Wednesday, December 27, 2006

North and South

The novel by Elizabeth Gaskell used the North-South divide as its central conceit. Here's a modern take on the phenomenon, now exacerbated by the metropolitan bias of the media. Somehow, you feel those BBC types wouldn't be quite so discombobulated if their putative move was to, say, Brighton rather than Salford...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Me, smug?

Well, this did give me a warm glow, speaking as a vegetarian of 42 years' standing...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ethical Foreign Policy, anyone?

This is shameful. See here for an idea of how far we have allowed a noble notion to slip.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Book Cull

This dilemma was recently faced by me and 'er indoors. Our solution appears as a comment way down the page. This marks a huge advance for us, as about ten years ago when we decided we were really really going to get rid of some books, we managed about three nominees between us in about five hours. Mine was Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader, last consulted circa 1975. What's more, I've still got it...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

They're mad aren't they?

I thought this was a spoof at first - but, incredibly, it isn't. Can we just nuke Macdonald's, please? Maybe the Earl of Sandwich can press the button...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Little things I loathe No. 4: Bob Harris

Before I get to Bob, and I don't actually loathe him per se, let me put my cards on the table. The Private Eye headline when John Peel died - "Man who played records on the wireless dies: a nation mourns" did strike a chord with me. I liked Peel, but couldn't see why he had such a godlike status among the public. It seems to me that being a radio DJ, or reading the news, or commmentating on football are easy and undemanding jobs for anyone with a modicum of articulacy and common sense. I'm certainly not persuaded by those who claim, as I seem to recall Huw Edwards doing, that reading an autocue is a really pressurised job - they should try working down a pit.
So it seems to me that Bob has an enviably cushy job - he plays records he likes, gets free tickets to gigs, goes off to festivals at the public expense, and is paid a lot more than you and me for his trouble. What I find really objectionable is his inability to complete a sentence without uttering the two most frequently used words in his vocabulary: "Bob" and "Harris". Typically, you tune in and you hear: "That was some fantastically obscure American woman, who I met when on a BBC jaunt to Austin Texas here on the Bob Harris show with me, Bob Harris. Coming up later on the Bob Harris show, some ancient T-Rex track and some more obscure Americana. Check the playlist on bbc dot co dot uk slash bob harris and don't forget to tune into Bob Harris Country next week when I'll be meeting some grizzled country veteran shortly before his imminent death. I'm Bob Harris. George from Nether Stowey writes "Dear Bob..."
- and so it goes on. Quite often, I note that the letters he reads out are obviously new to him: people say "Bob, could you play some Counting Crows at about 12.30 as I'll be driving home from Milton Keynes after the Southern Region Arm-Wrestling championships?" and Bob will say- "Oh sorry, it's 1.30 now, a bit late with that one, and we haven't any Counting Crows tonight, so here's Natalie Merchant on the Bob Harris show..." I mean, how difficult is it to prepare? And why does he have to read out the entire request, including the bit with his name? Do you think he really thinks he's important?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Shooting Fish in a Barrel

This is an easy target, I know, but I just can't resist: Health and Safety. At my place of work, we recently had installed, at great expense, and over a long period of time, special fire safety doors to stop the spread of the fires which, of course, regularly break out... These doors are situated a few steps from the existing 1930s doors, which, I would imagine, being very heavy and solid would take a while to burn. Anyway, a colleague asked if she could have a coat hook on her office door. The answer, following a risk assessment, was no: a hook might injure her if, in a fire, the door were to collapse on her. I would have thought the hook might be the least of her worries in such a circumstance, but that was the reason. Of course, the rest of us have hooks on our doors, and have had since the place was built. There is no recorded instance of death by coathook...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Let's grow up

Michael Bywater is always worth reading, and this piece is brilliant at exposing the way people are increasingly infantilised in today's society.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The last Mughal and a clash of civilisations

New Statesman - The last Mughal and a clash of civilisations

This is fascinating, and demonstrates once more that we seem incapable of learning from history. By a melancholy coincidence, I was reading the excellent Philip Hensher novel The Mulberry Empire while the Afghan death toll was rising, and couldn't help noticing the parallels there too.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Back home

My eagle-eyed reader will have noticed a change in the Topsyturvydom profile. We are now in Manchester, home city for both of us, and we feel we've come home.Doubtless blogging will be intermittent while we settle in.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Welcome aboard

Fear of flying | Welcome aboard |

Recently back from Norway, which involved six flights, so this rang a bell...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Dumb WAG

The Dumb Britain column in Private Eye is always good for a laugh - recent sample:

Anne Robinson:
Which is the only letter in the alphabet with three syllables?

Contestant: Z.

They haven't picked up this great exchange, though, which I saw on the BBC sport page:

Question on BBC1's Test the Nation: "Who was Winston Churchill - A rapper, US President, The PM or King?"

Teddy Sheringham's girlfriend, Danielle Lloyd: "Wasn't he the first black president of America? There's a statue of him near me - that's black."

