Monday, May 31, 2010


Moira, Hannah and I went to see an extraordinary piece of theatre last night at Green Park Station in Bath (no longer a station, now part-bistro bar/part-car park/part-retail space/part-offices/part-weekend market/part-empty space). Kilter Theatre had been commissioned to create a small-scale theatrical project to “animate” the station – a rather elegant 1860s glass-roofed, iron-framed vaulted structure.
The performance (by two impressive actors) took the form of a simple piece of story-telling – based on half-remembered histories and nostalgic memories. Crucially, it utilised the entire station area in a promenade performance. Members of the audience had to purchase tickets from the ticket office (of course!) and, from that moment, the performance began… “mind your backs, please keep the gangways clear” followed by tongue-in-cheek station announcements over the mini-tannoy (much to the confusion of various members of the public who were meandering through the station at the time!). Three of the audience (including Hannah and me!) even made it down into the amazing vaulted “crypt” below the platforms.
Funny and poignant at the same time… “as many stories as people, all hurtling along at full speed to an unknown destination”.
PS: When we first arrived, dancers were just packing up after an impromptu performance(?); a couple of girls then used the platform area as a badminton court and, as the show finished, a couple of skateboarders started their own performance – only to be replaced by an impressive group of young break-dancers and their music. Animated, if rather neglected, space indeed.
Photo: mid-performance in the heart of the old station.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

rookery road junior school 1959

This is our class photograph (there were two classes in our year, so Ron Starling and David Lowe don’t feature) which I’ve downloaded from Friends Reunited…. and I suggest you compare this with the previous reunion image, just to confirm that we really haven’t changed at all, obviously.
I’ve circled the following - it's not very clear, I'm afraid, so you'll have to look very hard (from left to right, starting from the back row): me, Chris Meredith, Brian Probyn, Janet Pulley, Clive Pulley, Elizabeth Chittock and Les Allan.
Oh dear me!
PS: Steve Winwood’s sister, Janet, is one row down from the top and second from the left!

50th anniversary reunion

With some trepidation, I drove up the M5 to The Crown pub at Wychbold earlier today to attend a small reunion “celebrating” the 50th anniversary of leaving Rookery Road Junior School in Handsworth, Birmingham. I’d had lunch with a few former pupils about seven years ago (and had declined various subsequent get-together invitations) but 50 years is 50 years! Despite the wonders of facebook, would I actually recognise anyone? Well, actually, I DID (well, most of them at least!). It was very good to see them, especially Les – who I had NOT seen for 50 years, but with whom I’d be in touch with via facebook over perhaps the twelve months. The social network site may have its critics, but it made meeting up with Les again very easy and we each felt we already knew a little about each other. One great discovery was that Janet Winwood, from my class, is the sister of Stevie Winwood (Traffic/Spencer Davis Group/Blind Faith) - it’s only taken 50 years for me to find out that she had a brother (ok, he wasn’t famous then, but…)! Brian and Les brought some class photographs along with them (wonderful, even if I couldn’t remember everyone’s names!).
Photo (from left to right): Chris Meredith, Clive Pulley, Ron Starling, Janet Pulley, Les Allan, Brian Probyn, Dave Lowe, me and Elizabeth Chittock (and we haven’t changed one bit!).

end of term golf

It was the last day of term yesterday and, to celebrate, good mates Andy+Jake suggested we play golf immediately after school at Farrington Gurney Golf Club (I drive within half a mile of the club twice a day during term time, but had never played there). It was a lovely course and the sun shone and some of us played excellent golf – unfortunately not me (some good stuff, but far too many errant shots)! Great way to finish the week… and it reminded me of those Friday afternoons at Studley Wood with Ken, Steve and Pete (where are they now?!).
As it WAS the last day of term, I obviously had to go into Bristol and meet up with some more school mates and enjoy the odd glass of red…. obviously.
Photo: Jake took this one of me admiring another relaxed, perfect approach shot to the green (in my dreams).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

exeter by-pass?

