Tag Archives: England

Much Love Monday

It wouldn’t be a good thing if I didn’t have Much Love for the Olympics. Today’s track is ‘Stir It Up’ by Bob Marley which is Olympic on two counts. First, because it’s from my favourite happy movie ever – Cool Runnings  – and secondly because I thought that the Men’s 100 metres – surely the pinnacle of the Olympics – would be a green, red and yellow 1, 2 and 3. Sadly not to be.

I don’t have a television that’s connected to anything, so if it’s not on Youtube or on a French catch-up site, on DVD or on download, I don’t get to watch it unless I go to someone’s house. This is good because it’s approximately 2 years since I saw an advert, and that’s never a bad thing. However, yesterday, I spent a good eight hours watching events, I’m sure of it.

First, Super Saturday with gold medals for loads of Team GB. For a small country, we don’t do badly. No, we don’t have a population the size of the USA, and send hundreds of competitors. Nor do we have the rigour and drilling of China, and nor would we. What I love most is that ALL of the Team GB Olympians are such lovely, genuinely nice people that you really think they’re so deserving. It’s nice to see so many lovely, lovely people on screen, all being rewarded for their efforts, determination, commitment and talent.

Greg Rutherford, the gold medal-winning long jumper kind of sums up what’s great about Team GB. He’s genuine, humble and sincere. He’s the same kind of modest guy that filled the 2003 William Webb Ellis Cup-winning England Rugby squad.

From Mo Farah, the Somali-born 10,000 metre champion to Jessica Ennis, the gold-winning heptathlete, from Bradley Wiggins to Ben Ainslie, Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton… and nine other gold winners, nineteen other medal winners… it’s just amazing.  Andy Murray beats Roger Federer, finishing with a wonderful double ace to win in three straight sets… sailing, canoeing, cycling, swimming, diving, gymnastics… it’s just phenomenal. 541 athletes were selected to take part, and not a one is anything but a genuinely dedicated and sincere sportsperson. Compare that to football, where from England’s current 11, 5 of them are usually thugs of some kind or another, over-paid, aggressive philanderers who never have really got what it is to represent your country. The Olympics is a massive sea-change.

This is not before time. This time last year, riots tore apart cities and communities as bored and under-policed youths destroyed their home towns. This year, we’ve had jubilees and Olympics to bring Great Britain back together. Seeing everyone who’s turned out on the streets to see the cycling, the women’s marathon, the 80,000 people watching athletics last night… all the people watching it at home… it’s amazing. I hope a little bit of that pride, that sense of achievement, the sense of something wonderful happening, stays with every single person. It’s not just about the UK, either. I was getting as agitated over the Women’s Marathon as I was over Andy Murray, as excited about the potential for three Jamaican medals in the 100 m. It’s quite something that out of 8 runners, one of whom ran with an injury, there were 3 personal bests. Had it not been for Asafa Powell’s injury, that would have been the first 100m race ever where all 8 competitors would have finished under 10s. Absolutely Amazing

And you might not be into sports. Watching two hours of tennis might be torture for you. You might think it’s all a bit pointless to hang from the pommel horse or be able to do a backflip. But you can’t argue with the fact that this is where grit and determination, steel nerves and passion, commitment and enthusiasm all come together under one roof, and just for a moment, black and white, male and female, rich and poor, Muslim or Christian, they don’t matter. For a small period of time, we rise above ourselves and forget all the petty bureaucracy, the fighting, the arguing, the battles, the wars. We unite against bullies (as any of you on twitter will have seen with the idiot who tried to harass Tom Daley) and collective good triumphs. You can be the Queen’s grand-daughter, or you can be a refugee from a war-torn country, and there really is a level playing field. I think that’s a pretty great thing.

Nothing makes a Monday better than that.

Oh England, my England!

There’s a debate in The Sun today about the moves to make St George’s Day a bank holiday. This would be great for several reasons. One is that it’s my bother-in-law’s birthday and he would quite like a bank holiday. Second is that it’s also the accepted date for Shakespeare’s birthday. But third, more importantly than these, is that it would allow people to be ‘English’ for a day.