You couldn't make it up...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fame at last

I'm grateful to Pablo Fanque for pointing out that Topsyturvydom was recently featured in the "Blogwatch" section of the North - West Enquirer web site. By that strange internet process that James Joyce would doubtless call the commodius vicus of recirculation, the first name I saw there was that of someone I taught twenty eight years ago. It had to be him - as the football chant would have it, there's only one Kevin Gopal...

Friday, August 11, 2006

Arlo still has it...

To Manchester, to see Arlo Guthrie perform. Arlo is a girlhood hero of 'er indoors, and a favourite of mine. He rarely makes it to these shores - the last time we saw him was 1988- so this was a must-see for us.
He was great. Backed by son Abe and grandson (!) plus an excellent pedal steel player, he ran through some of his most well-known songs, and some of his dad's, in fine style. His between song - and sometimes in-song - chat is brilliant. He's wry, clever, witty and self-deprecating; actually, quite a considerable orator. We sang along to the inevitable "Alice's Restaurant" and "This Land is Your Land." We also listened to a newly discovered wire recording of Woody, and were moved by an encore which showcased a new song, lyrics by Woody - apparently there are thousands of songs he never recorded. Two hours without a break - not bad for an old-timer!

The Devine Harriet

One of the pleasures of being a toiler in the groves of academe is that you get to work alongside some truly remarkable people. One such is my colleague Harriet Devine. Harriet's academic reputation rests on her work on eighteenth and nineteenth century authors. She is a highly respected academic in her field, but has also led a remarkable life. Her latest publication is an autobiographical piece, which is a joy to read. As the daughter of George Devine, founder and leading light of the Royal Court Theatre, she had an unusual girlhood, punctuated by visits from Laurence Olivier, Peggy Ashcroft and other leading actors of the day. The book is full of fascinating anecdotes about some very well-known people, illustrated with some very evocative photographs from Harriet's collection.
Harriet writes beautifully, in a clear and entertaining style. She is very honest about herself and the people she encountered. The result is a fascinating book, which should be read by anybody with an interest in British post-war theatre and culture. I'm already looking forward to the second volume.

Celeb mania

Our local paper, The Lytham St Annes Express - and I'm not providing a link because it's such a useless publication - recently saw fit to splash a large photo of Abi Titmuss on the front page. The reason was, apparently, that she might - note the conditional - make a visit to Lytham. The article then goes on about the burgeoning celebrity culture in Lytham, brought about by its trendy bars and restaurants. The list of celebrities is awe-inspiring: apart from La Titmuss, there's Phil Vickery, Andrew Ridgeley, Britt Ekland...and, er, that's it. Just run that by me again, will you? So that's a man who's married to a fat lady on the telly, the uncreative half of a pop duo that broke up twenty years ago, and a woman whose main claim to fame is that she used to be married to Peter Sellers. I'm all agog. Truly, Lytham is the new St Tropez...

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Slow progress on plastic bags

Guardian Unlimited Business | | Tesco offers carrot to reduce use of plastic carrier bags

Tesco are trying to present themselves as all eco-friendly by this move - but their "biodegradable" bags will still take years to degrade in the landfill sites where they will end up. I really can't see why Tesco in Ireland can say a charge on plastic bags is a great idea, while their English counterpart says they have to continue to offer them free. Ther answer to this problem is so bleeding obvious - charge for plastic bags, and as we have seen in Ireland, use of them will plummet.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Plagiarism pays

This confirms my worst fears about the plagiarism epidemic. It's drearily predictable that the person whose conscience is entirely clear as she makes up to £1000 a week writing essays for students to pass off as their own is a lawyer by trade.
Bring back exams! Actually, that is happening, at several HEIs of my acquaintance. It seems to be the only way.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Benchmarking functionalities....

BBC - Berkshire - voices2005 - Management-speak
Thanks to Anglepoise for this collection of appallingly mangled English. It's a kind of Black Museum of the worst offenders.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Little Things I loathe No 2

I've changed the title of this thread - "Little things for which I have an irrational loathing" is clumsy, and also, I've decided, inaccurate. Contemplating these loathsome things, I came to the conclusion that my loathing was not irrational, but actually entirely justifiable and correct, and that anyone who disagreed with me was wrong. Hence the snappier title.
So - today's object of disaffection is management speak. The English language is the most glorious and infinitely subtle way of communicating on this planet. It might not mean much to be born English these days compared to the glory days of Empire, but being a native speaker of English is a huge advantage. The language is supreme as an instrument of expression, capable of conveying nuances of the most subtle kind. It's a lot to do with the way that successive waves of invaders have left their mark without erasing the previous vernacular. It means we have lots of synonyms, but with slightly different connotations. Freedom and liberty mean the same, don't they? But there's something stirring about the Anglo-Saxon freedom that the Anglo -French liberty doesn't manage. You can think of other examples.
So why, given the vast resources of the language, do people resort to the ludicrous gibberish that is management speak? Not only do they write in this strange hybrid language, which reads as if written by an Albanian on a correspondence course, but they talk it too. It's hideous. What sort of stuff do I mean? Using "impact" and "benchmark" as verbs, saying "delivery" for "teaching", "rolling out" instead of introducing... Using ridiculous buzz phrases - "best practice", "value for money", saying "issues" instead of problems...
It's not uncommon in certain circles to hear this kind of thing:
"We've got some issues impacting around delivery. We need to benchmark best practice, and see if we can get vfm on this, yeah?" And if it's said with a rising tone, then my trigger finger gets very twitchy.
I did enjoy a remark in the Radio 4 show Weak at the Top, featuring an obnoxious Jeremy Clarkson type. "When someone from HR speaks, it's like a neutron bomb - the building's standing, but everyone's dead."
-and HR (or Human Resources) instead of Personnel is a classic piece of management jargon. Ugh!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Not amuth'd | comment | We are not amuth'd
Here's a lovely piece by the always entertaining John Sutherland. It is distressing that so much unintelligible gibberish gets passed off as learned criticism these days. I always pass on to students the words of Nobel-winning scientist Peter Medawar:
"No-one who sincerely believes he has something important to say will willingly run the risk of being misunderstood."
If only they all followed that advice...