It was wet. It was very, very wet. Went to the Bristol v Exeter Chiefs play-off final last night (rugby union for those NOT in the know!). Great friends Jez and Lucy accompanied me. Unfortunately, they’re ardent Chiefs supporters and I’m Bristolian (of course!). Bristol were 6-9 down from the first leg; it was going to be close, but Bristol would surely win with home advantage? The second leg finished 10-29 – pretty disastrous for Bristol. Exeter were clear winners and played with far more passion and self-belief. Chiefs also won the battle of the supporters too (far too many good chants – which completely stunted the home team’s somewhat unimaginative “Bristol-Bristol-Bristol”!). Ironically, the only time the home supporters really made a deafening roar was when the team left the field together at the end of the pre-match warm-up – an amazing, thunderous noise – which I thought was just a hint of things to come. It wasn’t to be and the Chiefs won easily. I got caught up in the after-match celebrations with the delirious Chiefs’ supporters (Jez insisted on hugging a few of the players!) and even managed to bump into Kim+Alan from school (Kim was a very happy bunny – ANOTHER Chiefs’ supporter!). The good humour between the rival supporters was just brilliant, despite all the disappointments.
Moira had watered the garden just before we left for the game. In the end, the torrential rain means she doesn’t need to do so again for a couple of months.
Obviously, I blame her for Bristol’s downfall.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

GCSEs, study leave and hypocrisy

It’s that time of year when Year 11s SHOULD have gone on Study Leave. For our school, this would usually have happened about 10 days ago. This year, however, the powers-that-be (and I accept that I probably don’t appreciate all the legal niceties involved) have decided that the Year 11s should remain at school until this coming Thursday – one day before half-term. I’ve heard of other secondary schools having sent their Year 11s during the course of last week (and or even one where Study Leave started nearly a fortnight ago). I WAS going to have a rant about this in one of the Morning Briefings at our school last week, but decided it would all be pointless. Now I’ve calmed down a little, I thought I’d log down some of the issues (for reference this time next year perhaps!):
1. GCSEs started at the beginning of last week (admittedly, in dribs and drabs initially).
2. One of my many jobs is to ensure that all pupils within our House are properly registered twice daily. On the one hand, pupils have been told to report to the examination rooms 10 minutes before the start of their exam; on the other hand, pupils have been asked to register in their tutor rooms as normal – just 5 minutes before an exam is due to start (and those in our House have a five minute walk from the House Block to the examination room!). Rushing to an exam in a somewhat frantic state is not my idea of ideal preparation.
3. Of course, some Year 11 pupils (and I can’t say I blame them) have been going straight into their exams without registering and therefore they've been marked absent even if they're in school. By the same token, it’s very difficult to know who is truanting or simply absent due to sickness. The exams office duly tells us that "everyone who should be in the exam IS in the exam" but, the trouble is that we don't know what pupils have what exams when (let alone where)!
4. Apparently, one of the chief reasons for “hanging on to the Year 11s” is to try to ensure that they spend this crucial time revising. Horror of horrors, there are fears that, if (some) pupils were allowed to have early study leave, they wouldn’t revise and would then perform badly in their exams (and of course this would reflect very badly on the school!). Whilst this might be good for the less motivated pupils, it seems unfair on the conscientious and diligent ones.
5. So, instead, we have the daft scenario of Year 11s having their usual four lessons in the morning, grabbing a quick bite to eat and then going straight into their exam at 1.30pm. Again, in my view, not ideal exam preparation.
6. We’re now getting to the stage when the Year 11s are going into timetabled lessons for which they’ve already sat their GCSE. As a result, their teachers (not unreasonably) allow pupils to revise for their forthcoming subjects – in other words, teachers are required to work as child-minders.
7. I know from personal experience today with a Year 11 girl (normally a very level-headed young lady) who “lost it” in a lesson and came to see me in floods of tears – “Sir, I just can’t cope with lessons, revision AND exams!”. Part of me felt like sending her down to see one of the powers-that-be so they could witness some of the effects of “delayed Study Leave” – but, of course, I didn’t.
8. This isn’t anything like an isolated case. One of the other Assistant House Heads told me today that, since last Friday, he’s been fielding telephone calls from the parents of stressed pupils and had also had a couple of pupils turning up to his office in tears due to stress.
9. The irony (and huge inconsistency) is that, if you behave inappropriately or unacceptably, the chances are you will be sent on “Early Study Leave”. This happened, just this morning, to a Year 11 girl who truanted on Friday after sitting her morning exam (amongst other things). Frankly, I see this as a reward, not a punishment (and you can just imagine how this goes down with the well-behaved pupils!).
10. Back in March, some Year 11 boys were placed on Early Study Leave for a very serious incident (but, crucially, have still been taught on a one-to-one basis in the school’s special “behaviour unit”). I won’t go into the details but I (and the majority of other teachers) felt they should have been permanently excluded. I sent off a frustrated e-mail to the powers-that-be but simply received a response saying it was “almost impossible” to exclude Year 11 pupils unless there had been an assault or something similar (the reality is that it would apparently have cost the school £10,000 per pupil to permanently exclude them, so they didn’t). So instead, as a punishment, they received one-to-one tuition (again, as you might imagine, this didn’t go down well with their peers!). Last week, one of them threatened/confronted a teacher; as a result, the boy has been told not to return to school except for his exams (gosh, harsh stuff!). Part of me wanted to say: “so what did you expect?”. At the time of the original offence, one of my teacher colleagues sent me a copy of his e-mail to the powers-that-be. His final paragraph concluded: “All the work we do in PSHE points us and students in the direction of considering our own actions and how they might influence our lives and those of others. Are we not being massively hypocritical when we as an Educational Institution refuse to face up to our responsibilities and instead take the easy and politically cautious approach such as the one we appear to have taken?”.

