Friday, 12 December 2014

Like a hug at a festival; Christmas in all its glory

As we embark upon this 4th Christmas blog – or blessay as we dubbed it a few years past – you may be interested to know that its inspiration hailed from a very different source to that of its predecessors.  Usually, I start thinking about this piece roughly a week after completing my November blog, and then I scrabble around for fitting topics and subject matter, before trying to crowbar in some contemporary references alongside a few historical festive staples. Not so this year.

I’m sure many of you will know that the song “White Christmas” is from the film Holiday Inn, where Bing Crosby sings it longingly from a sun dripped Californian beach.  Similarly, readers of blessay number 1 ( will recall my pub quiz fact that Noddy Holder wrote Slade’s festive smash on John Lennon’s "Imagine" piano in the middle of a New York heatwave in July.  The inspiration for this blog hit me on a sunny Saturday in June, and I knew it the second it happened.

My family and I are devoted attendees of the 80s Let’s Rock Bristol festival.  I love a festival, especially one where I can take my kids and teach them something important (like the words to all of Go West’s hits).  We had arrived on the Friday, pitched camp and started rocking.  Then on the Saturday, after a bleary eyed start, we dragged our deck chairs and our illicit moonshine and set up our selves for the day as we always do – strategically placed at the start of the second bank so we’re easy for the kids to find and close to the amenities … by which I mean bar. 

The sun shone high in a sky of the deepest blue, and the atmosphere was electric with anticipation.  We were moments away from the arrival of the first act, and we couldn’t slap on the sun cream fast enough.  The place was abuzz with open hearted joy, and I for one couldn’t wait.

The first few acts came and went (Dr and the Medics, Jackie Graham and Sonia, since you asked) and although I sang along word perfect to “You’ll never stop me from loving you” I was gripped by something else happening.  Where we had chosen to make our festival pitch was right next to a thoroughfare that split the festival in two, and stretched from the entry points across the park to the amenities… by which I mean the bar.

This thoroughfare took on an entirely new meaning as people came in: it became a place of hugging.  I sat transfixed watching people running towards each other and hugging.  There seemed to be no rules, no plan, no holding back and no decorum whatsoever.  More than one couple did the whole “try to go to the side and headbutt each other” manoeuvre, but no-one cared.  There was no ill will, no animosity, and not a single person refused said hug. 

There was just joy.  A bloke behind me said “It’s just like Christmas!” and I thought to myself, there’s a blog in that…..

Because, you see, a hug at a festival is a strange but magnificent beast.  It transcends so many things that it is an irresistible force all of its own design.  I watched, open jawed, as I saw young and old, tall and short, goth and go-go (I’ll explain in a second) practically sprint up to one another, and envelope them in an embrace that could, in one or two cases, have broken ribs.

A festival hug transcends age.  It doesn’t matter how old or young you are; you can still participate in any way.

A festival hug transcends time.  Whether you were with that person this morning for breakfast or you haven’t seen them in an age, a hug at a festival confirms and reaffirms that deep felt friendship that has been there all along.

A festival hug transcends culture.  You don’t have to be trendy or cutting edge, and it isn’t just for the nerdy.  It’s about laying your feelings open and unashamedly on the line.

A festival hug, and here’s the real funny one, transcends musical tastes.  The apocryphal tale of the Brighton beach fight between mods and rockers was all well and good, but don’t the authorities normally take the brunt of festival go-ers combined ire?  I saw a bloke who was all of 6 foot 4, without his destroy platform heels, dressed head-to-toe in black leather, complete with make up, hugged by a lady of about 4’11’’ (in both directions) wearing a rara skirt, a glitter wig and a Frankie says t-shirt.  Did he shy away?  No, he reciprocated, and what a sight they made. 

The main thing, however, is what it conveys.  In those many hugs, I saw a thousand messages portrayed loud and clear.  They said things like:

·         I’ve missed you;
·         It’s great to see you;
·         It’s great to share this experience with you;
·         I can’t believe you’re here;
·         I can’t believe I’m here – in these shoes….and this hat….;
·         This place just got even better because you’re here;
·         You mean so much to me.

And it continued.  I saw unashamed tears of happiness, and deeds of kindness that were unembarrassed in their openness and sentiment.  It was as if, for a weekend in summer, the human race remembered that it is wired for good.  It was intrinsic engineering (where have I heard that before?).

As the year has progressed, I have seen a number of incidents and events, and indeed the individuals they concern, where I have concluded that what the situation really needed was a big festival hug.  Although I am not suggesting for a moment that such an act would rid the world of all its ills, it would certainly go a long way to make people, especially those who are in need, feel a whole lot better.  I think it also serves as an award for those who deserve it, but just don’t, for all sorts of invalid reasons, get the recognition.

I am one of a million Englishmen who have that deep seated hatred of the Aussie cricket team, based – I am convinced – on pure jealousy on our behalf.  My generation have seldom seen such world dominance of any sport, and they managed it for a decade and more.  I am, however, not too proud an Englishman to say that Ricky Pontin will for me, along with Joost Van Der Westhuizen, Jonty Rhodes and Franco Baresi, always be seen as a sporting colossus.

Whatever your sporting allegiance, you cannot be human and have been unmoved by the sad and tragic death of Philip Hughes.  A young man (and I am now of an age that I qualify to say that about others) who died doing something he loved, and in a complete accident.  Amazingly, my wife (never what you would call a sports pundit) made a fair point in the midst of all of this: how sad for the poor bloke who bowled the delivery?  Sean Abbott must have been subjected to a tsunami of unmanageable turmoil over the last few weeks, for doing little more than what his coach told him to.  It has been a number of saving graces that the cricketing world has managed this situation so well, especially its support of Abbott.  A massive festival hug to Sean Abbott please.

In addition to that, you must also raise a pair of clapping hands to the amazing dignity displayed at a funeral which never once asked for pity or sympathy, but instead celebrated the amazing gift that must have been Phil Hughes’ life and work.  I watched with a little awe the bravery of those who had to speak, including his sister.  Massive festival hug to her please.

Similarly, love him or hate him, the remarkable way in which Michael Clarke handled himself, his team and his nation can only be admired.  I once remarked, in a former blog, that the world needed its men to be leaders, but every so often it is even more important for its leaders to be men.  In the dictionary, dignity should have a picture of Michael Clarke next to it.  Huge festival hug to Mr Clarke please, followed by a highly deferential shake of his hand.

