Saturday, May 30, 2009

lunch with ken+debby

Moira+I spent a day in Oxford with lovely American friends Ken+Debby. We had an excellent lunch at Loch Fyne Restaurant in Walton Street. With such glorious weather, we couldn’t resist walking across Port Meadow and relaxing in the garden of the Perch pub (I was once banned from this establishment, probably in 1969, for “standing in front of the fire” - absolutely true!). It was good that their daughter Julia was able to join us at the Perch – she's about go and live in New York.
Photo: Ken, Debby, Julia and Moira. I took two pics and, in each of them, two of the aforementioned were looking the other way/had their eyes closed etc – so I’ve done some very rough cutting and pasting! Apologies!

Friday, May 29, 2009


One of my “jobs” at school is filing. I hate it.
Another tiny part of my job is keeping files up to date. I hate this too!
We keep a file for every student at school (copies of correspondence, incidents, time-out sheets, report cards, behaviour logs, telephone records etc etc) and I deal with nearly 300 of them for our particular House. Everything has to be logged and every item duly noted on an index sheet for every file (really!). By the time pupils get to the end of Year 11, some “notorious” students have files that run to four volumes thick (honestly!). At this time of year, we pass on our Year 11 files to the central filing area (I’ve never actually seen this place but imagine it takes up half the school and is probably one of the factors in us having to keep building extensions!). Before passing on the files, we’ve now been asked to reduce their size by throwing out “superfluous” stuff - even though the powers-that-be insist that, up to this stage, everything is logged on file (perhaps it’s best never to question?) – but, crucially, we still have to retain the index sheets.
Well, because I find it more or less impossible to do filing during the course of a normal school day, I often end up bringing filing home (which is ridiculous considering the small amount we get paid!). This half-term I have spent nearly a day-and-a-half filing any outstanding Year 11 stuff (and there was quite a lot of it!) and then going through over sixty Year 11 files (some from last year too, but that’s a different story!) and duly removing superfluous stuff.
In the end, I’ve collected 11 large plastic sacks full of shredded paper!
PS: We collect green waste for Ruth+Stu’s compost bin on their allotment and I realise that shredded paper can be added to it (but perhaps not 11 large sacks of it!). Unfortunately, I’ve just checked on Bristol City Council’s website and it provides two rather contrasting pieces of advice (REALLY helpful!):
a) How can I recycle shredded paper?
You should not put shredded paper in your black box. When paper is shredded, the paper fibres are cut very short making it difficult to recycle. You can put shredded paper in your compost bin.
b) Can I add shredded paper to my compost bin?
Shredded paper does not compost so well because it does not have air pockets trapped in it. It is better to screw up paper rather than shred it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

fees office at westminster

Much has been written about MPs’ expenses over recent weeks and reference made to the “green book” of rules. It seems that MPs have been lining up to express either their complete innocence (“I’ve done nothing wrong”) or to apologise for some error they’ve “just discovered”. It seems abundantly clear to everyone that the rules on MPs’ expenses need urgent reform. Even MPs themselves suddenly seem to be acknowledging this – but in an almost laughable, naughty schoolboy kind of way (“yes, I’ve always thought it was wrong and, funnily enough, I was going to raise it in Parliament as a matter of some urgency” as it were!). How many of us knew until recently, for example, that MPs can claim expenses of £250 without a receipt? And, if that wasn’t enough, we later learnt – to our utter incredulity – that MPs can, apparently, also claim £400 a month for food without receipts!
Brilliant! Clearly, something needs to be done.
However, what has also struck me is that we seem to have heard absolutely nothing about or from the “House of Commons’ Fees Office” during this debate.
These are the people who apparently “interpret” the rules. Amongst other things, they seem to have allowed claims for “servant’s quarters”, for clearing a moat, for mortgages that were already paid off, for claiming on second homes that were 100 miles from Westminster, for dry rot repairs to an MP’s partner’s house in Southampton etc etc.
Actually, if I were on this committee, I think I’d be keeping my head down too!
PS: The Committee on Standards in Public Life is currently conducting an inquiry into MPs' Expenses. I notice from its website that the committee has decided to set out the principles that “apply to all aspects of public life…. for the benefit of all who serve the public in any way”.
I think they make interesting reading!
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

