Thursday, November 26, 2009

this world

On the day when the US President “vowed greenhouse gas emissions cuts” (beginning with a 17% cut by 2020, based on 2005 emissions, to a 83% cut by 2050), I watched an excellent “This World” programme on BBC2 last night (entitled “Can Obama Save the Planet?”)(you can watch it on BBC iPlayer). As the world’s biggest per capita polluter, the US must surely take a moral responsibility to take the lead in securing a “strong and fair agreement” in Copenhagen. The programme proved to be both fascinating and enlightening. For example, on the plus side, did you know (largely thanks to good old George W)(blimey!) that Texas produced the most wind electricity in the world? or that California has incredibly high electricity costs, but people actually have very low electricity bills (through impressive energy management schemes)? On the other hand, there do seem to be an awful lot of lobbyists around in the US (eg. acting on behalf of the huge - and influential - “Clean Coal” industry). My emotions fluctuated wildly during the course of the programme – hugely encouraging, illuminating, worrying and, ultimately, quite depressing. Whilst there are some amazing, talented green campaigners over there, there also seem to be an awful lot of heads buried in the sand!
Coincidentally, yesterday also saw the White House confirming that Obama would indeed be attending the Copenhagen climate talks next month. Whilst this is very good news, it seems he’ll only be there for the early stages and won’t be around for the crucial final days of the talks (he’s picking up his Nobel Peace Prize while he’s in Europe!). This all sounds reasonably positive but, of course, it all rather depends on Congress passing the necessary legislation in the early part of 2010!
Photo: Justin Rowlatt from the BBC’s “This World” programme - really engaging, amusing and impressive presenter.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

cystic fibrosis

I strongly advise you to read Victoria Tremlett’s article in yesterday’s Guardian magazine entitled “Experience: I hope I’m here for Christmas”. She’s a 22 year-old woman who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was two and she writes very eloquently about her long, frustrating wait for a lung transplant. All very humbling.
We have a Year 10 student, Nick, at our school with CF (another pupil at school with CF died last year) and I’ve spent a fair amount of time with him since he started secondary school. He’s absolutely brilliant – bubbly personality, very popular with his peers and prepared to have a go at everything - but I know just how tough it’s been for his mother (especially as a single parent). Although the life expectancy of CF patients continues to increase (about 75 per cent of affected children survive to young adulthood), coming to terms with the average life expectancy of between 30 and 40 must be very hard to live with.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

is it just me 2?

I went to Blacks today to buy some new laces for my walking boots. As most of you will know, Blacks is a highly reputable outdoor clothing and camping gear shop. They have helpful and knowledgeable shop assistants….
I duly found some laces, but didn’t know what length I would need and couldn’t see a chart or anything explaining what I would need. So I went up to this assistant, showed him the 120cm laces and asked him if these would be suitable for walking boots with six eyelets? I expected him to look up a chart or simply to be experienced enough “just to know” the answer, but no…. he got a six eyelet walking boot from a rack, took one of “my” laces and, very carefully, proceeded to overlay them precisely over the laces of the shop boot. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes and was rendered utterly speechless (amazing, but true!). Eventually, he said: “it’s very difficult to be precise, but I think these will be fine”. I hadn’t the heart to query his professional judgement and duly bought them. I’ve just returned home and have put them in my boots – they’ll JUST about be ok. 130cm would have been the better size, but there was just NO WAY that I was going back to the shop!
PS: somewhat pathetically (I hadn't got my glasses when I was in the shop), I've JUST noticed that, in small writing on the packet, it states "to fit 5 eyelets"!! Aaaaaargh!

is it just me 1?

I’ve got the wrong kind of ears for running.
I love my i-Pod. I’ve had it for about three-and-a-half years and it’s been a great source of pleasure. My only problem is that the earphones keep falling out of my ears when I’m walking. I walked into town this morning and had to adjust/replace my earphones about a hundred times on the way (you think I’m exaggerating!). Yes, I know I could always buy headphones instead, but they seem very bulky by comparison. During the course of my walk, I was overtaken by probably half a dozen joggers and it suddenly made me realise that THIS was why I didn’t go running these days!
PS: maybe all those years of listening to the radio in the night through my earphones enlarged the holes in my ears?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

the white ribbon

This film picked up the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier in the year and, with Moira spending yesterday shopping in Birmingham with Alice, I thought I’d take the opportunity to take another trip to the Watershed. Michael Haneke’s highly-acclaimed film (I think it’s probably a masterpiece) is set in a small farming village in northern Germany on the eve of the First World War. It’s a brilliant and disturbing film and what at first appears to be a rather docile community slowly reveals itself to be a dysfunctional society, “plagued with anonymous, retaliatory acts of malice and spite” (as aptly described by Peter Bradshaw in his Guardian Review). The film is a beautifully-crafted, slow-burning mystery from beginning to end but, frustratingly for all of who watched it yesterday afternoon, the mystery was somewhat emphasised by a glitch in the sub-titles over the last 10 minutes!! By then, I just KNEW that the film would leave us “all in the air”, but it would have been good to know what the narrator was saying over those final minutes as the director panned around a bleak German landscape. I think the Watershed intend offering a refund but, frankly, I’d be far more interested in seeing a transcript of the final ten minutes’ commentary (in English please)!
PS: it’s quite a long film – nearly two-and-a-half hours – and I was pretty amazed that not a single person in the large audience needed to spend a penny in that time!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

