Mini rant – please indulge me

Yesterday we took the underground home from London.  We were ‘lucky’ enough to be on a new piece of rolling stock.  For one thing, the seats are deeper, meaning you are not constantly readjusting in order not to fall off, but there is a distinct disadvantage.  As the carriages cannot be magically widened, due to the lack of progress on the TARDIS effect, extra seating depth means a narrower aisle.  This, in turn, leaves less room for people to move down the carriage.  A fact highlighted in the woman sitting diagonally across from me who was deep into whatever was on her mobile phone screen.  She was completely unaware of anything that was going on around her, which showed on three separate occasions.  She had very long legs and was sitting with them crossed.  This meant that, with the narrower walking space, she was, effectively, blocking the aisle with her legs.  Two people left their seats and headed to a door via her position, only to have to negotiate her foot, literally stepping over it.  The foot did not twitch, leading me to believe that she was oblivious to the inconvenience she was causing.  The third passenger actually nearly tripped whilst trying to step over the offending foot and all that this engendered was a minute movement (which could have been caused by the collision).  No recognition showed on her face and she stayed glued to her screen.  Not one of these people actually said ‘Excuse me’ in an attempt to pass more safely.  Perhaps they were just suffering from the British Disease, where it’s impolite to disturb someone so that you can pass in safety.  I don’t know.  I was on the verge of getting up and doing just that, even though I didn’t actually want to leave the train, when she left instead.

I cannot understand how some people can be so self-absorbed and selfish as to ignore three people who need to pass them, when they are obstructing passage.  You must be a special kind of moron.

Rant over.

Living with nature

Our garden is a disaster area!  From the neat, well looked after patch that we inherited when we bought the house, it has disintegrated into a haven for wildlife and a place I am afraid to traverse.  I took my life in my hands to go and collect apples from the dwarf tree at the other end but you wouldn’t have caught me delving into the long grass to gather fallers – you never know what you might encounter!  That was the Man of the House’s job.

IMG_3484

Ditto for the tomatoes in the ‘greenhouse’.  I use single inverted commas because said greenhouse is one of the plastic variety; perfectly serviceable but not designed to make it through more than one season, once the wind gets up.  Still, from the plants our neighbour gave us plus some others we bought ourselves, we managed to enjoy a few pounds of fruit (yes they are mini-mini ones!), which were absolutely delicious, by the way.

IMG_3483IMG_3480

As the garden is in such a state of ‘naturalness’, it is hardly surprising that there are many varieties of birds that visit throughout the seasons.  The overgrown grape vine – which does produce grapes, but I’m too scared of the plant to go near them – provides a haven and a buffet for several species.  We have seen pigeons, starlings and sparrows in there, to name but a few.  Make a noise and, at any time, you can see a flock just propel itself out from under the leaves and into the air, only to return as soon as the perceived danger has passed.

IMG_3482

A few years ago we had a vixen that came regularly into the garden.  We started to give her scrap, as she looked bedraggled and poorly.  Eventually, she would come onto the patio and sit, patiently, outside the door until we gave her something.  She was very calm and very sweet.

IMG_1454foxcub17.7.10

After a while, we stopped seeing her and wondered if she had met the fate of so many urban foxes.  Soon, we forgot about her, until one day when she showed up again – with her boyfriend – a big, beefy dog fox – in tow!  After that, she really did disappear – I think she was just telling us that she was settled and not to worry.

The other day, a new fox, this time a dog, started to come in to the garden.  We first saw him playing with something on the meadow (I won’t call it a lawn!) and we eventually realised it was a shoe of some sort, either a slipper or a trainer.  I think it has now been buried by the bay bush.  Can’t wait to see what comes up next year!

IMG_3476Fox

We know that it’s not a great idea to feed urban foxes and we won’t be encouraging this one.  Besides anything else, he looks too healthy to need our help.  We will, however, spend as much time as we can watching his antics and taking pleasure from his happiness.

On feeling unwell

First cold since before the summer, as I may have said elsewhere.  It’s only a head cold and mostly involves tissues, for the nose and eyes, hot drinks, for the tickly cough and hammering The Beast with Vitamin C until I felt it begin to subside.  I also stayed in bed until it felt right to get up.  It started last Thursday and has been mostly annoying, rather than keeping me in a chair, moaning.

