28 March 2010

Good morning to you all on a somewhat dull day in beautiful, downtown Byfield although it’s difficult to judge at this early stage what sort of day it will develop into. It could be nice and sunny; it could stay grey and dreary. For all the discussion last weekend about Spring being ready to “burst” upon us like an atomic explosion, we are still waiting. While it’s not reverted to freezing temperatures, snow and gales (yet), we’re certainly not baking in delightfully warm or sunny temperatures; cool, overcast and decidedly dull. One can see that everything is aching to burst forth but so far most of nature seems to be keeping its head down waiting to see if the forecasters really have got something right this time. We’ll let you know but the outlook for the next week is not particularly promising; I was informed by Ms Playchute that the coming week is indeed going to revert to its formerly frigid status and the woolly jumpers, long underwear, overcoats and gloves will not get consigned to the winter storage facilities (i.e., the hooks underneath all the other stuff) for some time to come, it seems.

How do you face life’s little dilemmas, such as the one which confronted me recently? Yesterday evening Ms Playchute produced a feast of outstanding quality (and before I get myself into trouble, her feasts are always of outstanding quality). The dilemma? Which part of the banquet to eat first and which to save and savour until the end? Naturally, the carrots were dispatched first; one clearly has to get rid of such less than delightful plate-fillers before tackling the main course. Pork, roast potatoes, spinach & parmesan cakes, sausage meat stuffing, gravy and mushrooms and crisp crackling. Now, you tell me, which would you eat first and which would you save ‘til the end? And, what would be the last mouthful? Are you like me? Once you dispatch the carrots and other less desirable root crops (apart from potatoes, of course), divide the rest up into more or less equal portions deciding, as you work your way through the masterpiece, which combination to savour for the last mouthful? Or, do you work your way through each ingredient until the only remaining mouthful is your favourite?

Just for the record, my last mouthful consisted of a mixture of stuffing, potato, gravy, mushroom; the last morsel of pork had been dispatched in the previous mouthful.

The great excitement this week (for me, at least; Penny would just as soon watch paint dry) was the arrival of a new desktop computer. I can certainly sympathise with Pam’s message in the week about waiting three days for the computer to get to a state where one can actually do something. The one I have been using I’ve had for about eight years, I think, and although it is still going strong (luckily) I need to be able to do the sort of work I do for schools now a days, considerably more quickly. Actually, having said that, I don’t know why. If the computer is slow I get more opportunities to lean back in my chair and spend a happy few moments in an idle day dream. What was I thinking??!!

Having eight years of “stuff” on the old computer means that I’ve probably got about eight years worth of wading through everything before I determine what needs transferring to the new computer and what can happily be discarded. It’s so easy just to copy everything across but I am determined to resist that temptation and keep the new computer relatively clean. So, the old one is still chuntering away on the corner of the desk and every so often I realise that it has something I need and, at that point, we copy it across the network. This one is sweet, I have to say, and I am grateful to the boys for providing excellent technical advice in helping me to decide which one I should purchase. So far, so good and not too much wailing, tearing of hair or gnashing of teeth.

The following caught my eye on the BBC web site.

Teacher presents ‘competitive’, says union 

Apple
The days of apples for presents are gone

Giving presents to teachers is becoming increasingly commercialised and competitive, a teachers’ union warns.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) says pupils and parents should not feel pressurised into buying end-of-term gifts for their teachers.

In a survey of 1,000 of its members, the ATL found 93% had received gifts.

The most popular present was chocolate (85% of gifts), but one teacher was given opera tickets, another Test match tickets and another champagne.

The survey revealed some particularly lavish gifts, which included:

  • A Tiffany bracelet
  • A Mulberry handbag
  • A brace of pheasants

But not every teacher was so fortunate. One received a half-eaten chocolate bar, while another was given a ripped book with pages missing.

And one teacher reportedly received “a second-hand photo album with dog hair all over it”.

After chocolates, flowers or plants were the most popular gift (53%), followed by alcohol (49%) and toiletries (48%).

The most common time of year to receive a gift was at the end of the academic year (70%), followed by religious festivals such as Christmas, Hanukah or Eid (63%).

Most schools and colleges (59%) did not have a policy on gifts from pupils, the ATL survey found.

On Monday, ATL members will debate a motion at their annual conference in Manchester on whether the practice of giving gifts has become too competitive.

Primary school teacher Chris Clarke said: “Although I am very grateful that pupils and their parents appreciate what I do for them, I do feel that in our school there is a culture of present-giving that can become almost unhealthy.

“I make a point of especially praising those pupils who make gifts or cards rather than buy them.”

Pressure from shops
Kathy White, a head of department in a further education college, said: “I think the pressure to give gifts to teachers has been increased by the card shops as at the end of year there are a wide range of gifts.

“The best ‘gift’ I have ever received is a card made by a group of learners where each contributed, adding how I had changed their lives and how my belief in them had motivated them.”

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Although most staff like getting presents from their pupils to show their hard work is appreciated, they don’t expect them.

“Staff certainly don’t want their pupils to feel they have to give presents and feel humiliated if they can’t afford to do so.

“Staff are just as delighted by a handmade gift or card – the thought really does count.”

The ATL surveyed 1,016 primary, secondary and further education staff in February and March.

Well, I certainly never received a Tiffany bracelet when I was teaching and, indeed, I am struggling to remember ever having received a gift at all. (Perhaps it’s mainly primary aged pupils who tend to give presents, he says hopefully).

And finally, this was also on the BBC site sometime this week:

ButterA butter sculptor from Leicestershire is hoping his minutely detailed works of art will win the world cup at a competition in Luxembourg.

Vipula Athukorale is aiming to claim the top prize at the Salon International de la Gastronomie in November against other food artists.

The level of detail in his work is so fine that he cannot even breathe on the butter before cutting figures.

He explains to Nina Warhurst how he gets the level of detail into his work.

And, if you want to see some of these masterpieces and to know what he says to Nina Warhurst, you can find the clip here.

And finally, finally, the bastards have done it again. I woke up this morning to discover that the idiots have taken another hour from me without my consent. I looked out the window at the sheep in the neighbouring field and they couldn’t care less what time the clock said; they were happily grazing. The wood pigeon on the pergola similarly didn’t give a toss for the time of day: the sun was up and so was he/she. Why do we put up with it??!!

Love to you all,

Greg