Friday, 13 December 2013

Intrinsic Engineering - the true meaning of Christmas

Every partner, husband or boyfriend needs to be careful at this time of year.  If we do not tread a delicate course, if we fail to navigate a treacherous pathway, we hear the 5 words that can strike a chord of fear into the hearts of even the toughest man.  An even more terrifying 5 words than “Have you emptied the dishwasher?”, and carrying eminently greater threat.  Even more horrific than “Are those your toenail clippings?”, or the ever more spine tingling than “You leave the toiletseat up?”

Brace yourself. 

The sentence I refer to is “Shall we watch Love, Actually?”

Most of us can sneak through a yuletide without being subjected to this bloodcurdling 2 hours.  Some of you may think I’m being over the top in this (moi?), but I would also argue that there are other people out there – other men – who feel the same way I do.  We have to sit by and watch, generally covered in the debris of wet tissues and chocolate wrappers, as Firth and Grant look all sad and forlorn, as that cute little boy runs through the airport, as Firth makes that grating speech in cobbled Portuguese.  Yule? More like Yuk.

However, there is one bit I always appreciate and nod along to (thankfully, towards the beginning).  Richard Curtis’ words are correct: if you want to see the human race at its best, look at places of meeting, such as airport lounges.  I strongly believe in the sentiment that put so well: apart from a few faulty machines and some lingering problems, the human race is intrinsically engineered to good, and it’s probably our saving grace.

Christmas films are full of it.  When George Bailey “misplaces” that $8,000, people cannot help enough, except for one “faulty machine” (mean old Mr Potter).  Through the power of good, redemption is achieved and celebrated.  Intrinsic engineering.

My previous Christmas blogs are littered with Dickensian references, but you cannot deny it: upon seeing the error of his miserable ways, Scrooge becomes as good a man and as good a… you know the rest.  Simple really – intrinsic engineering.

The list goes on – Miracle on 34th Street, Meet me in St Louis, and (for younger bloggers) Elf.  My children recently subjected me to Arthur Christmas – same thing.  Regardless of the issues, barriers and problems placed in our way, the human race will overcome – it’s all about intrinsic engineering.

This topples over into music videos; have you ever watched the vid for Pipes of Peace?  Based on a story as old as the hills, but even more monumental.  There, in the middle of the worst battleground in the history of war, intrinsic engineering.  If you watch the vid for Greg Lake’s I believe in Father Chirstmas right to the end, the last slides are of war and destruction, until the very, very last second, when the scene is of a soldier returning home to his son, both with arms outstretched.  Intrinsic engineering – we’re wired for good.  The ultimate Christmas song, the Fairytale of New York, is all about two people struggling in a foreign land which should have held promise and wonder.  Instead, what they have is no more than one another, and that is their key strength.   Intrinsic engineering.

I know what you’re going to say.  You don’t even have to raise that eyebrow of disbelief.  You’re about to counter with the simplest yet most powerful argument imaginable:  “It’s all fiction Chubs!”.

I would answer simply thus.  You are correct.

However, before you strode too far into the smug zone, I would call you back by saying that although I have only mentioned fiction so far, surely this year has seen more real life examples of this state than usual?

When we awoke a few Saturdays ago to the awful news of the helicopter crash in Glasgow, I was as sad and horrified as the rest of us.  My wife watched the news reports, clutching her mug of tea, with an attention bordering on the macabre; I had not the stomach for it.  Not that I didn’t care, and not that I wasn’t interested, but I could not (and I am not too proud to admit it) listen to the sad requiems for people lost without it tearing me to pieces. 

However, I ventured into the lounge at one point to replenish the tea (she’s less likely to want to watch L, A if she’s full of bromine) and stayed to watch for a few moments.  And in those few seconds, there it was.  The news reporter was appropriately sombre and dignified, but must have felt his heart lift when he recounted the incredible bravery of those people who had got themselves out, and then formed a human chain to help other survivors out of the wreckage.  When all around was despair, there you had it: intrinsic engineering.

Then, not a few days later, we heard the reports of the terrible weather hitting the coasts around the country.  The picture of the house that fell into the sea will surely be one of the abiding images of the year.  The house owner on the news, devastated of course.  Watching it on a handheld device, you got the option to watch the man’s full interview, which, entranced, we chose to do.

His full interview – full of hate?  Full of unfairness?  Bemoaning his fate?  Not a word, not one.  The man (who, a few Christmases ago would have been a candidate for one of my wise man blogs) first told of how he was sat in a local club, supporting a charity event, when a complete stranger came and told him that the weather was getting worse, and, if he lived on the coast, he needed to take care.  So he rushed home, and the impending ruin was clear. 

His first action?  He rescued his cats.  All life is precious, after all.

Next?  Well, what would you do?  I haven’t a clue.  Nor, by his own confession, did he.  Until he heard a noise on the other side of his house, the roadside.  His community, comprising his neighbours and total strangers, had come to lend a hand.  They each collected something from the house and took it to a local pub, many doing several journeys, to save the belongings of the man and his family.  Cynics might ask “what went missing?”  His answer – not a thing.  Not a coaster.  Not a flake of pot pourri.  When the situation had plunged into chaos, intrinsic engineering kicked in. 

I’m not one to jump on a bandwagon of emotion, but you have to take a few lessons from the recent passing of Nelson Mandela.  One lesson might be: don’t sit too closely to a strangely attractive Scandinavian politician.  However, I would rather hope that the lesson comes not from his death but from his life.

Having served 26 years in prison incarcerated at the behest of a racist regime for crimes that should not exist, he was released to great pomp and ceremony.  A celebrated figure, it was little wonder that he quickly headed into public service.  At his inauguration as president, he had the world at his command, and the guest list was the talk of the globe.  It was to be the most widely anticipated event since the queen’s coronation, or the reforming of Take That.  So who would he invite?

Other members of his party? Of course.  His supports?  Naturally.  Other African and World leaders? Without question.  His jailor?  Yes. 

That’s right: his jailor.  James Gregory oversaw the custody of Nelson Mandela for over two decades.  Far from it being a relationship of hate, borne of a power struggle , it became the epitome of a story of friendship borne of adversity.  Intrinsic engineering. 

