6 July 2014

Two significant events this week – the successful conclusion of this year’s Bicester Schools’ Film Festival on Thursday and the announcement of an outstanding opportunity to purchase a large, airy and spacious, very comfortable property in south Northamptonshire – 23 Banbury Road is going on the market!

As I wrote a few weeks back, each year for the past four years, I have been involved in helping to co-ordinate and facilitate a film festival for primary aged children in and around the town of Bicester. Kids have an opportunity to create a three-minute film, either a drama or a documentary. These are made available to some external judges and then we hold a Gala Award Ceremony, our equivalent of the Oscars, and some of the kids and their teachers and classroom assistants come along where we award trophies and medals for all the kids who were involved in producing a winning film in various age-related categories and certificates for all those students who took part. We started four years ago with, I think, 19 films submitted. This year we had 68 films involving nearly 800 kids aged four to eleven.

This year for the first time we held the Award Ceremony at the Vue Cinema in Bicester and the morning was a huge success. The kids come dressed up in their Oscar finery (long dresses, tuxedos – we’ve even had tiaras in the past) and we run the whole thing like the Oscars. We watch clips of each of the films submitted and then one of our sponsors tears open the gold envelope and announces the winner. The kids come down to the front to receive their trophy and medals and to have their photo taken in the “photo booth” and then we watch the winning film in full.

Bicester Film Festival Winners

In short, it’s a great day. The kids have a huge amount of fun and imagine seeing your film projected on the big screen! You can catch this year’s winning films at the web site I maintain for them: http://www.bicesterfilmfestival.org.uk

The film below, just to give you a feel for what it’s like, was created by Foundation Stage children (four and five year olds) and won the Foundation Stage category. Sure, there’s quite a bit of teacher input here (although surprisingly not as much as in some of the others) but the kids have an absolute ball and it’s an experience they’re not likely to forget for some little time.

httpv://vimeo.com/98538223

For many years Ms Playchute and I have had some sort of vague “plan” about what we might do once we retired. One thing we’d always intended to do was to sell this house – it’s much, much too large for the two of us – and downsize to something more appropriate. Alongside that, we’ve always rather liked the idea of having another property in France where we could spend part of our supposedly increasing leisure time. Having to care for Pen’s mum for a couple of years delayed the exercise somewhat but now we are finally more or less ready to go!

So, on Monday we had a couple of estate agents round to give us their views and to give us a feel for what we might expect to get if we put the house on the market. Not surprisingly, each agent assured us that they (and probably only they) were uniquely placed to sell the property inside a week for double the asking price! While we are certainly not expecting to agree a sale inside a week nor for double the asking price, we’ll see how it goes. If it doesn’t go we’ll take it off the market and start again in the Spring – exciting times!

And, if that’s not exciting enough for you, yesterday Le Tour started and, even better, it started in Yorkshire! Just think – three weeks of reclining on the sofa watching these guys pedal their way around France (and part of England). A mere 3664 kilometres – not sure why it takes them three weeks! That’s the sort of distance I could do in three years.

We were sorry to lose our resident housekeeper, chief bottle washer and dog walker this past week – Penny’s sister J has gone back to Toronto! Not only do we miss her company but Molly is distraught – she now has to go on her morning walk with me rather than J and that is a truly depressing experience. Amazingly, the other thing we’ve noticed is that dirty cups and mugs seem to accumulate around the sink whereas when J was in residence any crockery found loitering with intent was quickly washed, rinsed and dispatched. It’s going to be hard work getting back into the routine of washing up after ourselves again!

I ran across an article in Private Eye the other day to which my immediate reaction was, “Oh, there’s a surprise – the government exaggerating their ‘achievements’ to gain a bit of support in an area where they are undeniably weak.” The article described claims by the tax authorities of having made huge gains in the amount of previously evaded taxation that the authorities have now been able to recoup. It seems that HMRC claimed that they had improved their performance so significantly that they had so far been able to recoup a whopping £1.9 billion.

As this is essentially the government seeking to claim credit for improvement in an area where they are perceived as being “weak”, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the figures aren’t quite what they seem. It turns out that included in the £1.9 billion is a significant sum of money which they “hope” they will recoup. As Private Eye referred to it – “wishful thinking.”

Then, on Thursday there was an article in the Guardian which makes clear that not only are HMRC’s claims of having recovered vast billions pure fantasy, their figures are also just plain wrong. Instead of having recovered £1.9 billion they have, in fact, recovered around £100 million. Not an insignificant sum by any means but nowhere near the £4 billion which Vodaphone alone should have paid which Osborne and HMRC let off with a handshake. It seems that if you are generous enough with your donations to the Tory party you can get away with just about anything.

And, finally, in the “You Couldn’t make it Up” department . . .

The government is apparently considering appointing David Ross, a multimillionaire Tory party donor to be head of Ofsted, the organisation responsible for inspections in schools. Amongst his qualifications for the job:

  • Is described as a “former tax exile” (well, aren’t all the best Tories tax exiles or tax evaders?)
  • Has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Tory party (this seems to be the main qualification for any government position)
  • Numerous brushes with the law over financial dealings and prostitution
  • Interviewed under police caution after a Lithuanian escort claimed she was assaulted at his house in Belgravia

Exactly the sort of person we need in education, one who has such extensive understanding of education and the psychology of learning.

As I say, you couldn’t make it up!

A few photos to finish with this week.

Love to you all,

Greg