Category Archives: Political comment

Don’t bank on a bank

My sister thinks I am anti-England. In a way, she’s right. I love this country but watching politics and banks destroy it is like watching an old friend being ravaged by an entirely preventable disease that, once in motion, cannot be stopped. Negative imagery perhaps. And, no, it’s not just England. All around me, I look at a world damaged by politics and economics and I feel sympathy with Marx that he knew something had to, and must, change.

Politics and politicians are the easy target. They are public. Most people know the name of their president or Prime Minister, and it’s easy to slander them. Some are utterly ridiculous. The posturing, posing, preening and frankly mafiaesque behaviour of Berlusconi; the completely bonkers actions of Qaddafi. Some are not what we thought they would be – Blair take note. A couple of world leaders seem to have their hearts in the right place – Lula is a shining example. Some are bully-boys, like Kim Jong-il. Some inherit, as D. Cameron likes to point out, crazy, corrupt governments. Some try to make it better; many make it worse. But they are public figures and they face the firing line, literally, sometimes – like JFK and Lincoln, or Berlusconi faced by a mad-man. Sometimes they face the firing line in retrospect, judged for their rule, like Saddam Hussein.

We are who we elect. As The Jam said, ‘you choose your leaders and place your trust’ – and then they renege on promises and ideology – maybe because of the situation they inherit. And they face the music. I feel for them, a little. Reading Coriolanus is insightful – Shakespeare’s masses (and his interpretation of Roman masses) reads like politics today. (As an aside, I’ve just seen that Coriolanus is due for release as a film this year… with Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus. Excellent casting.) He said of the public, ‘he who depends on your favours swims with fins of lead’… ‘with every minute you do change a mind’. A noble, fierce, honest yet not publicity-hungry general who does the right thing and totally understands the fickle nature of the masses who care only about their belly and the today, and who is turned upon when he decides to go for government. There’s a story for today.

Yet it’s not these men, with all their hubris – or lack of it – that inspire my wrath. In a way, I pity them. They inherit problems, can’t start afresh, rely on public favour and can only do what they are permitted to do. Sometimes you are the public’s darling; sometimes you face their judgement without doing anything differently. Take pensions. Let’s get some perspective. Pensions have only really existed for 100 years. Much of the world have no access to a pension. I kind of understand the French anger about their pensions, but in reality, five generations ago, pensions didn’t exist. And pensions need sorting. The country has a plughole of money it needs to fill. People must accept something needs to happen to allow pensions in the future. More money is needed or people need to die. Such is the simplicity of the situation. But the public have a short-sighted vision that things that are thus must ever be thus without realising how lucky they are to have a pension in the first place, let alone a lifespan of 67.2 years – the global life expectancy. France is 10th in the world. Its people will live 12.5 years longer than this. Maybe not in good health. Maybe ill every single day. But over 40 years longer than people in many African nations will live. Such is life.

But yes, politicians of the past (and of the present) made mistakes. Trouble is, they’re all too involved in the blame game to say sorry for their part in it. Or for their predecessors part in it. Governments around the world have done horrendous things in the name of governance and in the name of the country. Australian government-sponsored forced adoption of aboriginal peoples… American removal of lands from indigenous tribes… English treatment of the Irish… countries who’ve waged war and fought themselves, making enemies of brothers… Does anyone stand up and say ‘Actually, we SHOULD ensure African life expectancy improves, since the race for colonisation fucked everything up quite royally’ – or ‘Actually, we SHOULD be in Afghanistan, helping out, since we’ve used it as a pawn in the Empire/Super-power game since time immemorial’. No.

So politics is one bad boy.

But, banks are worse. We elect our governments (sometimes) and we elect them from our masses. They are us. They do as we do. We can say ‘no’ to Mugabe and say ‘that’s not right to Idi Amin’ – who starve and subjugate people, remove their land from them.

But we never say no to the banks.

Banks have been around for about 600 years. That’s all. That’s nothing, in the scheme of human lifetimes. The Romans’ rule was slightly less. Chinese dynasties lasted longer. They’ve existed for about the same time as ‘America’ – I say that with tongue in cheek. We still see America as a new country; fresh. It’s a baby in World Domination. In fact, the banks dominate us much more. McDonald’s can’t get into Cuba. Banks can.

Of course, money lenders have existed since way before then, as Jebus tells us. And they weren’t good news either.

The fact is banks rule the world, not governments. I see Icelandic banking collapses worry my parents more than pension changes. My step-dad was concerned about his money in the Irish banking system. One crash can destroy their life together. Banks can remove houses, ruin lives – all on the back of their own dodgy behaviours. They lie, they over-predict, they gloss over, they make bad loans and bad debts and they squeeze the little man.

Let’s face it, the banks caused the Great Depression, not the Government. The banks caused global recession, not the Government. We worry about the euro, but it’s the banks who are more concerning, even the IMF, lending money to countries who are bad-debt risks.

I grew up in the eighties where ‘ethics’ mattered to students opening accounts. You didn’t bank with Barclays because you knew they were involved in excessive debt collecting from African nations – many of whom had seen the debt repayed many times over. (I’m reminded the Germans have just finished paying for the First World War!)And interest rates on loans were impossible for countries to manage. Combinations of corrupt governments and giddy-school-boy banking has meant that the people of the world suffer.

They can be regulated – they are supposed to be. So why do banks still fall apart? It is, after all, an industry and its primary purpose is profit. That’s why they fall apart.

In England, if you put your money in a bank, it doesn’t even belong to you anymore. The American Federal Reserve is a privately-owned company. “The Reserve Banks… are independent, privately owned and locally controlled corporations.”

