The Gales of Wales

Posted: 05.02.11 in Blogging

There once was a Welsh wind known as Bryn Wake.

Each day when Bryn Wake wakes on a winter break he breaks wind.

When Bryn Wake breaks wind the lake shimmers and the windows shake.

One windy day when Bryn Wake did wake on a winter break he saw a windbreak out the window near the lake.

He did make for the windbreak near the lake to break wind at the windbreak to see if it would break.

But let it be known: should the Welsh wind Bryn Wake break wind on a winter break, the windbreak bends and shakes – but Bryn Wake’s wind won’t break a windbreak!

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The theory was fairly simple. I wanted to change my sleeping pattern. Instead of going to bed at, say, ten o’clock at night and waking up at around seven o’clock in the morning, I wanted to go to bed at seven in the evening and wake up at three or four in the morning.

It’s just an experiment. There is a rationale behind my decision to try it, namely that I thought it would improve my productivity. And there is a good chance that it could. However, as the title suggested, it went wrong.

It started well. I fell asleep pretty soon after 7pm. I certainly achieved REM sleep. I know this because I awoke from one of my savage nightmares. The countries are irrelevant and such an occasion would (I should hope) never occur. These happen to be the nations starring in my nightmare, which perhaps indicates a deep-seated xenophobic attitude towards China to which I am completely oblivious. And disagree with. It went thus.

Alice, young British child is on death row in a Chinese penitentiary. Her crime was a misinterpreted translation of a typically childish and empty threat to kill her father. She was eight when she was informed of her death sentence and she is now eleven. In the three years since her incarceration, she worked admirably and diligently in the on-site mine — much to the praise and humbled admiration from her fellow inmates and the prison staff, whose exultations won her renown, publicity and support from outside.

Such was her hard work and efficiency, Alice had every opportunity to escape her fate. The combination of her speedy work and her methodical clearing of the mines had produced an escape tunnel that she never used. The guards were aware of this and were more than hopeful she would take advantage, yet she never did. She became the epitome of diligence to her supporters. She was a good girl.

Meanwhile, tension was escalating between the British and Chinese authorities. On the one hand, the British government seeks to secure the release of Alice from her plight and bring her back home. The Chinese administration, having initially used Alice’s sentence as an empty threat to acquire fair diplomatic outcomes, were under increasing pressure to carry out the execution to save face and enforce new agreements.

Alice was not wholly unaware of the political tug-of-war taking place with her at the middle. Though she was naturally troubled that two leading nations were apparently bickering over her, she remained selfless and calm. It was as though she accepted that hers was the sacrifice that was needed to being the two countries closer.

British diplomats visited Alice regularly. But what does one say to an eleven year old child, facing her own mortality to appease the conceit of two behemoths? They would provide her with updates and messages of support from around the world.

Alas, she was informed that this would be the final time the diplomats would come. One had a message for Alice, from the prime minister. It explained that nothing further could be done. The British people were united in their support for her and that he, himself, was desperately humbled in admiration for her courage, strength and determination. Her sacrifice could never be forgotten.

She looked down slightly. A single tear rolled down her cheek. The diplomat was at a loss, not knowing how to react at first. He hugged her, apologised, and took a step back. She smiled back at him as the guards came.

There was nothing now that could be done. The two guards each took a hand and escorted her up a long flight of stone stairs. The diplomat was inconsolable, yet Alice seemed very calm. Just before they reached the doorway, the three of them stopped. She turned her head and looked back — not a tear, not a frown, not a quiver. Her face was devoid of any discernible expression, yet she looked steeled and determined. They continued up the stairs and through the door. Once out of sight, the door gently closed.

I woke up at bloody 8pm.