Now don’t get me wrong: I like being attached to Scotland and Wales. That’s fine. But they have their own patron saint days and everybody, but everybody, celebrates them. Daffodils and Leeks. Thistles or whatever it is Scottish people have. Nobody would be embarrassed to go to Burns’ Nights celebrations. On Anglo-Info, there was a whole thread of people admitting their Welshness in time for St David’s Day. But to wear a red rose on St George’s Day, or – heaven forbid – to sport the England flag, would be seen now as tantamount to racism. Our flag has become a symbol of racists and a symbol of nationalists and every negative quality they stand for. Unfortunately, if I put a flag up, I become a bigot, a person who thinks England should be elite. Or else it’s a major sports season and I’m allowed.

It’s embarrassing to be ‘English’. It’s like admitting to years of enslaving people, colonialism, unscrupulous expansion and brutality. I feel like we should have a badge saying ‘Sorry’ if I admit I’m English. In fact, I can’t even say ‘English’ on my passport. I have to say ‘British’. I feel the weight of history, for the Unionisation between England and Scotland, the ceding of Northern Ireland, tyranny in Ireland… it’s not done to remember amazing British history. It’s not done to be proud of standing up to Fascism and Nazism and how hard we fight for justice and ‘good’.

The thing is, I think in all the Jeremy Kyle type people, the scroungers, the jobs-worths, the ‘entitled’ and disrespectful ‘yoof’ – the Karen Matthews of the world, the mealy-mouthed social workers in Haringey, the miserable pram-faced girls with their assorted offspring from several different fathers, it’s easy to forget the majority. The majority of English people are great. We’re hard-working and we’re honest.

I didn’t vote for David Cameron, but I think he’s gaining power because he seems honest. Seems. He seems sincere. And Nick Clegg? His sincerity seems now as thin as Tony Blair’s. We actually expect people to be honest. Except footballers. We expect them to be dishonest, lying, drug-taking cheats. You know what I think kept people going through the Second World War? The fact that we believe in Good and we believe in Freedom. And mostly, I think that we’re like this.

For example, there are many unscrupulous leaders now being taken by storm by uprisings across the world. Good. But do you know what? This wouldn’t need to happen in England – because we expect our politicians – naively perhaps – to be honest. We might not riot, but Tony Blair, David Chaytor and so on – they all know how the public feel about dishonesty. Americans were cynical about WMD and a lot of Americans I know say they weren’t at all surprised that Saddam didn’t have WMD. I think the English were. I think the first time we went into the Gulf, over Kuwait, it might have been about oil to Americans, but to us, it was about fairness. It’s just not cricket.

And we trusted Blair. Foolishly. As The Jam said, “you choose your leaders and place your trust…” – it’s so true. We really do. And yes, we’re disappointed from time to time. But in all the expenses scandal, we actually had three politicians punished. That’s fair. In Italy, you only have to look at Berlusconi to know that this just wouldn’t happen. You can be as corrupt as you like. In France, Jacques Chirac is in court on corruption charges, but it’s taken 15 years to get here.

In France, you are expected to be, above all, French first. The true meaning of a secular nation. You can be whatever else you like too – French-Algerian, French-Moroccan, French-Muslim, French-African, but you are French. You learn about France in school and have a very Francocentric view of the world. You must speak the language and adhere to 200 year old laws. Religion isn’t taught in state schools, and no one, but no one would think to say that the French flag is a racist thing, despite Marine Le Pen trying to claim the colours as such. Every mairie, every important building, they all have the French flag outside of it and are proud to do so. Where is the England flag on our buildings? Sure we have the bastardised Union Jack, but it’s not English. For one day of the year, it would be nice to reclaim that flag and celebrate a bit of England.

So I’d love it if we could have a day of being English. I’d love it if that didn’t mean nationalism. I’d love it if the 80% of the English public would rise up and be proud of our bad teeth, our regionalisms, our language, our culture, our heritage. We dragged this world kicking and screaming from Feudalism to Industrialism to Commercialism and we should be proud of that. In England, you are free to be what you choose, free to vote, free to say and do what you want. I’m proud of our loyalty, our inherent belief in honesty, our moral stance.

When Rupert Brooke wrote ‘If I should die, think only this of me/that there is a corner of some foreign field that is forever England’, he meant those values we are inherently – never mind the rodenty sub-species that fills our newspapers – we are brave, we are honest, we are upright, we know Good. We love our country.