They, therefore, dictate monetary policy, being independent, TO the US Government, not the other way around. They can introduce Qualitative Easing, not the government. They decide whether to introduce this – and QE is introduced when other things have failed. Colloquially, they print more money. It failed in Japan in the early 2000s. It has many risks. And a privately owned corporation can force this to happen! The Federal Reserve doesn’t have to say who it has guaranteed money to, and although it was forced to say by Bloomberg, it is up for appeal. We may never know where American money goes, who influences it or what is influencing the politics of our world-leading cross-Atlantic bigger, younger sibling.

And that should scare you. Banks dictate economy. Economy drives politics. Politics alter every single aspect of our life – whether it’s what we are reading, what we can say, who we can do business with, how much income we have, our health…

And forgive me for being a little bit concerned that not enough people accept that when they take their pay cheque to the bank, they’re contributing to starvation in some countries, or forced devaluation or inflation.

This is why I have a non-cheque, non-card La Poste account in France. The only money that goes into it is in cheque form. I need a hidey-hole for my other money, I think. I might start investing in guns or bullets for when the end-game is played out ; )

Whilst I end with a bit of a joke about my own paranoia about the bank (and the reality of my part-state-owned account – france is definitely not without its banking problems!!) I have to say we easily forget Lehman Bros, Barings Bank, Nick Leeson, Icelandic banking crises, almost-bankrupt Eurozone countries, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Northern Rock and Great Depressions and other events that have altered the course of history. Banks are not in it to protect our money; they are there to make a profit. And the majority of people who started banks, with all their risks, wanted to make a profit. And so they did.

Lehman Bros was set up in 1850. That’s 158 years of trading. A sniff. And yet it helped set in motion a global disaster that, as one Moroccan market trader said to me ‘has affected the whole world, from Timbuktoo to Alaska’.

I know Lehman Bros suffered a loss in the 9/11 terrorist attack, and I’m reminded of why (apart from ease of target) the World Trade Centre was chosen. It’s such a potent symbol of trade and banking.

Criminal as well as civil prosecutions are underway as to whether banks lied about conditions – whole corporations who are up on trial for causing global financial issues.

The Icelandic banking problems are not yet over and had a knock-on effect all over the world.

National bankruptcy happens.

It happens more than you’d think.

p.s. My money isn’t under my mattress. And if it all goes to pot and collapses, you’re welcome round mine anytime for homemade wine and some homegrown veg. Luckily, Jake’s good at traps and fancies himself as the next Michael Weston from Burn Notice, so we’ll be fairly well-protected. My house is older than all these banking crises.

Chavs, scallies, Essex girls and the Manc swagger

I’ve been having conversational lessons with a marvellous client and I’ve been briefing him on all things Anglais. It must be said, I’m becoming a bit of a Daily Mail complainant about English life. I need to stop reading British newspapers with their doom, gloom and minute-by-minute analysis of the economy, because it’s making me miserable about my home country.

It confuses me that French newspapers seem not to print pictures or stories that are inflammatory. A fellow forum-user posted some pictures of the riots in Lyon in response to the recent strikes about retirement age, and I have to say I’d seen nothing like them in the press here. Whilst on the one hand, it’s kind of dishonest to ‘hush up’ the extremity of the violence, the riot police, teens up-ending cars and so on, it’s also a little more gentle. England, however, seems to revel in inflammation. If a newspaper can act as a catalyst for emotions in England, it seems to take every opportunity. Today, I was mostly incensed about a man from Bury who hanged his dog from a bridge when he was drunk and has got 10 weeks of a prison sentence. I went through the whole gamut of Daily Mail emotions – anger, frustration, a desire to become a mercenary and go out and do the same thing to him – posted links to Facebook and got myself all upset about a dog which, as Steve says, is probably better off dead than it was with its owner.

I wonder if such things happen in France. Undoubtedly there are cruel people here: France isn’t necessarily renowned for its sentimentality about animals, but they do love a ‘hand-bag’ dog. Perhaps a crime in itself to keep a dog in a handbag or dress it up in little coats, but I never saw a story like this in the French press. There’s been a Tony-Martin-esque story down in Toulouse, but it’s not really ‘national’ news. The news seems much more political, much more intellectual, lots less American and lots less sensational.

And I have to query what this sensationalist news reporting has done to me.

Back to the client, I realised when writing up my vocabulary list after today’s session that I’ve taught him about chavs, painted a picture of England beset by teen thugs, taught him that Britain’s cities are poverty-stricken and violent, taught him about Jeremy Kyle, teenage pregnancies, ‘rainbow’ families, discussed bullying and intimidation and when he asked about Colchester, I informed him about Essex girls and squaddies on drunken rampages. It sounds not unlike a third-world warzone. “The Only Way is Essex” can’t, surely, be how it is in Essex. Yet it’s how I think of it. Blonde WAGs, boob jobs, hair extensions, sunbeds… and all images planted in my mind by the media. The people I know from Essex aren’t like that at all. Admittedly, I only know four people from Essex, but not a one of them conforms to this image. So is this cynicism worsened by the media?

But then he got me on the subject of Manchester. And my love came swimming back. Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, New Order, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis – the bulk of great English music in the past few years has come out of Manchester. And I love that.

I told him about my friend who had come up from London to work. After a couple of weeks, she told me she was going out with a ‘musician’. I laughed. Virtually every Northerner I know is in a band of a sort, or can play an instrument. I know about 20 bass guitarists, a good load of singers, drummers and guitarists, all of whom are ‘in bands’. If you aren’t kicking a ball about, you are making music in Manchester. You might be 35, live at home with your mum and have never worked a full week in your life, but if you can’t aspire to be the next big thing, you haven’t got any Manchester in your soul. This is Manchester.

It’s a little sad that my client now knows the words ‘chav’ and ‘trailer trash’ and ‘scally’. It’s very sad I told him about Essex girls. I think I need to be more kind to my home country, though it hasn’t always been kind to me. It’s still within me to wax lyrical about the wonders of Manchester. I hope that little bit of wonder doesn’t turn sour!