I then thought back (you really have to at this early stage) to a previous life.  The cold would have started on Thursday.  I would have had a rough night, what with waking to blow my nose and take a drink of water for the dry throat.  I would have woken at six twenty in the morning with the alarm, thinking,

“Only one day until the weekend.  I can do that.  Besides, Friday is the day when the least number of people are in school.  It would be awful trying to arrange cover – I know how I would feel.”

sick-cartoon-woman-19197893

I would then have dragged myself into school, spread my germs around for good measure, made it through the day as best I could and left as early as it was decent to do so.  I would have begged someone else to make dinner, if it wasn’t already someone else’s turn, and dropped into an armchair, where I would most likely have fallen asleep.  The whole weekend would have been centred around getting better enough to go back in on Monday, probably fitting in a little essential washing etc.  This would not have been much of a weekend for me, much less my family.

This time, however, I acknowledged that I was ill, said (possibly more than once) how grateful I was that I didn’t have to go to work, still managed to get dressed and do a few things round the house – because I could stop whenever I wanted to for a rest.  I went out a couple of times over the weekend, making sure that I didn’t push myself too hard,  Still took the Vitamin C and was constantly surrounded by tissues and hot drinks, but I wasn’t stressed by having a time scale in which to improve my health and that made all the difference to the healing process.

And here we are, back at the point where we realise that my previous life should have been more like my present one.  We should all be able to use the weekends – or whichever days we have off (different work patterns make for different ‘weekends’) – for relaxation.  We should be able to fit in walks in the park, shopping for pleasure rather than groceries, visits to football matches, attendance at dog shows – whatever is your passion, whilst still employed.  We should all be awake enough to appreciate our families, especially our partners (if we have one) and our friends, and be able to interact on a more sociable level.  Everyone who experienced a three day week, back in the seventies – not prepared to discuss the political implications here – did not enjoy it.  However, if we all worked three or four days and rested for the others, we would be more content.  We would still need to be paid properly for our skills, so not less, but the work could be spread around more evenly.  This all presupposes, of course, that there are enough skilled workers to fill the gaps – another whole discussion.

Anyway, I digress.  I know I am more content and wish I could share my contentment.  For now, I will see my cold out and enjoy my freedom whilst hoping that it won’t be too long before others can enjoy theirs.

Prisoners’ voting ‘rights’

In the news today another swipe at the smooth(ish) running of the British judicial system – “UK prisoners ‘could challenge blanket ban on voting’ “

Is it just me or have those people in prison (setting aside any potential miscarriages of justice, which are few in the great scheme of things) not foregone any rights as soon as they committed a crime?  Even before they had been caught, tried and convicted, the very moment that they swindled, assaulted, set fire to, abandoned, defrauded, extorted, forged, harassed, stole, maimed, abused or murdered was the one in which they lost any say over – well – anything.

“Convicted [French]  murderer Thierry Delvigne claimed a ban on him voting in European Parliament elections violated his civil and political rights.”

I truly do not comprehend.  For someone who has committed such a crime to bleat on about his civil and political rights just brings up the hackle on the back of my neck.

It seems that the EU ban on prisoners voting only applies to sentences of five years or more.  The English ban – for any crime which has put you in prison, can be contested under EU law.  I leave you to make up your own mind.

Wet weather musings

Today it has rained.  Not exactly a phenomenon in England but it has been a while since I didn’t need to water the potted plants on the patio.  It is a grey, miserable day and I’m not looking forward to the walk round to our local greengrocer, but there are others worse off than I am.

Those living in Virginia, for example, who I know are having a hard time with the floods.  A friend’s son can’t go to school because of what the school describes as ‘inclement weather’.  Tough, those Virginians.  Rain is also forecast pretty much everywhere in the UK and we can only hope that the most vulnerable areas escape severe flooding.

There will be fewer barbecues, visits to the beach, cocktails on the lawn (unless you have a marquee or gazebo) and walks in the park for the sake of it.

However, there is one group that I pity more than any other.  Not the farmers, waiting to see if their crops survive until next harvest without being beaten to a pulp by the rain – watch out for higher prices.  Not the people planning outdoor events, who hope that the sun will shine on the one day that they need it to.  Not the allotment owners, gazing out of the window for that break in the clouds that will allow them to dig/plant/weed the precious produce they are growing for the table.  No.

Teachers.  They have the roughest deal on days such as this.  Firstly, the kids come in wet.  If they have ignored everything their accompanying adult has said to them and jumped in the inviting puddles (not necessarily with wellie boots on) they may have to change into something else, often the P.E. kit.  This leaves items of clothing – frequently socks – draped over the classroom radiators (very attractive) – with the vain hope that the owners will remember to take them at the end of the day, no matter how many times they are reminded.

