Thursday, December 29, 2005

Pilot dumps drunk man on island

BBC NEWS | England | Manchester | Pilot dumps drunk man on island This is excellent. It would be worth being four hours late to have seen this guy get what he deserved. Hurrah for that pilot!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

It's good to talk

This Christmas, BT have clogged the airwaves with their commercial for their fantastic new service which translates your text message into a voicemail. You text "see you later" and a robotic voice says "see you later" to the recipient. Now, am I missing something here? Since virtually everyone has an answer machine on their phone, wouldn't it be easier to just say "see you later" for the recipient to hear your message spoken by you? We seem to losing sight of what phones are for. I understand the next breakthrough is a system where you dial someone, and when they pick up, you will be able to talk to them, just like a real conversation. Marvellous...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

All done with mirrors

Our local paper reveals today that there has been a spate of thefts of Volkswagen wing mirrors by a gang they are imaginatively dubbing the VW mirror gang. It doesn't have quite the ring of The Black Hand gang, or the Jesse James gang, does it? The thing is, my VW wing mirror was nicked a few weeks ago. I assumed it was some scally whose mirror was broken and who fancied mine instead. It's now clear that VW wing mirrors across the Fylde are being nicked. But why? What's the market? Do blokes sidle up to other blokes in pubs saying "Fancy a VW Wing mirror mate? Only a tenner." Or what? Anyone out there know what might motivate a criminal to target VW (and not any other cars) wing mirrors?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"Life Reeked with Joy"

Jeff Weintraub: "Life Reeked with Joy" Thanks to Norm for the link to this. The celebration of howlers is a regular feature of the educational end of term calendar. What's great about this is that the writer has constructed a chronological narrative out of it.
I sent this to a colleague, who fired back a classic:
"In 1066, a man named Norman Conquest came to England and brought lots of French words with him." (that's from a first year undergraduate essay...)
Of course, I once did come across Mr and Mrs Conquest's little boy Norman, but that will start us off on the barmy names thread again...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Selling Educashun

Selling Educashun :: Austin Mitchell's WeBLOG :: Austin Powered
Austin Mitchell's blog (thanks, Nogbad) uncovers what we already knew anyway - that the way Labour operate is all about presentation and nothing about substance. The "tool kit" with pre-prepared quotes for press releases is risible - or at least would be if it wasn't frightening. I can recall a time not so long ago when people like Blair would have condemned such tactics as reminiscent of a fascist, control-freak state apparatus...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Dr Who?

Here's another brilliant Owen Barder spoof. Can't help feeling the BBC must be a bit miffed at what he does, especially as here it's their product he's using. Great idea, perfectly executed.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Future State Funerals

So who decided that George Best should have a state funeral? Because that's what it was, with the thousands of mourners, the wall-to-wall live coverage on the TV, the endless stories in today's newspapers, all with obligatory quotes about how George was the people's prince...
The grief fest that, post-Diana, now seems obligatory, will obviously lead to a progressive upping of the stakes as more famous folk die. It seems to me that we can expect similar scenes when the following shuffle off their mortal coil:
Sir Thumbs Aloft (but not Ringo)
Lord Attenborough (but not David)
Sir Elton John
Sir Bobby Charlton
Sir Michael Jagger (but not Keef, who is clearly indestructible anyway)
Sir Trevor McDonald
Joan Collins
Lord Lloyd-Webber (but not Julian, or Tim Rice)
Any more?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Keep Calm

Barter Books - Gift Shop
Kat has posted recently about mottoes. This seems a good one to me. A snippet in the Guardian sent me there. Seems like a very apt motto for these troubled times. It's a great bookshop too...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Spoof signs

BBC NEWS | In Pictures | In pictures: Spoof signs
This is a neat idea - and just ready for the Christmas (sorry, Winterval) market. There's a pleasing air of the surreal about them, which makes them more entertaining than the real signs you see around you. My recent "real" favourite is one that says "Danger - possible wet and slippery surface". This is posted at the entrance to the showers in the gym...

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Floral Tributes again

I note that the beatification of George Best lasted all of 24 hours. One of today's tabloid "newspapers" alleges that he had at least two "secret" children. Given his lifestyle, are we surprised? Does it matter? No, and no.
Meanwhile, the floral tributes pour in, and a Diana-like mountain of flowers, pictures, scarves etc grows outside Old Trafford. Toddlers whose parents were too young ever to have seen Best play are being pushed forward to add their teddy bear or posy. It's nauseating.
Best was a great footballer - one of the all time greats. His death is sad, though hardly unexpected, and hardly otherwise remarkable. I wonder how many other fifty something alcoholics died the other day? Best's memory was ill served at the end by the ghoulish bulletins from outside the hospital - Best not dead yet, Best still not dead - reminiscent of the rolling news coverage of the Pope's death - and by the tacky souvenir pull-outs when he finally did succumb.
Who's next for the maudlin flower show? We seem locked into a cycle of excessive public grief when a famous person dies, though unable as a society to sort out the misery and pain that surrounds us everywhere, and that we conveniently ignore.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Term-time working 'lowers grades'

BBC NEWS | Education | Term-time working 'lowers grades' The department of the bleeding obvious has clearly been working overtime of late. I suppose the statistics will be useful in the debate about student funding, but surely no-one can be surprised by this?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Do you want a bag for that?

This morning, like most other Sunday mornings, I bought my Sunday paper (the Observer, since you ask) at our local newsagent. As on every other occasion I have bought a paper there, he asked if I wanted a bag for it. As always, I declined - I've given up pointing out the waste this habit causes. When I said, months ago, that I didn't want a bag, and what's more, they might consider the environmental consequences of offering a bag to everyone, he looked at me as if I was mad.
The use of plastic bags in this country is a disgrace. In other European countries, it is routine (as of course it used to be here) to go shopping with a sturdy shopping bag. Plastic bags are very much the last resort. German stores always sell very cheap, but durable canvas bags for people without a shopping bag. In Ireland, you can have a bag, but you pay for it - the result is that plastic bag use in supermarkets has declined - people use proper bags, or reuse their old plastic ones. Litter is reduced, as is the number of bags going to landfill.
The UK government considered such a scheme three years ago, but obviously decided it had more important things to do, even though the supermarkets were in favour. Maybe the supermarkets should just do it anyway- there must be some forum where the suits from Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and the rest meet up. Why can't they just agree that they will henceforth charge 10p a bag? And why not commit the profit from that charge to environmental schemes? Then they could show they had a conscience, benefit the environment, feel good about themselves, and it would cost them nothing.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Coffee drinkers enjoy drinking coffee shock horror

Britain, UK news from The Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online:
Another despatch from the department of the bleeding obvious. It clearly was a very onerous task to discover that "high street cafes are convivial places where people go to enjoy others’ company." Who knew? I always go to to them to play ice hockey. I feel a couple of research proposals coming on:
1) to investigate the reasons why people go to pubs. This will involve a two year longitudinal study of human interaction in public houses. Researchers will be committed to spending at least twenty hours a week in pubs in order to conduct their research.
2) to investigate the impact of personal income on restaurant choice. This will involve visiting a large number of restaurants, especially the more expensive ones, and interviewing people about the amount of money they have spent. Researchers will be obliged to eat at these restaurants to conduct covert investigations of the subjects.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

You call that music?