Coincidentally, I picked up a French book about the top 100 cities in the world. Manchester was in there – alongside London. I looked and it made me feel very proud to be Manc through and through. I might not like the scallies and the chavs, and men who throw dogs off bridges. I definitely don’t like the fact I was mugged by 30 teens and not a single thing happened to those criminals, and I don’t like the fact my car was keyed. I disagree with the quangos and the bureaucracy and the civil servant state. But I still love my Manchester, warts and all.

L’Hiver le chasseur aiguise son couteau

It’s definitely the advent of Winter – I think Autumn definitely started with the fall of the aspen leaves at the tail-end of August – and now, two months on, the fire is on and there is a definite nip in the air. It’s the kind of weather that makes you need hats, scarves and gloves. I’ve got several immediate projects to get on the go – a draught excluder and some curtains to go across the archway, as there’s a mighty strong gale that blows under the door way!

Steve’s mum and step-dad have now gone back to the UK – and sadly missed! – although Keith needs to bone up on his science knowledge as it seems to have melded into science fiction. If the truth be told, I like the small yet heated debates – it reminds me of my Gramps and my Uncle Paul – both of whom debate(d) endlessly with me over trivialities. Now ‘normal’ life will resume until I have to come back to England mid-November, and which I’m not looking forward to. I am glad I’ll get to see friends and family, but not so glad that I have to be back in England. Mind you, France right now has several English bits about it, beyond the nip in the air.

The country is on strike tomorrow (including Jake’s school, which is a rarity) and there are petrol blockades set up. There was mass panic yesterday when I realised L’Eclerc had switched their pumps off (well, considering they are credit card ones, it’s not a bad idea to stop people filling up jerry cans!) and worried I wouldn’t be able to get petrol tomorrow – you live through petrol concerns once (2000) and you realise what a chaos it can create. Of course, in England, the petrol blockades were announced on a Friday morning, so the great and the good of the retired world saw fit to panic buy and fill up their cars with 40 litres of petrol each, and by the time the offices kicked their workers out, there were mile-long queues and pumps running out. I still remember driving over to Clitheroe at a snail’s pace trying to conserve petrol, the roads empty and half the kids not in school. Luckily, a week in, the UK had had enough, and I wonder if France will feel the same. There’s a certain amount of inconvenience you’ll put up with whilst you’re standing up for your rights, but once you start worrying about how you’re going to get your shopping in, then it stops being a matter of principle and starts being a real concern. If it goes anything like England, the things you’re campaigning about might be held off for the moment (the £1.00 for a litre of petrol) but they’ll soon sneak in the back door virtually as fast as if you hadn’t bothered at all. I wonder if the country will bring itself to its knees without Sarkozy blinking. However, seeing as he’s got an emergency council in place and the press start talking about martial order, you realise they think it’s a bigger problem than they might be letting on.

It’s funny, because this is the first time I feel touched by French politics. I see the problems on both sides and it’s difficult to know what the solution is. I guess, sensibly, top-up pensions for those who want to retire early, though that’s incredibly undemocratic, since some of the hardest professions are some of the least well-paid, and some of the rich fat cats who can afford the top-ups would be able to work until they were 80, desk jockeys as they may be.

We’d planned on going to Aubeterre, but with the pumps being out of commission, it ended up being Montbron. Lovely, but not quite the same.

This reminded me, cobbles in England are being outlawed. Even ancient setts are being removed because councils are so scared of litigious citizens wrapped up in the compensation culture. So sad.

Strange things are afoot at the Circle K

Yesterday, I blogged a little prayer. Several things have happened since then:

1. The drunk mother to whom I refer literally fell out of a pub on Saturday (and into a busy main road, in front of an ambulance carrying a man who’d had a heart attack! Couldn’t make that up if I tried!!)  and it has now come to the attention of her lovingly-misguided children that Mum is not okay. I’m glad. Children shouldn’t have to worry about their mum, but they told her they were worried and now she’s said she’ll quit. She said she’ll quit smoking too. I’ve heard this from her for 20 years, but nothing beats the concern of your 6 year old to make you quit doing something.

2. Jasmin, who rocks, is Steve’s daughter. Seems like her day got a little brighter

3. Anne, from United Utilities rang to check if my meter had been read and said she’d passed it on for refunding. Above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks, Anne. It almost makes up for being robbed by your company.

4. The boat sold and there will be money by Saturday.

Unfortunately, poor Mr Gove, our Minister for Education, is still ‘on trial’ in the Commons today. I wish him all the best. I know it will mean not all schools end up glamorous and glitzy, but that’s not what makes a good education. I went to visit a friend’s sister once, who works at a very, very exclusive public school in Hertfordshire. High fees, vast lawns, golf classes on Fridays…. like Hogwarts without the magic. And she taught in a portakabin that had a tree growing into it. Still, she was a biology teacher, so she made the most of the tree. But the desks were wobbly, the chairs were mismatched. There wasn’t an interactive whiteboard in sight, and they still get amazing results. Unfortunately, poverty = under-performance, and no amount of shiny atriums will iron out that so easily.

I’ve just checked out my nemesis the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust – they’re my nemesis because I did some work for them. Firstly, it was in the Emirates Stadium at Arsenal. I have no idea how much that venue is to hire, but I’d like to bet it’s not as cheap as, say, a mid-budget hotel and conference facility. Secondly, they’d rounded up ‘coasting’ schools and told them off. Yeah, not how you inspire achievement. Thirdly, they have all these bizarre rules for conferences, like providers can’t give out handouts. As a teacher, you judge a course by its handouts. How, also, are you supposed to remember anything? They didn’t even provide slide-show notes! Also, there was no agenda. There were no aims, no outcomes and it was for a very mixed audience.