pierrot le fou

I took the luxury of half-term to go and see Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film “Pierrot Le Fou” at the Watershed this afternoon. The man in front of me at the box office asked the girl at the desk if the film was any good. The girl replied that she thought it was her favourite film ever. “Blimey” says the bloke in front of me (“blimey” methinks too!). Well, it certainly wasn’t anywhere near to being my favourite film, but I DID enjoy it – maybe it was just the feeling of being on holiday and being able to drop in to watch a film on a Tuesday afternoon? It WAS a pretty amazing (and I had to keep reminding myself that it was nearly 45 years old). Difficult to describe it though – a cross between “The Untouchables”, “Tintin”, “Bonnie and Clyde”, “Comic Strip”, “The Prisoner”, “The Avengers” and “The Wizard of Oz” perhaps?! It was apparently originally conceived as a low budget homage to the American gangster film, but ended up as one of the most important films in French cinema. The Watershed’s blurb speaks of Godard drawing on “his fascination with B-movie noir, spontaneously combining elements of thriller, slapstick, musical and romance into a deeply self-aware and, at times, self-mocking pastiche of cinematic history”. Before I went to see it, I’d read that it was “a film that defies classification” and was “both loved and loathed by film enthusiasts”. As I got up to leave at the end of the film, one rather elderly lady behind me said to her equally elderly friend (ie. even older than yours truly): “what an absolute load of cobblers!”. Obviously, you can’t please everyone.
There, there dear…. it’s only a film!

Monday, May 25, 2009

alice roberts

This might be a sad reflection of our family, but we’ve often joked about “who on earth will replace David Attenborough on the TV?” (apart from either Felix or Stu, that is!). We had fears that either Alan Titchmarsh or Richard Hammond was being groomed to fill his considerable boots. But I’ve started to relax a little…. because the BBC seems to have realised that Dr Alice Roberts is the new Attenborough (and rightly so). She won’t become the voice/face behind exactly the same type of “natural world” television programme, but she is one of those multi-talented people who is opening up whole new range of programmes. She’s an osteoarchaeologist and a lecturer at Bristol University (in fact, I’ve actually seen her described as “the David Attenborough of the human body”). As well as being highly intelligent, she’s one of those people who seems to be able to do absolutely ANYTHING (and do it really well) – artist, caver, diver, rock climber and athlete (if the first programme was anything to go by, when she ran with a couple of native hunters in the heat of the African “bush”). I first came across her on my favourite “Time Team” and then, of course, she was one of the presenters on “Coast” before the BBC built an entire programme around her with “Don’t Die Young”. Her latest television series is “The Incredible Human Journey” – an impressive five-part series in which she “follows the archaeological and genetic footprints of our ancient ancestors to find out how their journeys transformed our species into the humans we are today, and how Homo Sapiens came to dominate the planet”.
She’s brilliant and, as you might have gathered, I’m a bit of a fan!
PS: .... and she's obviously been added to my "world eleven"!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

bungie jumping in bristol

No, don’t worry, I haven’t been participating!
We were walking by the harbourside yesterday and briefly watched some bungie jumpers. Just amused by the contrasting styles illustrated in the attached photographs. The bloke in the first pic seems absolutely petrified and is probably just doing it because his friends have put him up to it; his body language seems to suggest that he’s thinking “oh good grief, what on earth have I done?”. On the other hand, the girl in the second image seems supremely confident (“I CAN fly”) and, although it’s a pretty grotty photograph, is performing a perfect swallow dive.
They both survived!

the smiths (not the band!)

Great to have Sue, Si, Eddie and Jonah with us over the weekend en route to their Devon holiday destination. Sue and Si are great friends from our days in Thame who moved to Leeds shortly after we departed for Bristol. Si is an ex-primary school teacher who now earns his living as a brilliant illustrator and Sue is about to study for her doctorate in education psychology. We’ve only managed to catch up with them a handful of times since our respective moves (eg. at Greenbelt), so it was really nice just to be able to chill, natter, eat and drink together over the weekend.
Just lovely, special, talented people.
Photo: The caption actually says "(all) suckers krushed" but Si was too tall... so "suckers rushed" it will have to be!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

one and other (the fourth plinth 6 july-14 october)