One of the surer signs of advancing age is that you find yourself saying things you remember your parents saying. I've long been detached from the pop music scene, but yesterday marked a new level of dissociation. In the never-ending fight against flab, I went to the gym. There is always something blaring out of the speakers, and I usually manage to ignore it. Yesterday, though, it was so loud and insistent, I couldn't avoid it. Several long tracks were played. They all had near identical throbbing beats, but the lyrics were different. Track one went:
I can't wait until the weekend
I can't wait until the weekend
I can't wait until the weekend
I can't wait until the weekend
I can't wait until the weekend
I can't wait until the weekend
I can't wait until the weekend
I can't wait until the weekend
I can't wait until the weekend
I can't wait until the weekend
I can't wait until the weekend
(Repeat ad infinitum)
The second track was a subtle variation on this masterpiece:
I can't wait until Saturday comes
I can't wait until Saturday comes
I can't wait until Saturday comes
I can't wait until Saturday comes
I can't wait until Saturday comes
I can't wait until Saturday comes
etc etc
The third track explored a whole new area of the artist's emotional palette:
Put your hands in the air
Put your hands in the air
Put your hands in the air
Put your hands in the air
Put your hands in the air
Put your hands in the air
(and so on until I had virtually given up the will to live)
Now, I'm not going to claim that in my day we had proper music, made our own entertainment, could have a night out at the pictures and a bag of chips and still have change out of sixpence for the tram fare...but we did actually require our heroes to write lyrics (often fey and pretentious it's true) and we did require them to master the rudiments of their instruments. Now we seem to have (almost) lyric-free, and certainly instrument-free "songs" that are almost identical to each other. I just don't get it. But then, I'm an old git.
memo to self:
1. Buy iPod
2. Load with Vivaldi
3. Go to gym.

Monday, November 07, 2005

John Fowles

Guardian Unlimited Books | News | Author John Fowles dies aged 79 I was sad to read of the death of Fowles. The French Lieutenant's Woman will go down as one of the most engaging postwar British novels, notable especially for a postmodern twist: alternative endings, presented by an intrusive narrator. That novel is a useful read for anyone studying Victorian history or literature, as Fowles did some extensive research, documented in un-novelish footnotes.
The Collector is a kind of Hitchcockian thriller, very well plotted, and genuinely creepy.
He would have a considerable reputation on these two novels alone, but he produced a good deal of other fiction and critical writing. One of the last grand old men of English letters.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Literature-Map - The tourist map of literature

Literature-Map - The tourist map of literatureThis is an interesting concept. Key in a writer's name and watch the map develop. An interesting way of finding new authors similar to ones you already like, methinks.

End of the book?

BBC NEWS | Technology | Microsoft scans British Library
Reading stufff like this makes you wonder how long the printed book has got left. But the book has a great resilience, and I can't imagine a time when it would be more pleasant to sit under a tree on a summer's day with a hand held electronic device rather than a physical volume with pages.
Initiatives such as this will be important for research, but won't, in my estimation, signal the end for the traditional book.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Blunkett resigns

BBC NEWS | Politics | Blunkett resigns from the Cabinet
Blimey! Cabinet minister does honourable thing shock horror...

Jail for eBay phishing fraudster

BBC NEWS | England | Lancashire | Jail for eBay phishing fraudster A long time ago, in another lifetime, I taught this man. The last thing I recall him saying to me was that he was going to be famous one day. Well, he made it.

The English Disease

Weekly book reviews and literary criticism from the Times Literary Supplement
The last time I mentioned Theodore Dalrymple in this blog, I received an angry comment from a reader in which Dalrymple was labelled a fascist. I replied, mildly, that although I could see that Dalrymple was certainly conservative (and maybe Conservative) that didn't mean he was to be equated with Hitler and Mussolini. The writer apologised for the intemperate language, and withdrew the comment. I suspect that what was behind his words was the uneasy feeling that Dalrymple often speaks some harsh home truths, many of which are uncomfortable to paid up wishy washy liberals such as me. I think the strength of Dalrymple's commentary resides in his experience. I can't think of any commentator, of the right or the left, who has such a fund of first hand experience of the British underclass as Dalrymple, and it is that which lends his comments authority.
This collection of his writing ranges across all of his consistent themes. In particular, the relentless vulgarisation of British (or more particularly English) culture is a recurrent motif. Much of what TD says rings true, though, like the reviewer here, I wonder why he doesn't lay the blame more squarely at the feet of American globalisation. It's easy to observe the complete lack of deference, of manners, of respect today. And I think popular culture plays its part. Where I work, the campus shop has a big display of its best selling magazines. They are, without exception, crudely sexist men's magazines which, paradoxically one might think, show a distinct misogynist streak, as this article amply demonstrates. Here's a sample of what the young male students find so irresistible about these magazines:

Zoo is currently searching for Britain's dumbest girlfriend. Tony Miller from Manchester proposes his lady love, Fi: "I'm going to get her a stale turd for Christmas," he says, "because it goes with her shit brain." Zoo had more than 200 entries to its competition to "win a boob job for your girlfriend", a prize to "transform her into a happier, more generous, intelligent, spiritual, interesting ... version of the slightly second-rate person she is today". Pictures of Jordan before and after her own journey from B to DD are featured, along with a selection of breasts to solve the reader's dilemma: "Which type of tits do you want for YOUR girlfriend?"
These, and semi-pornographic "newspapers" such as the Sun and the Star regularly outsell serious newspapers (all of which, thanks to the student discount, are cheaper). And this is in an educational establishment.
The editors (and the readers) take the view that it's all " a bit of fun" and that anyone who objects is a fussy prude. But I think that misses the point - the relentless objectification of women, to the point where they are reduced to the sum of their sexual parts, can't not contribute to a climate where proper respectful relations between the sexes are debased, leading to the kind of situation described in Dalrymple's book, where “No grace, no reticence, no measure, no dignity, no secrecy, no depth, no limitation of desire is accepted”.
The government's introduction of all-day licensing, cynically presented as a way of making our binge-drinking youth suddenly sophisticated Europeans sipping a dry Chablis whilst discussing Proust, is in fact a green light for the drinks industry to promote even further the kind of reckless excess that we see more and more frequently on our streets, as this article demonstrates.
Meanwhile, the government appoint a "Respect Tsarina" whose main claim to fame is her drunken speech to chief constables in which she suggested "you can't binge drink anymore because lots of people have said you can't do it. I don't know who bloody made that up, it's nonsense." She suggested that some ministers might perform better if they "turn up in the morning pissed" as "Doing things sober is no way to get things done."
It goes without saying that in Topsyturvydom, she retains the full confidence of the Prime Minister.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Famous portrait 'not Shakespeare'

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Arts | Famous portrait 'not Shakespeare'
This is hardly a shock. Actually, if you google for the Grafton portrait, the first hit is the Norton site claiming it's Marlowe. This is another example of the way that Shakespeare gets romanticised. We seem to want to possess him, and an authentic portrait (and a diary, letters, laundry lists etc) would help. But it isn't going to happen. Why anyone would think this had to be Shakespeare is beyond me. The attribution is based on the flimsiest evidence - the sitter is the same age Shakespeare would have been,, that's it.
Having said that, the reasons advanced as to why it can't be WS are just as pathetic. The expert says "it is very unlikely that in 1588, Shakespeare would have been able to afford a costume of this type." OK, I'm sure that's true - but wouldn't people have dressed up for a portrait? Or couldn't the painter have imagined some clothes? And if WS was so poor, how come anyone thought he'd be able to afford his portrait in the first place?
I wish we could accept that we will never know that much about Shakespeare. We seem to be able to accept this lack of knowledge with other great literary figures (Homer, Chaucer for instance) so why not WS?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Keep on Blogging...

...because it's changing the world aparently, according to this article on the new Flock browser. I just liked the picture.

