Monthly Archives: March 2012

IT’S THE PERSON THAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE

I had a call yesterday from a friend who had moved away; he said that he had left a ‘few’ items in the garage that he thought the new residents would like to use. As it turned out, they didn’t wish to avail themselves of the storage and maintenance items, and he wondered if I would be willing to remove the items in question for him.

On the face of it, that shouldn’t have presented any major problems – I was close at hand, had time and the necessary equipment, and the weather looked set to be unseasonably fine. There was one niggling concern; during previous visits to the local public recycling / waste depot I had been quite aggressively challenged about the source of the materials that I had been seeking to drop off for processing. Quite correctly commercial operators are prevented from using the free to local tax payers facility, and the suggestion was that I was a commercial operator trying to abuse the service. Having loaded my trailer the last thing that I wanted was to get into an argument about the legitimacy of my visit; whilst I wasn’t seeking to drop off my own material, I was doing a favour for somebody who had every entitlement to use the facility – it simply wasn’t convenient for them to do the job and I wasn’t seeking any payment for helping out.

I needn’t have worried, as the operative who had previously challenged me wasn’t on duty. Instead I was greeted by a very pleasant and helpful person, who, in addition to making it clear that there was no problem with what I intended to do, went out of his way to physically help me. Thank you so much ‘CA’, you’ve certainly helped to restore my faith people who are supposed to be assisting the public, long may you continue to do such a good job!

 

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LIFE WITHOUT F1

For the first time in many years I didn’t get myself up in the small hours of Saturday and Sunday morning on the opening weekend of the Formula 1 season to watch live coverage of qualifying and first race in Australia. When I first heard the news that the BBC had failed to secure all broadcast rights I was incensed that I would no longer be able to watch all races live. I have never been a particularly big fan of watching live sport, but had been fairly religious in attempting to watch every F1 race live. When unable to watch I would be sure to put up with the terrible AM reception of Radio 5 Live as I drove about. I could understand the economics that had resulted in the BBC opting to forego rights to all live races, and only broadcast a selection of live ones; but there was absolutely no way that I would submit to blackmail and invest in a Sky package in order to continue to watch. This would have been the case even if the Murdoch ‘Mafia’ hadn’t been involved in providing the coverage. So I resigned myself to make the most of the 2011 season and prepare for a life without something that had become such a regular fixture in my life.

So far this season, the Australian and Malaysian races have come and gone without me bothering too much about what has taken place. I have to say that I am not missing it at all and have quickly found alternative activities to fill the time when I would otherwise have been ‘tethered’ to a TV or straining to hear the distorted radio commentary. While Jensen Button was driving to victory in Melbourne I was happily catching some sleep after a great band night in O2 Dome, and I was enjoying the sun in the garden as Fernando took the chequered flag in Sepang. I look forward to continuing to enjoy other activities throughout the rest of the season – and over the years ahead. I’ve no doubt that Bernie Eccleston’s ‘mega-money machine’ will survive perfectly well without me too.

 


JUST ANOTHER WEEKEND

It started early on St.Patrick’s Day, leaving home at 5am to drive to Galashiels by the light of a banana moon in a clear sky. By the time the Megabus left the bus station an hour later, dawn was beginning to break and before long the sun was up and I was able to appreciate the sheer beauty of the Scottish Borders countryside as we made our way south along the A7. Dozing on and off I noticed low clouds and drizzle as we moved into Dumfries and Galloway, and don’t remember much about Cumbria at all. The weather had brightened a bit as we passed Lancaster and continued to travel south.

On arrival in Preston for the first driver switch I listened with interest as the drivers discussed a mechanical problem with the suspension that was causing the coach to list when stationary – after much starting and stopping of engine, raising and lowering suspension, and wondering why the throttle wasn’t responding, the decision was, “I’ll just have to ‘defect’ it, it’ll sort itself out after I go over a few bumps.” Not particularly reassuring following recent coach crashes, but then I remembered that I had only paid £1 plus a 50p booking fee! Soon we were off again, stopping at Horwich Parkway then Manchester.

Manchester’s memorable incident was when a girl tried to get on, she was told that she would have to buy a ticket for the next bus in an hour’s time, despite there being plenty empty seats on our one. She returned from the Travelshop asking if she could get any help as she had been asked told it was £15 for a ticket on the next bus and she only had £5; I’m not sure what she expected but the controller asked her to go with him so that he could sort something out, allowing the bus to make a sharp exit at the same time!