Geoff Barton, my hero, presented the first session. It was great for motivation and common sense. It was also, sorry Geoff, lacking in actual, practical tips for improvement. The English section really stuck in my craw, for two reasons. One of these is that English education has, for a long time, been about ‘reading books’. If you don’t read fiction, and worthy fiction at that, you’re not reading. I’ve seen Jake’s report. It says he doesn’t read at home. He does. He reads comics, magazines, things on the internet. He reads quite a bit more than my brother Alastair used to, just because of the internet. The written word is replacing the spoken, right now, for Jake, through texts, instant messaging, status updates etc. He reads a lot. It was however, the bugbear of the teachers there that ‘boys don’t read’.

Well, should boys read fiction?? Do men read fiction? My dad reads about a book a year. He enjoys it. It’s always a Lee Child book. He reads the papers sometimes. Steve reads off the internet, only for information. He never, ever reads for pleasure. Al reads from time to time. John, my step-dad, is the most educated ‘intellectual’ man I know. He reads the Guardian daily (online) and the Observer. He reads academic economics books and studies. He reads books about cricket, autobiographies and history, especially of Manchester City. I never see him read ‘a book’ (fiction). Dale, my step-brother, reads sci-fi, that last bastion of man-centred reading. He loved Lord of the Rings and Terry Pratchett. He likes humorous sci-fi or epic fantasy. My Gramps read Wilbur Smith and the Daily Mail…

*Just as an aside, the Daily Express headline yesterday made me almost wet myself. It said: ‘One in Five Britons to be Ethnics.’ I kid not*

So, boys read. Men read. They just don’t read what women read. Or, specifically, what middle-class women read. Fairly educated women read books prolifically. All my girlfriends read a lot. My mum and nana read all the time. So does my sister. And we read junk.

Who really reads those books on the Man Booker list? One or two break through, but they’re middle class readers, academics, predominantly female.

So, to have a session moaning that boys don’t read isn’t good.

Secondly, his advice about getting a C was reductive at best and educationally unsound at worst. He reduced it to a D grade checklist: a recipe for how pupils can get a C. Well, sorry, Geoff. I’ve marked thousands of exam scripts and what you said was a C, isn’t. Maybe that’s where people are going wrong.

Anyway… I see Sir Bob Geldof is presenting the next conference. More money than sense, the SSAT. I’m not being funny, but what does Sir Bob know about education?? Fuck all? Close to Fuck all? Tenuous link: he and his kids went to school once. Now, I like Sir Bob, but he’s not exactly who I’d choose to head a conference about education in England.

Hah. I also see they’ve got the publicity-seeking psychologist-whore ‘Professor’ Tanya Byron. Hmmm. Dubious Labour connections there. She writes the most trite, patronising ‘psychology’ reports ever. She wrote an article about her husband being fat and he got a book out of it. I’m aghast. He wasn’t even that fat. She co-created The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle, picking up on middle-class anti-Jeremy Kyle mentality, and her back story is filled with media connections. What I dislike most is the line on a top search for her that says ‘The Prime Minister asked me to write…’

“Asked ME…” It’s so vain.

Anyway, between pseudo-pop-psychology of low ecological value, based purely on this woman’s usually personal opinion (she’s very good at giving that out, and being patronisingly middle-class) with no science behind it, and the other non-teachers and non-educationalists (a guy quoted as inspiring the uber-middle-class Slumdog Millionaire and an opera singer) there are three people who have an educational background.

SSAT? Huge waste of cash on ‘nu’ values and divergent thinking that doesn’t actually get to the root of the problem: what makes a good learner, and how can our teachers ensure they get good learning?

Anyway, back to the point. Good luck Michael. And, just in case you’re wondering what to do next, look at getting the SSAT to cut back their ridiculous speakers and make their conferences sharing of good practice. Not just a whole load of ‘fashionable’ and ‘important’ people in the world who have little idea what happens in a classroom.

It all seems, again, like the SSAT going for showy and shiny over substance and science. Hmmm. Theme of the last 13 years of Government, it seems.

I’m particularly interested in how these SSAT aims are going to be achieved by Sir Bob, and Professor Byron et al:

How should students learn?

I might go to the conference, for a laugh! I’d quite look forward to hearing TB talk about pedagogy and practice.

Another rant bites the dust

I’ve been watching with interest how the media and public handle the news that Michael Gove has cut funding to Building Schools for the Future (BSF)

I was expecting uproar from the schools and unions, of course, and as well from the Labour Government, but Gove is right: it has been a huge disaster from start to finish.

The first problem has always been that schools that get good at bidding for things are usually first past the post in terms of funding. This happened with the Specialist Schools’ Trust, where even if your results were a little wobbly, you could still be awarded ‘Specialist School status, just off the basis of a good bid. One school I worked at was first through the post with Technology College.  This was all well and good, but the head of IT had been off for months with a hip replacement, and there was this rusty old Canadian guy, who, if the truth be told, amused me a great deal just on the basis he once threw his lunch away because the girl at the dining table in front of him was wearing an indecently short skirt. It seemed to be that if you could find an industry to shoulder some of the initial bid, you would get the rest. It seemed to leave a bit of cash for a new IT suite and an emblem on the new ‘Atrium’ floor (read ‘porch’ for Atrium, and you’ll get the idea) which was walked over by 1,000 kids a day. Instead of going for the departments where the work was stunning, like Art or PE, they went for a nondescript subject, because it was the first offered.

Likewise the second school I worked at. They’d spent the money on a room that nobody was allowed to use. I can’t remember an IT suite as such, only a few old machines dotted around the school and then a whole load that were locked up unless someone important came, like the Queen.

Many of the schools in the authority in which I worked had specialist status, especially as it broadened its wings. So… in essence, if you had a crap department, you would use them to get the bid, and then become a ‘Centre of Excellence’ without any results behind it whatsoever. One inner-city school had the poorest science results in the authority and they were the only science specialist school in the area. Nonsense.