I’m convinced that I won’t be one of the lucky ones selected for the One and Other project for the Fourth Plinth at Trafalgar Square, so I’ve really not given it much thought thus far. However, having received a facebook message from Holly Race, I’ve been starting to think about the prospect! These are my initial thoughts (incidentally, I just KNOW that, if selected, I’ll get a 3am slot!):
1. I’d love to be on the plinth with lots of my family/buddies, but realise this wouldn’t be allowed. So perhaps I could take a photograph (from front and rear!) of a group of them in advance, get a full-sized version printed, erect the photograph on the plinth using some form of stand and then get a friend to take a group photo of us all on the plinth (from front and rear?) for posterity?
2. Spend the time blowing up lots of balloons (with helium) with some sort of “this balloon was released from the Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square as part of the One and Other project”, complete with address labels for “finders” to mail back?
3. Just taking photographs from on top of the plinth of surrounding people (or lack of people?)? It would be a lovely record of a special occasion.
4. Moira said that, if it was her, she’d just “do some knitting or read a book”?
5. Arrange to borrow some 20 or 30 of Antony Gormley’s figures (eg. Crosby Beach figures) to be dragged up on to the Plinth. These would obviously need to be dressed appropriately to mark such a special occasion (and I would clearly have to “dress up” too!)?
6. I’m sure that it will be raining…. so perhaps I would simply lounge in a deckchair for the hour, sheltering under a large umbrella?
7. Just stand there with a placard portraying a suitable message (it could be anything from “free Aung San Suu Kyi” to “happy birthday Hannah”)?
8. Raise money for charity. I work with young people in a comprehensive school – I’m sure pupils would donate money if their names made it on to the Plinth (in the form of a large poster perhaps)?
9. Drinking the health of family and friends (in other words, I’d need at least a case of excellent red wine and would toast them individually in turn for 60 minutes!)?
10. On the basis that I WILL be on the Plinth at 3am, I think it would be only fair to ring up those family members/friends who didn’t make it to Trafalgar Square on my mobile (“hello Alan, I’m standing on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square and just thought you should know what a wonderful experience it is….”)?
if only......

Monday, May 18, 2009


If you wanted to come up with a prescription for raising the spirits, I don’t think you could do much better than attendance at a Gasworks Choir concert. Yesterday afternoon, Moira+I went along to watch/hear their concert (lovely friend Gareth had recently joined the choir). It was pretty amazing. Their website describes them as “Bristol’s massive and lovely acappella choir”. They’re about 150 strong (with a 4 year waiting list!), they all dress in orange, red or pink and they make the most wonderful sound. Their enthusiasm and energy is infectious.
By contrast (but still very enjoyable), I went on to see “O’Horten” (Director: Bent Hamer) at the Watershed. This Norwegian film tells the story of a recently retired train engineer who, after 40 years, finds it difficult to adjust to his new-found freedom. The Watershed’s blurb describes it as “humour meets gentle melancholy in the central figure of Odd Horten” (played by Baard Owe). It’s a gentle, rather beautiful, almost surreal film and I’m glad I went to see it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

bluebells, blue and the blues

I’ve been feeling pretty low this weekend after a difficult day at school on Friday. There are times when I just feel like packing it in and retiring and there are other times when I absolutely love my job. In the end, finances dictate that I need to carry on for perhaps another couple of years(?). This morning I could hear the rain falling and suddenly decided that what I needed was a walk through Leigh Woods in the rain! So, dressed in my waterproofs and with my i-pod duly plugged in, I set off on a slow ample through the woods. Ironically, by the time I started my walk, the rain had actually stopped (when you WANT it to rain, it doesn’t!). I thought I’d see lots of bluebells, but those that I did see were looking pretty forlorn after the recent rain.
Thankfully, I found the perfect music to listen to on my walk – a long list of Joni Mitchell songs, including her “Blue” album. It didn’t exactly lift my spirits, but it was good to hear those beautiful, familiar songs once again.
Photo: reeds in the woods (yes, I realise these aren’t bluebells – but those I saw weren’t worth photographing).

Saturday, May 16, 2009

grow zones

This morning Bruce, Sara, Chris, Bobbie, Elaine and Alan from Earth Abbey’s brilliant grow zone project (see previous blog) came round to help transform our garden. Our garden is tiny – just 5x5m. Despite its size, we wanted to grow some of our own food, as well as continuing to enjoy the space for eating, drinking and relaxing and to maintain some of the flowers and shrubs. So, something of a challenge then!
Amazingly, in less than 3 hours, the garden was transformed.
Following an earlier consultation with Bruce (one of the permaculture gurus on the team!), we’ve now erected three lengths of guttering, one above another on the kitchen wall - for growing lettuces, strawberries and the like; we’ve pulled up some paving (and re-used it to build a low wall) and formed a raised bed along the northern boundary wall/fence (Moira has subsequently planted this with chard, courgettes, tomatoes, peas and shallots); we’ve cut down a dominating pyrocantha bush (the shredded remnants will shortly be dug into the soil of what will become another vegetable bed on the south side of the garden); and finally, thanks to Chris, we’ve installed a water butt within the lightwell at the back of our basement (Moira now just wants it to rain so she can see it work!). We even found time to stop for coffee and doughnuts during a brief rain shower!
When we’d finished, we sat down and shared a simple lunch together. It might surprise you to know that I’m not fond of gardening, but even I’ve really enjoyed these grow zone mornings. They’ve been quite eye-opening to see what can be achieved in a short space of time by just a few committed people working, laughing and sharing knowledge together.
A wonderful time with lovely, generous friends.
Photo (taken through the window of Moira’s office): Elaine, Alan, Sara and Chris finishing off the new raised bed area.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