Shortly before 3pm we passed one of the ubiquitous protests near Hyde Park Corner (various Arab flags and placards calling for an end to the killing of children) and shortly after pulled into Victoria Coach Station. Within a few minutes I was outside the Railway Station waiting for daughter and niece. There was no escaping shamrocks, big ‘Guinness’ hats and false beards as we had a drink in The Shakespeare and a meal in The Albert (‘Big Ben’ burger for me), and then walked on to Westminster Tube Station.

We arrived at The Dome around 6pm and with half an hour to spare before the venue doors opened a drink at Rodizio Rico seemed appropriate. I have to admit that I didn’t find the IndigO2 security checks particularly rigourous. I removed a half-full water bottle and dropped it in the bin as I approached the table, then took out my camera and told the steward that rest of the stuff in the bag was just a change of clothes – “OK” he said and then let me in without looking inside at all!

The venue was as I remembered, and I had an absolutely wonderful night enjoying performances by six excellent bands, fully justifying my journey down – a fuller review of this gig has already been posted on my Tumblr blog http://dstrachan.tumblr.com/post/19625250591/feed-me-music-take-over-at-north-greenwich-five

We caught most of the final band before having to leave to catch the last overland train from Victoria but as I had savoured every second of the performance by the band that was the main reason for me making the journey I left very happy. I had also been able to chat with members of four of the six bands on the bill so all in all it was a very satisfactory evening. We shared a tube to Victoria with an assortment of people, many in St. Patricks’s Day fancy dress who had probably been at the main arena event, a concert by some of the cast of ‘The Commitments’, then got a chance to sit and relax whilst waiting for the train to depart. We left my niece on the train to continue to Gillingham, got off in Bromley, and made our way to the taxi cab office to get a cab back to New Eltham.

More ‘Guinness’ hats and drunken staggering surrounded us as we waited for our cab to arrive. Having warned off an obnoxious drunken posh bloke who seemed to believe that he could simply commandeer a cab as it arrived rather than book one and wait his turn, we were finally on the last leg of our journey back to bed.

After my first lie in for a long time, we rose late on Sunday morning and set off towards central London. There were no trains from New Eltham due to engineering works so we had to start on a bus; as there was nothing else that I particularly wanted to do, I decided to continue by bus from Lewisham once we had done a bit of shopping and said our goodbyes. I enjoyed the opportunity to view more of London as the bus travelled to Victoria via New Cross, Peckham and Elephant & Castle. I relaxed in The Dnister Cafe with a lovely bit of sea bass and then made my way to the departure gate.

Megabus didn’t seem to be having a very good day, with a number of delayed departures and replacement sub-contracted vehicles. Then there was the announcement that you always dread – “the 15:00 service to Edinburgh has been delayed, we will announce an expected departure time as soon as possible.” Luckily another replacement vehicle arrived virtually bang on 15:00 hours and we were soon boarding. I always seem to manage to board fairly quickly so was settled in my seat when the driver came on brandishing a large carrier bag and asking, “whose luggage is this?” A lady admitted ownership and was brusquely told, “it’s not coming on the bus, it’s frozen food.” He went back off quickly pursued by the owner, there was a bit of argument and crying but the driver had his way and an unhappy lady re-boarded, followed by a query from the driver, “that had better not be some frozen food that your carrying!”

Double-manned, we departed only fifteen minutes late and I was soon dozing again as we made our way north towards the M1. Apparently the coach toilet was not functional and the co-driver was approached around an hour later with a request to stop soon as one of the passengers needed to use the toilet. The co-driver was clearly rather frustrated and started to point out that we were only an hour into the journey and that people should have gone to the toilet before boarding. I then heard this ‘Mr Tactful’ state that, “if he’s got a kidney complaint then he shouldn’t be travelling on a coach journey like this.” He further pointed out that he couldn’t make a decision anyway as he wasn’t driving. When we did shortly pull into a Motorway Service area he announced to all, that we were taking a short break for people to use ‘the facilities’ seeing as those on the coach weren’t functional, and then went on to observe that we were just over an hour into the journey and that those going to Edinburgh wouldn’t be too keen to be delayed further.