I hope I have gone some way to convincing you that I am not merely some film-buff-sentimentalist, and that my argument carries some weight.  I genuinely and deeply believe in the power of the human race to effect good, even when some of our member may act to the contrary.  Furthermore, it is at exactly this time of year that we notice, appreciate and celebrate our intrinsic engineering, our pre-wired instinct to do good, on many fronts.

Still unconvinced?  Allow me to mention one more element. 

Whatever the true and deep nature of your religious persuasion and beliefs, surely a simple re-examination of the nativity, in whatever credo, would stand the test of this thesis.  Look at the evidence.

Joseph is engaged to a woman who is supposed to be pure, but he then discovers she is with child.  He has every right to jilt her, every right in fact, under Hebrew law, to see her punished.  Yet he does not.  When the census is announced, he fulfils his obligations, despite the protestations of others, and acts with decency and care.  Intrinsic engineering takes over.

Whatever possessed them we do not know, and shall never know.  Perhaps that is more romantic.  However, something convinced one business man or woman, one hotelier, to throw aside all convention and offer up his stable for human habitation.  After all, even the meanest heart has a rethink when he sees a pregnant woman.  Entrepreneurialism or intrinsic engineering?  You know my thinking.

On the birth of this baby, he is attended by the richest and most knowledgeable men imaginable, and the lowest social class in the entire continental region.  Does one spurn and mock the other?  Is there social warfare, snobbery or spite?  No.  Rich and poor alike may share this moment, because they know it is right to do so.  Intrinsic engineering. 

At times of great sadness, at times of despair, at times of need, even in times of rapture, our intrinsic engineering makes us what we are.

I hope in years to come, when my son is asked the question What was your first record?”, he will answer not with some of the bilge he has tortured us with, but will answer Band Aid 20.  He probably won’t, as he didn’t buy it. I bought it for him, 6 weeks before his birth.  I wrapped it for him, before he was born, and his Mum opened it, and we listened to it together.  Sentimental?  Of course.  Yet I really wanted my son to be born to the power of positive messages, and the human race putting aside their differences to attempt to do good has to be one of our most positive. 

Intrinsic engineering isn’t just our DNA; it’s our privilege, and aren’t we lucky?

As in other years, I shall conclude by apologising for any offence caused (although this year, I feel that - Colin Firth aside - I’ve been non-controversial), and I wish you and yours nothing but the most special of Christmases, and a healthy and happy 2014, during which, I have no doubt, our intrinsic engineering will continue to make our world the place we all know it can be.

For 2013, that is all.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

In (occasionally) keeping with tradition

I’m a bit of a contradiction when it comes to tradition.  I am an absolute stickler for observing some traditions, and my Christmas Eve is rife with them.  Equally, there are some that I think are ripe for the breaking.  Ultimately, traditions largely fall into three categories: some you have to keep; some you feel duty bound to challenge, and that, frankly, you can do without.

As I child I stuck unfailingly to the rules.  I was (I know you will find this difficult to believe) never one to rock the boat, always a good guy.  I had to become an adult to know how to push boundaries.  It was during my first years of teaching that I began to ask “Why do we do it that way?”  You have to remember that we would still be stuck with laws that were, essentially traditions, had we not challenged the sense behind them.  Corporal punishment for children, anyone?

I left my first job for a number of reasons, one of which was that I refused to go along with certain things that my colleagues insisted upon because they’d “always done it that way”.  I left another job because people still wanted things done the way they had been in the 1860s – no, really, I’m not joking.  When one of the governors asked me at the end of a long and embattled Full Governing Body when I intended to sweep the car park (she stopped short of calling me “Sonny” as she peered at me over the top of her spectacles), I silently admitted that my time there was at an end. 

When I arrived at Badock’s, there were a few things I had to question repeatedly, because although people claimed that they were “for the good of the children”, it became quickly apparent (at least to me) that they were in fact “for the gratification of the adults”. 

Sadly, there were some traditions, or habits, that had been at Badock’s long before my arrival but had to go.  Theft, a daily occurrence once upon a time, is no longer a daily issue, but has reared its ugly head this year, with children’s coats going missing and never returning.  As tough as times get, surely this is a tradition no-one wants to see return.  Equally, aggressive attitudes towards staff – a daily occurrence on my arrival - has mostly, mostly disappeared.  It should disappear completely.  And soon.  The sub-culture (a part of tradition) of teachers being punch bags has gone – it left with the cane, school milk and the ink well, and, just like those artefacts, should be consigned to a museum specialising in exhibits from a golden era that never really happened.

You see, we ought to be extremely wary of trusting ideas, notions or procedures we are told are the right way to do things when we have an inkling that they’re wrong.  Adults are, by-and-large, not vey good at this.  Children on the other hand, seem to have this skill in spades.   

Although I enjoy pushing boundaries and exploring new dimensions, there are some traditions that must, must remain.  These are the few, the very few, that I will pass on to my own children and hope they pass onto theirs ad infinitum.  They are things such as:

·         -  You should always know the name of all the Dr Whos, in order;
·          - You should always be able to recite the 1982 Villa side who won the European cup in Rotterdam (including both goalies);
·          - You should know the perfect recipes for yorkshire puddings.

Furthermore, there are some traditions that simply help you to take your place in the human family.  Participating in Children in Need, Red Nose Day, Sport Relief, whatever it may be, should be a tradition that remains.  Offering support, whether you donate a fortune or simply adorn your proboscis with an irritating piece of recycled rubber, should be more than a tradition; it should be an obligation – an act where it feels more wrong to not take part.  I stress again, it matters not that you offer a shiny penny or a thousand pounds – it matters that you care enough.

Above all, one tradition that should remain unchallenged is the minute’s silence.  Every year, on a cold Sunday morning, I take my place amongst hundreds in our village who make the slow trudge up the (closed) High Street to the memorial park in order to listen to the Service of Remembrance.  The number of veterans slims each passing year, but the crowd never seems to decrease – far from it; for not the first year, they ran out of service books.  Although I had had to semi-battle my son to go, he needed no instruction as to how to behave when there.  This silent code, this feeling, this tradition speaks volumes for itself.  The following day, in our own remembrance assembly, you could have heard a stealth pin drop into a bed of cotton wool during our own silence, and at no point did I feel as if I needed to impress on our children the importance, the symbolism, or the (forgive me again) tradition. 