Monday, May 24, 2010

lazy sundays

Very good to be able to take advantage of the wonderful end-of-May weather yesterday (27 deg C high apparently?) on a day that didn’t contain lots of “must do” chores. My lazy day started off with breakfast in the garden, followed by some reading (I’m trying some Doris Lessing – “The Cleft”) and then, somewhat bizarrely, by some ironing – again in the garden (a lifetime first for me!)…. a simple lunch and then Moira+I met up with Hannah (Felix is in Singapore) for a lovely long drink and chat in the “Riverstation” overlooking the water. Supper back in the garden (third garden meal of the day), followed by some pottering, Salvador Dali on the television and an early night.
I feel a little guilty because lots of my school mates will have had Reports to write… but hey ho!
Photo: Moira+Hannah at the “Riverstation”.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

electric hotel

When you book to see open-air theatre in the UK in May, you do so with a huge degree of trepidation – and certainly work on the basis of waterproofs/blankets/hot toddies and the like. In the event, Moira+I went to see “Electric Hotel” last night at the harbourside in Bristol (part of this year’s “Mayfest”) on a perfect, balmy evening and watched the performance supping the odd glass of chilled Chardonnay.
The hotel building (yes!) had been (very convincingly) erected on the harbourside and there was a full house for yesterday’s performance. It’s difficult to try to set the scene but, here goes: the four-storey set comprised a bar (available to the audience!) at ground floor, three hotel bedrooms and an internal staircase at first floor, one of the bedrooms plus corridor and staircase at second floor and a restaurant and swimming pool on the third floor – with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the audience at all levels. The audience is equipped with headphones to eavesdrop on the internal spaces of the building (together with music and other sound-effects).
It’s essentially a performance through dance and sound; it’s very cleverly choreographed and one very quickly realises that the corridor on the second floor is the corridor outside the bedrooms depicted on the first floor of the set – so that when someone enters one of the rooms from the corridor-side (2nd floor), they immediately appear in a hotel bedroom (1st floor). Are you still with me (actors double up to play duplicate characters)?
The “Mayfest” blurb described it as a “lonely, bizarre and beautiful spectacle” and “sitting on the outside looking, the audience snatches glimpses of the do-not-disturb lives unfolding behind the windows”. Much of the action is repeated several times (with slight adjustments to suit the evolving story) – as if the whole performance was on a loop.
I can’t say that I entirely understood the storyline, but I honestly don’t think this mattered.
An exciting and visually stimulating evening.
Photo: a montage of images taken during the course of last night’s performance.
PS: I’ve just read Fiona Sturges’s less-than-complementary review in “The Independent” (two-star review – “voyeurism is a well-worn topic these days, and this show offers little in the way of enlightenment”). Hey ho, everyone’s entitled to their own thoughts!
PPS: suggest you click on the Arnolfini website and then watch the brief video clip.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Moira+Gareth+Alan+I joined Niall in his garden this morning on the first of this year’s Growzone Saturdays - essentially, getting people together to grow (and eat!) local food along permaculture principals. I’m NOT a gardener, but even I found last year’s sessions hugely enjoyable – and educational. Today was another really good morning – starting at 9am and finishing just after 12 noon (with a brief stop for coffee and biscuits), then a delicious shared lunch together. An amazing amount of work was completed in three hours: with old suitcases being used to plant out potatoes and a previously-felled apple tree cleared and cut up (ready for making charcoal).
Photos: suitcase planters; coffee break and some of the neatly-stacked bits of wood.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