sudden death

I arrived home from school yesterday afternoon. It was the end of the week. It was time to veg and relax into the weekend. It was then that Moira said we’d received some horrible news… my brain immediately went into a spin… I KNEW someone must have died, but Moira had used the term “horrible” and this gave a sense that the news would be unexpected… my mind continued to spin. It transpired that we’d received word from great mate Si that Graham/Bodge had died the previous day. He was a head teacher. He collapsed at school and died on the premises. Everyone was in a state of shock. He was a lovely, funny, gentle man. He was 48 and left a pregnant wife and two young children. Just terrible. Terrible.
Graham had been a young teacher at our children’s primary school. We’d got to know him well – and, for me, this was especially true during my time as a School Governor (he was also a member of our local parish church). I’ve got very special memories of watching a lot of Euro 96 on Graham’s telly “with the lads” – and especially England’s 4-1 thrashing of Holland. We were “quite happy” as a result. I will always remember that time.
My great buddy Pete and I frequently seem to be exchanging stories on the telephone of mutual friends who had died or had just been diagnosed with some horrible illness – but the difference is that we’re in our sixties!
At school this week we’ve been coping with news that the mother of two pupils in our House had died after “being ill” for just over two weeks (it was discovered she had stomach cancer).
Dealing with such things is sobering in the extreme. They pull you up short. They make me realise just how many blessings I have in my life and just how precious life is. Just how precious family and friends are (I really do count my blessings).
We mustn’t take such things for granted. We must remember to celebrate them… and often.
God bless you Graham/Bodge RIP.
Photo: Graham/Bodge from 1998 (thanks to Si Smith for pic).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

sixth form options

Last night was “sixth form options evening” at school. I have very little to do with the sixth form – apart from chatting to pupils who have crossed my path at various times over previous years. You can get into our sixth form (in theory) if you achieve a minimum of 6 Cs at GCSE. The problem is that our school is so good at getting pupils to achieve very good GCSE results that we end up with accepting pupils into the sixth form who perhaps shouldn’t be there and for whom the step up to A Levels comes as an enormous shock. The system effectively encourages schools to “spoonfeed” pupils so that they pass their exams (obviously, the brighter ones don’t need this and will be successful anyway) – it’s not the pupils who are examined these days, it’s the schools! And, of course, this is often repeated for A Levels – with pupils being schooled (again, spoonfed in my view) to pass.
The trouble is, it seems to me, that for some of these “successful” students, the world of university education or the “real world” of work will come as an almighty shock to the system. It’s there that they’ll be “found out” – when there’s no longer anyone around to spoonfeed them in the way they’ve become accustomed… or maybe I’ve just become very cynical in my old age!

Monday, November 09, 2009

an education

Went to the Watershed again early yesterday evening (yes, I know - theatre on Friday, cinema on Sunday!). This time it was to see “An Education” directed by Lone Scherfig: an engaging coming-of-age story (based on Lyn Barber’s memoir and cleverly adapted by Nick Hornby) set in the early 1960s. It tells the story of a middle-class London schoolgirl (absolutely beautifully played by Carey Mulligan) who has her sights on going to Oxford University, until she is seduced by an older man who introduces her to the delights and sophistication of smoky jazz clubs, art, Paris and the high-life in general. I thought the entire cast were impressive, but I particularly enjoyed Rosamund Pike’s performance as a “faintly vacant and glassy-eyed” (as Peter Bradshaw described her in his “Guardian” review) girlfriend of the seducer’s “business partner”.
It was very English; it was also funny, poignant and completely endearing and it reminded me of just how unsophisticated and naive I was when I first started at university (some say I haven’t changed!) – and I certainly wasn’t endearing!
I really enjoyed it (it’s only on until this Thursday at the Watershed, so you’d better be quick if you live in Bristol).

Saturday, November 07, 2009

uncle vanya at the bristol old vic

Moira and I spent a lovely evening at the Bristol Old Vic watching Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” yesterday. A really excellent production – with Simon Armstrong quite brilliant in the Vanya role and Harriet de Winton’s design stunningly simple. Jeremy Kingston in “The Times” describes it thus: “This truly is the most wonderful production: a Chekhov that shows, as it must, the sorrows of wasted and wasteful lives but is performed by its exemplary cast to indicate also, as Chekhov wanted, the farcical comedy of those lives”.
The play touched on a number of issues which are very relevant for us all today – with references to the sustainability+care of the planet and also for Moira+me as we approach retirement. Very good to be back at the Old Vic again although, sadly, we were very aware that the average age of the audience was probably in excess of fifty – with very few twenty-somethings.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

copenhagen fears?

There is a growing consensus among scientists that we really do have a global climate emergency in which we have less than 10 years to stop and reverse the global growth in greenhouse gases before “runaway” climate change becomes uncontrollable. The “Campaign Against Climate Change” sees December’s United Nations Climate Talks in Copenhagen as the “most important international meeting ever held”.
However, I have to say that I’m becoming increasingly concerned that December’s conference will simply come up with political fudges/platitudes and that no significant binding agreements will be forthcoming. This article in “The Times” dated 31/10/09, outlining Angela Merkel’s belief that only a broad political framework was now possible from the negotiations and that the chances of a comprehensive treaty had effectively disappeared, only appears to confirm this. I get the feeling that all we’ve had so far has been politicians queuing up to demonstrate how wonderfully committed THEY are to the aims of the conference – almost on the basis that, if it does “fail”, they can all say: “well, don’t blame us, we tried our best – but it was all those others…”. Obviously, compared with the previous “Mr President”, it’s great that Obama is so determined to achieve a successful outcome in Copenhagen. However, even if this was possible, I strongly suspect that any proposed legislation arising from the conference would be blocked by Congress (if recent events are anything to go by).
I REALLY hope that I’m wrong on this and that the conference exceeds all expectations in terms of outcome, but it feels very much as if we’ve been here before!
PS: I was particularly depressed by comments on “The Times” article made by some readers (it would be interesting to know their nationalities!).