Operation Yewtree has loomed like a sad cloud not only over this year, but it feels like a larger number of years than it probably is.  I have taken no pleasure in reading the recounts in the paper, nor in hearing the news; only a reserved satisfaction that justice has, in some small but irretrievably late fashion, been served.  My feelings about this whole affair come into two categories really.

Firstly, I have nothing but the greatest sympathy for the victims of these unspeakably terrible acts, and the deepest admiration for the courage in stepping forward and speaking out.  Too little too late for them?  I rather suspect so, but I think that the passage of years and the public outing of Neanderthal – like attitudes will portray these women and girls in a very different light – an heroic one.  A polite, respectful and deserving hug to each of these people.

But I feel it goes deeper.  I can just about recall the radio on a Saturday morning hosted by certain people, and the TV programmes I came to know as a child.  Yet I was (I know you won’t believe it) too young to have joined in the mass adoration of the 1970s.  Some people may have had one of these people’s posters on their teenage bedroom wall, or maybe even more.  I feel bitterly sorry for people whose teenage years now bear a stain of doubt and betrayal, because I’m sure that’s how they must feel.  A mug bearing a “fix it” label that once graced our office has, quite rightly, disappeared for good.  To these people, a massive festival hug.

Previous blessay riders will know I’m not one to shy away from areas others may deem insensitive, but please consider for a moment the devastating news in Bristol in recent weeks of a mother and child who went missing from a hospital – the very hospital in which both my children entered this world – and were subsequently found dead.  I heard the news of the mother’s body being discovered as I arrived at school one morning; I had to stay in the car for a few more moments that day.  Later came the news we all hoped would not come, but somehow knew to be inevitable.  How many of us, given the chance, would go back and give them the hug they clearly so desperately needed?

But I don’t raise this with the rosey tint of hindsight.  My thoughts and festival hugs go out to the mother who is no longer a grandmother, and the boyfriend who is no longer a father.  I cannot for a second place myself in those shoes, but would do anything I could to erase the pain.

Furthermore, I have experienced at first hand, twice, the amazing care and dedication of the staff at that hospital, and will not for a second condone the discussions or accusations bouncing around face(idiot)book about “why did no-one stop them”.   I will not sanction for a second the idea that those wonderful professionals, who saw my wife through two difficult births, didn’t do what they could.  To the entire team, who I know will have – by the very nature of their outstanding professionalism – done an enormous amount of soul searching, an enormous group hug.

Indeed, I would also offer a future festival hug.  Not to a future festival go-er (although the two are not mutually exclusive) but to anyone who is, round about now, starting to worry.  Worry about ensuring that in two weeks’ time, or thereabouts, they will have managed to pull off a dinner that meets everyone’s not always realistic expectations, and which keeps the pre-supper / post-monopoly arguments that little more soft around the edges.  Look at it like this: that master of understatement Philip Larkin used the wonderful lines in “The Whitsun Weddings” (another summer reference) about the ladies watching the happy couple leaving on their train and had

Just time enough to settle hats and say
“I nearly died!”

Maybe your own version will read

Just time enough to steady paper crowns and say
“I nearly burst”

Yes, I agree, Larkin says it better.  However, let us not forget the sentiment, for that is what I would wish for yourselves.  As someone who is expected to cook for 11, you have my sympathies, and a big, warm sherry fuelled hug.

If you can bear to stay with me for a moment or two more, would you be so good as to indulge me in a personal moment?  There are some hugs that I want to give out in recognition of a more personal, Badock’s centred 12 months.

Firstly to the Buddies of Badock’s, our new PTA who have come from nowhere to smash it out of the ball park, thank you, and a massive, massive festival hug.  As there are so many of you (and you’re almost exclusively female) you can have Then Jericho, Alexander O’Neal and Nathan from Brother Beyond … except for Chris and Steve; Belinda Carlisle and Kim Wilde perhaps?

Next, to the parents who are helping push Badock’s even further.  Those who ensure their children are “always” children – always there, always in uniform, always with homework and always well supported.  You know who you are.  You are all due a huge hug; have level 42 and Bananarama.

To the children’s centre staff, who have at times this year had to endure the most unpleasant of all working environments – uncertainty.  Your work has been noticed and appreciated, and I know that, even though we’re not out of the woods by a very long stretch, we are on a journey towards great things.  Big, big hugs – for you all; you may have Nick Kershaw.

I have been slapped around the face this year with the realization I've now been at Badock’s almost 7 years.  I have seen a number of staff join, move on and, I’m pleased to say, stay with us for the journey.  Working in such close proximity brings about a certain camaraderie and we take an enormous interest in each other’s lives and welfare, even after they have left.  This year, with current staff and former colleagues, we have had 8 Badock’s babies.  Cause enough for celebration.  However, let’s throw in the fact that some of these babies have been ill, and we have all, as a group, waited on those phone calls and texts that no-one wants to make or receive.  Yet we have done it, and we’ve done it together.  The biggest hug to my school colleagues who never cease to amaze me in everything they do and put up with from me: you can have Boney M, and sing Christmas songs until you know I’m back in the building. 

Almost finally, I should point out that the one thing you never see in a festival hug is forgiveness.  It isn't needed.  Festivals are about spreading the joy and the love.  Therefore, as it’s Christmas, may I offer the biggest, sloppiest kiss of a hug to the people who have been writing derogatory comments about the school and yours truly on face(idiot)book.  You will all be pleased to know that you have not upset me, although I won’t be showing my mum, and can you please spell my name right?  To you, the amenities … by which I do not mean the bar.

Finally, to the wife.  Yes, you can hug Rick Astley.

So, kind people, a big gold star on top of the tree if you’ve made it this far.  As ever, I apologise humbly and profoundly for offence caused; none was ever intended.  I am far more hopeful that I have posed a question or raised an idea or two.  Whatever the festive seasons holds for you, I wish you the merriest of Christmases and the most successful of new years.  To you and yours, may this time be safe, special, and driven by the kind of hugs usually reserved for a balmy June day.

For an eventful 2014, that is all.