Word verification on

I've reluctantly turned this on, as I keep getting comment spam from brainless morons in Coleslaw Arizona...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Malayan pantoums

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Stephen Fry's Malayan pantoums
I agree with McMillan about Fry - he does seem, damn him, the complete renaissance man. McMillan is a lively and interesting poet, who has written much whimsical and humorous stuff, but who has a serious side too. I like "The Er Barnsley Seascapes" for their surreal quality. He has an excellent show on Radio 3, too, which I imagine no-one listens to as it's broadcast, because it goes out on a Saturday night. Another reason to thank the BBC Listen Again thingy. Anyway, now you know what a pantoum is, don't you?

The last Leeds post

Leeds, Live it, Love it > Visitors > Home
Here's the website displaying that logo. Now, call me a cynic if you like Duncan, but that copyright sign is next to the word Leeds, so it does look like you've attempted to copyright the word. Amazon have trade marked "And you're done" I notice, and lots of other familiar phrases now have the TM symbol after them, and yet Dunc (as I like to think of him) says that no everyday word can be copyrighted. I'm sure he's right, so why do the powers that be allow the trademarking of common phrases?

Almost the last Leeds post...

So here's the logo that doesn't copyright the word Leeds. It sure looks like it does though, doesn't it?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Blair is an alien - official

Originally uploaded by Darth_munki.
Just saw this whizzing by on the flickr Zeitgeist stream...

Leeds Backlash

Here's a turn up for the books - after days of no doubt frenzied discussions, Marketing Leeds have responded. My correspondent is Duncan (we are apparently already on first name terms) who tells me that "as you will no doubt be aware, it is impossible to copyright a placename, or indeed any standard English word. The copyright symbol included in our brand design therefore refers to the image, form and colourways of the logo as a whole, which, as you will understand, do require legal protection from copyright infringement."
Don't you love the use of "colourways"? Can someone tell me the difference between "colourway" and "colour"? No, thought not. So it seems that we can go on referring to Leeds, but not in that particular, er, colourway. That's a relief.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Leeds 0, Hong Kong 3 (Chan, hat trick)

Predictably, the dynamic folks at Marketing Leeds maintained a dignified silence in response to my e-mail, and after all, who could blame them? How were they to know that Hong Kong had been running a major marketing campaign for two years using the very slogan they had come up with? It's not as if Jackie Chan, the star of the promotion, was a well-known figure, was it? And when you've only got £150,000 to play with, you can't expect every tiny problem to be sorted out, can you? The business editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post, Nigel Scott, was, in contrast, admirably swift in his reply to me on the copyright issue. Apparently, they haven't copyrighted "Leeds" but the slogan "Leeds Live it Love it". I wonder what the Hong Kong equivalent of m'learned friends will think about that?
Incidentally, when I were a lad, the slogan for the Evening Post was "there's nowt like it at night!" You can imagine the Marketing Leeds suits spluttering into their canapes at that....

Friday, October 14, 2005

Pinter's surprise

Guardian Unlimited | Arts news | 'They said you've a call from the Nobel committee. I said, why?': Pinter, it seems, is pretty surprised to be awarded the Nobel. And, as might have been expected, he too feels it may be as much to do with his politics as with his plays. He says: "But I suspected that they must have taken my political activities into consideration since my political engagement is very much part of my work. It's interwoven into many of my plays. But I will find out more when I go to Stockholm in December. I'm told I am required to make a 45-minute speech which is the longest speech I will ever have made. Of course, I intend to say whatever it is I think. I may well address the state of the world. I'll be interested myself to find out how I'm going to articulate the whole thing."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

False Leeds

I notice that the Marketing Leeds people are shamelessly sticking with their Live It Love It slogan, and have even managed to copyright the word Leeds - how did that happen? Surely that can't be right? I'll ask them and report back. In the meantime, I think I'll copyright, oooh, "Tunbridge Wells"... And has there ever been a more pathetic invitation than "We will soon be launching our consumer-focused websites, where everyone will be able to live and love Leeds all day every day"

Pinter wins Nobel literary prize

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Arts | Pinter wins Nobel literary prize
I suppose this is not entirely unexpected, though it will cause much harrumphing in certain quarters. I can't help feeling that this is not so much an award for his literary output - what has he done in the last few years, really? - but for his political views, which, I dare say, are in tune with those of the Nobel committee. And of course, given that he has a very serious medical condition, it's maybe a question of if not now, when? Should be an interesting acceptance speech!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Meaningless Slogans No. 5769

BBC NEWS | England | West Yorkshire | Row over second-hand city slogan
This is a hoot (Leeds in-joke). Two things need to be said. First, in answer to the councillors who asked whether the city has got value for £150,000 research and launch costs, the answer is NO. The second thing, leaving aside the breathtaking incompetence of a firm that can charge that sort of money for a second hand slogan, is - what the hell does it mean? Live what? Love what? The "it" can only refer to the city, so I suppose charitably we could say the slogan suggests that the reader will love Leeds - the verb's in the command form, so we don't apparently have a choice. But live it? How do I "live" a city? If we must have marketing slogans for places - and I seriously doubt we do - at least let's have ones that mean something. It's asking too much of course. Personally, if I were Leeds council, I'd be asking for my money back. And if they really want a slogan, organise a competition in the city's schools, and give the winner a book token. It'll be bound to come up with a better idea than this vacuous nonsense. It makes the "Marketing Leeds" puffery all the more laughable - their website says " Come back soon to see how the cream of Leeds enjoyed the Marketing Leeds launch party and the much-anticipated unveiling of the new Leeds brand."
I'm tempted to add that Leeds has a city motto -Pro rege et lege - that at least has some dignity. The current campaign, apart from being nicked from Hong Kong of course, is more reminiscent of Macd*nald's "I'm lovin' it" than anything. But that's what comes of trying to sell a place as if it were a burger, I suppose.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Fergie doll?

BBC NEWS | England | Manchester | Fergie 'too famous' for bill ban
I'm with the judge here - the prospect of a Fergie doll is just too gruesome to contemplate. Presumably it would have auto red face function and special hairdryer effect...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Diplomat 'was real Shakespeare'

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Arts | Diplomat 'was real Shakespeare' which the most obvious reply is "yeah, right." I wonder why there is such an industry trying to prove that Shakespeare didn't write the plays. Jonson, who had an even less privileged background than Shakespeare, has never, to my knowledge, been doubted as the author of his plays, but most of the anti-Shakespeare brigade rest their case on some variation of the "he wasn't bright enough to have written the works" argument. And whilst there is little we actually know for sure about Shakespeare, there is a historical record that documents his life, and various contemporaries said things in praise of him. I doubt whether the authors of this latest study have found any documents in which someone says definitively that Shakespeare didn't write the plays. See also, the claims of the Marlowe Society that Marlowe wasn't actually killed in a tavern brawl, but lived in exile - some believing that he wrote some "Shakespeare" too.
This book will join the rest of a surprisingly long list of books which reveal - absolutely definitely - that Shakespeare's plays were written by Bacon, Queen Elizabeth, the Bishop of Llandaff, a committee, the Earl of Southampton, the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Rutland etc etc...
Of course, there is a radical alternative to these brilliant theses: maybe some bloke from Stratford was behind all those plays.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Literary greats 'key to English'

BBC NEWS | Education | Literary greats 'key to English'
Well - who knew, eh?