A large number of passengers got off in Manchester and we then continued onwards. Passing ‘The Reebock Stadium’ as we approached the Horwich Parkway stop, I noticed a fairly large number of tributes on the pavement near the main stadium entrance. Earlier I had been reading a report in a newspaper about Fabrice Muamba, the Bolton Wanderers’ player who had suffered a heart attack on the pitch the previous day. His heart apparently hadn’t worked by itself for quite a while afterwards when on his way to/in hospital; this incident had clearly shocked the football community and had also led the the game being abandoned – the tributes must surely have been for him. While the bus was stopped the driver was asked about a further toilet stop, it looked as if the girl asking wished to pop out and use the facilities at the neighbouring train station. No chance, she was told to sit down and fasten her seat belt and the driver set off. A few miles further up the road he announced that we would be stopping to enable him to fill up with diesel, those who wished could go to the toilet but he would be leaving as soon as he had re-fueled. I was intrigued to note the passenger in front of me using her i-phone to video the fuel pump dial as it rapidly climbed to £320. I was absolutely astounded to see another passenger getting back off to stand alongside the pumps whilst he rolled a cigarette, and then look bemused when the driver told him he couldn’t light it there, and to get back on as he was ready to leave.

The journey was to be disrupted once more as it was announced that the coach would continue to Gretna where we would be transferred onto a Megabus coach before backtracking a bit to rejoin the scheduled route. Despite all the delays, I was only about half an hour behind schedule when I got off in Galashiels. Thanks to the wonder of mobile phones, I had been requested to go to one of the twenty four hour supermarkets for some bread. The fairly deserted streets and supermarket car park were resonating with angry shouts from somewhere in the town, no doubt involving somebody who had overindulged in one of the pubs or clubs. It came as little surprise then, to notice an ambulance, outside ‘The Glue Pot’, clearly taking somebody on board as I drove past the end of Overhaugh Street. Just over thirty minutes later I was happily climbing into bed for a good sleep (dozing on the coach just isn’t quite the same). Another memorable weekend over; radio show to prepare for on Tuesday, a gig in Edinburgh on Wednesday and Winnie’s next jewellery sale on Saturday – I marvelled again at how different my life was since getting out of teaching.


DO SOMETHING OR DO NOTHING?

So the backlash has started with allegations that the Kony 2012 campaign by Invisible Children is not all it seems.

  • Allegation: it is only being promoted because there is a desire for the USA to gain influence in Uganda due to oil and mineral resources. Is that a valid reason to ignore these abuses against children?
  • Allegation: Joseph Kony and the LRA no longer operate in Uganda. Is that a valid reason to ignore these abuses against children?
  • Allegation: the campaign is designed to divert attention from the growing tensions in the Middle East, particularly the possibility of an assault on Iran. Is that a valid reason to ignore these abuses against children?
  • Allegation: the charity uses some of the funds raised for admin and staff salaries, whilst the ratios might vary don’t many other charities etc. do the same? Is that a valid reason to ignore these abuses against children?
  • Allegation: there are many others committing similar atrocities against others around the world. Is that a valid reason to ignore these abuses against children?
  • Allegation: it’s a great vanity project for people who wish to feel good simply by posting and liking a status on FaceBook or Twitter. Is that a valid reason to ignore these abuses against children?

I’m afraid that I don’t see any of these claims justify stopping the calls for appropriate moves to press for the arrest of Joseph Kony in order that he may be tried by the International Criminal Court. Indeed the chief prosecutor of the ICC, Louis Moreno Ocampo, has voiced his support for the campaign.

For what it’s worth, my opinion regarding the campaign is that it demonstrates the value of using the internet and social media platforms for full and open debate about issues that are uncomfortable for national governments. Taking 30 minutes out of your life to watch a film such as the Kony 2012 one is far more productive and thought provoking than watching any episode of ‘X Factor’, ‘Gypsy Wedding’, ‘Jersey Shore’, ‘Only Way Is Essex’ etc.

The scale and extent of a problem should not be a reason to do nothing. In the late 1980s, Ernesto Zavala, believed that something should be done to help abandoned street boys in Lima. He wasn’t deterred by the numbers involved and instead opted for an appropriate approach where even helping one was better than doing nothing. The Scripture Union in Peru now operate a growing number of homes that provide care, comfort, support and stability many such boys. I’m reminded about the question ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ Quite easily, ‘one bite at a time.’

Rather than seeking to discredit the Kony 2012 campaign, surely it should be used as a model for getting more people to research and debate more important issues. The call for Joseph Kony to be arrested should continue AND similar campaigns should be promoted in a similar way too. Even when politicians seem to be told what some people think via traditional methods, they appear to go their own way in any case. I have no problem whatsoever with encouraging massive numbers of people to air their opinions in order to make politicians feel uncomfortable.

Perhaps what worries some most about campaigns such as Kony 2012 and the ‘Occupy’ groups is that it threatens the cosy, self-serving established political machine that happily protects the rich and makes major decisions about our lives despite only having been elected by relatively small percentages of the population.