Except, may I offer one more hug?  It will not involve wrapping my arms around anyone, nor the offer of a faded popstar, but I would just like to prove that a good turn is never forgotten.

On the Sunday of the festival, it rained.  A lot.  My wife had “forgotten” to bring my coat from the car when she went to retrieve waterproofs and warm stuff for her and the kids.  So as the rain lashed down in the midst of Matt Bianco, I was left in tshirt, shorts and a hat borrowed to try and keep my shades clear.  The rain came crashing down on us for a good 20 minutes, and I was drenched, but my spirits undeterred.

Halfway through, whilst I was dancing with my son, a gentleman came to me in his coverall poncho.  I was expecting him to make rude comments about my lack of preparation.  Instead, he slapped me on the back and said “fair play to you, son”, then offered me his hip flask.  We then spent the rest of the rainstorm talking and sharing children-at-festival stories.  Never once, upon taking his own hit, did he not offer me the said flask, the contents of which was a hug in itself… and a bit of a smack in the jaw.  Once the sun was in the sky again and we had reached what felt like a natural conclusion, he said “Well, if it hadn’t rained, we’d never have got the chance to talk” another slap on my back “go steady, mind.”

With that, he blended back into the crowd.  It was a hug, of sorts, and I never got the chance to say thank you for the hip flask, or, more importantly, for the enormous hug of friendship that made me warm again on a cold day.  A hug feels like a hug, however it may be given.  Wherever you are sir, thank you.

That, with a wish of a merry Christmas, is all.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

"If you see BoB, tell him ... thanks"

You look at a lot of school vision statements (as I do … for a reason I can’t justify beyond good old fashioned nosiness) and you see lots of different words employed.  Generally, you see some bold statements about achievement and outcomes.  Then, you see the noble gases, such as pride, endeavour, diligence.  Some then try and get all new-age and include things like creativity and inquisitiveness.  More often than not, they paint a picture of an individual whom, if embodied of all of those traits, would by either a herculean super being or a cyborg.

Now, I’m not saying that these are inappropriate, or that hundreds of schools – my own included – have got it wrong.  These are all fine and dandy; full of aspiration, and surely exactly where we want our schools and the next generation of global citizens to be heading. What I’m attempting to say, very badly, is that we may be missing one.  Or that our children and communities do it so naturally that it goes without saying.

I’m not sure the latter is entirely true.  At least, not for us, and at least, not yet.

Let me explain further.

Although I have spent lots of assembly time boring our children about aspiration, collaboration, co-operation and other values that decorate our Vision statement and the stage in our assembly hall, generally our children and community manage to surprise us in a hundred different ways.  Despite everything we profess to hold as a value, the one that isn’t there is generosity, yet, just lately, I have seen such an abundance of this in so many ways that I am beginning to think it is a glaring omission.

Just before the break we’re no longer allowed to call half term, our harvest festival stage was once again crammed with the gifts of donations afforded us.  I have very awkward feelings about the celebration itself, but always enjoy watching how dried goods can spontaneously reproduce.  One tin becomes two. Two become four.  Four become six, and a packet of biscuits and a packet of golden rice.  A drip becomes a trickle, which leads to a deluge and eventually a flood.  A flood of overwhelming generosity. That can’t be bad can it?

In my first assembly back after that holiday, I spoke about poppies, and their true meaning.  I spoke about the horrors of that battlefield, and the stories behind the poppy.  By the following Monday, our poppy box was empty, and our money collection tin full.  Our remembrance service was full of green uniforms with a dashing and deferential dab of red.  And didn’t they look wonderful.

In the same week, not a few days later, they arrived in yellow for children in need.  Hulking great year 6 were unafraid of being seen in their onesie in the name of charity.  Then, at the end of that day, in a freezing cold playground, hundreds (at least it seemed that way to me) stayed behind for the cake sale, with a large bulk of the goodies donated by a teacher’s dad. When the cupboard was bare, an almost invisible army silently cleared away in the dipping, freezing sunlight without a sound.

This isn’t just a dip into whimsical prose – this is an important point.  You see, the backdrop to all of this has been the emergence of our amazing friends group: the Buddies of Badocks, who charmingly refer to themselves as BoB.  From small beginnings in the summer, they have gradually grown and grown, up to and including last Friday night’s Caribbean evening, which was packed, and wonderful.  (If you haven’t seen them yet, our twitter feed - @badocksprimary – will tell the story for you).

This is a different but by no means less important demonstration of generosity.  This is being generous with time, with effort, with skills, with resources, and, very often, with patience.   With this kind of generosity, it’s often others who reap the rewards.  But then, that’s the nature of giving, isn’t it?

As well as simply wanting to share the kindness of this community – and that’s more than enough of a topic for one of my erambles – I wanted to just draw a simple connection.  I’ve been telling the leaders and the governors that, despite some tough tasks at the start of this year, and a lot of deep reflection about outcomes at the end of the last, we have a number of signs that things are going well, and that some of our initiatives are starting to embed.

Things like the number of volunteers is on the up; breakfast club is packed; we have an ever increasing pool of people to call upon when we need them; I can’t recall a time when we’ve had so many clubs; the book swap for adults now looks like an outpost of Waterstones.  And BoB is going from strength to strength.  Add to that all the things listed above and you have to make a simple observation – people must really like being in our school. 

I think generosity is a bit like bacteria – stick with me people: it will only grow and thrive if the environment and the things going on around it are right.  Clearly they are.

So when we revisit our values some time in 2015, perhaps we need to think not only to what we aspire, but to what we have built, embedded, and what we hold dear.  After all, all these generous people can’t be wrong, can they?

Until the big Christmas blog in a few weeks, that is all.

PS To make it quite plain, thank you everyone involved in BoB, who have brought another dimension to our school.  Your generosity is a lesson for us all.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Wot I dun: album of the day revisited

You are all familiar with my love of music. My collection - both real and ethereal - falls broadly into three groups. One: rock and pop and singer / songwriter, preferably on vinyl. Two, electonica. Three, stuff that doesn't fit nicely into these boxes, e.g., Kate Bush or Prince - because they are genre defying -or stuff that is generally rubbish, e.g., iron maiden / the cheeky girls (although, even I would be tempted to listen to any collaboration between those two...) 