Of course, there is a fourth option: sometimes you simply have to start a tradition.  Who started singing “Happy Birthday”?  Who was the first person ever to say “Please”?  Someone, somewhere in the mists of time had to come up with the idea of a song at 12.00 midnight each December 31st.  Why not start a tradition of your own.  “Flowers on a Friday” was one a former colleague of mine started in his house.  They smile a lot, his family. 

As long as I’m at Badock’s, some traditions will be welcomed, embraced and encouraged.  Some fads and phases will be … left in the dust of the past.  One tradition we should display with pride is our love of learning.  If we’re not learning, what are we here for?  Check out the nursery’s blog, and watch a group of three and four year olds as they, quite literally, reinvent the wheel.

Is it tradition, or is it breathtakingly new?  Or is it simply wonderful?

From me, but not from our amazing children, who both seek and challenge tradition on a secondly-basis, that is all.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

I can see a ...

Rarely do terms go so well after such a massive staffing change.  There are always a dip in standards, communication issues, nervous people, and that odd someone who just doesn't quite get it.  No such issues here Sir.  We have continued seamlessly on, making sure we aspire-achieve-enjoy every day.

Actually, terms often go well, but first terms, well they are a different beast.  I may have written a blog at some time in the past about Septembers, and one of the issues I have about Septembers is that schools generally don't do honeymoon periods very well.  Either everything is rosy, and leads to a massive crash, or people take too long to get started and it's carol singing before you know it.

In fact, I would suggest that the success of term 1 has been almost exclusively attributable to three factors.  First, the efforts put into the school environment before it was unveiled.  Two, the creativity of the teachers and practitioners within the school, and the inventive ways they have provided learning opportunities.  Thirdly, but utterly invaluable, has been the almost insatiable appetite of our children for learning.

Now, I'm not saying these are the only factors.  There are others to add, such as the great support offered by our parents, and the amazing uniform standards maintained throughout the term.  There has also been the school's strange addiction to the songs of David Bowie.  But I feel that's another blog.

Briefly, I was concerned.  Could we really maintain our own crippling high standards?  Could we really push our outcomes even further?  Those worries soon disappeared.  From the first assembly with our wonderful year 6 (cool as cucumbers) , through our new reception children's induction (smooth as silk) all the way to our amazing harvest festival (as generous as.... I don't have one for generosity; maybe it shound be "as generous as the community of Southmead") staff and children have convinced me with ease that we are set up for another successful year, and more.

Our school, caterpillar like once again, goes through another regeneration, another metamorphosis, and comes out of the other pupae end a beautiful, winged creature of learning and achievement.  I'm just the lucky one who gets to watch it happening.

What will term 2 bring?  I am genuinely looking forward to finding out.  Have a wonderful break everyone.  Until we fly and share the skies once more, that is all.

Friday, 27 September 2013

I'm always happier to see the back of it.

September.  September and March.  I can't wait to see them come lurching to an end.  They both crawl interminably to a conclusion that delivers promise of more to come, reminding us bitterly how much they have kept us back.

March always dangles Spring in front of us, before ending our days with a spiteful hint of cold as if to say "No, no, no. Not yet. Only when I say so."  The lengthy depths of March span the time like a chasm, striding two banks of the seasonal tide.  Daffodils dare to show their face, scared of March's damning touch, only parading into greatness when April finally skips into view.  Lambs can barely ... no, wait, now I've just gone too far. A man like me does but one thing with lambs, and it involves garlic, rosemary and mint sauce.  I will conclude by saying March annoys me.  I'm just that kind of guy.  

September always crawls for me too.  I long for the school to get into some sort of pattern, some type of routine to kick start a new school year.  I am desperate for the established patterns of the year to become embedded and for our successes to start coming in like coins at the bottom of a one arm bandit.  (Yes, I was doing similes with a class recently.)

I've not felt that way this year, except for one thing.  More of this later.

I've not felt this way because of one important thing: the end of August.  When I first dared to venture into the school in the summer holidays after my various travels, I was anxious as to what I might find.  Schools in the midst of August can resemble building sites, war zones, meteor craters (too far? Again?) despondent of life form without more than six legs and a breeding ground for e coli.

Not this school.  Not this summer.

I walked in on that final Wednesday and was amazed.  I walked around and saw the same thing over and over again: colour.  I think I've already been ludicrously, almost embarrassingly prosaic during this blog, so I am not about to rummage through my bag of rainbow metaphors - you get the picture.  The entire school was awash with the results of teachers' and colleagues' efforts to preserve our school's status as a place of learning.  (I just mistyped and it came up palace of learning...or did I mistype?).

Once it was then filled with the most important thing in the world, it truly became the place we all know and love.  The uniform is mesmeric (a sentence never used before I believe - ever) and the work quite brilliant.  I took 72 books home last night to look at the quality, marking, range, you know the stuff, and I was humbled and very proud at how much our children and our school can produce.  And I haven't even started on our amazing new reception children.

So, no September blues for me this year.  In fact, I'll be sorry to see it go.  What we must do instead is ensure it has served as our foundation for what should be more success around the corner.

My only September blues this year have arisen from the fact that they offer us Strictly Come Dancing, then take it away for three weeks! Demagogues and dictators throughout the annals of history have as yet to devise a torture so cruel.  Once it's back on, I shall breathe easily again.

Whilst I slip into something a little more sequined, that is all.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Wot I dun on mi zummer olidays

I saw a picture on twitter the other week. It was an old black and white photo of a grandfather and grandson, Werthers-original-stylee. The caption read, "so grandad, tell me what it was like when you had to buy an entire album, even though you only wanted one song".  At first I just laughed. Then I got to thinking...