Now you might think this is a little rich coming from a girl who lives in France. Well, I’m sick of the usual flag-wielders, and I’m sick of the Jeremy Kyle people. I’m sick of the ‘so unfair’ generation who expect the world to owe them a living before they have even fought for their place in it. I love England and being English. I never want to be anything else. I love France too – but if we’d had the weather, the property prices, the space, the houses, I’d still be there. I’m tired of the rain. I think the sun should shine for one day in England, and that it should be St George’s Day, when we kick people like this into touch. If you live in England, it should be England first, everything else second. And shouldn’t we have a day to celebrate that?

St Paddy’s Day is celebrated across the world. On March 17th, Irish green abounds around the globe, wherever there are Irish communities. Sure, it might be more about Guinness than about repelling all the snakes, or whatever he did. But if the Irish are about community and celebration and singing ‘Oh Danny Boy’, then so be it. Nobody is embarrassed to be Irish.

I wish we felt the same about being English. And before you say we do: our Government doesn’t. Otherwise, it’d be a day off for all its loyal subjects. Shame it takes Dr John Sentamu, a British Ugandan, to say that. See. British first.

It’s the little differences…

Recently, some posts from back home, particularly to do with Essa Academy, the school which the muggers attended, have been popping up on my ‘people found your blog who searched for…’ – and recently, Essa Academy Deputy Head, or She-who-is-too-busy-to-deal-with-violent-robbery. It makes me wonder what I’m going back to in November.

There are many ways rural life changes you, and many ways France changes you – here are some of the ways!

1. There isn’t the ever-present McDonald’s everywhere. In fact, one of the McDonald’s in Angouleme shut for lack of business. I don’t have to deal with Jake’s constant requests for a Chicken Select meal every time we drive down the dual carriageway. In fact, fast food is a no-go in general. Sure, I still stick a pizza in, but it’s always home-made. I’m sure Steve used to have takeaway pizza at least once a week. Jake saw a sign for a pizzeria yesterday – see, ‘see-it, want-it’ – it reminds me of that episode of Malcolm in the Middle where Dewey watches an advert with a blue cuddly toy on it which speaks to him personally and was a class satire about the power of advertising on children. He got giddy about pizza and then forgot about it by the time we got to the petrol station. Such is life in France. In England, there’s McDonald’s hovering on the periphery of every child’s consciousness all the time. Here, our nearest McDo is 20 minutes’ drive away, at the back of a car park, and the one time we went, it was so bad that we never bothered again. Now, I’ve got Jake eating some food that’s the same as ours – he’ll happily eat mash and jacket potatoes alongside chips, which he wouldn’t a year ago, unless it was pre-packaged. Bolagnaise, chicken in sweet and sour sauce, meat pie… the boy is a changed man. And no pining for McDo every time you drive past.

2. Pre-packaged stuff in the supermarket looks very plastic. It probably does in England, but here, it looks SOOO unappetising. Like it was deliberately designed to put you off. In the supermarket, we have 4 freezer rows. One has ice-creams and sweet stuff; the second has frozen veg and chips; the other has meat and fish. The final is mostly made up with pizza, a few frozen rice dishes and a few quiches. None of these endless rows of pre-pack, frozen chicken in batter, or fish in batter, or Aunt Bessie’s *though I confess I miss Aunt Bessie’s yorkshire puddings very much*. If you want it, cook it yourself.

3. Things that are oddly missing. Frozen or fresh sweetcorn. Weird. Canned, fine. Fresh, No. Chillis with more punch than an old women’s bitch fight = non-existent. Things that are weirdly expensive: raisins (in this land of grapes!) sultanas, oats. Clothes. You get used to planning to grow your own ‘weird’ veg that nobody wants, or making do without. No flapjacks for us.