This blog focuses almost exclusively in category two, and let me explain why. Since discovering Metronomy, I have rediscovered my passion for this wonderful, beeps-and-noises style of music.  It began when I was a kid obsessed with rock and punk such as the Police a Bad Manners, suddenly discovering this new and unusual form of sounds upon nicking uncle Gary's copies of The Buggles and OMD, New Order and stolen snippets of Kraftwerk*** through my lifelong love of the Pet Shop Boys, through "growing up" and listening to Autecere and Aphex Twin, seeing it go mainstream with Electronic and the Chemical Brothers; know we have gone full circle with MGMT, Empire of the Sun and, of course, Metronomy. 

As far as I am concerned, Metronomy are a breed apart. Their albums are story telling at its finest, carried by innovative and unusual instruments with names that belong in sci-Fi comics. I first discovered the English Riviera album, went onto Love Letters, the album of 2014 for me, and - and this is where this blog started - went back to find Nights Out

So, with a week of Lanzarotean sun beds on the horizon, I loaded the iPod with new electronic albums, and got down to some serious studying. 

Gulp - Season Son 

 Erm...yes... I first heard "I want to dance" on 6 music and loved it, so it was a prime candidate. However, on the first listen, the second listen and even the third, all I could hear was the OST of a Quentin Tarrentino spaghetti western. There were two or three individual moments that I really liked. However, other than that... I was left feeling like I'd done a good thing; ticked something of my list. But will I listen again? Probably not if I'm honest. 

They are fully within their rights to argue that they don't fit into this box, and they'd be quite right, but that's what it said on the tin. This album, for me, goes rather disappointingly into the less pleasant end of category 3, somewhere between Nirvana and S club 7. 

Caribou - Our Love 

 Now, this I liked. A lot. I liked it because it had a number of really amazing melodies. However, more than that, it contained a number of electronica devices and cliches which improved the whole piece, such as a change of tempo in "Can't do without you" and the use of silence in several tracks (few other genres have learned this lesson) often best executed by Scandinavian house djs or, dare I say it, early Pet Shop Boys. 

 Overall, I just enjoyed a strong collection of songs which I would love to hear live. Also, the complete piece is so good that I would struggle to choose one highlight for a playlist - this is, simply put, a good late night chill out with a glass of wine album. 

Phoenix - Bankrupt! 

 Again, I was introduced to this group via 6music. Early one morning, I put it on and was very very pleasantly blown away. This was an easy listen, and a highly enjoyable one, although it could also be one of those genre defying ones - some songs were pure electronica, but at some moments I heard the Strokes and the Guillemots. 

 As with Caribou, this is an accomplished piece overall, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Bearing in mind I was until recently bemoaning the death of the album, I've found two corkers. 

 I suppose the difference is that this is group who know their my instruments and their roles, and put them together extremely well. Furthermore, they are not too afraid to say "that doesn't need any bass lads, you crack on with your moog and I'll sit this one out". 

 It's just good: simple as. Furthermore, although I discovered it in the sunshine, I think it will add to a playlist containing groups like the go betweens and the Cocteau twins, to whom I always seek recourse when the nights draw in; like the novels of John Irving or the poetry of Robert frost, it will bring warmth and comfort when needed on a cold November night. 

East India youth - Total Strife Forever 

 There are three things you need to be wary of when composing this kind of music, I feel. One: pretentiousness - there is a place for that; it's called the early 80s. Second: repetition. Third: power cuts. Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie never really worried about the juice running dry. 

 Sadly this album is all repetition and, towards the end, a little pretentiousness. Peter Gabriel used the same name for an album 4 times - that's cool; the same name for 4 tracks on the same album smacks of art school over seriousness. Or just bloody laziness, if I'm honest. 

 This was long, and dull, to put not too fine a point on it. It's a shame, because having been teased by "Dripping down" I was really up for this. I had to listen to it in two sittings - never a good sign. 

At the risk of sounding like a teacher, they need to do their homework. You can do length without the pitfalls mentioned above. Check out all nearly ten minutes of "It's alright" by the PSBs on Introspective - I spent many a teenage afternoon doing just that, repeatedly. Or try "I trawl the megahertz" by Paddy Mcaloon - not the whole album, but the 22 minute title track. No repetition there, just very very good music. 

 This however is not. Sorry fellas. 

Glass animals - ZABA


 Not wow as in rollercoasters or puppies for Christmas. More wow as in did I really just enjoy that? Did I really get the chance to experience that? Having finished it I had to immediately listen again. This is epic, really good stuff. 

 I also have that feeling I often get about wishing I was more intelligent, wishing I could get it more. Like you feel when you first listen to the XX. Intrigued at first and then fully blown blown away, this is great musicianship. Again, they know when to use instruments, when not to, and when to just shut up for a second or two.  

 You see, one of the reasons I love this genre so much is, in the words of Shrek, layers. Listen carefully enough, there's more than one thing occurring, and electronica does it best. On my second listen I sought out these layers, and got lost trying to keep up. It's not often to say an album is beguiling, but this one is. The last track, entitled "jdnt" - no pretentiousness there, it's clearly thought out and means something to someone - works on so many layers it's practically an audio trifle. 

It's the first time this holiday / homework project I've had a must listen to that track again several times moment.

Song writing and music making of this kind comes along all too seldom, but, I suppose, we enjoy it all the more when it does. This is going straight into the must be listened to again, a lot category.  Corridors of Badock's Wood, prepare yourself. 

 Just wow. How do they do so much in four and a half minutes? That, mate, is electronica.


Metronomy - Nights Out 

 This is where it all began this time around.  I was already a devotee of the later two albums (see above) and therefore in the rare position to go back and discover old stuff.  This was a joy.  As it is a different band composition, and an earlier work, its a different sound, and more raw and gritty sound than its successors.  

However, this does not detract; nor does it sound like a pale imitation - this is very much one chapter in what I hope will be a long and successful history of this band.

From the opening sounds to the final, hypnotic track, I just enjoyed this album for what it is - great story telling, great music and excellent musicianship.  Joe Mount, the songwriter, does something incredibly simple, but does it incredibly well: he / they create riffs and patterns that don't merely get repeated, but built upon, again and again - more of that layering.  Also, sometimes it's just a good old fashioned verse-chorus-verse-chorus song, but again, that build a story from start to climactic finish.