So, those first in then got a second bite at the cherry with the ‘joint status’ specialisms, like Humanities and Maths. Fair enough. What always got me was that there was never a specialism for ‘English’ which is ridiculous considering it’s our national language and we all read, write listen and talk every day.

So, ten years in, some schools are awfully good at getting funding. They have people appointed for marketing, called ‘Specialist Schools’ Trust managers’ and they earn a packet by bidding for everything going.

This only works if you’re in a proactive authority. Some nay-saying authorities got caught out here, since BSF initially only went to a few. Likewise funding for other ‘pilot’ projects. So, if you played nice, you got a lot of additional funding. If you knew the right people at the DfE, then you got a lot of funding. If you were good at asking, you got a lot of funding. And the more you asked, the more you got. At one point, I was running three separately funded projects for the DfE, QCDA and the NAA.

This is great if you’re good at stating your piece and holding out your cap, taking people round and showing them how much you’ve achieved. I was. However, it’s not so good for those who are more humble. I was once told to be more humble as a performance target. It was my only target. I ignored it, since it came from a horrible woman, plus, it’s not a SMART target. How would I have known that I was more humble? Would I have started rubbing my hands together in the style of Uriah Heep?

So, some poor schools fall by the wayside, especially in reticent authorities who ‘wait and see’ what everyone else is doing.

Luckily, they, now are the ones who are not suffering from ‘Of Mice and Men’ syndrome as the Con-Lib government whip away their dreams.

Matthew d’Ancona in this week’s Daily Telegraph says it all perfectly:

“It’s easier to promise shiny schools than better teaching.”

And he’s right. Because something got lost behind BSF, which was Sue Hackman’s mission to drive up School Standards. Suddenly, it was all about atriums and shiny rooms and interactive whiteboards. I have to first admit there are some truths in this: comfy chairs do make learning easier. Nice classrooms are nice to teach in. But I never needed anything other than new desks, better quality chairs and a lick of paint. A few nice displays and you have a wonderful learning environment. For about £3000, you can have an entirely revamped classroom. You don’t need millions. All of a sudden, head teachers stopped being bothered about driving up standards and starting being dazzled by shiny atriums.

“So true: it was hardwired into the previous government’s soul that anything new and shiny, “state-of-the art”, and modernist in architectural design was intrinsically good.” he says, and how right he is.

And, like Matthew d’Ancona, I’m also very glad Michael Gove has gone ‘back to basics’ – hopefully, schools will need to rely on good teaching now, not the level that currently exists.

I’m woefully appalled every year by the ‘mis-teaching’ that goes on. Sometimes, it would be better if pupils didn’t have any teaching at all. At least then they might come up with some decent ideas, rather than being taught that every poem’s layout has some kind of meaning, that they must describe using the ‘five senses’  and that they should start every story with a rhetorical question.

I’ll save my rant about Ofsted for another day.

The Micawber Principle

Micawber’s quote:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six. Result happiness.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six. Result misery.”

How true this seems to be of the world right now. Japan has released a statement saying it is not far from the abyss of unmanageable debt, following Spain, Portugal and Greece (ad infinitum)

My query is: who do they owe this money to? And what happens when a country doesn’t repay its debt? I’m assuming some hard-line bankers who are responsible for global recession are the main lenders who are keeping many countries under the thumb of repayments and that they will not cancel interest repayment. So where does the money come from??! And who do we owe it to?! And what happens if we can’t pay?

Do they send in the bailiffs?

Can you imagine?!

“Come on Japan, open up. You’ve had a red bill 6 months ago, and we’ve sent several reminder letters since then.”

“Come on guys, be reasonable. We can’t pay you. Korea owes us, and I can’t pay you until they pay us. Plus, we thought we had a deal coming through with America, but they went back on the deal. We’ve got old people to support. Who would have thought we’d all live so long? We made a miscalculation with how much we needed to keep the oldies going. Plus, we had an earthquake, and that really set us on the back foot. It’s been nothing but misery.”

“Yeah, yeah. We’ve heard this story before. Everyone’s got a sob story. Now pay up.”

“But I haven’t anything to give you.”

So… you’ve got two options, borrow from some unscrupulous lender, like Zimbabwe or something, who’ll menace you and break your kneecaps if you don’t pay them back, or the lenders will send in the bailiffs to sell off your assets.

Maybe Japan could have a car-boot-style sale and sell off national treasures? I for one would buy Matsumoto Castle if it came onto the market. Perhaps they could start selling stuff on ebay to make up the cash?

I jest, slightly, but Bury Council sold off a Turner to make money. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The problem is, private companies then reap dividends from being able to buy up public property – and capitalism triumphs. Our national treasures are taken away from those who want to see them, and we’re all forced to pay-to-view. The poor man is the loser, as culture is lost to the wealthy.

Someone, somewhere, needs to make the Micawber Principle the global motto, for everyone.

On a sad note, I’m going to stop being a Times online viewer, since they’re now charging for the site’s comments. It’ll be a terrible diet of The Telegraph, FT and the BBC website. I hate this. I like the populist paper. I know I’m a left-wing liberal child, and reading The Telegraph is like a devout Christian reading the works of Aleister Crowley, but I can’t stand The Guardian. I’m just not that kind of left wing liberal.

Trucking, Formule 1 and Barbe a Papa

After a frenetic packing session (read ‘throwing everything in the van in the rain’) on Saturday, leaving lots behind (I haven’t the heart to say how much, suffice to say I shan’t be amazed if it doesn’t all fit in a 3.5 ton truck) we set off early on Sunday morning.