richard holloway: festival of ideas

At Gareth+Alan’s suggestion, Moira+I joined them at the 2010 Louis Sherwood Memorial Lecture given by Richard Holloway as part of the “Festival of Ideas” at @bristol on Wednesday. It proved to be a hugely impressive and absolutely fascinating evening. Holloway was formerly Bishop of Edinburgh, but his interests and knowledge cover a massive range of things (from chair of the BMA Steering Group on Ethics and Genetics to chair of the Scottish Arts Council). His talk was on “Disloyalty” and explored the role of disloyalty in the creative arts (and also suggested that this was also an important virtue in religion): the disloyal mind refusing to conform to existing norms and allowing new values and understandings to come in from the future. He talked for about 45 minutes and touched upon the work of writers, artists, architects and then answered questions from the floor – with amazing insight and imagination. He was hugely impressive (extremely well-read, but practical at the same time). I’ve just checked and it seems that Holloway is 77 years old – but with the mind of a twentysomething intellectual. His talk ranged from Graham Greene to Nietzsche, from art to religion and much much more. These are a few of the things I scribbled down from his talk: “the artist’s disloyalty is the queen of virtue”; “loyalty confines us to accepted opinions”; “radicals create culture, conservatives defend it”; “the tragedy of many lives is that they stop being creative”; and “every great progress must be preceded by something that makes it weaker”.
A wonderfully stimulating evening.

Monday, May 17, 2010

gasworks choir at st george’s

Moira, Alan, Iona+I went along to St George’s in Bristol last night to listen/see the Gasworks Choir in action again (and Gareth singing too, obviously). They’re a community choir. There’s a long waiting list to join, but no auditions. They learn by listening, not by reading music. They’re about 150 strong and they all wear orange, red or pink and they make an amazing sound. It reminded me of a blog I wrote at the start of last year after hearing Brian Eno extol the virtues of singing.
Well, he just could be right; their enthusiasm and energy is infectious.
Photo: just a few members of last night's choir (they were about to launch into a "swimming" song!).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

a week is a long time in politics....

My great friend Ian has written an interesting piece on his blog this week entitled “emerging politics” about cross-party partnerships – calling for peace-makers and consensus-builders rather than those choosing the adversarial approach. I’m still trying to get my head around the the LibCon (as I’ve seen the Government referred to a couple of times this week!) coalition agreement and also the forthcoming election of a new leader of the Labour Party.
I have to admit that (if I try REALLY hard to ignore the fact that the Tories are now in charge!) I’ve found the spirit of co-operation between the coalition partners rather refreshing thus far. Of course, this is just the honeymoon period and, no doubt, as soon as we get back to Westminster (on Tuesday, I think) it’ll be back to the usual yah-boo stuff (and, of course, the media will be doing its utmost to find a chink in the coalition’s armoury)…. and there’ll no doubt be some bad blood between Labour and the Lib-Dems (along the “vote Lib-Dem, get Tories” line)…. although I very much hope not.
The fact remains, of course (and I appreciate that this is absolutely inevitable – especially with a hung-parliament), that I - along with hundreds of thousands of others - am left saying: “if I’d have known it was going to end like this, I would never have voted like I did” (not that it made a scrap of difference in our constituency)! I DID expect a hung-parliament and I voted Lib-Dem on the basis that a) the Lib-Dems would achieve something approaching a 30% share of the votes, and b) Labour and the Lib-Dems would make up the new government and come up with some sort of coalition agreement (with a commitment to a DECENT PR system). By dawn on 7 May, it became pretty clear that the figures meant that this was never going to work – because the Lib-Dems hadn’t won anything like the number of seats most people had anticipated – and that a LibCon coalition was suddenly a distinct possibility.
Nick Clegg is now saying that “there was no other responsible way to play the hand dealt to the political parties by the British people”. What he MIGHT have said was “I realised that an early general election re-run would be political suicide for the Lib-Dems, so teaming up with the Tories was our only way out”.
I REALLY didn’t anticipate that the Lib-Dems (who, in many ways, are left of the Labour Party these days) would ever team up with the Conservatives. I feel cheated. Ho hum!
Other thoughts from the week:
1. I’m not opposed to fixed term parliaments, but I AM very suspicious of the new 55% rule (which I think the Lib-Dems had pressed for?). A simple majority of 50% plus one on a “no confidence” vote will no longer immediately trigger a prime ministerial resignation or an immediate general election.
2. The electorate clearly voted for “change”, but I’m left pondering if it would all have been different if Labour had opted for a new leader say six months ago – someone with new ideas to drive the party forward and to drop some of its albatrosses?
3. I feel really guilty that I didn’t participate in the “Where’s My Vote?” rally at College Green in Bristol yesterday – pressing for electoral reform.
4. As far as a new Labour leader is concerned, I’m pleased that Ed Miliband has entered the fray (I thought he was an excellent Energy Minister); I’m really not sure about David Miliband – touted by many as being a brilliant and obvious “next leader”; Jon Cruddas would be a good deputy leader; but I have a horrible feeling that Ed Balls will be the ultimate victor (perhaps because support for the Milibands had been split?). I’m trying to ignore this possibility for the time being – SURELY they wouldn’t, would they?

