Thursday, July 30, 2009


A strange thing happened a couple of days ago.
A young woman (maybe in her 30s) knocked on our front door and pleaded for me to help her (actually she was on her phone when I answered the door). I’d never seen her before in my life. She’d parked her car a few doors up the road and her car battery had completely died and she hadn’t a clue what to do. Did I have any jump leads? No, I didn’t.
I suggested that I (well, Stuart and me!) could probably get it started by pushing her down the hill (once we’d turned her car around). She expressed huge doubts – not about our ability to push her, you understand – “I’ve never done anything like that before in my life”. So, I explained what she needed to do and Stu+I pushed and pulled her car into position (it was at the top of the hill). She appeared to remain very doubtful.
Anyway, we managed to “bump start” her virtually immediately and she vanished down the hill (at some speed!) – mainly screaming in disbelief and but also desperately trying to poke her hand out of the car window to wave her thanks, in a vague manner of means.
All very amusing.
But later, I admitted to Moira that I’d been very suspicious by the whole thing. Her attitude had appeared really rather strange…. why our house (she must have passed nearly ten houses before knocking on our door)? She just seemed to assume that I’d comply with her request. She didn’t seem particularly pleased that we’d sorted out her problem…. although I was perfectly happy to help, I told Moira that I was little put out that she just seemed to ASSUME that I’d assist.
Well, yesterday evening I had to eat my words…. there was another knock on the door. It was the young woman again – but this time she was armed with a box of (quite expensive) chocolates! She apologised for not being able to thank us properly yesterday… she was really REALLY grateful…. and I was left feeling VERY guilty!
PS: the chocolates have probably been doctored… I’ll probably be kidnapped over the next day or so in a drugged state and smuggled to some far-off land… I’ll try and post a blog regarding my whereabouts….

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

underage sex

I’m afraid this is probably going to come across as another of my “what-is-becoming-of our-society?” rants – so please accept my apologies in advance (Moira’s not too impressed either!). Young teenagers these days certainly know a lot more about sex than ever I did at the same age. Schools now provide a wealth of practical information and advice through their PSE (Personal+Social Education) lessons. In my day(!), school provided absolutely nothing and “everything” was learnt from peers and parents (not much of the latter in my own case) and, clearly, this wasn’t very satisfactory. I’m well aware that times change, but what I find so depressing is that I think children are now ALMOST given the impression that there’s nothing wrong with having sex when they’re 13 or 14 (there almost seems to be an acceptance that this will be the case). I’ve come across instances of parents accepting that their YOUNG teenage children will be having sex and their only concerns seem to be a) that the couple should take the necessary precautions and b) that they “shouldn’t do it in our house”. In my own experience at school, I’m certainly also aware of two recent instances where boys saw it as their “right” to have sex with their girlfriends whenever they felt like it and were either physically violent or used threats of violence to get their way.
It shouldn’t be like this.
We seem to have lost our way when it comes to standards of morality and individual values and there is a desperate need to redress the balance.
In trying to track down John Ware’s “Death of Respect” series on BBC iPlayer, I came across two programmes on BBC3 (I never normally watch anything on BBC3!) which appeared to underline my concerns. The first was called “Underage and Pregnant” and described itself as a “series which goes behind the sensational headlines to discover what it is really like to be underage and pregnant”. It dealt with the lives of two teenage twin girls; the first became pregnant she was 14 and the second became pregnant at 15. The other programme was called: “Pregnancy: My Big Decision” and followed “two teenage girls who are on the brink of making a big decision. Separated by age, culture and geography, but sharing the same all-consuming desire to have a baby, the girls go on a very personal journey of self discovery. But they are not going on their own - they are taking their Mums and Grans with them”. One of the girls is 14 and the other is 16 (the latter lost her virginity at 13).
I think both programmes are intended to be educational and, in many ways, they are. At the same time, however, they almost seem to take pleasure in making celebrities of these children (and what parents would be happy for their children to participate in such programmes for goodness sake?).
Here are some quotes from the programmes:
“Pregnancy is seen as a bit of a fashion accessory… at our school, there are at least 13 or 14 girls who are or have been pregnant or had a termination or have miscarried”.
“I just couldn’t be bothered to work when I’m older”.
“In Devon, 1 in 20 new Mums are teenagers”.
PS: Right, rant over. I’ll try to remain positive from now on (… if only this rain would stop!).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Moira+I decided to try to get into the Banksy exhibition at Bristol’s City Museum+Art Gallery today. Based on the experience of some other friends, we arrived in the queue at 9am (complete with coffee and newspaper - even though it didn’t open until 10am) and were walking round the exhibition by 10.15am. I thought it was brilliant. Amazing to see so many people walking round an art gallery with permanent smiles across their faces!
It was also wonderful to be able to go round taking photographs (although I won’t spoil it for you by posting stuff here – I’ll put some on facebook instead) and its absolutely FREE!
You must see it if you can (it finishes at the end of August).
Photo: just SOME of the people waiting to get into the exhibition (queuing up in Park Street Avenue) when we were leaving…. as, you can see, it’s all very good-natured.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

drinking heavily at 13, dead by 22…..

