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.