Monday, July 10, 2006

The cheating epidemic

Telegraph | Education | I cheat us all by doing my pupils' work
Most people who work in education are aware of the situation described here. It's now reaching epidemic proportions. I'm coming across more and more undergraduates with apparently good A levels who flounder hopelessly when asked to take part in any kind of academic discourse. What's worse, the culture of target setting and league tables is creeping into HE. Already there are worrying signs of declining standards, and increasingly bizarre methods of coping with the Google generation, who just don't "get" plagiarism.
We may just have to rethink the whole process of assessment before grades become utterly meaningless.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

History matters

The Observer | Review | The future's in the past
Here's a marvellous piece by the ridiculously multi-talented Stephen Fry on the importance of History. Should be compulsory reading for all with any influence on education policy.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Little things for which I have an irrational loathing. Number 1

...of what I expect will be a very long series. First up, then - personalised number plates. I remember explaining the British number plate system to a German friend, and almost causing him to choke on his beer when I revealed how much people will pay for a particularly apt plate. I suppose if you could get AB 1, assuming your initials were AB, then it might be worth a bob or two, but actually, who cares? Well, quite a lot of people it seems, judging by the lengths people go to in order to have something approximating to a name on their plate.
The worst kind are the ones which have no discernible meaning, but which have to be imaginatively reinterpreted to yield some kind of name. You know the ones - a B can kind of be fashioned by putting a 1 and a 3 close together, or a 5 stands duty for an S. Really desperate ones also use a strategically placed screw with a black cap to sort of make a 1 into an L. I saw one recently where J2NNE was supposed to spell Jenny. How do I know? Because of the most tragic aspect of the enterprise, in which the owner has to put what the plate is supposed to spell in very small letters under the actual registration number.
My all time favourite was one such, although this was not on a personalised plate. No, under a perfectly ordinary plate, someone had seen fit to have added "Jeanina Topping BSc (Hons) QTS". Maybe the car was a graduation present from Mummy and Daddy Topping...

A real pea-souper, and no mistake, guv'nor...

For reasons which are actually mundane, but which I won't reveal in order to maintain an air of spurious mystery, I have to visit Birmingham twice a year. Once again this time, I stayed at Jonathan's, and it is a strange experience. Jonathan's presents itself as a Victorian "experience"- and it is - but far from some country park setting, it is actually located on an unprepossessing roundabout (is there any other kind?) in a rather down at heel suburb.
So it's odd to be resident in a room which might have served as Sherlock Holmes's study - dark maroon wallpaper, mahogony furniture, cushions, knick-knacks and ornaments in abundance - not in Baker Street but in darkest Brum. My room didn't feature correspondence fixed to the mantlepiece with a knife, but did have a bowler-hatted and union jack-waistcoated Teddy Bear. Possibly that belonged to Watson...
Apart from its intense Victoriana, Jonathan's is quirky because of its system of naming rather than numbering rooms. I was in Whiteheath. The labyrinthine interior is navigated by means of coloured lines on the ceiling which correspond to the tube map design on the "passport" they give you when you check in. It is actually quite good fun, but the drawback is the location. For my purposes, it's fine - it's a few minutes' drive from where I need to be - but it seems odd where it is. You expect a Travel Lodge and you get number 221b.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Blog Power

The growing influence of blogs in public policy is well-documented. Norman Geras and the Euston Manifesto is a blog phenonomenon. More evidence that blogs are changing things is the appearance of Alasdair Gray's blog. Here's a leading writer and artist publishing thoughts and new material freely to the web. This, it seems to me, is what the web is for.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Exterminate all the brutes

Those pesky detainees, eh? What to do when they insist on pulling publicity stunts? I have a modest proposal. We all know these are very dangerous men, locked up for years because they are terrorists conducting a secret war against America - so secret in fact, that we can't possibly allow any of the evidence into the public domain. But if they were terrorists in, say, Fallujah, the US wouldn't be arresting them - they'd be killing them. So, why not ship them to Iraq, and, er, treat them like other insurgents. Problem solved!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

This is Fishy

Potter Author 'The Best Living Writer' - Yahoo! News UK

If she beat "Salmon Rushdie" then this is obviously fishy...