Review of My Year 2010

Posted: 31.12.10 in Blogging

January

Following the Christmas holidays I was dreading the New Year. It meant going back to teaching. I didn’t mind the teaching so much – I had successes and failures, good points and bad points; but there were certain things that caused me no end of dread. I recall returning the house in Keele around the same time as Emlyn. Neither of us relished going back. In January, we were doing all five days in a school (whereas we started doing two days at Keele, three days at school) and with the timetable being added to the pressure soon mounted. January also marked the end of my first placement.

February

The stand-out event of February was getting my first ever car: a Rover 45 2.0TD Spirit S. It was spotted by Andy, a friend from school and relayed to me by Weiran. I immediately warmed to it and after a brief test drive I bought it. I also started my second placement. I was heartened by a lighter timetable compared to others and enjoyed the classes I was working with.

March

The timetable was starting to increase and it was becoming clear that things weren’t right. I wasn’t as closely monitored as other people, which I took to be a vote of confidence. I did enough to keep on top of what I had to do; I avoided extra work to try to preserve my sanity. Weekends were most welcome and the purpose of the week. When I wasn’t going back to watch the football, I was staying in Keele with Emlyn and Jack in particular. A notable weekend at the end of the month started my foray into golf, a Chinese food buffet and winning a bottle of gin.

April

Someone turned the thumbscrews in April. Early in the month came in the Easter holidays and it was painfully difficult to go back to the PGCE. I was expecting to go back to be told I was failing. My car was hit whilst parked at the student house in Keele, leaving a large dent (which remains to this day). I took the car to have a puncture caused by a screw sorted and ended up having to pay a small fortune for an MOT and service in addition. Teaching was particularly horrible as my confidence was slowly chipped away and eroded. My sleeping pattern was terrible as I took painstaking lengths to make enticing lessons for them to be ripped apart the next day. Weekends were devoted to catching up with sleep, more work, and more drinking. My eating habits were poor as I ate scraps that required little effort or eating out. Gin, limes, tonic and ice cubes were afforded pride of position at the top of the shopping list; closely followed by cereal bars and cookies.

May

The word I dreaded reared its ugly head in the middle of May: remediation. I was given a list of things I needed to do in order salvage a year’s work. It was immediately clear in my head that I would not be able to overcome those issues. My confidence was in tatters; I was tired and clearly stressed. My only escape was football: seeing Newcastle United win the Championship was the clear highlight for the year until that point, but even then I was ever-troubled by the lingering dread of having deep, cutting criticisms and close scrutiny of my ability to teach.

June

I had wanted to quit but I couldn’t describe myself as a quitter. I tried. It came as a relief in some regard that I was told that I had failed the placement though the fact I had made it to within three weeks of the end was not lost on me. Yet I stayed until the end. I had every right to go home at that point but I did not. I wasn’t teaching, but helping out where I could.

July

It was heart-wrenching, not least when participating in the final week in Keele. My last act was to rewrite the lyrics to YMCA (which we performed for year’s cohort of PGCE students and uploaded to YouTube (with some naughty words) which provided some light relief! The final session – a “farewell” gathering – was particularly bittersweet seeing some people for the last time and knowing that if I wanted a share of their success, I would need to do another 16 weeks the following year.

Mum and Dad celebrated their 50th birthdays in July. I went to Wiltshire to celebrate with Dad for his birthday and at the end of the month I went to Barcelona with Mum to celebrate hers. Both provided escape from the torment in my mind and I enjoyed myself. It was great to see family I hadn’t seen in a long time and to see Mum have her first flight.

August

August was a void. I was unaware of my situation at Keele having gone home. I started applying for jobs almost indiscriminately. The football season started – with defeat, naturally – but soon picked up with a comprehensive defeat of Aston Villa at home.

Matt came and visited. It was most welcome. We talked, drank, ate and visited Hexham.

September

I was summoned back to Keele for talks of my future on the PGCE course. The meeting lasted about 15 minutes, having driven for four hours to get there. I had been looking over the summer for somewhere to live with little success (and no help from the accommodation office) so I was not in a position to agree to do my placement starting in October. The other option was February, but money was an issue too.