I must have looked a fool bobbing up and down repeatedly in the aisle of the plane to "On dancefloors" but, to be honest, I didn't care.  Like so much of what I love about this style of music, at first it sounded bleak, almost quiet, but went on to build a strong and dynamic story, which, by the end, has you utterly engrossed.

Where it all started again. And, where I know, it will continue.

A good holiday thanks.  Nothing spectacular, but enormously enjoyable in many ways, and memorable for reconnecting me to a massive part of my musically-formative years.  It also gave me the chance (via the generosity of a very dear friend) to purchase some very new albums and just sit back and enjoy them.  For my October half term homework, that is all.  Thank you...

Lanza Playlist

On Dancefloors - Metronomy
Chloroform - Phoenix
Second chance - Caribou
Gooey - Glass Animals
Need Now Future - Metronomy
SOS in Bel Air - Phoenix
Pools - Glass Animals
Can't do without you - Caribou
I want to dance - Gulp
Jdnt - Glass Animals

*** for those of you uninitiated, listening to Kraftwerk as a kid in the early 80s always felt a bit like eavesdropping on a conversation between adults at a party - you knew deep down you shouldn't do it, but there was no way you were going to stop, and you did not want to be rumbled.  It always gave me the feeling that it was something you never really wanted your mum to know about...

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Oi! Give it back! The terms of Nanny McPhee

My thoughts on September are well noted.  It often seems the longest month of the year.  We went through several Mondays this term that still seemed to be in September.  Each Monday briefing and assembly, I felt we could tick off another "M" box on the calendar, only to find that there were 3 or 4 more following in quick succession.

However, as we stand here on the brink of the end of term, I find myself desperate to claw it all back.  I feel we could do with another week or two.  We're just getting started on so many new and exciting things that, to stop us now would be to stop our race when we'd only made it around the first bend.

Take our new curriculum.  I saw our teachers' amazing ideas in their planning at the start of term, and, little by little, these ideas started to come to life.  Learning walls, here, displays there, books started to spring into colourful life and our environment went from cool to.... wow.  In the words of CP3O - "Oh My!"

I started to hear conversations between learners about googlemaps and how to use it to solve their current problem.  I started to see the most amazing art work appear from almost nowhere, and children selecting writing for a tool to help them learn.  I have seen the very youngest children designing and building the most complicated structures and towers.

At the start of last week, I was looking for a classroom to host our governors meeting.  I was spoilt for choice.  I stood in several rooms and looked around and thought: "How lucky".  How lucky am I to have such a creative team?  How lucky are we to have such creative practitioners, and such enthusiastic children?  All of those amazing ideas I had seen several (it seems like years) weeks ago suddenly on full display, making utterly clear our children's mastery of their learning, and the joy of our curriculum.

Added to this, how will we go a week without "the zone"?  For the uninitiated, the zone is an open space where we allow children to work and learn independently.  Where we say to children "Off you go ... and by the way, it's all yours".  Children teaching one another, children working independently, children working collaboratively, or even children simply thinking.  When was the last time we gave children space and time to think and breathe?  Today, actually.

Then there's the playpod.  This green beast descended into our playground and our collective consciences several weeks ago, but has only just opened. Through absolutely no-one's fault, our time has been curtailed primarily due to awful autumnal weather, and we haven't yet quite got the hand of it.  Quite.

However, we've had one hell of a go.  In just this week and a half, our playground has been adorned by swings, dens, jack-in-the-boxes, and, my personal favourite, mission control for a space station.  Look a little closer, what else have we seen?  We've seen collaboration, kindness, determination, sharing.  We've seen joy.

There's more.  Our friends association, the all new Buddies of Badock's, have run two brilliant events for our children, as well as uniform sales and such.  We have had not one but 2 hundred percent attendance weeks - we normally only get three in a year!

It's all gone a bit Nanny McPhee: when you've had enough of term 1, and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere, it will linger like the smell of year 6's feet.  When we're loving it, when we have a harvest festival packed hall, when we finally have the playpod we've been waiting for for ages and our curriculum is up and running, term 1 waves farewell with a tearful adieu.

We could whinge and whine, wring our hands with unmitigated woe.  Or, we could look forward to term 2.

Term 2 coming soon everyone! And well done on a great term 1.

That is all.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The 100th blog special edition - When Fatboy met Dave

For my 100th blog, and the first of the year, I have been tossed upon the horns of a dilemma.  Should I write a polemic on the state of the nation, or continue with my usual tripe?  Should I attempt to right the ills of nations, or take one of my usual pointless flights-of-fantasy?

As it's my 100th blog, why can't I do both....

So there I was, back in dim and distant August, sat on one of my favourite Cornish beaches flicking through the Telegraph.  Half way through, when you get the distinct impression they've run out of real news, and start showing cute wildlife photos, I saw a picture of David Cameron on a Cornish beach walking back from the sea having been body boarding (cheap wet suit mind).  We had been on that same beach less than a week previously, and it wasn't exactly a million miles from the one upon which we currently lazed. 

So, with the kids in a rock pool and the wife drifting in and out of a mid-morning doze, I was left there all alone to ponder: if he walked past now, if the Prime Minister walked past me that very second, what would I say?  Regardless of your political inclinations, what would you really say if you had the chance?

I decided that, should Dave walk by (see, we’re already on first dame terms) I’d start with “Alright Dave? Fancy sharing a Rattler?”(other cloudy Cornish drinks are available, but, frankly, why would you bother?).  We all know he prefers a pint of the black stuff, but you woulnd't want one of them on a beach now would you?

Naturally, us two being family men, we’d talk for a while about the kids, the wives, how fitting their social calendars into our lives is becoming more and more burdensome.  With both of us being Villains, (supporters of Aston Villa, come on, keep up) we’d talk for a few minutes about the coming season and our hopes for Roy Keane not to mutilate anyone.  At least, not too early in the season. 

We’d then do what men up and down the country do and have a “how’s the job going?” catch up where we’d each claim everything was going okay, except for that one irritating little issue / person / multinational that just won’t go away.