Most school have two or three breaktimes a day.  If the rain is light, staff will take the kids out, as they need a run round during the day to refresh them.  I was always willing to take them out until it became uncomfortable – see fifth paragraph on Wet Socks.  If not, it is generally a case of march them into the hall or their own classrooms, where they play games, draw, argue and generally do not get any exercise.  One day can be coped with but, if days pass and there is no let up, the general tone of lessons slides down a slippery slope until it’s almost pointless trying.  Add wind to the equation and everything happens a lot faster.

There is a fine line to be drawn between being soft and being harsh and it is one of those questions always left hanging.  Are we going out?  It is generally up to the member of staff on duty, who must weigh the Wet Sock against the Fidgety Child.  I have no answers.  Good luck.

I wonder why …

Newspaper article this morning on the BBC news site:

More than 50% of teachers in England ‘plan to quit in next two years’

I am entirely unsurprised.  Over successive governments, there have been, in my opinion, two driving questions in their thoughts about how to deal with education: What did the last government do that we can undo?  How can we make ourselves look good to the electorate?  Conspicuous by its absence is any consideration of what is good for teachers, pupils, parents, the future of the country, especially where it might involve any genuine consultation, not just lip service.

Having just retired, I feel in a favoured position.  I can say that I reached an age where I felt I had done my duty and need to take my ease for as many years as I can.  That is, truly, only part of the story.  A very large part, to be sure, but there were other factors in the background.

I was at the same school for fourteen years before I doffed the mantle.  I served under three different heads and survived three inspections.  When I left, I was the longest serving full-time member of staff – only two other part-timers had been there longer than I had.  Over the course of my forty-odd year career, I had seen National Curriculum born, the various changes in it  (sometimes directly contradicting each other) and watched levels come and go.  I had seen the inception of Academies for ‘all the right reasons’ and their growth for all the wrong ones.  In all those changes, the most frequently heard cry was that it would improve education.  Whether those who made these decisions actually believed what they were saying, I fear we will never know, but of one thing I am rock solid certain: teachers bore the brunt every time.  Changes in pay, working conditions and PPA (planning, preparation and assessment) time were only the tip of the iceberg.  It was at ground level where, on a daily basis, they were (and still are) struggling with fitting in their lunch, looking after and supporting pupils who were not keeping up, running clubs to ‘enable’ the Gifted and Talented (now called something else again) that the excess stresses begin to mount.

In my own six-seven week summer ‘holiday’, I would frequently spend the first two trying to relax (mindful of all the work I had to do), if I was lucky I went on a holiday away from home (always feeling guilty as I thought of all the work I had to do) and spent the last two week before the return to school doing all the work I had to do.  Then came the latest incarnation of the Curriculum.  In September 2014, the curriculum was revised yet again.  It would be too long and tedious – and pointless – to go through it all but the bit that concerned me was Computing.  We were no longer to teach ICT (Information and Communication Technology) but a curriculum for our time.  I had long acknowledged that kids come in to school at the tender age of four/five being more computer literate than their forebears.  I had adjusted my teaching over the years to accommodate this and I had received numerous messages from ex-pupils on how useful my teaching had been.

I do not have the expertise for the new curriculum.  I cannot teach coding to five-year-olds.  I found, in the September of 2014, that I was going in on the first day completely unrefreshed after all those weeks away from school.  I saw dark clouds on the horizon in the form of an inspection, as we had a new head and it’s normal to have an inspection after one has been in place for a year.  We were also due for one in the inspection cycle.  I am a good teacher but enough is  enough.

If I felt like that after all the years I had been in the classroom and adapted to each new initiative, directive and shock to the system that different governments threw at my beloved profession, how were the younger generations, who hadn’t had time to harden, going to cope?  Perhaps losing droves of teachers is exactly what the government wants.  It would mean that the upcoming generation would be less educated and, therefore, less questioning.  Even businesses are beginning to say that they ignore university degrees as they aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Good luck, my fellow professionals – do NOT suffer in silence!  Good luck, Future.  I hope it all works out for you.