The price of unfairness

Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | The price of unfairness
More on the Marlborough boy. Mark Lawson points out that the case is symptomatic of a society in which people think money entitles them to anything. I'm reminded of a student who didn't attend, nor do any work, and didn't respond to messages asking him to contact me. When I finally tracked him down, I told him I couldn't see in what way he could be classified as a student. He was most put out - angry even - and insisted that he was a student. When I asked him on what basis he could claim that, against all the evidence, he said "I've paid my fees." I hadn't the heart to tell him his fees were no more than a contribution to the cost of his education, and that they would probably account for no more than a couple of months of his course. What concerned me more was his notion that simply by registering, and paying his tuition fee, he became a student - no study was involved, apparently.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Girl arrested over Bollocks to Blair shirt

Girl arrested over Bollocks to Blair shirt - Horse&Hound Online Here's a first - a link to a story in Horse and Hound, not the urban vegetarian's journal of choice. But this is ludicrous. No police were present at my workplace today when I was confronted by a trainee primary teacher wearing a tee-shirt with the marvellously witty slogan "Born to FCUK".

Lessons in arrogance

BBC NEWS | England | Wiltshire | Schoolboy told Pc he was 'scum'
More on this hilarious case, which I have mentioned before. I wonder if the father has ever stopped to think what he can possibly achieve? In the highly unlikely event of a successful prosecution, is he really going to send his son back to this apparently appalling school which has had the gall to expel his son? Apparently, he feels that raising the matter of his son's public drunken and abusive behaviour aged 13 is fighting dirty - see here
As the secretary of the Independent Schools Council says: ""What you have is a boy who has 200 disciplinary offences in the last year. That's one a day. So on a daily basis, to be blunt about it, he's putting two fingers up to the school. And his father, instead of saying to his son, 'Look, you've got to abide by school rules,' is saying to the school, 'You've got to put up with my son's behaviour." I'm sure many state schools are very jealous of the ability public schools such as Marlborough have to expel any pupil who doesn't conform. The policy in state schools is to punish financially schools who expel disruptive pupils. Of course, if Mr Tony really was serious about education, education, education, he'd implement the long standing Labour pledge to abolish private schools, thus ensuring that the state system had an injection of well-motivated middle and upper class pupils. But don't get me started on the school system. Instead, just check out this report on a school in Finland, and reflect that they have no national curriculum...
Update: the judge threw the case out today, Thursday, in a widely anticipated outcome. So sonny boy will have to be inflicted on another school. I'm sure the lawyers are watching with interest.

The Arrow

Chez Topsyturvydom, the evening meal normally takes place around 8. We tend to be accompanied by our newish digital radio (about three years' worth of Nectar points since you ask) which is great unless it's a Tuesday and Radio 2 has "The Organist Entertains". If Radio 3 has what we musical boffins call "plinky plonky" music, then we turn to The Arrow. This is a digital station, and, at the times we listen anyway, sends you into a timewarp. There's hardly any advertising, and hardly any dee-jay chattter, so I feel like I have walked into a teenage party circa 1972. Lots of Rod Stewart, David Bowie, Van Morrison, various hairy blues bands, some 60s stuff - Kinks, Beatles - a few obscurities - it's the soundtrack to every party I attended between 1970 and 1974. Apart from a worrying predilection for Jeff Lynne era ELO, virtually every track will be very evocative for those of us just beginning to receive Saga brochures. The station announcements are always made in that portentous (and needlessly American) film trailer voice, which is somewhat incongruous for such a definitively British product, but I can put up with that, as I muse "Ou sont les neiges d'antan?" whilst trying to anticipate the lyrics to "Cindy Incidentally"...

Monday, September 19, 2005

7 things

Tagged by Kat - I'll have to find a better hiding place. OK:
7 things I plan to do before I die:

1) Live a lot longer
2) Get fitter
3) Visit New Zealand
4) Experience Il Carnevale in Venice
5) Write a novel
6) Dance
7) Discover how to sleep comfortably with two cats on the bed

7 things I can do:

1) Cook a decent veggie meal (Current signature dish: tagliatelle in gorgonzola sauce - bit of a cholesterol bomb, actually)
2) Look over my glasses in a withering fashion
3) Form an opinion on a book without having read it (and, in the case of A level Literature circa 1981, teach a book without having read it...)
4) Throw sticks for dogs much further than you'd think
5) Remember obscure details of records from 1971.
6) Read newspapers for hours
7) Eat burnt toast

7 things I cannot do:

1) Text messages. Sorry, I meant txt msgs
2) Pass a cat without attempting to stroke it
3) Wait in stationary traffic
4) Allow meaningless mumbo-jumbo to pass unchallenged.
5) Play a musical instrument
6) Use the verb "deliver" to mean "teach"
7) Speak in tongues

7 things that attract me to another person:

I can't actually think of seven things - how do you know what it is? That's the mystery isn't it?

7 things that I say most often:

1) Ludicrous!
2) Howzat? (at least, I've been saying that a lot during the Ashes)
3) onward and upward
4) Boris!
5) What's for tea?
6) You might think that, I couldn't possibly comment
7) Yays (a la Ray McCooney in Little Britain)

7 celebrity crushes:
This touches a nerve. I'm not allowed to say any woman on TV/film is good looking, or 'er indoors will thereafter refer to said woman as "your girlfriend". Those who have filled this role range from Julie Andrews (I know...) to Courtney Cox to Cherie Lunghi...

I found this a rather unsettling exercise - and I don't know why, it's just a bit of fun, eh?- so I won't tag anyone else.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Wayside shrines

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | In memory of solipsismThis article by the combative Muriel Gray caused something of a backlash in the letters pages this week, but, aside from her somewhat gratuitously offensive conclusion, I'm with her. I live a fair distance from my place of work, about 30 miles, but, depending on my route, I will pass seven or eight makeshift memorials in that journey. If that is true throughout the country, then every five miles or so one is likely to encounter a windblown cellophane-wrapped bunch of faded flowers wrapped round a lampost. I know of one memorial which is actually on a motorway, so presumably the family of the dead person are driving there, stopping illegally and dangerously on the hard shoulder and tying their bunch of flowers to the base of a sign.
I suppose people will say it makes them feel better, and that it's harmless. Actually, it could be harmful, if the related practice of building cairns is allowed to continue, as this letter by Ron Graves shows - and the previous letter gives the opposing view, but misses the point, I feel.
This all seems to have gathered speed following Diana's death. The transformation in the British psyche now seems complete. We must emote, and we must do it publicly. There are times when the stiff upper lip would be welcome. Grieve, yes - but why make it a public spectacle? And aren't graves rather than traffic lights at busy road junctions the best places for floral tributes?

Michael Bywater

Bee Docs' Timeline - Featured Users I came across this interview via a link on John Naughton's blog. MB is one of the few reasons why a paid up liberal softie like moi would desert the Grauniad for the Indy, and this is a fascinating account of someone who straddles academia and journalism successfully. Not many do - John Sutherland is the only other in the field of Literature who springs to mind. Bywater makes a point that has occurred to me - that classicists have made much more of the web than modern literature folk. I'm not sure why that should be, but I do think there's a lot of possibilities yet to be exploited by those of us in the field of modern and contemporary literature.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Young people today...

A sort of supplement to the previous post. I spent much of today doing introductory sessions to new undergraduates. I was in the middle of telling a group the details of the English Literature course they had signed up for. One student said - " So, do we like read these books ?" Collapse of stout party, etc.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Value for money?

Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | It isn't philistinism to give students value for money
There's a lot I would agree with here. Certainly Polly Toynbee is right to say that many students are treating their degree studies as a part time occupation. Where I would take issue with her is where she suggests that this means they could do their degrees much more quickly if they put in more hours in the classroom. In a subject such as English Literature, a major proportion of a student's time needs to be taken up with reading. Yes, I know, that's a statement of the bleeding obvious. But actually, a surprisingly high number of students don't seem to be able to grasp that simple fact. They have a model of education (and I couldn't possibly comment on where they got it from) in which information is transmitted from a tutor to the student without passing through the student's brain. At its worst, this manifests itself as a kind of weary passivity: I had a student once (on a teacher-training course, no less) who said to me, "Why can't you just tell us what to write and we'll write it?" Thankfully, I don't get many students as intellectually bankrupt as that one. I do, though, get some who ask why is that they have to read lots of books, and how come the books are so long, and, like, old? The requirement to read eats in to their social and working life, but pace Polly, the courses they are on are designed to operate on the basis that they will use their copious non-contact time to read, reflect, write, plan, engage with the material of their study. Cutting down on the amount of time they have outside the classroom won't improve that situation. They need to understand that doing a degree properly (and not as a bit of time-filling between clubbing excursions and stacking shelves at Tesco) involves a lot of commitment, dedication, and, yes, hard work, often self-motivated.
Polly also seems to feel that it's important that "hard" subjects - which always means the sciences - are taken up by lots of students. I wouldn't argue with that, but I would suggest that virtually any subject, studied with sufficient rigour, is worthy of a place in university life. I think we fetishize the work-related aspect of study too much. This is currently manifested in the government's and the funding council's emphasis on work placements as part of all degrees - sensible enough if you are studying architecture, but a bit difficult if your subject is medieval theology. On the one hand, we have, throughout education, an emphasis on the acquisition of "skills" which, we are told, will equip people for the fast-changing working lives they will lead, in a world where no-one's job will be for life, where people will have a portfolio of different work experiences and so on. OK - so why seek to link particular subjects with particular work, often in a ludicrously artificial way? Why not insist instead on high standards of academic rigour in the teaching and learning of subjects, a policy which will deliver transferable skills to equip students for the fast changing work environment of the 21st century? As a big noise from IBM said to a colleague of mine recently -"We're interested in intelligent, lively, communicative graduates. We don't care what subject their degree is - we can teach them all they need to know about computing in the first six months. We need people who can work individually and as a team, who have initiative, who can write literate reports, who can communicate..."
I don't think Polly's image of the tweedy research-based academic has much basis in the reality of modern mass higher education. I expect there are a few of these dinosaurs still about, but the rest of us have had to adapt to a very different landscape than one dominated by ivory towers.

Don't dumb me down

Guardian Unlimited | Life | Don't dumb me down
I love Ben Goldacre's pieces in the Grauniad. Here he summarises what he's been doing in his Bad Science column for the last couple of years. Always entertaining and, curiously, reassuring - as one of the Humanities graduates he mentions in the article, I would otherwise be taken in by the daily more barmy claims of breakthroughs, miracle cures etc which he so effectively rubbishes every week. More power to his elbow, I say!
(and why is it the elbow that we wish more power to?)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Bush family and Hurricane Katrina

Guardian Unlimited | Cartoons | 07.09.05: The Bush family and Hurricane Katrina
As usual, Steve Bell gets to the point. This is after Barbara Bush's brilliant insight that the people evacuated to Texas have actually been lucky: "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (chuckle)--this is working very well for them." Hat tip - Kat

Sunday, September 04, 2005


I've been tagged, from the film of the same name, to answer these questions. Here goes:
1. Number of books I have owned: I really don't know. In the room where I sit now, I estimate there are about 500 books. In the rest of the house posibly another 2000 or so. In my office, maybe another 1000. Joint ownership with 'er indoors, of course.
2. Last book I bought - Andrew Sinclair, The Breaking of Bumbo. I was keen on Sinclair as a youth, and have rediscovered him recently. I recommend Gog particularly. He has recently written a book dealing with all that da Vinci code (and why wasn't it Leonardo code?) material, aiming at a readership with more than half a brain cell. It's called Rosslyn
3. Last book I completed - I really don't know. I've got several on the go at the moment: A.S. Byatt's Babel Tower, Andrew Crumey's Mobius Dick and Monica Ali's Brick Lane.
4. Five books that mean a lot to me - what, only five? Blimey, that's tough. This would be my choice today - probably a different five tomorrow:
Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy
Anthony Burgess, Any Old Iron
George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
A.S. Byatt, Possession
Peter Ackroyd, Chatterton
5. Five bloggers to tag - I don't know if I should presume, but if they want, I wouldn't mind knowing about the following bloggers' tastes:
Morning Loves It
The Gray Monk
Guido Fawkes
Francessa of Francessa's Thinking
Englishman in New York

Wimmin Only

On Saturday, I browsed around a Liverpool bookshop. It's a co-op, with a radical ethos, and "alternative" atmosphere. It has a table with a pile of petitions on it, and a very extensive Mind Body and Spirit section. You know the kind of thing. I was looking for a particular book in the fiction section, but rather than a straight A-Z listing, they have organised fiction into particular types, so that the shelves start with Asian fiction, then Black fiction, and so on. To add to the confusion, the lower shelves are organised alphabetically, containing those books which, presumably, don't fit their eccentric system. As I browsed, I got to L, which is Lesbian fiction. Fine, except there's a notice on the shelf saying that this section is for women only. I was tempted to browse furiously there, or even to buy one of the books just to see what would have happened. Would alarms go off? Would burly female bouncers chuck me out?
Imagine if Waterstones had a section which restricted browsers by gender - "this section is for men only..." There would be an outcry, wouldn't there, led by people exactly like those who run this bookshop. They'd probably get up a petition.
I couldn't find a copy of the novel whose title gives the bookshop its name. Maybe I didn't see the White Male Victorian Utopian Vision with Arts and Crafts Overtones section.

Friday, September 02, 2005

One side can be wrong

Guardian Unlimited | Life | One side can be wrong
...and further to the musings on religious belief below, let's not forget that the Reverend Dubya, currently failing to organise a piss-up in a brewery, is also keen on the teaching of creationism as an alternative to evolution in America's allegedly religion-free schools. Richard Dawkins does a demolition job here, but it's really shooting fish in a barrel.

New Orleans

It's difficult to believe the scenes we are witnessing on TV originate in the richest and most powerful country in the world. I noticed that at the time of declaring a state of emergency, the Louisiana governor advised the people to pray. Since that didn't work, apparently, the anarchy is to be controlled by - what? food-drops? planned evacuation? Nope - by troops armed to the teeth to stop starving people trying to survive. The governor who was so keen on prayer as a solution now says of the troops: "They have M-16s and are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will." So that's all right then.
One other thing on the religious response - I saw a woman interviewed after being rescued from the rising water. She had seen neighbours swept away. "I was blessed" she said. Leaving aside the notion of feeling blessed when your home and everything you own has been destroyed, did she stop to think why she had been chosen? Why had God decided to rescue her, but not her poor and doubtless equally God-fearing neighbours? Or even why God had visited this catastrophe on the city at all? This belief that somehow a deity is watching and deciding who to kill and who to save is grotesque. I'm reminded of Gloucester's line in King Lear -"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods/ They kill us for their sport." Lear's Britain is of course a pagan country - but the New Orleans version of the all-powerful deity seems very similar.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Bullshit generator > web > web economy bullshit generator
This handy tool should be on the desktop of all in management. It will provide an instant important sounding but meaningless phrase to chuck into a meeting. Promotion beckons for all who use it, I'm sure...