Sting 0 Dowland 6

As I write this, I'm listening to Jacob Heringman playing Dowland. It's sublime. Dowland is, to me, the greatest. His Lachrimae Antiquae Novae will accompany my body when it's consigned to the earth or the flames. So, I was a little startled when 'er indoors alerted me to this. With that marvellous gift for oversimplification that he honed by airing ideas such as the one about love saving the rainforest, Mr Sumner suggests that Dowland was the first singer-songwriter. Well, I'm sorry, but equating Dowland with Cat Stevens or James Taylor is like suggesting Dan Brown is a modern Shakespeare. I dread to think what Sting will do to the vocal parts, quite apart from what he'll do with the complex lute lines - does he know a lute has more strings than a bass? I see that, in a move replicating Elvis Costello's excellent North, the album will be issued on Deutsche Grammophon. Declan won a little battle with Mr Sting some years ago when Gordon accused him of affecting an American accent in his singing. EC's reply was contemptuous, and homed in on the fake Jamaican of the Geordie Stingster. I fully expect a reggae beat to "Now O Now I needs must part"...
This is an opportunity to plug the excellent - this is a growing collection of music available to download for much less than you'd pay in the shops. It gives the artists a very good deal. Worth a look.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

NATFHE's last act

BBC NEWS | Education | Lecturers call for Israel boycott
Following this ridiculous motion, which is NATFHE's last significant act before the merger with AUT, I have resigned my membership. It is grotesque to require people to, in effect, declare their non-allegiance to their government before being accepted in the academic community. What's proposed here is nothing less than institutionalised discrimination based on nationality.
The backlash has, predictably, already begun. One reason that many academics, including me, put forward in opposition to this boycott is that it singles out Israeli academics whilst leaving academics in countries with much more repressive regimes alone - China, Zimbabwe, Sudan come immediately to mind. A letter in yesterday's Guardian by Sabby Sagall, a leading light in the Socialist Workers Party, puts forward a wonderfully barmy reason for picking out Israel: "Israel is not a "normal" democratic society in which the rulers have had to accept that far-reaching political dissent or class conflict be part of the state's ideological framework. It is a settler-colonial society with a much greater degree of social cohesion. Therefore the question why Israeli academic institutions should be boycotted and not necessarily those of other societies with poor human rights records is wide of the mark. In most such societies, there are usually many dissident intellectuals who tend to suffer the same repression meted out to ethnic or political minorities. Not in Israel. There, academic institutions are part of the structure of the illegal, colonial occupation. It is right that the boycott should go ahead until Israeli universities decide to support the campaign for an end to the occupation." Brilliant, Sabby - so presumably you'll also be supporting a ban on US and British universities until their academics declare their anti-war stance? Australia and Canada too, presumably? How twisted is this logic? We should attack Israeli academics because they're not repressed?
Get a grip.

Friday, May 26, 2006



Dalrymple is always challenging the orthodoxy, but does it from a position of strength - he knows about these people, he's done his time with them, so for me, his ideas have a greater resonance than those of some well-heeled politician showing how compassionate he is. I think he's spot on about the Romantics' use of opium. I always thought that the allegedly opium-influenced poetry was easily the worst. Coleridge clearly was a great poet - but Kubla Khan is just loopy, I'm afraid.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Rock of Ages

I remember as a teenager the excitement caused by the arrival of first the beat groups and then the rock bands of the late sixties and early seventies. These guys (and they were nearly all guys) were a few years older than the fans, and were god-like figures, with great manes of hair and impossibly tight jeans. Thirty - odd years later, incredibly, most of them seem to be still around. Have a look who's touring at the moment - The Stones (once they've located Keef's brain) Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, a version of ELO, and so on. Of course, the members aren't the same - they are now fat and bald, or indeed dead. Which leads me to my proposition - the amalgamation of rock bands to compensate for missing members. I notice the Who are headlining festivals this summer, despite being down to 50% of their original strength due to the exits of the drummer and the bass player. There's another group who are 50% down, too, and the remaining members are - the drummer and the bass player! Step forward The Whotles, or possibly the Boo. That bass player might need the money, soon...

Friday, May 19, 2006

More trouble at mill...

Education news & jobs at the Times Higher Education Supplement

It was inevtiable that the impasse over the pay offer would lead to local bargaining, and I'm amazed the union negotiators didn't do more to head it off, especially as they are apparently blessed with telepathic powers, according to this report, where the chair of the education committee says " one member of the committee had asked union representatives why they had not put the employers' offer to their members in a ballot.

And the unions had explained they felt this would waste time when they knew what the outcome would be."