From a foreigner’s point of view – facts correct at the time of writing

In the news again, a mass shooting in an American school.  Nine (ten?) dead at time of writing and seven injured, although reports are conflicting.  The police are not confirming the name of the gunman but his ‘not confirmed’ father has said he was “just as shocked as everybody”.  The ‘not confirmed’ gunman is also said to have “warned of his intentions on social media”.  The BBC reported this with the headline “Oregon college shooting: Nine dead in Roseburg attack”;  CNN had “Oregon shooting: Gunman dead after college rampage”; NBC ran with “Oregon Shooting: Umpqua Community College Gunman Talked Religion” and USA Today with “Ten killed in shooting at Ore. community college”.  Clearly, the BBC were behind the times with their numbers but the essence is the same.

I see five main aspects to this event, although I’m sure others will see many others.

  1.  A young man in his twenties shot a lot of people in a school.
  2. Reports state that he had multiple weapons (numbers differing in each case) – we have yet to hear where they came from.
  3. Some reports state that he was asking who were the Christians and only shooting them.
  4. The sheriff is refusing to name the gunman, saying that he will not give him the recognition he obviously craved.
  5. Ten people lost their lives – that’s ten families left to grieve.

I put the last one in that position quite deliberately and will come to it in due course.

As I write this, there is no information about how this man came to have the weapons in the first place.  It could have been from a number of sources; home, where they were either locked away or easy to access – he is, after all, an adult and there would be no reason to hide them from him, we suppose; a shop, and I am fuzzy about the laws regarding buying guns but I assume you have to fulfil some criteria in order to buy a firearm; from a home invasion; from a ‘private source’  There are probably others but the list would become tedious.  In a number of articles I read, it was stated that there are 1500 more gun shops in the US than grocery stores.  Over the whole of the country that is not really a significant figure, but it shows a trend.  Put in its simplest (and frankly – I admit it – most ridiculous terms) people seem to be more interested in shooting something than eating.

It has yet to be confirmed that he was asking who were the Christians.  Why would he do that?  If his ‘not confirmed’ father is anything to go by, the gunman was not ‘not Christian’ – I hesitate to speculate on which faith he was following but that won’t stop others which will, possibly, lead to more bloodshed.

I am with the sheriff all the way when he refuses to name the gunman and with his reasons for doing so.  However, his ‘not confirmed’ name is already being splashed across the world and no amount of good intentions by the local officer of the law will prevent it.  Can’t wait for the raft of people being interviewed who tell the world’s press that they would never have thought of him doing such a thing/such a quiet young man/mowed my lawn every Saturday.  On the other side of the room, of course, will be the ones who were certain that he ‘wasn’t right’ and someone should have seen this coming.  His father will feel guilty and everyone will blame everyone else for what happened.

My own take on this situation is simple.  He had multiple guns and was able to kill several people rather quickly.  Someone remarked on social media (thankfully not an actual friend of mine) that even though England does not have the gun crime that the US suffers, it just means that people use other means to kill their fellow man.  In a similar situation to the one in Oregon, it would be quite hard to kill nine or ten people from one position with a knife.  They tend to try to get out of range quite quickly and usually succeed.  The same would be true of a large piece of wood, lead piping or any other weapon designed to inflict blunt force trauma.  Knives are regulated in the UK – you have to be a certain age to buy one – but, of course it wouldn’t make a difference if someone was intent on using them as weapons.  The mere fact that they are close quarter or one use (if throwing) weapons, makes one of them less likely to cause multiple deaths.

Now for Point 5.  If I was a parent – or even a teacher or co-pupil – of one of the students shot, I would be furious.  I wouldn’t care if the guns were legally obtained or licensed, or if they had been stolen from a legal owner.  All I would know would be that my child was now dead.  It would give me no comfort to know that the gunman was also dead because I would know that there was always someone in the wings waiting to do the same somewhere else, to someone else’s son or daughter.  How, in a country of over 300 million people, can anyone think that allowing anyone – with documented exceptions – to own a firearm will not lead to some problems.  The larger the population, the greater the likelihood that someone will abuse the law.

From what I can see, regulating gun ownership means just that.  It does not mean taking guns away from people who have them for quite legitimate reasons; it does not mean the State deciding who has a firearm based on criteria that they keep in a cupboard under lock and key; it does not mean telling Joe (or Josephine) America how to defend themselves.  It means – to me – making it harder for people like the Oregon shooter and many like him to have access to weapons that can kill lots of people in one event.  Not impossible, as we all know that to be a non-starter, but harder and surely the parents of those who died this week, and in the other mass shootings this year and previously, would be the first to stand for greater control.  I know I would.  I would not see it as taking away the rights of one section of society but, rather, helping to preserve the rights of another, who are no longer in a position to defend themselves.