University of Bums on Seats

University of Bums on Seats - Welcome
My boss sent me a link to this - she thought (rightly) I'd be amused. The trouble is, many of us who work in HE see this kind of thing as only marginally exaggerating current trends. There will come a point when this won't look particularly like parody.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The f word

BBC NEWS | England | Northamptonshire | School gives pupils f-word limit
Another brilliant educational initiative. I wonder where they got 5 as the limit? Is there a sliding scale of punishment? If you use the offending word 15 times in a lesson, do you get twice the detention you would have got if you'd used it only ten times? Will the tally on the board be used to produce a league table at the end of the year? The headteacher says that he is introducing this rule because swearing is already part of the children's (sorry, "young adults'") vocabulary. A bit of a fatal flaw in his thinking, there, I feel. I imagine underage drinking is part of their culture as well - so is he proposing one Carlsberg Special Brew a lesson is OK, but half a bottle of vodka gets you sent to the headmaster's office?
What's wrong with saying, "Look, we all know you swear - as do your teachers on occasion - but a lesson is not an appropriate place for it, and it won't be tolerated."? Schools constantly go on about how they are preparing children (sorry, youngsters) for the world of work - you wonder how their foul-mouthed habits would go down with customers in a shop, or clients in an office.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Meaningless slogans once more

We spent some time staying with friends in what I thought was Surrey this week- except that their local council has decided to call itself Elmbridge, presumably on the basis that it sounds nice, as there doesn't actually seem to be a place called Elmbridge in the vicinity. But hey, why should that stop a go-ahead, hands-on, can-do sort of council making up a name for itself? Naturally, they need a slogan, and the one they've come up with - and it must have taken the PR boys and girls a lot of head-scratching- is "...bridging communities..." And yes, the dots are an integral part of it. I expect the dots added a few £k to the bill. Where to start with this? First, the dots are just silly and unnecessary. Second, how, exactly, is bridging being used here? They must mean something like "providing a bridge between communities" but that isn't as snappy is it? At least, though, it would make some sense. Of course, the use of the plural communities inplies a divided community, and that the council is some sort of UN peacekeeper force called in to keep the warlike residents of Esher and Walton-on-Thames from wiping each other out. Surprisingly, they aren't twinned with Sarajevo.
I suspect the real reason for the slogan is the feeble pun it contains. The fact that it's utterly fatuous is, in the eyes of the councillors, clearly not an issue.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Angie indeed

BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Stones' Angie in German poll row
If you thought British politicians were desperate to appear hip, check this out. How pathetic can you be? What's more, the major political show on German TV - Sabine Christiansen - routinely introduces its weekly topic to the strains of an apt 60s or 70s hit - frequently the Beatles, as it happens. So this plays into their hands. It's an invitation to be ridiculed. And have you ever seen anyone less rock and roll than Angela (with a hard g, by the way)? It's reminiscent of Kinnock's "all right" in 1992, or Mr Tony's apparent love affair with his Fender Strat. I'm sure Chancellor Schroeder is loving it...

Father sues over son's expulsion

This is brilliant, isn't it? What's the betting that the father's reason for stumping up an obscene amount of money for his son's education was that he would learn some discipline? 400 offences, eh? That's some going...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Longer pub opening leads to violence shock

This article seems to confirm what common sense would suggest - that allowing longer opening hours at pubs leads to social problems. In the process, it also gives a good kicking to the current management and government obsession with targets, so that's a bonus for all of us who have to labour under their yoke.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Meaningless Slogans No. 286

My council has now decided that every time its logo appears, it will carry the strapline "Working together for excellence". So, what does that mean? Who are they working with? Themselves? And how are they defining excellence, given they were rated "poor" by the Audit Commission? It rivals for fatuity Lancashire's "A place where everyone matters" - as opposed to everywhere else, presumably, where only a few people matter. I suspect this will run and run, as long as local government is in thrall to PR.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

New drink laws 'lead to violence'

BBC NEWS | UK | New drink laws 'lead to violence'
It doesn't take genius, or a judge, to work this out. You have to question why a government originally elected as providing moral leadership (remember the ethical foreign policy that lasted, ooh, five minutes) is promoting this self-evidently disastrous policy in the face of common sense and the advice of the people who have to deal with the consequences of it. It couldn't be that the govt is in thrall to business, could it?
When all this was being debated last year, a former student of mine wrote to the Guardian with an excellent idea:
"During five years in Australia, I never experienced the kind of binge drinking-fuelled public disorder that Tony Blair appears to want the alcohol industry to "manage", as much as eliminate.
When Queensland police arrest people for being drunk and disorderly, they find out where they were overserved and then fine the bar staff responsible £1,000 and the licensee £15,000 - ergo, it rarely happens. All but the tamest happy hours and promotions are illegal.
Guy Redden"
If we must extend the licensing hours, let's have this as well.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Chaucer's tales become rap songs

BBC NEWS | Education | Chaucer's tales become rap songs
This depresses me. Why does everything have to be made "relevant"? The excuse given here is that Chaucer's language is difficult to understand. Yes, it is. Get over it. These children will go away saying they've "done Chaucer" - but they haven't, no more than someone who's seen "West Side Story" has done Shakespeare. Chaucer - in its original form - has been taught successfully to generations of children. Now, we have to dumb it down though.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Blogging again

This blog has just returned from a holiday spent far away from internet access for the most part, and all the better for it. Boris the Topsyturvydom mascot cat seemed to enjoy his stay at the luxury cat hotel, but, like me, is glad to be back, as is his companion Phoebe, who makes her debut here today.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Apologists among us

normblog: Apologists among us
Norman Geras has some serious things to say about the reaction of some to the London bombings. I share his view, and like him, was appalled at the sentiments expressed in the article in today's Guardian by Dilpazier Aslam, which seems to suggest that the bombs can be excused as an expression of what he winningly calls "sassiness." He's a trainee, apparently. Lots more training to do, it seems.

Monday, July 11, 2005

So, I'm a bear, now, apparently...

I'm described as an "amiable Mancunian bear" here. Well, I suppose there are worse things to be called, but the diet starts here...

In a bit

On a train last week, the young man opposite me ( he looked about twelve, but obviously had a full time job in advertising, as was confirmed by his full-volume conversation with a friend across the aisle) concluded his talk, not with "good bye", "see ya" or any of those variants, but a new one - at least new to me: "in a bit". I suppose it's equivalent to the American "later" as a conversation concluder. He confirmed the usage when he had a phone conversation, of which his half went:
"Hey, it's me. Listen can you bring my sandals to work? Wicked. Cool. OK, in a bit". Don't know what to make of it, except that my extreme old age is now confirmed by my getting irritated by things like this.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Monday, July 04, 2005

Eye Witness Manchester

EWM: Letter from Manchester
Further to yesterday's post about Manchester in art, this site is absolutely the best place to go for images of contemporary Manchester. Aidan O'Rourke (who also features in the Urbis centre) has done a great job of documenting the ever changing face of the city. To see how it was, take a look at the archives at the Local Image Collection It was browsing through there that I came across an image of my great uncle outside the family greengrocer's on Rochdale Road. I spent a good deal of my formative years here. All demolished now, of course.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Picture of Manchester: gallery

BBC - Manchester - In pictures - Picture of Manchester: gallery
This intrigued me, as a Mancunian. I'm not sure I'm completely won over by these paintings, but they certainly beat the inexplicably lauded Lowry, and offer a more contemporary view of Manchester than the Victorian visions of Pierre Adolphe Valette, e.g. this one

Salgado's Antarctica

Guardian Unlimited | Arts special reports | Salgado Antarctica 1
It really is an extraordinary planet (compared to what? I hear you ask) - look at these photos to prove it. The elephant seal looks disconcertingly like me in the morning.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Mexican wave of nausea