I was depressed to hear about the death of a 22-year old man who died of liver failure; he’d been drinking heavily since he was 13. In yesterday’s Guardian, Joanna Moorhead wrote about her meeting with his mother who felt that her son had been badly affected by the break-up of her marriage; she also claimed that she didn’t realise he was drinking at 13 (which, frankly, I find hard to believe). He’d been refused a liver transplant because it was felt that he would return to a damaging pattern of alcohol consumption. In Moorhead’s article, paramedic Steve Evans is quoted thus: “I remember the moment I realised what a big problem underage drinking had become. It was a Friday in Widnes and we were called out to two 11-year old boys and a 13-year old girl who were unconscious due to alcohol”.
I watched the second part of John Ware’s “The Death of Respect” on BBC iPlayer last night (I blogged about the first one last week) and it touched on similar concerns. He spoke to a group of youngsters (perhaps 15-year olds?) in Stubbington, Hampshire. They were drinking on a street corner and, when Ware asked a couple of them how much lager they were likely to consume in an evening, one said 20 cans and another said “24, easily”.
Ware reckons that, in the main, young people of today are growing up without a sense of community (instead it’s a “me, me, me society”). In his view, young people were seeking “instant gratification and celebrity”; “this generation know all about their rights but precious little about taking personal responsibility”. He identifies a number of factors for our current plight, including: politicians and society in general for “allowing the fear of being considered judgemental”; for the decline in the traditional nuclear family structure (and decline in marriage) resulting in many parents “feeling impotent” in dealing with their teenage children; and a general lack of social responsibility and individual values.
Obviously, no person or family is immune to the hazards of such matters but, to my mind, the real fear is for the offspring of the dysfunctional families of today…. and all the implications.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

rosa eve low

Ruth+Stu’s second daughter, Rosa Eve, was born at home (as planned) yesterday at around 10am. It all seemed to go incredibly smoothly – with Moira collecting Iris at about 8am – and everyone, thankfully, appearing to be in good health. Great too that it happened to coincide with the last day of term! It was lovely to be able to take Iris round to meet her new sister during the course of the afternoon (and to see her positive reaction to the experience!). Ruth+Stu seemed incredibly relaxed and had clearly enjoyed the home birth. They’d originally arranged to have Hannah+Fee round for a curry supper last night and decided to go ahead as planned – the only difference being that H+F ended up doing the cooking!
Iris stayed with us overnight and has been promised the opportunity to give Rosa her first bath later this morning!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Just returned from a three day visit to Ironbridge in Shropshire with a group of Year 9 pupils (a repeat of the Activities Week “Revolution” trip I undertook last year). 14 students and three staff (essentially, I was the bus driver) stayed at Wilderhope Manor and spent the remainder of the time learning more about the industrial revolution and dressing up in appropriate costume to experience the “Victorian Town” at Blists Hill.
We all had a really good time, despite the wet weather.
Photo: two pupils insisted on trying to ski/slide on wet meadows at Wilderhope Manor; this degenerated into “knee sliding” - whoever took this photograph was clearly very unprofessional in appearing to condone such irresponsible behaviour!