4. The sad loss of English cheese. In England, cheese rules. Japanese people think British people smell like sour milk, and it’s probably all the cheese we eat. We have a range of fantastic hard cheeses, crumbly cheeses and soft cheeses – some of which are worth export, beyond cheddar, surely? Red Leicester, for one, perfect melted. Double Gloucester, your perfect cheese-and-tomato-sandwich cheese. Lancashire, acid and flaky. Caerphilly. Stilton. In a British supermarket, you can buy Italian cheese, French and Swiss cheese, Austrian cheese, Spanish cheese – and the full complement of British cheeses to boot. Yes, there’s a lot of Cheddar, but you can buy at least 5 Italian cheeses, Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, Gruyere, Emmenthal, Edam, Jarlsberg… it’s a smorgasbord of cheese. In France, you can buy rows of Camembert and Brie, goat’s cheese, a bit of Comte or Gruyere – and stuff you if you want to buy anything else! You can find a few packets of Italian cheese hidden away, but they just don’t do hard cheese like ours. English supermarkets are a whole lot more cosmopolitan, as are our eating tastes. You have to ‘go French’ if you move here. And mostly that’s not a bad thing, but sometimes, it’s imbecilic that they don’t import the best, most yummy stuff from other countries. National pride in your cuisine is one thing; failing to accept other countries have something to offer is another.

5. The TV is less pride of place than it was. We watch DVDs a lot (having worked our way through series 1-8 of 24) but it’s not constantly on. I don’t miss it. I want to watch French t.v. to learn the language, but other than that, I can’t see I’ll ever be connected.

6. Instant coffee is a big no-no. It’s on a shelf with chicory coffee. It’s almost like it’s not coffee at all. In fact, it makes me wonder, how the hell do they make it so it dissolves??! Weird! It frightens me a bit now I think about it. No Alta Rica to be found here.

7. All French houses have a coffee pot (that I’ve seen, anyway!) or a stove-pot. You have to have proper coffee, with coffee beans, or at least ground coffee. Not instant.

8. Your ‘vie quotidienne’ (daily life) is very different. School being only 4 days gives you a different rhythm to life. It’s like a mini-weekend. Jake is much less tired and seems to enjoy school more. Also, everything other than Leclerc shuts down at lunch. You can’t just nip to the bank or post office in your lunch time. If you aren’t ensconced in a café, you aren’t out. There’s no point. You have to plan ahead more, too, deciding on Friday what you’re eating on Sunday and Monday – since you won’t be getting to the supermarket. Even the giant Casino supermarket shuts on Sundays. And some places are shut on Mondays, too. In fact, plan on stuff being open for a couple of hours a week either side of lunch and you’re about right.

9. Plan to get your petrol or use a credit card (not at the moment, anyway!) since petrol stations shut too, apart from the 24/7 credit card pumps. And they shut for lunch. And a lunch time shut means up to three hours. Right when you might want to go somewhere. I’ve seen people pull in at 12:01 and still be sitting there at 2:59.

10. You have to get used to not only French numbers, which for me are a hundred times more difficult than actual words. I can learn words. I can remember fosse septique and plinthes and portail. I can say je voudrais deposer deux cheques, s’il vous plait, but it took me an awful long time to learn my postcode (seize cent dix) and I’m still a long way off with our phone number. I can do the zero-cinq quatre-cinq easily enough, but then I get mixed up. And why would 16110 be sixteen-a hundred and ten? Why is it four-five in my phone number, and then sixty-five? Why not forty-five, sixty-five, or four-five-six-five? What’s with mixing the tens with the units?! And how do you know until someone says?! I still can’t remember my birth date (quinze – always escapes me) and you don’t say ‘the fifteenth of December’ you say, ‘fifteen December’ literally speaking. What’s with that?! I’m yet to master my year of birth. We do nice ‘nineteen-sixty’ tens blocks. In France, it just as well might be one-nine hundred-and-sixty, or a-hundred-and-ninety-six-zero or something weird. 2010 is easy enough – deux mille dix, but numbers before the millennium scare me. As do times. The 24 hour clock is in full swing here, and it’s bad enough not being able to remember what falls between douze and dix-huit when pushed, but when you then have to deal with ‘is quatorze heures’ two o’clock? I instantly think 14 must be four o’clock. The man in the bank looked alarmed when he said three o’clock and I wrote down five o’clock. Bloody numbers!!!

It’s the little differences, as Vincent Vega would say.