Doom and Gloom

While looking for something else entirely, I chanced upon a sort of online journal kept by one of my students. I'm not going to link to it, because I don't want to send my minuscule audience there, so you'll have to take my word about the contents. I like this student - he's intelligent, original in his thinking, and pretty diligent. He's also a Goth, with the standard-issue monochromatic clothes, multiple piercings, and, no doubt, tattoos.
He writes about his life, which seems to consist entirely of getting stoned, getting pissed, or both, playing computer games, and going to see bands with names like "Necrophagists". What really struck me, though, was the air of nihilist despair that hangs over the whole thing. Everything is shit, life is shit, university is shit, etc etc. The witty and clever young man I see in the classroom is transformed in the journal into a raging misanthrope, apparently devoid of any sense of hope or ambition. Sad to see someone of that age as cynical as someone of my age...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Cartman caught out

According to Guido, the deputy prime minister's affair with the fragrant Tracey isn't the only one he's had. Frankly, it matters little to me, or anyone else, apart from Mrs Prescott, who Prezza is bonking in one of his many houses. (Having said that, this has replaced the image of Major and Currie in the annals of political coition. 'Er indoors always reminds me that Prezza looks exactly like Cartman in South Park, and the idea of him with his keks off making whoopee on the deputy prime ministerial desk is not a happy one).
What really stinks though is the idea that the revelations have been made simply so that Tracey can "tell her side of the story". Yeah, right. If that was the case, why not simply release a statement to the media? Why go straight to Max Clifford? Couldn't be anything to do with a sum north of £100,000 could it?


To Oxford, for a conference, by train. A fairly uneventful journey, but one enlivened by two people who sat across the aisle from me. When they got on, the man said to the woman "I'm sure I know you from somewhere", which sounded like the ultimate cheesy chat-up line, until it emerged that they did vaguely know each other: they were in the army, posted in Paderborn, and had mutual friends. Now, I wasn't particularly listening to this couple as they embarked on their conversation, but since they conducted their chat as if they were in a private rather than a public space, I was more or less obliged to listen. So, what do I now know about them?
-that the man has had an operation for twisted testicles, which nearly went gangrenous, but that he was having sex less than three days later;
that his wife is a Filipino (I would have said Filipina, but that's me being pedantic) and is very small;
-that he has the names of his children tattooed on his body;
-that he will not have the name of his wife tattooed on his body, because of the possibility, however remote, that they might one day split up;
-that he intends to have a protective angel tattooed on his back;
-that he breeds dogs;
-that several named members of the British military in Germany are "wankers";
-that parts of Germany are boring because nobody speaks English;
-that the woman also has a tattoo;
-that she does not want any more children as one is enough;
-that she had to get a restraining order on the father;

Too much information, and rather intimate information at that, conducted at high volume, so that most of the carriage could hear. They obviously don't teach them that discretion is the better part of valour in the army these days.
The return journey was enhanced by the presence of two groups familiar to all who have to travel on to Blackpool - the weekend revellers. In this case, a group of bullet headed thirty something men in football shirts, who had actual crates of beer to drink, and a group of three girls, who joined at Warrington. The girls looked about 17, but might have been younger. They were dressed comme il faut, that is to say in jeans sitting low enough to expose the pelvic bone, teamed with tops short enough to expose the studs in their navels, and their distressingly flabby midriffs. They carried no luggage beyond plastic bags, which clinked suggestively. Each had a paper cup from which a sickly sweet smell emerged. The cups contained, I soon discovered, Baileys, and it was clear that quite a bit of it had been drunk already. They talked loudly, mainly disputing the identity of the boy one of them had snogged the night before -"It was GARY!" and about what they were going to do in Blackpool- get drunk mostly, although as one of them sweetly put it "I'm fuckin' bladdered already".
I took my reluctant leave of the gilded youth and of the shaven headed men for the final leg of my journey, musing again on what ever happened to that famous English reticence and reserve.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Sadd by name...

I blogged some time ago about the roadside floral tributes that seem to be everywhere now. The most elaborate one I've seen is now on view on my journey to work. It consists of one of those arrangements of flowers made to spell out words, as favoured by East End gangsters - DIAMOND GEEZER on the side of the coffin, you know the kind of thing. Well, this one commemorates the death of a Mr Sadd, and consists of the words SON, UNCLE, BROTHER followed by a floral car. The odd details of his life and death are in this story
What struck me about the tribute was that the major defining feature of this man's life and character is omitted - but I suppose you couldn't ask the florist to make the flowers spell THIEF, could you?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Would you take this teacher seriously?

This story beggars belief - or rather, it would, if it weren't yet another example of topsyturvydom in our culture. Let's see, now. What would I do if I had a chair that emitted farting noises when I sat on it? I'D GET ANOTHER BLEEDING CHAIR!!! This woman's a deputy head - she could order a new chair, or just pinch one from somewhere in the school. I'm sure the lawyers love it, though, as more taxpayers' money is spent in an utterly futile cause.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

System needs a tweak...

Amazon - doncha love 'em? I looked at my recommendations today and was startled to find this thing.

They'd recommended it because I'd purchased this:

Can you spot why?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

George in Love

The Observer | Travel | Me and my travels: George Galloway:
Here's George:
"The best place I've been is...

Iraq. It's magical. I first visited in 1993. I fell in love with it, head over heels. It's one of the few places I physically long for."

Well, I'm sure not many constituents in Bethnal and Bow will be standing in his way...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Thankless task...

Bush takes a swing at cricket in Pakistan - Yahoo! News UK
It's bad enough trying to explain cricket to the average intelligent American...

What O'Donnell should have said...