Thursday evening saw your correspondent in Birmingham, staying overnight so as to be present on time at a morning meeting. I stayed in a pleasant hotel, but its situation - at the intersection of two dual carriageways on the ring round - left something to be desired. I decided that I (or rather, the institution who would get the bill) couldn't afford the "world -famous" cuisine in the hotel (which world was not specified) so my choice was limited to the establishments adjacent to the hotel. The Indian would have been my first choice, but the place was dead, and the plastic tables under strip lighting reminiscent of school dining halls. I walked past McDonald's on principle (and I'm vegetarian too) which left an establishment claiming to offer authentic Mexican cuisine.
This place - Chiquito? I can't remember - is a chain, with those really sophisticated laminated menus, but I was hungry, and this was available and cheap. My English teacher's hackles rose (where are your hackles, by the way?) when I saw that the place was, apparently "Famous for Fajita's". I was tempted to ask "Fajita's what?" but knew that I would be met with incomprehension. Do you think there's any mileage in a concert aimed at making the redundant apostrophe history? Thought not.
I was served by the efficient Sally ("I'm Sally and I'll be your server tonight") who took my order and asked if I wanted a drink. I did, but not from the cocktail list she proferred. Here, in the same kid-friendly laminate, was a list of staggeringly awful drinks, all with wonderfully "amusing" names. What startled me, though, since this was the kind of place where parents brought kids for birthday treats, was the names of these concoctions. "The sloe comfortable screw" might be explained away, but "Sex on the Beach"? If you wanted two of these, do you ask for "Two sexes on the beach" or "Two sex on the beaches"? The latter has a Churchillian ring... The most startling concoction was a ghastly collision of vodka, Baileys and various dairy products going by the name of the Screaming Orgasm. This is obviously designed to be hilarious to the alcopop generation, but rather like the FCUK label, if it was funny the first time (and that's debatable) it sure isn't by the three hundredth time. I imagine to the people that drink these things, it quickly becomes just a name - "oh go on then, I'll have another screaming orgasm" - but I did wonder how the parents at the table near me where a seven year old was being brought a birthday cake would explain it. "No Britney, for the last time, you're not old enough to have a screaming orgasm"...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

No problems

I took my car for an MOT this morning. The woman who runs the garage is very efficient, but she has a really irritating vocal tic. Her answer to virtually any inquiry is "not a problem." It's a variant of the increasingly common "no problem" spoken, for example, when you are given change in the shop. You say thanks, the shop person says "no problem". Well, no, obviously - why would it be a problem? I am entitled to my change, no? At the garage, I overheard a telephone conversation which went like this:
Caller - (whatever, I couldn't hear)
Garage woman - Not a problem Mr Davies
Caller - Blah blah blah
GW - Not a problem
Caller - Blah
GW - That's not a problem, no.
Caller - Blah
GW - That's not a problem in any way, shape or form...

What about that last one?
I imagine this woman's awesome power to smooth out problems could be used to solve global difficulties. Let's get her up to the G8 meeting. I imagine the press conference:

Andrew Marr: Do you have a plan to end world poverty?
Special Envoy Garage Woman: That's not a problem
Adam Boulton: What about AIDS?
SEGW: That's no problem at all
Jon Snow: Can you fix global warming?
SEGW: That's not a problem in any way, shape or form.
All: Hurrah!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Stephen's Web

Stephen's Web ~ by Stephen Downes ~ Welcome
Here's someone with lots to offer those of us exploring online and distance education. A fascinating site, and I've only just scratched the surface.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Feral Children again

The Observer | Review | Observer review: Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew by Bernard Hare
According to this book, there is an underclass of feral children in Britain. I trained as a teacher in Leeds nearly thirty years ago, and in the tough secondary modern where I did my teaching practice, I could have taught the fathers of these kids. The difference then was that there was no drug problem, beyond the odd bottle of cheap cider shared behind the bike sheds. Some of the kids were in trouble with the police because of shop lifting, there were occasional fights, and, memorably, the bus company refused to lay on buses after some boys set fire to a bus while they were still on it. Even so, I was never threatened by a pupil, and most days passed without any major incident. Most of the boys (it was an all boys school) had relatively stable family backgrounds, and unemployment was low. They could expect to land a factory job on leaving school. True, things were getting bad in the traditional heavy industries, but Thatcherism was still a few years off. I don't look back on it with rose coloured spectacles - it could be grim at times - the boys thought Kes was great, because it was so like their own lives - but nothing like the complete breakdown of structure indicated by this book and other sources such as Theodore Dalrymple.
The comparison in the review to the City of God children is a chilling one, but one that seems justified. In the midst of our affluence, we are harbouring a third-world street culture where violence, crime and death are the currency of everyday life.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Normblog on the name game

Normblog on the Name game
The very great and good Norman Geras - an honorary Mancunian - has the excellent Roosevelt Brighton as his West Indian cricketer name, and the very exotic Lambretta Metformin as his Star wars name. Actually, I'm a bit in the dark on Star Wars as I am one of the three people on the planet never to have seen any of the various episodes. The current Doonesbury story is largely passing me by as a result.
Norm invited people to send him cool names. I always liked Canaan Banana myself, and was intrigued to learn that Brian Eno's full name was Brian Peter St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno. Mind you, 'er indoors once taught a girl called Cadillac Alexis Snow White Meredith Bennett...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

What's in a name?

There's an entertaining thread on the Mark Radcliffe show at the moment. He's playing that game that we've all done where you create a name from certain elements, and the name is then your porn star name or somesuch. My porn star name (my first pet plus the street name of my first address) is pretty good - Sandy Belding - but 'er indoors has a perfect one: Mitzi Nansen. On the Radcliffe show they've invented your West Indian cricketer name, which is the surname of the US president in the year of your birth plus the last seaside town you visited. This would yield Eisenhower St Annes in my case, but St Annes is a cheat because I live there, so I'm going for Eisenhower Formby, a tricky left arm spinner methinks. Someone on the show had Nixon Whitby, which is perfect - a classic fast bowler name - and there are going to be lots of youngsters who could have names like Clinton Scarborough and Reagan Cromer. Radcliffe also suggested your Star Wars name, which would be the first car you owned followed by the name of any medication you're on, which yields not much in my case as I'm not on medication - yet - but I could cheat and go for Austin Optrex. I can't compete, however with the fabulous example on the show - Wartburg Anusol!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

How The Waste Land was done | Research | How The Waste Land was done
You'd have thought it would be difficult to say anything new about The Waste Land but Prof Rainey appears to have done the impossible. In doing so, he has managed to confirm what I suspect many people have felt - that the poem is not a magisterially organised organic whole, but really is "fragments shored against my ruins". The paradox in much criticism of the poem has been that in celebrating its quintessentially modernist attributes of ambiguity, uncertainty, provisionality, writers have then suggested that the unfinished feel of the poem is all part of Eliot's master plan. Not so, according to Prof Rainey. Not sure whether I should point my students in the direction of these findings, as they could suggest that the poem really is what it appears to be - a rattle bag of half-finished bits and pieces. They are very superior bits and pieces, though.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

I Blog, Therefore I Am

CultureSpace: I Blog, Therefore I Am
This is interesting - suggesting how identities in cyberspace are being shaped by the blogging phenomenon. I read today that there are about 4 million active blogs and millions more that have been started but then fallen into disuse, rather like the diaries we all used to start on January 1st. Mine usually ended about January 6th when we went back to school after the Christmas break.
The way that bloggers have total control over publishing what they want is key to the whole enterprise. And we shouldn't underestimate the role of hypertext - links are the defining feature of the web in my view, its USP if you like. Bookshops and libraries need some sort of order, and thus you can't jump from one subject to another with the ease of hypertext. We've all had the experience of ending up reading something about the prevalence of gherkins as snack food in Poland when we logged on to look up the dates of Ben Jonson. Or at least, I have...