DISCUSS!


ESCAPE FROM A CURRICULUM OF CHECKLISTS

During term 2009-2010, my final one before ‘escaping’ to my new life, we were required to design a ‘new’ course for incoming first year students. This had to comply with the requirements of the much heralded ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ (CfE). The documentation that accompanied this initiative certainly accounted for many trees, yet often seemed filled with non-specific aspirational statements, offering little in the way of practical help regarding how the aims were to be achieved. Much time and money had been invested in in-service training and I often found myself sitting awaiting some expert speaker, looking at the official Powerpoint presentation title graphic, a photograph apparently looking down a spiral stairway – it always brought the phrase ‘downward spiral’ to mind. It didn’t help when the keynote speaker at one meeting, one of the principal architects of CfE, noted that Scottish education was now improving since they had managed to achieve an all graduate entry to the profession. As a non ‘graduate’, that certainly didn’t do much to bring me on-side!

I frequently found myself asking what I believed to be an essential question; “these new courses must adequately prepare students for the next stages in their education and articulate with the subsequent steps towards their certification, before attempting to specify an appropriate course for S1 (secondary year 1) can we please be given specific details about the structure and format of the new examinations that the students will be faced with so that we can design courses appropriately?” Whilst teachers should certainly not only be teaching towards exam success, I believed that it was essential to ensure that we would at least be aiming in the correct direction. I never did get an answer, only encouragement not to worry about such irrelevant details. The whole landscape of Scottish secondary education was in the process of being radically overhauled, with a claimed increase in freedom and flexibility for teachers to explore allegedly exciting inter-disciplinary projects. Sadly, I never recognised any such increased freedom – I only experienced increasing restrictive direction that outlined exactly what could and couldn’t be done, and all in the ongoing absence of clarity and specification of the courses and certification requirements that would follow on in the years ahead. How were we expected to plan such an important journey when the destination was unknown?

Despite still having a passion for education and helping young people to achieve their full potential, I was so relieved when I was able to secure an early retirement package and thereby remove myself from a situation where I was feeling increasingly frustrated and no longer ‘fit for purpose’. Tick box check lists and middle managers lacking in subject expertise were everywhere It seemed that if you couldn’t tick a box, you shouldn’t be wasting time on it. Where is the flexibility when every student is expected to have every box ticked? In common with many other teachers of a similar vintage, I had no need to maintain the possibility of a ‘good reference’ to support future job prospects, consequently I didn’t hold back when faced with things that didn’t seem right. I have no doubt that the school management were quite happy to have been given the opportunity to help us on our way to retiral.

When I heard peopl refer to the new scheme as ‘A Curriculum for Excrement’ it seemed so right, even if it did expose a certain degree of cynicism. I remember being in a queue in a local supermarket and overhearing two parents in discussion, “are you going to tonight’s meeting at the school about the curriculum for exercise?” The reply was an emphatic, “no, why do I need to know about that?” Clearly the school in question still had some way to go to clarify its communications with parents.

Now, two years on, the cohort that moved up to secondary school in the session after my retiral, are about to move into the first crucial examination/certification phase of this ‘brave new world’. Sadly I still hear and see items in the media that suggest an answer to my question still hasn’t been provided. I listened to ‘Brian’s Big Debate’ on Radio Scotland yesterday and one of the questions was about the suggestion that schools who did not feel ready to move on to the new exam schedule should be allowed to defer for a year. The comments from panel and audience did little to reassure me.

Comments following a related article in a recent edition of The Scotsman include:

  • ‘Inspectors to carry out an audit. What a farce. “If there is any doubt or lack of confidence within a school, the first step will be to provide whatever support is necessary.” How about giving them the course details a year ago. For the teacher bashers who come on here I am going to give you a task. Write a 4th yr course with the intent of sitting an exam at the end and I will give you the course details after you have written it.’
  • There have been huge amounts of documentation available for years. The problem is that it’s been woolly and largely meaningless. Statements of well meaning platitudes. A lot of it has also been willfully obscure and largely incomprehensible to the teaching staff who will have to implement CfE. 4). As to what the whole scheme is for; to be frank I’m not entirely sure. From what I can make out all Scottish pupils are to receive lots of enriched educational experiences, come out of the top end of schools as well rounded, excellently educated individuals and be happy for evermore. The sun is also to shine each and every day with light rain at night, when we are asleep, to keep everything fresh and green. We will have 8% economic growth and free lollipops as well. The problem is that there appears to be huge gaps in describing how all this is to be achieved.

