
Strangely, I can’t actually remember being on the losing side in these “team games” over the last few years. Clearly, I see myself as one of those exceptional team players who is able to bring out the very best in other squad members.
On this basis, I’m absolutely gutted not to have been named in the Ryder Cup team announced yesterday.
Photo: Pete, Ken+Steve before today’s round (since when did we all have grey hair?).