I'm the world's worst for reaping single songs from albums. Many of my best compilations have been so created. However, even before this, I have been hankering for the complete, crafted, lovingly arranged thing which is an album. Two things happened in quick succession to put me in this frame of mind. First, I downloaded Dark Side of the Moon for £3, and really enjoyed it, without actually liking it. (Sound familiar, album lovers?). Second, I read Paul Brannigan's quite brilliant biography of Dave Grohl: This is a Call. It dissects some famous, infamous and classic albums in forensic-with-a-kiss detail.

I had to do something. A stand needed to be made. As all my previous blogs illustrate, if there's a totally pointless and futile stand to be stood, a clueless or senseless point to be made, I'm just the guy to do it.  Therefore, I set about filling my iPhone with a whole range of albums old and new to listen to in their entirety, in a one man tribute to the art form. A foreign holiday is just the time to play a little game I'd just invented called "album of the day".

The first upshot was a pleasant nostalgia for turning some of these over after track 5. ( younger readers, ask your grandad). The second was relearning the discipline it takes to sit still ( with your feet tapping and left hand playing the occasional snare) for the best part of an hour, but, trust me, it soon returned, like the riding of a lyrical bike.

New Order Republic

(Mini history lesson kids) I first bought this album on cassette at Woolworths on Hawthorn Rd, next to the shop me mom worked in, the source of about 90% of all my preteen music purchases. (Kids, how many of the words above require explanation?)

Always a New Order fan, too young to do anything but enjoy the stories of Joy Division, this is the first NO album I owned that I hadn't nicked from Uncle Gary (who will feature repeatedly throughout this blog). I remembered I'd got a copy of this album through my discovery of another: Waiting for the Sirens Call, a much later album, was poking its neck out of the rack that little bit further, obscuring a cd purchase of a long forgotten fave.

First afternoon on the sunbed, after an altogether too large a lunch, and more keo beer than should be consumed in one short sitting, I plugged in my new pair of skull candies (grandfathers, ask your grandsons) and listened in. I was almost immediately transported back to being a 14 year old, wishing I could play the bass like Peter hook, and two or three tracks leaped out at me across decades.

The album as an art form is a fine thing, but it's not infallible. I hated to admit it to myself, even more than I do publicly, that - a few tracks aside - I was a little disappointed. It was cool, it was innovative, it was melodic, but I was no longer a 14 year old with a cassette player, and I needed more. (Sadly, I still feel that, the hits aside, new order's best offering lies way down the playlist / on the b-side of waiting for the sirens call; check out a song called "guilt is a useless emotion" and you'll see what I mean. It captures the history of the band backwards, from hook jogging off to form Monaco, back to Curtis wanting to create something unique.)

I loved remembering it, but won't be rushing back to it as a whole piece anytime soon. But I still love hooky's bass, and will always have a fondness for some of Bernie Sumner's lyrics. And I love the fact I owned that album from the time it was released, in two formats.

Smashing Pumpkins  Adore

My relationship with the pumpkins is as weird and tempestuous as Billy Corgan’s relationship with various bassists. It began with a very young love of punk (thank you once again Uncle Gary) and continues in steady lineage through some of the stuff I play for Ru. It takes in the Police, Garbage, the Strokes, Muse, JJ72 and anything new offered by Q magazine. The Pumpkins arrived via the MTV era, and I loved the fact that their music and plain old fashioned disfunctionality sat side by side. Billy Corgan once openly announced "rock and roll is dead!". His manager, a certain Sharon Osborne, retorted "well, no-one told me".

This album has its low points, but when they get the electro stuff right in the guitar mix, I love it. Part rock opera, part rock soap opera, with a hint of self-indulgence, Adore will always work, even if only for goth baldy weirdos like me... and Billy Corgan.

Garbage Version 2.0

I'd forgotten all about this album until Ru and the kids in the street were going around singing some modern song about when I grow up, I wanna be famous... I of course changed it to "when I grow up ill be stable by garbage. I'd completely forgotten about this album which was an ever present on our CD player at one point.

So, one album of the day was given over entirely to its rediscovery. Which I have to say, I really rather enjoyed. This was no nostalgia trip either; this is a cracking album, extremely well organised and crafted, with some stand-out musicality. Shirley Manson could read me the phone book, and I think I'd still be worried about me mum finding out.

Really good. Enough said.

Semisonic Feeling Strangely Fine & All About Chemistry

Again, old favourites revisited. Again, they stand the test of time, the lyrics become somewhat more poignant as I get older. I saw them once at the Colston hall, and they proved then what they substantiate in these two albums - these three are fine musicians and good songwriters. 

Although I love my rock and my heavy sounds, these three are at their absolute best when they do subtle, understated, sensitive – the song Act Naturally is all about a couple going to a party together after having had a row, and how they tacitly and quietly agree to keep it all hidden until later.  Know the feeling?  Quite beautiful..

Mgmt Oracular Spectacular & Congratulations.  Klaxons; Myths of the near future

A real treat: kids in kids club, no one making demands on me, glorious sunshine, a new pair of skull candies. Ask yourself: why only do one album when you can do three?

MGMT were introduced to me shortly after I arrived at Badocks, and their first album has always been a gem. The millions of covers of Kids on youtube (I recommend the Ooks of Hazard) will doubtless make it an anthem of sorts.

Then came the second album, the expansion of the band and of its sound, and the challenge on the boundaries of the truly listenable.

I will always come down on the side of Oracular Spectacular as, to me, it is a more complete piece, more unified, with little in the way of filler. Although Congratulations has its high notes, it often strikes me as a bit disparate.

So, having seen those two off, and still without anyone invading my space, I happily discovered the klaxons, and it just seemed to fit the mood and tempo of the day.

I remember these boys claiming they'd made the best album for years. My reply would be simple: no you didn't. A few good tracks, and some beautifully bizarre lyrics (“Club 18:30 for Julius Caesar / Lady Diana and Mother Teresa…”), but not even the best album of the afternoon, let alone a few years. Sorry boys.

Empire of the Sun Ice on the dune

Everyone always has the same worry: how will they manage that difficult second album.    When it came to Empire of the Sun, whose first album danced its way into my heart in 2009, I was never worried.  Their first album, with all its remixes and redesigns, was in fact their first, second and third album rolled into one, and they both went off and pursued various projects in between that first album and this new offering.  The greater concern for me was that, due to the stranglehold a certain company appears to have over the market, I has to wait longer than music lovers in the US and Australia to get my greasy mits on it. 