OMB NEWS | UK | UK Politics | In Full: Tessa Jowell inquiry letter

Of course, Owen Barder does it with his customary style.

Jowellgate continued

BBC NEWS | UK | Tessa Jowell splits from husband

Interesting that this has happened now. Am I just terminally cynical, or is this a case of a marriage being sacrificed for a ministerial career?

Friday, March 03, 2006

It wasn't me...

There's an episode of The Simpsons, where Bart's instant denial of wrong doing - "It wasn't me, I didn't do it" etc. leads to a brief spell of fame, as his catchphrase catches on. The standard Labour government minister's catchphrase must be "I didn't know", with the occasional "I wasn't aware", "I don't recall" and so on. Consider: Tessa Jowell "wasn't aware" that her husband had paid off their mortgage with a £300,000 "gift". Similarly, Mr Tony "didn't know" that the fragrant Cherie had splashed out £250,000+ on a luxury flat for their son. Jack Straw "couldn't recall" why he had written "Zola Budd" in the margin of some papers about the Hinduja brothers' application for citizenship. Peter Mandelson "wasn't aware" that he should have declared his loan from a fellow minister to buy a bijou London property. John Prescott's failure to pay eight years' worth of council tax on one of his many homes was "an oversight". And so it goes. This government was elected on the promise of honesty, transparency, plain dealing. You'll permit me a hollow laugh...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

...and relax...

The scene - our local Thresher (tip: only go there if you are buying three bottles of wine, as their pricing structure is based on 3 for 2, which works out at about supermarket prices) Two women of about 20 are in front of me. They have clearly dashed out from their workplace, because they are both wearing some kind of uniform under their coats. I can make out the words spa and relaxation on, curiously, their trousers, so I'm guessing they work in some sort of beauty parlour.
Woman number 1 is on her mobile to a friend -"We've had to come out to the booze shop. There's 50 clients in there, and we've run out of drink. So we've just dashed in here to get some, and then we'll be back." She pays for her purchases whilst still on the phone. What did she buy? One bottle of rose Lambrusco and two cartons of orange juice. I bet the 50 clients appreciated that...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Get your red pens out now...

Richard and Judy Summer reads - read extracts of all them Free: "False Impression is Jeffrey Archer's latest pacy thriller that no fan should miss and you can win one of five uncorrected proofs." Presumably there's a prize of a book by a real author if you do all the corrections...

Health and Safety

BBC NEWS | England | Manchester | 21 rescued after floor collapses

They should have done a risk assessment first...

Ties that bind

BBC NEWS | Health | Doctor ties 'to go in MRSA fight'
So all doctors are men, apparently?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Bloody Hell!

This is another of Owen Barder's fantastic spoofs - trouble is, they are getting ever closer to reality. I think we are arriving at a point where the government will be beyond parody...

Trouble at t'Mill

BBC NEWS | Education | Academics vote for strike action

Well, it had to happen. Don't you think Jocelyn Prudence is the perfect name for the employers' negotiator?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Intute indeed...

Just had an email from the RDN - Resource Discovery Network - a name which means what it says. It's a network by which you can discover resources. That isn't good enough, though. Oh, no. They are going to change the name. So here's the reasoning behind it:
The RDN has taken specialist advice and, with the approval of the JISC and the RDN Board of Management, has decided to relaunch the service with a new name. The RDN will become Intute and the Hubs will take the name of their new subject group. Whilst Intute is not an existing word or acronym we hope it will develop its own set of associations matching the service's vision.

Humbul and Artifact will join together, led by Oxford in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan, to become Intute: Arts and Humanities.

As if the examples of Accenture, Consignia and the rest weren't warning enough...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cut 'n' paste

I'm currently dealing with a plagiarism case where a student has copied all of two pieces of work - and, rather cunningly, I thought, used books not easily available physically or as e-books, but ones which feature whole pages on Google book search and Amazon "Look inside". The student can't actually cut and paste, but has retyped the passages word for word. A couple of sections are cut and pasted from online articles. Not a word of the student's assignments is original. Like every other institution, we have a policy on coursework that requires the student to sign a declaration that work submitted has not been plagiarised. So I'm not surprised by this item in today's Nick Cohen column in the Observer:

How to succeed the cut and paste way
Each year, ever more illiterate and innumerate undergraduates go to university and demand to be spoon-fed answers, revealed the Times Higher Education Supplement last week.

The 250 admissions tutors, who confessed to their despair at standards in secondary schools, weren't completely without hope. They thought their remedial courses might knock them into shape. I'm not so sure. According to the Plagiarism Advisory Service - and, yes, such an outlandishly named body exists - one quarter of students admit to cutting and pasting from the net. Universities have computer programmes to detect lifted work, but have to confront students who can't see what's wrong with plagiarism. Many got through school exams on the strength of course work parents and teachers 'helped' them complete. The concept of cheating is a novel one for them.

On top of that are the pressures on the university authorities to cheat themselves. Overseas students are a lucrative source of revenue and the manner in which universities guaranteed cash flow by giving dim foreigners degrees has been an open scandal for years. Lecturers are now facing similar pressure to reward British students unjustly because of New Labour's demand for 'inclusive' higher education.