So, we’re now two thirds of the way down the rattler, both of us having politely declined autographs (you can never be too polite, but we’re having a rattler here!) our attentions would turn to the world of education.  “Come on big man”, he would say, as all my friends call me this… or something very similar, “what shall I do with education?”

So, I’d stroke my holiday beard (I’d like to say salt-and-pepper but I think the wife would more likely go for badger’s-bum as a description) and I’d offer the sum total of my considered inexperience.

First, would say I, don’t pat yourself too much on the back for the “promotion” of a certain Mr G.  That would only have been a masterstroke if you had replaced him with someone who could really walk-the-walk and talk-the-chalk.  “After all Dave,” I would muse “ask yourself this: why is Estelle Morris still the most well thought of and liked Secretary of State in recent political memory?”  I have no doubt he would ascertain my deeper meaning: if education is to be so highly politicised, and it would seem that since Blair it must be, then ensure our figurehead is a strong representative.  Challenging, yes, forward thinking and innovative, yes please, but they must possess the credibility of their convictions. 

Secondly, get the unions talking, in order to have fewer of them.  Once you’ve done that, get those two or three groups around the table and thrash out a revised edition of School Teacher’s Pay and Conditions which allows us to reward young dynamic teachers appropriately, and to continue to reward experienced practitioners in such a way that it is the family’s first income.  Also, get them to agree that we need to get rid of the dross much sooner, e.g., when they apply for teacher training because they have nothing better to do with a Philosophy of Sociology degree. 

Finally, get rid of this notion that a primary school’s only job is to make pupils “secondary ready”.  In a world and a generation where childhood is being constantly eroded, surely our job is to ensure that their young years are a wealth of discovery, enjoyment, enthusiasm, creativity, joy, and – yes, in some small but important way – achievement.  Is it not however somewhat Luddite to consider the very purpose of education merely to churn out a work force?  Our children will inhabit a world in which they build complex websites and apps for fun, on devices no bigger than a watch, and not one of them will need to know what 11 times 12 is off the top of their head, nor how and when to insert a colon into anything other than a web browser. 

Leave us to offer them a childhood.  More importantly, leave them to enjoy it.  Is that not a greater privilege than democracy?

Let us make childhood amazing.  After all, wouldn't you rather be the PM who delivered that, than the PM who brought us … some of that other stuff?

He’d nod thoughtfully.  He’d offer his hand.  “Zak, always a pleasure.”

“Likewise Dave, likewise.  We’re planning on coming down to Cornwall next May if you’re not busy…”

That, as they say, might've been all.

PS A brilliant September here at Badock's. Look out for the first ungripping installment next week...

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Is it the greatest, or is it just standing on a box?

I follow all sorts of nonsense on twitter, as you would expect.   I follow this brilliant thing called classic photos (@History_pics), which links into lots of historical photographic sites.  The other day I saw a photo with the legend “The world’s biggest horse!”, and my first though was, of course, “How do they know?” My second though was “Is it standing on a box?”

Many are hailing this summer’s world cup as the best one ever.  I admit it largely passed me by; I was allowed to iron along to the Brazil-Germany mismatch, but other than that, I wasn’t bothered.  It appears to have been open and entertaining and full of the usual stories of heroes, villains and daring do.  As far as I’m concerned, Italia 90 will always be the best ever world cup, but that is tinged with rose-tinted nostalgia, and the fact we had a team, a manager worthy of the name and a chance greater than a prayer.  But again, you have to ask, how do they know?  How will it be measured?  Goals? People watching globally? Oral hygiene?

I’ve always preferred it when greatness has come tinged with a hint of irony, such as Tenacious D’s “Best and Greatest Song in the world Ever….tribute”.  But who’s to say it wasn’t, and how will it be measured?  When I was younger I used to read music magazines religiously, and at least once a year they would compile a “100 greatest albums ever” chart.  It invariably ended up with the Beatles’ Revolver coming top, but again, how is it measured?  Who’s to say that the two best albums this year (Crimson / Red by Prefab Sprout and Love Letters by Metronomy since you asked) will not soon send Revolver toppling?

It’s all about the measuring.  The benchmarks.  The indicators. 

Regular fliers of my blog will recall that I predicted a few weeks ago that our outcomes – our measures – were not looking too clever.  Sadly, and highly unpredictably to many of the women I work with, I was right.  I was gutted.  Devastated.

I felt like I had been kicked on a thousand fronts, but not one of them about me.  I have enough self-loathing in the tank for any man.  No, I was gutted for the kids, and for the staff who have worked so hard. How will we be measured, if the measurements do not give an accurate reflection?  It feels as if we will be measured using a picture of the school that is 10 years out of date.  And blurred.  With a coffee ring in the top corner.
I will not list the reasons why things did not go our way, and why I predicted this downfall; the world hates a whinger, or, at least I do.  What I will tell you is why I was so gutted.

We know our teaching as good, if not better.  We know our methods, our procedures and the anal systems we have imposed work.  One candidate told us this summer at interview “I want to come here because all the staff say you make teachers even better.” Anyone who has visited has only offered praise.  But the measurement isn’t there.  The world’s biggest horse is simply standing on a box.

We know that the quality of our work is stunningly good, again for all of the above reasons.  One candidate told people he wouldn’t need to keep his books that way.  He left shortly after that comment. 
The opportunities we offer our children are many fold.  Today’s core visit was held between a 1980s party and key stage 1 participating in the Big Bear hunt. Yesterday 120 children went to the farm and I took year 6 swimming.  We have had to plan not one but 4 music assemblies in order to show off everyone’s skills.

 It’s all there, but it’s not measurable.

3 weeks ago we took 14 children up to London (my biggest nightmare ever – measured by the amount of grey it gave me) and won a national reading recovery award.  It’s great, we’re in the Evening Post and we now possess a Darlington Crystal obelisk. 

We now have a PTA – first time in my time at the school, completely set up by people outside the leadership, and brilliantly supported already.

Our school improvement work has already started, and we have 8 projects running concurrently during the summer.

Our school has grown from around 200 to over 300. And we have a Children’s Centre.  When I started we had 206 children and were on the way down – now, across the entire organization, we have close to 450 children and 100 staff.  Will it get a mention?

But the very things on which we are judged may well become defunct, and any assessor may well toss them all aside whilst stamping a huge and damning “Must Try Harder” across our ever improving track record.  

