Tuesday, March 31, 2009

the interview

As some of you will be aware, I often listen to the World Service during the course of a night (in my vaguely “awake” times) - with my radio stuffed under my pillow. Well, at about 4am last Saturday (yes, pathetic I know!) I heard a fascinating programme called “The Interview”…..
Owen Bennett-Jones was interviewing Geraint Anderson. His father’s a Labour peer and his mother is a missionary, but he chose a career in the Square Mile. The 36 year-old Cambridge graduate worked for twelve years as an analyst in London's financial district and earned several million pounds before leaving his job a year ago. He was very much a high-flier – named top stock-picker three years out of four during his time with Dresdner Kleinwort. Having built up a rather tidy nest egg of more than £3m, he’s now jumped ship and written a book -- described as fictional, but which he says is mostly true -- which reveals a world of wining, dining, drugs and illicit sex. Obviously, many (me included) will see it as a bit rich for Anderson to make a few million and then tell everyone what a dreadful place the City is. His account of an industry notorious for its lax regulation confirms what we suspected all along:
'They don't care about anything other than next year's bonus. They don't care about gambling with the money of ordinary people because they're making millions. I truly believe the credit crunch is a direct result of the City's short-term gambling and the bonus culture.'
Not surprising perhaps (afterall, he must have been very persuasive in his City role), he came across as a very engaging, charismatic and almost likeable character. At the end of the interview, he talked about his commitment to raise money for a school in Africa – he gave an undertaking to build the school himself, with his own money, if he hadn’t raised sufficient funds within two years – out of guilt perhaps.
The interview merely confirmed my view that much of the financial world seems to be driven by huge personal greed, a gambling culture where people seem to “win” even if they’ve failed and a reliance on the fact that the rest of us understand very little about their mysterious world!

Monday, March 30, 2009

ukulele orchestra of great britain

Just came across these two songs again in my list of “favourites”.
I’m sure I’ve blogged about them before, but….
They make me smile!
Happy Monday!


Moira+I – plus Hannah - maintained our excellent cinema attendance in 2009 by seeing “Genova” at the Watershed yesterday (two films in a weekend!).
An absorbing and sensitive film which explores death, guilt and grief. Colin Firth plays an academic who, following the sudden death of his wife, moves his two daughters to northern Italy. Afterwards, Moira+I both admitted to feeling a sense of anxiety throughout the film as the three main character (all beautifully played) cope with their grief in different ways and negotiate their new life.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

earth hour/G20/the age of stupid

I’ve a feeling this could be a pretty long blog, so bear with me….
I didn’t manage to make the G20 march in London yesterday – demanding action on poverty, climate change and jobs ahead of next week’s G20 Summit – but we did turn off our lights for an hour at 8.30pm to mark “Earth Hour”. Earth Hour is “designed to inspire one billion people worldwide to demonstrate their concern about climate change, ensuring that world leaders take positive action for the future”.
I’ve just re-read a couple of blogs I wrote last on climate change stuff in the light of global recession. For instance, this extract (27 September):
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!
and this (15 October):
To my mind, the really frightening thing as far as world poverty is concerned is that we will all try to bury our heads in the sand and adopt entirely selfish attitudes - at the expense of the world community and the “greater good”.
I’m no economist, but this letter in last Saturday’s Guardian (from Bill North) echoed my own, perhaps somewhat naive, sentiments: “We have blamed the free market and the fat cats. What about the assumption that the economy can and should go on growing at 2% for ever? How is this possible in a world of finite resources? What about peak oil and climate change? Maybe the recession will give economists time for some really radical rethinking”
In keeping with this green agenda, Moira+I went to see “The Age of Stupid” at the Watershed yesterday afternoon. We both found it a very impressive film (as the director of Climate Chaos said: “it’s not a film to make you happy. It’s a film to make you sit back and ask ‘what is my role on this planet?’”) and we both came out seriously asking ourselves what more could we be doing…. and have started to come up with some vague ideas (will we REALLY do this?).
You really must see the film yourself (and check-out the website).
PS: I’m DEFINITELY going to the demonstration in London on 5 December (in advance of the UN Climate Talks in Copenhagen)!
PPS: By pure chance, I’ve just noticed that this is my 400th blog. Blimey (get a life?)!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