The first problem is finding cheap petrol. How is it Asda can charge 116.9p a litre when the robbing thieves at Heap Bridge BP are charging 122.9p??! It’s extortion! Once you find cheap petrol, the problem then becomes fitting into the petrol station. I can’t count how many times we had to find a ‘bigger’ petrol station that would fit in our 3.6 metre height. Poor van.

We had a relatively smooth and stress-free journey down. Jake has been incredibly ‘happy Jake’ recently, which is all for the good. He likes road trips anyway, especially if there’s stuff he can see. Still, we had the waiting-in-line for 10 minutes at Dartford, which always disgusts me. I’d pay £10 not to have to stop. Not only that, but I didn’t know if it was £2.00 or £3.70 for our van, which is in between a transit and a HGV in size, so I’d given Steve £3.70 just in case. He handed it over, the guy took it, charged us £2.00 and kept the change. Cheeky robbing bastards. As if it wasn’t enough that the bridge must make in excess of £2,000,000 a day, easily. They might very well have a pre-payment system, but what’s the point of it when all the lanes are blocked for miles on the approach??!

I’m just reading the Hansard conversation here:

I’m particularly liking the fact that the Tories said they would quit payments after the bridge had been paid for, but the Nu-Lab thieves decided to keep it going ‘to ease congestion’ – what the hell’s that about??! The congestion IS CAUSED BY the tolls, not the other way around! If nobody had to stop, there would have been no congestion, particularly on the way down… the way back was an entirely different story! The bridge, it transpires, raises only £47,000,000 profit a year. Only. Actually, that’s nothing. It is a piddling amount to the Government. If they got rid of the tolls, there’d be less congestion, less pollution, fewer over-heated temperatures… it’s a win-win situation. Apparently the Highways Agency showed there would be a 17% rise in traffic. But what would the impact be on waiting times at peak times?? It seems like the system is set up to rip off the most people.

The hon. James Brokenshire (what an appropriately Blackaddery-Rotten-Borough kind of a name for Britain!) referred to the Sunday Times…

“Even the three billy goats gruff didn’t have this sort of hassle when they wanted to get to the other side of their river. Granted, they had to deal with a troll, but he wasn’t demanding £1.50 every time. In fact, when he tried it on once too often, he got butted firmly into the river. Think on that, Dartford Crossing authorities.”

How true!!

He also points out the environmental costs, the cost of waiting, the costs to small businesses… nothing was strong enough to either iron out the crazy policy of charging or to sort out where the profits should go.

Reading on, I see that ‘tolls are unlawful’ if they create congestion… surely this is true of Dartford??! It MAKES it congested! It certainly did yesterday when we were coming back and we sat in standing traffic on the Kent side for a good 45 minutes. Ridiculous. It was clear after that (only til we got to the roadworks. Grrrr) but on the other side heading into Kent, there were miles and miles of tailbacks. I know it was Friday, but it was only half past one. By the time we got off the M25, it was 4:30. It was utterly hideous. And the crossing paid a small part in that, adding on a good 45 minutes. Even in less congested times, you still have to stop and wait. Fucking ridiculous.

Apparently, MPs on either side don’t want a charge for local residents, the AA are in agreement that it’s pointless, but that doesn’t matter. Maybe Dave and Nick will sort it out if I write them a nice letter?!

After the pain of Dartford, it was the joy of the ferry.

Being a trucker means you get special privileges. You get special drive-up booths where you have someone up high to chat to. You get special queues and priorities. You get to go on the ferry first and you have a special cafe at special prices, which are actual normal prices, rather than the over-inflated motorway services prices the cafe on board sells at. I don’t get that about England at all. Why are the services allowed to be so ridiculous at charging for food and drink – why aren’t little hot-dog and burger vans allowed on the services to tout their wares? Hardly ‘fair’ competition, is it? No doubt there are bungs to the transport department…

That’s another thing… trucks in France can stop on services for as long as they like, as can cars. Not so in ‘rip-off’ Britain. £24 for a lorry to park for more than 2 hours. Disgusting. When we stopped at Maidstone services on our way back yesterday, a little Nazi jobsworth turned up to shake his finger at us parking in the ‘coach’ park (because coaches bring lots of people who will spend a lot at the services) and made us manoeuvre into the final lorry space (there weren’t enough) and then patrolled with his little clipboard taking note. It was like something from Trigger Happy tv, except it wasn’t funny.

So, we enjoyed our P&O fish and chips, had a wander around (I wasn’t sick. I am ALWAYS sick on ferries) and then arrived in France ready to get down to Abbeville by bedtime. Driving in France is a joy. We’d decided to forego the toll roads and in many ways, it was a joy to do so. You pass through all the little villages along the way. It reminds me of the France I remember from being a child – endless tree-lined roads, village squares with a church, a mairie, a bar, some shops and a central parking space – and long, clear roads.

The Formule 1 was excellent, as well as a bargain. What more do you need than a bed? I’m never fussed by having a toilet in my room, or a shower. Plus, the shower and toilet cubicles reminded me of Japan. I think they’re quite cute! And, at 35 euros, not to be quibbled with!

It took us the best part of Sunday and Monday to make our way down to Les Ecures, coupled with various stop-offs for coffee and Red Bull. It was raining when we got there, which was a little sad, especially since it was bright sun by Thursday when we had to come home. I’m loving the Auchan at Poitiers – shame it’s so far away! Steve raised a valid point when we were there, though… there’s a lot of anti-English sentiment (as a language, as well as a nation!) which is hugely understandable, especially given the state of the majority of non-truck-driving people on the ferry… and the way the English drive… but the t-shirts are covered with ‘English’ phrases, which is a little odd. I can only take it that they like Americans (?!) and they don’t like their nearest allies. This is not a bad thing. Lancashire is next to Yorkshire, and I wouldn’t want to be wearing a Yorkshire cricket shirt. I don’t think it’s ‘racism’ per se, just a dislike of the unfortunately dominant English language and the way it got there by colonising every available space not taken by the French or Spanish or Portuguese. Still, it is odd that everyone is sloganned up in English yet don’t really like it. I think I might pretend to be Australian. No-one dislikes them. Or Canadian. An Aussie can be a bit lairy. I might go for a New Zealander. New Zealanders aren’t disliked.