This kills me.

There is another train of thought.  Perhaps we are suffering from “Inverse Expectational Proportion” or IEP.  It would be in all the recent medical journals had I not just invented it.  It is a difficult paradigm to adjust to, but allow me to offer you the basics.  Perhaps what is upsetting us the most is the fact that we have risen our expectations so high that aligning ourselves to previous thresholds is not agreeable.  We will have (fingers crossed) another 7 100% attenders for the whole year next week.  2 years ago that would have been amazing.  Now it’s just…what we do.

Writing results in the 70s two years in a row would’ve been unthinkable 2 years ago.  It’s just what we do. 

As for children taking level 6 … it’s what we do.

If you measure it via a balance of time versus progress made over an evolutionary continuum as opposed to quantifiable empirical data, then you’re not having a lot of fun if you’re the kind of saddo who knows what half of those words mean.

 I’d prefer to sum it up thus:  we know, in our heart of hearts, that we’re on the right track.  We know how good our teaching is, how good our work is and what we achieve for the lives of the children and families of Southmead on a daily basis.  We continue to be proud to serve the children and families from Doncaster Road, over to Pen Park and between Greystoke Avenue and Southmead Road.  And anywhere else for that matter.  It was never our job: it was our privilege.

The measure perhaps should be woven into the cobbles of Greystoke, instead of coldly dissected at Whitehall. 

Let me conclude another year’s worth of utter edrivel by saying a simple “Thank you” – to our children for their unswerving efforts to be better; to our staff for buying into chronically high expectations and delivering exceptionally high standards (both measurable and non); to our governors for standing by our convictions; to the community for the support they never fail to give us.  One thing that will remain utterly unmeasurable is how proud I am to be the head of our organization, and my feelings about what we have collaboratively built.

Have the most wonderful of summers everyone.  Next year, we aspire-achieve-enjoy even more.

That, with my inestimable gratitude, is all.  

Thursday, 26 June 2014

It ain't over til the fat bloke sings, but, to be honest...

Reports went out today.  That always feels good.  As a staff we completed our final piece of shared monitoring last night, and, a few loose ends aside, I have finished my drop-in observations.  Our NQT reports are complete, and the mammoth work undertaken on our new curriculum is bearing fruit.  We have completed the teaching body for next year, and, all in all, things are going in the direction I intended. On top of all this, I am of course looking forward to a certain trip to London tomorrow...

That is not to say that we are about in anyway to take our feet of the pedagogical peddle; far from it.  There are still a number of projects I want to conclude / polish / initiate before we end term 6, and we are planning to run several school improvement and environment projects during the summer.  We've already started some (ask dear year 4 - they had to bear the brunt of some of it today, which they did with monumental stoicism).

By the way, a note on reports.  I am bowled over, every year, by the care and attention teachers put into the report system, and the genuine relationships that are reflected therein. It is a testament to the work of dedicated teachers how they manage, year after year, to create such celebratory reflections of an enormous proportion of a child's life.  A few typos and "cut-and-paste"-os aside, I didn't read a bad one.  Thank you team.

However, I have been in a state of mulling recently.  I do not mean simmering in a vat of wine with some oranges; I mean engaged in pondering.  Reflecting.  Considering.  Much, much car thinking (as you know, on the Willis scale of thinking, the second highest) has gone in recently to what I feel will be the true outcomes of this year.

The evidence of this year is plain to see, and has been repeatedly validated externally: our teaching is the best it has ever been; our environment is wonderful; our books are exemplary; our parents' opinion of our school, and indeed the children's, has improved significantly.  Writing our SEFs this year has been no chore.  Yet I have been forced to mulling the implications of the first sets of data that have reached me.

Our EYFS data, externally scrutinised and praised, is lower than our ambitious targets.  Key Stage 1 looks pretty good, especially the homegrown data, but falls a little below targets.  Our attendance is lower than last year due to an awful term 2.  SATs week, despite the best efforts of the majority of year 6s (one of whom now calls me "Dude" in a way that demonstrates his contempt for my musical tastes), did not go as well as I would've hoped.  It's all okay, and it reflects the children and the cohorts well, but it's not quite ... there.

So I've been thinking: what could I have done differently?  Could I have challenged something sooner?  Was a greater change required at some point?  Why will we stop making progress?  How will it be viewed?

My biggest worry has been ensuring that my staff will not feel as if they have not done their jobs this year: they have, admirably and with great skill, sensitivity and openness to challenge, in the face of some extremely poor behaviour.  Almost all teachers have improved, and I can point to more outstanding teaching over time than at any other point in my time at the school (or indeed, my time in any other).  Support colleagues have been a source of ever improving joy, and we now have a dining hall and food to be proud of.  In terms of unmeasurables, the standards this year have been off the as yet uninvented chart.

So you see my dilemma.  A school that is exceptionally hard working, not just according to us but to others as well, but outcomes that do not necessarily evidence this.

Many of my staff will be surprised at this next statement but it is the truth.  I was worried.

There you go.  I've said it.  I was worried, hence the pondering, mulling, what have you.

Then it struck me, one evening in the car, half way between a Prince track (back when he was Prince) and a Magic Numbers track.  The truth, when you discover it, is simple.  The truth is this:  we were always going to have a year, sometime in the not too distant, when we didn't improve in every measure.  When your maths results go from the 50s to the 90s in 4 years, I suppose there has to be a point at which they dip back down.  When writing in key stage one goes from consistently below 50 to consistently above 65, it was always going to remain constant at some point.  Our attendance cannot improve 6% in 3 years and still go higher ... can it?

Either way, I have worried a little less, and mulled over a slightly lower flame.  The outcomes may not be there, but I am confident of this: the provision is, the expectations are, and, as of Tuesday, the new team is.  Continuous school improvement can continue in the absence of the figures.  And, besides, I don't have all the figures yet.

Except for wishing BK and the governors the best of luck tomorrow, that is all.

PS My wife has asked me to inform you all that, apparently, I have not seen my last camp.  I have simply seen my last camp "for a while".  I have yet to be informed what this means #wifehashiddenagenda

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Will he won't he 2014

So, the news is out.  The BBC, ITN, Points West were all at the press conference.  Reuters have been brought up to speed, and the lucky ones who were in the room at the time have been interviewed, their images bounced around the globe in the syndicated clips from the press.  What are they reporting on?  Of course, the big news from Badock’s Wood:

I am NOT going to camp this year.