arts trail preparation

It’s been a strange and hectic week (and a bit).
I agreed to help sort out the leaflet/brochure (whatever it’s called) for this year’s SouthBank arts trail (after Mark’s huge contributions over recent years). This sounds a lot easier than it actually is! The bulk of the work (ie. getting artists on board) had already been done by Natalie and Pete – arts trail stuff must be completely clogging Natalie’s computer system and her e-mails! We’ve been trying to get images and information from more than 50 venues together with short blurb from over 130 artists/performers. The absolute deadline for receiving all this was some 10 days’ ago.
By Wednesday morning, I was still awaiting feedback from some 17 venues together with stuff from a couple of dozen artists. Oh, and of course, there were some artists who had yet to decide on or find venues!
It has really been very exasperating (I’ve even been out and taken photographs for venues myself, rather than continuing to wait for any responses – and frequently, when we have managed to get a response from the artists or venues, we were told “oh, sorry…. yes, I’ll sort it out by the weekend” or words to that effect)! Aaaargh!!
Thanks to Hannah’s help, we’re hoping to complete everything by tomorrow evening, ready for the printers (just 10,000 copies, that’s what we need!).
The SouthBank Arts Trail is a pretty amazing event. This is its seventh year and it features over 130 artists/performers – all within a ONE MILE RADIUS (I’ve just checked it on the OS map)!
As I say, amazing!
Photo: Hannah’s initial draft arts trail poster

Friday, March 20, 2009

footie on friday

After a prolonged period of inactivity, the Friday footie team finally got its act together again at the end of school today. The beautiful sunshine managed to attract enough players for six-a-side on the Astroturf. Great fun. We played for well over an hour and there was some pretty good football too. I’m pretty sure we won 19-11 – obviously, my two goals were the highlight of the afternoon.
Photo: Giles, Craig, Chris (coughing!), Dan, Chris, Mark and Andy taking a time-out while we waited for Gordon to retrieve the ball from over the fence (other players, not in the picture, were Pete, Ifi and Pat).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ten tors training on the black mountains

In previous years, training on the Black Mountains has been undertaken in all weathers – including hail, snow, driving rain and high winds. Sunday’s training was carried out in bright sunshine under beautiful blue skies. All the teams managed to complete the route without too much difficulty (some 13-14 miles). As usual, there were a large number of school staff amongst the helpers manning the various checkpoints. As you can see from the photograph, one of these checkpoints just happened to be outside a pub – which proved to be a strangely popular meeting point!
Photo: Nigel, Anne, Tom+Jenny on the pub wall.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I think what I’m about to write will be regarded as unpopular and a little controversial!
I’m coming to the end of my fourth year in education. I work in an “outstanding” secondary school with some wonderful, inspirational teachers (who are also lovely friends). However, I’ve come to the conclusion that the current education system is fatally flawed. Emphasis is concentrated on a school’s success – essentially, its examination results. In days gone by, it seemed to me that examinations tested the pupils. Today, I think this is no longer the case. Yes, I accept that young people seem to be under more pressure these days, but I think some of this revolves around changing life-styles (ie. outside school), peer pressure and expectations. For example, when I was at school(!), we used to have “proper” exams in all subjects THREE times a year. I remember that, in the equivalent of Years10+11, we used to get three lots of homework every night and four on Thursdays and seven over the weekend!!
Thanks to league tables and the like, examinations are now used to test schools (and teachers). Sadly, schools can’t really afford to allow pupils to fail because it will reflect badly on them. As a result, in very many instances, pupils are having to be spoon-fed information to enable them to achieve their “target grades”. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of amazingly gifted students - but there are also a large number of lazy pupils who seem to feel that it’s their right to pass their exams with minimum effort. One of the knock-on effects of this system is that, where students choose to study A Levels, there are a lot of them who find the step up to sixth form education very challenging because they’ve been taught to pass exams rather than to be able to think for themselves (I’ve just had to review some A Level assignments in Information Technology and was appalled at the number of students who seemed unable to string words together in English, let alone put across coherent argument!).
Yet, despite this, year after year, GCSE and A Level results have steadily improved.
I frankly don’t accept that standards HAVE got better. I’m afraid I think we’re all just kidding ourselves.
PS: this all sounds very negative doesn't it! don't get me wrong, I really enjoy my job - my school is excellent and the teachers are just amazing; there are lots of huge positives in education too!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

instant teachers and mixed messages?