Into the final stages…

I had a question from a friend on Facebook about the pet passports, and I have to say she was horrified by the expense. If I were of a less sentimental nature, I’d go with the ‘drown them…’ approach! Although it’s not a concern if you’re just taking pets out and staying out in France, it’s a dear do if you want to bring them back.

First, your dearest animal needs to be chipped. For the Molly, this is a good thing. She likes to escape from time to time and take herself for a walk. But she’s not particularly bright and forgets to come home. For the Basil, this is a bad thing. It’s hard to be incognito and ‘ownerless’ if you have a chip. In true net-geek speak, he is pwned good and proper. I own him. It says so in his passport. He has an address. He’s no longer the cat equivalent of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. He has a home and family. The chip can be anywhere from £10 upwards.

Then, your dear animal needs to have a rabies vaccination. This isn’t that dear compared to the blood test. Our jab cost about £35 if I recall rightly. There’s some info out there on the net that says they need a booster 2 weeks later. Not as far as I know. The booster for our animals will be in three years time. I guess the second shot is just to check it’s worked… but given the expense of the initial shot, a second one seems a bit of a waste of £35 unless you really need it!

Then, 2 weeks after, you need a blood test to see if it’s worked. I guess, otherwise, you have a rabid pet?! This was the dear do… cost £70 each blood test. You can only get back into England 6 months after a clear rabies test, and they can be pretty funny about whether that’s 6 calendar months or some other calculation they’ve worked out. I’d play it safe and ensure it’s done 7 months before you’ll be bringing your pet back. You don’t want the poor little fella sitting in quarantine for a week just because some narky official has decided that it should be 6 months of 31 days or something bizarre.

Dogs also need to have their usual annual booster shots too (ours are £28. I don’t know if that’s dear or cheap, but I love our vet and I’d pay him twice as much as anyone else!)

Then, the passport itself is £40.

So… from start to finish, you’re looking at about £150 minimum. Per pet.

If you take them out to France on Eurotunnel, you don’t pay for the animal. The lovely Eurotunnel lady said we only had to keep the pets comfortable and happy – it’s their only requirement on the way out.

It’s on the way back in where it starts to get stringent! Then you need all sorts of treatments to get back in, in order to ensure there are no parasites, blood-suckers, pests and so on. I wonder why they let Mariah Carey’s entourage in with her? Maybe she should be de-loused before arrival? This goes for any number of foreign (American!) singers/actors with an accompanying cast of thousands, needless to say.

I must say, I like the little passports. They are lovely. I’m going to put pictures of Basil and Molly in the front of them (There’s a space – it’d be rude not to!) and then they are as good as people.

Given that their passport is more expensive than ours and that the most I ever paid for a jab was £33 for my yellow fever jab (LJ – Yellow Fever free since 2003) they are actually better than people. Or, more expensive anyway. Thank God Jake’s jabs are free, or else we’d be leaving him at home.

I jest. His passport is also up for renewal. This is a good thing. His previous passport picture, taken aged 5, makes him look a little …. hmmm…. simple. He’s staring at the camera with his mouth open and his dad has unfortunately given him a very nasty bowl haircut. Unfortunate. Steve looks like a criminal in his. I had a Mona Lisa smile in mine until it was renewed this year (and I have huge hair on this one, and a double chin!) so…. I need to make Molly and Basil look suitably ‘prison line-up’ ish.

To the left
To the right
and to the front

I did enter this picture on my Icanhascheezburger page. My favourite caption for it was:

“You is dismissed. I has finished with you. I has bizness to attend to.”

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.

Boo hiss to United Utilities

You know I am a fan of illogical, irrational business practices in that they give me something to rant about. United Utilities have been providing that for the last month. I got a letter today to say they owe me £1122.28. Yes. Over a grand.

I thought it was just £322.28 they owed me until my phone call to them on Tuesday, which was answered by a pensioner-sounding lady. A tad bizarre in itself.

Me: Hello. I’m £322.28 in credit. Can you pay it back, please

*British Gas owed me a bit of cash, and they paid up. I was expecting a similar service.

BW: Well, it’s not that simple.

Me: Why?

BW: well, the meter reading was wrong.

Me: was it?

BW: yes. It says 630. And that can’t be right. You used up to 930 last year.

Me: oh, I’ll go and check.