We had a mad rush to Les Ecures on Tuesday. Jake hadn’t seen it before. His verdict? “Good!”

The boy likes it. The deal is a good one. He had  a bit of a wander about, although he’s still a bit nervous, which is sweet. He’s a funny lad. He’s banned us from saying ‘ouais’ to everything, since Steve and I say it so much. The boy liked his bedroom, and the attic. He liked the idea of having a bedroom up there, though he wasn’t keen on the spiders. He liked the little house and the garden and the barn and his cabin. It’s all good.

The rest of Tuesday was a rampage through the poly-tunnel to clear out the weeds. The pak choi have gone to seed. The radishes were harvested (though for someone who wanted to plant radishes, Steve ate remarkably few of them) It turns out the timer hasn’t been on best behaviour, so many things had not grown, including the carrots and my melons, which is very upsetting! Some of the herbs are okay, like the dill. The onions and potatoes seem to be okay, though I’m not sure the drought will do them good. The outside potatoes are fine and healthy, though surrounded by weeds. I think we have a few bits of basil and thyme coming up, though I hope they’ve survived the drought. Steve’s tomatoes looked decidedly worse for wear, and his other plants seemed to be okay.

After that, it was more weeding, more unloading, more unpacking.

Steve decided to unpack his bike/man stuff. He has commandeered the mini-grange for his personal use and it is now home to his tools, the bikes, the canoe, the fishing rods, the lawnmower and the wine press. Every thing a man could want. He’s filled the shelves with various aerosols and oils and ‘man’ products, all in a nice row. I, alternatively, went for unpacking my flower arrangements and deciding on the wallpapers for each room. Girls will be girls…

I mowed the lawn, too, on Wednesday. Actually, this took place after it took us three hours to pay a bill. This is my own fault. Firstly, I had £500 in cash. However, I did expect most banks would offer an exchange service, but no. The lady in CA in Mansle was incredibly unhelpful, saying only ‘go to Angouleme’. This was 9:30

I shan’t be getting a bank account with them, then!

Trying to navigate Angouleme in a 7.5 tonne truck… not so easy, it turns out. You can’t park anywhere as it is, but trying to park that was just insane. However, we pulled up (didn’t get a ticket – sorry, Angouleme) and I wandered off to find somewhere to exchange my cash. I ended up in La Poste, with two wonderfully helpful assistants. I think I’ll go for a La Poste account. They seem helpful and state-owned = less focus on profits for the bankers. I did queue for a bit in trepidation, but the lady was lovely.

“La Rochette, ouais, je la sais.. seize cent dix”

Which brings me to another problem. What’s the difference in pronunciation between ‘cent’, ‘son’, ‘sans’ and ‘sont’? Is there one?? It’s highly confusing. How would you say ‘Ils sont sans respecte?’ – all the words sound similar in the middle, like where you have to say ‘he had had’ which sounds weird.

After that, it was a mad dash out of Angouleme – 11:20 at this point, and a race to Chasseneuil to pay the house insurance. We arrived at 12:05, and I was convinced they were shut up for lunch. Luckily not so. I need to get more in stride with this French dinner time malarky. So… in all, round trip of 3 hours to pay a bill. Hmmm. I hope I don’t have to do this too often!

So, early Thursday, it was time to depart. We had lost 2000kg of weight in all kinds of household goods, and we set off back ‘up North’ to Abbeville.

I got to eat at Buffalo Grill, which I had been waiting for for ever. Jake was introduced to the delights of ‘Barbe a Papa’ (Candy floss) which he was a fan of in England, but I think it’s reassured him it’ll be better in France as they still have the same stuff there. He was sugar-giddy for ages.

Steve has been very subdued all this time. I hope he’s just recovering from the journey!

Go Laws! Go Laws! Go Laws! (and Osborne too)

Funny how mostly Osborne meant wallpaper to me…

David Laws is announcing cuts as I type. I like the fact that all civil servants whose salaries are worth more than the PM’s (£142,ooo!) will have to have their salaries approved. No matter what you do, your job is not more important or stressful than the PM’s. Perhaps all private sector business bodies should say the same. I promise here and now that should I earn more than £142,000 I will donate the rest to charitable causes. I’d even give it to the tax-man. Imagine if everyone who earned more than this figure gave even 10% to local charities or schools/hospitals… it’d be amazing. You could actually see what was being done with your money. I know every time I had a pay rise, I donated more… never as much as I could, but always at least 1% of my wage. 1% of £150,000 would be £1,500. You wouldn’t even miss 1%. It’s 10p in every £10. In £100, it’s a single pound. I think we could all afford this. And nothing a civil servant does could be worth more than the PM’s salary. Good on you, David C, for making this point. Honest Dave, you certainly seem to be.

It beggars belief that some people earn so much, especially when it comes from not-for-profit Government. Fair enough in industry or football, to some extent, but when it comes out of the public coffers, they should be accountable.

It’s funny how the Government is little more than a big version of one of us debtors. They spend more on debt interest, according to Osborne, than on defence, transport or the police. As a debtor, I hear this. I know I spend more on interest than I do on clothes. I spend more on debt interest, including my mortgage, than I do on food. If I didn’t have the interest from debts, I’d be able to live off £400 a month. Thus the move to France. Partly. I can afford to live debt-free. Funny how we all strive to be debt-free, but, like Willy Loman, it usually takes us to the end of our lives to afford it.