kielder challenge 2009

A really lovely day at Ashton Court , Bristol yesterday. Our team from Norton Hill and Fosseway Schools were taking part in one of the Regional Heats of this year’s Kielder Challenge (over 240 teams were competing this year). They were absolutely brilliant and ended up as winners (scoring more than 20% more points than even the second-placed team!).
Lots of fun+laughter. A great day.
PS: Two highest scoring teams from each Region go forward into the National Finals in the Kielder Forest (and unfortunately the South-West has the largest number of participants!). Sadly, we later learnt that, with one heat remaining, we currently lie third behind two outstanding teams. The pupils don’t yet know this and will be REALLY disappointed not to get to the finals…. but it’s been a wonderful few weeks working together and they’ve all become great friends.
Photo: Ben, Kieran, Aimee, Rikki, Jasmine, Scott, Georgina and Natalie.

Monday, May 11, 2009

southbank arts trail 2009

A wonderful arts trail weekend. Great weather (sunshine but not too hot, no rain) meant that there were lots of people about. I certainly felt that we had more people than ever down in our basement over the weekend – perhaps as many as 600, including Friday evening? Lots of impressive (and unusual) art and performers. Huge amount of work put in by Pete Gilbert, Natalie Allistone and others running up to and over the weekend.
Lots of tired, but happy, people now that it’s all over!
Photos: work by Dave Morgan-Davis; Paul Brown, Stuart Low, Hannah Broadway and Ruth Broadway at number40 (Moira+I also exhibited), plus pictures of some of the visitors and stained glass shadows over the arts trail leaflet.

goodbye dick+dientje

Dick+Dientje returned to Holland today after spending the last week with us. It’s been just brilliant having had the opportunity to meet up again after our in initial meeting on Iona. I’ve felt guilty that I’ve not been around to see them during the day due to school and also that they weren’t able to get down to Cornwall (as they’d hoped to) but, apart from that, it’s been a really enjoyable week. With the Arts Trail happening over the weekend, it’s also unfortunately meant that they’ve been left to discover the local attractions for themselves! Our time spent together has included dinner at Café Ceituirica, supper with our Ithaca friends, breakfast at the Lockside Café, drinking at the Spotted Cow, a fish+chip supper from Fish Minster, preview number40 Arts Trail party and the “After-the-Trail” party at the Tobacco Factory last night. We’re very sad to see them go.
Really lovely, special people!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


I met Dick+Dientje for the first time nearly two years ago on the magical isle of Iona (see previous blog!). I really enjoyed their company during the course of my week’s stay on the island, but we’d only been in e-mail contact since. That was until now.
As it happens, they’ve been in Bristol over the weekend (the respective church choirs from Henleaze and from Houten, Holland, had also met on Iona that same summer and had forged friendship links which had resulted in exchange visits)…. and they’re now staying with us for the coming week. It could all have been somewhat embarrassing (Moira had never met them afterall) - what if it was just the magic of being away on Iona?
Not a bit of it…. it’s just lovely to see them again and they’re still just as lovely (and Moira thinks they’re lovely too)!
Just a pity that I have to work this week, so I’ll have to make the most of just seeing them in the evenings and at the weekend! Somewhat predictably, we ended up in the Spotted Cow last night with other friends - as a way of introducing them to English culture, you understand (obviously).

number40 at the southbank arts trial

It’s that time of year again – the SouthBank Arts Trail!
Over 130 artists+performers appearing at over 50 venues during the weekend 9+10 May (and we have a pre-view “party” on Friday evening). We spent much of the weekend clearing out the basement, patching holes from the previous exhibition(!), re-decorating, picture-hanging and, thankfully, have now got things prepared (more or less!). One of the strange quirks is that, with our dining room now full of stuff taken out of the basement, we're eating our meals downstairs surrounded by an art exhibition! It’s really quite nice actually!