Having ferreted about under the sink for 10 minutes, I return. It says 631.

Me: it says 631.

BW: oh.

Me: So when can you refund me?

BW: we can’t. We have to verify that your meter isn’t faulty.

Me: ok. When can you do that?

BW: how about 2nd August?

Me: NOT A CHANCE! As soon as possible please. I need the money (Steve is trapped in France til I find £70.00 to get him home)

BW: Well, we’ve got the 14th July in the morning.

Me: Have you nothing sooner? Plus, that’s unhelpful. I can’t be here from 8 to 12 – I have to take a child to school.

BW: We do two hour slots.

Me: OK. When?

BW: 2nd August.

Me: Yeah, that’s not going to work, is it??

BW: how about an afternoon?

Me: well, fine.

BW: it could be between 12 and 6.

Me: that’s ridiculous, but if it means I’ll get my money back, I’ll get a sitter and make sure I’m in. Will you be able to refund it straight away.

BW: well, no. Any amount over £100 has to be refunded by cheque, which takes 2 weeks to print and then a week to clear.

Me: ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

What I should have said next:

THAT IS UTTERLY RIDICULOUS. MANY PLACES DON’T TAKE CHEQUES THESE DAYS. I DON’T BELIEVE YOU HAVE GOOD CREDIT. HOW DO I TRUST IT WON’T BOUNCE? YOU TAKE IT OUT OF MY BANK ACCOUNT, SO YOU CAN DAMN WELL PUT IT STRAIGHT BACK IN THERE.

What I actually said.

Me: That’s ridiculous. I need that money. It’s my money. I can’t pay my bills and you’re sitting on £300. It’s mine. Why can’t you put it back into my account?

BW: it’s not how we operate.

Me: I want to make a complaint.

BW: oh, you can’t do that. I have to notify my supervisor and they’ll call you back within 24 hours.

Me: really? Well, do that then. You have my numbers right?

BW: checks them Yes, they’re right.

Three days later, I’m still waiting for the call. I cancelled my direct debit (which was also the reason British Gas owed me £200) and I will pay over the counter. Rip off merchants! Direct Debits give them a licence to do whatever they please.

Subsequently, I got a letter to say they actually owe me £1122.28. Not the original figure. Disgraceful!!!

I reckon I’ve been paying so much for my water I might as well have been bathing in Evian, cooking in Volvic and showering in Buxton water.

I wonder how many days it will take for them to give me my money back?

I’m guessing because they’re a one-man operator, they can do what they like.

Going faster than a roller coaster

Steve’s back off to France today, carrying a bottle of Pimm’s for our neighbours who are picking him up. Thus begins the end of our time in England. He’ll never be here for more than a week, now, God willing. I’ve got Jake with me, in his last two weeks of school in England, wondering if we’ve heard anything about where he’ll be in September. I can’t help thinking it’d be a whole lot easier to teach him myself! I’d really enjoy that. Not sure he would, though!! Plus, he’d end up lonely and friendless. We overlook the role of school in socialising.

PGL 1984

I went to 3 primary schools, spending the most of my time at Lowercroft CP. In my class, there were only 10 girls out of a class of thirty, and you might have thought that the addition of one more would have made it odd. Not so. I can’t remember any girl I didn’t spend time with, or anyone who excluded me, even though I was the last to join the group. Vicky, Sarah, Sandra, Lisa, Nicky, me, Caroline, Dawn, Joanne and Suzanne: I spent time at all of their houses, can still remember where they all live, and it was only secondary school that split us up. Sandra, Lisa and I went to the grammar school, Vicky went to a grammar school in Bolton and the rest of the girls went to Elton. Of all of them, I was closest to Nicky, perhaps because we were similar in nature, and we even looked a little alike, with our long brown pony tails. I think we all had a wonderful time at primary school, and I certainly don’t remember any rivalries. I wish I still had that set of friends.

