28 November 2010

Oh my goodness – what a busy week! Not only did I have to “work” a few times this week but we have such a jam-packed weekend in store that I am, in fact, writing this on Friday; there won’t be anytime between now and Sunday to do much more than eat, drink and sleep.

Firstly, apologies for not producing anything last weekend and, in response to the couple of enquiries we received, “yes,” we had a grand time. As you will remember, no doubt, we were down visiting our friends Sue and Stuart who live near Brighton on the south coast. It was a very relaxing and relaxed weekend and even the weather was co-operative. The sun shone and the stroll along the sea front in Brighton on the Sunday morning was not nearly as brisk as we had feared.

Before moving on to this weekend’s agenda, I must relate an incident which occurred last week but which went unreported due to last weekend’s outage: on Wednesday (I think it was) I had been out at a school and came home to encounter a very distressed Ms Playchute. It seems that she had arrived home from whatever outing she was engaged with to find a message on the telephone answering machine. As she pressed the “play” button she recognised that the first message was for me – apparently, a very long and complicated message from someone in a school who wanted to contact me. As this was of no particular interest, as it was playing, Pen went off to do a couple of domestic chores – put the washing in the tumble dryer, put some new washing in the washing machine, etc., while the individual on the answering machine was warbling on with her message. When she had finished her task, she unwittingly pressed the delete button and all evidence of this long and complicated message was erased, without her taking any of the caller’s details. Hence the distress when I returned – someone had telephoned, left a long and detailed message and I was now going to appear rude and inconsiderate in not replying.

Clearly wishing to salvage the situation, I immediately e-mailed all the schools I work with and a number of other teachers and former colleagues who might have phoned explaining the situation, apologising for the shotgun style approach I was adopting with my e-mail and hoping that whomever had telephoned would contact me again.

As you might have deduced, no one did reply in the affirmative however I had several very sympathetic replies some of which, I hope, will have assuaged Penelope’s feelings of guilt somewhat. There were several along the lines of, “Oh, I do that all the time, even when the message is for me.” Or, “Thank goodness I’m not the only one who does that!” My favourite reply, however, was one which read, “I do that regularly – tell Penny not to worry. Whenever I do it, however, I just don’t tell my husband.”

So, this weekend is jam-packed with exciting events and activities to look forward to. This afternoon (Friday) we have some guests arriving for lunch and, as I write, Ms Playchute is in the kitchen preparing a feast of the usual proportions. Then, tomorrow we are off to the Good Food Show in Birmingham with Nick and Lucy which should be a lot of fun and on Sunday we’re off for the day to visit with our friend Pippa Timings who lives in Winchester now. (Dad and Mom will remember the visit to their former home at Whitehills near Winchcombe where one had to drive about a mile across a ridge and furrow field to get to their house. No electricity and the only form of heating in the house was the huge inglenook fireplace. Those were the days!)

We had a great laugh on Wednesday when we heard, on the news, the proposals for reform of the education system in the UK announced in Parliament by Michael Gove, the new Conservative Secretary for Education. The failings in our education system, it seems, are all down to a lack of disciple and too much control by local authorities, i.e., school districts. His answer? Recruiting former soldiers to become teachers and cutting “failing” schools loose from the local authority.

I suppose the rationale is that soldiers have been subjected to rigorous discipline in their lives and therefore they will somehow magically be able to instil this in their pupils. Quite what they will do when a recalcitrant fifteen year old suggests that the go f**k themselves will be interesting to see. Since they won’t be able to beat them or compel them to do twenty push-ups it’s difficult to see how their service background is going to be of any great assistance. Of course, it’s a fundamental lack of understanding of how schools work and how children learn. As any “fule” who has spent any time in the education sector can tell you, good teachers don’t have discipline problems in their classrooms. Engaging and motivating pupils in their learning (easier said than just plonking a former soldier in front of the class) is the way in which you encourage children to develop.

Equally bonkers is the proposal to save “failing” schools by cutting them loose from the only support structures they have available, i.e., the local authorities. Schools struggle for all kinds of reasons; “control” by the local school district is not one of them. Still, whenever a school faces difficulties, it seems, the answer will be to take away all its contact with the professionals at a local level and set them loose to fend for themselves getting their advice and support from civil servants in London who have little, if any, educational experience. Honestly, you couldn’t make it up! Why do politicians (of all persuasions) put ideology ahead of common sense?

SnowAnd don’t get me started about the bitterly cold weather and snow we’ve had this week which has arrived earlier than ever before in the last seventeen years. And which government held power seventeen years ago? Oh, yes – those damn Tories.

As many of you will know, I am a great fan and follower of Doonesbury. Many of you will also know that Doonesbury is forty years old (my God! Is it really that long ago?) and there have been a couple of articles and clips in the British media to celebrate the event. The Guardian had quite a good article a couple of weeks ago and the BBC had an interview on Newsnight. (Not sure those of you outside the UK will be able to access the BBC interview but it’s perhaps worth a shot).

Much love to you all,

Greg