I’m also glad quangos won’t be able to use first class transport. From Manchester to London, it’s £317.00. I never understood why Wigan Council would rather pay this than let me fly for £60. I don’t think that sweeping irrational act was really worth almost a quarter of a grand. When I was trained as a consultant, my room was £900 for 4 days, to stay in Kensington. Whilst it was lush, I wondered what kind of life I was being welcomed into. The only time I’ve ever stayed in a £200-a-night hotel was there. The Ibis would have been more than adequate, quite frankly!

Looks, too, like local government will be hit. Half a billion of savings to come from them. Good stuff. Having seen the waste at Bury Council, who are notoriously poor, and at Wigan Council, I say good! I like how advisers are appointed…. amalgamate two schools. Give the good teacher the job and send the bad teacher to be the subject adviser for the authority. Let him work his way up the ranks, even though he was never more than a head of Art or Music, and let him tell schools how to operate, whilst spending most of the time in meetings, meetings and meetings, in expensive hotels, all over the country, when a phone conference or video conference would have done. Or a memo.

I think all these cuts are going to my head.

I like that Laws and Cable have got rid of their limos, and Cameron walks the street. I once worked for a head who patrolled constantly; it was the best school I ever worked in. He was a God among head teachers.

I’m seeing a problem with the ‘de-ringfencing’ however… schools are a microcosm of Government… when money wasn’t ringfenced, it was spent on stupid things, like a £40,000 emblem on the hall floor. Ring-fencing it is the only way to ensure councils do what they should with it, rather than financing art centres no-one goes to.

Black swans and Ozymandias


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

I don’t think I could sum up my feelings about the QCDA any better than this. Everything falls. Just because you’re big and mighty doesn’t mean you don’t come to an end.

Putain de merde!

It’s a gorgeous day, and I don’t even have my camera or my phone to document it, and I feel like someone’s removed something non-essential but fairly useful from me, like my little toes or my ears. It’s shit. I want to take loads of pictures and get giddy with the camera, but I can’t and I’m pissed off. What’s worst is that I’ve not heard anything about it and I really, really need to get my phone sorted before I go to France. The camera, too. I’m mega-pissed off!

Really, I wish I could smack that smarmy little lad in the face, with his quasimodo chin and his strange appearance. I WILL find him, no doubt about that. I don’t hold out much hope from the school who think ipods are an important learning accessory (gimmick!) and I can see that head teacher lasting about as long as bout of diarrhoea – he will either do something grossly stupid, like give 800 kids ipods, or he’ll be the new Asian Wunderkind and be poached by the Government. Seeing as we have a Con-Lib government, though, I can’t see it. On the one hand, being deprived of methods of communication and recording are irritating, believe me, there is some good news in the papers today…

My new favourite Government abolished several quangos yesterday, and, joy of joys, the QCDA was one of them, according to the Sunday Times. The QCDA, previously QCA – the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority – are the people who accused me of breaching security in a test they release into the public 4 weeks before its due to be taken – a test so profoundly difficult that I only ever scored 29/32, a group who employed an ex Met Police officer to head up security, and allowed him to ride roughshod through schools who quake because they cannot say anything. They acted with total impunity, as if they were above the law, and in a way, they were. They were policed by nobody. They answered to nobody. They could force schools to discipline members of staff with no evidence, whilst wasting £17,000,000 on tests that were largely useless at KS3. In the 15 years I taught, under a Labour government for 13 of them, the curriculum became more and more prescriptive, less and less engaging and less and less useful. Yes, teachers in English, Maths and Science had to teach set aspects (although Mr ex-Met seemed to be of the opinion we should not ‘teach to the tests’ despite all the pressure from league tables, Ofsted and schools to do so) and the other subjects carried on regardless. We have a set curriculum and it is monitored. Therefore the tests were redundant as a way of ensuring we had key-stage-stepping-stones. Still, they harped on about their accuracy. I marked Stratford-on-Avon Grammar School for  Boys’ papers in 2003 (?!)  – and what can you do to me now, Edexcel or QCA or DfSCF or NCA, for revealing this information online??! And despite the obvious talent of the boys, they still didn’t get 18/18 on the Shakespeare paper. How can this be? A fee-paying school in the town which is virtually ‘Shakespeare-World’ and even they can’t get 18/18??! I was an A grade marker. I marked according to the mark scheme. I was agreed with by the DMPL (deputy marking programme leader) and yet they still couldn’t reach the highest marks. And if they can’t, who can??

So… what felt horrendous at the time, walking out of a job because of the absolute lawlessness of QCA (who destroyed the evidence, by the way, that would exonerate me! It’s a bit hard NOT to notice if 280 kids have ‘cheated’, so let’s get rid of the papers so they can never be looked at and agreed they are fair assessments of individuality!) Answer me this, too: if 280 kids get all the answers right in a Singapore school on a maths paper, they’re seen as talented at maths. If 10 kids get most answers right in Wigan on an English paper, it must be ‘cheating’ – if indeed that’s what happened – who knows??! … yes, what felt horrendous at the time has now left me vindicated. They are a waste of taxpayers’ money and good on the Government for getting rid. Hurrah! In fact, now, I was questioned by two organisations who thought they were almighty, and now they don’t exist. “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair. Nothing besides remains.”

Becta will also go. Big pointless load of nonsense. I hope the Specialist Schools Trust also goes, after the colossal expense of that shite event I had the misfortune to present at. Aimless, objectiveless, pointless. 300 people wasted a day. At the time, I thought it was me – that I was out of touch. But looking at it, it was worse organised than a church fete organised by village idiots and hiring the Emirates Stadium as a big flashy venue was an utter waste of money. I know people will lose jobs, and that’s sad, but these are people who think its fine to take teachers out of school to tell them they’re shit and then subject them to three days of endless repetitive drivel. It was embarrassing.

So… here’s to Cam-Clegg and all the fat-trimming they may need to do!