Monday, July 20, 2009

apollo 11

40 years ago today/tomorrow, I have vivid memories of sitting transfixed watching the first moon landing and the subsequent moonwalk (at about 4am) on television. I can distinctly remember thinking at the time that I was witnessing history. We take so much for granted now, but less than 10 years earlier the world was amazed that they were able to achieve “live” television pictures from half way round the world – now they were televising from the moon!
I’ve recently been re-living the sense of excitement/adventure by watching various programmes on BBC4. It now seems very strange seeing images of Mission Control at Houston and noticing that a) there’s not a woman in sight (they’re probably all at home doing the housework?) and b) that lots of the blokes appear to be chain-smoking! At the time, I remember thinking that one of the astronauts would fall, rip his suit and die whilst larking about on the surface of the moon. I also recall feeling a little uneasy by all the celebrations because I was convinced they wouldn’t be able to re-launch The Eagle moon module from Tranquility Base!
1969 was a pretty amazing year (I’ve previously blogged about Woodstock and Easy Rider). That summer I’d just been awarded an Architectural Student prize at the end of my second year at college. In the Autumn, Moira and I got together. I also seem to remember owning a great pair of bottle-green flaired trousers and a bright orange jumper (and also sinking in the annual architects’ punt race punting on the River Cherwell)! Those were the days when students KNEW how to be students!
PS: the moon landing seemed somewhat familiar territory because, in the previous year, we’d all become fascinated by the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
PPS: My lovely brother Alan made a wooden sculpture to commemorate the landing (I think he’s still got it somewhere?).
PPS: On a more disturbing note, it was 20 years ago today that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was first put under house arrest in Burma.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I watched the first episode of John Ware’s “Death of Respect” programme on BBC iPlayer last night. In it, he asks what has happened to British values over the last 50 years and bemoans the fact that Britons lead Europe in everything from “brand awareness and rates of obesity to public drunkenness, drug use, sexually transmitted infections and family breakdown”. Ware is about a year older than me and so perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising that I found myself agreeing with most of the points he raised (in a “grumpy-old-men-together” sort of way, you understand!). The school where I work has a very good reputation for being able to deal with behavioural issues (and clearly I can’t compare my experiences with those of some inner city schools), but I’ve certainly been appalled by the attitudes, values and manners of some of the pupils I deal with on a regular basis. Only last week, I heard one 14 year old girl (as in “14-going-on-27) verbally “lay into” her mother and effectively tell her that it was her right to be given a lift to and from school each day (even though she lives with very easy walking distance) and that of course she shouldn’t be asked to help out around the house (and that none of her friends ever had to do so either). This same girl has allegedly been “sleeping around” for more than year, has been involved in violent behaviour outside school and, on one occasion at least, has been picked up by the police in the early hours of the morning in an inebriated state. Somewhat predictably, one only has to meet the parents of many of these children and you realise why they are the way they are. Again last week, we were informed about two 15 year old boy pupils being taken into the pub by their fathers. The fathers got into an argument and started fighting each other; one of the men was apparently quite badly hurt after being kicked in the head by the other man whilst lying on the floor injured! One of the boys had to ring for the police and ambulance.
I’m well aware that there has always been an unruly element (even in my younger days, when we had Teddy boys, Mods and Rockers and the like!), but I do sometimes fear for our future society – when the sort of children I’m frequently dealing with have children of their own! I’ll be interested in seeing the second episode of Ware’s programme when I understand he’ll asking if it’s time we took a different approach to dealing with some of the dysfunctional parts of our society.
Photo: John Ware.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Andy is one of those handful of people who refuses to join the facebook community (but secretly would love to…. it’s now become a pride thing, I think!). Having said that, he seems to have more photos on facebook than the average bloke (certainly more than me!). I’ve shared lifts into school with him over the past couple of years and he’s become a really great friend. He has a reputation for being a bit of a moaner (in an endearing way, of course!), but he has a wonderful sense of humour and cracks me up on a regular basis. Together, we’re thinking of forming our own political party – there’s not a world crisis or national problem that we can’t resolve in our 35 minute journey to and from school (admittedly, some of our solutions might be regarded as somewhat “unusual”, but heh!). He’s also president of the Bristol Self-Help Group – but his membership is currently under review after his failure to attend the last meeting. He’s also in deep mourning over the imminent loss of co-tutor Emma (but won’t admit it, of course).
Photo: I just thought you’d like to see some of Andy’s random facebook images (and I’ve tried to find some where he’s actually smiling)!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