Reading, how to

Easily Distracted � Sample syllabi
Just came across this - it looks like it could be a great course. I'd sign up...

Meaningless Slogans yet again

Memex 1.1
The great John Naughton shares my frustration with corporate slogans. As he points out, consultants are paid huge wodges of money for this dross - you wonder why the companies concerned never seem to follow up by asking their clients if the slogans made an impression.

Theodore Dalrymple

Curtis Bowman: Theodore Dalrymple
Here's an interesting blog piece (what IS the word for a small section of a blog? - entry perhaps?) on Theodore Dalrymple (who would have guessed that's a pseudonym?) whose writings I have often been intrigued by. Curtis Bowman is not unsympathetic, but objects to TD's dogmatism. I know what he means, but on the other hand, TD bases his observations on years of empirical evidence. He writes about what he comes across on a daily basis as a prison doctor - and it is a catalogue of, mainly, bottomless stupidity. Dalrymple often shows, as he does in the passage quoted by Bowman, how these people seem incapable of helping themselves, and simply drift from one disastrous - I was going to write "decision" but the point is they don't make decisions - one disastrous scenario to another. They are passive observers of their own downfall. What concerns me is the fate of their children. These kids have no chance to grow up as reasonable members of a civil society. The right wing press, and some police spokesmen, I've noticed, have taken to calling them "feral children" and one can see where they get that idea. Schools are routinely blamed for the problem, though, as I remember wearily pointing out to people more than once when I was a schoolteacher, you can't do much with kids who don't attend school.
The underclass that Bowman refers to is, literally, reproducing itself, and I worry about where it will lead.
Trouble is, this makes me sound like a Daily Mail reading reactionary. I'm not. None of the mainstream British parties is leftwing enough for me. Still, though, I can't see how current policies - if we can dignify the short term opportunism and soundbites of the main parties with that term - can do anything to address the problem of the breakdown in civil society.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Coe on Johnson

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Nothing but the truth
More here from Jonathan Coe on BS Johnson. Coe makes the point that Johnson used the novel as a form, which might contain anything, including autobiography. The novel, in this view, doesn't have to be fiction. In that sense, Johnson compares to the early heroes of the genre, who went to great lengths to present their writing as if it were a true account of real events, mostly from an autobiographical viewpoint. Defoe's Moll Flanders is the most notable example.
Coe also places Johnson in the modernist tradition, rather than the postmodernist. It's true that many writers routinely labelled postmodern look very much like classic modernists when you get down to cases. Johnson's innovations, startling though they still seem, are nothing compared to Finnegans Wake or Flann O'Brien's At-Swim-Two-Birds.
This modernist / postmodernist dilemma might be easily resolved if we all just decided that the modernist era hadn't really finished, that modernist tendencies had just developed. Then postmodernism, in literature anyway, would disappear - which would be a very postmodern gesture...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

B.S. Johnson triumph

Guardian Unlimited Books | Special Reports | Top prize for biography of writer who won no glory
This is good to see. The Samuel Johnson Prize has been awarded to the obscenely talented Jonathan Coe for his biography of the almost forgotten - but not now - experimental novelist of the sixties, BS Johnson. His work is uncategorisable, really, and he was writing at a time when Kingsley Amis was considered daring. I hope the recognition that this biography has been given will see a revival in Johnson's fortunes. Maybe his books will stay in print long enough for me to set them as class reading for my postmodernism module...

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Meaningless slogans once more

On the way to work today, I overtook a lorry with the legend: "Rawlings Transport - keeping it real". I don't know where to begin on this - "keeping it real" was what hippies in Haight Ashbury did in 1967. Why a transport company - sorry, logistics solutions provider - should feel the urge to keep it real is beyond me, and, I suspect, them. I imagine the MD has a tragic pony tail.
Arriving in the bustling heartland of West Lancs, I was confronted with a sign for the upcoming Ormskirk street festival, which is being sold under the tag "Ormskirk Comes Alive". Hmmm - does this confirm, as many people think, that it's usually dead? Uncomfortably close to the Royston Vasey slogan, methinks.

Monday, June 06, 2005

More Meaningless Slogans...

The OU's new expensive advertising campaign campaign hit the TV screens last night. The slogan they've gone with is "Powering People", which makes it sound like they'll be plugging students into the National Grid. This might not be such a bad thing, on reflection...
Even so, there's an ever-rising number of these mindless taglines, and I suspect I'll be returning to them in the future.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Internet and Associations

The Observer | Business | John Naughton: Log into the confessional, my son
Interesting article from John Naughton, whose Observer column is always worth a read. I hadn't heard of this peculiarly named Vannavar Bush before, but he seems to have had some far-sighted ideas. The idea of association was, of course, very much part of the modernists' armoury in novels such as Joyce's Ulysses. In fact, Molly Bloom's soliloquy at the end of the novel is nothing more than an extended exercise in associative thinking. Yes and yes...

This guy's hot...

Guy Fawkes' blog of parliamentary plots, rumours and conspiracy
Came across this blog by accident. I'm obviously not keeping up very well, since it's clearly a pretty famous blog. Entertaining, intelligent and, as the Grauniad says, incendiary in places.
Unsurprisingly, Guido doesn't have a full profile, so I wonder who he is. Obviously London-based, and clearly someone with insider knowledge. Maybe a media hack? My left-wing sensibilities were a little disturbed to see that it was named blog of the year by the Adam Smith insitute, and a line in the Guardian calls Guido a "Tory boy"- but from what I can see he's equally withering about politicos of all persuasions. Good stuff.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

What's a degree worth?

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | Degree devaluation, from Lucky Jim to Average Joe
Much food for thought in this article. What Jackie Ashley doesn't go into is the "university as lifestyle choice" brigade. These students are interested in the parties and the fun, but not the work. Two anecdotes to underline this: I confronted a very elusive student recently, who is currently enrolled again as a first year having failed his first year last year. I said that, since he hardly ever attended classes, hadn't submitted any coursework, and had made precisely zero contribution to the course, that he could hardly be classed as a student. He was extremely annoyed, and told me that he most definitely was a student, "because I've paid my fees." So that's all right, then. Another student, who has managed to spend four years completing(full time) two years' worth of study, told me she wouldn't be choosing my third year module next year. I asked why, and she told me that she couldn't because it was on a Thursday. When I looked blank, she explained, as if to a mental defective, that Wednesday night was traditionally the night for getting completely wasted in the student bar, so Thursdays were simply not possible. I'm not holding my breadth for her graduation...

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Here's Boris

Flickr: Photos from spencro

This link will show you a picture of Boris, our excellent male cat, companion of Phoebe. He likes being upside down, and is therefore a good mascot for Topsyturvydom. He also features on my profile - why would you want a picture of me?

Hello World

You have to imagine it's Alan Whicker saying that...
This is my first attempt at blogging. The title, Topsyturvydom, is intended to suggest a few characteristics: quirky, wide-ranging, sceptical - what newspapers always used to call " a sideways look at..." I'm interested in lots of topics, and hope to post on anything and everything, but mainly cultural stuff - literature, music, art.
Right now, I'm intrigued by what the blogging phenomenon means, and where it's going. The cliche about the web is that a) it's great, because anyone can publish on it and b) it's awful, because anyone can publish on it. In other words, its great strength is also its great weakness. It seems to me though, that the greater access that people have to an exchange of ideas and opinions, the better. The web is a great leveller in that respect.
I'm off now to look at some other blogs I've found of interest. Maybe they'll inspire me to write something more interesting than the above.