I asked Susan Bassnett, pro-vice-chancellor of Warwick University, if it was possible to go from nursery to university in this country without learning anything. She replied: 'You can certainly get a 2:1 without demonstrating the capacity for independent thought and without acquiring basic skills.' Foreign students are now abandoning Britain for countries with serious universities with worthwhile degrees. Perhaps, Bassnett added, the loss of their money will force our authorities to face the disaster they've created.

What's really depressing is that a pro-VC of one of our most prestigious universities can admit that a 2:1 can be had without, essentially, doing anything like higher level study. I can confirm, though, that the concept of cheating does seem to be a novel one for many students. I've had to patiently explain in words of one syllable to several students this year that no, it is not OK to simply copy something and hand it in as your own work...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Big Ask...

According to BBC Sport, "Wayne Rooney has agreed a five-book deal that will earn him at least £5m from publishers Harper Collins" It's a lot to ask of the lad, but I'm sure with Coleen's help, he'll manage to read those five books in time to collect the money. I think they should make sure there are lots of pictures in them, though...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Simply yuk!

I always disliked Mick Hucknall. Something to do with the hair and the support for that Stretford team, I expect. Now the Observer's profile of him confirms that, as I suspected all along, I was right. He says things like "I am one of the best singer-songwriters this country has produced. Ever. If people don't like me saying that, tough shit. People should deal with facts. You can't sell 50m albums without something." Brilliant logic Mick. By the same token, Jeffrey Archer is one of the best writers ever and Jack Vettriano one of the best painters. The great joy of this piece, though, is the picture, for which you need the print edition. Old Mick in his late middle age looks uncannily like Charlie Drake. Well, it made me laugh...

Sunday, January 29, 2006

It's a Wrap

The Observer | Magazine | One family, one month, 50kg of packaging. Why?

This article illustrates the problem I mentioned some time ago - and it's a problem that won't go away until we make the manufacturers do something about it. I like the idea, mentioned in the article, of a co-ordinated dumping of packaging at a supermarket, but that is no more than a publicity stunt. It needs to be followed up by a campaign. It seems to me that the more people who join Friends of the Earth, or write to their MP, or go for weekly organic box schemes, or badger the supermarkets about their policies, the more likely it is that something will happen. Otherwise, we are just going to drown in this stuff.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

PFI shambles

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | The exorbitant cost of PFI is now being cruelly exposed

Allyson Pollock's article doesn't tell you much you didn't already know, but it's an impressively detailed demolition job on the government's most shameless sell-out of a noble institution that was once the envy of the world.

Irony bypass...

BBC NEWS | Education | Students bemoan 'unhip' lecturers:

I don't whether to laugh or cry at this item. I was particularly struck by the magisterial sweeping generalisation of
"They always look down on students, they always judge and have a lack of hygiene... most discussions in seminars revolve around the academic's new book. In short, every aspect of their measly little lives irritates me."
So, obviously, this student doesn't "judge" then...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Educashun news

Today's Grauniad contains a couple of advertisements that caught my interest. The first is for a Business manager in a small secondary school - salary: £50,000. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I was a proper teacher, schools didn't have business managers. One of the deputies would do all the sums, control the stock of toilet rolls, employ handymen to mend windows etc. Of course, back then - silly us - we didn't realise that the school was a business. We thought it was about education. The headteacher of this school is named as "Spokey Wheeler". Now, presumably this man's (woman's?) parents weren't vindictive enough to name him Spokey, so this must be a nickname derived from the surname. Doubtless we are supposed to get a warm glow of matiness from this, but actually it's risible. If you are a headteacher of a school, you should have (or aspire to) a certain gravitas. Adopting a sobriquet that makes you sound like a blackballed member of the Drones club isn't the way to do it.
Meanwhile, another ad (and these ads cost about £30 per single column centimetre, so they aren't exactly cheap) is looking for a "Principle" Lecturer....

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Observer Woman

The Observer has a new supplement, aimed at women. I feel excluded, and can't see the logic of it. If I go to WH Smith, it's pretty obvious what constituency is being targeted by magazines with titles such as Woman, She, Woman's Own etc. Equally, you know what you are letting yourself in for if you buy Computer Weekly or The Tibetan Yak Breeders Gazette. But if you buy a national newspaper, why would you find a section that by its very name excludes half the potential readership? You will say that it's the same as any other section. If you aren't interested in business, say, don't read the business section. Fine - but, like buying a special interest magazine, that constitutes an expression of choice. I can - and will - ignore the new section, and await, though I'm not holding my breath, the new Men supplement...
In the meantime, the new supplement is distinctive, apparently, because it features "relationships, style, shopping, sex and health". No disturbingly difficult political things for you to worry your pretty head about, then. And of course, this makes Observer Woman entirely different from the main Observer magazine, which features today a section on relationships, featuring advice from "the sex columnists", an article about memory loss, a fashion feature, an article about shopping for purses.... Obviously very different.