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I know I’ve moaned a few times about the attitudes of some parents in my day-to-day experience at school. I’m also only too well aware of the frustrations of all those who work in education but, just occasionally, you experience unexpected rewards. Today, I received a letter from the father of a Year 11 girl, who was about to leave school after completing her GCSEs. The letter (which was also addressed to my colleagues Kate and Karin) conveyed his appreciation for keeping his daughter “on track”. This is just an extract: “I can still remember specifically when you brought to my attention concerns for (my daughter), concerns which I was equally having. I think that meeting really built the foundation for (my daughter) and now some three years later she is certainly in a “better place”. (Her) improved performance has really made me feel proud for her and I have to say it’s also because of the professionalism demonstrated by yourself Steve, and superbly aided by Kate and Karin. Your direct involvements as a team and individually have done so much good for her that I will always be respectful and appreciative of the efforts by you”.
When I’m feeling depressed and disillusioned by the world of education, I’ll read this father’s letter and it’ll remind me of the small, but perhaps vital, contributions that teachers and also-rans like me can make to the lives of some children and the fact that our work is sometimes appreciated.
Humbling stuff.
Photo: this is a picture of Iris and Stu – I know it really doesn’t have anything to do with this post, EXCEPT that it’s a strong image of a special relationship between a father and daughter.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


An amazing day in the life of British politics (well for the media at least). It seemed, to me, to be almost inevitable that we’d end up with a Con/Lib-Dem coalition government – I’d predicted this on facebook at 6am last Friday! Even though a Lab/Lib-Dem coalition was a possibility, this was also dependent on the support of the odd “other” parties, which was clearly going to be somewhat complicated. For the Lib-Dems, this is a hugely important time – an almost once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the party to make its mark (despite the multitude of its supporters who will be devastated by the prospect of them cosying up to the Tories). For the Conservatives, at least it means the end of a Labour government after 13 years; its supporters will be relieved, but also still very disappointed (and maybe very disillusioned?) after being unable to win an overall majority from what seemed, at one point, to be an impregnable position. Will the party be able to justify the “risk” of a coalition? Ironically, it seems to me that the winners in the long-term might well be the Labour Party – it gives them a chance to re-group under a new leader (as long as his name isn’t Ed Balls!).
What odds on another General Election within the next 12 months?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

southbank arts trail

We participated in the Southbank Arts Trail again over the weekend (the seventh consecutive year for us). It was all very enjoyable as usual, if a little exhausting. It was very good having Jen, Sarah and Angela joining us for the weekend – they were all excellent value! The weather was pretty kind too (a little drizzle yesterday but otherwise dry). Lots of people as usual (we usually reckon on about 500 over the weekend) – spread pretty evenly over both days – together with “normal” preview evening on Friday, which was great fun…. and the art was pretty good too!
Photo: two of the number40 exhibition-goers.