When I finally managed to get my copy, after much pushing back of the official date (don’t remember Woolworth’s ever doing that*) I instantly fell in love with it.  I’ve been trying hard to find a comparison, but can’t really.  It’s very simply defined: this second album is more grown up, more rounded, more complete.  This sounds like professional musicians in a studio; the first one now sounds like some very talented teenagers mucking about in the rich one’s bedroom – not that I don’t still enjoy the first one.

I really like this, and it was not enhanced by a sunbed listening, as everywhere I’ve listened to it I’ve really enjoyed it and discovered something fresh.  The lead track – Alive – is, in my humble opinion the stand out hit of the summer, and the hypnotic “I’ll be around” is further testament to the group’s ability to do romance in a denoument-of-a-1980s-film style.  Simply put, I love it.   

*I vividly recall rushing to Woolworth’s one Monday evening after school, eager to buy the latest Pet Shop Boys’ single (I think it was Domino Dancing).  This was on 7” vinyl – look it up kids.  I remember even now as Emma – a bloke, mate of Uncle Gary’s, never found out why they called him Emma, but I know that people still do to this day – ripped open the only-just-delivered new releases box with wild abandon so I could get my copy before anyone else in Kingstanding.  How does that sounds itunes?

Mind you, I can also vividly recall Emma doing a few other things with wild abandon, such as jumping on his Dad’s new car, and jumping from the roof of the second tier of the Holte End.  Did a lot of jumping, did Emma.

Foo Fighters  Skin and bone

Never got on with the Foo Fighters me.  Coming in around the same time as the pumpkins on MTV, I just never enjoyed it and never got involved, although I have always admired Dave Grohl’s abilities.  So, when I got the biography (see above) and it had waited a sufficiently long time on my to-read pile, I ploughed in.  I thought it was a brilliant book, a great testament to Grohl himself but also essential reading for that era in musical history. 
So, whilst reading all about its creation, I went back and listened to There is Nothing Left to Lose, their second album, which I had been given on its release.  I had listened to it before, but was left a little cold.  Upon a relisten, with some of the stories at my disposal, I enjoyed it a lot more, again without actually liking it, although I think I will give it a few more goes. 

The book talks the reader through the creation of every album, and the stories behind many key songs.  The album I was most interested in was Skin and Bones, an acoustic set recorded live, about which author Paul Brannigan speaks passionately.  Therefore, a quick download later, and it was stored ready for a day’s listen.  Which I will openly confess I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed. 

Of course, there’s the hits and a few fan anthems, but you don’t need to know the Foo’s back catalogue to enjoy and appreciate this.  It was the subject a few studious listens during the hols, and I am extremely grateful for being pointed in its direction.  As I plan a relaunch of my vinyl collection this winter, I am looking for this to be one of the first additions to my new, second vinyl collection. 

Nirvana Nevermind

This is my “I’ve never watched Star Wars” moment.  Apart from Bjork, when she was still a member of the Sugarcubes, grunge left me cold.  Stone cold. I tried everything, but it didn’t work.  At the time I was listening to New Order, the Prodigy and club and house music bordering on the verge of Pop (Uncle Gary never approved), and discovering Prefab Sprout, I could not understand why many of my secondary school class mates started to dress so scruffily, grow their hair, and listen to Nirvana.  Furthermore, on the day Kurt Cobain’s death was announced, the open weeping of teenagers left me bemused.  After all, we had only recently lost Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett, both of whom I thought were of greater loss.

Therefore, it was with much trepidation and angst that I attempted to listen to Nevermind.  I had enjoyed reading about it in the Dave Grohl book, but the narrative only served to remind me that I’d never listened to it, never even paid it a thought, and I thought that I should really try. 

So, one evening, with a glass of wine in hand, and, I shall confess, a little nervousness within (album lovers and music fans will know what I mean – I was genuinely concerned, desperate to like it) and some quiet space, I started to listen.

I made it to track 7.

I just did not like it.  At all.  Although I can appreciate the quality of the bass playing, and the insanity of some of the drumming, the rest just sounds dull to me.  One song repeated the same dull riff monotonously, and mentioned crackers.

I still can’t see why those teenagers dressed as they did, and why they cried so much.  But then, there’s probably another music blog somewhere equally uncomprehending of how people spiked their hair, sprayed it green, dressed sharply in loud and bright colours, and danced frenetically for hours on end.  And discovered Prefab Sprout.

So how did I resolve it?  How did I leave it, having failed such a big challenge.  I poured another wine, and  listened to Ice on the Dune by Empire of the Sun, for the umpteenth time. 

It was a wonderful holiday, thank you for asking, for lots of different reasons.  However, those snatched hours on a sunbed or a terrace rediscovering and reclaiming the format that is the album will keep me going throughout the dark nights of the winter. 

Of course, there are two or three albums I never leave alone.  Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago is especially personal.  The sheer haunting heartache of I trawl the Megahertz by Paddy McAloon will always stop me in my tracks, as will most of the Prefab Sprout oeuvre.  For me, Klaxon-esque blagging aside, the best album in years has been Metronomy’s The English Riviera.
Even though it will continue to grow, develop, evolve for the next generation, improve and, as the technology evolves, it will conitnue to come out in new formats, the album is a stylistic convention we should cherish.  Long may it last, even if it is in the headphones and heart of an old skinhead on his sunbed.  

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Numbers can't tell the whole story ...

365 days.  195 school days (including inset).  1290 hours (allegedly, but I know some staff who reach that before Easter).  208 children, rising to 266 at its peak.  11 classes.  1 OfSTED inspection (and what an inspection).  1 impromptu but devastatingly good rendition of "Starman".  Simple, when you think about it.  But there is so much more than this, and so much more to consider.

It is a little heavy-handed to break down a school year to a list of numbers, and some numbers don't make sense to anyone but those few in the know.  However, it is generally numbers that stand the test of time.  55BC, 1066 and all that, Aston Villa 1 Bayern Munich 0 etc. Surely 4.24 pm on Monday 22nd July will come to own some significance.