Pure chance led me to find an opportunity for paid PhD study at Loughborough University and I applied in a heartbeat. I was offered an interview and thought I have completely screwed up. I wasn’t offered the place but thankfully one was made for me. I felt truly wanted and of value professionally and gladly accepted. I hadn’t thought too much about the practicalities, but the apparent belief in me warranted some effort to overcome them.

October

The notable event of October occurred on the last day… a 5-1 win over Sunderland. It certainly wasn’t expected but was most welcome. For me, I was looking at places to live in Loughborough without any success. It was also a time of a minor health scare. It’s something I have to just live with now and get on with.

November

My car took a battering from a falling fascia board and aerials. Another bit of damage that no-one will take responsibility for. I got quotes for both pieces and it comes to around £800. With additional damage to the windscreen, a broken headlight, and a broken tail light the damage mounts up quickly. I have repaired the lights (cheaply and easily).

In November I eventually got my accommodation sorted and moved in.

December

I started in the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University and settled in very quickly. The snow caused some problems over the month, but I was generally high in spirits (not necessarily the alcohol stuff, either!) and the snow was easily overcome. Emlyn came to stay, which was generally good (but we don’t talk about the cloakroom staff incident) and it was great to see the old crew in Kent.

Conclusions

2010 got better as it went along. I’m very optimistic for 2011 and looking forward to it! Happy New Year everyone!

Obligatory All Year

Posted: 29.12.10 in Blogging

This BBC News article has stirred a debate in my head. Who should be responsible for keeping charities afloat? Should the government subsidise the work of organisations’ work to improve things, or is it up to the people to decide who needs the most support?

It is a fine line. On the one hand the government ought to be responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure the citizens it serves are relatively comfortable. If it falls to a charity to lobby for change, provide the change and represent its people then the government is failing in that respect.

On the other hand, the opposing view is that perhaps charities would then be regarded as a means to provide things that do not really matter, which makes them rather pointless.

To illustrate my example, the NSPCC‘s “Full Stop” campaign to stop child abuse is changing children’s lives, thanks to donated money. Does the fact it still exists suggest the government is failing to take care of children? Should the government be funding its work and taking responsibility? Does the independence of the charity from government suggest that the government does not think this is a priority?

They seem like leading questions. Perhaps they are. But you might consider further: if the government took responsibility and were the primary source of funds, would people still be as generous with their donations? How can a government struggling with resources maintain the flow of money to charitable organisations?

Hit Where It Hurts

Posted: 13.12.10 in Blogging

Right now, I feel extremely lucky to have been born in 1985. This is a very new feeling. We were the first guinea pigs to be fed the new modular A Level syllabuses; we narrowly missed out on receiving the Education Maintenance Allowance; we were asked to take out loans for tuition fees; and we also missed out on the Child Trust Fund and other such things. These are all invariably “good things” under various guises. But they are all being meddled with.

And, of course, the younger people are not happy. No more Child Trust Funds. No more Education Maintenance Allowances. Sweeping changes to post-16 education. Phenomenal increases to tuition fees. Why? Because the rich oldies made us poor, and don’t have to pay it back.

That’s the perception. And with that perception in mind, it is understandable for them to angry. Ultimately, they are being asked to pay when the big companies have seemingly got away with it.

That is, of course, no excuse for violence and vandalism. Given that trying to make a noise is greeted with condemnation anyway, the actions of rioters were futile – it made no difference to the decision and generated apathy and derision from the press and public. In contrast, a quiet, peaceful protest would have been completely ignored (most were) and generated a modest amount of sympathy.

It’s sad. What can we offer young people? Not much work, not much support; education isn’t a viable alternative. Don’t expect any sympathy from the welfare system, and don’t expect anyone to be able to afford to put you up for the night.

Of course, if you have rich parents you needn’t worry. You can get your civil servants to do all the hard graft.