At Secondary, hormones kicked in, and friendships changed. Initially, I spent time with Sandra and a girl called Katherine, who was probably most like the 11 year old me – a little nerdy, a little out of place. I knew I wasn’t a nerd, like some of the girls, but very soon, I was part of the Holcombe Brook hardcore – girls who knew each other before, travelled together and were good friends already: Emma, Pam, Janet, Michelle and Susan. Friendships cut and changed, and one day I will publish some of my diary entries about these times, but not just yet – they’re a little too close to the bone, still! I was still the social butterfly, even then, when firmer friendships were being formed. Angela and Julie would let me hang around with them. Anna, Laura and Helen would do the same. I went to my first gig with Helen, uber-cool Helen, who is now a head of programming at ITV – we went to see Bjork in the Sugarcubes at Manchester Uni Student Union. I was 13 and it was about the coolest 13 year old behaviour I know!

Helen and Anna London 1988

I went to the pub with Angela first, as she had access to my first major league crush on Daniel Showman (now, unfortunately, not the dark-haired, doe-eyed beauty with the olive skin I fell in love with as a 13 year old) and we had many sleepovers and drunken nights about.

Liz and Angela - London 1988

I think sometimes the in-fighting and best-friend-swapping got to me, a bit. I used to pine for the company of Anna and Laura, who were the people who kept in touch with me when I went to uni. I’ve lost touch with Laura now, which is a massive shame. We had epic letters back and forth when she was at Oxford. I miss her sharp humour and self-depreciation. Laura rocked more than any one I met. Anna and Laura were some cool girls, and no mistake!

When we’re advised not to worry about how we look as teenagers, I think that just about sums it up for me: we were cool indie-chick girls who didn’t care. I was lucky to be allowed to flit from group to group, and what I missed out on in terms of deep bonds, I made up for in being able to connect with many different groups. I looked back at my time at secondary school as if it were miserable and bitchy, but in fact, it ruled! I had good friends (those who never made it to my diary entries) although I seemed to be preoccupied with the bitches. It wasn’t til sixth form that I managed to get away from that preoccupation!

Big-up my school times with Anna and Laura, Liz, Angela and Julie… girls who knew there was more to life than bitching!

Laura, who introduced me to Depeche Mode and David Byrne; Anna who introduced me to early David Bowie: these were the girls who defined my musical tastes for years and years. Even when, as a little mosher, I liked Metallica, it was always good to know they stole ‘leper messiah’ as a lyric from Bowie. It was always cool to like Bowie!

I hope Jake ends up with the kind of friends I did. I hope France will bring him the kind of innocent friendship you can’t seem to find in England these days, when all that matters are iphones and PSPs and Nike trainers and Reebok tracksuits, and wearing £50 football shirts. I know that ET jumper I’m wearing on the PGL photo was dirt cheap from Bury market, but I loved it. I know we were poor back then, but all the girls – all of us – are wearing cheap, functional clothes, with the nod to Mr T and ET. I wish Jake at 10 was so un-bothered by fashion as we were!!

And cue flounce

Oh how I long to be in France. The shit is still hitting the fan, ESSA-wise. I had a visit from the deputy head (finally! It’s only a month since it happened!) which was mainly prompted by my calling the papers. Amazing how quickly things move when the press are involved.

The deputy head, Sandy Reid, was mostly bothered about damage to the school reputation. She wasn’t bothered about me, my safety, my story, my losses. She was bothered about the good kids getting tarred with the same brush. Not that that’s true. The story will be page 7 or so, with a small little column. It’s local news in a local paper. It’s got a small readership of people who mostly are elderly. But at least it’s public. I don’t care about the phone or camera any more. I just want justice. And if that’s justice-by-media, so be it. In many ways, that’s way more damning than actual justice. I don’t agree with it. But if the law won’t help, then what’s the way forward? If the school don’t take some responsibility, fair enough, but it’s not a good sign. I don’t know why communications failed so badly. I do know the school didn’t contact me between the 8th and the 17th June. That’s not good enough for me. It’s a month since it happened and they were just dragging their feet even more.

It did make me realise I’m a total flouncer. I like to flounce out of jobs. I’ve flounced out of three so far. I didn’t use to flounce in my early life. I flounced out of a Topshop job on behalf of my sister. I can’t remember why, but it involved me going into Topshop in Bury and throwing a dress back at them and saying my sister wouldn’t be working there any more. I gave up each of my jobs with a little sadness: greengrocers, milk-rounds, kitchen jobs, waiting on, pub jobs. I even gave up my first teaching job with sadness. Not so much after that.