Here, I hope it serves a few simple but well-intentioned purposes:

1: To celebrate a twelve month of success.

2: To celebrate the amazing achievements of our ever-growing number of children, and

3:  To celebrate the all-too-often forgotten works of the staff and governors.

Here goes (and trust me, even if you don't know all of them, you'll know when I'm trying to praise and when I'm seeking to do something... else.)

91 - The percentage of year 6 children at or above the national expected level for maths
3 - The number of years in a row we have managed to beat the national average
18 - the overall percentage improvement for year 6 writing in this year's SATs results
5 - The number of consecutive years our APS has exceeded the national average
4 - The number of consecutive years above the floor target (not achieved in the 8 years leading up to 2010)
90 - The percentage of homegrown children achieving the nationally expected level in year 2 reading
3 - The number of children who scored 40 out of 40 in the Year 1 Phonics test

2 - Meaning "Good", the grade OfSTED awarded the school for Achievement

32 - The number of drop in observations I conducted during terms 5 and 6
0 - The number of inadequate lessons I saw in that time
Countless - The number of hours teachers and support staff spent in improving teaching throughout terms 2, 3, 4 and 5 during the teaching toolkit project

2 - Meaning "Good", the grade OfSTED awarded the school for Quality of Teaching and Learning.

10 - the number of children who have managed 100% attendance for the year
2 - the improvement on the same number last year
11 - the number of the children who were on 99.4%+ (only missed 1 day or less)
4 - The reduction in the number of children excluded
6 - The number of letters the governors had to send out for the wrong reasons

2 - Meaning "Good", the grade OfSTED awarded the school for Behaviour and Safety.

10 - The number of staff who have presented to the LA at the core visits this year.
2, 2, 2 - The scores at the 3 core visits this year (As with OfSTED, 2 equates to "Good")

2 - Meaning "Good", the grade OfSTED awarded the school for leadership and management

And, going forward, aspire - achieve - enjoy still rules

83 - Percentage of children at ARE for reading and maths by the end of next year
27.5 - APS for next year's year 6
1/3 - The reduction in childhood obesity
0 - The number of fixed term exclusions
1000 - The number of followers we want on twitter
0 - the number of issues we will face that started on facebook.
7 - The number of David Bowie songs we will learn in term 1.

I cannot offer a thank you great enough for everything that has been achieved this year.  To all the staff, please choose the combination of wellwishes from the list below; you may have one or all, or a selection, they are all offered with my most sincere thanks:

Have a wonderful holiday

Bon voyage colleagues, and good luck in your new adventures

Thank you for your herculean efforts this year

Thank you for being part of this very special team

From my desk, from my corridor, and from the bottom of my heart, thank you all.

Have a wonderful summer.

Until we once again combine to push back the boundaries of pedagogy ever further, that is all....

Friday, 12 July 2013

Fini - Day 5 (Will he do it? Reprise)

Traffic jams come in many sizes.  Baring in mind the scale of everything we've done this week - i.e. monster - it comes as no surprise that we were stuck in a monster of a jam.  However, this will not and does not mar the overall view of camp 2013; it is still being hailed as "totes amaze-balls" by one.

Many people asked me today about my big decision.  A girl of my size never says never, but I am going to polish the baton in the event of its likely passing on.  Whatever the weather, a 5th camp deserves marking, so I would like to thank all of my co-pilots down the years.

Roll of Honour:

Walmsley (2 tours)
Sims / Brown (3 tours)
Correia (Mr)
Dark (Princess of -ness)
Correia (Miss) (2 tours)

Furthermore, I would pay tribute to those who have been in the role of delivering our services.  Special mentions to

Andy & Rosie (and all the Essential Adventure gang)
Mark Briggs
Hannah and Roy

Finally in this section, thank you to Exmouth itself.  You have always welcomed us, looked after us, cared for us, and been glad to see us leave (I wouldn't blame you).  The rain may visit elsewhere in the world; Exmouth, to me, will always mean sunshine.

So, allow me to leave the final words to what I love the most: music.

The following lines should be sung to the tune of "King of Rock'n'roll" by the immortal Prefab Sprout.

All our crazy preteen angst
Doesn't stop us off'ring thanks
To those stars who filled our tanks
As we peer out on each morn
An adventure has been born
Opportunities galore
To tease me
Zigs zags, wet shoes
Beach barbecue
Gore Lane
Exmouth camp
Home of our dreams
Dream helps us recall
The joy of water sport
The beach, the scene, the hall
Five and six painted the town
Daring to leap and surf (and drown)
How will we ever live it down?
Archers, rifles
Take aim
Gold spot!
Gore Lane
Exmouth camp
Home of our dreams
Now the coach has been, and back
All our soiled clothes unpacked
I'll remind you of the fact:
How we took a group of teams
And exceeded all their dreams
Whilst we captured all their beams
Low ropes old floats 
"This is heaven sir!"
Zip wire
Gore Lane
Exmouth camp
Home of our dreams  (repeat to fade into the sunlight)

Thank you all.
Bless you all.
That is all?

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Day four part two - every new beginning leads to some other beginning's end

Well, the last wetsuit has been soaked and packed away.  The body boards and skim boards have been returned to their shelves, the archery targets taken down and the rifle alley disbanded; we have all given our disco clothes (i.e., our last salvageable outfit, generally with odd socks) that one fantastic airing.  I tried to explain what a “rite of passage” is to the kids, then realised that I was wasting the time of one of theirs. 

How will we look back on camp 2013?  And how will Camp 2013 look back upon us?  After all, it is not just the campers of Badock’s Wood who make a camp.  First of all, it is most pleasing to report that the camp leaders, and the leaders of every activity we have undertaken, have commented on our children’s politeness, positive attitude and determination.  We had a very high success rate on all activities, with 96% hurling themselves off the platform onto the zip wire, easily the most terrifying thing we have asked them to do all week.  We’ve managed to find friends to play with on every trip to the beach, and secured numerous hi 5s from the cool kidz running the water sports activities. 