So the Government is trying to attract “thousands of highly-talented people” into education by offering teaching qualifications with only six months training? I’m rather skeptical to say the least and believe it sends out entirely the wrong messages to potential teachers, existing teachers and parents alike. To my mind, it seems to be completely undervaluing the profession by appearing to suggest that “with minimal training, anyone can teach”. It’s one thing having life-skills and experience but being able to stand up in front of classes of pupils, day after day, and be expected to produce lesson plans for say 30 lessons per week so that pupils will be inspired, encouraged, controlled, disciplined, educated etc etc (oh, and don’t forget, you will judged by the pupils’ exam grades in your subject) is something entirely different. I seriously considered becoming a teacher some ten years or so back. At the time, I thought I knew a quite a lot about teaching but am now happy to acknowledge (albeit guiltily!) that I thought I would be able to walk into a classroom and just give children the benefit of my wisdom! After working in a secondary school for nearly four years (not as a teacher, I hasten to add), I am constantly being amazed by the talent and ability of the teachers I work with and realise just how naive I was.
Meanwhile, Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is also telling teachers of his plans for Masters Qualifications in teaching – in order to raise the standing of the profession in the eyes of parents and the like.
Somehow, this seems completely at odds with six-month teaching training!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

taize in bristol

Moira+I went to a lovely evening of reflection and contemplation at St Mary Redcliffe Church last night (thanks to facebook friend Heather Leppard). I’m pretty sure it was the first church event I’d attended there and the service was held in the beautiful Lady Chapel. There were probably just under 30 people there in total, ranging in age from university students to oldies like us. The evening took the form of prayer by candlelight using songs from Taize. An evening of simplicity and beauty.
The next Taize in Bristol evening is Monday 11 May.
Photo: taken after most people had left, I hasten to add!

Monday, March 09, 2009

the class

Went to see Laurent Cantet’s impressive film “The Class” at the Watershed yesterday. It was very close to home for me as the film was essentially about teacher/pupil relationships, disciplinary counselling, social integration and exclusion within a secondary school (ok, in France not Somerset!). Having decided to make a film about a junior high school, Cantet then met Francois Begaudeau, who had written a book called “Between the Walls” about a year in the life a school. Francois ends up playing the part of the main teacher character in the film alongside adolescents who came together as a result of a series of workshops. There’s a real tension that runs throughout the film. I found the simple scene of the empty classroom at the end of term somehow particularly powerful and poignant. The school where I work isn’t as cosmopolitan as the Parisian school in the film, but I found lots of echoes of the film situations that we face on an almost daily basis. Lovely teacher friend Helen reckoned that it just like an average day at our school - except that the school in the film got to expel one of its persistent troublemakers whereas “we can never get rid of ours”!
Non-teacher friend Dave sent me the following note on facebook that he’d seen it “with a couple of friends who are teachers - brave, brave people!”

Sunday, March 08, 2009

grow zones

A group of us spent yesterday morning digging+planting in Bruce+Sara’s huge back garden. It was all part of Earth Abbey’s “grow zones” project learning about the wonders of permaculture. I’m a hopeless gardener - I just like sitting in gardens with a glass of wine and the newspapers - but really enjoyed the physical work (stripping turf and helping to dig out a pond area) and the company. We worked together for three hours and seemed to achieve an awful lot in that time, before finishing with an impressive lunch in the garden.
Photos: combining work with play (well, food actually!).
PS: continuing the food theme, Stu cooked us a great Thai green curry last night to celebrate Ruth’s birthday (someone has to do it!).

Monday, March 02, 2009

ten tors training on the quantocks

Spent yesterday on the Quantock Hills with six teams of pupils (aged 15-18) from school, plus lots of helpers, training for the Dartmoor Ten Tors event in May. The last time I was involved on the Quantocks, I got absolutely soaked - heavy rain all day. Yesterday, although pretty cold, was a wonderfully sunny and successful day.