My second teaching post, when the deputy asked me if I was jealous of a newly qualified teacher, after a stand-up row for 4 hours, I laughed. I told her she’d have my notice on Monday. She did. I had a new job three weeks later.

I moved then to a council job. When the shit hit the fan with an incompetent old bitch who tutted publicly in meetings when I spoke, cornered me in empty offices to give me ‘a piece of her mind’ and called me ‘young lady’, we were offered mediation. I accepted. She refused. Wigan did nothing to enforce better behaviour, so they had my notice a week later. I had a job two weeks after that. I move quickly!

Finally, when the third school I was in did not support me during some scandalous gossip and name-calling, I walked. I really flounced. I stormed off, giving the head of education in the local council a massive sounding-off about judging me a cheat when he was the one shagging a maths consultant on a pool table a few months before. I did the whole ‘How dare you judge me!’ speech. I told the deputy off for having no backbone and told them they’d have my resignation. They did.

At that point, I decided to work for myself. Why not? I’m reliable, efficient, honest, hard-working and loyal. I have done okay. I could have done better, but then I haven’t really been bothered. Plus, I’ve had 3 years of shit hanging over me which I needed to deal with. I needed a bit of early retirement and life and priority-adjusting.

Then, the council and the country start getting shirty with me, so I’m off-ski. Cue massive flounce, as LJ sticks out her tongue, puts a thumb to nose to ridicule Bolton and does a great big raspberry.

J’en ai ras le bol #4: encore une fois.

Some fucker has dinted my car and driven off. There’s a fuck-off big dint in it and I’m major pissed off. My car was keyed last year and has a good few other knocks as well, but this is huge. This is a real dent. You couldn’t NOT know you’ve done it. I can’t believe my car alarm didn’t go off. What’s worse is that no-one stopped to say they’d done it, which is horrible. Accidents happen, but not to take responsibility… that disgusts me.

A couple of years ago, I ran into a car parked behind me. I was in a rush. I hadn’t eaten. I was in a right stress. I should have looked, and, to be honest, they should have thought more about parking there, but it was my fault. I went and told them. It was no big deal and we sorted it out. It actually did more damage to my car than theirs. That’s just grown-up, adult behaviour.

Since then, I’ve had a car bump me and then not want to give insurance details until I forced the issue by calling the police. I couldn’t believe they were arguing the toss about handing over insurance details. It’s the law. It was pointless to get into it. The police came and sorted it in two minutes, but her attitude was appalling. She was going too fast round a blind bend with no lights on in the snow at 8:00 in the morning. She couldn’t stop and drifted into me. Totally irresponsible, and then not taking the blame afterwards.

Some twat keyed my and Steve’s cars last year and didn’t think twice about it.

Then that loser who cut me up then developed a scouse accent to yell at me because I had the temerity to take a photo of his car. I won that argument just by laughing at his fake scouse accent and inviting him to have a shot. I hate men who are taller, wider and more aggressive just getting in my space and trying to intimidate me. I just kept walking in to him and forcing him back, inviting him to have a shot at me. Twat. Why would you bother developing a scouse accent for a street row? Did he think it would scare me??!

I fucking hate people!!!!!

Sometimes, I know I’m lucky I don’t have a gun to hand because I escalate so quickly, think later, talk first. I know it’s not good and I get into situations I shouldn’t, but then I also think (when I do think about it afterwards!!) that I have the right to tell people that they’re knob-heads or to protect my property from swarms of youths. I only get into it if they start something and don’t act with morality, sanity or respect. There’s a level of selfishness in this world that I can’t stand.

And… I commented yesterday on the pointlessness of landlines, since the only person who rings me on it is my Nana. Other than that, it’s cold callers. They get a two-fingered salute from me as well.

What really pisses me off is that you can say ‘no’ in five ways and they still don’t get it. Today I had one from some health and safety initiative charging £99 to come and look at my electrics. *She managed to get that in before I’d said fuck off*

No matter how many times you tell them you’re a sole trader, they don’t care. There is no point having a land-line these days, since the only people who ring it are ringing for some kind of cold call. Grrrr. The sooner they’re banned, the better.