And how does it rank?  I’d say fairly high up there if I’m honest.  I cannot recall too many things which have made me close to heart attack or blood boiling point.  More importantly, that memory bank of magic has been replenished to bursting point, with another host of amazing scenes during today’s epic water sports session.  Other people in my position will appreciate it when I say that there have been 8 or 9 heartbreaking (in the right way) moments this week that remind me why I said I'd do it.

I have been ably aided and abetted in all this by my three irreplaceable co-pilots: Hathway, Correia (2nd tour) and Norman.  Thank you all – giving up a week of life often goes unappreciated; hope we managed to make it filled in another way. 

Trust me, there have been stars, and a thousand legends born.  We have too many to mention, and it would be unfair; furthermore, they are the kind of occasion where you have to be there in order to understand why it was so important.  What I will say is this: many children have grown in more than stature this week, and for that I would pay the price many times over.

But enough of my ramblings.  You’ve had to put up with my tosh all week.  Let’s leave the last word to those who, time and again, weave the magic that makes this thing so special.  At (full roast pork dinner with all trimmings) tea this evening (followed by jam roly poly and custard) we asked every child, what was your favourite part of the week and why. 

Here’s what they said.

Gary – aka Robin Hood; aka Spider Monkey: “Archery, because it was so much fun.”

Lamarah – aka Lamermaid: “Everything was really fun to do.”

Jamal – aka the J-meister: “Everything, because it was so much fun.”

Brooke – aka Brooke Swift: “The sea trampoline – the waves kept bashing me.”

Josh – aka Boarderboy; aka Mr Helpful: “Body boarding – I’m good at it now.”

Luke – aka the barracuda: “Everything, because it was amazing.”

Kiah – aka KiahNoFear: “Archery and rifles, because they were really fun.”

Nathan – aka “Take off those trousers and that united top!”: “Body boarding because I like jumping waves.”

Shelby – aka the Bad Hatter; aka Raftsbane – “Trampoline, because the waves kept crashing me, and Miss Norman got bashed.”

Kile – too many akas to mention, but our favourite is K-ayaker:  “Jumping off the jetty into the lake, because I was doing flips”.

Morgan – aka Princess Maria: “Zip wire because before it I was afraid.”

Bruce – aka Mister Fifty: “Zip wire – it was fun because I’d never done it before.”

Alex – aka Conger (as in eel): “Zip wire because it was fun going fast and shouting stupid stuff.”

Jessica – aka Princess Jessybell: “Everything – all very involving.”

Dayzee – aka DayzeeDoo: “Everything because it’s fun.”

Carissa – aka Rissyroo: “Building rafts because it was the first time I ever beat the other team… and stayed dry.”

Bradley – aka Flipmeister: “Skim boarding, loads of fun.”

Ellie – aka Princess: “All of it, because it was so much fun.”

Kessie – aka Deadeyed Wombat; aka The Legend; aka “Our immortal leader”: “Water sports, it gave me inspiration for future water experiences.”

Ebrima – aka Top Hat: “Everything, because it was so good.”

Kelsey – aka George (of the Jungle): “Zip wire, because I didn’t do it last year.”

Chandler – aka Spider Monkey II; aka Tandellar: “Body boarding, because it was good when  you jumped the waves.”

BaiOmar – aka The Baiomara: “Archery, skim boarding, rifle shooting, jumping off the jetty – everything.”

Megan – aka Hello Vera: “All of it because it was an experience I can never forget.”

Last word I think to our special little Laurel.

Lauren – aka Willisbane; aka Lollipop: “All of it, because I’d never done it before and I loved it!”

Enough said.  From Exmouth after another wonderful year, that is all.

Day four - the big one! Part one

Just a normal Thursday morning really.

You wake up, very late.  You crawl to breakfast in your PJs, and smack down three or four bowls of frosties, a couple of plates of sausages beans and toast.

Then you get into a wet suit, head down the rickety stairs leading to the secluded beach, and indulge in a spot of body boarding, skim boarding, lifesaver games, and the sea trampoline.

Of course, we were going to go on the power boat, but the waves were too big.  Shame.

So instead, we decided that we would play on the trampoline for longer, do some more body boarding, then have a late lunch.

Once we've had a long lazy lunch, we're heading back down there.  Have a nice afternoon wherever you are.

For this morning, that is all.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Magic Moments- camp day three

This morning was one.  I woke at 6.38 (my normal school time) and again at 6.47 (the snooze alarm) before waking again ahead of any children at 7.15.  Yes, the shenanigans of morning 1 were isolated to then, and we all got a good night’s sleep.  We had to wake almost every child to get them ready for early breakfast. 

The thing about camp is that it’s filled with magical little moments that remind you why you do it in the first place.  They’re unhidden, spontaneous, unintentional, and utterly wonderful.  The children don’t know they’re creating anything special, they don’t actually know they’re being anything other than themselves, but then, isn’t that the point?

There’s something so deliciously human, and so incredibly beautiful about two or three beings working innocently and surreptitiously together to create a moment of sheer electricity.  To err is human, to do something super is surely superhuman.

(Of course, camp also brings un-magical moments.  This year’s thus far have included socks on the beach, canine phobia, smells relating to boys and a spider’s nest in the ladies loo.)

So, what have we seen? 

Unspoken but monumental bravery, on repeated occasions.

Year 6 boys (never knowingly sensitive) egging on a reluctant year 5 girl to “Give it a go! You’ll love it!”.  (You want to know now, don’t you.  She did it.  Twice.)

A quiet, diligent year 6 girl taking a lead and pushing a group towards success.

A year 5 and a year 6 – who would never ever have anything to do with each other – teasing each other playfully on the jetty, the one encouraging the other to jump.  She did.  He followed.  They laughed together in the water. I beamed with pride.

A brave year 5 gymnast joining in with teenagers on the beach, and teaching them a new trick or two.

Everyone joining in without asking to bury someone in the sand…at their own request.

A boy stood confidently astride a hand built raft, before launching himself headfirst into the lake.

A year 5 girl, never famed for her courage, offering up her paddle, before launching herself off the raft at the lake’s deepest point. (Neither one has seen or heard about the other)

The sheer determination of young children, normally shy and retiring, to push themselves to their limits.

The joy of achievement.