art in architecture

This seems strangely appropriate after yesterday’s post. I’ve just been searching through my old filofax (trying to locate something I thought I’d saved). Needless to say, I didn’t find what I was looking for…. but I DID come across an article by Jonathan Meades that I’d ripped out of a copy of “Building” magazine in January 2005 (a month before I retired from my architectural practice). Over the years, I’d long argued with anyone would listen that architects, ideally, needed to be artists and should have an ability to draw. I frequently used to attend “careers conventions” at various schools and this is the advice I would frequently trot out. Some people from my office disagreed with this contention. The Meades’ article came as a wonderful boost. In it, he bemoans the fact, in his view, that architecture has become a “controlled and artistically emasculated business”. He argued that the qualifications for entry to architectural courses was simply wrong and that the “current emphasis on mathematics and physics” was misplaced (I actually did Maths, Further Maths and Art at A Level!). Meades referred to a speech given by the noted architect Sir Terry Farrell (“painter of neo-romantic landscapes, illustrator, pasticheur and photographer”). In it, Farrell contended that architecture’s self-image was increasingly that of a branch of civil engineering and called for a reassessment of the way architecture is taught and of whom it is taught to”. He argued that a “background in the visual arts is of incomparable value to the future architect”.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Many thanks to good friend Paul Brown for putting me on to this passionate, challenging and entertaining address by Sir Ken Robinson to an education conference in 2006 (it lasts about 20 minutes, but it's well worth listening to!). In it, he contends that schools kill creativity and urges the need to nurture creativity in education. Here are a few quotes:
“We get educated out of creativity”.
“The Arts are at the bottom of the pile as far as the education system is concerned”.
“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original”.
“You’ll never get a job doing that”.
This very much reinforces my concerns at the attitude towards “Design and Technology” at our school. Whilst Art and the Performing Arts are well catered for (indeed there’s a new dance teacher starting in September), Design and Technology seems to be regarded as something that the “less able” students opt for (which, as a former architect, gets my blood boiling!). Indeed, from September, Design and Technology will cease to be a faculty in its own right (if I understand things correctly) and subject options are to be palmed off to various other departments or wound down. I’m not at all impressed.
Wearing my architectural hat, I particularly like this quote from Sir Ken: “Creativity…., more often than not, comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things”.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

sleep furiously

Went to see “Sleep Furiously” yesterday afternoon at the Watershed. I went with an open mind…. the blurb described it thus: “This riveting directorial debut draws a lyrical portrait of a year in the life of the tiny hamlet of Trefeurig, the small farming community in Wales where Koppel’s parents, refugees from Nazi Germany, settled down and where he grew up”…. and thoroughly enjoyed it. Clearly, the word had got round because the cinema for the afternoon showing was completely, and very unusually, full (ok, it was only the small cinema 2 – but there must have been over 70 people in the audience). The film isn’t quite a documentary; it merely puts together simple scenes from country life in a rather beautiful, sometimes amusing, way. I suspect that, in years to come, it will have become one of those iconic films that reflect a past life.
Actually, yesterday was a rather a strange day in many ways. Moira had travelled up to Oxford the previous evening to attend a StillPoint weekend conference. I’d arrived home in the early hours of Saturday morning after drinking with school friends in Bath, actually got up reasonably early and enjoyed spending the morning drinking coffee and reading The Guardian. The previous evening, great school mates Becky+Andy had talked of us getting together for lunch at The Watershed (and Becky duly texted to confirm this – although Andy had to get himself from Bath first, arrived very late and then drank only Coke!?). Anyway, I’d already planned to go to the cinema in the afternoon, so it all made for very enjoyable preparation (Andy+Becky went off shopping!).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

(almost) end of term drinks

The final weeks of the summer term are always rather strange at school. The last week is usually taken up with Activities Week and the penultimate week sees the disappearance of several teachers on camps and on trips to Germany, France and Spain. So, in keeping with tradition, most of the teaching staff got together last night at The Boater in Bath to drown their sorrows and to celebrate their impending holidays. A very enjoyable night (fortunately, as an old bloke, I can use the excuse that I need to catch the train back to Bristol before midnight – and therefore avoid being dragged into various clubs!). It’s also a sad occasion that involves saying goodbye to several lovely friends – including Mike (retiring), Jon, Pete and Laura (moving on to pastures new). I’ll particularly miss Laura next year (her classroom is only across the corridor from my office) but the real shame was that she wasn’t around last night and so, not having seen her at the end of school, I haven’t actually said my proper goodbyes.
Somewhat worryingly, this also marks the end of my fourth year at the school (the world of architecture seems an absolute age ago!). Blimey!
Photo: Sangeeta+Karin+Mike’s viking helmet (don’t ask!).
PS: I took my broken camera along, but this is the ONLY photograph that came out – I ordered my new camera two weeks ago and it STILL hasn’t arrived (and I’m getting REALLY frustrated!).