Many regular subscribers to this nonsense will know that the will-he-won’t he decision about my Exmouth attendance is an annual internal monologue.  After the success of last year’s camp – which I swore would be the last – I started to waver.  Could I do it?  Could I manage one more?  What would be the ramifications if I did? I just started to think about it …

…when I had a change of heart, and a decisive one.  The amount of grey looking back at me in the mirror made me do it.  No, camp didn’t need me, and there were other people waiting in the wings, trained by yours truly, to take up the baton.  So I had made the decision.  I was happy with it.  I even did the most final-nail-in-the-coffin thing imaginable: I told the wife. 

So that was that.

It was no secret that I planned to pass the baton over to a fellow camper from last year, and a few selected others.  So when one of the chosen informed me one Monday morning that she wouldn’t be going, I had to do some radical rethinking.  Could I really?  Should I really?  Could I tell the wife I had been wrong?

Then, one evening, some of the others started to circle around me.  I sensed a trap, and trod with extreme care.  This could go badly. I might have to agree to something I didn’t want to. Or, even worse, spending money.  As it transpired, we wanted the same thing, ie, they wanted to go and I didn’t.  Negotiations began.  Negotiations continued.  An amicable settlement was reached.  The decision was made again.  It took the best part of 11 seconds.

I should point out at this point that the decision has nothing to do with my feelings about camp:  I still love it, and will continue to support it whether I go or not.  However, people throughout BS10 must have wondered what that strange noise was recently: it was my knees, my back and my right hip breathing a huge sigh of relief when they found out I wasn't going.  

There are, I freely admit it, things I won’t miss.  Such as:
  • ·         Wrestling children into bed on that first night;
  • ·         Telling them, for the seventh time, they do not need another wee at 11.45pm;
  • ·         The zig zags;
  • ·         The smell of the drying room.

However, in making the decision I would not go, it meant making certain sacrifices.  I will miss, miss terribly:
  • ·         Watching the sheer joy on people’s faces;
  • ·         Being a privileged observer of the successes;
  • ·         The excuse to eat clotted cream on a flapjack at any time of the day;
  • ·         Standing in the middle of the sea, with children surfing all around me, and thinking “I did that”.

Those who know me best know that it is this last one I shall miss most of all.

On the day, I shall wave the gang off with much excitement on their behalf, and not a little envy on my own.  But I am extremely happy in my decision, and hope that my small contributions to the event will make a difference.  (And I will still pop up on watersports day.)

Because here’s the truth: when it comes to memories, I have a tent full.  For every hour of sleep lost, I have a memory gained, an unforgettable moment shared, some magic woven.  It’s time for others to be let in on the treasure trove I have been privileged to gaze into for many years now, and I don’t begrudge them a second.    When I see them off the bus on the Friday evening, suntanned faces and exhaustion heavy, but full of new found life force, I will take no small pride in what my colleagues and our children achieved.

Magic is still magic, however far away you have to stand to weave it.

From me, that is all.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

What Nanny Willis (might've) said

As term 5 comes hurtling to an all-too-soon curtain, I wish to make an alarming confession:  I have tried to write a blog several times this month, only to find myself despondently stabbing the crumple and throw into the forlorn looking bin button.  So much has happened, so many things cemented (and demolished) that I have sat at my laptop three times and tried to blog, but have miserably failed.

One idea occupying my ethoughts has been displays and learning environments.  Although I still have much to say, these seeds are still waiting to take full shape in the unloved, overgrown weed patch of my mind.  Improvement planning has also been at the forefront of my mind, but that's not a blog - at least not one that will make sense to anyone other than those who have the misfortune to be paid to sit in a room and listen to me ramble on about pedagogy.

Mostly, I have been thinking about positivity.  The power of positive thinking / talking / acting / being.  As term 5 is so short, I have reasoned with staff and pupils, how on earth can it not be fun?  How can our attendance be anything other than brilliant?  With so few chances, why wouldn't you make your books amazing?  Our assemblies have been filled not with answers, but with questions, and I have done no singing this term - just dancing (much to the chagrin of year 5).  Let's keep it upbeat everyone.

However, you can't do this halfheartedly.  You cannot be positive on a whim.  A painted smile is no smile at all.  You need to embody it, empower it, live and breathe it.

Because it's infectious.  It's relentless.  It's brilliant.

You get a small group of people - a happy cabal if you like - who start it off, and you can't stop it.  Although the feeling is undeniable, you can't really sum it up, until small but incredibly important things start to occur: children rewarding teachers in assembly, children giving up their lunchtime to volunteer, reconciliations being forged of their own will, a game of volley ball at lunchtime that encompassed ages 5 to ... 37 (she says.  We think it's more like 42 but, hey ho).  Even I got in on the act, offering to take a forfeit if key stage 2 could do the unthinkable and keep the toilets clean.  They did.  I took it.  Days of pain ensued.

May dear old Nanny Willis always used to say: "When it comes to positivity, you lay the ground work, and the building builds itself." (Alright, she never technically said it, but she was a thoughtful, very, very funny lady who never, even in her most painful, asthma ridden years, stopped smiling.)

It has been such an enjoyable and successful term, for all sorts of reasons, made all the more remarkable that it lasted a grand total of 23 working days.

But here's the real big news, the thing people keep forgetting - the best thing about term 5 is that it's followed, like an overly enthusiastic spaniel, by term 6.  And what better time is there to really kick start new projects, than term 6?

Sure, we're trying to cram even more in than we did in terms 3, 4 and 5 combined, such as reports, sports day, curriculum planning and transition, into an ever decreasing number of days, but what promise! What optimism!  Amongst all the usual fun, we have so much to look forward to (and I genuinely mean look forward to - no joke intended).  A new curriculum, new methods of assessment, new colleagues, new ideas.
You see, there is nothing more positive than the promise of something utterly new and exciting.  Except maybe, a happy cabal in a primary school.

Keep on smiling everyone.  You never know who you might infect.

Until the craziness that is term 6 is in the ascendancy, that is all.