That’s why everyone remembers camp.  No-one remembers the bloke who runs the water sports or the lady at the archery.  No one remembers the food (which they should do here, it’s gorgeous and plentiful) and no-one remembers why they were so afraid in the first place.  People remember camp because it is packed with memories that have a highly important personal value.  They remember the first pen pal, the first time they stood on a surfboard, or flew down a zip wire, the first independent feeling of sheer exhilaration, that feeling that you achieved something you never thought possible. They remember that amazing feeling you couldn’t possibly hope to experience at home on 11.40 on a Wednesday morning.

In short, people remember the magic.

And I shall confess I had forgotten.  I still remember my year 6 camp (a smelly muddy hole somewhere outside Birmingham – Coventry, I think it was called), and those memories just about remain. Yet I have been blessed with a new set of memories, a new store of magic for every time I have put myself forward for camp as an adult.  When I saw that boy astride the raft today I watched in awe, and the magic returned.  Despite the fact I was in the lake, I soared high above it, watching this amazing personal success, privileged to be party to this wondrous revelation, a reveller at the Glastonbury of myths (album by Brooke Swift versus the Bad Hatters).  Suddenly, the magic was all around me, and I realised I’d been sat in the midst of it all week. 

So, has all of this affected my momentous decision?  I am happy to admit that today my faith has wavered, my resolved tested.  But this isn’t my blog, this is magic’s blog, and a happy celebration of how lucky I find myself to be able to create the circumstances that allow such wander to flow.  Therefore, earlier than we have done so far this week, I am contented to say – with enormous expectation of what magic we may weave tomorrow – that is all.

For all the parents out there, let me summarise it more literally: today we have asked your children to negotiate a low rope assault course that almost wrecked their hands, then climb into a tree and hurl themselves off a platform along a 120 foot zip wire.  Then, after lunch, we asked them to build a raft out of barrels and planks, then ride it around a lake.  Simples.  Just for fun, we then spent an hour launching them off the jetty into the lake.  Then ate too much pizza.  Then went the beach.  That isn’t all…

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Nick name or band name? Camp, day two

Due to the monumental feats of strength of character, camp is a hallowed place where legends are made.  The fables of mythological greatness that we shall pass down to our young ones are forged in the smithy that is camp.  As early as day two, true history is made.  When it is made, it has bestowed upon it the greatest honour any camper can bestow upon another – a nickname.

Some children already had subtitles and alter egos as they launched into this camp; who can fail to have heard my liberal use of the K-monster and Brucy-Baby monikers within our usual corridors of power?  Yet some wait for their moment of unsought destiny to have their own label thrust upon their eternal memory.

Today has been such a day.  Under a sun sent to torture and with weapons and tools hitherto unseen, we have fashioned our own brand of victory from the absent clouds of despair.  Your task now is to define the true nicknames from band names my weird subconscious has formulated of its own despicable accord.

So, if I tell you that today has been spent rifle shooting, at archery and beach barbecuing / swimming, and a bonus session of beach gymnastics with a group of locasls, it will come as no surprise that we found someone renamed “Robin Hood”, after his first fledgling attempts with the yew.   (It was Gary.  You know, Mr “I’ve-never-done-this-before-so-I’ll-just-stick-it-in-the-dead-centre-of-that-targety-thing”?)

So here we go, simply answer ‘nickname’ or ‘band name’.  Answers, of a sort, below.

1.       Brooke Swift and the Golden Target
2.       Mister Fifty
3.       Brooke Swift versus the Bad Hatter
4.       Dead eyed Wombat
5.       Flapjacks and clotted cream
6.       Bubblebottom
7.       The Incredible Case of the Tiger Fighter
8.       Whisper or silence
9.       The Penance fulfilling Six

With more fear than key stage 2 threshold levels, your points to 19 (where did they get that from?!?) this week are:

1:  Nickname, attributed after the aforementioned Brooke casually stepped up as the last archer in the team competition and scored the winning gold.

2: Nickname, attributed to Bruce for his average score with 5 bullets.

3: Bandname, or potential episode to the new Harry Potter series.  Made up after an archery shoot-out between Brooke and Shelby, where both amassed 20+points.

4: Nickname, attributed to Kessie as she continued to score consistently well in rifle shooting, then archery.  Just the odd 25 here and there.

5: Neither.  Than was my pudding at lunch, and it was lush.

6: Nickname, attributed to … oh I couldn’t possibly say.

7: Nickname, attributed to Kile.  Many will see his cuts as a gentle scrape against some rocks in the pools yesterday.  But we know different.  After a terrifying escape from Paignton Zoo, many animals threatened the public at large.  Our Kile, too shy to mention it, came out the hero. Honest, ask him.

8: Bandname, and one I rather like. But it’s also what we’ve been offering as a choice for the last few awake.

9: Nickname, attributed to a group of boys who had better NOT be doing that again.

Due to this morning’s 5:06 am start, yesterday’s blog now seems as if it were written in the mists of time.  However, a long long day never prohibits an ultimately successful one, which – with the exception of one of two noses getting redder – is exactly what we have had.  Therefore, with much much happiness in my heart, much weariness in my bones and no alteration to my BIG decision as yet, I am happy to say that is all.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Day One - Orcombe coastal road strikes back

So, first day down.  What have we learned?

Coach drivers who at first appear humble may well have the slogan “speed demon” emblazoned somewhere upon their vehicle.

That the joy of finding a crab is still mesmeric, even when you thought it would be horrible.

That 3G is as unreliable up here as anywhere else (sorry for the late messages Miss Andrews).

That no-one, absolutely no-one, likes the zig-zags.  Still.  Ever.

That we have some fine swimming costume-age this year, and some oven more fine one-sies.

Sometimes, even factor 50 is not enough.  However, a cold shower and a bag of peas can always be relied upon.

Seaweed, apparently, is slippy.

Generally, a positive and successful first day with loads of fun, loads of grub and lots of giggles and cuddles, and more than just a smear of sun cream.  

May something higher than David Bowie have mercy on our souls tomorrow (dull day tomorrow  Bacon and egg brekkie, archery, rifle shooting, beach barbecue, more time in beautiful Exmouth – or, as one child calls it, “Heaven”).

For day one, that is all.