Admittedly, there is a degree of sarcasm contained, but it all seems painfully reminiscent of what I was thinking two years ago. Has so little progress really be made? People have often remarked to me that I must be glad to be out of teaching and away from all those terrible, ill-disciplined youngsters. My reply has always been that the young people weren’t the problem, although they could undoubtedly be demanding and challenging – it was the fact that the Scottish educational landscape had become too hostile for me to wish to continue trying to battle with changed management structures and an increasingly interfering and prescriptive Government. I just hope that the young ‘guinea pigs’ that are about to be processed through the CfE system will manage to succeed and achieve their potential, despite well-meaning Government efforts that seem more inclined to thwart this. In the meantime I continue to look forward to the many new challenges that face me outside the sphere of the formal education system.


A VERY FULL AND INVIGORATING SCHEDULE

Since returning from London life has progressed at a pace. Before travelling down the crocuses in our lawn were only just fractionally appearing as green tips, yet on return they were in full bloom. During the latter part of February there have been many more signs of spring and I have been able to complete a range of maintenance tasks to get the garden looking a lot healthier and tidier.

Feedback following my shows continues to grow and encourage me. Having been moved to establish a ‘track of the month’ slot,it was so good to note that The L Project’s single that I selected as the first one reached number eleven in the UK charts. For March I have opted to play both the ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides of the new single due to be released by Where’s George? Having made that decision I was privileged to be able to sit in during a rehearsal session and hear two excellent new songs. They just get better and better ever time that I hear them; and the listener ‘stats’ certainly shot up around the time when I was playing their two songs!

When in London I had recorded a number of video sequences as I walked about Camden and approached and boarded a Clipper. I had done this with a view to experimenting further with Windows Live Movie Maker. On returning I managed to produce two short videos, one backed with a Where’s George? track and the other with an Easter Street track. Although very basic, I was fairly pleased with them. Immediately after uploading to YouTube I received notification that both had been blocked due to a claim that I had violated visual content claimed as copyright by UEFA (Union of European Football Associations); given that all footage had been shot by me when in public places, and nowhere near any football grounds, I was absolutely astounded but quickly located a dispute form – after I submitted these claiming that there was no basis behind UEFA’s claim, the videos were instantly unblocked. It seems clear that the blocking/dispute procedures must be completely automated at YouTube; interestingly I had posted the videos on March 1st, the day that Google’s new privacy policy came into effect.

Since then, I have continued to play about with the camera – it’s so great to be allowed to use local band tracks as backing for my experiments; evermore ambitious (but still extremely amateurish).

The weekend saw me driving over to Glasgow with Colleen and Ellen to see the astounding Gotye in concert, a very unexpected pleasure as I hadn’t planned it, only going when Phil couldn’t make use of his ticket.

On Tuesday I was left in charge of the studio while Kyle and Oscar travelled up to the Scottish Parliament for a meeting about the future of Community Radio in Scotland, this allowed me to be able to sit in on Fiona’s ‘Big Boots & Celtic Roots’, what a joy.

Yesterday I watched two extremely moving and inspirational videos. One was in promotion of an internet campaign to seek to have a Ugandan arrested for crimes against humanity as a result of years of violations against children, including forcing many to be child soldiers. Since then the internet traffic in support of the campaign has been growing rapidly with over 2 million people currently ‘liking’ the main FaceBook page. The main aim is to make Joseph Kony famous so that he can no longer hide behind a ‘cloak of invisibility’, and in so doing maintain pressure on governments to do what they can to petition for his arrest. The other was a play performed by a number of well known actors. The play was closely based on testimony in a Californian trial that had not been allowed to be broadcast. I found it rather ironic that the USA which appears to seek to broadcast ‘everything’ was so keen to keep these proceedings from the public. I’m sure that the move has backfired in much the same way as when Ryan Giggs attempted to gag the media last year over his affair. The trial was concerned with Proposition 8 which attempts to eliminate the rights of same-sex couples to marry; the publicity generated by the airing of this play is surely going to give the issue much more prominence than would have resulted if the original trial had been shown.

All the time I am pursuing this wide range of activities it is so good to also see Winnie’s jewellery making progressing in leaps and bounds.  That means that there are a few more displays to help her prepare for, but that’s not a problem, it’s just a pleasure to help.

Today I donned my suit for the first time in ages and attended an interview, it was a very formal one involving pre-intimated scenarios and a panel of three, but as it was for a voluntary position I found it all rather relaxing and enjoyable.