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

sports day at bath university

This year, the school experimented by holding its Sports Day at the Bath University Training Village for the first time. Just transporting the pupils to the facilities was a major challenge in itself (involving 10 bus loads of students and teachers). It proved to be a very good day for the students taking part (and it didn't rain!) – a wonderful opportunity to use world-class facilities. Our House is notorious for finishing last in this event over recent years and I had very high hopes that we might be able claw ourselves up from the bottom of the ladder…. but no, even though we started the day in second place, we ended finishing last again! We didn’t even get any points for being the best prepared House in terms of completed teamsheets+consent forms! Although I fully accept that the day represented a rare chance for pupils to experience such high-quality amenities, I was also saddened that the day was only experienced by less than half of the pupils at our school. Indeed, I’d previously written to the Headteacher and Head of the Sports Faculty to express my reservations – the day used to be for the entire school community (now it was the minority – with the non-participating pupils and the bulk of teachers remaining in school). I also felt sorry for those students for whom sports day represented the “one time” when they can excel and show off their talents in front of their teachers and peers.
In the event, only one of the school’s senior management team turned up to participate…. no surprises there then!
PS: You might recall that I moaned about last year’s sports day too (click here)!
Photo: Isabelle, Maria, Juliet, Dan and Kate (race officials!).

Sunday, July 05, 2009

new citizenship/a new way of thinking

I’m currently reading Chris Sunderland’s book “The Dream that Inspired the Bible” and have been struck by the number of themes it shares with this year’s Reith Lectures given by Michael Sandel, Professor of Government at Harvard under the title “A New Citizenship”. Here are just a few quotes from Chris’s book and Professor Sandel’s lecture on “Markets and Morals”:
CS: “If young people today are asked about their dreams, many can only speak of fame”.
MS: “There’s now a widespread sense that markets have become detached from fundamental values, that we need to reconnect markets and values”.
MS: “A study of some Israeli childcare centres offers a good real world example of how market incentives can crowd out non-market norms. The centres faced a familiar problem - parents sometimes came late to pick up their children, and so a teacher had to stay with the children until the tardy parents arrived. To solve this problem, the childcare centres imposed a fine for late pick-ups. What do you suppose happened? Late pick-ups actually increased. Now if you assume that people respond to incentives, this is puzzling. You would expect, wouldn’t you, the fine to reduce, not increase the incidence of late pick-ups? So what happened? Introducing the fine changed the norms. Before, parents who came late felt guilty; they were imposing an inconvenience on the teachers. Now parents considered a late arrival a service for which they were willing to pay. Rather than imposing on the teacher, they were simply paying her to stay longer”.
MS: “Perhaps the best-known example of market norms eroding or crowding out non-market norms involves the case of blood donation. The sociologist Richard Titmuss compared the United States system, which permitted the buying and selling of blood for transfusion, with the system in the UK which banned financial incentives and relied wholly on donated blood. Titmuss found that rather than improve the quality and supply of blood, the commercialisation of blood led to shortages, inefficiencies and a greater incidence of contaminated blood. His explanation: putting a price on blood turned what had been a gift into a commodity. It changed the norms associated with blood donation. Once blood is bought and sold in the market, people are less likely to feel a moral obligation to give it out of altruism”.
CS: “The old way of thinking. Principle: the one thing that the world must pay attention to is market exchange. Wealth for all will follow if we get this right (primary values: money, property and self-interest)”.
CS: “The new way of thinking. Principle: we need to pay attention to the interconnected systems of the earth that sustains all life (primary values: energy, commonality and well-being)”.
MS: “One thing is clear: the better kind of politics we need is a politics oriented less to the pursuit of individual self-interest and more to the pursuit of the common good”.
I started scribbling some notes on this blog a few days ago, but noticed that it was also the subject of yesterday’s Leader column in The Guardian. This concluded that we should “heed Prof Sandel’s call to put the morality back into politics”.
Whilst I strongly agree with these sentiments, I also sense that we might need to put the morality back into humanity?
Photo: Chris Sunderland and Michael Sandel.
PS: Today’s “Something Understood” on Radio4 dealt with similar themes: “Buying and Selling”.

Note: Moira+I (and many others from around Bristol and beyond) have been involved with Chris over recent months following the launch of EarthAbbey – a Christian community dedicated to encouraging one another to journey towards a life more in tune with the earth.

Saturday, July 04, 2009


I’ve just been crying in the bath.
I was listening to this morning’s edition of “Saturday Live” on Radio4. Fi Glover was interviewing Anne Crosby about her son Matthew, who was born in London in 1964 with Down’s Syndrome. Crosby talked eloquently about her feelings, about the consultant’s stark reference to Matthew as being a “throwaway child”, about her regrets at putting Matthew in the “monstrous” Normansfield Hospital when he was three and removing him less than two years later and about their life together. Anne Crosby written about her son (who died when he was 25) in this book, but you can listen to the interview by clicking here (it’s about 18 minutes into the programme).
It all provided an enormous contrast with the life of our own grandson Mikey. I know that Alice+Dave are devoted to him and, although it’s clearly very tough at times, I know just how much joy+happiness Mikey brings to them, to us and to all those touched by his life.
Photo: Mikey!