Brief Encounters

To Milton Keynes for a meeting at the Open University, on the early train from Preston. I didn't have a reserved seat, so found the first available one, and sat down. Just before we left, a big commotion announces the arrival of a lady in one of those very high-tech wheelchairs, her companion, her two dogs, and their combined luggage. They are at my table, and they are very loud. The dogs are nosing around excitedly, but not causing any problems. Madam, however, feels the need to say to each of them (stupid names for both, of course) to "lay down" repeatedly. She's a south-eastern gel from the sound of it, so it's more like "liie daaarn". The dogs ignore her completely. Companion then reports that the disabled toilet isn't working. "Oh for fack's sake" she yells. "Fackin hell, that's brilliant innit." She decides to give the dogs some water, so a bowl is extracted from the mountain of luggage, and water put into it. The bowl is placed in the aisle. Water - and who would have predicted it?- is spilt.
The two humans then decide to set up a portable DVD player. Much fussing with the luggage again. Then "You've brought the fackin wrong connector, innit?" Eventually, the thing is set up. She is listening via one set of headphones to pop videos. I know this, because the other set of headphones is lying on the table blasting out the soundtrack, and anyway, madam is singing along tunelessly.
I want to leave, but am caught in a classic wishy washy liberal dilemma- if I leave, it will seem I am expressing my distaste of someone who is clearly severely disabled. At the first stop I make as if I'm leaving the train, and seek refuge in another carriage.
All is relatively quiet, beyond the inevitable "I'm on the train" mobile calls, when a man in his thirties gets on at Crewe, accompanied by two boys aged about eight. One is his son, and the other presumably his son's friend. They sit with two other people at a table, Dad at a seat across the aisle. Boys then proceed to talk at the tops of their voices, to bounce up and down, standing up on their seats, to switch the reading lights on and off repeatedly, to have a competition to see who can make the loudest farting noises... you get the picture. I'm half a carrriage away and getting more annoyed by the minute. Dad's reaction is to say "shush" at ninety-second intervals, whilst pointedly looking away from the mayhem his charges are causing.
I recounted this tale to 'er indoors, who pointed out that they probably rarely went on trains, and that this was exactly the way they would behave on a car journey. I think that's right. But if you allow your kids to behave like that in your car, then that's your problem. In a public place it's diffferent. The father clearly knew that these kids shouldn't be behaving like this, hence the continual shushing, but wasn't prepared to do anything about it. Is he scared? Embarrassed? I don't know why. I'm sure if he'd actually disciplined these two mini hooligans, the entire carriage would have applauded. Last seen heading for the Autosport exhibition at Birmingham NEC, pursued by a collective sigh of relief exhaled by the remaining passengers...

On Mother Kelly's Doorstep

BBC NEWS | Politics | Letter reveals Kelly's approval
Ruth Kelly, or to give her her full title, the beleaguered Ruth Kelly, is the foremost Catholic in the government. She was appointed as Education Secretary despite having no expertise or background in the area. Her main claim to fame is her prominent membership of the loony Opus Dei, a Roman Catholic organisation that follows a strict Vatican line on contraception, embryo research, cloning and abortion - an interesting conundrum when you are the minister in control of the research budget.
Presumably, Ms Kelly would be happy for any of her many children to be taught by the convicted sex offender to whom she wrote last year. The gist of her letter is: "You've been a naughty boy, but you've said sorry, so we'll hear no more about it." This is, of course, the classic response of Catholic institutions when they discover evidence of child abuse. The events at Ampleforth, Britain's most prestigious Catholic school, is only the latest in a long line of similar cases.
So we shouldn't be surprised at Ms Kelly's response. She's obviously practising Christian forgiveness.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Elvis rage

Australian woman all shook up over Elvis song - Yahoo! News UK

Ah - the power of cheap music...
Personally, I'm with the woman on this. Can you have a verdict of justified wounding?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Students don't read...

This story confirms what all academics already knew. It's particularly difficult in the humanities, and acute in my area, English Literature. I recently marked a series of essays on Jane Eyre by first year undergraduates. Hardly any of them bothered to consult any of the numerous secondary critical materials they could have accessed, relying instead on no secondary reading at all, or web sources ranging from the relatively advanced Spark Notes to the thoroughly disreputable essay mills. A couple were obviously plagiarised.
Students constantly complain about not having the time to read, and yet they have signed up as full timers - pursuing their studies should be their primary occupation. Too often, though, it isn't. One student I spoke to recently said she was having difficulty completing work because of her outside job commitment. This turned out to be a 35 hour a week post on a telephone help desk. She seemed genuinely surprised when I said that I didn't think she could do that and a full time degree. She's not alone, and the consequences of this now well-established culture of semi-detached study is that students are increasingly unlikely to show any genuine intellectual curiosity. That in turn leads to the kind of instrumental view of education as a simple transference of knowledge from tutor to student, preferably bypassing the student's brain.
I don't know the answer to this conundrum. The increasingly consumerist view of education espoused not just by students but by government, actively discourages the kind of adventurous thinking that higher education is supposed to be about.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Who knew?

BBC NEWS | Health | Adverts 'increase youth drinking'

The department of the bleeding obvious has come back strongly after the Christmas break. Apparently, advertising works. What's more, it works better on young susceptible people. You'd never have guessed, would you?